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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Paul Ryan reportedly had to tutor Trump on surveillance law

01/12/18 10:04AM

Even those who expect little from Donald Trump found yesterday morning's developments jarring. As the Republican-led House was preparing to vote on a controversial surveillance measure, the president decided to weigh in on the debate by criticizing a policy his administration supports and has spent months fighting for.

As we discussed yesterday, the drama unfolded when Trump watched a Fox News segment he apparently misunderstood, which led the president to contradict his own White House's agenda, all in service of an anti-Obama conspiracy theory that's never made any sense.

The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes report on what happened after Trump's errant tweet.

The presidential decree -- a mere 40 words -- set off a mad scramble across Washington.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program's importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.

Evidently, the scramble had the intended effect: Trump published a new tweet endorsing his own position and 702 policy passed the House a few hours later.

But it's nevertheless amazing that the Speaker of the House had to spend a half-hour with the president, tutoring him on surveillance law. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump was a candidate for the nation's highest office for a year and a half. He's been in the Oval Office, receiving daily intelligence briefings, for nearly 12 months.

How is it that the president still needs a member of Congress to explain to him the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance?

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump's confusion and contradictions undermine progress on immigration

01/12/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and when the conversation turned to immigration, the president apparently wanted to clarify a point that no one has been confused about.

TRUMP: [F[irst of all, there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers, OK? Dreamers are different. And I want American kids to be Dreamers also, by the way. I want American kids to be Dreamers also. But there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers. And a lot of times when I was with certain Democrats they kept using the word dreamer. I said, "Please, use the word DACA." You know it's a totally different word.

WSJ: Sure.

TRUMP: OK, people think they're interchangeable, but they're not.

When I'd first heard about this, I thought Trump might have been trying to make a point about branding. More than once over the last year, the president has shaped his policy preferences based on whether he likes the way certain words or phrases sound, and so I assumed Trump didn't like the word "Dreamers" because it helps frame the young immigrants in a positive light.

But the transcript suggests something more basic is going on: Trump just doesn't know what he's saying. "DACA" is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy created to benefit Dreamers. Trump sees a "big difference" between DACA and Dreamers, but no such difference exists. The president, despite making immigration one of his signature issues for the last two-and-a-half years, appears to be clueless.

But the point here is not just to point and laugh at the amateur president's ignorance. There are real consequences to Trump's confusion and contradictions.

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

Trump falsely blames Obama for his London fiasco

01/12/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump's unpopularity in the U.K. is not without consequence.

President Donald Trump has canceled a trip to London to open the new U.S. Embassy, blaming the Obama administration for selling the old building in the city for "peanuts."

His decision was greeted with relief by London's Mayor Sadiq Khan who said Trump had "finally got the message" that he was not welcome in the capital.

Late last night, Trump wrote on Twitter: "Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts,' only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!"

Before we take a closer look at Trump's poorly written rationale, it's important to acknowledge the fact that the actual reason for his cancellation is not a mystery. The American president is deeply unpopular in the U.K., and by all appearances, Trump saw little value in facing widespread protests and condemnations while visiting one of the United States' closest allies.

But to acknowledge these obvious truths is, for all intents and purposes, an impossibility for Trump, who has convinced himself of his universal popularity. It was therefore necessary for the Republican to craft an alternate, face-saving explanation.

Which is why Trump decided to blame Barack Obama -- a self-satisfying rationale that completely unravels under modest scrutiny.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PRISON REFORM

White House simply can't overcome Trump's racist presidency

01/12/18 08:00AM

In the fall, after Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly clashed publicly with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Trump World faced repeated questions about the president and his provocative views on race. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders grew exasperated by the entire discussion.

"The media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged ... White House," the president's chief spokesperson told reporters.

Of course, if Sanders doesn't want Americans to see Trump's presidency as racist, she should probably focus her concerns less on the media and more on her boss.

President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, a Democratic aide briefed on Thursday's meeting told NBC News.

Trump's comments were first reported by The Washington Post, which said the nations referred to by Trump also included El Salvador.

Two sources briefed on the conversation say that during the portion of the conversation about Haiti — which came at the top of the exchange that led to the "shithole" comment — the president questioned why Haitians should be given specific consideration.

According to the Washington Post, Trump added that he'd prefer to see immigrants from countries such as Norway -- which is an overwhelmingly white country.

