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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Following New York attack, Trump flunks another leadership test

11/01/17 09:29AM

In the immediate aftermath of the suspected terrorist incident in New York yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump tweeted a series of clumsy but inoffensive messages. "My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack," the president said at one point. "God and your country are with you!"

Trump did not, however, wait long before following his worst instincts.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that the Uzbek immigrant suspected of murdering eight people in New York City with a rental truck entered the U.S. through the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program" and the president charged Sen. Chuck Schumer and Democrats had loosened the nation's borders.

Trump did not provide any supporting evidence for the claim about the visa program, which was being discussed on the morning TV program "Fox and Friends" that the president indicated in his tweets that he was watching.

"The terrorist came into our country through what is called the 'Diversity Visa Lottery Program,' a Chuck Schumer beauty. I want merit based," Trump tweeted.

Apparently relying on the Fox News program instead of his intelligence briefing, the president added he wants "no more Democrat Lottery Systems," before again blaming the Senate Minority Leader for the attack that happened in his own home state.

For the record, we don't actually know whether this suspect entered the U.S. through the "Diversity Visa Lottery Program." Visa records are confidential and the State Department doesn't comment on any specific application. It's possible Trump is correct about yesterday's suspect; it's also possible he made this up or relied on dubious information from conservative media.

Either way, the president waited less than a day after the attack to lash out, exploit the deadly violence, and falsely blame a political opponent -- who happens to represent the area where the attack happened -- for the incident.

Worse, the president did so in a way that didn't make any sense. The program in question was signed into law by the Bush/Quayle administration, following bipartisan talks. More recently, the bipartisan "Gang of Eight' immigration reform bill, which Schumer helped write, would've scrapped the Diversity Visa Program, had the far-right not killed the legislation.

I have a hunch Trump doesn't know that.

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U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) arrives at a House Republican Conference meeting June 22, 2016 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Republicans miss their own deadline on tax plan unveiling

11/01/17 08:41AM

Today was supposed to be the day. After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and behind-closed-doors legislating, House Republicans recently boasted that their tax plan would be unveiled on Wednesday, November 1.

This wouldn't just be an outline or a vague blueprint; GOP leaders assured everyone that this would be actual legislative text, ready for committee scrutiny. Everyone involved in the debate was ready to see what Republicans had finally come up with.

The wait, however, will continue a little longer.

House Republicans will delay releasing their tax bill until Thursday, it was announced Tuesday night.

The bill had originally been scheduled to be unveiled Wednesday. But speculation over a delay was rampant on Capitol Hill on Tuesday night, with representatives of House leaders pointing to the Ways and Means Committee for any final decision or announcement.... Republican members privately aired their frustration with a process that they feel cut out of, and some issues were still unresolved hours before the bill had been slated for release.

There was a line in the Politico report on the delay that stood out for me: "At the center of the problem were questions about how to pay for the proposed $5.5 trillion in tax cuts, since any major revenue-generator is certain to antagonize some powerful lobby or group of lawmakers who could defeat it."

As complex as overhauling the federal tax code can be, the source of the Republicans' trouble is quite straightforward: they know they want to cut taxes by trillions of dollars, and after months of work, they still don't know how to pay for any of it.

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It's too late for Trump World to balk at 'racially charged' label

11/01/17 08:00AM

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made headlines again this week, following a Fox News interview in which he did fresh damage to his credibility. Asked, for example, whether he's prepared to apologize to Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), about whom Kelly recently told a false story, Donald Trump's chief of staff replied, "Oh, no. No. Never. Well, I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments."

In the same interview, Kelly, while explaining his reverence for history, argued that "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand." It wasn't long before historians, scholars, and people who know what they're talking about explained just how wrong Kelly's assessment was.

In a press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked, "Does the White House at least acknowledge that the chief of staff's comments are deeply offensive to some folks, and historically inaccurate?" She replied, "No."

And while that wasn't surprising -- this isn't a White House that acknowledges mistakes -- something else Sanders said struck me as especially notable. From the official transcript:

"I think the fact that we keep trying to drive -- the media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House."

