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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.9.18

05/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Good news out of North Korea: "Three Americans held in North Korean labor camps were free and on their way home Wednesday, President Donald Trump said. Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul and Kim Sang-duk, who is also known as Tony Kim, were released by Kim Jong Un's regime after spending up to two years in detention."

* On a related note, if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to be the nation's chief diplomat, he should probably learn Kim Jong Un's surname.

* The crisis across parts of Hawaii is serious: "Police went door-to-door in Hawaii late Tuesday to roust residents near two new vents emitting dangerous gases in areas where lava has been pouring into streets and backyards for the past week."

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, contacted the drug giant Novartis after the 2016 election 'promising access' to the new administration, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller later requested information from the company about the offer, a senior official inside Novartis told NBC News on Wednesday."

* So Haspel hopes senators don't hold her record of torture against her? "Gina Haspel, President Trump's CIA director nominee, did not apologize Wednesday for her role using enhanced interrogation techniques after the 9/11 attacks, but told a Senate panel that she would not revive those practices."

* On a related note, it looks like she'll be confirmed: "A few hours after [the Senate confirmation hearing] ended, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., facing a tough re-election fight, told NBC News that he planned to support Haspel's nomination."

* Bad timing: "The little-known federal agency in charge of enforcing financial punishments against the United States' geopolitical foes is busy these days. But it's also starving for cash and staff, and its director left the government last week."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump says 'everyone' believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize

05/09/18 02:47PM

About a week ago, a group of 18 House Republicans wrote a joint letter, formally nominating Donald J. Trump for ... wait for it ... a Nobel Peace Prize. Their argument, which was not a joke, was that the American president's efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea made Trump worthy of the honor.

By sheer coincidence, I'm sure, many of the signatories were GOP House members who were seeking a promotion to statewide offices, and eager to tell Republican primary voters how much they love their party's president. The list included Indiana's Luke Messer (Senate candidate), Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn (Senate candidate), Tennessee's Diane Black (gubernatorial candidate), North Dakota's Kevin Cramer (Senate candidate), West Virginia's Evan Jenkins (Senate candidate), and Ohio's Jim Renacci (Senate candidate).

These Trump loyalists could've waited, of course, for the American president to actually sit down for talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, but that wouldn't work with the GOP primary calendar -- some of the Republicans who signed the letter lost yesterday -- and they were apparently feeling impatient.

Evidently, the intended beneficiary of all of this flattery noticed. In the White House Cabinet Room this morning, someone broached the subject with the president.

Q: Do you deserve the Nobel prize, do you think?

TRUMP: Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.

Trying to appear gracious, he added that "the only prize I want" is a "victory for the world."

I won't pretend to know what the Nobel committee might do, but I have a hunch the Republican should lower his expectations.

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Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Gerrymandering suffers a setback in a key battleground state

05/09/18 12:48PM

Like many states, Ohio Republicans had a very good year in the 2010 elections, and one of the key priorities for the GOP-led state government in 2011 was redistricting -- or more to the point, gerrymandering.

Their efforts worked exactly as intended. Republicans now hold 12 of Ohio's 16 U.S. House seats, and neither party has flipped a district this decade. Even when Barack Obama won Ohio in 2012, the congressional races went as planned: GOP candidates received 52% of the vote and 75% of the power.

All of which made the Buckeye State a prime target for redistricting reform. The Republican-led legislature, fearing a more ambitious and progressive proposal championed by the League of Women Voters and its allies, got to work on its own anti-gerrymandering plan, which went before voters yesterday, and passed easily.

While gerrymandering disputes from other states have landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio voters took the historic step Tuesday of passing a bipartisan proposal aimed at creating fairer and more logical congressional districts.

Issue 1 amends the Ohio Constitution by putting rules in place, where none exist now, aimed at creating districts that make geographic sense - rather than districts designed solely with political gain in mind. [...]

The unofficial vote tally showed Issue 1 with a 75 percent to 25 percent lead -- 1,165,409 votes for to 391,527 against.

For reformers, the tally was good news, but some caution is in order: this a modest step that may not work out.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.9.18

05/09/18 12:00PM

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

* No one seemed to know for sure what would happen in Ohio's Democratic gubernatorial primary, but former CFPB Director Richard Cordray easily dispatched former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, winning by 40 points. Cordray will face state Attorney General Mike DeWine, who easily won a bitter Republican primary against Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

* And speaking of the Buckeye State, Ohio voters yesterday also easily approved a ballot measure intended to address the state's gerrymandering problem.

* In West Virginia, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the Republicans' Senate primary, earning the right to take on incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D). Despite all the hype surrounding Don Blankenship, he finished a rather distant third.

