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Image: US-SPAIN-DIPLOMACY-TILLERLSON-QUECEDO

Following 'moron' flap, Tillerson's Trump troubles persist

10/05/17 09:24AM

The story sounds apocryphal, but it's true. As the Washington Post  confirmed several years ago, in 1974, an upstart magazine called New Times published a rather brutal piece on Congress' 10 dumbest members. Then-Sen. William Scott (R-Va.) was ranked #1 -- which is to say, the dumbest of the dumb on Capitol Hill.

The smart move, of course, would've been for Scott to ignore the article. Instead, the Virginia Republican hosted a press conference in his office in order to tell congressional reporters that he was not, in fact, dumb. Not surprisingly, this led to all kinds of mockery, and questions about the senator's intelligence became a popular topic of conversation.

And while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's press conference yesterday wasn't quite as ridiculous, it was in the same vein. The Washington Post explained yesterday afternoon:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just delivered an unscheduled statement to reporters about "some news reports this morning that I want to address."

But while Tillerson went on to dispute one major contention in those "reports" -- that he considered resigning -- he directly and pregnantly declined to dispute another one -- that he called his boss, President Trump, a "moron."

The juxtaposition of those two things was striking, and it leads to basically one logical conclusion: He can't deny it ... because he said it.

The trouble started yesterday with an NBC News piece. At a July meeting at the Pentagon, Tillerson reportedly said in front of several officials that he thinks the president is a "moron." One of the NBC reporters later clarified that one of her sources specifically said the Secretary of State called Trump a "f***ing moron."

Trump administration officials pushed back against the story, but CNN soon after ran a story of its own, confirming with its own sources that Tillerson really did call Trump a "moron."

The cabinet secretary then held a press conference -- no doubt knowing what he'd be asked -- in which he dodged the question about whether he called the president a "moron."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump wants a Senate Intel Committee probe of US media outlets

10/05/17 08:40AM

The top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee held an informal briefing for the press yesterday, updating the public on the state of their investigation into the Russia scandal. And while there weren't any blockbuster revelations, Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) agreed with U.S. intelligence agencies about Vladimir Putin's government having intervened in the American election on Donald Trump's behalf.

The president, meanwhile, would like the Senate panel to ignore the foreign adversary's attack on our democracy, and instead turn its attention to a different matter entirely.

"Why Isn't the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!"

Yes, I know, we've all grown quite inured to routine Trump nonsense, but let's not brush past the fact that the sitting president of the United States wants an investigation into American news organizations that publish reports he disapproves of.

Trump's authoritarian instincts do not serve him well in our system of government.

What's more, let's not overlook the context: the Senate Intelligence Committee is in the midst of an ongoing examination of foreign intervention in our political system -- a probe the White House is desperate to see end -- including Russia's media and propaganda tactics. None of this is of interest to the president who's benefited from Putin's efforts. Trump is far more interested in cracking down on American journalists.

To be sure, the president will not get his wish. Not only does the Senate Intelligence Committee have its hands full, but it has no jurisdiction to "look into" U.S. outlets that report news Trump doesn't like. The fact that he doesn't know or care about this only adds insult to injury.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Widespread corruption allegations add to Trump World's troubles

10/05/17 08:00AM

The Washington Post  reported late yesterday that Joel Clement, a scientist and policy expert at the Interior Department, was "removed from his job by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shortly after" he disclosed how climate change affects Alaska Native communities. Clement was reassigned "to an accounting position for which he has no experience," prompting him to resign.

On his way out, however, the scientist noted that there are laws in place to prevent this kind of mistreatment -- laws that Donald Trump's cabinet secretary appears to have ignored. The department's inspector general has launched an investigation into this and related reassignments.

And while that obviously seems like a worthwhile probe, let's not forget an important detail: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, less than a year at his post, is also facing an investigation into his controversial travel habits, which isn't to be confused with an unrelated probe into his alleged intimidation tactics against Republican senators during the health care fight.