In late December, the New York Times had a related report about the president making behind-the-scenes comments about Haitians, whom Trump reportedly said "all have AIDS." Referencing immigrants from Nigeria, he reportedly added that they'd never "go back to their huts" in Africa after having seen life in the United States.

At the time, the White House pushed back aggressively against the article, insisting that the quotes were inaccurate. Yesterday, however, Trump World made no real effort to deny the president's "shithole countries" comments, which had been heard by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.11.18

01/11/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The bill now heads to the Senate: "Congress moved Thursday toward renewing a critical intelligence program despite a morning of confusion prompted by President Donald Trump's tweets, in which he appeared to support significant changes that his administration had worked for months to rebuff."

* In case you missed Rachel's segment on this last night: "One year after U.S. intelligence agencies detailed the scale and scope of Russian efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election, the United States still lacks 'a coherent, comprehensive and coordinated approach' to countering potential future threats from the Kremlin or elsewhere, a new Democratic congressional report finds."

* It's going to take some time before the Interior Department returns to normal: "The Interior Department has adopted a new screening process for the discretionary grants it makes to outside groups, instructing staff to ensure those awards 'promote the priorities' of the Trump administration."

* USA Today has been doing excellent work on this beat: "President Trump's companies sold more than $35 million in real estate in 2017, mostly to secretive shell companies that obscure buyers' identities, continuing a dramatic shift in his customers' behavior that began during the election, a USA TODAY review found."

* An unnecessary step backwards: "The federal government has ended a national registry designed to provide information to the public about evidence-based mental health and substance use interventions and programs."

* Maybe those Obama folks knew what they were talking about: "In a notable back flip, the Trump administration has decided that maybe the Obama administration was right in its efforts to change the way doctors and hospitals are paid under Medicare."

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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.

On CHIP, Republicans are running out of time (and excuses)

01/11/18 12:42PM

About a month ago, during the debate over the Republicans' regressive tax plan, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) insisted that Congress would eventually reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program. "It's got to be done the right way," the Republican who helped write the CHIP law said, adding, "The reason CHIP's having trouble is because we don't have money anymore."

Even by contemporary standards, it was a bizarre excuse for inaction. Hatch was eager to pass a package of $1.5 trillion tax cuts, which would disproportionately benefit the wealthy and big corporations, but pressed to support a children's health care program at a fraction of the cost, he was convinced "we don't have money anymore."

As it turns out, however, Republican concerns about costs are starting to crumble. Slate  noted yesterday, "It turns out ... that lawmakers might be able to extend CHIP for free. In fact, doing so could even save the government some money."

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that reauthorizing CHIP for 5 years would cost the federal government a mere $800 million. That's quite cheap in the scheme of all federal spending, of course. But today, the CBO sent Capitol Hill staffers an email stating that extending the program for 10 years would actually save $6 billion over the decade, which an aide forwarded to me this afternoon (on the condition of anonymity, which was granted).

The latest CBO report on this is online here (pdf).

I can appreciate why this is counterintuitive. How could it save the government money to extend health care coverage to people? The answer is a little wonky, but it makes sense when you consider the policy details.

Let's say Republicans were to give up on CHIP altogether. They haven't said that, of course, but for the sake of conversation, let's assume that happened. At that point, the kids and their families who currently benefit from CHIP would likely turn to the Affordable Care Act and its individual market.

That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, except Donald Trump has taken a series of deliberate steps to push costs higher on the individual market. With that in mind, if CHIP families turned to the private market, they'd receive subsidized insurance through the ACA -- but as the White House makes the ACA more expensive, that means the subsidies would cost the government more money. It's vastly cheaper, the Congressional Budget Office found, to simply reauthorize CHIP.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.11.18

01/11/18 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia, the Democratic candidate in the tied House of Delegates race, Shelly Simonds, conceded the contest yesterday to Republican David Yancey.

* Donald Trump this morning touted a new Quinnipiac poll that found two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. economy is "good" or "excellent." What he didn't mention was that the same poll found that a plurality of Americans credit Barack Obama for the state of the economy and a majority don't believe Trump's policies are helping.

* On a related note, Quinnipiac found the president with a 36% approval rating. Asked to grade Trump's first year, most of the public gave him a "D" or an "F."