* In Indiana, Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's brother, easily won his congressional primary, despite running "a largely hermetic race, declining to debate his opponents and refusing most requests for interviews."

* An interesting tidbit from Politico: "There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them."

* A related observation from USA Today: "The number of women donating to political campaigns is climbing to new heights ahead of this year's midterm elections, as women swarm to politics and run in record numbers for Congress and other elected posts around the country."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

As Trump breaks his promises, he boasts about keeping his promises

05/09/18 11:20AM

As Donald Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran yesterday, the president offered a handy soundbite, intended to capture his resolve:

"Today's action sends a critical message: The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them."

There was some irony hanging over the boast: Trump, for reasons that don't make any sense, yesterday abandoned an American promise to honor an international agreement, which made it an odd time for the president to brag about keeping promises.

It was also curious to hear Trump denounce empty threats, given how regularly he bluffs badly. Indeed, it was last summer when the president promised to rain "fire and fury" onto North Korea if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States. In response, Kim Jong-un continued to threaten the United States, at which point Trump did nothing -- except eventually praise Kim and give the dictator much of what he wants.

While we're at it, the idea that Trump keeps his promises is itself rather amusing. After all, this is a president who promised not to cut taxes on the wealthy and not to endorse cuts to Medicaid and Social Security. He also promised Dreamers they could "breathe easy," right before he cut them off at the knees, while also promising families he'd repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that achieved universal coverage with higher quality and at a lower price.

Or put another way, this guy breaks his promises nearly as often as he brazenly lies.

But even putting all of this aside, there's something else about this that bugged me: yesterday's move on the Iran deal isn't exactly what Trump promised he'd do.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

For Trump, critical coverage is necessarily 'fake' coverage

05/09/18 10:40AM

Fox News this morning aired an on-screen visual that told viewers 91% of network news coverage of Donald Trump was "negative" between January through April. There's reason for some skepticism about the statistic: the figure came by way of the Media Research Center, a Mercer-funded conservative enterprise, and defining objectively "negative" coverage can be tricky.

But Donald Trump saw the segment and quickly shared his knee-jerk response.

"The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?"

I suppose the most troublesome aspect of this is the president's assertion that American news organizations are "corrupt," and the White House might consider revoking press credentials based on whether Trump approves or disapproves of journalists' reports.

In case this isn't obvious, this isn't how leaders of a free society are supposed to operate.

But just as interesting was Trump drawing a parallel between "negative" news coverage and "fake" news coverage. In the president's mind, they're apparently the same thing: news reports that are critical of Trump are necessarily untrue.

Because, as far as Trump is concerned, he can do no wrong?

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

House Republicans confront a fresh round of discouraging news

05/09/18 10:01AM

There were some important primary races in four states yesterday, and as far as Donald Trump is concerned, the Republican Party "had a great night." The truth is a little more complicated.

At face value, since yesterday's contests were primaries, it would have been tough for the GOP to have a bad night, since these were intra-party races. But more important is the fact that for one key part of the Republican Party -- current GOP members of the U.S. House -- it wasn't a great night at all.

In fact, last night saw the first defeat for a House incumbent of 2018. Roll Call  noted:

North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger is the first incumbent of 2018 to lose, falling to former pastor Mark Harris in Tuesday's 9th District Republican primary.

Harris defeated Pittenger 48.5 percent to 46 percent, reversing the result from two years ago when the latter won by just 134 votes in a recount.

President Donald Trump carried the district, which stretches along the South Carolina border and includes affluent neighborhoods of Charlotte and its suburbs, by 12 points in 2016. Pittenger and Harris both sparred over loyalty to the president.

The congressman heavily outspent his challenger, but it didn't matter. As a Washington Post  analysis put it, Harris "portrayed the third-term lawmaker as a creature of 'the swamp' and relentlessly hammered him over his March vote for the $1.3 trillion spending bill."

What's more, Pittenger isn't the only GOP congressman suddenly facing unemployment at the end of this Congress. In Indiana's U.S. Senate primary, the contest was supposed to come down to Republican Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, who spent months attacking each other, and who both ended up losing to businessman (and former Democrat) Mike Braun, who based much of his message on criticizing Congress.

In West Virginia's U.S. Senate primary, Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins was supposed to be a top contender, but he lost, too.

Even in Ohio's U.S. Senate primary, Republican Rep. Jim Renacci prevailed, but he was supposed to cruise to an easy victory, and he instead fell short of 50% of the vote in his four-way contest.

