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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

How not to defend Russia's alleged pro-Trump espionage

01/16/17 08:40AM

In recent weeks, as Republican skepticism towards U.S. intelligence has faded, and even the most rabid Donald Trump supporters began to accept Russia's espionage operation to help the GOP candidate, Republicans have come up with a variety of creative defenses.

Some want to blame Democrats for having their documents stolen. Others have argued that the ends justify the means, and since the stolen materials were of interest, it doesn't matter if a foreign adversary subverted American democracy.

And while the flaws in such arguments should be obvious, this new one, by way of the Dallas Morning News, is easily the worst to date.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, is comparing the use of Mexican entertainers to energize Democratic voters to the email hacking that officials say was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin's government.

"Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth," Conaway told The Dallas Morning News this week. "Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don't hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that."
When the local paper asked if he sees Mexican entertainers on the campaign trail and Russian agents engaged in cyber-espionage as are roughly the same thing, Conaway said, "Sure it is, it's foreign influence."

The comments have drawn some strong rebukes from Nevada Democrats and prominent Latino advocates, and for good reason. Unless Conaway was trying to pull an elaborate joke on the Dallas Morning News, his comparison is bizarre, even by the standards of congressional Republicans in 2017.

In fact, a Washington Post report noted that many of the Mexicans the congressman referred to are, in reality, Americans.

But Conaway's strange rhetoric raises a point Republicans might find informative.
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Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., stands on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., in between television interviews on Feb. 14, 2015. (Photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty).

On MLK weekend, Trump picks fight with civil-rights hero John Lewis

01/16/17 08:00AM

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a legendary champion of civil rights and a celebrated public servant, sat down with NBC News' Chuck Todd late last week and said what many Democrats believe, but have been reluctant to say.

"I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president," Lewis said. Explaining that he intends to boycott Donald Trump's inauguration this week, the Georgia Democrat added, "It will be the first one that I miss since I've been in Congress. You cannot be at home with something that you feel that is wrong, is not right." Lewis pointed to Russia's illegal intervention in the election on Trump's behalf as reason to question the Republican's legitimacy.

The smart move for the president-elect would've been to simply say nothing and to continue to prepare for his inauguration. But as is too often the case, Donald Trump just couldn't help himself, turning to Twitter on Saturday morning to once again lash out against someone who dared to criticize him.
"Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!"
So let me get this straight. On Martin Luther King Day weekend, Donald J. Trump, just six days from his inauguration, thought it'd be wise to feud with one of the most honorable and respected Americans alive.

Against a backdrop of widespread concerns about his judgment, the president-elect just made matters far worse.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.13.17

01/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This was, quite literally, the easiest part of an arduous process: "The House passed a bill Friday that starts the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, officially completing the first step of the two-step process of repealing the health care legislation. The measure passed 227 to 198 with no Democrats supporting it and nine GOP members voting against it."

* Stunning findings: "Chicago cops routinely shot at fleeing suspects, used force to retaliate against people, failed to investigate most misconduct claims and skewed probes to favor officers, federal authorities said Friday in a report that documented years of systemic civil rights violations by the country's second largest police department."

* An important move: "The Environmental Protection Agency moved Friday to preserve strict fuel-economy standards put in place by the Obama administration, making it difficult for the Trump administration to undo them."

* Leveling the immigration playing field: "The Obama administration on Thursday pulled the plug on a controversial policy for Cuban migrants -- essentially turning the clock back on decades of preferential treatment for Cubans and making those who arrive without visas subject to deportation."

* The latest Mike Flynn story is the subject of considerable chatter: "A senior U.S. official says the Obama administration is aware of frequent contacts between President-elect Donald Trump's top national security adviser and Russia's ambassador to the United States."

* This strikes me as a bad idea: "The U.S. Army general who heads the D.C. National Guard and is an integral part of overseeing the inauguration said Friday he has been ordered removed from command effective Jan. 20, 12:01 p.m., just as Donald Trump is sworn in as president."

* Apparently, some abroad are under the impression that to influence the incoming White House, they should call Moscow: "Palestinians on Friday stepped up their campaign to prevent President-elect Donald Trump from carrying out his pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for help,"
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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

Putting small businesses at the center of the health care debate

01/13/17 04:11PM

Whenever Republicans talk about repealing the estate tax, they try to avoid talking about the principal beneficiaries: the wealthiest of the wealthy Americans. Instead, estate-tax opponents focus on figures most likely to appear sympathetic in the eyes of voters -- which in this case, means arguing that the estate tax hurts farmers.

