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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

GOP senator asks whether Trump is 'recanting' his oath of office

10/12/17 10:05AM

In 2009, after President Obama had been in office for about eight months, he and some of his top aides had some unkind things to say about Fox News. As regular readers may recall, the Beltway establishment did not take it well.

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, for example, was outraged -- not because the Democratic president had said something untrue, but because Obama had the audacity to criticize a major news organization directly. Marcus called the White House's Fox criticisms "dumb," "childish," "petty," "self-defeating," and having "a distinct Nixonian ... aroma."

Soon after, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) took the Senate floor to complain that the White House's criticism of a news organization was evidence of the president's team creating an "enemies list."

Eight years later, I wonder what the reaction would've been if Obama had threatened the broadcast licenses of news organizations that ran reports that the White House disapproved of.

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump, apparently irked by NBC News, asked rhetorically at what point it might be "appropriate to challenge" the broadcast licenses of networks he apparently doesn't like. He went on to suggest major American news organizations are "bad for country!" Ten hours later, the president turned the question into a statement.

"Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), an occasional Trump critic who nevertheless votes with the White House's position in nearly every instance, responded by asking whether the president is "recanting" his oath of office -- since it was nine months ago when Trump swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment.

And while that's a compelling point, all of this got me thinking: if Trump's authoritarian instincts got the best of him, and he actually tried to follow through on these threats, what would (or could) he do?

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Despite lacking a plan, Trump vows end to highway potholes

10/12/17 09:20AM

Remember "Infrastructure Week"? The White House, looking for public-relations wins, devoted the first full week in June to Donald Trump's apparent interest in infrastructure, which included a fake signing ceremony in honor of the president's one big idea: privatizing the nation's air-traffic control system.

Congress soon after rejected that idea and Trump's infrastructure agenda more or less disappeared.

Or so it seemed. Yesterday, the president was in Harrisburg to deliver a speech on tax cuts, but he took some time to put the spotlight on his renewed interest in infrastructure. From the transcript:

"My administration is also committed to passing a historic infrastructure package that will generate $1 trillion to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure, with a special focus on roadways and highways. [...]

"American goods will sail across the oceans. American trucks will glide along our highways -- so beautiful will those highways be -- smooth, beautiful, no potholes. I know, no potholes.

"I have many friends in the trucking business and they tell me it's never been like this. They'll buy beautiful new equipment, by the time it goes from Los Angeles to New York and back, they have a big renovation job on their hands. They said they've never seen it like this before. They will be beautiful again, they will be smooth, beautiful highways again."

For now, let's put aside the fact that presidents generally don't talk about filling potholes -- it's the sort of vow Americans are more likely to hear from local or state officials -- and instead focus on the larger problem.

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Trump's posture towards Puerto Rico takes a more callous turn

10/12/17 08:40AM

Over the last year, Donald Trump's willingness to publicly contradict Mike Pence has led to some cringe-worthy moments, but developments over the last 24 hours offer an especially awkward example.

The vice president spoke at a National Hispanic Heritage Month reception yesterday, and offered strong assurances to the people of Puerto Rico: "We're with you; we stand with you; and we will be with you every single day until Puerto Rico is restored bigger and better than ever before."

In a trio of tweets this morning, Pence's boss said pretty much the opposite.

"'Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.' says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

Let's note for context that as of yesterday, more than 80% of Puerto Rico is still without power, three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit. What's more, roughly a third of the island's American residents do not yet have access to clean water.

It's against this backdrop that the president thought it'd be a good idea to blame Puerto Ricans and starting laying the groundwork for a weaker response to the island's disaster.

"We will be with you every single day," at least until Donald Trump feels like he's seen enough.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

In embarrassing display, Trump flubs test on how money works

10/12/17 08:00AM

Before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump struggled throughout his adult life in his private-sector ventures. The New York Republican was often over-leveraged, faced multiple bankruptcies, and routinely tried to cut costs by refusing to pay contractors what they were owed. He's a rare people who managed to lose money running a casino.

