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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Trump's secret tax returns are relevant once more

11/09/17 12:45PM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked recently about Donald Trump's claims that he won't personally benefit from the Republican tax plan. If the president insists on keeping his tax returns secret, CBS's Gayle King asked, how can we know whether he's correct?

"I don't know the answer to your question," the Speaker replied, explaining that he doesn't know anything about how Trump's finances are structured.

Of course, that's kind of the point. None of us have any details about the president's recent finances. That's because Trump is the only modern president to hide his tax returns from the public. (Congress could compel the release of the documents, but Ryan has blocked such efforts.)

The controversy doesn't come up every day -- media outlets can only run the "Still No Tax Returns" headline so many times -- but on occasion, Trump's refusal to disclose these materials becomes relevant anew.

Take today, for example. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed this morning that the president will have to pay more under the Republican plan. He's almost certainly lying, but if the administration is going to make a claim like that, it has a responsibility to offer some evidence to substantiate it. As it stands. Mnuchin is effectively saying, "The president will pay more, and you should just take my word for it."

Given Trump World's track record, the idea that they've earned the benefit of the doubt is plainly ridiculous.

Complicating matters, the Washington Post noted that elements of the Republican plan appear to be geared specifically to benefit Trump directly.

Even in a bill that favors the 1 percent in ways big and small, there is one especially favored group — commercial real estate interests. And because Trump just happens to have earned his living that way, we can make some educated guesses about what just might be in his mystery returns — and what breaks he would like to receive in the future.

[Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former special assistant to the Obama administration's White House National Economic Council] made this case in a tweetstorm that generated a lot of attention. As he put it: "The Republican tax bill looks like it was written by Donald Trump's accountants and tax lawyers, and I'm not even joking."

Bloomberg Politics added that the same GOP plan also includes "a lucrative break for golf-course owners."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.9.17

11/09/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced that he's retiring at the end of his current term. He is, by my count, the 29th House member to retire, 21 of whom are Republicans.

* On a related note, it's worth emphasizing that Goodlatte's district, Virginia's 6th, is the single most Republican-friendly district in the commonwealth, which means Democrats face an uphill climb if they're going to try to flip it.

* With five weeks remaining before Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, a poll commissioned by Raycom News Network found Roy Moore (R) holding onto a double-digit lead over Doug Jones (D), 51% to 40%.

* On a related note, it appears Moore is unwilling to debate Jones. A local station offered the right-wing candidate six different date possibilities between November 27th and December 7th, and Moore rejected them all.

* How did the pollsters do in Virginia's gubernatorial race this? Not that well: while most polling outlets correctly showed Ralph Northam winning, nearly every pollster understated the strength of his support.

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Poll shows Americans taking the Trump-Russia scandal seriously

11/09/17 11:21AM

There hasn't been a lot of public polling about the Trump-Russia scandal lately, so I was glad to see this question in a CNN survey released this week:

"U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they believe the Russian government attempted to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election last year through hacking of political campaigns and the release of selected information. If this assessment is correct, do you think that would be a crisis for the United States, a major problem, a minor problem, or not a problem at all?"

The poll found that 22% of Americans see the scandal as a "crisis" -- up from 17% earlier this year -- while an additional 44% believe it's a "major problem." Combined that's two-thirds of the country that sees Donald Trump's Russia scandal as an important story.

The same poll found that 64% of Americans believe the investigation into Russia's attack is "a serious matter that should be fully investigated," while 32% see the investigation as "mainly an effort to discredit Donald Trump's presidency." That's a two-to-one margin.

The survey went on to ask, "How concerned are you about reports that people associated with Donald Trump's campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives during last year's campaign?" A 44% plurality said they were "very concerned" -- the highest it's been all year -- while an additional 21% said "somewhat concerned."

Finally, a 59% majority said they believe Donald Trump personally knew last year about people from his campaign being in contact with Russian operatives.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

White House signals doubts about House GOP tax plan

11/09/17 10:44AM

The White House hosted a meeting this week with centrist Senate Democrats, hoping to persuade them to support a far-right Republican tax plan. In a bit of a surprise, Donald Trump phoned into the meeting, apparently hoping the personal touch would help persuade them.

