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Trump twitter rants worsen his situation

Trump twitter rants worsen his situation

06/16/17 09:35PM

Bob Bauer, former White House counsel, talks with Rachel Maddow about how Donald Trump hurts himself with rash tweets, and whether Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein needs to recuse himself from the obstruction part of the Trump Russia investigation. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 6.16.17

06/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Minnesota: "A jury has acquitted a Minnesota police officer in the shooting death of a black man outside St. Paul last year, putting to end a tragic saga that began with a routine traffic stop."

* Another step backwards: "The United States will tighten travel restrictions and block business with the [Cuba's] military regime, President Donald Trump announced Friday."

* Immigration: "The Trump administration has announced it will allow eligible young undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and work, but did away with a program that would have let undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal resident children stay."

* Afghanistan: "The Pentagon will send nearly 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in an effort to turn around a war that commanders have described as a stalemate, the Associated Press reported Thursday."

* Trump World: "Members of President Trump’s transition team were ordered on Thursday to preserve documents and other materials related to the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a memo obtained by The New York Times."

* On a related note: "House Russia investigators are planning to call on Brad Parscale, the digital director of President Donald Trump's campaign, as the congressional and federal probes dig into any possible connections between the Trump digital operation and Russian operatives, congressional sources said this week."

* Trump assumed he could get China's Xi Jinping to do more on North Korea. Trump assumed wrong: "China has not significantly tightened the pressure on North Korea since Mr. Trump met with Mr. Xi in Palm Beach, Fla., in April. Its failure to do more has frustrated White House officials, who plan to raise the issue with their Chinese counterparts at a high-level meeting here on June 21."

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Image: Senate Minority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer

Schumer calls Senate Republicans' bluff on health care gambit

06/16/17 05:12PM

At a Capitol Hill press conference this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that "everybody" in the chamber who wants to work on health care policy "is participating," adding, "Unfortunately, it will have to be a Republicans-only exercise."

The Republican didn't say why, exactly, it has to be this way, but a day earlier, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Washington Examiner, "We're trying to do it from a one-party perspective because no Democrat is willing to help us. No, this is not the best way to do health care. But it's the way we're having to do it."

It's a curious argument. In the House, GOP leaders refused to even consider bipartisan negotiations, rejecting such an approach on a conceptual level. In the Senate, Republicans created a "working group" in which 13 conservative men, almost exclusively from red states, decided they'd craft the Senate legislation. Democrats weren't invited to participate in any capacity.

I can appreciate why this is an awkward subject for Republicans -- they're brazenly rejecting the legislative process in ways without precedent in the American tradition -- but to argue that GOP lawmakers "have to" try to govern this way is plainly ridiculous. They've chosen this scandalous path, writing a secret bill without hearings, without testimony from subject-matter experts, and without so much as a hint of bipartisan negotiation.

The assertion that Democrats aren't "willing to help," however, is facing an interesting new test. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sent a notable letter to McConnell yesterday, inviting him and his caucus to start a real dialog on health care:

"On behalf of my caucus, I write to invite you and the Republican Conference to an All-Senators meeting next week on the topic of health care. Now, more than ever, Republicans and Democrats need to come together to find solutions to America's challenges.

"Our health care system affects every single American and one-sixth of our economy. We believe we all owe it to our constituents to meet to discuss your potential legislation that would profoundly impact so many American lives.

"The U.S. Senate has long been considered the world's greatest deliberative body and, as members of that body, we should each support open and robust debate. That is why we are dismayed at the reports that there will be no public hearings on your proposed changes to the American health care system.

"Please accept our invitation to sit down together in the old Senate Chamber so we can hear your plans and discuss how to make health care more affordable and accessible in the United States."

Does Schumer seriously expect McConnell to accept such an invitation? I rather doubt it, but as public-relations moves go, the Democratic leader's letter is a good one. In fact, if Republicans accepted, I don't doubt for a moment that Schumer and his members would be ready to engage in a bipartisan conversation.

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Image: Senate Republicans Address The Press After Their Weekly Policy Luncheon

Senate Republicans intend to ram through secret health care bill

06/16/17 12:55PM

Senate Republican leaders established a timeline of sorts for their health care overhaul, complete with a self-imposed deadline: a GOP bill is supposed to pass the upper chamber before Congress breaks for the 4th of July.

In practical terms, that means a Senate vote on a health care vote by Friday, June 30 -- the last day before the holiday recess -- which is two weeks from today. The Washington Post reports that Republicans continue to believe this schedule is realistic.

