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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.2.18

01/02/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran: "The most significant protests in eight years are rocking Iran, with state media reporting Tuesday that the death toll from clashes between demonstrators and security forces had reached at least 20."

* Matthew Riehl: "Weeks before he started shooting, the Colorado gunman who killed one deputy and wounded four more unleashed a verbal barrage against Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock and his department."

* Korean delegation: "Delegations from North and South Korea could meet for the first official discussions between the neighbors since 2015 ahead of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. South Korea proposed Tuesday that talks be held on Jan. 9, said Cho Myoung-gyon, the head of his country's Unification Ministry."

* Middle East: "The Palestinians have announced they are recalling their envoy to the United States for 'consultations', weeks after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not accept any US peace plan in the wake of Mr Trump's move."

* Houston "may have averted a tragedy after a drunk, belligerent man was found to have an arsenal of guns in his hotel room as the venue was preparing for a big New Year's Eve celebration."

* Chicago "ended 2017 with fewer homicides than the year before, but gang violence in the city's most dangerous neighborhoods kept the total number of killings above the 600 mark for only the second time in more than a decade."

* Sadly predictable: "Trees have been planted on one of President Trump's golf courses where CNN cameras captured him golfing."

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

Utah's Orrin Hatch to exit stage right

01/02/18 04:50PM

When Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was running for a seventh term, he assured voters his 42nd year on Capitol Hill would be his last. That said. over the last year or so -- often at Donald Trump's urging -- the Utah Republican publicly flirted with the possibility of going back on his word.

As it turns out, Hatch is reverting to his original plan.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of his term this year, ending months of speculation about the political future of the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.

"Every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me that time is soon approaching," Hatch, a former amateur boxer, said in a video posted online. "That's why, after much prayer and discussion with family and friends, I've decided to retire at the end of this term."

To be sure, Hatch has seen, and been an important part of, all kinds of major political developments over the course of his four decades in Congress. In fact, though it's discouraging to consider in detail, I think his career trajectory is a bellwether of sorts: Hatch used to be a real senator, interested in meaningful and constructive results. But as the Republican Party moved radically to the right, so did he.

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Those arriving at BWI for Southwest and Delta Airlines have their checked bags go through a labyrinth of conveyor belts as they are inspected for explosives, Nov. 10, 2014 in Lithicum, Md. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post/Getty)

Trump's latest oddity: he wants credit for safe commercial air travel

01/02/18 01:00PM

Reuters reported over the holiday weekend that airlines "recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year." The findings were released by a Dutch consulting firm and an aviation safety group that tracks crashes, which concluded that 2017 was "the safest year on record for commercial air travel."

Most folks who saw these reports probably said to themselves, "Huh, that's interesting." Donald Trump saw these reports and seemed eager to tell himself, "Wait, I'd like to take credit for that." Here's the message the president shared with the world this morning:

"Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news - it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!"

Sometimes, the line between satire and reality is blurred in ways that are almost hard to believe.

At this point, we could take a moment to note that the United States hasn't seen a fatal airline passenger jet crash in nearly nine years -- a detail Barack Obama never thought to brag about. We could also note that presidents whose records are actually impressive don't need to claim credit for accomplishments they have nothing to do with.

We could even explore the mysterious meaning of "strict on commercial aviation" -- your guess is as good as mine -- which comes against a backdrop of the Trump administration having taken steps early last year that actually "hampered the ability of the Federal Aviation Administration to issue safety orders about aircraft."

And while all of those angles are certainly worthy of mention, I'd prefer to focus on something else entirely: when the conversation turns to airplanes, Donald Trump gets a little weird.

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A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Trump not done pushing the Justice Department to pursue his enemies

01/02/18 12:32PM

Donald Trump made all kinds of news when he talked to the New York Times on Friday, but of particular interest was the president's perspective on matters of federal law enforcement. He insisted, for example, "I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

In the same interview, Trump argued -- without proof -- that former Attorney General Eric Holder was aware of all kinds of scandalous misdeeds committed by the Obama White House, but Holder "protected" the Democratic president. In Trump's mind, this is admirable and worthy of praise: "I have great respect for that, I'll be honest, I have great respect for that."

It's an extraordinary thing to see a sitting president say this out loud and on the record. Trump not only sees himself as an autocratic ruler with "absolute" control over federal law enforcement, he also envisions a system in which an attorney general's principal responsibility should be to protect a president's interests, instead of the public's.

It's against this backdrop that Trump turned to Twitter this morning to share some new thoughts about what he thinks the Department of Justice should be focusing on. The Washington Post  reported:

President Trump on Tuesday appeared to suggest that Huma Abedin, a former top aide to Hillary Clinton, should face jail time, days after the State Department posted emails found on her estranged husband's computer that included confidential government information.

In a tweet, Trump also urged the Justice Department to act in prosecuting Abedin and former FBI director James B. Comey, who the president fired in May amid the mounting investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election and contacts between Moscow and Trump's campaign.

