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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.8.18

01/08/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Trump administration plans "to end temporary protected status for 200,000 Salvadorans currently living in the United States, according to senior administration officials. The Salvadorans will have until September 2019 to seek permanent residency in the United States or risk deportation."

* A case to keep an eye on: "Maine Community Health Options (MCHO) became the first insurer in the country to sue the Trump administration over millions in subsidies that the federal government cut off in October."

* Special Counsel Robert Mueller has "recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump's misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton."

* The Securities and Exchange Commission "is investigating the real-estate company run by the family of President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner for its use of a federal investment-for-visa program known as EB-5, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Are we supposed to believe he's a "bad hombre"? "Federal immigration officials said Friday they will proceed with the deportation of an Ohio man who is the sole provider and trained medical caregiver of a 6-year-old paraplegic boy."

* The White House's Stephen Miller was escorted off a CNN set yesterday by security.

* Trump will get to name Rogers' successor: "NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers has decided he will retire this spring, two former U.S. intelligence officials told POLITICO, ending a near four-year tenure bookended by major leaks that rattled the agency."

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The Polar Pioneer oil drilling rig arrives aboard a transport ship, following a journey across the Pacific, in view of the Olympic Mountains in Port Angeles, Wash. on April 17, 2015. (Photo by Daniella Beccaria/seattlepi.com/File/AP)

Big Oil can count on its allies in Trump's Washington

01/08/18 04:06PM

Quick quiz: can you name the first policy legislation Donald Trump signed into law? Let's take a quick stroll down memory lane.

The Obama administration required oil companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, and one of the very first things the Republican-led Congress tackled was a bill to kill that regulation. In early February 2017, the president signed it, describing the policy as "a big deal."

The industry lobbyists who championed the measure certainly thought so.

The move was a harbinger of sorts for an administration that seems determined to help Big Oil and its interests. This was evident a couple of weeks ago when the Trump administration announced it's scaling back drilling safeguards created after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which was followed a week later by the unveiling of a new plan to vastly expand coastal oil drilling.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported the other day that Trump's tax plan included a specific tax break that oil companies were pleased to receive.

Congressional Republicans allowed a tax on oil companies that generated hundreds of millions of dollars annually for federal oil-spill response efforts to expire [on Jan. 1] -- a move that amounts to another corporate break in the wake of lawmakers' sweeping tax overhaul late last month.

The tax on companies selling oil in the United States generated an average of $500 million in federal revenue per year, according to the Government Accountability Office. The money, collected through a 9 cents-per-barrel tax on domestic crude oil and imported crude oil and petroleum products, constituted the main source of revenue for the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

It's worth emphasizing that the per-barrel tax may yet be reinstated -- a move some congressional Democrats already support -- but as things stand right now, this is another one of those industry breaks included in the Republican tax plan that few noticed until now.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

Facing a daunting to-do list, Congress returns to work

01/08/18 12:55PM

Members of the House and Senate will be back at work today, following their holiday break, and as they return to their offices, federal lawmakers face some daunting deadlines.

Indeed, I don't mean to ruin anyone's day, but now seems like a good time to point out that the next deadline for a possible government shutdown is next week, and it's entirely possible officials will not work out a deal in time. Vox had a good piece on this last week:

Now they're back, and there's a lot of work to do, likely all by January 19 -- when Congress must pass a federal spending bill to prevent the government from shutting down. [...]

If Democrats stay united, Republicans, who need at least [nine] Democrats in the Senate to meet the 60-vote threshold required to pass a spending bill, will have to make some serious compromises to get a final spending bill through.

During the last two major legislative fights -- health care and taxes -- Republicans used the budget-reconciliation process to circumvent filibuster rules. There wasn't much of anything Democrats could do to slow down the bills, other than to shine a light on the GOP plans in order to make them unpopular. (That worked.)

But to pass a spending package to keep the government's lights on, it's a very different story: in the Senate, the bill will need at least 60 votes to overcome the Dems' procedural hurdles, and in a 51-49 chamber, that will require Republicans to make some concessions.

