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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.7.18

06/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Is this supposed to make Americans feel safer? "An Ecuadorian father of two was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after he made a pizza delivery to a U.S. Army base in New York City, sparking outrage and anguish from his family and local officials this week."

* It just never ends: "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt asked members of his 24/7 security detail to run errands for him on occasion, including picking up his dry cleaning and taking him in search of a favorite moisturizing lotion, according to two individuals familiar with those trips who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly."

* ZTE: "The United States announced a deal on Thursday to lift tough American sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE, a company that has been at the center of a dispute between China and the United States. The Commerce Department said that ZTE had agreed to pay a $1 billion fine and allow the United States to more closely inspect the company by effectively having a handpicked compliance team embedded inside."

* Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) this morning "signed a new state budget that expands Medicaid to as many as 400,000 low-income adults."

* So unnecessary: "Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, slammed Stormy Daniels on Wednesday as someone he doesn't respect because of her career as an adult film star."

* The swamp: "Bob Murray, CEO of Ohio-based Murray Energy, sent the Trump administration drafts of executive orders for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, according to documents obtained by E&E News. All the president had to do was sign them."

* As if he weren't in enough trouble: "EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt loves eating at the White House mess, an exclusive U.S. Navy-run restaurant open only to White House officials, Cabinet members and other dignitaries. But apparently he liked it too much, and the White House asked him to please eat elsewhere sometimes."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

Trump on summit: 'I don't think I have to prepare very much'

06/07/18 03:38PM

White House aides have been leaking word for several weeks that Donald Trump refuses to get prepared for next week's summit with North Korea's Jim Jong-un, and I've assumed the president would soon denounce the reports as "fake news."

In a bit of a surprise, he did the opposite this afternoon. Not only did Trump effectively confirm the accounts, he also explained why he doesn't see the point in doing his homework:

"I think I'm very well prepared. I don't think I have to prepare very much. It's about attitude, it's about willingness to get things done, but I think I've been preparing for this summit for a long time, as has the other side, I think they've been preparing for a long time also. So, this isn't a question of preparation, it's a question of whether or not people want it to happen, and we'll know that very quickly."

Just so we're clear, when he says, "I'm very well prepared," followed immediately by, "I don't think I have to prepare," Trump doesn't see that as a contradiction. What the president seems to be arguing is that he doesn't see the point in doing substantive policy work because he already has an innate understanding of negotiating.

In other words, when Trump says, "I've been preparing for this summit for a long time," he's not being literal. He means that he's been engaged in private-sector deal-making for many years, which in his mind, has necessarily prepared him for bilateral diplomacy with a nuclear-armed dictator. (This might be more persuasive if he weren't so spectacularly  bad at making deals.)

It's why Trump added that he doesn't "have to prepare." If the summit is about "attitude," and he already has more attitude than he knows what to do with, he'll leave the briefing books and policy details to the eggheads.

But as jarring as it was to see the president -- any president, really -- dismiss the importance of policy preparation, this isn't just a point-and-laugh-at-the-foolish-president moment.

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

Just days ahead of summit, Team Trump is winging it on North Korea

06/07/18 12:33PM

After Donald Trump agreed to bilateral talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, White House aides quietly started alerting reporters to an unsettling behind-the-scenes dynamic: the American president has refused to do substantive work ahead of the scheduled negotiations. As one senior administration official, put it, "He doesn't think he needs to" prepare.

Axios reported in April that, according to a source who has discussed North Korea with the Republican, Trump's position boils down to, "Just get me in the room with the guy [Kim Jong-un] and I'll figure it out." CNN added two weeks ago that the U.S. leader "remained squarely focused on the summit's spectacle," avoiding "in-depth briefings about North Korea's nuclear program."

It's not just Trump. With less than a week to go ahead of the summit in Singapore, one might assume there are frantic behind-the-scenes efforts underway in the White House. Politico  reports today that these efforts simply aren't happening.

National Security Adviser John Bolton has yet to convene a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss President Donald Trump's upcoming summit with North Korea next week, a striking break from past practice that suggests the Trump White House is largely improvising its approach to the unprecedented nuclear talks.

For decades, top presidential advisers have used a methodical process to hash out national security issues before offering the president a menu of options for key decisions. On an issue like North Korea, that would mean White House Situation Room gatherings of the secretaries of state and defense along with top intelligence officials, the United Nations ambassador, and even the treasury secretary, who oversees economic sanctions.

None of this is happening. In fact, the same article that Trump hasn't even "presided personally over a meeting of those senior NSC officials, as a president typically does when making the most important decisions."

A separate Politico report last week added that White House officials aren't even sure what it is, exactly, they hope to get out of next week's negotiations.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.7.18

06/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal  poll, Democrats have a 10-point advantage on the congressional generic ballot, leading Republicans 50% to 40%. That's up from a seven-point lead Dems had in the same poll in April.

* On a related note, the same poll found that 48% of voters are more likely to support a candidate who'll "provide a check" on Donald Trump, as opposed to 23% who say they're less likely to back such a candidate. In swing districts, it's 52% to 19%.

