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Thursday's Mini-Report, 9.7.17

09/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Category 5 storm has already been blamed for at least nine deaths: "Tourists scrambled to evacuate from Turks & Caicos and the Bahamas on Thursday as the deadly Hurricane Irma threatened to rake the islands and continue ravaging the northern Caribbean."

* Have I mentioned lately that I'm a Miami native with family and friends in the city? "Hurricane Irma was on a track to slam Miami this weekend as it continued to cut a fatal and destructive swath through the Caribbean islands Thursday."

* Irma isn't alone: "Two other menacing hurricanes, Jose and Katia, were swirling in the Atlantic Ocean basin and forecast to strengthen and impact land areas late Friday into the weekend."

* Today's vote was 80 to 17: "The Senate easily passed a $15 billion disaster relief bill Thursday that would also keep the government open for an additional three months and lift the debt ceiling to keep the U.S. Treasury from defaulting." (All 17 "no" votes were from Republicans.)

* Another step backwards: "During a planned press conference on Thursday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that 'the era of rule by letter is over' with regards to campus sexual assault."

* Gregory Katsas: "President Donald Trump has tapped one of his own White House attorneys for a judgeship on one of the most important federal appeals courts, opening the door for confirmation hearing questions about the legal controversies that dominated the first seven months of Trump's presidency."

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Image: Republican National Convention: Day One

The latest evolution in Trump Jr's Russia scandal story

09/07/17 12:59PM

Two months ago tomorrow, the New York Times published a report that changed the trajectory of the Trump-Russia scandal in a rather dramatic way. As regular readers no doubt recall, we learned that in in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a private meeting with, among others, a Kremlin-linked Russian attorney and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer.

This contradicted claims Trump Jr. made in March, when he said he hadn't met with Russians. Making matters worse, in response to the Times' reporting, he issued a written statement -- a statement approved by his father -- claiming the meeting was about adoption policy. That wasn't exactly true, either.

Soon after, Trump Jr. changed his story again, admitting that the campaign meeting was about obtaining information from Russia about Hillary Clinton, which in turn offered evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Putin government. Indeed, emails about the meeting made it quite clear that Moscow wanted to help Trump, and Trump Jr. welcomed the assistance.

The New York Times reported earlier today on the latest iteration of the argument from the president's eldest son.

Donald Trump Jr. told Senate investigators on Thursday that he set up a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer because he was intrigued that she might have damaging information about Hillary Clinton, saying it was important to learn about Mrs. Clinton's "fitness" to be president.

But nothing came of the Trump Tower meeting, he said, and he was adamant that he never colluded with the Russian government's campaign to disrupt last year's presidential election.

"To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out," he said. "Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration."

As the Times' report added, "The acknowledgment by the president's eldest son that he intended to seek legal counsel after the meeting suggests that he knew, or at least suspected, that accepting potentially damaging information about a rival campaign from a foreign country raised thorny legal issues."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.7.17

09/07/17 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) yesterday became the latest congressional Republican to announce his retirement, and Democrats see his competitive district as a key pick-up opportunity.

* In North Dakota yesterday, Donald Trump traveled on Air Force One with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), thanked her from his stage, shook her hand, and told the audience she's a "good woman." With Heitkamp running for re-election in a red state next year, voters should expect to see this moment again.

* In Alabama's Senate Republican primary runoff, a new Southeast Research poll found former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore leading appointed Sen. Luther Strange, 52% to 36%. The primary runoff is Sept. 26, which is less than three weeks away.

* On a related note, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, formally announced yesterday he's supporting Moore's candidacy.

* The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows Trump with a 40% approval rating, unchanged from June. The president's favorability rating is even lower, dropping to just 36%. The same poll found Barack Obama is easily the nation's most popular political figure.

* In Illinois, state Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, raised a few eyebrows last week when he chose Chicago alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a member of Democratic Socialists for America, as his running mate. Yesterday, however, the NBC affiliate in Chicago reported the two parted ways over Ramirez-Rosa's support for the "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement, which support boycotts of companies that do business with Israel.

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President Elect Donald Trump arrives on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan.20, 2017 in Washington, DC. In today's inauguration ceremony Donald J. Trump becomes the 45th president of the United States. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Whatever happened to the money from Trump's inaugural committee?