That's quite a few probes for one cabinet secretary in one year, but as Slate's Jamelle Bouie noted last night, the problem extends well beyond the Interior Department.

Amid the chaos and dysfunction that marks Washington in the age of Trump, it can be easy to miss that this White House is corrupt. Remarkably, unbelievably, corrupt. [...]

Democracy needs trust to survive, and corruption erodes that trust. The longer it continues, the more it becomes just the background noise of our politics, the harder it is to plot a correction and restore the democratic faith necessary to tackle collective problems. If, like many in the Republican Party, one does not believe in collective action for public good, then this is not a problem. For those of us who do, however, it is a crisis.

HHS Secretary Tom Price was under investigation, and the scandal led to his resignation. Zinke is facing more than one investigation. VA Secretary David Shulkin is under investigation. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is under investigation. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was investigated for violating the Hatch Act. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been caught up in so many controversies, it's been genuinely difficult to keep up with all of them. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has faced accusations of lying under oath about his interactions with Russian officials during the campaign.

And that's just Trump's cabinet.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.4.17

10/04/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Las Vegas: "Authorities investigating the Las Vegas massacre turned Wednesday to the shooter's girlfriend, hoping for more answers about the gunman and what may have sparked the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history."

* Puerto Rico: "Two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged this island, doctors and nurses are still in nonstop triage, working furiously to save lives and ease pain while struggling to contend with power outages, hospital evacuations, dwindling supplies and even crime outside their doors."

* Trump-Russia: "After interviewing more than 100 witnesses and reviewing a thousand times as many pages of documents, the Senate Intelligence Committee has not ruled out that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election and has a lot more probing to do, committee leaders said Wednesday."

* On a related note: "The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday warned political candidates to expect Russian operatives to try to sow chaos and manipulate upcoming elections in November and in 2018."

* That's quite a statistic: "More Americans have died from gunshots in the last 50 years than in all of the wars in American history."

* A case I've been watching: "President Donald Trump’s pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s conviction for disobeying a court order in an immigration case will stand after a judge on Wednesday rejected arguments that it would encourage government officials to flout similar judicial commands in the future."

* Polling: "Americans are more likely to disapprove than approve of President Donald Trump's handling of the Puerto Rico hurricane relief effort. According to a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just 32 percent approve of how Trump is handling disaster relief in the U.S. territory, while 49 percent disapprove."

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An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux)

House Republicans make time for new abortion ban

10/04/17 03:51PM

The Republican-led U.S. House has quite a bit to do right now. Among other things, Congress needs to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program, continue to work on its tax plan, and as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters yesterday, "Right now, we're focused on passing our budget."

Strictly speaking, that's not entirely true -- because Ryan's members are also focused on passing a new abortion ban. The Washington Post reported:

The House on Tuesday approved a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, advancing a key GOP priority for the third time in the past four years — this time, with a supportive Republican in the White House.

The bill, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is not expected to emerge from the Senate, where most Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans can block its consideration. But antiabortion activists are calling President Trump's endorsement of the bill a significant advance for their movement.

The roll call on the bill, which passed largely along party lines, is online here. Note that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), an anti-abortion Republican who reportedly pressed his mistress to have an abortion after their extra-marital affair, was among the GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill late yesterday.

As for the bigger picture, if these circumstances seem familiar, there's a good reason for that.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Trump forgets to bring human empathy with him to Puerto Rico

10/04/17 12:47PM

Soon after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Donald Trump announced a presidential visit. As public-relations stunts go, it was pretty vacuous: Trump didn't "meet a single storm victim, see an inch of rain or get near a flooded street." He marveled at the size of the "turnout" of people he met in Corpus Christi, and he lied about having seen devastation "first hand," but the president steered clear of those who'd actually suffered.