* A national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday pointed to slightly better news for Republicans: it found Democrats ahead on the generic ballot, 47% to 40%. That's down slightly from an eight-point lead for Dems in the same poll two months ago.

* NBC News' Kasie Hunt noted a very interesting tidbit this morning: the heads of the DCCC and NRCC are reportedly meeting today "to discuss whether campaigns should commit to not using hacked information in the midterm elections." Related efforts have fallen short in recent months, but this suggests there may yet be a bipartisan deal.

* In Florida's gubernatorial race, former Rep. Gwen Graham (D) is launching her first ad buy of the year, with a $1 million investment. Of particular interest is Graham's focus: she's made Medicaid expansion a central pillar of her platform.

* Though I'm skeptical of where this is headed, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will leave his current post at the end of the month, and may have a political future in mind. When the New York Times asked if he's consider a presidential campaign, Schultz replied, "I intend to think about a range of options, and that could include public service."

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Image: BELGIUM-NATO-DEFENCE-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-MEETING

On the international stage, Trump views flattery 'as a one-way street'

06/07/18 11:20AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acted as if he'd figured out something important: how to forge a partnership with Donald Trump. While the two Republicans clearly didn't see eye to eye during the 2016 campaign, the South Carolinian decided a charm offensive would improve his standing with the president and give him influence over Trump's direction.

As regular readers may recall, Graham attacked the press for its criticisms of Trump. Graham promoted conspiracy theories and anti-Clinton nonsense that Trump was likely to favor. Graham pressed the Justice Department to go after the author of the Trump/Russia dossier. Graham golfed with Trump and bragged about how nice Trump’s course was. Even after Graham heard Trump condemn immigrants from, in the president’s words, “shithole countries,” the GOP bit his tongue and refused to publicly acknowledge what we knew to be true.

For his trouble, Graham was rewarded with nothing. On the contrary, after carrying Trump's water for a while, the senator eventually found that water dumped on him.

This came to mind this morning reading Politico's report on incensed foreign leaders who tried cozying up to the American president, only to discover their efforts were in vain.

Foreign leaders are learning that hand-holding, golf games, military parades and other efforts to personally woo President Donald Trump do not guarantee that Trump won't burn them on key policy issues.

Trump calls Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who visits the White House Thursday, his "good friend." French president Emmanuel Macron is a "great friend." And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a "great friend, neighbor, and ally." All have sought to butter up Trump through friendly face time, recognizing that the quickest way to the president's heart is through his ego.

But all, to varying degrees, are exasperated with Trump.

Indeed, when Trump's wishes diverted from their advice -- on national security, on trade, on the climate crisis, etc. -- the American president turned on the foreign leaders who'd hoped an inter-personal connection might make a difference, even at the risk of undermining their own domestic support.

Politico quoted one former White House official saying, "Trump is very selfish and I think he views flattery as a one-way street where he gets flattered and then there's no real reciprocal benefit going back the other direction. If you're a foreign leader you have to realize if you try to butter up Trump it doesn't really matter, it's a one way street."

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Image: Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence

Poll shows why the GOP has given up touting its unpopular tax plan

06/07/18 10:48AM

There was a congressional special election in Pennsylvania a few months ago that Republicans expected to win. After all, the race was in the state's 18th district, which Donald Trump had carried the year before by 20 points.

What's more, going into the March election, the GOP and its allies believed their recently passed tax cuts would give the party an added boost, and the month before voters went to the polls, Republicans blanketed local airwaves with ads touting the GOP tax plan.

But as Pennsylvania's special election drew closer, Republicans abruptly switched gears -- because they discovered the commercials about tax breaks weren't working. The Democrat ended up narrowly winning the race.

This was not an isolated incident. There's plenty to chew on in the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, but this stood out for me:

[Would you] be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who supports Donald Trump's tax reform bill?

More likely: 36%
Less likely: 42%

CNBC's John Harwood added that in the most competitive House districts, that six-point margin becomes as 12-point margin against the Republican tax package.

This explains a lot.

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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

What congressional GOP leaders get wrong about legislative arithmetic

06/07/18 10:08AM

After Donald Trump announced new tariffs targeting our allies and neighbors, congressional Republicans were "gobsmacked." The policy goes against everything the GOP believes about trade and economics, and the president's ostensible allies on Capitol Hill -- from Republican leaders to rank-and-file members -- made clear they saw this as an important White House mistake.

Some are doing more than just complain. The Washington Post  reported overnight:

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would give Congress new authority to check the president's trade moves, going forward with the legislation despite a personal appeal from President Trump to back off.

Corker's bill would require congressional approval when the president enacts tariffs under the auspices of national security, as Trump did last week in imposing levies on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

The bill was introduced with a bipartisan lineup of 12 co-sponsors, ranging from progressive champions like Hawaii's Brian Schatz (D) and Maryland's Chris Van Hollen (D), to conservative diehards like Utah's Mike Lee and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey.

The bill was also quickly endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a prominent Republican ally.