These results weren't just unexpected; they're also a departure from the historical norm.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Obama speaks up, laments Trump's 'serious' and 'misguided' mistake

05/09/18 09:20AM

Just two days before the end of his presidency, Barack Obama hosted a White House press conference in which he said he expected the new administration and Congress to make their own determinations about the nation's direction, and by and large, he intended to stay out of it.

Obama acknowledged at the time, however, that there might be exceptions to the rule. "There's a difference," the outgoing president explained, "between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake."

The former president evidently believed yesterday's developments warranted a break in his silence. The Associated Press reported:

Former President Barack Obama is calling President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran deal a "serious mistake" that will erode America's global credibility.

Obama's administration brokered the deal. He says Tuesday that Trump's decision to withdraw is "misguided," especially because Iran has been complying.

Obama also warned: "The consistent flouting of agreements that our country is a party to risks eroding America's credibility, and puts us at odds with the world's major powers."

Obama says that without the deal, the U.S. "could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East."

In reference to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the international nuclear agreement with Iran, the former president concluded, "In a dangerous world, America must be able to rely in part on strong, principled diplomacy to secure our country. We have been safer in the years since we achieved the JCPOA, thanks in part to the work of our diplomats, many members of Congress, and our allies. Going forward, I hope that Americans continue to speak out in support of the kind of strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership that can best secure our country and uphold our responsibilities around the globe."

One gets the sense that Obama does not believe we're seeing strong, principled, fact-based, and unifying leadership now.

For those keeping score, this is not the first time the Democratic president has spoken out in response to one of his successor's policies. The list now includes:

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Image: Donald Trump

Whatever happened to Donald Trump, the 'ultimate dealmaker'?

05/09/18 08:40AM

In late 2013, there were rising tensions between the Obama administration and Iran, and Donald Trump decided to weigh in with his unique insights. "Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly," Trump said at the time.

The Republican added, in reference to the Democratic president, "Not skilled!"

From Trump's perspective, at least in November 2013, if Obama was better at negotiating -- if the then-president had the necessary "skills" -- he'd reach a diplomatic agreement with Iran, rather than push the United States closer to another military conflict in the Middle East.

Trump's mindless palaver, of course, soon proved ridiculous. Obama helped create an international sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table, where the Obama administration helped negotiate a historic international agreement, halting Iran's nuclear program. Everything Trump "predicted" turned out to be backwards.

But nearly five years later, Trump's little tweet also comes with an ironic twist: he's now the one inviting a new war "because of his inability to negotiate properly." The current president is giving every indication that he's ... what's the phrase ... "not skilled."

A couple of months ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "[T]he president is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation."

Proof to substantiate the boast remains elusive. The New York Times' editorial board noted this morning:

So far, again and again, he has shown himself to be adept at destroying agreements -- a relatively easy task for a president -- and utterly lacking in the policy depth or strategic vision and patience to create new ones.

This isn't what American voters were told to expect from a Trump presidency. Indeed, it's the opposite.

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Image: FBI Investigates Trump's attorney Michael Cohen

Controversy surrounding Michael Cohen's finances goes in an unexpected direction

05/09/18 08:00AM

When the Stormy Daniels controversy began in earnest, one of the key details was how, exactly, Michael Cohen paid the porn star the pre-election hush money. After all, it wasn't as if Donald Trump's personal attorney just grabbed his checkbook and wrote her a check for $130,000.

Rather, Cohen bought Daniels' silence through an LLC he quietly created in Delaware, where it's easier to establish business entities with minimal disclosures. He established Essential Consultants LLC, on Oct. 17, 2016, just a few weeks before Election Day.

It was generally assumed that Essential Consultants LLC wasn't really a proper business, so much as it was a vehicle Cohen used to pay off one of the president's alleged former mistresses. But what we discovered last night is that Cohen's little one-person operation was far busier than anyone realized. NBC News reported late yesterday:

Stormy Daniels' attorney claimed Tuesday that President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen received $500,000 from a company controlled by a Russian oligarch, deposited into an account for a company also used to pay off the adult film actress.

Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, also detailed other transactions he said were suspicious, including deposits from drug giant Novartis, the state-run Korea Aerospace Industries, and AT&T -- which confirmed it paid Cohen's company for "insights" into the Trump administration.

If true, Avenatti's claims, made in a dossier posted to Twitter, could add a new dimension to the federal investigation into Cohen. NBC News has reviewed financial documents that appear to support Avenatti's account of the transactions.

Note, Cohen's LLC also appears to have paid Cohen more than $1 million, in three installments, last summer. This raises related questions about whether Trump's lawyer deposited those checks for himself or for someone else.

But just as important is the existence of that money.

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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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