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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 2.7.17

02/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "At least 21 people were killed Tuesday in Kabul when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a gate at the Afghan Supreme Court, authorities said. Ministry of Public Health spokesman Wahidullah Mayar said nine women were among the victims. The 41 wounded included nine women and two children, he said."

* Big day for the White House's Muslim ban: "A federal appeals court on the West Coast will hear oral arguments Tuesday afternoon that could keep a hold on travel restrictions created by President Donald Trump on foreigners from seven countries."

* Elections have consequences: "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted an easement allowing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Missouri River north of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, paving the way for construction of the final mile and a half of the more than 1,700-mile pipeline."

* Paul Ryan and I may define "respect" differently: "Asked on Tuesday about President Donald Trump's attacks on the 'so-called judge' who blocked his immigration executive order nationwide, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the President. Despite the insults, Trump was respecting the appeals process, Ryan said at his weekly press conference."

* DHS: " The head of Homeland Security defended President Donald Trump's immigration order but said he erred in not telling lawmakers about it before it went into effect."

* This is not a good argument: "Republican Sen. Deb Fischer, who voted to confirm to Betsy DeVos as the secretary of education Tuesday, said DeVos will need to be exposed to public schools to see how successful they are in educating children."

* Trump's belligerence is affecting Iranian politics: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today that "he considers the opening weeks of Trump's administration to be a revelation of America's true character, and was grateful for how it made plain impulses that have typically laid beneath the surface of American policy."
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GOP makes history confirming Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary

02/07/17 02:09PM

About a year ago, then-candidate Donald Trump assured voters, "I am self-funding and will hire the best people, not the biggest donors!" Of course, in reality, the Republican was not self-funding, and as of this afternoon, the rest of the vow is falling apart, too.
By the narrowest of margins, the U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Betsy DeVos to be the nation's new education secretary.

A 50-50 deadlock over her confirmation was broken by Vice President Mike Pence who became the first vice president ever to cast a tie-breaking vote for a cabinet nominee.

The vote to confirm DeVos came after Senate Democrats staged an all-night Senate talkathon Monday evening, a tactic to draw attention to their opposition to the Michigan billionaire who has no experience working, attending or volunteering at a public school.
Every Senate Democrat voted against DeVos, and they were joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Opponents of the nomination needed just one more no vote, but despite intense public pressure, every other Senate Republican -- including many who personally received contributions in years past from the GOP megadonor -- backed Trump's choice to lead the Department of Education.

DeVos received more opposition than any education secretary in history -- the previous record was 40, which Obama's final education secretary, John King, received -- and this was the first time in Senate history a vice presidential vote was necessary to break a tie.

Today's vote also clears the way for each of Trump's cabinet nominees to be confirmed -- because if Senate Republicans are willing to vote for Betsy DeVos, they'll vote for just about anyone.
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Xi Jinping

China is eager to capitalize on Trump's early missteps

02/07/17 12:43PM

It wasn't exactly a secret that President Obama often saw international affairs through a specific lens: there was a race underway for 21st-century primacy, and Obama was determined to make sure the United States remained well positioned in a competition against Beijing.

For Obama, U.S. trade policy was focused on countering China. U.S. policy in the arctic was about China. U.S. policy in the Caribbean was heavily influenced by China. U.S. policy towards India came against a backdrop of Chinese interest in the region.

With this in mind, it seems China, for entirely self-interested reasons, is delighted with many of Donald Trump's early moves. CNBC reported yesterday that the new president's antagonism towards Mexico "could make it easier for China to become the country's -- and Latin America's -- top trade partner."
"The U.S. trade tensions with Mexico are putting the Mexican government on overdrive trying to find new export markets," said Sean Miner, fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, who noted that 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the U.S. "Recently, China and Mexico have become closer. Clearly this is a consequence of the rising tensions." [...]

Fearing that trade with the U.S. may be restricted by policies implemented by the Trump administration, Mexico has been looking to lessen its economic dependence on its big neighbor to the north. Chinese and Mexican officials met on Dec. 12, pledging to deepen ties between the two countries.
The CNBC report added that China is looking for "a bigger economic beachhead in the Western Hemisphere," and is eyeing other Latin American countries for stronger economic ties: "Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in October that China wants a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with Colombia. If the two countries agree on a deal, Colombia would join Peru, Chile and Costa Rica among Latin American countries that have bilateral trade agreements with China."

There's a lot of this going around, especially after Trump officially killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the delight of officials in Beijing who were eager to see the agreement die.
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.7.17

02/07/17 12:00PM

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

* Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Labor Department, has yet another controversy on his hands: he hired an undocumented immigrant as his housekeeper. Nearly identical circumstances have derailed a variety of Democratic and Republican cabinet nominees.

* On a related note, a Senate committee last night reportedly delayed Puzder's confirmation hearing for the fifth time, which has to be some kind of record.

* In what appears to be the first campaign ad of the 2018 cycle, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is on the air in Michigan with a commercial urging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) to support Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination.

* In a development that Trump will likely obsess over, the television ratings for the president's pre-Super Bowl interview were quite a bit lower than the ratings for President Obama's first pre-Super Bowl interview eight years ago.