And yet, GOP leaders are already rejecting the plan, even while claiming to oppose Trump's policy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday he's concerned about the president's policy having an adverse impact on his own state's economy, but added, in reference to Corker's proposal, "It'd be an exercise in futility because he wouldn't sign it."

Similarly, a reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) about Congress taking steps to reverse Trump's move. "You would have to pass a law that he would want to sign into law," Ryan replied, adding, "You can do the math on that."

Well, yes, we can do the math -- and the arithmetic suggests McConnell and Ryan may be mistaken.

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Image: SKOREA-NKOREA-US-NUCLEAR-DIPLOMACY

Giuliani: Kim Jong Un got 'on his hands and knees and begged'

06/07/18 09:20AM

Larry Kudlow, the chair of the White House's National Economic Council, argued this week that Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un is the result of the president's tough posture. "North Korea coming to the negotiating table has a lot to do with President Trump's very firm stand with respect to their nuclear weapons," Kudlow told Fox News.

This was largely backwards. Trump didn't entice North Korea to the table with pressure and threats; North Korean officials were already at the table, asking Trump to join them. Indeed, Pyongyang has wanted bilateral talks with the United States for decades. The current American president is simply the first to give North Korea what it wants in return for nothing.

Yesterday, however, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump lawyer who appears to do very little legal work, effectively said the opposite of what Kudlow argued, insisting that Kim Jong-un "begged" the Republican to participate in talks.

Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, "got back on his hands and knees and begged" for the United States to revive the Singapore summit meeting after President Trump abruptly scrapped it last month, one of Mr. Trump's lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said Wednesday.

The remarks by Mr. Giuliani, apparently intended to portray Mr. Trump as a tough negotiator, may have lobbed a disruptive obstacle into the salvaged meeting less than a week before it is set to happen.

The remarks could easily offend officials in North Korea, where a cultlike autocracy exalts Mr. Kim as a deity who cannot be seen as servile and weak.

Evans J.R. Revere, a former State Department diplomat who specializes in North Korea, told the New York Times, "If the North Koreans needed a reason to cancel the meeting, the Americans just gave it to them."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

As hurricane season gets underway, Trump's FEMA briefing goes awry

06/07/18 08:40AM

As hurricane season gets underway, Donald Trump traveled to FEMA headquarters yesterday for a briefing on hurricane preparedness, which was broken up into a public session and a private one. The 16-minute session that we could see didn't go especially well.

The president almost completely ignored Puerto Rico; he singled out Scott Pruitt's scandal-plagued EPA for praise; and he told attendees, "[I]n terms of increased branding, the brand of the Coast Guard has been something incredible what's happened."

Yes, Trump's preoccupation with the Coast Guard's "brand" continues to be weird.

But the lengthier behind-closed-doors portion of the FEMA briefing may have been worse. The Washington Post  reported:

...Trump had a lot else on his mind, turning the closed-door discussion into soliloquies on his prowess in negotiating airplane deals, his popularity, the effectiveness of his political endorsements, the Republican Party's fortunes, the vagaries of Defense Department purchasing guidelines, his dislike of magnetized launch equipment on aircraft carriers, his unending love of coal and his breezy optimism about his planned Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Despite recent reports on a vastly expanded death toll in Puerto Rico, Trump only "briefly" referred to the island in the private session and "did not mention Puerto Rico's victims."

The Post  added, "Hurricane briefings usually give politicians a chance to look decisive, and Trump bragged to friends last fall that his administration had handled a slew of hurricanes quite well. Many of Trump's thoughts Thursday, however, did not relate to hurricanes."

He did, however, have extensive thoughts about the results from this week's primaries in California -- which the president apparently thought were about him. "We won every seat that I endorsed," Trump told attendees. "The ones we didn't give, they didn't do too well, as you probably know."

Remember, this was a FEMA briefing on hurricane preparedness.

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

Despite pushback from allies, Trump peddles new conspiracy theory

06/07/18 08:00AM

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) recently helped bury Donald Trump's "Spygate" fairy tale, explaining that the FBI did not use a "spy" to infiltrate the future president's political operation in 2016. Trump's allies were less than pleased by the congressman's candor, but Gowdy had reality on his side.

Yesterday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made things slightly worse for the White House, telling reporters that Gowdy's assessment was correct. For his trouble, the Wisconsin Republican is also facing the ire of the president's loyalists, who apparently expect GOP officials to toe Trump's line, even if it's wrong.

The pushback doesn't seem to be having much of a deterring effect. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told  Politico yesterday, "What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none? ... It's like, 'Lets create this thing to tweet about knowing that it's not true.' ... Maybe it's just to create more chaos but it doesn't really help the case."

Confronted with comments like these, common sense suggests the president should shift his focus elsewhere. And yet, Donald Trump can't help but be Donald Trump:

"Wow, Strzok-Page, the incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers, have texts referring to a counter-intelligence operation into the Trump Campaign dating way back to December, 2015. SPYGATE is in full force! Is the Mainstream Media interested yet? Big stuff!"

No, actually, it's not big stuff. In fact, it's an unsettling example of the president lacking the critical thinking skills necessary to tell the difference between worthwhile information and nonsense.

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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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