By all accounts, the presidential outreach didn't go especially well. Trump talked more than he listened; he couldn't address any of the substantive details; he brazenly lied about the tax benefits that would go towards the wealthy in his party's plan; and he apparently shared an anecdote about a fictional conversation with his accountant.

But that's not the part that stood out for me. Rather, what struck me as important is what the Wall Street Journal reported:

President Donald Trump moved to assuage centrist Democratic senators' concerns about the House Republican tax overhaul by telling them the Senate version will be more to their liking, in comments that risk muddying the GOP's effort to get a bill passed.

"You're going to like it a whole lot more," said Mr. Trump of the Senate version, according to two people who attended a Tuesday gathering of Democratic senators that Mr. Trump called into.

The comments risk complicating Republican efforts to present a united front on both the Senate and House versions of the tax bill to keep it on track. Publicly, the president has praised the House plan, but his comments could fuel doubts among lawmakers about how wedded he is to that version.

It wasn't just Trump. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn reportedly told the centrist Senate Democrats, "Don't get too hung up on the House bill."

When Cohn sat down with CNBC's John Harwood, and Harwood pressed him on some of the most unpopular parts of the House Republican proposal, Cohn responded with a similar pitch: "Yeah, look, first of all, we're not done. The only thing you have to work on now is the House blueprint. We're going to get a Senate plan later this week."

If you're a House Republican, and your alarm bells aren't going off, you're not paying close enough attention.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

White House's Cohn touts 'trickle-down' benefits in GOP tax plan

11/09/17 10:12AM

Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council in Donald Trump's White House, sat down for a very interesting chat with CNBC's John Harwood this week, and it looks like the president's top economic adviser ended up saying a few things he probably didn't intend to say.

As recently as late September, for example, Cohn argued that in the Republican tax plan, which he's helped write, "Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut." With Harwood, Cohn said something very different.

"When you take a corporate tax rate at 35 percent and move it to 20 percent, and you see what's happened over the last two decades to businesses migrating out of the United States, migrating profits out of the United States, migrating domicile out of the United States, and hiring workers out of the United States, it's hard for me to not imagine that they're not going to bring businesses back to the United States.

"We create wage inflation, which means the workers get paid more; the workers have more disposable income, the workers spend more. And we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that's good for the economy."

It's worth appreciating, just as a matter of political rhetoric, that there are certain phrases that the right has learned to avoid. Advocates of privatizing public education, for example, steer clear of the word "vouchers," for example, because they're not popular -- so they use pleasant sounding euphemisms such as "school choice" instead.

Similarly, advocates of massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations tend to avoid references to "trickle-down" tax policies because most of the public is repulsed by the idea of giving more money to those at the very top and waiting for prosperity to eventually work its way to everyone else.

And yet, Cohn, perhaps inadvertently, said what he actually believed, confirming what critics of the Republican plan have been saying all along.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump (L) meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at The Capitol Building on Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Paul Ryan makes it plain: 'We're with Trump'

11/09/17 09:20AM

As the results from this week's off-year elections came in, nearly everyone was amazed to see just how well Democrats did from coast to coast. This wasn't an instance in which the party scored a few heartening victories here and there; this was a legitimate national sweep.

And the result left Republicans in an awkward position. Does the party plow forward in a misguided direction or does the GOP consider a change of course? House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) answered that question in a rather definitive way yesterday.

After some back and forth with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade, the host asked the House Speaker, "Is it going to be a choice for Republicans, Bush or Trump?" referring to former President George W. Bush, who's raised concerns about the current president.

I expected Ryan to say the GOP has some diversity of thought, and there's room in the tent for Republicans of various ideological persuasions, but as the Washington Post noted, the Speaker went in a different direction.

"We already made that choice," he said. "We're with Trump."

And a thousand Democratic campaign ads were born.

