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Image: US-SAUDI-ISLAMIC-SUMMIT-TRUMP

In Saudi Arabia, Trump retreats from years of posturing

05/22/17 08:00AM

There was a fair amount of interest in Donald Trump's speech in Riyadh yesterday, with the American president addressing dozens of Muslim leaders from the region. The ambiguity surrounding the purpose of the remarks only heightened the curiosity: what exactly would Trump -- with a record of hostility towards Islam in general and Saudi Arabia in specific -- do with this platform?

As it turns out, not a whole lot. The Republican's speech in Saudi Arabia, by any fair measure, turned out to be pretty conventional, which inadvertently told us something important about Trump.
The speech during the initial stop of the president's first foreign trip was a stark contrast to his previous comments on Islam. As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized the religion, saying, "I think Islam hates us" and "there's a tremendous hatred there."

In Riyadh, Trump said, "This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it."
Perhaps the most provocative portion of the speech came when Trump strayed from the prepared text: he was supposed to reference "confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism," but he instead said "confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism." A senior administration official said soon after that the slip was not deliberate, but rather, was the result of the president being "exhausted" on his first full day abroad.

Regardless, the story here is less about a conventional speech and more about the fact that Trump retreated from his previous postures. Remember, Trump rose to prominence in Republican presidential politics by attacking Islam relentlessly, including his call for a notorious Muslim ban, which his White House tried and failed to implement a few months ago.

His rebukes against Saudi Arabia in particular have been nearly as plentiful. In 2012, Trump falsely accused Saudi Arabia of conspiring with Barack Obama to lower gas prices and making illegal campaign contributions. More recently, he argued that Saudis "want women as slaves and to kill gays." Trump also insisted over and over and over again that he wanted to change U.S. policy so that Saudi Arabia pays us more for national security aid.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.19.17

05/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "gave two separate briefings to House and Senate members this week to discuss his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, his decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in last year's election and any possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia."

* A question in need of an answer: "Was [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan] personally involved in his bodyguards' attacks on protesters in D.C.?"

* Watch this one closely: "President Donald Trump has told advisers he wants to end payments of key Obamacare subsidies, a move that could send the health law's insurance markets into a tailspin, according to several sources familiar with the conversations."

* Dana Rohrabacher is known as Putin's favorite congressman: "The F.B.I. warned a Republican congressman in 2012 that Russian spies were trying to recruit him, officials said, an example of how aggressively Russian agents have tried to influence Washington politics."

* NAACP: "The national board of the N.A.A.C.P. voted Friday to dismiss the organization's president, Cornell William Brooks, after only three years, pledging a 'systemwide refresh' at the nation's largest and most storied civil rights group in order to confront President Trump more vigorously."

* I wonder if the chat was recorded: "President Donald Trump convened his legal team on Thursday to discuss the escalating investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election."

* Uncertainty: "From the standpoint of creating economic uncertainty, the election of Donald Trump has been more tumultuous than the 1987 stock market crash and the 2008 financial crisis."
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This file handout photo taken on May 10, 2017 made available by the Russian Foreign Ministry shows shows US President Donald J. Trump (C) speaking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak.

Trump: Comey was a 'nut job' and his firing relieved 'pressure'

05/19/17 04:51PM

Last week, Donald Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak into the Oval Office -- at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The meeting has proven controversial for all kinds or reasons, not the least of which is the American president's decision to share highly classified intelligence with his guests for reasons that are still unclear.

But a New York Times report published this afternoon has uncovered an entirely new reason last week's White House chat is turning into one of the most consequential conversations of Trump's young presidency.
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved "great pressure" on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

"I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job," Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
Remember, when Trump fired the then-FBI director, the official White House line was that the president's decision was unrelated to the investigation into the Russia scandal, which Comey was overseeing. And yet, here we're confronted with fresh evidence to the contrary -- with Trump admitting to Russian officials that he dismissed Comey because of the "pressure" caused by the Russia scandal.

What's more, as the Times' report makes clear, this is not mere scuttlebutt from anonymous sources. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer "did not dispute the account," and the report was based on "the official account of the meeting" adopted by the Trump administration.

To be sure, the president effectively admitted his reasoning for firing Comey -- a confession that carried a whiff of obstruction of justice -- in an NBC News interview last week, but now we have additional evidence of Trump conceding that the original White House line wasn't true, and his genuine motivations only add to the severity of the scandal.