I'm afraid it's a little late from Trump World to express discomfort with the "racially charged" label.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.31.17

10/31/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New York City: "At least six people were killed and a person was in custody after a truck apparently drove onto a bike path in lower Manhattan, according to authorities and witnesses. The incident was being investigated as possible terrorism, officials said." As I get ready to publish, there are new reports pointing to a death toll of eight.

* Important hearing: "Representatives for Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled Tuesday by lawmakers following revelations that millions of Americans were exposed to Russian propaganda during the presidential election."

* Paul Manafort's fate: "President Donald Trump refused to answer a question Tuesday about whether he would be willing to pardon his disgraced campaign manager, clamming up and indicating he was done talking to the press."

* Trump-Russia: "President Donald Trump's longtime aide and current communications director, Hope Hicks, is scheduled to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller's team in mid-November, following the president's trip to Asia, multiple people familiar with the schedule told POLITICO."

* NAFTA: "Perhaps no industry has more deeply embraced the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement since it went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994. That helps explain why automakers and auto parts suppliers have become some of the fiercest and most vocal opponents of the Trump administration's plan to renegotiate, and even demolish, NAFTA."

* Afghanistan: "The American military command in Afghanistan has decided to keep secret key figures related to the growth and progress of local security forces, redacting the numbers at the behest of Afghan officials from the latest report by the government's watchdog for spending."

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Team Trump sees imaginary 'evidence' of Clinton, Russia collusion

10/31/17 01:08PM

During last year's campaign, whenever Hillary Clinton would criticize Donald Trump, it was a near certainty that Trump would then made the identical accusation against Clinton. After a while, this got a little creepy.

Clinton accused Trump of being unstable and reckless, so Trump said Clinton is "unstable" and "reckless." Clinton said Trump mistreated women, so Trump said Clinton mistreated women. Clinton accused Trump of bigotry, so Trump said Clinton's a "bigot." Clinton questioned Trump's temperament, so Trump said Clinton had a bad "temperament." Clinton said Trump makes a poor role model for children, so Trump said Clinton sets "a terrible example for my son and the children in this country."

And, of course, Clinton accused Trump of being a "puppet" for his allies in Moscow, Trump, showing all of the sophistication of a slow toddler, responded, "No puppet. No puppet. You're the puppet. No, you're the puppet."

This pattern of projection, in which Trump assigns some of his worst qualities onto those who criticize him, wasn't just a campaign tactic. It's also a staple of his presidency, as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders helped demonstrate during yesterday's briefing. Asked about the criminal charges against some of Trump's campaign staff, Sanders deflected in an amazing way:

"The real collusion scandal, as we've said several times before, has everything to do with the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, and Russia.

"There's clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election."

Trump himself said on Friday that Clinton colluded with Russia. A day later, his press secretary added that the evidence of Clinton-Russia collusion is "indisputable."

There's nothing to suggest these folks were kidding. Trump and his team apparently expect the public to take this line of attack seriously.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.31.17

10/31/17 12:00PM

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

* With only a week remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, Quinnipiac's latest poll shows Ralph Northam (D) up big over Ed Gillespie (R), 53% to 36%. No other recent polling shows Northam with an advantage anywhere close to this.

* The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Donald Trump's approval rating slipping to 38% -- an all-time low in this poll -- while Democrats now enjoy a seven-point lead on the generic congressional ballot, 48% to 41%.

* And in still more polling news, Gallup's daily tracking poll from yesterday found the president's approval rating down to just 33%, also a new low. Most modern presidents never reached a level of support this low, and before Trump, no president in the polling era ever dropped to 33% after just nine months in office.

* Trump's re-election campaign unveiled a new 30-second television ad this morning, attacking the "radical left," and demanding that Democrats stop "obstructing" and start "working with our president." In reality, congressional Dems have been blocked from participating in most major policy talks this year.