To the extent that reality matters, the argument is largely bogus, and the number of farms affected by the estate tax is vanishingly small, but when it comes to politics, that's irrelevant. Republicans want to repeal the estate tax, and to achieve their goal, they want Americans to see Democrats as fighting against some nice person in the heartland driving a tractor on a family farm.

Perhaps it's time for Affordable Care Act proponents to start thinking the same way -- by focusing on small businesses.
Their businesses might be small, but their share of Obamacare's pie isn't.

One out of every 5 Obamacare customers -- 1.4 million people -- was a small-business owner, self-employed or both, in 2014, the first year Affordable Care Act plans were available, a government report issued Thursday reveals.
A piece published by the Department of Health and Human Services this week went on to note, "In fact, small business owners and self-employed individuals were nearly three times as likely to purchase Marketplace coverage as other workers. Nearly 10 percent of small business owners and more than 10 percent of gig economy workers got coverage through the Marketplace in 2014."

The HHS piece added, "These data show that the Affordable Care Act (ACA's) Health Insurance Marketplaces are playing an especially crucial role in providing health coverage to entrepreneurs and other independent workers."
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Republicans try to defend Trump's 'Nazi Germany' rhetoric

01/13/17 03:09PM

On Wednesday, Donald Trump was so outraged by leaks related to the Russia scandal, he turned to Twitter to publish a provocative message: "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?"

Two days later, it's still unclear why in the world the president-elect would say something like this. Not only is it a needless ugly shot at U.S. intelligence professionals, it doesn't even make historical sense: of all the nightmares associated with Nazi Germany, leaks from intelligence agencies weren't the principal problem.

I can appreciate why much of the country has grown inured to the president-elect's over-the-top rhetoric, but asking whether the United States is any way similar to Nazi Germany is pretty radical stuff, even for Trump. Are Republicans comfortable with this? Evidently, at least one GOP senator thought he was kidding.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on Thursday defended Donald Trump after the president-elect invoked Nazi Germany in slamming the intelligence community.

"Give him a break ... he has a sense of humor," Inhofe told reporters when asked to respond to Trump's remarks from a Wednesday press conference.
Trump wasn't being humorous. In fact, a few hours after publishing his tweet, the president-elect re-emphasized his argument during a press conference, insisting that he believes it was "disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out." He added, "That's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do."

This wasn't a stand-up routine. Trump was neither laughing nor smiling when he made the comment.
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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids

After condemning 'permanent campaign,' Team Trump gears up for 2020

01/13/17 12:45PM

A month ago, when Donald Trump's transition team was still rejecting U.S. intelligence about Russia helping get the Republican elected, Kellyanne Conway said the only people concerned about the scandal are those "who want this to be the permanent campaign."

Yeah, about that.
President-elect Donald Trump hasn't yet been sworn into office, but he's already looking ahead to 2020. Trump's team announced Thursday that he'll be keeping alive his presidential campaign committee, Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Trump's former deputy campaign manager, Michael Glassner, will lead the group, along with Arizona deputy treasurer Sean Dollman and John Pence. The latter is Vice President-elect Mike Pence's nephew.

The group will focus on fundraising and building data for Trump's possible re-election in 2020 and will coordinate closely with the Republican National Committee.
This Associated Press report came a day after Politico reported that Trump will keep his campaign headquarters open indefinitely -- a move intended to position him "to begin running for reelection in 2020" -- with a staff of "around 10 people."

In other words, a week before Trump is even inaugurated, he's already assigned a campaign team for an election that's 45 months away. There is no modern precedent for anything like this: every recent president folded up the campaign tent after winning a first term.

Team Trump, however, the one that's offended by the prospect of "the permanent campaign," has other ideas.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.13.17

01/13/17 12:00PM

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

* On Twitter this morning, Donald Trump continued to focus on his former opponent -- more than two months after Election Day -- insisting Hillary Clinton "should never have been allowed to run" because he still believes she's "guilty as hell." The president-elect has not explained what Clinton is guilty of, exactly.

* With his cabinet selections nearly complete, a New York Times analysis found that Trump's cabinet is more male and white than any first-term cabinet in nearly four decades.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is reportedly telling confidants that his political fortunes will soon improve, and Trump will turn to him "when the neophytes begin to flounder." Keep waiting by that phone, gov.

* On a related note, a New Jersey judge yesterday ordered "a new hearing on a criminal misconduct complaint" against Christie in the Bridgegate scandal, "ruling that a lower court wrongly found probable cause for the case to proceed." The judge did not, however, dismiss the case as Christie's attorneys had requested.