Such as? Well, congressional Dems have more than a few priorities, but the party is clearly determined to work out an agreement on a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to protect Dreamers. Donald Trump said over the weekend that he supports a DACA deal -- indeed, he said the entire Republican leadership agrees -- though he'll insist on funding for a border wall first.

The likelihood of Democrats accepting these terms is roughly zero. Complicating matters, if the White House and Senate Republicans give in, and accept a DACA deal to prevent a shutdown, it's possible House Republicans will balk.

What's more, it's not the only area of concern.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.8.18

01/08/18 12:00PM

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

* At a press conference on Saturday, Donald Trump insisted, "We need more Republicans" in Congress, which already has a GOP majority. The president added, in reference to the upcoming campaign season, "I will be actually working for incumbents and anybody else that has my kind of thinking."

* After causing an uproar in Republican circles for criticizing members of Trump's inner circle, Steve Bannon retreated yesterday, expressing "regret" for his comments to author Michael Wolff.

* In Ohio's U.S. Senate race, Josh Mandel (R) ended his candidacy late last week, citing an ailing family member. The filing deadline in the race is Feb, 7 -- less than a month away -- which means state Republican officials will have to scramble to find a top contender willing to take on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).

* A month after Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) traveled to Alabama to campaign for Doug Jones' Senate campaign, the New Jersey Democrat traveled to Arizona on Friday to help support Rep. Kyrsten Sinema's Senate candidacy.

* Progressive megadonor Tom Steyer, who's helping spearhead an impeachment drive against Trump, announced this morning that he will not be a candidate for public office in his home state of California this year.

* Though we don't generally think of the ACLU in electoral terms, Politico  reports that the organization is "jumping into the 2018 midterms with plans to spend upward of $25 million promoting ballot initiatives and issues in contested races across the country."

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In this Nov. 13, 2013 file photo, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Rohrabacher: Jeff Sessions has 'betrayed the president'

01/08/18 11:20AM

Last week, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and former House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) -- two of Congress’ most far-right members -- caused a bit of a stir when they called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. One of the key questions was whether they'd soon have company.

That answer is coming into focus. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) has also called for Sessions' ouster, and around the same time, a fourth House Republican condemned the attorney general in unusually aggressive ways. TPM reported:

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said Friday that President Donald Trump “has a legitimate right to say that he was betrayed” by Attorney General Jeff Sessions due to Sessions’ recusal from matters relating to Russia, which in turn led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The American people, now, are getting a taste of what people in Washington have known over this last year, and that is Jeff Sessions betrays the people who have had faith in him,” Rohrabacher told CNN’s Ana Cabrera in an interview.

Rohrabacher, who has an awkward reputation as Vladimir Putin's favorite congressman, went on to say in the same interview that Sessions has "betrayed the president on the special prosecutor for the Russia collusion that never existed.”

As best as I can tell, Rohrabacher hasn't literally called for Sessions' resignation, at least not yet, though once a congressman starts throwing around words like "betrayal," there's no real mystery as to what his position is.

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This image shows the severely damaged St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, MO.

Trump World's personnel troubles take a troubling turn

01/08/18 10:40AM

Donald Trump's promise to only hire "the best people" isn't working out especially well. Indeed, while this president has struggled on several fronts, his personnel difficulties are among the most embarrassing.

It's probably best to think about the staffing issues in groups. For example, Trump has tapped a variety of officials to lead government agencies whose work they fundamentally oppose. The president has also appointed several officials who've either quit or been fired after exceedingly brief tenures.

But as we discussed in November, perhaps the most striking group consists of people Trump has put in positions of power despite serious questions about their qualifications. A political pollster, for example, is overseeing the White House's efforts to combat the opioid overdose epidemic. A retired brain surgeon is in charge of Housing and Urban Development. Eric Trump's former wedding planner was nominated to run federal HUD operations in New York and New Jersey.

Politico recently reported that the president's appointees to jobs at Agriculture Department headquarters "include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company."

And don't even get me started on Don Benton overseeing the Selective Service System.

