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President-elect Donald Trump,  walks with his wife Melania Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Despite its other failures, GOP poised to move courts to the right

06/19/17 01:00PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has never been the religious right's favorite member of Congress, but when the Kentucky Republican recently spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, he delivered some news the far-right audience was delighted to hear.

"The courts -- of all the things that we should be able to accomplish with this president and this Senate -- the courts have the longest reach into the future," McConnell said. "We have a significant number of vacancies coming into this administration. The president knows this is a way to have an impact on our country far beyond his tenure in office."

That wasn't just an applause line; it had the benefit of being true. Many conservatives who recognized Trump's profound flaws last year voted for him anyway because they wanted to move the judiciary to the far-right, and they knew a Republican White House and a Republican Senate could deliver, filling vacancies McConnell created by blocking Obama-era nominees.

Writing for The New Republic last week, David Dayen noted that the Trump White House has already sent 22 judicial nominations to the Senate, as compared to the four judicial nominations the Obama White House had made at this point in 2009. The piece added that against the backdrop of scandal and crises, this one area -- judicial nominees -- represented a "rare outburst of competency" for the Republican administration.

For far-right observers, this is great news. While much of the left grew complacent about the federal judiciary, conservatives made the courts a top priority, and Trump and GOP senators are doing precisely what the Republican Party's base wanted them to do.

Making matters worse for the left, the GOP isn't just moving forward with plans to reshape the judiciary -- remember, filibusters on all court nominees have been eliminated -- they're embracing jurists who are ridiculous even by 2017 standards. Indeed, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick had a striking piece the other day, explaining that the White House and Senate Republicans are advancing "polemicists and bomb-throwers, performance artist lawyers who have spent their intellectual lives staking out absurd and often abhorrent legal positions."

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Traffic thickens on Interstate 75/85, Feb. 25, 2015, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo by David Tulis/AP)

Some Georgia Republicans see a 'political upside' to tragic shooting

06/19/17 12:30PM

The closely watched congressional special election in Georgia is tomorrow, and Republicans are more than a little nervous about losing a seat they assumed would be theirs indefinitely. Consider, for example, this Washington Post piece on some in the party seeing an electoral benefit from last week's D.C.-area shooting, which left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) clinging to life.

Some Republicans see political upside in the tragedy. Brad Carver is chairman of the Republican Party in the neighboring 11th Congressional District, which is represented by Barry Loudermilk, a member of the GOP baseball squad who was on the scene during last Wednesday's shooting.

"I'll tell you what: I think the shooting is going to win this election for us," Carver said Saturday after a get-out-the-vote rally for Handel in Chamblee. "Because moderates and independents in this district are tired of left-wing extremism."

It's unsettling that anyone would look for partisan advantage in a mass shooting. It's even more alarming when someone feels comfortable making such an argument out loud, in front of a public audience.

As for the idea that Jon Ossoff's moderate message deserves to be tied to the actions of a dangerous madman, that's obviously offensive, but the sentiment apparently isn't limited to Georgia's Brad Carver. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a Republican group called the Principled PAC has launched a new attack ad, showing Steve Scalise being wheeled away on a stretcher.

"When will it stop?" a narrator asks. "It won't if Jon Ossoff wins on Tuesday, because the same unhinged leftists cheering last week's shooting are all backing Jon Ossoff. And if he wins, they win." The same commercial, without proof, claims the left "is endorsing and applauding shooting Republicans."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.19.17

06/19/17 12:00PM

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

* This case out of Wisconsin will likely be very important: "The Supreme Court declared Monday that it will consider whether gerrymandered election maps favoring one political party over another violate the Constitution, a potentially fundamental change in the way American elections are conducted."

* While most national Democrats are not heading to Georgia to help Jon Ossoff's (D) special-election campaign -- it's a Republican-friendly district -- he is getting help from a congressman from the neighboring district: civil-rights icon, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

* On a related note, Karen Handel (R), Ossoff's opponent in tomorrow's election, has reiterated her opposition to allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.

