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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

In Beijing, Trump abandons years of tough talk towards China

11/09/17 08:40AM

At a bilateral meeting in Beijing this morning, Donald Trump lamented the U.S.-China trade imbalance, but said he blames "past administrations." In other words, in the American president's mind, the trade gap is the United States' fault.

He reiterated the point at a question-free press briefing soon after.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not blame China for its economic success at the expense of the United States, what he called a "one sided" trade relationship.

"I don't blame China," he said at a business event joined by Chinese President Xi Jinping. "After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit."

It's hard to overstate just how dramatic a departure this is from the American president's previous posturing. ABC News did a nice job rounding up some of Trump's most notable quotes on China from the campaign, during which he insisted, among other things, that China is "ripping us off," is an "enemy" of the United States, has perpetrated "the greatest theft in the history of the world," and prefers to "lie, cheat, and steal in all international dealings."

At one campaign event in May 2016, Trump went so far as to say, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

Millions face tax hike under controversial Republican tax plan

11/09/17 08:00AM

Republicans are understandably nervous about the political position they've found themselves in. A year after an election that vaulted them to total dominance over the levers of federal power, GOP officials have effectively nothing to show for their efforts; Donald Trump is the least popular first-year president of the polling era; the Russia scandal is an existential crisis for the Republican White House; and Democrats just won sweeping victories in off-year elections.

It's against this backdrop that Republican leaders are convinced that an unpopular tax plan will put things right. That's exceedingly unwise.

Part of the problem is that many of the provisions in the plan are political suicide. The current version of the GOP legislation scraps all kinds of deductions and tax credits that enjoy broad public support. Everything from medical expenses to adoption costs to education costs are on the chopping block because Republicans can't figure out how else to pay for their tax breaks.

GOP officials are quick to point out, of course, that the details of their plan haven't been finalized. That's true. But they wrote the pending legislation, and this is what they've put on the table for everyone to see.

The other part of the problem is that, according to multiple independent analyses, millions of Americans would end up paying more, not less, under the Republican proposal. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

[A] growing number of nonpartisan analyses show that some middle-class Americans would not get more money in their pockets under the GOP plan. Instead, they would face higher tax bills, a potential pitfall in selling this plan to the public and to enough lawmakers for it to pass.

Nine percent of middle-class tax filers (those earning between $48,600 and $86,100) would pay more in taxes next year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Wednesday. By 2027, 31 percent of middle-class filers would see tax hikes, the center said.

The Tax Policy Center analysis, which is online in its entirety here, found that the bulk of the cuts would benefit the wealthiest Americans, while the number of middle-class households facing tax increases would steadily grow over the course of the next decade.

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People fill containers with water funneled with pipes from a mountain stream in Utuado, Puerto Rico.

New leptospirosis deaths recorded in Puerto Rico

11/08/17 07:06PM

The federal disaster response in Puerto Rico is now in its eighth week, and reporters have continued to question the official count of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The official count has been under intense scrutiny since Buzzfeed reported last month that government officials, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, approved the cremation of 911 bodies, none of which were reflected in the official death toll. Those people were all judged to have died of natural causes having nothing to do with the storm, despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s medical examiner reviewed only medical records, not the bodies themselves.

Now the Associated Press reports that the average number of deaths each day in Puerto Rico rose sharply after the storm. From AP’s report:

The pace of deaths quickened on Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria — well beyond the numbers officially attributed to the storm.

The U.S. territory reported an average of 82 deaths a day in the two weeks before Maria hit. That average increased to 117 from Sept. 20 to 30, though the rate has declined since then.

The AP also reports that the official death toll has inched up, from 54 to 55.

Here at the Rachel Maddow Show, we also have been chasing down data on one particular sliver of the official count: deaths from the water-borne illness leptospirosis. In the eight weeks since the storm hit, clean water has been so scarce that the 3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico have been forced to drink from streams and rivers -- all of which can be a breeding ground for lepto.