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal put a spotlight on a possible addition to the list: Robert Weaver, a 39-year-old nominee who apparently lacks a college degree, to lead the Indian Health Service.

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the troubled Indian Health Service appears to have misrepresented his work experience at a Missouri hospital to a Senate committee, according to former employees at the hospital. [...]

[F]ormer St. John's managers in some of the areas where he said he worked don't remember him: "I don't recall that name whatsoever," said Augusto Noronha, who was chief financial officer of the hospital from 1999 until 2005.

"I've never heard that name before," said Wayne Noethe, a former controller at the hospital.

Wait, it gets worse.

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Image: Kim Jong Un attends launching of ballistic missile Hwasong-12

Trump adopts a new posture on talks with North Korea

01/08/18 10:00AM

In August, after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged North Korea to participate in "a dialog" with the United States, Donald Trump cut off his chief diplomat at the knees. "The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years," the president declared via Twitter. "Talking is not the answer!"

In October, it happened again. As Tillerson spoke about seeking a diplomatic solution with North Korea, Trump announced that his cabinet secretary was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man."

It's against this backdrop that the president hosted a press conference on Saturday, which featured this striking exchange:

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the conversations between North Korea and South Korea, are you willing to engage in phone talks with Kim Jong-un right now?

TRUMP: Sure. I always believe in talking.

QUESTION: Do you think that that would be helpful?

TRUMP: But we have a very firm stance. Look, our stance -- you know what it is. We're very firm. But I would be -- absolutely I would do that. No problem with that at all.

It's been quite a rhetorical journey for the American president. Trump announced in May that he'd be "honored" to talk to the North Korean dictator "under the right circumstances." Soon after, Trump announced that talking to North Korea is "not the answer."

And now he's apparently come full circle, announcing that he "always" believes in talking and would have "no problem" engaging in talks with Kim Jong-un.

It fell to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to argue yesterday that the competing presidential postures are entirely consistent and that there's been no "turnaround" on Trump's position.

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S.

GOP senator: Trump has changed his mind about Russian interference

01/08/18 09:30AM

When it comes to the Russia scandal, Donald Trump and his team have adopted a series of evolving postures. Remember when they used to argue -- with a straight face -- that literally no one from Trump's operation was in communications with Russians during the foreign attack on the American elections? As it turns out, Trump World doesn't say this anymore.

But there's one aspect of the scandal on which the president has been remarkably consistent: Trump has rejected the idea that Russia stole Democratic materials in the first place.

Indeed, since the moment U.S. intelligence officials briefed the then-Republican candidate on this in 2016, Trump rejected the claim as folly, going to far as to repeatedly  mock American intelligence agencies.

No matter how painfully obvious the facts were to everyone on the planet, Trump refused to accept the most basic detail of the entire controversy. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, all of that has changed. Here's the exchange he had yesterday with NBC News' Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press."

GRAHAM: Well, the president does now finally believe that the Russians stole the emails from the DNC and hacked, and Clinton, and the Russians....

TODD: He does?

GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah.... The president does believe his intel agencies.

Now, it's quite likely that Trump and Graham, who appear to now be rather close allies, have had private conversations in which the president has said things to the senator that he hasn't shared with the public. But if Trump told Graham he now believes Russians stole Democratic documents, it would represent a dramatic change of heart.

As recently as mid-November -- not quite two months ago -- Trump told reporters that Vladimir Putin personally assured him that Russia didn't meddle in the American election. "Every time he sees me he says, 'I didn't do that,' and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it," the American president said in reference to his Russian counterpart.

It was part of a lengthy pattern in which Trump refused to accept U.S. intelligence agencies' findings. "Nobody really knows for sure" whether Russia intervened in the American elections, the president said in July -- after intelligence professionals told him they do know for sure.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

Is Trump willing to speak to Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

01/08/18 09:00AM

Donald Trump covered a fair amount of ground in his press conference on Saturday, but the last exchange of the event stood out as especially notable:

QUESTION: Mr. President, if Robert Mueller asks you to come and speak with his committee personally, are you committed, still, to doing that? Do you believe that's appropriate for a President?

