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Friday's Mini-Report, 11.10.17

11/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Rohrabacher: "Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller are questioning witnesses about an alleged September 2016 meeting between Mike Flynn, who later briefly served as President Donald Trump's national security adviser, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a staunch advocate of policies that would help Russia, two sources with knowledge of the investigation told NBC News."

* Tell me more: "Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, attended a breakfast meeting in January that Michael Flynn, then the incoming national security adviser, and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, also attended."

* I think the Cambridge Analytica angle is underappreciated: "The chief executive of Cambridge Analytica contacted the founder of WikiLeaks to ask him to share Hillary Clinton -related emails at the same time that people familiar with the matter say the British data-analytics firm had begun working for President Donald Trump's campaign."

* Lebanon: "A week after the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, flew to Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation, what seemed at first like a bizarre domestic political dispute is escalating tensions in the Middle East and threatening to become a flash point in the struggle for power there."

* Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix: "A military jury sentenced a former Marine drill instructor to 10 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge from the service Friday for subjecting Muslim recruits to verbal and physical abuse, including one young man who committed suicide after an especially troubling encounter."

* Trump-Russia: "White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller has been interviewed as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The interview brings the special counsel investigation into President Donald Trump's inner circle in the White House. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators."

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Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Senate GOP keeps endorsing Trump's unqualified judicial nominees

11/10/17 02:50PM

The American Bar Association evaluates the qualifications of judicial nominees, and in most instances, across multiple administrations, the ABA determines that the nominees are prepared to serve on the federal bench. In the Obama era, for example, literally none of the Democratic president's nominees received a "not qualified" rating. The same is true of Bill Clinton's nominees.*

Donald Trump, however, less than a year into his first term, has already sent four "not qualified" judicial nominees to the Senate. The L.A. Times highlighted one of them today.

Brett J. Talley, President Trump's nominee to be a federal judge in Alabama, has never tried a case, was unanimously rated "not qualified" by the American Bar Assn.'s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing "Hillary Rotten Clinton" and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, approved him for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Talley is 36 years old. In his exceedingly brief legal career, he's never tried a case or argued a motion. During his confirmation hearing, Talley conceded that he participated in a court hearing only once -- as part of a team. He did, however, run a pro-NRA blog.

Donald Trump decided that this young man deserves a lifetime position on the federal bench, which seems awfully difficult to defend. But what strikes me as even more important is the fact that literally every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Talley's nomination. Not one GOP senator on the panel felt compelled to say, "You know, I like conservative judicial nominees as much as the next Republican, but I can't go along with this one. We need to have some standards."

Instead, Trump sent an unqualified nominee to Capitol Hill, and Senate Republicans reached for their rubber stamp.

I continue to think this is the most under-appreciated aspect of the Trump presidency: judicial nominees are the only area in which the Republican White House is actually succeeding in getting what it wants.

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Protesters gather outside the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011.

Wisconsin lawmakers endorse radical constitutional idea

11/10/17 12:40PM

This story is a little off the beaten path, but the Wisconsin State Journal this week reported on a measure that's worth keeping an eye on.

State lawmakers have made Wisconsin the 28th state to request an unprecedented national convention to amend the country's founding document, the U.S. Constitution.

The state Senate voted 19-14 Tuesday to pass a resolution that completed Wisconsin's application for a convention, which does not require the governor's signature. The state Assembly passed the resolution in June.

According to the Wisconsin resolution, approved by Republicans, the convention is needed "for the limited purpose of requiring the federal government to operate under a balanced budget."

The irony is extraordinary: while Republicans at the state level want a constitutional mandate to eliminate federal budget deficits, Republicans inside the Beltway are pushing a massive tax-cut package that would make the deficit vastly larger, not smaller.

But even if we put that aside, it's worth taking a moment to emphasize just how bad an idea a constitutional convention would be.

This gets a little complicated, so let's revisit a Q&A we first discussed a couple of years ago.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.10.17

11/10/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama, Roy Moore is encouraging supporters to make contributions to his Senate campaign because he's been accused of child molestation.

* Keep an eye on this one: "In a case that could force the redrawing of congressional maps before the 2018 elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Commonwealth Court to decide a gerrymandering lawsuit by the end of the year."

* The Washington Post's Greg Sargent did a nice job summarizing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's 2018 targeting, which will apparently include House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R) district in Wisconsin.

* I continue to wonder whether there are better ways for Steyer to invest his money: "Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer is doubling down on his impeachment push against President Trump. Despite veiled pushback from party leaders on impeachment talk, Steyer is spending another $10 million on cable TV advertisements carrying his message of removing Trump from office."