Senate Republican leaders are aiming to bring a major revision to the nation's health-care laws to the Senate floor by the end of June even as lingering disagreements, particularly over Medicaid, threaten to derail their efforts, several Republicans familiar with the effort said Thursday.

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are pressing for an ambitious timeline to complete the bill, although it is being drafted in the Senate with little assistance from the White House.

Just so we're clear about the calendar, Senate Republican leaders intend to finish a secret overhaul of the American health care system, share it with at least some of their colleagues, send it to the Congressional Budget Office, receive a score from the CBO, bring it to the floor for some perfunctory debate, and pass the bill -- all over the next 14 days.

That's a tall order, to be sure, but I'm not convinced they'll fail.

The House passed their far-right legislation last month without a CBO score, but in the Senate, that's not an option: under the budget reconciliation process, which Republicans are using to prevent a filibuster, senators will need to ensure that their version doesn't affect the deficit more than the House version.

Ordinarily, on a bill of this importance, it takes the Budget Office between 10 and 14 days to produce a score -- which in this case, would necessarily mean that GOP lawmakers miss their deadline -- but TPM reports that many Republican senators "hope" it will take less time "because they've had the CBO provide feedback on the various individual proposals under consideration."

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Trump reportedly gives federal post to his family's 'event planner'

06/16/17 11:30AM

Donald Trump has made plenty of dubious personnel decisions since winning the presidential election, but the New York Daily News reports on an apparent hiring that will be tough to defend.

...Now President Trump has appointed longtime loyalist Lynne Patton -- who has zero housing experience and claims a law degree the school says she never earned -- to run the office that oversees federal housing programs in New York.

Patton was appointed Wednesday to head up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Region II, which includes New York and New Jersey, where she'll oversee distribution of billions of taxpayer dollars.... As head of the biggest HUD regional office in the U.S., Patton will oversee distribution of billions in cash to public housing authorities -- including NYCHA -- as well as tens of thousands of rental vouchers and block grants that fund housing inspections and senior citizen programs.

That certainly sounds like a job in which it would be helpful to have some background in housing policy.

The piece notes that Patton became the Trump family's "event planner" several years ago, before helping run the Eric Trump Foundation, a charitable entity that's recently generated some controversy.

This is, I believe, an appointed federal position -- which means Patton would not be subject to the Senate confirmation process.

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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Trump, looking for a foe to attack, confirms he's under investigation

06/16/17 11:00AM

Donald Trump has been so consumed by the threat posed by the Russia scandal that, according to a Politico report, the president has been known to inject, "I'm not under investigation," without prompting, into various conversations with associates and allies.

Of course, that's not going to happen anymore. For only the third time in the history of the country, the American president is the subject of a federal criminal investigation -- a fact Trump confirmed in a tweet this morning.

"I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt"

As presidential tweets go, this one's a real doozy, and it's worth unpacking because the details will have real consequences.

Trump isn't referring to Robert Mueller, who's overseeing the investigation into the broader scandal, but rather to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Mueller technically answers to in the Justice Department's hierarchy because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in matters related to this controversy.

There was already some discussion about whether Rosenstein would also have to recuse himself -- he may be a witness to the president's alleged crimes -- and Trump admonishing Rosenstein in public probably makes the DOJ official's recusal more likely.

Indeed, while White House officials reportedly talked Trump out of firing Mueller, it's suddenly easy to imagine the president showing the deputy AG the door, sooner rather than later.

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Trump's second-term curse starts surprisingly early

06/16/17 10:14AM

Political observers have talked for years about American presidents and the frequency with which they run into the "second-term curse." It hasn't affected every president -- Barack Obama, for example, avoided the "curse" -- but in many modern administrations, presidents have confronted serious crises and scandals in the latter half of their two terms.

In fact, going into this year, only two American presidents have ever been the subject of federal criminal inquiries -- Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton -- and both ran into trouble in their second terms.

This small club, however, now has a new member, with Donald Trump facing his own criminal investigation. Time will tell what becomes of the ongoing federal probe, but MSNBC's Ari Melber raised an interesting numerical point yesterday: when Nixon first faced a criminal inquiry into his misconduct in office, he'd been president for 1,580 days. For Clinton, it was 1,835 days.

For Trump, it was 145 days. His second-term curse arrived in his first term -- before he'd even reached his first 4th of July in the White House. I made the above chart to help drive the point home.