With Trump now in the White House, we're starting to get a better sense of why he had so many difficulties in the business world. As The Daily Beast  noted, the president tried to argue last night that he's already managed to shave off a huge chunk of the national debt.

"The country -- we took it over and owed over $20 trillion. As you know the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market," Trump told Sean Hannity. "So you could say, in one sense, we're really increasing values. And maybe in a sense, we're reducing debt. But we're very honored by it."

This wasn't just some verbal gaffe. Yesterday afternoon in Harrisburg, during a speech on taxes, he pushed a related point: "Very proudly, just in the stock market alone, we have increased our economic worth by $5.2 trillion, that's right, since Election Day. $5.2 trillion. Think about that, that's a quarter of the $20 trillion that we owe."

This is gibberish. They're the remarks of someone who doesn't know what the national debt is. Or how the nation's finances work. Or even how money works.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 10.11.17

10/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California: "The deadly wildfires that have ravaged Northern California, killing at least 21 people, caught many residents by surprise, sweeping into their neighborhoods after they had gone to bed and leaving them precious few minutes to escape."

* It has been three weeks "since Hurricane Maria savaged Puerto Rico, and life in the capital city of San Juan inches toward something that remotely resembles a new, uncomfortable form of normalcy.... But much of the rest of the island lies in the chokehold of a turgid, frustrating and perilous slog toward recovery."

* The Boy Scouts of America "announced on Wednesday that girls will soon be allowed to become Cub Scouts and to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout, the organization's highest honor."

* Late yesterday, the Supreme Court "dismissed one of the challenges to a now-expired version of President Trump's travel ban, and the legal battle over his latest efforts to ban some immigrants will need to start anew."

* Trump-Russia: "Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, informed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that he will not be cooperating with any requests to appear before the panel for its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and would plead the Fifth, according to a source familiar with the matter."

* Seems like the sensible decision: "The Salt Lake City Police Department has fired an officer who handcuffed and roughly detained a nurse for refusing to allow him to draw blood from a sedated patient."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump holds press conference

Trump: It's 'disgusting' press can 'write whatever it wants'

10/11/17 03:58PM

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders assured reporters, "This is a president who supports the First Amendment." Yeah, about that...

President Trump on Wednesday threatened NBC over a news report he called "pure fiction," and he lashed out at the news media, declaring that it is "frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write."

"People should look into it... The press should speak more honestly," Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "I've seen tremendously dishonest press. It's not even a question of distortion."

This comes on the heels of the president suggesting he might want to challenge the broadcasting licenses of outlets that run stories he doesn't like.

Which came on the heels of Trump calling on Congress to investigate American media outlets that publish news he disapproves of.

Which came on the heels of Trump telling a rally audience that journalists are "really, really dishonest people" and "bad people," who "don't like our country."

Which came on the heels of Trump describing the media as "the enemy of the American people."

Which came on the heels of Trump asking whether it's time to "change libel laws," presumably to allow him to target news organizations he doesn't like in court.

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Image:  Bob Corker Donlad Trump ill tempered exchanges

Republicans learn the wrong lessons from Bob Corker's candor

10/11/17 01:22PM

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has effectively staged an intervention of late, making clear his belief that Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency. There have been several reports this week suggesting the Tennessee Republican's GOP colleagues quietly agree with him, but they lack the courage to say so.

And while their silence is tough to defend given the seriousness of the problem, it's arguably worse to hear some Republicans make the case that Corker's criticisms should remain private. Politico reported this morning, for example:

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday downplayed the ongoing feud between President Donald Trump and GOP Sen. Bob Corker, advising the two men to talk through their differences but also joking that he's been there, too.

The Wisconsin Republican, known for his no-drama approach to Trump, quipped that "I've had my share too" when asked about the Corker-Trump spat.... "I think just talk it out amongst yourselves," Ryan suggested. "My advice is for these two gentlemen to sit down and just talk through their issues."

