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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.10.18

01/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California: "Rescue crews waded through thick mud in Southern California on Wednesday to extricate stranded residents and clear roads made impassable by mudslides that have left at least 15 people dead and destroyed around 100 homes."

* ICE: "U.S. immigration agents raided dozens of 7-Eleven stores before dawn Wednesday and arrested 21 people in the biggest crackdown on a company suspected of hiring undocumented workers since President Donald Trump took office."

* This doesn't sound like a team that's nearly done: "Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes."

* Fortunately, the damage appears to have been limited: "One of the strongest earthquakes to hit the Caribbean in modern times struck off the coast of Honduras on Tuesday night, shaking the mainland and setting off tsunami warnings that were canceled about an hour later."

* In case you missed Rachel talking about this last night: "A senior National Security Council official proposed withdrawing some U.S. military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin during the early days of the Trump presidency, according to two former administration officials."

* This would be less discouraging if there was any reason to believe Trump understood what it is about NAFTA he doesn't like: "Canada is increasingly convinced that U.S. President Donald Trump will soon announce that the United States intends to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, two government sources said on Wednesday."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump shows an unsettling interest in overhauling libel laws

01/10/18 01:54PM

At a press conference this past weekend, Donald Trump eagerly pushed back against Michael Wolff's new best seller, "Fire and Fury," in a rather specific way. "The libel laws are very weak in this country," the president told reporters. "If they were strong, it would be very helpful. You wouldn't have things like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head."

Yes, because if there's one person who should criticize others for saying whatever comes to their head, it's Donald J. Trump.

Regardless, this is apparently a subject of growing interest for the president. Reuters reports that Trump talked up the issue again today.

"Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness so we're going to take a strong look at that," he told reporters as he met members of his Cabinet. [...]

"We are going to take a strong look at our country's libel laws so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts," Trump said.

If you watch the clip, note that he was reading from prepared notes when he said this. They weren't off-the-cuff comments; the president planned specifically to address the issue.

Trump added, "You can't say things that are false, knowingly false. and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account." Yes, his lack of self-awareness continues to be breathtaking.

For what it's worth, I suspect he's just blowing smoke. For years, Trump has loved to talk about all the people he's eager to sue for one slight or another, but in nearly every instance, he's been all talk.

That said, let's not be too quick to brush past the significance of the circumstances: a sitting president wants to make it easier for himself to sue his critics -- and at least rhetorically, he's committed to making legal changes on the subject.

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Darrell Issa

As Issa exits the stage, the GOP has reason to worry about 2018

01/10/18 12:52PM

One my favorite congressional races of 2016 was in southern California, where Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) was so worried about his re-election that he sent out direct-mail ads suggesting he’d worked cooperatively with Barack Obama -- whose presidency he fruitlessly tried to tear down.

As regular readers may recall, Issa prevailed in that contest, but it proved to be the closest congressional race of the cycle: the conservative incumbent eked out a narrow win over Doug Applegate (D), a retired Marine colonel. (Issa later filed a ridiculous defamation lawsuit against Applegate, which didn't work out well for the Republican.)

It didn't take long for Democrats to target Issa as one of Congress' most vulnerable Republicans in 2018. As it turns out, the incumbent has seen the writing on the wall: Issa announced this morning that he's retiring this year after nearly two decades on Capitol Hill.

And while plenty of this year's GOP retirements are in districts that lean heavily to the right, that's not the case with Issa.

Hillary Clinton won Issa's 49th Congressional District in 2016 by over seven percentage points against Donald Trump even though Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama there by a similar margin in 2012.

Orange County was once a fabled Republican stronghold, but Clinton became the first Democrat to win the affluent area since the Great Depression as it veered away from Trump.

This, coupled with the prevailing political winds, which appear to be blowing at Democrats' backs, left Issa with two unwelcome options: retire or lose. He chose the former.

But the bigger picture extends well beyond one vulnerable incumbent who's exiting the stage. Issa's retirement is emblematic of a larger Republican problem: as GOP lawmakers cancel their re-election plans, the odds of a new Democratic majority improve considerably. Relying on NBC News' data, let's look at the retirement announcements by breaking them up into groups:

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.10.18

01/10/18 12:00PM

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

* The exodus continues: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a combative partisan and former Oversight Committee chairman, announced this morning that he's retiring this year and won't seek another term.