"We already made that choice," Ryan repeated. "That's a choice we made at the beginning of the year. That's a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas. We ran on a joint agenda with Donald Trump. We got together with Donald Trump when he was President-elect Trump and walked through what is it we want to accomplish in the next two years. We all agreed on that agenda. We're processing that agenda."

My concerns about Paul Ryan notwithstanding, he isn't necessarily wrong.

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

In Beijing, Trump abandons years of tough talk towards China

11/09/17 08:40AM

At a bilateral meeting in Beijing this morning, Donald Trump lamented the U.S.-China trade imbalance, but said he blames "past administrations." In other words, in the American president's mind, the trade gap is the United States' fault.

He reiterated the point at a question-free press briefing soon after.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not blame China for its economic success at the expense of the United States, what he called a "one sided" trade relationship.

"I don't blame China," he said at a business event joined by Chinese President Xi Jinping. "After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit."

It's hard to overstate just how dramatic a departure this is from the American president's previous posturing. ABC News did a nice job rounding up some of Trump's most notable quotes on China from the campaign, during which he insisted, among other things, that China is "ripping us off," is an "enemy" of the United States, has perpetrated "the greatest theft in the history of the world," and prefers to "lie, cheat, and steal in all international dealings."

At one campaign event in May 2016, Trump went so far as to say, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

Millions face tax hike under controversial Republican tax plan

11/09/17 08:00AM

Republicans are understandably nervous about the political position they've found themselves in. A year after an election that vaulted them to total dominance over the levers of federal power, GOP officials have effectively nothing to show for their efforts; Donald Trump is the least popular first-year president of the polling era; the Russia scandal is an existential crisis for the Republican White House; and Democrats just won sweeping victories in off-year elections.

It's against this backdrop that Republican leaders are convinced that an unpopular tax plan will put things right. That's exceedingly unwise.

Part of the problem is that many of the provisions in the plan are political suicide. The current version of the GOP legislation scraps all kinds of deductions and tax credits that enjoy broad public support. Everything from medical expenses to adoption costs to education costs are on the chopping block because Republicans can't figure out how else to pay for their tax breaks.

GOP officials are quick to point out, of course, that the details of their plan haven't been finalized. That's true. But they wrote the pending legislation, and this is what they've put on the table for everyone to see.

The other part of the problem is that, according to multiple independent analyses, millions of Americans would end up paying more, not less, under the Republican proposal. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

[A] growing number of nonpartisan analyses show that some middle-class Americans would not get more money in their pockets under the GOP plan. Instead, they would face higher tax bills, a potential pitfall in selling this plan to the public and to enough lawmakers for it to pass.

Nine percent of middle-class tax filers (those earning between $48,600 and $86,100) would pay more in taxes next year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Wednesday. By 2027, 31 percent of middle-class filers would see tax hikes, the center said.

The Tax Policy Center analysis, which is online in its entirety here, found that the bulk of the cuts would benefit the wealthiest Americans, while the number of middle-class households facing tax increases would steadily grow over the course of the next decade.

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People fill containers with water funneled with pipes from a mountain stream in Utuado, Puerto Rico.

New leptospirosis deaths recorded in Puerto Rico

11/08/17 07:06PM

The federal disaster response in Puerto Rico is now in its eighth week, and reporters have continued to question the official count of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria. The official count has been under intense scrutiny since Buzzfeed reported last month that government officials, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, approved the cremation of 911 bodies, none of which were reflected in the official death toll. Those people were all judged to have died of natural causes having nothing to do with the storm, despite the fact that Puerto Rico’s medical examiner reviewed only medical records, not the bodies themselves.

Now the Associated Press reports that the average number of deaths each day in Puerto Rico rose sharply after the storm. From AP’s report:

The pace of deaths quickened on Puerto Rico immediately after Hurricane Maria — well beyond the numbers officially attributed to the storm.

The U.S. territory reported an average of 82 deaths a day in the two weeks before Maria hit. That average increased to 117 from Sept. 20 to 30, though the rate has declined since then.