As of last week, there were three confirmed deaths from lepto and 76 additional suspected cases. All 76 were sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for further testing to confirm the diagnosis. But we wanted to know whether the outstanding suspected cases were fatalities -- or whether those were living patients fighting the disease. The CDC sent us to Puerto Rico's Department of Health, which sent us to Puerto Rico's State Epidemiologist, Dr. Carmen Deseda. Last week, we reported that Dr. Deseda would not confirm whether those 70-plus patients with suspected cases of lepto were alive or dead. She said she could not release that information until the results came back from the CDC.

Those results have now come back, on a total of 99 suspected cases. Of those, 81 came back negative. Today, Dr. Deseda tells us the CDC identified 14 cases of lepto in patients who are alive and fighting the disease, plus two cases where the patient died. These two new deaths of lepto did not change the overall death toll; they had already been counted, but now we have an official ruling on the diagnosis. We now know they died of a disease that no one has to get, and that is generally treatable with basic antibiotics. With these two new confirmed diagnoses, the number of deaths from lepto stands at five.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.8.17

11/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The ripple effects from yesterday's election results: "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said the losses could shape the tax bill going forward. 'I mean, it could, because the elections went against the Republicans,' Hatch said in a brief morning interview."

* Memories can be tricky: "Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday night that he now remembers receiving an email from Carter Page about a trip to Moscow despite claiming in March that he did not grant Page permission to take the trip."

* In related news: "The federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates imposed a gag order Wednesday in the case ordering all parties, including potential witnesses, not to make statements that might prejudice jurors."

* A story worth watching: "Prosecutors are investigating whether billionaire businessman Carl Icahn pushed for a federal policy change that would have benefited one of his investments while he was serving as an adviser to President Donald Trump."

* I have a hunch Trump wouldn't bring it up anyway: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he would tell U.S. President Donald Trump to 'lay off' if he raises the issue of human rights when they meet."

* Contemporary American life: "A Miami private school is offering parents an unusual item for sale: bulletproof panels for their kids' backpacks."

* On a related note: "Sens. Jeff Flake and Martin Heinrich are planning to introduce bipartisan legislation that will make it a law for military to report misdemeanors of domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database used for firearms background checks."

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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Trump asked the CIA director to meet with conspiracy theorist

11/08/17 12:49PM

Donald Trump's years-long affinity for conspiracy theories has long alarmed his critics, raising questions about his judgment and ability to understand evidence. Yesterday's reporting, however, takes those questions to a very different level.

At the urging of President Donald Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who advocates a fringe theory that the hack of the Democrats during the election was an inside job and not the work of Russian intelligence, the former official told NBC News.

"He's trying to find some factual evidence," said Bill Binney, a former code-breaker at the National Security Agency.

Binney left the agency in 2000 and has become a self-styled whistleblower, making unsupported claims that the NSA is collecting and storing nearly every U.S. communication. His meeting with Pompeo was first reported by The Intercept, an internet news site.

NBC News confirmed with Binney, a frequent guest on Fox News and the Kremlin's RT, that he met with the CIA director, and Pompeo told him that he took the meeting at the urging of the president.

A CNN reporter added that the Binney-Pompeo chat lasted about a half-hour, and "many inside the [CIA] were uncomfortable with the meeting."

There's a very good reason for that. As Pompeo and everyone else in the U.S. intelligence community already knows, Russian agents, not DNC officials, were responsible for the attack on the American elections last year. It might make Trump feel better to believe nonsense -- for a variety of reasons, he seems a little too eager to exonerate Russia from any wrongdoing -- but reality is stubborn.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.8.17

11/08/17 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* Republican Reps. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey and Ted Poe of Texas yesterday became the latest GOP incumbents to announce their retirement plans. LoBiondo's district is one of the most competitive in the Northeast, and will be a key pick-up opportunity for Democrats.