* Despite his historically low approval rating, Donald Trump continues to look for evidence of his popularity, and over the weekend, he found an outlier poll to cherry-pick.

* After last year's elections, Republican voters' satisfaction with the nation's direction jumped. In recent weeks, however, Gallup has found GOP voters' attitudes have soured considerably.

* Adding to Josh Mandel's troubles ahead of his U.S. Senate campaign next year, Ohio's Republican state Treasurer, Josh Mandel, "submitted a financial disclosure statement that reveals that every work trip he took last year was at least in some part related to politics." Mandel has previously been accused of using public resources to advance his electoral ambitions.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised more than $9.3 million in May, a record for the party compared to any previous May. Their Republican counterparts, despite being in the majority, reportedly raised $6.5 million over the same period.

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Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GOP senators flub the meaning of 'committee of the whole'

06/19/17 11:30AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke with reporters on Capitol Hill last week, offering a brief and vague update on the state of his party's health care overhaul. The GOP leader said every member of the Senate Republican caucus had met that morning, and they were "operating kind of as a committee of the whole."

The point of the comment, of course, was to push back against the fact that a Republican "working group" -- made up of 13 conservative men, mostly from red states -- is principally responsible for crafting their party's secret health care plan. McConnell wants to give the impression that the process is more collaborative: Senate Republicans, the argument goes, may not be working with the health care industry, subject-matter experts, or Democrats, but they are working with one another.

There is, however, ample evidence to the contrary. A wide variety of GOP senators have complained publicly that they have no idea what the Republican proposal entails. There was a recent slide-show briefing for GOP members, but one senator said the slides were flashed across screens so quickly "that they can hardly be committed to memory."

But let's not brush past the significance of McConnell's other talking point: Senate Republicans, he said, are "operating kind of as a committee of the whole." It's a phrase that keeps coming up, as evidenced by this report on Thursday:

Republican Conference Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said the process of writing a healthcare bill has included all GOP senators rather than only those belonging to healthcare-related committees and thus cannot be considered secretive. "Our members have all been involved," Thune said. "This has really been a committee of the whole, unlike anything I have done since I have been here."

And this report from the same day:

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the Senate leadership team, defended the process.... Pressed on the lack of committee hearings or input by a reporter, he described the Senate GOP working group as "a committee of the whole."

And this report from two days earlier:

"This has really been a committee of the whole. This really has provided very fulsome and genuine input from every Republican senator," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told reporters....

They keep using that phrase, but I don't think it means what they think it means.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Republicans aren't exactly clamoring to work for Donald Trump

06/19/17 11:00AM

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., despite a series of shocking scandals, was rewarded with a promotion of sorts last month: Donald Trump, apparently impressed with Clarke's often terrifying record, offered Clarke an appointment as an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The position would not require Senate confirmation.

Over the weekend, however, Clarke announced he'd changed his mind. Despite having already accepted the job -- his first day was scheduled for next week -- Clarke "rescinded his acceptance" of the DHS offer.

It creates yet another administration vacancy the White House will have to fill, and as the Washington Post reported over the weekend, there are an awful lot of them.

The array of legal and political threats hanging over the Trump presidency has compounded the White House's struggles to fill out the top ranks of the government.

Trump's firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last month and the escalating probe into Russian interference in the presidential election have made hiring even more difficult, say former federal officials, party activists, lobbyists and candidates who Trump officials have tried to recruit.

Republicans say they are turning down job offers to work for a chief executive whose volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking head-hunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage, according to 27 people The Washington Post interviewed to assess what is becoming a debilitating factor in recruiting political appointees.

To put the challenge in context, consider some specific numbers. By mid-June in the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama had 151 top political appointees in place. Eight years earlier, George W. Bush had 130 in place. Trump has 43.

As one might expect, the White House denies the existence of a problem, but numbers like these are hard to argue with.