09/07/17 11:30AM

Following up on a presidential commitment, the White House announced yesterday that Donald and Melania Trump have made "a personal donation of $1 million dollars to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and have designated twelve organizations to receive contributions." Among the 12 beneficiaries are charitable groups created by TV preacher Pat Robertson and Christian evangelist Franklin Graham.

But this led The Daily Beast to ask a good question: whatever happened to all that money from Trump's inaugural committee, which was also supposed to go to charity?

Trump's inauguration committee has millions of dollars on hand that it did not spend on ceremonies in January, according to Tom Barrack, a friend of the president's who leads the inaugural committee. The committee has said since January that that money will be given to charity, a pledge that Barrack reiterated to The Daily Beast. But even as some internally press for the unspent funds to go toward hurricane relief efforts, Barrack is signaling that donations may not be made for months.

As regular readers may recall, Trump's inaugural committee was a fundraising juggernaut, eliminating caps on individual contributions -- caps that George W. Bush and Barack Obama both utilized -- and selling "exclusive access" for seven-figure contributions.

But because Trump's inauguration was not well attended, and there weren't that many events, much of the money raised went unspent. We don't know with any specificity exactly what was left over because the president's inaugural committee has not disclosed how the money was used or where the excess funds may end up.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Trump's strange legal team can't seem to help itself

09/07/17 10:57AM

Given the seriousness of the Russia scandal, it's incumbent on Donald Trump to assemble a capable and competent outside legal team to represent his interests. After all, this is a controversy that represents an existential threat to his presidency, and Trump's fate may very well be tied to the work of these attorneys.

And given their recent track record, this should make the president and his allies rather nervous.

For example, John Dowd, who is helping lead Trump's legal team, recently forwarded an email to journalists and government officials that "echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda" and argued that Black Lives Matter "has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups." Then there's Marc Kasowitz, another Trump lawyer, who was caught sending some unhinged messages of his own.

Yesterday, Business Insider reported that yet another member of the president's legal team has run into related trouble.

White House special counsel Ty Cobb engaged in a lengthy email exchange in which he defended his decision to join President Donald Trump's legal team and appeared to refer to himself and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as the "adults in the room."

The exchange on Tuesday night was with Jeff Jetton, the owner of a popular ramen restaurant in Washington, DC, who has made himself known to reporters by digging into Trump's alleged ties to Russia -- partly as an unabashed troll.

Apparently, Ty Cobb, a partner at a major DC firm and a White House special counsel, received some angry emails from a restaurateur he does not know. Instead of ignoring them, Cobb proceeded to exchange a series of messages with his antagonist, ultimately telling the angry stranger that it's "better" for everyone when there are "more adults in the room" with Trump.

Asked later by Jetton to "set the record straight" and explain how Cobb is "justifying" his role at the White House to himself and others, Cobb replied he "can say assertively [that] more adults in the room will be better. Me and Kelly among others."

The same article noted that Cobb got into another email argument with a different stranger on Tuesday night.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Trump accepts the same Democratic deal Ryan called 'disgraceful'

09/07/17 10:11AM

A few months ago, at the height of the health care debate, it was an open secret that Republicans were terrified of the prospect of Donald Trump negotiating directly with Democratic leaders. The fear, of course, was that the amateur president would sit down Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he'd find their pitch compelling; and Trump would end up giving Dems everything they asked for.

All of this came to mind yesterday, when the president hosted an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders on some of the fiscal issues pending on Capitol Hill. Democrats had already called for a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, pushing the issue off until December. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), about an hour before the White House gathering, described this approach "ridiculous," "disgraceful," and "unworkable." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hated it, too.

And yet, Donald Trump, without a whole lot of debate, endorsed it anyway.

Steven Mnuchin, seated on a couch to the president's right, had pushed this point before: A longer-term extension of 18 months would extend the deadline past the midterms -- which would take partisan politics out of the debate, in his view.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., disagreed: He wanted something much shorter. The president, in deal-making mode, had heard enough.

As Mnuchin made his case, Trump cut in: He would side with Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to make a 90-day deal to lift the debt ceiling.

The result was a bipartisan package deal that gave Democrats exactly what they wanted: disaster-relief funding for Hurricane Harvey victims, a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, and a three-month spending bill that keeps the government's lights on until December.

I've seen some reports that Trump helped broker the "deal" yesterday, but Slate's Jim Newell raised an excellent point: "It's not even a 'deal' in the sense of give-and-take between two sides. It is, to the letter, the request that Democrats had made and that Ryan and the leadership team had decried as an affront to God immediately after."