* Politico, citing sources close to Trump, reported yesterday that the "Saturday Night Live" sketch mocking Sean Spicer has been the subject of discussion in the West Wing: "More than being lampooned as a press secretary who makes up facts, it was Spicer's portrayal by a woman that was most problematic in the president's eyes, according to sources close to him."

* Hillary Clinton has kept a fairly low profile in the wake of her election defeat, but the former Secretary of State unveiled a new video last night in support of the MAKERS Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. "Despite all the challenges we face, I remain convinced that, yes, the future is female," Clinton said.
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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

EPA employees rally in opposition to Trump's choice to lead agency

02/07/17 11:20AM

We've seen all kinds of progressive-minded protests in recent weeks, but this gathering in Chicago was a little different than most.
Hundreds of current and former employees of the Environmental Protection Agency are speaking out against President Donald Trump's pick to head the department.

About 300 people, including scores of EPA employees, rallied Monday across the street from the agency's regional headquarters in downtown Chicago to oppose Scott Pruitt's nomination.... At the rally in Chicago, EPA employees and their supporters waved signs that read "Stop Pruitt" and "Save EPA."
As the Associated Press' report noted, yesterday's demonstration came against a backdrop of nearly 450 former EPA officials who co-signed a letter of opposition to Pruitt, explaining that the Oklahoma Republicans' record "raises serious questions about whose interests he has served to date and whether he agrees with the longstanding tenets of U.S. environmental law."

But it's the fact that current EPA employees participated in a public event -- on their lunch break -- against Donald Trump's nominee that stood out for me. These federal officials, well aware of the new Republican president's hostility towards dissent, attended a rally in which they effectively said, "Please don't make us work for that guy."

That took some chutzpah. In fact, I'm not sure if that's happened before, at least in modern history. Some even went on the record:
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points towards a demonstrator in the audience as he spoke at an election rally in Kansas City, Mo., March 12, 2016. (Photo by Nati Harnik/AP)

On national security, Trump lays down a marker: The buck stops elsewhere

02/07/17 10:43AM

Over the weekend, with his Muslim ban paused by the courts, Donald Trump lashed out at a federal judge and the judicial process itself. Practically every president has faced setbacks in the courts, but Trump is the first in modern history to lash out directly at a sitting jurist for ruling in a way the White House didn't like.

But this president wasn't just undermining confidence in the court system, which was problematic on its own terms, he was also laying down a marker. "Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril," Trump said via Twitter. "If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

In reality, people aren't "pouring in" -- the visa process still exists, and refugees still have to go through a lengthy vetting process -- but the key takeaway was the fact that the sitting president was preemptively blaming a judge for hypothetical violence that may not happen.

The Washington Post noted that the tweet is part of Trump's larger rhetorical push to shield himself from responsibility.
President Trump appears to be laying the groundwork to preemptively shift blame for any future terrorist attack on U.S. soil from his administration to the federal judiciary, as well as to the media. [...]

Trump's terrorism blame-game is in keeping with how he ran his campaign, looking for scapegoats at nearly every turn. He often blamed his own failings -- a poor debate performance or a gaffe or a primary loss -- on the media or other perceived enemies, and he fed his own conspiracies that his adversaries were out to undermine him.
As NBC News' Benjy Sarlin added, the president also went out of his way to blame his own defense secretary, James Mattis, for his administration's decision not to torture, at least for now. "I happen to feel that [torture] does work," Trump said two weeks ago. "I've been open about that for a long period of time. But I am going with our leaders. And we're going to win with or without. But I do disagree."

How quickly do you suppose Trump will say, in the event of a tragedy, "See how right I was about the need for torture?"
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Image: Protestors Rally At JFK Airport Against Muslim Immigration Ban

The differences between real grassroots and 'Astroturf' matter

02/07/17 10:07AM

To get a sense of a congressional district's political leanings, there's a helpful metric called the Partisan Voter Index, or PVI, created 20 years ago by the Cook Political Report. Districts that lean slightly towards Democrats might have a PVI of D+2 or D+3. Districts that are safely in Republican hands might show a PVI of R+10 or greater.

I mention this because Tennessee's 2nd congressional district has a PVI of R+20, making it one of the reddest districts in a red state in a red region. Its representative, Jimmy Duncan Jr. (R), has routinely run for re-election without an opponent, and a Democrat hasn't won a congressional race in this district since the 1850s -- several years before the Civil War.

And yet, despite all of this, even Jimmy Duncan Jr. -- in his R+20 district -- appears worried about local protestors who support "Obamacare." TPM reported yesterday:
Constituents requesting that Rep. Jimmy Duncan Jr. (R-TN) hold a town hall on repealing the Affordable Care Act aren't being met with a polite brushoff from staffers anymore. Instead, Duncan's office has started sending out a form letter telling them point-blank that he has no intention to hold any town hall meetings.

"I am not going to hold town hall meetings in this atmosphere, because they would very quickly turn into shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals," the letter read, according to a copy obtained by the Maryville Daily Times.
Do you think progressive activism has captured Republicans' attention?