And while there's almost certainly more than one explanation for Trump's personnel troubles, it doesn't help that the White House is in the midst of a crisis, created in part by the president's own ignorance, impulsiveness, volatility, and alleged corruption. Some prospective administration employees told the Post they're worried about having to hire attorneys if they joined Team Trump.

Most sensible folks looking for career opportunities don't run towards a sinking ship; they run away from it.

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Trump under the mistaken impression that the economy will save him

06/19/17 10:30AM

Donald Trump has taken a look at his presidency, and he's convinced he's doing a great job. Before his cabinet meeting last week, in which members of his team took turns offering gushing praise for their leader, the president declared, “Never has there been a president, with few exceptions ... who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we’ve done."

Trump tweeted a similar message yesterday, insisting that his "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN agenda is doing very well." (Trump seems to have a special fondness for capitalized letters.) He specifically pointed to the number of bills he's signed and the "great" Supreme Court justice he named to the bench.

And while it's true Neil Gorsuch is now on the high court -- filling a vacancy of dubious legitimacy -- Trump's legislative accomplishments are hard to take seriously. An NBC News reported, "Three of those bills were appointing three members to the Smithsonian's board, another approved a war memorial, a fifth promoted women in entrepreneurship, and a sixth encouraged the display of the American flag on Vietnam War Veterans Day."

Hardly the stuff of presidential legend.

But at the core of Trump's defense of his presidency to date, over the weekend and in recent weeks, appears to be an unshakable belief that the economy can serve as a political life-preserver. Scandals and investigations may represent rising waters, but Trump seems to believe that the economy will keep him from drowning. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump is telling his supporters to concentrate on the economy — not an investigation into his campaign's relationships with Russian officials that has now expanded to include the president himself, as he acknowledged Friday morning. [...]

“Despite the phony Witch Hunt going on in America, the economic & jobs numbers are great,” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “Regulations way down, jobs and enthusiasm way up!”

On the surface, this isn't a bad strategy -- a president's political standing is often tied to the health of the economy, or lack thereof -- but in Trump's case, it's not quite as easy as he'd like to believe.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Planned Parenthood funding creates key challenge for Senate GOP

06/19/17 10:00AM

About a week ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Senate Republicans plan to "strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood ... and add several other abortion restrictions" to their still-secret health care bill. That may not sound especially surprising, given much of the GOP's fierce opposition to the group in recent years.

It does, however, create a challenge for Republican leaders, who have precious few votes to spare in this endeavor. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for example, recently said, "It's not the only issue in this huge bill, but I certainly think it's not fair and it is a mistake to defund Planned Parenthood."

She's not the only one. Politico reported late Friday:

Sen. Lisa Murkowski has assured an Alaska constituent that she's committed to preserving Planned Parenthood funding as part of a health care bill -- the strongest line she's drawn yet over one of the most controversial elements of the Obamacare repeal effort.

"I am committed to ensuring that important provisions of the ACA, such as covering those with pre-existing conditions, continued support for Medicaid expansion, coverage for dependents and no lifetime limits, and funding for Planned Parenthood remain intact," Murkowski wrote in the constituent letter obtained by POLITICO.

Asked about the correspondence she signed, Murkowski reiterated to Politico that she still hasn't seen her party's secret bill, but added she's a "strong proponent [of Planned Parenthood] and I will fight to keep the funding in. I can't make promises or representations on bills that I don't know the contents of. I guess I'd have to see. But I have been solid on Planned Parenthood. It's all about access."

I wouldn't go so far as to call this language a threat to GOP leaders, but it certainly complicates the arithmetic for Senate Republicans.

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DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) listen to speakers during a "United we Dream," rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013.  (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Under latest Trump policy, 'Dreamers' remain in jeopardy

06/19/17 09:20AM

The fate of the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy has been unclear for months. As a candidate, Donald Trump said the programs' beneficiaries -- children, known as "Dreamers," who entered the country illegally at a young age -- would be subject to deportations, but as president, Trump said the kids could "rest easy."

Soon after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asked about these young immigrants' fate, said, "Well, we'll see. I believe that everyone who enters the country illegally is subject to being deported."