I can appreciate why it feels like Trump has been in office for a very long time, but the fact remains that his presidency hasn't yet reached the five-month mark.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Republicans struggle to find the purpose of their health care plan

06/16/17 09:35AM

Consider policymaking in a republic at its most basic level. Voters elect policymakers who identify problems and then try to come up with solutions to those problems.

To be sure, this is rarely easy. Sometimes officials misidentify problems, come up with misguided remedies, or struggle to reach a necessary consensus on solutions, but the underlying governing model is straightforward and sound.

In the case of Republican policymakers working on a health care overhaul, this model is being ignored.

When Democrats were crafting the Affordable Care Act, there was no question as to why they were acting. Democrats identified some key systemic problems -- too many Americans lacked basic health coverage, and even those with insurance faced security risks -- and then worked on a solution. There's ample room for debate about the merits of the Democrats' reform law, but there's no confusion about the purpose of their work.

With Republicans this year, no one has the foggiest idea what they're doing -- GOP leaders are operating in complete secrecy -- but just as importantly, we don't know what question they're trying to answer. The solution is being kept hidden, but so too is the purpose of the endeavor.

Vox published a great report on this today after speaking to eight Senate Republicans, each of whom struggled to explain what their party is even trying to do.

With the bill's text still not released for public view, Vox asked GOP senators to explain their hopes for it. Who will benefit from the legislation? What problems is this bill trying to solve?

"All of them," Sen. John McCain said in an interview, not an uncharacteristic response of his Republican Senate colleagues.

Over the course of the past week, Vox asked eight different Republican senators to explain the affirmative case for the bill. They rarely answered directly, at least not on the bill's policy merits.

In any policy debate, we're accustomed to asking whether the proposed solution is worthwhile. In this case, however, not only is the answer elusive, but the question is still murky.

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The 'clueless, not criminal' Trump defense comes up far short

06/16/17 08:42AM

Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) talked to NPR's Steve Inskeep yesterday, and the conservative lawmaker expressed support for the ongoing investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal, saying it'd be "healthy" to separate facts from fiction.

But note what happened when the discussion turned to the investigation into whether the president obstructed justice. From the NPR transcript:

SCHWEIKERT: I'm at the point where, you know, we also have to be real careful from the standpoint we have a president that's not from the political class. The learning of the disciplined use of language and what certain words mean in our context. If you're not from this world, you may not have developed that discipline. But understand, sometimes...

INSKEEP: Although he's got an entire staff. He's got scores of lawyers. He's got people who could advise him on the law and on procedures if he wanted to listen to those things.

This brings us back to the line of argument known in some circles as the "clueless, not criminal" defense. Trump may have obstructed justice, the defense goes, but he didn't really mean to: the president simply doesn't know enough about politics or the law to know where the boundaries are. We should hold Trump to a lower standard, the argument implicitly suggests, because he doesn't really know what he's doing.

Or as Schweikert put it, the president is new to "the political class," which means he lacks "the disciplined use of language."

If this sounds familiar, it's because Schweikert isn't the only one making the argument. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), among others, argued earlier this week, "The president is new at this, he is new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He is just new to this.”

This is a very bad argument, which does not improve with repetition.

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Mike Pence lawyers up as Russia scandal reaches new level

06/16/17 08:00AM

Mike Pence's tenure as vice president has already been unusual, at least compared to his modern predecessors. The Indiana Republican, for example, created his own political action committee, a first for a sitting VP. He's also headlining his own "cross-country summer campaign tour," which isn't usually the sort of thing we see from a vice president six months into his first term.

And as Rachel noted on last night's show, the Washington Post reported that Pence has also found it necessary to lawyer up, as the Russia scandal intensifies.

Vice President Pence has hired outside legal counsel to help with both congressional committee inquiries and the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between President Trump's campaign and Russia.

The vice president's office said Thursday that Pence has retained Richard Cullen, a Richmond-based lawyer and chairman of McGuireWoods who previously served as a U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Cullen will represent Pence's personal interests and will not be paid with taxpayer funds.

Note that Donald Trump hired his own outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, who recently told White House officials that he didn't see the need for them to find their own attorneys. Evidently, Pence is ignoring that advice.

One of the striking differences between Pence's outside counsel and Trump's outside counsel is that the former seems vastly more qualified. The president created a legal team featuring commercial litigators and the head of TV preacher Pat Robertson's religious right legal group -- who collectively have no experience overseeing a defense over these kinds of constitutional questions. The vice president's new lawyer, on the other hand, worked on George W. Bush's legal team and played a legal role in the Iran-Contra affair.

One of these things is not like the other.

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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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