It's against this backdrop that the White House would prefer GOP lawmakers just go along with whatever Donald Trump wants, without regard to polls or protests. In fact, Sean Spicer, the president's press secretary, told Fox News' Brian Kilmeade yesterday that organized demonstrations against the administration and its agenda shouldn't be taken seriously at all:
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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)

The 'deals in Russia' Trump prefers not to talk about

02/07/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump declared this morning, "I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy - yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!" It's not clear why, exactly, the president made the comment -- he probably saw something on television he didn't like -- and it's even less clear why he thinks his observation makes sense.

For example, President Obama did not single-handedly reach an effective nuclear agreement with Iran; it was actually an international coalition that struck the deal -- including Trump's allies in Moscow. As for the idea that there was "no problem" in response to the breakthrough policy, the new president may not realize this, but the agreement was the subject of intense debate and controversy.

But it was Trump's assertion that he has "no deals in Russia" that seemed especially noteworthy. He said something similar last month in a pre-inaugural press conference, telling reporters, "I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away."

To the extent that reality matters, Trump and his business team did not "stay away." The New York Times reported a few weeks ago:
Mr. Trump repeatedly sought business in Russia as far back as 1987, when he traveled there to explore building a hotel. He applied for his trademark in the country as early as 1996. And his children and associates have appeared in Moscow over and over in search of joint ventures, meeting with developers and government officials.

During a trip in 2006, Mr. Sater and two of Mr. Trump's children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, stayed at the historic Hotel National Moscow opposite the Kremlin, connecting with potential partners over the course of several days.

As recently as 2013, Mr. Trump himself was in Moscow. He had sold Russian real estate developers the right to host his Miss Universe pageant that year, and he used the visit as a chance to discuss development deals, writing on Twitter at the time: "TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next."
Trump once told a biographer, "I know the Russians better than anybody."
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House struggles to defend Trump's allegations of a cover-up

02/07/17 08:41AM

In his remarks at MacDill Air Force Base yesterday, Donald Trump argued that "the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report" on terrorist attacks. News organizations, the president added, "have their reasons." He didn't elaborate on what these imagined motivations might be.

Soon after, reporters asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer what in the world Trump was talking about. "We'll provide a list later," Spicer said, vowing to back up the president's ridiculous rhetoric with some kind of proof.

Part of me wondered whether we'd ever actually see such a list -- perhaps it'd be released with Trump's secret tax returns -- but in a pleasant surprise, Spicer's office did, in fact, release a list of 78 incidents that occurred between September 2014 to December 2016.

So, does the document back up Trump's ridiculous rhetoric? Not even a little. Let's unwrap the White House's latest effort:

* Media coverage: Many of the terrorist attacks listed on the document point to actual examples of deadly terrorism, but as an NBC News report documented, those attacks received wall-to-wall coverage. Trump said the press "doesn't want to report" on terrorist attacks, which led Sean Spicer's office to pull together a list of attacks that were reported on exhaustively. Even by Trump World standards, that's bizarre.

* Dubious entries: Some of the entries on the White House list don't appear to be examples of terrorism, and other incidents produced zero casualties.

* Sloppy White House work: Somehow, Spicer's office put together a list that repeatedly misspelled the word "attacker." The White House also misspelled "San Bernardino" and "Denmark." (The document, thankfully, made no reference to the Bowling Green Massacre.)
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after speaking to commanders and coalition representatives during a visit to U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa

Trump manufactures a media cover-up of terrorist attacks

02/07/17 08:00AM

Two months ago, on Dec. 6, President Obama traveled to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where he delivered the final national security speech of his term in office, and his remarks represented a compelling summary of his successes. Obama stressed his opposition to torture, his support for civil liberties, and the importance of "staying true to our traditions as a nation of laws," which in turn "advances our security as well as our values."

The Democratic president also spent some time addressing one of the world's largest religions. "We are fighting terrorists who claim to fight on behalf of Islam. But they do not speak for over a billion Muslims around the world, and they do not speak for American Muslims, including many who wear the uniform of the United States of America's military," Obama said. "If we stigmatize good, patriotic Muslims, that just feeds the terrorists' narrative. It fuels the same false grievances that they use to motivate people to kill."

He added, "If we act like this is a war between the United States and Islam, we're not just going to lose more Americans to terrorist attacks, but we'll also lose sight of the very principles we claim to defend."

Exactly two months later, on Feb. 6, Donald Trump also paid a visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the new president delivered a very different kind of speech -- his first to military personnel since taking office last month.

At the very top of his remarks, Trump said, "We had a wonderful election, didn't we? And I saw those numbers, and you liked me, and I liked you. That's the way it worked." As Ben Rhodes, a former Obama aide, noted, it's extremely unusual, if not unheard of, for a sitting president to discuss "campaigns and voting data when talking to Americans in uniform."

Trump also celebrated Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), in part because he endorsed Trump's candidacy. "If they don't endorse, believe me. If you're ever in this position, it's never quite the same, OK?" the self-indulgent president declared. "You can talk, but it never means the same."

A bit later in his remarks to U.S. Central Command, Trump again went off-script:
"Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland, as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino and all across Europe.

"You've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it's happening. It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that."
Oh my.
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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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