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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 5.8.18

05/08/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm glad this scandal was resolved so quickly: "New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a prominent figure in the #MeToo movement who has taken on disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, abruptly resigned Monday night after The New Yorker published the accusations of women who said he was violent toward them."

* Related news: "The Manhattan District Attorney's Office confirmed on Tuesday that it is investigating outgoing New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman -- as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the sexual-abuse allegations leveled against the soon-to-be former official 'deeply disturbing.'"

* Schneiderman's replacement: "[O]n Tuesday, Cuomo said he had faith that the solicitor general Barbara Underwood, who will become the acting attorney general until a joint session of the legislation can appoint a new attorney general, would be successful in the role."

* Shouldn't this get a congressional hearing or two? "The four U.S. soldiers killed in Niger last October were trying to capture or kill a senior ISIS terrorist, but the two officers in charge of their 12-man unit misled their higher-ups by reporting they were going on a far less risky mission, according to two U.S. officials and a congressional official familiar with the classified investigation of the deadly ambush."

* Good thinking: "Sen. Orrin Hatch, who called it 'ridiculous' that Sen. John McCain would not want President Donald Trump to attend his funeral, apologized to his ailing GOP colleague Tuesday for the off-the-cuff remark."

* I guess this was inevitable: "President Donald Trump is growing increasingly irritated with lawyer Rudy Giuliani's frequently off-message media blitz, in which he has muddied the waters on hush money paid to porn actress Stormy Daniels and made claims that could complicate the president's standing in the special counsel's Russia probe."

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

A president who tears down, rather than builds up

05/08/18 04:37PM

It took five years of difficult diplomatic work to put an international sanctions regime in place that forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. It took two years of difficult diplomatic work to reach an international agreement that blocked Iran's nuclear program and worked exactly as intended.

It took a few minutes for Donald Trump to throw all of that work away.

President Donald Trump's decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran -- essentially abandoning the Obama-era nuclear deal -- leaves the international community scrambling to salvage the pact. [...]

Although Trump has been emphatic in his opposition to the deal, he was less clear about what should replace it or how far the U.S. is willing to go to limit Iran's nuclear ambitions or its regional aggression.

To a very real extent, it's "repeal and replace" all over again: the Republican president knows he's against an effective status quo, but Trump can't explain why, and he hasn't the foggiest idea what kind of policy framework he'd like to put in its place.

Indeed, Trump may have given up on the Iran deal today, but he offered no proof to substantiate his assertions of its failure, and he's unveiled no Plan B.

Which brings us to an eerily familiar dynamic for this presidency.

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On the Iran deal, Trump started with the answer and worked backwards

05/08/18 12:43PM

There was an amusing moment in the Oval Office two weeks ago, with Donald Trump sitting alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, when a reporter asked the American leader whether he'd consider honoring the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

"It was a terrible deal," Trump said. "It should have never, ever been made. We could have made a good deal or a reasonable deal. The Iran deal is a terrible deal. We paid $150 billion. We gave $1.8 billion in cash. That's actual cash, barrels of cash. It's insane. It's ridiculous. It should have never been made."

As part of the same answer, he added, "We'll see.... We will be talking about it."

I laughed, not just because Trump had no idea what he was talking about, but also because of the juxtaposition between the different parts of the answer. It'd be like asking someone if they wanted to join you at a restaurant and hearing your friend reply, "It's a terrible place. I've always hated it. The food is awful; the service is ridiculous; and the prices are insulting. I don't understand how such a pathetic establishment keeps its doors open."

Your friend then adds, "We'll see," as if he or she still has an open mind.

When it comes to the fate of the Iran deal, which the president appears to know very little about, he hasn't exactly been subtle about his intentions. As regular readers know, 

Trump has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible,” without fully explaining how he arrived at such a conclusion. As a candidate, he declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal “poses a direct national security threat.” Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement “will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country.”

After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to “lead to nuclear holocaust.”

As president, Trump went into “meltdown” mode when his own team has told him that the policy is actually working as intended, because the facts were simply inconceivable to him. He knows the policy is a disaster, so when reality pointed in a different direction, Trump found it necessary to reject reality.

And as such, the president did what effective leaders should never do: he started with the answer and then worked backwards to reach the conclusion that made him feel better about his own assumptions.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.8.18

05/08/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Election Day in four states: Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Pay particular attention the two gubernatorial primaries in Ohio, the Republican Senate primary in Indiana, and West Virginia's Republican Senate primary.

* On a related note, if Don Blankenship prevails in the West Virginia race, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has said he intends to endorse and donate to the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin.

* There are also some down-ballot races of note today, including businessman Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's brother, running in a congressional primary, making his first bid for elected office. Greg Pence's business record has drawn some scrutiny in recent months, and it's not without failures.

* In Florida's gubernatorial primary, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) wasn't considered a top contender when he launched his candidacy in January, but after receiving support from Donald Trump, DeSantis became a frequent Fox News guest, pushing him into contention.