TRUMP: Just so you understand -- just so you understand, there's been no collusion; there's been no crime. And in theory, everybody tells me I'm not under investigation. Maybe Hillary is, I don't know, but I'm not.

Just on the surface, there are some obvious problems with the president's response. For one thing, there's all kinds of evidence of collusion. For another, Trump is almost certainly under investigation.

But the word that stood out for me in the exchange was "still" -- as in, is the president "still" willing to talk to Mueller.

The reporter was right to use this word because during a Q&A with reporters in June, Trump was asked whether he'd be willing to answer questions about the Russia scandal under oath. "One hundred percent," the president responded. In a follow-up, a reporter asked, "So if Robert Mueller wanted to speak with you about that, you would be willing to talk to him?"

Trump, referring to comments he made about not pressuring former FBI Director James Comey, responded, "I would be glad to tell him exactly what I just told you."

In other words, as recently as June, Trump was willing to sit down with the special counsel. As of Saturday, however, the president seemed to hedge, choosing not to answer the question directly.

This is more than just a theoretical exercise. NBC News reported this morning:

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Senators go to new lengths to target Trump-Russia dossier author

01/08/18 08:30AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was one of Donald Trump's fiercest Republican critics, before he took an embarrassingly sycophantic turn in the president's direction. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has occasionally flirted with fleeting moments of independence, before using his post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to carry water for the White House.

But even among those who expect very little from these high-profile Republican lawmakers, Friday's developments were stunning.

Top Republicans leading one of the congressional inquiries into Russian meddling in the 2016 election have asked the Justice Department to consider criminal charges against the former British intelligence officer behind the controversial Trump dossier, saying they believe he may have misled federal law enforcement.

The criminal referral announced Friday by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was the first by the panel, and drew complaints from Democrats who saw it as the latest instance of Republicans trying to divert attention away from potential collusion between Russians and Trump campaign officials by focusing on Christopher Steele and his 35-page dossier.

I try not to be surprised by the lengths some Republicans will go to advance a brazenly partisan agenda, but the Graham/Grassley letter is unique in its ridiculousness. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, when the U.S. intelligence community released its assessment a year ago on the Russian attack, intended to help put Trump in power, it seemed possible that there would be bipartisan support for a thorough investigation -- including the extent to which Vladimir Putin's government may have had American partners helping execute their crimes.

After a year of examinations, two Republican lawmakers have, for the first time, made a criminal referral to the Justice Department: they want federal prosecutors to consider bringing charges against the one person who actually called the FBI when he found out that Russia was trying to play a role in the election to help Donald Trump.

There are, to be sure, all kinds of Russian nationals who made contact with the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization -- communications that the candidate and his team later lied about -- and no one from the Republican operation thought to notify the FBI. But Christopher Steele, the guy who did call the FBI, is now the one Grassley and Graham would like to see face a criminal inquiry -- because he may have mixed up some dates when describing to investigators when exactly he had off-the-record conversations with reporters about his intelligence reports, which he had handed over to the FBI.

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump shows how not to answer questions about mental stability

01/08/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump and his team have come up with some highly memorable words and phrases that will no doubt be book titles in the coming years: It didn't take long for gems like "Unpresidented," "Alternative Facts," and "American Carnage" to take root in the lexicon, and for good reason.

They'll soon be joined by "very stable genius."

Last week, after Donald Trump effectively dared North Korea to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether Americans should be "concerned about the president's mental fitness." She initially responded by trying to change the subject.

Trump thought it'd be a good idea to address the issue himself via Twitter on Saturday morning.

"Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!"

Nothing reassures the public about the erratic president's mental state like reading his impulsive, poorly written tweets, published early on a Saturday morning, about how impressed he is with his stability and intellect.

A few hours later, a reporter asked the president why he felt the need to publish tweets about his mental state. Trump replied, "Well, only because I went to the best colleges for college. I went to a -- I had a situation where I was a very excellent student. Came out and made billions and billions of dollars. Became one of the top businesspeople. Went to television and, for 10 years, was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won."

Perhaps he didn't understand the question.

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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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