I'm not sure who was more surprised yesterday afternoon: Republicans, who thought Trump would defend the GOP line with vigor, or Democrats, who didn't expect to prevail so easily.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's case for tax reform rests on a false foundation

09/07/17 09:20AM

Ahead of his event in North Dakota yesterday in support of tax reform, Donald Trump insisted that the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world." Almost immediately, reality-based observers explained that the president was clearly lying about a subject he only pretends to understand.

Despite the pushback, Trump went to Bismarck and repeated the exact same claim: "So we're here today to talk about a plan to create a new age of American prosperity by reducing the crushing tax burden on our companies and on our workers. The taxes are crazy -- the highest taxed nation in the world."

Presidential repetition does not make a falsehood true.

America's tax revenue is 26 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is significantly lower than the average 34 percent other developed countries pay relative to their GDP, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Denmark, France and Sweden are among those nations that top America on taxes.

The U.S. tax burden per capita — $14,115 — also is below average in relation to other developed nations, as well, data from the Tax Policy Center shows.

An Associated Press report added that the overall U.S. tax burden "is actually one of the lowest among the 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development."

There are different metrics for measuring a country's tax rates, but there is literally no metric in which the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world."

Of course, much of the political world is so inured to Trump's mendacity that the president repeating a lazy and brazen lie about one of his highest priorities was about the 50th most interesting political story of the day yesterday. But I mention this because I think there's a certain salience to Trump's bogus talking point.

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In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters near the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Has John McCain thrown a lifeline to the GOP health care crusade?

09/07/17 08:40AM

The Republican health care crusade appeared to have effectively run its course. GOP lawmakers gave it their best shot, but the combination of intra-party divisions, widespread public revulsion, and a looming deadline led many health care advocates to breathe a sigh of relief.

That is, until yesterday afternoon. The Washington Post reported:

Six weeks after he stopped his party from repealing much of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he could support a compromise that had been shelved months earlier — one that the president has hinted he would sign.

On Wednesday, McCain told the Hill that he backed a proposal from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would end the ACA's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, and instead dole out money to states for whatever health insurance programs they favored. McCain, Graham's closest friend in the Senate, said that he would obviously support Graham's bill.

McCain has spoken with great passion of late about the need for the Senate to return to legislating through "regular order" -- having bills go through committee, be subject to extensive debate and amendments, etc. -- insisting this is necessary for the health and stability of the republic. Yesterday, however, the Arizona Republican suggested he might be willing to ignore his principles to help pass his friend's far-right plan.

"If it's not through regular order, then it's a mistake," McCain said. "But it doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for it."

And that, naturally, set off a panic among those who rely on the American health care system. If McCain is prepared to vote for a regressive plan that would take coverage from millions, it raised the prospect of Senate Republican leaders simply bringing the far-right Graham-Cassidy-Heller plan to the floor and passing it with 50 votes.

For health care advocates, McCain's off-hand comment became an immediate here-we-go-again moment.

Which made it all the more important when the senator clarified his position late in the day.

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A magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich on Oct. 10, 2011. (Photo by Joerg Koch/AP)

New evidence emerges on how Russia attacked the U.S. election

09/07/17 08:00AM

There have been multiple reports for months, published by major U.S. news organizations, that when Russia attacked the American election last year, it did so by using social media, including Facebook. The tech giant repeatedly insisted, however, that it had no evidence of Russia targeting American voters, at least not with paid propaganda.

Yesterday, as Rachel explained at the top of last night's show, the story changed. The Washington Post reported:

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company's findings.

Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian "troll farm" with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.

The Russian messages were connected to something called the Internet Research Agency, which may sound anodyne, but which was mentioned in the U.S. intelligence agencies' report on the Russian attack. Specifically, officials noted that the Internet Research Agency is essentially a project of Russian military intelligence.

The social-media company released a statement online late yesterday from Facebook's chief security officer, explaining that the Russian ads "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

The Post's report added that Facebook officials "declined to say which candidate the ads favored," but since we already know Russia was responsible for an espionage campaign intended to put Donald Trump in power, there's no great mystery here. If Putin's government was responsible for an influence operation on Trump's behalf, I'll give you one guess as to who "the ads favored."

In case this isn't obvious, we're talking about a crime: a foreign government using foreign money to influence the outcome of an American election.

But this isn't the end of the story. Now that we know the reporting from earlier this year was accurate, there are a host of related questions that need answers.

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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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