The president apparently launched his little tirade after seeing a Fox News segment this morning. It led him to not only call for the Justice Department to go after Huma Abedin and James Comey, but also to embrace fringe framing of the institution itself, calling it the "Deep State Justice Department."

It's quite a way to start the new year.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.2.18

01/02/18 12:00PM

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

* The number of women -- from both parties -- planning to run for governor this year is the largest on record.

* Reflecting on the Senate special election in Alabama, Donald Trump told the New York Times, "When I endorsed [Luther Strange], he was in fifth place. He went way up. Almost 20 points." In reality, Strange saw no poll boost before losing in a primary, and he couldn't have been in fifth place -- because there were only three candidates.

* In the same half-hour interview, Trump talked about his Electoral College strategy in 2016 a total of seven times. That's quite a bit for an election that happened 14 months ago.

* The White House plan for this year's midterms is reportedly to dispatch Vice President Mike Pence to areas where Trump is too unpopular. He's also, of course, raising money through his own political action committee -- an unprecedented move for a sitting vice president who isn't running for president.

* Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) believes there will be "an enormous shock" in the fall when Republicans en masse are victorious at the ballot box. File this away for future mockery.

* An interesting catch from the Wall Street Journal: "At least a dozen former aides and policy staff who worked for President Barack Obama have entered the midterm races, running for office for the first time."

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DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) listen to speakers during a "United we Dream," rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013.  (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Trump's proposed DACA deal stands no realistic chance of success

01/02/18 11:30AM

When Donald Trump sat down with the New York Times late last week, the president made his plans for protections for Dreamers quite clear. "Look, I wouldn't do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it," he said. "We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall."

On the latter point, every time Trump makes the argument that a giant border wall would stop drug trafficking, people like me explain why this plainly doesn't make any substantive sense. He keeps repeating the line anyway,

But it's the former point that stands out as especially interesting, at least as far as upcoming political debates go. Trump repeated the line on Twitter on Friday:

"The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc. We must protect our Country at all cost!"

Putting aside the president's awkward grammar, what I think he's hinting at is some kind of tradeoff: Dems agree to fund his giant border wall, and in exchange, he'll endorse DADA protections for Dreamers.

The trouble is, Trump already reached a deal with Democrats on DACA -- and whether he remembers it or not, this wasn't what the parties agreed to.

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A red ribbon is displayed on the North Portico of the White House, December 1, 2014, to commemorate World AIDS Day.

Trump admin fires every member of its HIV/AIDS council

01/02/18 11:00AM

Over the summer, after Donald Trump faced international rebukes for his response to racist violence in Charlottesville, many members of assorted presidential advisory panels resigned, no longer willing to be associated with this administration.

Occasionally, however, people are still willing to serve on White House panels, only to have Trump fire them. The Washington Post  reported the other day, for example:

The remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS were fired en masse [last] week. [...]

The notice "thanked me for my past service and said that my appointment was terminated, effective immediately," said Patrick Sullivan, an epidemiologist at Emory University who works on HIV testing programs. He was appointed to a four-year term in May 2016.

The council, known by the acronym PACHA, has advised the White House on HIV/AIDS policies since its founding in 1995. Members, who are not paid, offer recommendations on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a five-year plan responding to the epidemic.

The council's executive director, Kaye Hayes, told the Post that replacing council members with changes in administrations has occurred before, which is true, though it doesn't explain why Trump kept these panelists around for a year, only to fire them without warning, without explanation, and without their successors in place.

What's more, previous administrations had allowed members to serve their full terms before replacing them. Trump is choosing a different course.

Making matters slightly worse is this president's overall record on the issue.

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Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on Feb. 5, 2015 in Miami, Fla.  (Joe Raedle/Getty)

On health care, Trump descends deeper into incoherence

01/02/18 10:30AM

At face value, it's tempting to think the health care fight that dominated much of 2017 will not return in 2018. Senate Republican leaders, for example, who'll next week see their majority shrink from 52 members to 51, have already suggested they'd prefer to focus attention elsewhere.

But Donald Trump insists there's more work to be done. "We can make a great health care plan," the president told the New York Times on Friday. "Not Obamacare, which was a bad plan. We can make a great health care plan through bipartisanship."

Got it. So, what kind of plan does Trump have in mind? Here's the rest of his pitch from the same interview:

"So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. That's gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, we've ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that I'm allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So that's all done.

"Now I've ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish you'd tell people. So when I do this, and we've got health care, you know, McCain did his vote. [...]

"Now here's the good news. We've created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn't have insurance. Or didn't have health care. Millions of people. That's gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that's a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don't even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. ... With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate."