* While Democrats had a very good day yesterday, a Republican did prevail in a congressional special election in Utah. Rep.-elect John Curtis (R) scored an easy victory yesterday in one of the nation's reddest districts, and he'll succeed Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), who retired a few months ago.

* St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (D), one of only a few 2017 candidates to receive a personal endorsement from Barack Obama, won his re-election bid yesterday.

* In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally (R) hasn't made an official announcement yesterday, but she's begun telling colleagues she'll run for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) Senate seat. Some far-right groups, including the Club for Growth, have already said McSally isn't extreme enough.

* In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback's (R) former commerce secretary, Antonio Soave, has ended his GOP congressional campaign after the Kansas City Star uncovered suspicious government contracts he awarded to his associates.

* In Ohio, Brook Park Mayor Tom Coyne left the Democratic Party last year to become a Republican and endorse Donald Trump. Yesterday, Coyne lost his re-election bid.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016. (Photo by  Carlo Allegri/Reuters )

In South Korea, Trump pauses to promote one of his golf courses

11/08/17 11:21AM

On Friday, before his Asia-Pacific trip, Donald Trump stopped in Hawaii and made a quick trip to the Trump International Hotel Waikiki. The White House soon after issued a statement touting the venue as "a tremendously successful project" for the president.

The visit came the day after USA Today reported that Trump "has installed at least five people who have been members of his clubs to senior roles in his administration." The article added, "[N]ever in modern history has a president awarded government posts to people who pay money to his own companies."

And then, in Seoul, the American president went just a little further down the ethically challenged rabbit hole. The Washington Post reported:

The world was watching as President Trump stepped to the microphone in the heart of South Korea's National Assembly to deliver a high-stakes speech to rally fellow leaders against North Korea. What better time for the president to talk about ... his New Jersey golf course?

Not long after he began his remarks, broadcast live on television feeds from Tokyo to Seoul to Washington, Trump took a moment to praise South Korea on the nation's remarkable economic rise after the Korean War six decades ago. In doing so, he talked about the people's prowess in engineering, technology, medicine, music and education.

Then he got to golf.

According to the transcript, Trump described Korean golfers as "some of the best on Earth," which generated applause. He added, "In fact -- and you know what I'm going to say -- the Women's U.S. Open was held this year at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and it just happened to be won by a great Korean golfer, Sung-hyun Park."

I don't imagine anyone was especially surprised that Trump would use this platform to promote a property he owns, because we've grown quite accustomed to the president's routine ethical lapses and efforts to profit personally from his presidency.

But that doesn't make his actions any easier to defend.

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This July 26, 2012 file photo shows an AR-15 style rifle. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Pentagon nominee accidentally tells the truth about gun policy

11/08/17 10:42AM

Dr. Dean Winslow, Donald Trump's choice to serve as the Pentagon's top health official, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for his confirmation hearing, and as Politico reported, it turned out to be a little more interesting than expected.

The most provocative exchange came when the discussion turned to Devin Patrick Kelley, who's believed to be responsible for Sunday's mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked if Winslow believes service members who are convicted of domestic violence charges should be dishonorably discharged.

"I'd also like to -- and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee -- just say, you know, how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy ... a semi-automatic assault rifle like an AR-15, which apparently was the weapon that was used," Dean Winslow, a physician and retired Air Force colonel nominated to be the assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, said during his Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) quickly interjected, "Dr. Winslow, I don't think that's in your area of responsibility or expertise."

I suppose there's some truth to that, though Winslow is an experienced medical professional with an opinion.

As it turns out, of course, that opinion is deeply at odds with the beliefs of the president who nominated him for this Pentagon post. Donald Trump, for example, responded to the massacre in a Texas church by saying this "isn't a guns situation."

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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Election Day 2017 featured a series of breakthrough victories

11/08/17 10:14AM

Looking over yesterday's election results, there were all kinds of firsts, but one that stood out for me was the story of Wilmot Collins.