* Former Clinton aides are launching a new super PAC called Party Majority, which will reportedly focus on helping "upgrade Democratic organizing and fundraising in support of the party's candidates around the country."

* In California, a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times  poll found Gavin Newsom (D) with a modest lead over Antonio Villaraigosa (D) in next year's gubernatorial race, and incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) with a much larger lead over Kevin de Leon (D) in the 2018 Senate race.

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Despite the sabotage campaign, 'Obamacare' gets more good news

11/10/17 11:20AM

Donald Trump desperately wants Americans to believe that the Affordable Care Act is "dead," and to that end, the president and his administration have gone to considerable lengths to undermine the law.

And yet, "Obamacare" is doing quite well anyway.

Over 600,000 people signed up for a plan through Obamacare's federal exchange in its first four days of open enrollment, significantly outpacing last year's sign-ups, according to official figures released Thursday.

The Centers on Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said that 464,140 customers renewed their coverage while another 137,322 customers were new enrollees, for a total of 601,462. The number only includes people who signed up through the portal, which services 39 states.

Apples-to-apples comparisons get a little tricky since Trump shrunk the open-enrollment window, but as NBC News report added, the "daily rate of sign-ups is significantly faster this year" as compared to a year ago.

Lori Lodes, co-founder of Get America Covered, an outside campaign to enroll customers, added, "We shouldn't read too much into this since there's five weeks to go and we need to get a lot of people signed up quickly. But it's a great start."

As for why, exactly, enrollment totals are up despite Trump's efforts to suppress them, experts aren't altogether sure what's driving the numbers, though there are quite a few credible theories. The bottom line, however, remains the same: the ACA is on something of a winning streak.

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A voter casts their ballot at a polling place in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo by Cassi Alexandra/For The Washington Post/Getty)

Trump's absurd voting commission starts to unravel

11/10/17 10:49AM

As regular readers know, the existence of Donald Trump's "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" has long been a running joke. By all appearances, the Republican president, annoyed about losing the popular vote and comforted by strange conspiracy theories, created a panel to root out the voter fraud scourge that exists only in conservatives' imaginations.

But the panel didn't reach farcical status until it actually got to work. In September, for example, the panel's co-chair, voter-suppression pioneer Kris Kobach, claimed to have uncovered "proof" of systemic fraud in New Hampshire -- claims that were quickly discredited as transparent nonsense.

This week, matters took a turn for the worse. Slate's Mark Joseph Stern explained that there's fresh evidence the White House commission "is imploding."

On Thursday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democratic member of the voter fraud commission, filed a bombshell lawsuit against the commission and its chairs, alleging that the group has been violating federal law. Dunlap alleges the committee is a cynical partisan effort to exaggerate the frequency of fraudulent voting, that it flouts legal regulations, and that its token Democratic participants have been systematically shunned. [...]

[Dunlap] appears to be atoning for his mistake of joining the commission by fighting to expose the rottenness at its core.... The tone of Dunlap's lawsuit is notable: He is not bitter, just exasperated. It appears that he joined the commission out of a genuine desire to investigate election practices and, if necessary, suggest improvements to the nation's voting system. But it didn't take long for him to learn, he says, that he'd been invited "to afford the Commission and its prospective findings a veneer of legitimacy."

This comes on the heels of a separate report from last month in which the inner workings of Trump's commission came to light, prompting Vanita Gupta, former head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, to say there are "serious concerns about the potential coordination between the Pence-Kobach commission and government agencies, including the Justice Department, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security."

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Trump World express an alarming interest in 'welfare reform'

11/10/17 10:16AM

Donald Trump's to-do list doesn't yet have a lot of check marks. The president's push to overhaul the nation's health care system hasn't gone especially well, his tax plan faces an uphill climb, and the White House's infrastructure plan doesn't yet exist.

And so it came as something of a surprise a month ago when Trump declared at a cabinet meeting, "One thing we're going to be looking at very strongly is welfare reform. That's becoming a very, very big subject... We are going to be looking very, very strongly there for welfare reform. It's going to be a very big topic under this administration."

No one was entirely sure what this meant. Trump is clearly a little too fond of the word "very," but the White House has had little to say about the president's welfare plans.

The topic nevertheless came up again this week, when CNBC's John Harwood sat down with Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council at Trump's White House.

Harwood: Are you thinking that you'll deal with that Social Security/Medicare/baby boomer retirement issue later by entitlement reform that reduces benefits?

