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White House's Kelly questions immigrants' ability to 'assimilate'

05/11/18 11:20AM

It might be easy to think of John Kelly as the hapless White House chief of staff whom Donald Trump prefers to ignore and circumvent, but from time to time, the retired general reminds the public of his own controversial worldview. Consider this excerpt from Kelly's new interview with NPR:

"Let me step back and tell you that the vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They're not criminals. They're not MS13. ... But they're also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They're overwhelmingly rural people. In the countries they come from, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-grade educations are kind of the norm. They don't speak English; obviously that's a big thing. ... They don't integrate well; they don't have skills...."

I was all set to respond to this with a rant about the historical parallels between Kelly's perspective and anti-immigrant rhetoric from generations past, but it looks like ThinkProgress beat me to the punch:

Concerns about immigrants' ability to assimilate with American society have been used repeatedly throughout the country's history to justify barring different groups from immigrating. For example, the Chinese Exclusion Act, a law that prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers from 1882 until 1943, was passed because Chinese immigrants were blamed for the depressed wages that followed the Gold Rush and Civil War. In 1890, the New York Times printed an article that explained that while "the red and black assimilate… not so the Chinaman."

Similar arguments have been used since to justify xenophobia against Italian, Irish, Jewish, and -- most recently -- Muslim immigrants over the past century. As Splinter News points out, the Library of Congress still characterizes Kelly's Irish ancestors as having "left a rural lifestyle"; these "destitute" immigrants were "unprepared for the industrialized, urban centers in the United States."

One wonders why Kelly, the former Department of Homeland Security secretary, apparently isn't aware of all of this.

What's more, this is hardly the first controversy the White House chief of staff has found himself in the middle of.

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Trump insists he's boosted our international standing (he hasn't)

05/11/18 10:40AM

As part of Donald Trump's pitch at a Republican campaign rally last night, the president turned his attention to the United States' international standing.

...Mr. Trump appeared before an excited crowd to share his administration's track record: North Korea had freed three American prisoners. The United States had withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran. And the American Embassy would soon open in Jerusalem.

The president's message to his voters was clear -- because of his efforts, "America is respected again."

Wouldn't it be great if that were true? Wouldn't it be nice if, during tumultuous times, the United States enjoyed broad international respect and credibility, thanks in part to an American president people around the world admired?

Alas, it's simply not the case. Even Trump's evidence is difficult to take seriously. Yes, some American hostages returned home this week from North Korea, but that's happened plenty of times before. And yes, the president withdrew from an effective international nuclear agreement with Iran, but by doing so, Trump infuriated many of our closest allies, many of whom begged him to be more responsible.

And yes, the U.S. embassy in Israel is moving, but that outraged Palestinian leaders and pushed them further away from any kind of peace agreement.

But there's no reason to stop there. Earlier this year, Gallup published a report that found, "One year into Donald Trump's presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is weaker worldwide than it was under his two predecessors." Consider the results in chart form:

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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence

In a city Obama helped rescue, Trump blasts Dems on economy

05/11/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump headlined yet another campaign rally last night, this time in Elkhart, Indiana, where the president hopes to rally Republican support to defeat Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). And while Trump covered quite a bit of ground at the event, his economic message stood out as ... odd.

Embracing the role of party leader, President Donald Trump issued a stern warning Thursday that Democrats would disrupt the economic progress of his administration as he implored fellow Republicans to mobilize behind a slate of Indiana candidates.

Trump used one of his signature rallies in northern Indiana to paint a rosy picture of his presidency, pointing to low unemployment, "booming" job growth and optimism under his watch.

Democrats, he said, will "destroy your jobs."

To be sure, this is standard political rhetoric that wouldn't be especially notable -- were it not for the location in which Trump made the comments, which turned out to be more interesting than the comments themselves.

As regular readers may recall, Elkhart took on special political significance in recent years, thanks in large part to multiple visits from Barack Obama. In 2009, the president spoke to NBC's Chuck Todd before an event in the community, and Todd asked if it'd be "fair" to use the city as a case study -- if what happened to Elkhart in the Obama era could credibly represent the success or failure of the White House's economic agenda.

"Absolutely," the president replied.

In the months that followed, MSNBC created an online venture called "The Elkhart Project," monitoring the city's progress as Obama's policies started to take effect. In the years that followed, the area's unemployment rate went from one of the nation's worst to one of the nation's best.

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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

NRA's Oliver North compares gun owners to Jim Crow victims

05/11/18 09:20AM

The National Rifle Association announced earlier this week that Oliver North, of all people, would soon take the reins at the right-wing advocacy group as its new president. The news prompted no shortage of commentary about the irony surrounding the NRA being led by a man who faced criminal charges for illegal weapons sales.

Nevertheless, it seems North is settling into his new gig by adopting the group's usual posture.

On Wednesday, the Washington Times published an exclusive interview with the incoming president of the National Rifle Association, Oliver North, in which he claimed that the NRA's leaders are the victims of "civil terrorism" at the hands of gun safety advocates. He referenced unspecified "threats" and noted that vandals splashed fake blood on a NRA official's Virginia home. He likened this treatment to that of black Americans during the era of legally sanctioned racial segregation.

"They call them activists. That's what they're calling themselves. They're not activists -- this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that's never been seen against a civil rights organization in America," he said. "You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things -- even there you didn't have this kind of thing."

Yes, there's the incoming NRA president saying -- out loud and on the record -- that the NRA currently has it worse than the victims of Jim Crow.

There was no indication that North was kidding.

I'll leave it to others to provide the new NRA chief with a detailed history lesson, but there are a couple of angles to his whining that are worth keeping in mind.