* Following her closer-than-expected victory in a special election last month, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) was sworn in as Congress' newest member yesterday. The current number of House vacancies has now shrunk from six to five.

* An interesting observation from McClatchy: there are no major Democratic Senate primaries anywhere in the country in 2018. Given how extremely difficult this year's map is for Senate Dems, this is exactly what party leaders hoped for.

* Five months after his failed U.S. Senate bid, disgraced former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) is now weighing a possible gubernatorial campaign this year. It wouldn't be his first such attempt: Moore ran for governor in 2006 and 2010, and in both instances, he lost in GOP primaries.

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On unemployment, Trump was born on third base, thinks he hit a triple

05/08/18 11:20AM

Those who visit the White House's online homepage right now are greeted with a headline that happens to be true: "Unemployment Falls Below 4 Percent for the First Time Since 2000." Those who click on the headline are presented with an impressive boast:

The national unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, the first time it has fallen below 4 percent since the year 2000 and well below the pre-recession average of 5.3 percent. [...]

WHY: President Donald J. Trump's historic tax cuts, deregulation, and pro-growth policies are creating jobs and restoring confidence in America's economy.

There are a few relevant angles to this. First, a 3.9% unemployment rate is great news for the country and American workers, though the metric does come with some caveats. For example, the rate's most recent drop was the result of discouraging developments, not encouraging ones.

Second, and more important, is the fact that Trump claiming credit for the news is a stretch. This is a great example of someone being born on third base and thinking they hit a triple: the jobless rate has been steadily declining since President Obama ended the Great Recession in his first term. It's great that the trend has continued over the year and a half Trump has been in office, but no one should try to make the case that the Republicans' tax breaks and deregulation crusade are somehow responsible for creating the trend that began in 2010.

Or put another way, looking at the above chart, Trump would have Americans believe he deserves credit for the red line, but his predecessor deserves no credit for the blue line. It's a tough sell.

Indeed, if Trump were right, and his tax and deregulation plans were chiefly responsible for good economic news, he'd have to explain why job growth has been slower under his presidency than under most of Obama's second term.

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Image: Senate Judiciary Committee

Mueller rejects idea of allowing Trump to answer questions in writing

05/08/18 10:40AM

It's not exactly a secret that Donald Trump's lawyers are worried that if he sat down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the president might lie. And since lying to investigators would be a criminal act, Trump's lawyers would apparently prefer that he not cooperate with the investigation into the Russia scandal at all.

But since there are political risks associated with refusing to answer questions, Trump World has explored a variety of alternative scenarios. At one point, for example, the president's defense team considered offering the special counsel's team a written affidavit, signed by Trump, "affirming" his innocence. Later, the president's lawyers offered pre-written narrative vignettes about various episodes that are the subject of ongoing federal scrutiny.

And then there's my personal favorite: Trump World explored the possibility of an on-paper interview, which would effectively be a take-home exam for the president. Evidently, Trump's legal team actually offered this, though it didn't go over well.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is now on President Trump's legal team, told CBS News correspondent Paula Reid Monday that special counsel Robert Mueller's office has rejected proposals to allow Mr. Trump to answer questions from investigators in writing.

The president's legal team has signaled that this would be their preferred format for a possible interview, since it helps protect Mr. Trump from the possibility of lying or misleading investigators, which is a criminal offense.

Well, yes, I suppose it is far less likely that Trump would lie if his lawyers did his written homework for him, but that doesn't make this a reasonable request. [Update: Giuliani has also confirmed this story to NBC News.]

I'm not surprised Mueller and his team said no; I'm surprised the president's defense lawyers seriously put this on the table.

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John McCain speaks during The Daily Beast's 2nd Annual Hero Summit at Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium on Oct. 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty)

For some in GOP, McCain's funeral plans should be more pro-Trump

05/08/18 10:05AM

Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) ailments are obviously serious, and in an audio excerpt he recorded for his forthcoming memoir, the Arizona Republican conceded, "I don't know how much longer I'll be here."

With this in mind, McCain is understandably making his wishes known, and as NBC News reported over the weekend, the senator has told the White House he doesn't want Donald Trump to attend his funeral. Given the fact that the president has, among other things, questioned McCain's military service, it's easy to understand why the senator may feel that way.

What's more surprising, however, is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) publicly urging McCain to change his mind. Politico  reported yesterday:

McCain prefers instead that Vice President Mike Pence attend his funeral rather than Trump, who has mocked McCain for being tortured and attacked him for voting against Obamacare repeal. But Hatch said he thought keeping the president from his funeral was too much: "I think it's ridiculous."

"Well, he's the president of the United States and he's a very good man. But it's up to [McCain]. I think John should have his own wishes fulfilled with regard to who attends the funeral," said the Utah senator. Asked whether McCain should change his mind about Trump, Hatch said: "I would."