* A federal court yesterday struck down North Carolina's congressional district lines, concluding that Republican gerrymandering went too far. The underlying issue is already a subject being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

* J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, said in September that he'd considered a Republican Senate campaign in Ohio, but decided against it. Now, however, Vance is reportedly reconsidering.

* In the unlikely event you haven't heard, Steve Bannon is out at Breitbart News. He's also lost his radio show at SiriusXM.

* Former Sherriff Joe Arpaio (R) said yesterday he's running for Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat for "one unwavering reason": to support Donald Trump's agenda.

* Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, whose seat Arpaio is seeking, said yesterday, "I won't be supporting Joe Arpaio. You can report that."

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, talks with reporters on Dec. 9, 2014. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Following Fusion GPS transcript release, Trump targets Feinstein

01/10/18 11:27AM

As you've no doubt heard, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, made a pretty bold move yesterday, The California Democrat unilaterally decided to release a transcript of testimony from Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the Trump Russia dossier.

Rachel reported in detail last night what we learned from the newly released materials, and Donald Trump weighed in with a reaction of his own this morning:

"The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace. Must have tough Primary!"

Oh good, the president came up with a new nickname for someone he doesn't like.

The problem, of course, is that Trump doesn't appear to have any idea what he's talking about. For example, though he keeps pretending otherwise, Feinstein did not endorse the White House line on collusion between the Trump campaign and its Russian benefactors.

What's more, it's amusing that the president is suggesting Feinstein committed a crime, but there's nothing "illegal" about the senator's actions.

As for the Californian's actions being a "disgrace," now seems like a good time to note that Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) both offered public support for her decision.

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Image: U.S. President Trump speaks to reporters before departing the White House for New York in Washington

Another judge uses Donald Trump's rhetoric against him

01/10/18 10:51AM

A federal judge last night jolted the debate over immigration policy, ordering the Trump administration to restore part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Four months after Donald Trump put Dreamers' futures in jeopardy, U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a preliminary injunction, ordering the Department of Homeland Security to resume accepting renewal applications.

NBC News' report added:

Alsup, who was nominated to the court by President Bill Clinton, scolded DHS for having presented no analysis of the impact its order would have on the almost 700,000 young people "who had come to rely on DACA to live and to work in this country."

"These individuals had submitted substantial personal identifying information to the government, paid hefty fees and planned their lives according to the dictates of DACA," Alsup wrote. "The administrative record includes no consideration to the disruption a rescission would have on the lives of DACA recipients, let alone their families, employers and employees, schools and communities."

And he called the government's argument that DHS doesn't even have the authority to administer DACA "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

The 49-page ruling, which the White House has been quick to condemn, is online here (pdf).

The decision will, of course, be appealed, and it has the potential to dramatically effect the political debate in Washington. But while we wait for the process to unfold, there was something Alsup wrote that struck me as politically significant:

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Trump gives Congress a hard sell on the benefits of earmarks

01/10/18 10:09AM

Yesterday's White House meeting was largely about immigration policy, but there was one unexpected topic Donald Trump spent a surprising amount of time emphasizing.

"Our system lends itself to not getting things done, and I hear so much about earmarks -- the old earmark system -- how there was a great friendliness when you had earmarks. But of course, they had other problems with earmarks. But maybe all of you should start thinking about going back to a form of earmarks. [...]

"[I]n the old days of earmarks, you can say what you want about certain presidents and others, where they all talk about they went out to dinner at night and they all got along, and they passed bills. That was an earmark system, and maybe we should think about it.... I think you should look at a form of earmarks.... Maybe you should start bringing back a concept of earmarks.... If you want to study earmarks to bring us all together, so we all get together and do something, I think you should study it."

According to the transcript, the president talked up earmarks 10 times yesterday -- which is a lot for a subject Trump has generally ignored up until now.

Why this is suddenly such an area of interest for Trump is unclear, but whatever the motivation, it's been kind of amazing to see the evolution of Republican thinking on the subject.