Friday brought some clarity to the issue: the White House announced that while President Obama's Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) is no more, DACA would remain in place. In effect, young people who benefited from Obama's policies don't have to worry about deportation, and they can continue to receive work permits, but their parents may yet have a problem.

And at first, the continuation of the status quo -- DAPA was blocked in the courts -- seemed largely encouraging for Dreamers and their allies. But the details matter: these young immigrants aren't in the clear yet. The New York Times reported:

President Trump will not immediately eliminate protections for the so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as small children, according to new memorandums issued by the administration on Thursday night.

But White House officials said on Friday morning that Mr. Trump had not made a decision about the long-term fate of the program and might yet follow through on a campaign pledge to take away work permits from the immigrants or deport them.

A Politico report added, "The future of an Obama-era deportation relief program remains undecided." Indeed, in a written statement, the Department of Homeland Security said, "The future of the DACA program continues to be under review with the administration."

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Secret health care bill roils Senate Republicans

06/19/17 08:40AM

When a reporter noted the other day that Senate Republicans are pushing a health care bill amid a level of secrecy "not seen since before World War I," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the observation as "crazy talk." In this case, the GOP gambit may be "crazy," but the charge is true.

Don Ritchie, the official historian emeritus of the U.S. Senate, told the L.A. Times last week that during the Wilson administration, Senate Democrats crafted major tariff reforms in secret, but such an approach to federal legislating "hasn't happened since." The report on the GOP's health care scheme, citing Ritchie's analysis, added, "[N]ot since the years before World War I has the Senate taken such a partisan, closed-door approach to major legislation."

The truth may make Cornyn uncomfortable, but that doesn't make it wrong.

The same article had this striking quote from a key Republican senator:

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said holding public hearings about the legislation would only give Democrats more opportunity to attack the bill.

"We have zero cooperation from the Democrats," he said. "So getting it in public gives them a chance to get up and scream."

It's a fascinating, albeit bizarre, perspective. To hear Orrin Hatch tell it, there's nothing especially problematic with Republicans tackling a health care overhaul -- life-or-death legislation, affecting one-sixth of the world's largest economy -- in total secrecy, because if there was transparency, some might criticize the legislation.

In fairness, several GOP senators have publicly criticized their own party's process. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who appeared on multiple Sunday shows yesterday, conceded that the Republicans' approach isn't ideal. "The Senate is not a place where you can cook up something behind closed doors," he said on CBS.

There's a lot of this going around. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and others have publicly acknowledged that there are real problems with the way in which their party is trying to pass a secret health care bill.

But no one should be too impressed with their candor.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the Rose Garden as he returns from a day trip to Atlanta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S.

Team Trump looks for nuance in the words 'under investigation'

06/19/17 08:00AM

The news last week was stunning and historic: the special counsel's investigation into the Russia scandal now includes "an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice." It makes Donald Trump only the third sitting American president ever to face a federal probe from the Justice Department.

Responding to the multiple news outlets that reported the developments, Trump complained on Twitter, "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!" The statement seemed to represent a not-so-subtle shot at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but it also seemed to confirm the underlying story.

Or so we thought. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the White House balked soon after, arguing that just because the president wrote, "I am being investigated," it doesn't mean he's being investigated.

If that wasn't confusing enough, things got worse yesterday. Jay Sekulow, best known for his role as the head of TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, appeared on several Sunday shows in his capacity as a leading member of Trump's defense team. He repeatedly insisted the president is not being investigated and Friday's tweet was intended to paraphrase media accounts. (This is not the first time Trump World said it's the media's fault the president used words the White House didn't want him to use.)

But Sekulow's case took a strange turn during an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace: I bolded the phrase that stood out as especially problematic:

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Trump twitter rants worsen his situation

Trump twitter rants worsen his situation

06/16/17 09:35PM

Bob Bauer, former White House counsel, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Donald Trump hurts himself with rash tweets, and whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein needs to recuse himself from the obstruction part of the Trump Russia investigation. watch


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