Exactly five weeks later, we saw an eerily similar scene. The Washington Post reports that Trump made a brief visit to Puerto Rico yesterday, where he toured a wealthy suburb, steering clear of locals facing dire straits nearby.

The Puerto Rico that President Trump saw during his four-hour visit on Tuesday afternoon was that of Angel Pérez Otero, the mayor of Guaynabo, a wealthy San Juan suburb known for its amenity-driven gated communities that was largely spared when Hurricane Maria hit nearly two weeks ago.

Pérez Otero led Trump and his entourage on a walking tour of a neighborhood, where high-speed winds had blown out some second-story windows and knocked over a few trees — but where life seemed to be returning to normal, thanks to assistance from the government. Neighbors stood outside their homes ready to warmly greet the president, their phones powered up and ready to snap photos.

One homeowner told Trump that he lost a couple windows and still hasn't regained electricity, but he was never worried about his family's safety.

Trump told the local resident that he's glad his house is in good shape, adding, "Have a good time."

He did not visit nearby areas where homes were ripped from their foundations or hear from desperate families. Trump boasted on Twitter this morning that it was "a great day in Puerto Rico yesterday," leading to an inevitable follow-up question the president will never answer: a great day for whom?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.4.17

10/04/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden headlined a rally in support of Senate hopeful Doug Jones, and turnout was pretty good. The special election is still two months away.

* On a related note, in the days following Roy Moore's primary victory, Jones reportedly raised $820,000 from donors in all 50 states.

* Though candidates backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have a mixed electoral track record so far this year, one pulled off a big upset yesterday: in Birmingham's mayoral race, Randall Woodfin prevailed over incumbent William Bell. Sanders personally recorded a robocall on Woodfin's behalf.

* A group called Citizens for Trump appears to be raising money in the president's name, but BuzzFeed found that it's "spending it to boost Republican candidates the president has not endorsed."

* In related news, the Daily Beast reports that a group called America First Policies, a leading pro-Trump dark money organization, is reportedly on track to spend $12 million this calendar year, which is quite a lot of spending in a non-election year.

* In the wake of Roy Moore's primary victory, the Washington Examiner reports that senior Republican strategists are warning Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) to "prepare early for a primary that could be a lot more formidable now that the activists and donors who fund conservative challengers believe that their investments might pay off."

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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Trump's ardent deficit hawk declares, 'We need new deficits'

10/04/17 11:20AM

Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump's far-right budget director, has developed a reputation over the years as an ardent deficit hawk. Six years ago, for example, during the debt-ceiling crisis he helped create, Mulvaney said he'd rather see the United States default on its debts than pass a clean debt-ceiling hike. As the South Carolina Republican put it at the time, we "desperately need ... structural change that stops Congress from continuing to spend a bunch of money we don't have."

More recently, he told Politico that he got involved in politics in part because he disapproved of the Bush/Cheney administration's big budget deficits.

And yet, as Mulvaney and his Republican brethren push massive tax cuts, he's apparently decided to abandon one of his core principles.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is signaling similar flexibility, saying on CNN Sunday that decisions about deductions remain up in the air as "the bill is not finished yet." He took it a step further on Fox News Sunday, by adding that a tax plan that doesn't add to the deficit won't spur growth.

"I've been very candid about this. We need to have new deficits because of that. We need to have the growth," Mulvaney said. "If we simply look at this as being deficit-neutral, you're never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3 percent economic growth."

Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), summarizing the perspective of many in his party, recently said in reference to deficit reduction, "It's a great talking point when you have an administration that's Democrat-led. It's a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration."

He clearly wasn't kidding.

But as brazen as Mulvaney's 180-degree turn is on one of the core principles of his entire governing philosophy, I come not to criticize the far-right OMB director, but to thank him.

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Image: North Korea

Why the Trump admin opposed a UN resolution on killing gay people

10/04/17 10:40AM

The Trump administration has faced some intense criticism this week for voting against a U.N. resolution that condemned the death penalty for LGBT people. For many on the left, it seemed like an unusually brazen example of Donald Trump betraying the people he once vowed to protect.