Hmm. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee believes the president of his own party is mentally unstable, may set the nation "on the path to World War III," and should worry "anyone who cares about our nation." Donald Trump, meanwhile, believes Corker is short and cowardly. They should "sit down and just talk through their issues"?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.11.17

10/11/17 12:00PM

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

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is donating to charity the $23,000 it's received from Harvey Weinstein over more than two decades.

* With two months remaining before Alabama's U.S. Senate election, the Senate GOP leadership's super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, apparently has no plans to support Roy Moore. The Senate Leadership Fund enthusiastically supported Moore's rival, Luther Strange, during their primary fight.

* Asked by CBS News about his possible 2020 plans, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said, "I am not running for president, I am running for re-election to the Senate [in 2018]." Pressed on whether he's prepared to rule out a national campaign, the Connecticut Democrat said, "I'll rule it out for you.... I'm running for re-election."

* Hogan Gidley has joined Donald Trump's White House as a deputy press secretary, following stints on Rick Santorum's 2012 presidential campaign and Mike Huckabee's 2016 campaign.

* Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been publicly considering a gubernatorial campaign in 2018, and the Maine Republican said yesterday she'll formally announce her plans this Friday.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump finds new ways to condemn reporting he doesn't like

10/11/17 11:27AM

Last week, Donald Trump's authoritarian instincts got the better of him, and he called on Congress to investigate American media outlets that publish news he doesn't like. This morning, apparently bothered by the latest reporting on his July 20 meeting at the Pentagon, the president went just a little further.

"With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!"

On the one hand, it's not at all healthy in a modern democracy to have a chief executive publicly threaten the broadcast licenses of news organizations that publish reports he disapproves of. We've all grown quite accustomed to Trump's posturing, but that doesn't make his antics any easier to defend.

But on the other hand, it also seems quite likely that Trump's chest-thumping bluster is ultimately meaningless. At what point is it appropriate to challenge news outlets' licenses? I don't know, big guy, maybe after you finish suing the women who accused you of sexual misconduct -- which should coincide with that lawsuit you threatened to file against the New York Times for daring to report on the women's accusations.

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Image: US Secretary of State Tillerson rebukes resignation reports

Trump wanted vast increase to U.S. nuclear arsenal

10/11/17 10:42AM

On July 20, Donald Trump attended a meeting at the Pentagon with members of his national security team and Cabinet officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on hand, and after the president left the room, the nation's chief diplomat reportedly called Trump a "moron" -- or more specifically, a "f***ing moron."

It's been unclear, though, exactly what transpired during that meeting. NBC News, which broke the "moron" story last week, moved the ball forward today.

President Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation's highest ranking national security leaders, according to three officials who were in the room.

Trump's comments, the officials said, came in response to a briefing slide he was shown that charted the steady reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons since the late 1960s. Trump indicated he wanted a bigger stockpile, not the bottom position on that downward-sloping curve.

There were reportedly several "tense exchanges" at the July 20 meeting, and it's not clear if the comments on nuclear weapons directly led to TIllerson's Trump criticisms.

Nevertheless, according to the account, the president saw a slide that showed the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile over the past seven decades. Trump saw the highest point on the chart -- a half-century ago, the American stockpile was at 32,000 -- and "told his team he wanted the U.S. to have that many now."

Officials in the room then had to explain there are "legal and practical impediments" to such a move, which isn't at all necessary anyway. The NBC report added, "Any increase in America's nuclear arsenal would not only break with decades of U.S. nuclear doctrine but also violate international disarmament treaties signed by every president since Ronald Reagan."

It's tempting to explore what the point of such a build-up would be -- it would serve no substantive purpose -- but I think we can safely guess that the president wasn't thinking along these lines. Rather, Trump saw a higher number, and probably assumed that more is better and fewer is worse. Other presidents had more, so he should have more.

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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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