* In Ohio's gubernatorial race, former state Attorney General Richard Corday (D), who recently led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, introduced former Rep. Betty Sutton (D) as his running mate yesterday. Up until this week, Sutton was Cordray's rival for the Democratic nomination.

* On a related note, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), who has been running for governor, is reportedly prepared to end that campaign and launch a U.S. Senate candidacy in his home state.

* As Republicans feel increased anxiety about the special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, Vice President Mike Pence is planning to campaign in the district later this month in support of Republican Rick Saccone. The election is scheduled for March 13.

* As if California Republicans didn't already have enough to worry about, the L.A. Times  reports that a federal grand jury "is slated to hear evidence this month regarding certain transactions in Rep. Duncan Hunter's campaign treasury, which has been under scrutiny since the spring of 2016 as a result of frequent personal expenditures."

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott during his State of the State speech Tuesday, March 4, 2014.

As Trump gives Florida a special deal, states demand equal treatment

01/11/18 11:20AM

After Donald Trump unveiled an expansive plan for coastal oil drilling last week, 14 governors -- including several Republicans -- denounced the policy. Only one of the 14 got a special deal: the Trump administration announced this week that Florida would be exempt from the policy.

By all appearances, the move seems to be a ham-fisted political scheme to help Gov. Rick Scott's (R) as-yet-unannounced Senate candidacy. Indeed, when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the special favor for the Sunshine State, he went out of his way to sing the praises of the state's Republican governor, celebrating his "leadership" -- twice -- in a statement that sounded more like a campaign endorsement than a policy announcement.

Zinke added, however, that the president believes "local voices count." If that's true, the administration is hearing from quite a few local voices right now. The Washington Post  reported:

"We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who backed President Trump in his state's competitive 2016 primary, said in a statement.

"Not Off Our Coast," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) wrote in a tweet. "We've been clear: this would bring unacceptable risks to our economy, our environment, and our coastal communities."

They're not alone. Policymakers from both parties and both coasts were publicly outraged yesterday, and several suggested that the Trump administration's special treatment for Florida could have been affected by the president's real-estate holdings in the state.

"What else am I supposed to think?" Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) asked rhetorically.

What's more, as state attorneys general get ready to challenge the legality of Trump's coastal-drilling policy, the administration's carve-out for Florida -- coupled with its political defense for the exception -- is making things vastly easier for the policy's opponents.

"The Administrative Procedure Act requires there to be a reasonable rationale behind agency decisions, and that they can't be arbitrary and capricious," Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Washington Post, referring to a 1946 law governing major regulatory changes. "So, saying Florida is exempt because Rick Scott is straightforward and trustworthy? That Florida's coastlines are unique? That seems to be the definition of arbitrary and capricious."

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Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump, takes questions from the media at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty)

Kellyanne Conway: Trump has 'discovered' border-wall concerns

01/11/18 10:40AM

During Tuesday's White House discussion on immigration, Donald Trump stumbled in important ways. As we discussed yesterday, the president accidentally endorsed a Senate Democrat's request for a clean DACA bill, extending protections to Dreamers, only to have a House Republican quickly interject, reminding Trump of what his position is supposed to be.

The contradiction was compounded yesterday when he initially told reporters he'd support any bipartisan immigration agreement reached in Congress. Five seconds later, Trump added, "No, no, no. It's got to include the wall."

Got it. The president will support any congressional bill, no matter what's in it, unless he doesn't like what's in it.

But even the White House's position on Trump's proposed border wall is far from clear. What the president promised voters was a wall -- not a fence -- that spanned the U.S./Mexico border, which Mexico would pay for. Trump now expects Americans to pay for the barrier, and according to what Kellyanne Conway told CNN's Chris Cuomo last night, the rest of the president's promise is uncertain, too.

"[A]fter conferring with the experts who are involved in this process, Christopher, the president has discovered that part of it -- well, he knows part of it will be the physical wall, part of it is better technology, part of it is also fencing. You know, there are rivers involved, I'm told, there are mountains involved, but there is terrain that isn't conducive to building an actual physical structure in some places."

So let me get this straight. Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015. He was a candidate for a year and a half, during which time he publicly committed, countless times, to build a border wall. He then spent a year as president, promising to follow through on his campaign pledge to build a giant wall with Mexican money.

It's only now Trump has "conferred" with experts and "discovered" problems with his promise?

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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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