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement from the Roosevelt Room next to the empty chairs of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (L), D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R), D-California, after they cancelled their meeting at the Whi

Are White House transcripts getting political touch-ups?

01/10/18 09:20AM

During yesterday's White House discussion on immigration policy, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Donald Trump if he'd support a "clean" bill on DACA now, extending protections to Dreamers, with a commitment to then begin negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform. The president said he had "no problem" with that.

"We're going to do DACA and then we can start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive," Trump added. "Yeah, I would like to do that. I think a lot of people would like to see that, but I think we have to do DACA first."

As we discussed earlier, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) quickly interjected, reminding the president of what the Republican position is supposed to be, but just as important, if you relied on the White House transcript to learn what was said, you missed a key detail. The Washington Post  reported:

McCarthy apparently was not the only one concerned by Trump's seeming agreement with Feinstein. When the White House released its official transcript Tuesday afternoon, the president's line -- "Yeah, I would like to do it" -- was missing.

A White House official said that any omission from the transcript was unintentional and that the context of the conversation was clear.

And that may be true. Perhaps this was nothing more than an innocent clerical error. Maybe the White House didn't deliberately omit an inconvenient presidential slip from the official transcript.

But I'm not sure Trump World deserves the benefit of the doubt on this.

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Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott responds to a question during a gubernatorial debate against Democrat Charlie Crist on Oct. 10, 2014, in Miramar, Fla. (Photo by Lynne Sladky/AP)

Why Trump gave Florida a special deal on oil drilling

01/10/18 08:40AM

Last week, the Trump administration ignored all kinds of warnings and unveiled an expansive plan for coastal oil drilling. The move was quickly condemned by several key groups and officials, but it was the response from governors that stood out.

In all, 14 governors -- including several Republicans -- from states on both coasts denounced Donald Trump's giveaway to the oil industry. Only one of the 14 is getting a special deal. NBC News reported:

The Trump administration said Tuesday it wouldn't allow oil drilling off the coast of Florida, abruptly reversing course under pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said after a brief meeting with Scott at the Tallahassee airport that drilling would be "off the table" when it comes to waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.... Zinke said Tuesday that "Florida is obviously unique" and that the decision to remove the state came after meetings and discussions with Scott.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman who's faced a variety of controversies in recent months, added that the president believes "local voices count." Asked why the administration endorsed drilling off Florida's coast five days ago, but changed its mind yesterday, the cabinet secretary said "the governor" made the difference.

Rick Scott, not surprisingly, is delighted, not only by the policy shift, but also by the fact that he's getting credit for doing something popular.

Which is largely what makes yesterday's move so problematic.

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump stumbles in important ways during immigration negotiations

01/10/18 08:00AM

When the White House hosts policy negotiations with lawmakers, the interesting stuff usually happens far from public view. It's what made yesterday's discussion on immigration so extraordinary.

Donald Trump met in the White House cabinet room with lawmakers from both parties and both chambers, and in a dramatic change of pace, they all talked while cameras rolled for an hour. Why did we get this valuable peek behind the curtain? It's hard to say for sure; perhaps the president hoped to discredit concerns about his mental stability.

But if that was the goal, it was a flawed plan. In one especially important moment, we saw Trump accidentally endorse a Senate Democrat's request for a clean DACA bill, extending protections to Dreamers, only to have a House Republican quickly interject, reminding the president of what his position is supposed to be.

In other words, Trump brought nearly two dozen members together for negotiations on immigration policy, and he briefly stumbled into rejecting his own administration's goals. After years of (often vague) talk about the issue, Trump still isn't up to speed on some of the most basic details.

In fact, the president was unexpectedly candid on this front, effectively admitting that he not only doesn't especially care what lawmakers come up with on immigration policy, but also that he doesn't intend to play much of a role in crafting a final product.

"I will say, when this group comes back, hopefully with an agreement, this group and others from the Senate, from the House, comes back with an agreement, I'm signing it. I mean, I will be signing it. I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this or I want that.' I'll be signing it, because I have a lot of confidence in the people in this room that they're going to come up with something really good."

Later, Trump added, "I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. I am very much reliant on the people in this room." He went on to say if lawmakers negotiate a policy "with things that I'm not in love with," he intends to embrace it anyway.

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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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