* In a rare display of bipartisanship, Indiana's two U.S. senators, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican Todd Young, successfully changed the official federal designation of Indiana natives from "Indianians" to "Hoosiers."

* On MSNBC yesterday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stood alongside Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and said he's sorry for joking about murdering the Texan on the Senate floor.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Donald Trump can't make the Russia scandal go away

01/13/17 11:23AM

The scandal surrounding Russia's intervention in the U.S. presidential election has, broadly speaking, come in three phases.

The first broke during the campaign itself. Around the time Donald Trump publicly urged Russia to commit illegal acts of cyber-espionage to help his candidacy, multiple reports came to light suggesting Russian officials were, in fact, trying to boost the Republican. Trump, when he wasn't praising Putin, dismissed the allegations, and much of the political world focused instead on Hillary Clinton's email server protocols.

The second phase unfolded soon after Election Day, when 17 U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus: Russia did launch an espionage operation; officials working at Putin's behest did subvert our democracy; and Russia was motivated in part by a desire to help put Trump in the White House.

As recently as a month ago, the president elect rejected the findings as "ridiculous." Now, however, practically everyone in Trump World accepts the U.S. intelligence consensus.

If we stopped here and went no further, we'd still have one of the most important campaign stories in American history. It's an almost unimaginable crime: a foreign adversary provided clandestine assistance to a presidential candidate, creating a dynamic in which the next leader of the free world managed to reach the office thanks in part to foreign espionage.

This is exactly what U.S. intelligence agencies, members of Congress from both parties, and even Trump's own team, now believes. TPM's Josh Marshall put it this way last week: "[J]ust two weeks before a new president is sworn into office, the country's intelligence agencies are publicly releasing a report claiming that the United States' great 20th century rival, Russia, conspired to assist in that new president's election. Step back and just absorb that. That is simply mind-boggling."

All of which brings us to the third phase, which broke this week.
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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

House Republicans target Government Ethics chair

01/13/17 10:31AM

Following months of questions and controversies, Donald Trump this week unveiled his plan to address his many conflicts of interest. Almost immediately, legal and ethical experts panned the president-elect's approach as a joke -- and some literally laughed out loud at Trump's proposed solution.

One of the most notable critics, however, was Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent, non-partisan office, which tries to prevent conflicts of interest among high-ranking federal officials. And as Rachel noted on the show the other day, after Trump unveiled his so-called plan, Shaub, who started working at the OGE during the Bush/Cheney era, gave a blunt and passionate assessment criticizing the president-elect's approach.

As the New York Times reported, Shaub learned yesterday he's being called to Capitol Hill -- and it's not to receive a reward.
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued a stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation, to the federal government's top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-elect Donald J. Trump's commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest.

In an unusual action against the independent Office of Government Ethics, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah accused the office's director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., of "blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance."
It's one thing for Republicans to look the other way in response to Trump's conflicts of interest; it's almost certainly worse when they target a public official who takes the issue seriously because he did his job.

The report added that Chaffetz, in his letter, also "noted his committee's authority to reauthorize the office, a hint that it could perhaps be shut down."
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At this point, Americans aren't buying what Trump is selling

01/13/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump and his allies have invested quite a bit of energy in recent months into the idea that the Republican president-elect won a "landslide" victory. That's demonstrably wrong: Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and his electoral-vote totals were among the least impressive in modern American history.

But GOP partisans continue to push the line anyway, in part to help improve Trump's legitimacy following an election in which his candidacy appears to have been boosted by a foreign adversary's espionage operation, and in part because Republicans are desperate to claim a mandate for their far-right proposals.

The fact remains, however, that Donald J. Trump is not popular -- and according to new Gallup data, the president-elect's standing is actually getting slightly worse.
In Gallup polling conducted two weeks before Inauguration Day, President-elect Donald Trump continues to garner historically low approval for his transition performance, with 51% of Americans disapproving of how he is handling the presidential transition and 44% approving. Last month, the public was split on this question, with 48% approving and 48% disapproving.

Trump's 48% transition approval rating in December was already the lowest for any presidential transition Gallup has measured, starting with Bill Clinton's in 1992-1993.
I put together the above chart to help drive the point home: by the standards of the last quarter-century, Trump is faring quite poorly during his post-election "honeymoon" phase. Ordinarily, once a campaign is over, most Americans generally extend support to the incoming leader. This year, as the public watches Trump's bizarre antics unfold during his transition period, the president-elect's 44% approval is actually a little lower than the 46% of electorate that voted for him.
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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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