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In this April 28, 2016 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

As McCain becomes a GOP target, White House aide mocks senator's health

05/11/18 08:40AM

The first sign of trouble came on Monday. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), facing serious ailments that are keeping him from Capitol Hill, reportedly made clear that he doesn't want Donald Trump at his funeral. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called McCain's position "ridiculous," inexplicably touted the president as "a very good man," and urged the Arizonan to reconsider.

Hatch later apologized for his bizarre recommendations, but it now appears to have been the first in a series of dominoes.

Yesterday, for example, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a "Fox News Insider," mocked McCain's concerns about Gina Haspel's torture background, insisting that torture "worked" on McCain when he was a North Vietnamese prisoner of war.

A few hours later, it was apparently a White House staffer's turn.

A top White House communications aide made fun of Sen. John McCain's brain cancer diagnosis on Thursday, sources with direct knowledge said -- comments that enraged the senator's wife.

The comments, which were first reported by The Hill, a Washington political newspaper, came during a meeting a day after McCain, R-Ariz., announced that he was opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to be permanent director of the CIA.

"He's dying anyway," said Kelly Sadler the White House's director of surrogate and coalitions outreach, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.

The White House didn't deny any of this, and Sadler reportedly reached out to the senator's family to apologize.

Whatever my concerns about McCain's record as a lawmaker -- and as regular readers know, I have many -- it's tough to defend these offensive outbursts as the Arizona Republican struggles with a health crisis. It's all the more reason to wonder what it is, exactly, that made McCain such a target.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump tirade pushes DHS chief toward possible resignation

05/11/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump hosted a cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday, and if the latest New York Times reporting is any indication, the president didn't enjoy the behind-closed-doors discussion.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation's borders, according to several current and former officials familiar with the episode.

Ms. Nielsen, who is a protégée of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has drafted a resignation letter but has not submitted it, according to two of the people. As the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Ms. Nielsen is in charge of the 20,000 employees who work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The White House didn't exactly deny the details of the report. Indeed, the DHS chief herself didn't deny the report, either, though her spokesperson insisted she had not drafted a resignation letter.

It's difficult to say for sure what prompted the president's latest tirade. From a distance, it seems Trump has some kind of vision in mind as to what border security should look like, and since he believes the status quo is falling short, the president is lashing out wildly, in this case humiliating the Homeland Security secretary with a scolding in front of her cabinet colleagues.

But given how little Trump understands about the underlying policies, in some ways, the rationale for his tantrum is less interesting than the fact that these tantrums keep happening.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 5.10.18

05/10/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Middle East: "Israeli warplanes struck dozens of suspected Iranian military targets in Syria early Thursday, in a furious response to what Israel called an unsuccessful Iran rocket attack launched from Syria."

* Mark your calendars: "President Donald Trump announced Thursday that his long-expected summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will take place in Singapore on June 12."

* Will Senate Republicans listen? "Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain wants the Senate to reject the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the Central Intelligence Agency."

* House Democrats released "more than 3,500 Russian-bought Facebook ads Thursday.... The majority of the ads target politically divisive issues like gun control, race relations and immigration. Much of the wording is awkward, as though translated into English, and inflammatory."

* On a related note, if you wanted to see all of the Russian ads, here you go.

* ISIS: "Five senior Islamic State officials have been captured, including a top aide to the group's leader, in a complex cross-border sting carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence, two Iraqi officials said Wednesday."

* SCOTUS: "Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Thursday encouraged Supreme Court justices flirting with retirement to immediately step down, saying he would like to push through a nominee before the midterm elections."

* Interesting move: "California took a major step Wednesday toward becoming the first state to require solar panels on nearly all new homes, the latest sign of how renewable energy is gaining ground in the U.S."

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Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is pictured during an eventon May 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Cheney talks up torture, threats posed by weapons of mass destruction

05/10/18 12:40PM

It's hard to escape the feeling of deja vu. Fifteen years ago, a confused Republican president listened to misguided hawks, rejected diplomacy, and put the United States on a path to a dangerous military conflict in the Middle East. That's also what's happening now.

The Atlantic's Peter Beinart noted this week that the parallels between 2002 and 2018 are uncanny: "In both cases, American leaders feared that a longtime Middle Eastern adversary was breaking free of the fetters that had previously restrained it. In both cases, American leaders pursued a more confrontational policy, which they buttressed with frightening statements about the regime's nuclear program. In both cases, international inspectors contradicted those alarmist claims. In both cases, America's European allies defended the inspectors and warned of the chaos America's confrontational policy might bring. In both cases, hawks in America and Israel responded by trying to discredit the inspection regime. And in both cases, two leaders of that effort were John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu."

With those identical voices ascendant again, I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising that former Vice President Dick Cheney is re-entering the conversation. He was on Fox Business this morning, reading from a familiar script, insisting that the United States maintain an indefinite military presence in the Middle East, and warning of possible proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction."

That's right, Dick Cheney still feels comfortable claiming credibility, not only on national security policy in the Middle East, but also on WMD.

In the same interview, Cheney even offered fresh support for torture. Politico reported:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. should restart its enhanced interrogation techniques -- often considered torture -- after the issue was thrust to the forefront during Gina Haspel's confirmation fight to become CIA director.

"If it were my call, I would not discontinue those programs," he said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on Fox Business. "I'd have them active and ready to go, and I'd go back and study them and learn."

The former vice president went on to say that he doesn't believe Bush-era torture techniques constituted torture, adding, "People want to go back and try to rewrite history, but if it were my call, I'd do it again."

I won't try to explain why anyone would find Cheney's judgment credible, but I am curious if Donald Trump is watching all of this unfold.

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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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