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

Investigation into Russia scandal reaches inside the White House

05/19/17 04:17PM

As the Russia scandal has intensified, much of the focus has been on individuals who played prominent roles on Donald Trump's campaign team. Figures such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page had Trump's ear in 2016, and while Flynn was briefly part of the president's White House operation, none of these figures currently has a job at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It's what makes this new report from the Washington Post so stunning.
The law enforcement investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign has identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, showing that the probe is reaching into the highest levels of government, according to people familiar with the matter.

The senior White House adviser under scrutiny by investigators is someone close to the president, according to these people, who would not further identify the official.
There was a point during Watergate when the investigation made the leap from Richard Nixon's political operation to Nixon's White House team. We appear to have arrived at a related point with Donald Trump's Russia scandal.
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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

House Republicans may have to vote on their health care plan again

05/19/17 12:44PM

Two weeks ago, House Republicans dragged their regressive and unpopular health care bill across the finish line, just barely eking out a majority. GOP lawmakers then celebrated like they'd just won the Super Bowl, laughing it up in the Rose Garden with Donald Trump.

It was simply assumed at the time that the House would follow the normal procedures, send the bill to the Senate for consideration, and wait to see what happens in the upper chamber. That, however, did not happen.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said this morning that the House would "probably" send the bill that's already passed over to the Senate "in a couple of weeks."

Why not send it now? Indeed, why hasn't it been sent already? As NBC News reported, it's because the House may have to pass the bill again.
Republicans are using the budget "reconciliation" process to pass their health care bill, which allows them to push legislation through the Senate with a simple majority. But that depends on the bill meeting certain requirements -- and one of them is that it reduces the deficit by at least $2 billion over the next decade.

The trouble is that Republicans voted on their House bill without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office, the federal agency that evaluates legislation, to finish its projections, which are expected next week.
Chances are, the House will not need to vote again, but there's a chance the Congressional Budget Office's report, which is scheduled to  be released on Wednesday, will find that the current GOP legislation doesn't meet the standards for reconciliation.

Ashlee Strong, a spokeswoman for Paul Ryan, told NBC News, "The bill is just being held until CBO issues its final score,"

That's funny, it seems like just two weeks ago that Ashlee Strong was pretending the CBO has already scored the Republican plan.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.19.17

05/19/17 12:04PM

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

* With less than a week to go before Montana's congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte is facing questions about why he contributed to a white nationalist's legislative campaign last year. "I was unaware of some of his views," Gianforte said Wednesday.

* On a related note, the House Democrats' House Majority PAC, is making a last-minute $25,000 ad buy in support of Rob Quist's campaign. In case it's not obvious, that's not much of an investment.

* Quist, meanwhile, announced yesterday that he raised $5 million for his campaign, which is a pretty impressive haul for a Democrat in a red state's special election.

* Speaking of congressional special elections, the DNC is hiring 10 new field staffers to help give Jon Ossoff's campaign a boost in Georgia. The special election is a month from tomorrow.

* Donald Trump is helping inspire Democratic donors to open their wallets: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has "already raised more money in online contributions this year ahead of the midterms than they did during all of 2015."

* A Monmouth University poll released yesterday showed Trump's approval rating dropping to just 39%. The same poll found that a 48% plurality believe the president's approach towards Russia represents "a threat to national security."
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Image: Ryan Speaks on Trump's Leaking of Classified Information to Russians, James Comey

Paul Ryan reflects on his party's challenges: 'Blah blah blah'

05/19/17 11:20AM

With Donald Trump flailing, the Republican agenda struggling, and polls showing a considerable public appetite for a change in direction, it seems likely GOP leaders are wondering what the near future has in store for them.

The line for public consumption, however, is a little more lackadaisical.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Friday brushed off talk of a possible Democratic wave sweeping Republicans out of Congress in 2018.

"Blah blah blah blah blah is what I think about that stuff," the usually measured and articulate Speaker told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
I don't think that's true. Paul Ryan spends quite a bit of time raising money for his party's 2018 efforts, and he's traveled recently in support of Republican candidates in congressional special elections. If this wasn't an important area of concern for the Wisconsin congressman, he probably wouldn't invest quite so much energy in next year's midterm cycle.

What strikes me as funnier, however, is the rich recent history in Republican politics of the specific phrase Ryan used this morning.
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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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