Let's unpack this a bit, because I think it's amazing. First, it's difficult for me to imagine why Orrin Hatch thinks it's any of his concern who does or doesn't attend McCain's services.

Second, if the Utah Republican has any evidence of Donald Trump being "a very good man," I'm eager to see it.

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Image: U.S. first lady Melania Trump announces the launch of her "Be Best" initiative at the White House in Washington

Melania Trump's 'Be Best' materials become latest White House misstep

05/08/18 09:20AM

Nearly two years ago, much of the nation was first introduced to Melania Trump when she delivered remarks at the Republican National Convention. That quickly became a fiasco when we learned that large portions of her remarks had been plagiarized from a Michelle Obama speech.

All of this came to mind yesterday when the First Lady unveiled her awkwardly named "Be Best" campaign, which as Rachel noted on the show last night, was accompanied by materials intended to help protect children when they're online. While the information was presented as if it'd been prepared by Melania Trump, it wasn't.

On Monday, Melania Trump formally announced the launch of an anti-cyberbullying initiative. As part of that initiative, the White House released a booklet that, in the words of Melania’s signed introduction, is intended to “help kids act thoughtfully and kindly” online. And, as BuzzFeed News’ Ryan Mac points out, it appears that the booklet was almost completely copied from a document released by the Federal Trade Commission in 2014.

The new materials updated the icon for a smart phone, and included a new introduction from the current First Lady, but otherwise, the contents were simply copied and pasted.

Which means that Melania Trump, who does not enter the public spotlight often, is now dealing with another embarrassment.

In the grand scheme of things, it's easy to overlook this as a fairly minor story. Some folks in the White House probably thought they could pass off others' work as their own and assumed they wouldn't get caught. Even if this incident disappears from our memories quickly, those aides were mistaken.

The trouble is that we're confronted on a nearly daily basis with evidence of rank White House incompetence.

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Key Republicans voice caution before Trump kills the Iran deal

05/08/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump is widely expected to scuttle the international nuclear agreement with Iran this afternoon, despite all of the pressure the president has received not to reject the effective diplomatic agreement. Indeed, just this morning, a new national CNN poll found that the American people, by more than a two-to-one margin, do not want to see the United States withdraw from the Iran deal.

But Trump isn't just ignoring the judgment of his constituents. The Republican is also poised to ignore the recommendations of our British allies. And our French allies. And our German allies. And the beliefs of his own Defense secretary. And calls from national security experts from previous administrations.

But what is often overlooked is the fact that even congressional Republicans, nearly all of whom opposed the agreement when it was reached, have sent not-so-subtle signals to the president, counseling him not to withdraw from the deal.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is a very conservative congressman, from a very conservative district, who votes with Trump more than 97% of the time. But note what Thornberry said over the weekend when he talked to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

WALLACE: Should President Trump pull out of the Iran nuclear deal next Saturday, by next Saturday, even if the Europeans decide to stay in it and continue to do business with Tehran?

THORNBERRY: I would counsel against it. I was opposed to the Iran deal. I thought it was a bad deal.... But the key question is, OK, now we are where we are. What happens next if the U.S. pulls out? Secretary Mattis talked about the inspectors that are in there. Does Iran kick those inspectors out so that we lose what visibility we have there? The Europeans are not going to re-impose sanctions. So where does that leave us and Iran?

The Texas Republican went on to recommend Trump delay his decision and explore diplomatic alternatives with our international partners.

That followed related recommendations from Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who said he originally opposed the deal, but who nevertheless argued during a hearing in October, "As flawed as the deal is, I believe we must now enforce the hell out of it."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Despite budget deal, Trump takes aim at funding for children's health program

05/08/18 08:00AM

The Trump administration's timing could've been better. About an hour after First Lady Melania Trump announced an initiative to support the wellbeing of children, Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled a policy to separate immigrant children from their families as part of a border crackdown.

And shortly after that, the White House said it wants to cut funding for a popular children's health program as part of a controversial new budget move. The Washington Post  reported:

President Trump is sending a plan to Congress that calls for stripping more than $15 billion in previously approved spending, with the hope that it will temper conservative angst over ballooning budget deficits.

Almost half of the proposed cuts would come from two accounts within the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that White House officials said expired last year or are not expected to be drawn upon. An additional $800 million in cuts would come from money created by the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to test innovative payment and service delivery models.

In effect, Donald Trump is looking for a do-over on the budget agreement Congress already passed and the president already signed. Vocal elements on the far-right hated the bipartisan budget deal -- which, among other things, significantly increased government spending -- and the White House has been eager to address their criticisms.

This, evidently, is what Team Trump came up with: a "rescission" package that aims to cut $15 billion in spending that's already been authorized. (It's made possible under something called the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, which rarely comes up in day-to-day conversation.)

Under the plan, Congress will have 45 days to either reject or agree to the White House's latest plan with majority-rule votes in both chambers. The next question, obviously, is whether Trump's gambit will work.

He probably shouldn't get his hopes up.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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