* The latest statewide poll in Nevada pointed to trouble for Sen. Dean Heller (R): JMC Analytics found him trailing his primary rival, Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, 44% to 38%.

* In Arizona, Rep. Martha McSally (R) is apparently interested in running for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) seat, but the far-right Club for Growth has already pledged to oppose McSally, deeming her insufficiently conservative.

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Donald Trump may not be clear on what 'collusion' means

10/31/17 11:07AM

As the Donald Trump's Russia scandal has gradually evolved, the president and his team have made valiant efforts to move the goal posts in a more favorable direction.

Trump World's initial posture was that Russia did not attack our elections in the hopes of helping elect the Republican ticket. Once it became obvious that this posture was wrong, Trump World changed course, conceding that Russia may have attacked, but the Trump campaign had no communications with the Putin-backed attackers during their espionage operation.

When this was also discredited, Trump World effectively declared, "OK, Russians may have taken steps to help us, and we may have been in contact with them during the attack, but we definitely didn't collude with them."

This would be a more compelling talking point were it not for all the collusion that's now been documented. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank summarized this nicely:

Technically, President Trump's standard line of defense in the Russia probe -- we did not collude -- suffered a bit of a blow Monday. In a plea deal with the special counsel unsealed Monday (at about the time Trump was tweeting the phrase "there is NO COLLUSION!"), Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos admitted the Trump adviser had contacts with Russians offering the Trump campaign Hillary Clinton's emails and other "dirt," and he tried to arrange meetings with Russian officials.

That's pretty much the dictionary definition of "collusion."

It certainly looks that way, doesn't it? Indeed, as NBC News noted this morning, we now have two known instances in which Russians, having stolen Democratic documents, offered Trump World damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and in both instances, officials from Trump's campaign sought the damaging materials. The first was the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, and the second was the evidence that emerged yesterday in George Papadopoulos' guilty plea.

In other words, Team Trump (1) knew a foreign adversary had targeted the U.S. election; (2) welcomed the adversary's intervention in our democracy; and (3) then lied more than once about the interactions between the campaign and Russia.

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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)

Republicans lose interest in bills to protect Mueller from Trump

10/31/17 10:17AM

As recently as August, a bipartisan group of senators were working on legislation intended to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller in case Donald Trump tried to fire him. Now that members of Trump's political operation have been charged by Mueller and his team, perhaps it's time to take those measures more seriously?

Apparently not. GOP senators, including some who've been publicly critical of Trump, argued yesterday that it's simply unfathomable that the president would try to oust the special counsel before the completion of the investigation. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was prepared to co-sponsor one of the bills to protect Mueller a few months ago, suggested yesterday his own bill isn't needed.

The bipartisan cosponsors of two bills to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller from meddling by President Trump told reporters Monday night that they have received zero indication that the Senate's GOP leaders will allow a vote on the legislation. And most rank-and-file Republicans, including one cosponsor of the legislation, said they saw no need to pass it.

"I don't feel an urgent need to pass that law until you show me that Mr. Mueller is in jeopardy," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a cosponsor of the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act. "Anybody in his right mind at the White House wouldn't think about replacing him."

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the question of whether Donald J. Trump is "in his right mind" is a subject of considerable debate.

But even if we put that aside, I get the feeling some Republicans on Capitol Hill have lost sight of the fact that Trump has already publicly flirted with the idea of ousting Mueller from his post.

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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

Trump tries to dismiss adviser he praised as an 'excellent guy'

10/31/17 09:21AM

Donald Trump initially said very little following yesterday's criminal charges against former members of his campaign team, but this morning the president apparently figured out what he wanted to say. He started, for example, arguing that Paul Manafort's alleged misdeeds "took place long before he came to the campaign."

That's not true. In fact, the indictment specifically covers events through 2017.

Perhaps more important, though, was Trump turning his attention to his former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who's already pleaded guilty to lying federal investigators.

"Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar."

This posture was predictable, of course, but there are two angles to Trump's new line that are worth keeping in mind.