Cohn: Look, the president on the economic front laid out three core principles. Number one was [regulatory] reform, number two was taxes and number three was infrastructure. We're working our way methodically through [regulatory] reform, taxes and infrastructure. I think when he gets done with those, I think welfare is going to come up. That's our near-term economic agenda right now.

There's ample reason for the public, especially those who value social-insurance programs, to find comments like these alarming.

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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Special counsel's interest in Mike Flynn comes into sharper focus

11/10/17 09:32AM

It's still rather early in the morning, but I feel comfortable saying that the latest reporting on Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former White House National Security Advisor, is going to be the craziest story of the day.

Rachel has been covering these developments for months -- I assume you saw this week's segment -- and today the controversy came into sharper focus. Let's start with this Wall Street Journal report.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year on a meeting Flynn hosted in New York in September 2016, in which participants basically talked about kidnapping Fethullah Gulen, removing him from his home in Pennsylvania, circumventing America's extradition process, and delivering him to Turkey's government, which considers Gulen a dangerous enemy.

Flynn was a senior adviser on national security matters to the Trump campaign at the time, though he was also on a foreign government's payroll.

Today's Wall Street Journal report refers to another meeting, held three months later, in which the same topic was discussed: Flynn would "forcibly remove" Gulen, send him to Turkey, and receive millions of dollars for his efforts.

This meeting was held in December -- after the U.S. presidential election and during Donald Trump's transition period -- as Flynn was preparing to oversee national-security policy at the White House.

Wait, this gets even crazier.

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Image: Ryan Speaks on Trump's Leaking of Classified Information to Russians, James Comey

Paul Ryan abandons key boast on Republican tax cut plan

11/10/17 08:40AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), desperate to approve a massive tax-cut package, spent much of the week making a specific boast: the GOP plan, Ryan told several conservative media outlets, delivers "a tax cut for everybody." Who'll benefit? "Every single person," he said.

At face value, that doesn't even make sense. Even if we put aside the independent assessments that show millions of Americans would pay more in taxes under the House Republican proposal, the whole point of tax reform is to shift burdens in such a way that some would pay less and others would pay more.

To hear Ryan tell it, GOP officials have come up with a way to cut taxes for literally "everyone" who pays taxes in this country. That's clearly wrong, and an ostensible budget wonk should know better.

So why did the Speaker keep repeating a claim that obviously isn't true? The Washington Post contacted his office and Ryan's spokesperson said the Wisconsin congressman "misspoke." Indeed, he tried to clarify the claim with reporters yesterday:

"When you take the thing all in its totality, what the analysis shows us, whether it's analysis from [Joint Committee on Taxation], from the Tax Foundation, or even [the Tax Policy Center], that the average households at every income level see a tax cut."

It's an interesting shift. "A tax cut for everybody" is a Republican rallying cry, while "analyses show that the average households at every income level see a tax cut" isn't quite as inspiring.

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Controversial Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at a Texas Capitol rally on March 24, 2015. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/Getty)

Roy Moore's allies come up with woefully inadequate defenses

11/10/17 08:00AM

Alabama's Roy Moore, the Republican Party's radical U.S. Senate nominee, is now facing allegations that he molested a 14-year-old girl, whom he tried to date when he was in his 30s, in addition to pursuing relationships with other teenagers. Moore, a former judge twice removed from the bench for judicial misconduct, denies the allegations.

His allies, however, are scrambling to come up with a persuasive response to the claims -- and so far, it's not going especially well.

The standard line from most Republicans is that Moore should quit "if the allegations are true." The problem with this is that it's predicated on the assumption that the on-the-record accusers, the contemporaneous accounts, and the Washington Post's 30 sources are all suspect.

Other Moore allies have argued that the encounters were "consensual," and therefore acceptable -- as if a 32-year-old man can legally molest a 14-year-old girl if she approves.

Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R), meanwhile, has been the most creative of Moore's cheerleaders, initially saying the allegations are "much ado about very little," even if they're completely accurate. Eventually, however, after a variety of other bizarre defenses, Zeigler came up with this:

"Take the Bible -- Zachariah and Elizabeth, for instance. Zachariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist," Ziegler says, choosing his words carefully before invoking Christ. "Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."

"There's just nothing immoral or illegal here," Ziegler concluded. "Maybe just a little bit unusual."

Yes, when Roy Moore was confronted with allegations of sexual misconduct, one his allies thought it'd be a good idea to throw a Hail Mary -- in a nearly literal sense.

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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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