The AP also reports that the official death toll has inched up, from 54 to 55.

Here at the Rachel Maddow Show, we also have been chasing down data on one particular sliver of the official count: deaths from the water-borne illness leptospirosis. In the eight weeks since the storm hit, clean water has been so scarce that the 3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico have been forced to drink from streams and rivers -- all of which can be a breeding ground for lepto.

As of last week, there were three confirmed deaths from lepto and 76 additional suspected cases. All 76 were sent to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for further testing to confirm the diagnosis. But we wanted to know whether the outstanding suspected cases were fatalities -- or whether those were living patients fighting the disease. The CDC sent us to Puerto Rico's Department of Health, which sent us to Puerto Rico's State Epidemiologist, Dr. Carmen Deseda. Last week, we reported that Dr. Deseda would not confirm whether those 70-plus patients with suspected cases of lepto were alive or dead. She said she could not release that information until the results came back from the CDC.

Those results have now come back, on a total of 99 suspected cases. Of those, 81 came back negative. Today, Dr. Deseda tells us the CDC identified 14 cases of lepto in patients who are alive and fighting the disease, plus two cases where the patient died. These two new deaths of lepto did not change the overall death toll; they had already been counted, but now we have an official ruling on the diagnosis. We now know they died of a disease that no one has to get, and that is generally treatable with basic antibiotics. With these two new confirmed diagnoses, the number of deaths from lepto stands at five.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.8.17

11/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The ripple effects from yesterday's election results: "Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said the losses could shape the tax bill going forward. 'I mean, it could, because the elections went against the Republicans,' Hatch said in a brief morning interview."

* Memories can be tricky: "Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday night that he now remembers receiving an email from Carter Page about a trip to Moscow despite claiming in March that he did not grant Page permission to take the trip."

* In related news: "The federal judge overseeing the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates imposed a gag order Wednesday in the case ordering all parties, including potential witnesses, not to make statements that might prejudice jurors."

* A story worth watching: "Prosecutors are investigating whether billionaire businessman Carl Icahn pushed for a federal policy change that would have benefited one of his investments while he was serving as an adviser to President Donald Trump."

* I have a hunch Trump wouldn't bring it up anyway: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Wednesday he would tell U.S. President Donald Trump to 'lay off' if he raises the issue of human rights when they meet."

* Contemporary American life: "A Miami private school is offering parents an unusual item for sale: bulletproof panels for their kids' backpacks."

* On a related note: "Sens. Jeff Flake and Martin Heinrich are planning to introduce bipartisan legislation that will make it a law for military to report misdemeanors of domestic violence to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database used for firearms background checks."

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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Trump asked the CIA director to meet with conspiracy theorist

11/08/17 12:49PM

Donald Trump's years-long affinity for conspiracy theories has long alarmed his critics, raising questions about his judgment and ability to understand evidence. Yesterday's reporting, however, takes those questions to a very different level.

At the urging of President Donald Trump, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who advocates a fringe theory that the hack of the Democrats during the election was an inside job and not the work of Russian intelligence, the former official told NBC News.

"He's trying to find some factual evidence," said Bill Binney, a former code-breaker at the National Security Agency.

Binney left the agency in 2000 and has become a self-styled whistleblower, making unsupported claims that the NSA is collecting and storing nearly every U.S. communication. His meeting with Pompeo was first reported by The Intercept, an internet news site.

NBC News confirmed with Binney, a frequent guest on Fox News and the Kremlin's RT, that he met with the CIA director, and Pompeo told him that he took the meeting at the urging of the president.

A CNN reporter added that the Binney-Pompeo chat lasted about a half-hour, and "many inside the [CIA] were uncomfortable with the meeting."

There's a very good reason for that. As Pompeo and everyone else in the U.S. intelligence community already knows, Russian agents, not DNC officials, were responsible for the attack on the American elections last year. It might make Trump feel better to believe nonsense -- for a variety of reasons, he seems a little too eager to exonerate Russia from any wrongdoing -- but reality is stubborn.

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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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