A couple of decades ago, Collins was a refugee from Liberia when he arrived in the United States. In time, he became a member of the U. S. Naval Reserves, served as an adjunct instructor at Helena College, became a child-protection specialist, and as of yesterday, he's the newly elected mayor of Montana's capital city.

Wilmot Collins will be Helena's new mayor, unseating incumbent Jim Smith in a close race Tuesday.

Collins, 54, will be the city's first new mayor in 16 years after running a long campaign based in progressive principles.

He'll be the first black mayor of any city in the history of Montana, and he was elected in a city where the African-American population is less than 1%, according to the 2010 census.

And when it came to breakthrough victories, Collins' win was one of many.

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A voter steps into a voting booth to mark his ballot at a polling site for the New Hampshire primary, Feb. 9, 2016, in Nashua, N.H. (Photo by David Goldman/AP)

Dems keep their winning streak going in state special elections

11/08/17 09:23AM

As of September, Democrats had already flipped eight state legislative seats in 2017 from "red" to "blue" -- three in Oklahoma, three in New Hampshire, and one each in New York and Florida -- on top of a series of other victories.

As Vox noted, the party flipped two more in Georgia yesterday.

As part of a larger wave of Democratic wins on Election Day 2017, Democrats picked up two seats in special elections held for Georgia's House of Delegates.

Deborah Gonzales won House District 117 with 53 percent of the vote and Jonathan Wallace won House District 119 with 56 percent of the vote. Both seats are in the Athens area and both were vacant, hence the special elections. But not only were the two seats previously held by Republican incumbents, they were uncontested in the 2016 elections.

That last point is of particular interest. These districts weren't seen as especially competitive, to the point that Democrats didn't even bother fielding candidates in these state legislative races as recently as last year. And yet, yesterday, Dems won both.

This doesn't dramatically change the makeup of Georgia's state House -- there's still a sizable GOP majority -- but the Democratic victories mean that Republicans no longer enjoy a super-majority in the chamber.

And speaking of special elections in which Dems flipped a seat, Manka Dhingra (D) easily won a state Senate race in her Seattle-area district, which means Democrats will take control of the chamber. Just as importantly, Dems will now oversee Washington's executive and legislative branches -- the same power it holds in nearby California and Oregon -- becoming only the seventh state in which Democrats currently have this power.

According to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which focuses on Democratic state legislative races, Dem candidates also flipped two seats in New Jersey and one in New Hampshire.

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a news conference at the State House, Jan. 8, 2016, in Augusta, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Ignoring LePage, Maine voters easily approve Medicaid expansion

11/08/17 08:40AM

The map of states that have adopted Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act has looked kind of funny for a while. While it's not surprising that the Deep South has resisted the progressive policy, every state north of West Virginia and Maryland has embraced Medicaid expansion -- with one exception that sticks out like a sore thumb.

Maine's legislature has already made attempts to rectify this and bring coverage to low-income families in the state, but Gov. Paul LePage (R) hasn't budged, blocking Medicaid expansion at every opportunity.

Yesterday, as the Portland Press Herald reported, the state's residents took matters into their own hands.

Maine voters passed a measure to expand Medicaid on Tuesday, giving about 70,000 Mainers health care coverage and making the state the first in the nation to approve Medicaid expansion at the ballot box.

With 75 percent of Maine precincts reporting, the measure was favored by 59 percent of the voters. Support for the measure appeared to be strongest along the coast and in southern Maine, but it also was backed by voters in parts of more conservative northern Maine.

The number of states that have adopted Medicaid expansion now stands at 32 -- the most recent previous state was Louisiana, which embraced the policy nearly two years ago -- though Maine is the first state to do so through a ballot initiative.

This will likely give a boost to related efforts to health care advocates in Utah and Missouri, who are also trying to get the issue on their statewide ballots next year.

And while this is obviously good news for the Mainers who'll soon have health security they currently lack, there are a couple of broader angles to keep in mind.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.

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