First, it's far too late for the president to dismiss Papadopoulos as some meaningless, peripheral figure. Trump personally singled out Papadopoulos as an "excellent guy" when Trump listed him as one of only four people he'd brought onto the campaign to offer advice on foreign policy.

What's more, the court documents made available yesterday show Papadopoulos communicating with top members of Trump's campaign operation, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. On MSNBC's "All In" last night, Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser embroiled in the scandal, told Chris Hayes he and Papadopoulos may have even exchanged emails last year about Russia.

One former Trump confidant this morning dismissed Papadopoulos as an inconsequential "coffee boy." The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

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A magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich on Oct. 10, 2011. (Photo by Joerg Koch/AP)

Russian-backed election content reached a third of US population

10/31/17 08:40AM

As Americans have begun to learn more about Russian efforts to use Facebook last year to spread campaign propaganda, Donald Trump has been eager to dismiss its significance. Just 10 days ago, the president tweeted, "Keep hearing about 'tiny' amount of money spent on Facebook ads. What about the billions of dollars of Fake News on CNN, ABC, NBC & CBS?"

At first blush, the problem with messages like these is that Trump doesn't recognize the difference between American journalism and a Russian espionage operation. But as more details come into focus, there's a related problem: the Russian-backed election content was anything but "tiny."

An estimated 126 million Americans, roughly one-third of the nation's population, received Russian-backed content on Facebook during the 2016 campaign, according to prepared testimony the company submitted Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee and obtained by NBC News.

Underscoring how widely content on the social media platform can spread, Facebook says in the testimony that while some 29 million Americans directly received material from 80,000 posts by 120 fake Russian-backed pages in their own news feeds, those posts were "shared, liked and followed by people on Facebook, and, as a result, three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation."

The report added that the the 80,000 posts generated by fake Russian-backed pages doesn't include the 3,000 Facebook ad Russian entities purchased during the campaign.

To add some additional context to this, nearly 81 million Americans saw the first nationally televised debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton last fall. That was certainly a large audience, but it's far smaller than the 126 million Americans who were confronted with Russian campaign propaganda.

What's more, it's important to appreciate the recent evolution of the data. As Slate noted, Facebook originally downplayed Russia's use of the social-media platform, before conceding that 10 million Americans saw Russian-backed content. Following a series of reports, that total has now increased to roughly 126 million.

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Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hosts press conference following a Republican caucus meeting

Congressional Republicans shrug following Trump World indictments

10/31/17 08:00AM

Imagine a hypothetical. Let's say a tiny number of progressive votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania went Democratic a year ago and Hillary Clinton were president right now.

Let's also say, in this hypothetical scenario, nine months into her presidency, Hillary Clinton was unpopular in ways with no historical parallel, and her political operation was the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, suspected of cooperating with a foreign adversary's espionage operation, which was launched to help put her in the White House.

Then imagine, nine months into her first term, Clinton's former campaign chairman is indicted and one of her former foreign policy advisers pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the aforementioned foreign adversary.

What do you suppose congressional Republicans would say under those circumstances?

The point, obviously, is that GOP lawmakers were confronted yesterday with exactly these circumstances, except it's Donald Trump, not Hillary Clinton, who's in office. And while it's safe to assume Republicans would have hair-on-fire reactions to Clinton World indictments, they managed to offer a collective shrug yesterday afternoon in response to Trump World indictments.

"That really isn't our job," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Ky.) told reporters, when asked about the criminal charges brought against members of Trump's campaign team. "That's not our wheelhouse." The top Republican in the House was similarly disinterested.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Monday said charges brought against members of President Donald Trump's campaign are not going to have any effect on Congress.

"I really don't have anything to add, other than: Nothing is going to derail what we're doing in Congress," Ryan said on conservative Wisconsin talk radio station WTAQ.

What they're "doing in Congress," of course, is pursuing massive tax cuts -- which for Ryan and his allies, have to remain the party's principal focus.

If that means averting their gaze, pretending not to notice the crisis overwhelming their own party's president, so be it.

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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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