So what exactly happened at the United Nations? BuzzFeed reports that this week's vote was apparently about the White House's support for the death penalty, not opposition to gay rights.

Tuesday's vote in the UN Human Rights Council was on a measure that would encourage member states to apply a moratorium to the use of the death penalty, noting in its preamble the way that it can be unfairly applied to women, to people with disabilities, along racial divides, and against people engaged in "consensual same-sex relations." That resolution passed by a vote of 27 in favor, 13 against, and 7 abstentions.

Coverage of the resolution has almost exclusively focused on it being the first on the death penalty to pass while mentioning LGBT relationships, which advocacy groups like the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association have heralded as "historic."

The US was one of the 13 votes against, alongside Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

The full text of the four-page U.N. resolution is online here (pdf).

A State Department spokesperson clarified yesterday that the United States "unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy."

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Image: Tillerson testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington

Trump's Sec of State reportedly called the president a 'moron'

10/04/17 10:07AM

It's easy to understand why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would feel frustrated. It wasn't long ago he was the CEO of ExxonMobil, palling around with Vladimir Putin, and answering to no one but his shareholders.

Now, however, Tillerson is the chief diplomat in an administration led by a president who routinely humiliates him in public. The Secretary of State is now seen as Donald Trump's pitiful dog -- and not in a "man's best friend" sort of way.

Watching this unfold at a distance, it's hard not to wonder why Tillerson doesn't simply resign in disgust. According to a new report from NBC News, over the summer, it very nearly came to that.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a "moron," after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump's national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident.

We now know, of course, that Tillerson didn't quit -- Vice President Mike Pence, among others, intervened and persuaded him to stick around -- though Trump will no doubt hear about this NBC News report, and it's easy to imagine the relationship between the two men deteriorating further.

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Supreme Court Hears Arguments In Alabama Gerrymandering Case

Supreme Court hears gerrymandering case that may change our politics

10/04/17 09:20AM

There are quite a few factors that help explain the Republicans' current electoral dominance over the levers of federal power. The GOP benefits, for example, from the prevalence of Democratic voters clustering together in urban areas. In many states, voter-suppression techniques further give the conservative party a hand.

And then, of course, there's gerrymandering. After the 2010 midterms, Republican advantages in state legislatures led policymakers to draw ridiculous congressional districts in a variety of states, creating undemocratic conditions: Democrats could earn a majority of the votes, while Republicans received a majority of the power.

Gerrymandering alone does not explain the GOP's congressional majority, but it's an important  piece of the puzzle. But is it legal? Slate's Mark Joseph Stern took a closer look at Gill v. Whitford, one of the year's most important Supreme Court cases, which justices considered yesterday.

Partisan gerrymandering distorts democracy in a particularly pernicious way: When legislators draw maps that strongly favor their party, they create a majority that is both entrenched and endurable. Gill is a challenge to Wisconsin's map, and the state provides an excellent example of this phenomenon. While drawing maps in 2010, Wisconsin Republicans engaged in "packing and cracking" -- sticking most Democrats in a few safe Democratic districts and distributing the rest through safe Republican districts.

This gerrymander has given Republican legislators a massive unearned advantage. In 2012, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote -- and 60 out of 99 seats in the Wisconsin state assembly. In 2014, they received 52 percent of the vote and won 63 seats. In 2016, they received the same percentage of the statewide vote, and their majority crept up to 64 seats.

Under this map, Democrats have no real hope of regaining a legislative majority in Wisconsin. A huge number of state elections aren't even contested anymore; everybody knows the outcome in advance.

It's already illegal to draw gerrymandered districts along racial lines, but there's ambiguity about districts drawn along excessively partisan lines. The high court is poised to resolve those questions.

So, how'd oral arguments go?

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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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