I've read this several times, and in each instance, it's hard not to marvel at the incoherence. Trump has never been able to discuss health care policy beyond a junior-high level, but his comments to the New York Times suggest the president's ability to speak about the issue in complete sentences may actually be getting worse.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes a point as he formally announces his campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination during an event at Trump Tower in New York, June 16, 2015. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

On collusion with Russia, Trump's rhetoric takes a desperate turn

01/02/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump spoke to the New York Times on Friday for 30 minutes. Over the course of the half-hour, the president said there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia 16 times -- as if Trump had some kind of nervous tick he simply couldn't get under control.

Indeed, the president wasn't just desperate to deny what seems plainly true; he also seemed eager to create an alternate reality in which he's already been exonerated by Democrats. "Virtually every Democrat has said there is no collusion.... I saw Dianne Feinstein the other day on television saying there is no collusion," he said of California's senior senator. "She's the head of the [Senate Intelligence Committee]."

In other words, the president seems convinced of the legitimacy of his alternate reality, to the point that he believes others have embraced it, too. The trouble, of course, is that literally zero Democrats have drawn this conclusion; he's misquoting Dianne Feinstein; and she's not even the chair of the committee.

But instead of rehashing the painfully obvious evidence pointing to collusion between Trump World and Russia, I wanted to highlight something else the president said in the interview that jumped out at me.

"I actually think it's turning to the Democrats because there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion. [...]

"There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats."

The Washington Post  described this as "a breathtakingly false statement," which seems more than fair.

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On climate change, Trump offers an example of willful ignorance

01/02/18 09:31AM

In 2012, Donald Trump said he believes that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly bonkers, but it didn't stop him from dismissing climate change as a "hoax," over and over again.

With this in mind, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord on June 1, Trump World faced a simple question: does Trump still think global warming is fake? In a curious development, no one in the president's orbit -- Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt -- was willing to answer the question. The president's position on one of the world's biggest issues was, to a very real extent, a White House secret.

I guess it's not much of a secret anymore.

Frigid temperatures are expected to grip much of the upper Great Plains and Northeast through the New Year -- a forecast that President Donald Trump used to cast doubt on global warming.

Trump tweeted Thursday night that parts of the eastern U.S. could see the coldest New Year's Eve on record, adding, "Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against."

Now, at this point, we could talk about the fact that cold weather in a small part of the planet in late December does not disprove climate change. Or we could talk about the fact that the Trump Organization is taking global warming seriously, even if Trump himself is not. Or maybe we could explain in great detail all of the evidence showing just how warm 2017 was.

And while all of this is important -- indeed, the future of life on the planet may depend on it -- this seems instead like a good time to talk about the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Rubio: GOP tax plan 'probably went too far' to help corporations

01/02/18 09:00AM

In his comments to the New York Times the other day, Donald Trump tried to talk about the politics of the Republican tax plan, which went in some curious directions. The president argued, for example, that he would have made changes to deductions for state and local taxes (SALT) "less severe" if Democrats had gone along with the rest of the regressive plan.

I think this was Trump's first public recognition that the GOP tax plan included harsh provisions that will adversely affect real Americans.

Apparently, the president isn't the only Republican who's suddenly open to less-than-flattering candor when describing the party's new tax policy. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) talked to the News-Press in Fort Myers the other day, and was asked for his overall impressions of the package.

"If I were king for a day, this tax bill would have looked different. I thought we probably went too far on (helping) corporations. By and large, you're going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price. Some of them will be forced, because they're sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders. That isn't going to create dramatic economic growth."

In fairness, the Florida Republican acknowledged other parts of the Republican plan that he likes, but that doesn't change just how amazing it was to see him make these specific criticisms.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump's New Year's Eve party raises awkward questions

01/02/18 08:30AM

There's nothing wrong with a president hosting a New Year's Eve party. There's quite a bit wrong with a president profiting from a New Year's Eve party.

A year ago, sandwiched between his election and his inauguration, Donald Trump hosted a soiree at Mar-a-Lago, the private resort he owns in Florida, with tickets costing more than $500 a piece. As we discussed at the time, the president-elect was effectively selling access to himself, with some of the money ending up in his own pocket.

Norm Eisen, who served as ethics counselor to President Obama, described the dynamic at the time as "atrocious."

Undeterred by the criticism, Trump did the same thing this year. The New York Times  reported:

As he walked down the red carpet to begin his New Year's Eve celebrations Sunday night, President Trump stopped to predict "a tremendous year" ahead.

It certainly appeared to be getting off to a lavish start at his Mar-a-Lago club. Before the president arrived ... a string of guests decked out in jewels, fur and sequins had already streamed in, having paid hundreds of dollars each to celebrate with the president and his family.

Specifically, according to Politico, Trump's resort increased the price of admission to the party quite a bit, from $525 to $600 for Mar-a-Lago's dues-paying members, and from $575 to $750 for their guests.

This comes on top of the membership fee ($200,000) and annual dues ($14,000) Trump's wealthy customers already pay.

If you're curious who's writing all of these checks to the president's business, and what they're telling him during private audiences at Mar-a-Lago, too bad: Trump World won't disclose that information.

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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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