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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.8.17

08/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this on tonight's show: "U.S. intelligence agencies have made an assessment that North Korea has constructed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile, according to a U.S. official briefed on the assessment."

* Another harsh elections-have-consequences moment: " The Department of Justice reversed its position in the Supreme Court case over Ohio's practice of purging inactive voters from its rolls, siding with the state in a closely-watched voting rights lawsuit."

* Venezuela's ongoing crisis: "As Venezuela reels from a crippling economic crisis and deadly street protests, the military has often served as the guarantor of President Nicolás Maduro's continued power over the country. But daring challenges to his rule in recent weeks have laid bare a split within the military that could ultimately determine the nation's fate: a growing number of officers are openly breaking ranks with the president and taking up weapons."

* The message was sent to embassies from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: "U.S. diplomats should sidestep questions from foreign governments on what it would take for the Trump administration to re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement, according to a diplomatic cable seen by Reuters."

* Erik Pence's latest insights: "The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project."

* This is a great project from USA Today: "Since winning the Republican nomination, President Trump's businesses have sold at least 32 luxury condos and home lots for about $20 million to shell companies that shield the identities of buyers."

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Image: Donald Trump

Escalating tensions, Trump threatens North Korea with 'fire and fury'

08/08/17 04:42PM

A few years ago, before he formally launched his political career, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders!"

It's a sentiment to keep in mind as one takes stock of today's news.

Amid sharply escalating tensions with North Korea, President Donald Trump on Tuesday promised "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if the country continues to threaten the United States.

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," the president warned, responding to a reporter's question during at his Bedminster Golf Club, where Trump has spent the last several days. "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening, beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire and fury --and frankly power -- the likes of which this world has never seen before."

Trump's [rhetoric] came just hours after reports that North Korea had developed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile.

Trump didn't delve into any specifics -- he's not a detail-oriented kind of guy -- but when a sitting American president effectively threatens a rogue adversary with a nuclear attack, it'd be helpful to get some clarification.

For example, is it Trump's position that "threats" alone from North Korea will necessarily be met with "fire and fury"? Because it's a safe bet that Kim Jong-un's regime still has plenty of saber rattling to do.

Raise your hand if you have confidence in America's first amateur president leading during a nuclear crisis.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

McConnell takes aim at Trump's 'excessive expectations'

08/08/17 04:07PM

It's unlikely we'll ever hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly condemn Donald Trump. The GOP leader has simply worked too hard -- including dismissing a foreign attack on the United States -- to get to this point to start disparaging one of his partisan brethren.

But CNN reports today on McConnell's remarks yesterday to a Rotary Group in northern Kentucky, where the Kentucky senator left little doubt that he's not altogether pleased with his partner in the Oval Office.

McConnell, who has been relatively measured in his previous critiques of the White House, argued the President's approach to the legislative process is leading to an inaccurate impression of how Congress works.

"Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before," said McConnell according to CNN affiliate WCPO which covered the event. "I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process."

Just as importantly, the Senate leader suggested the amateur president doesn't yet understand the "reality" of the legislative process. "Part of the reason I think people think we're under-performing," McConnell said, "is because of too many artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the legislature which may have not been understood."

One does not need a cipher to know McConnell was referring to Trump -- since the president is the only one who's tried to impose "artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the legislature."

The Kentucky Republican added, "I've been and I will be again today, not a fan of tweeting and I've said that to him privately. I think it would be helpful if the president would be a little more on message."

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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Rural America feels the effects of Trump's trade policies

08/08/17 12:54PM

There was a fascinating piece in Politico yesterday on the country's agricultural sector, which has struggled for a while, but which saw an exciting new opportunity take shape last year. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) was seen as "a lifeline," offering Rural America a chance to reach millions of new, international customers.

Donald Trump, a fierce opponent of the trade pact for reasons he's never been able to explain in any detail, was quick to close that window. Now America's rural exporters are watching other countries reach deals on their own, leaving the United States on the sidelines. China, in particular, may not have been a part of the proposed TPP, but it stands to benefit greatly: as the Politico piece explained, China "smells blood in the water," and is "moving quickly to assert itself, rather than the United States, as the region's trade arbiter."

When the Republican president killed the TPP soon after taking office, he assured Americans he'd replace it with a "beautiful" alternative. Nearly eight months later, the Trump administration still has no meaningful trade policy or strategy.

As a matter of domestic politics, there is an unfortunate irony to this: many of the areas that stand to suffer the most as a result of Trump's approach also backed Trump -- usually by large margins -- in last year's election. The Politico piece highlighted some folks in Rural America who hoped the Republican president would adopt a more constructive posture.

[Stu Swanson, who farms corn, soybeans and pork] acknowledged his own household is split over its support for Trump.... Swanson was less sure where Trump drew the line between campaign-trail bluster and real action. There was, he thought, far too much at stake for his rural base to make any rash decisions. Then, three days after he was sworn in, Trump made good on a promise to drop U.S. support for TPP.

"I was disappointed Trump kind of broadly wiped out TPP before there was even a discussion," Swanson said.

Jerry Maier, a Wright County corn and soybean farmer who supported Trump, said he feels the same way.

"If you're at the table and nothing happens, that's one thing. But if you aren't even at that table, that's frustrating," he said.

If you think this is reminiscent of the health care debate, we're on the same page.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.8.17

08/08/17 12:00PM

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

* Two new national polls show Donald Trump's approval rating stuck below the 40% threshold. A CBS News poll puts the president's support at 36%, while CNN's poll shows Trump slightly better off at 38%.

* With only three months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, the latest statewide poll from Virginia Commonwealth University shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest advantage over Ed Gillespie (R), 42% to 37%.

* We don't know for sure whether Sen. Susan Collins (R) will run for governor in Maine next year, but if she does, she may have some trouble with her party's base. Public Policy Polling found Collins' approval rating among likely Republican primary voters is just 33% -- less than half the support Trump enjoys among the same Mainers.

* Ahead of Detroit's mayoral primary, former Vice President Joe Biden raised a few eyebrows by recording a robocall in support of incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan (D).

* To get a flavor of Alabama's U.S. Senate Republican primary, note that former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore showed off a gun his wife keeps in her purse at a local forum last week to prove his family's support for the Second Amendment.

* Hillary Clinton probably won't be running for anything again, but she's nevertheless hired a pair of former campaign aides "to help manage Onward Together, the project she founded this spring with former governor Howard Dean to fund and support a coalition of Democratic groups led by activists and organizers."

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A pedestrian walks past the corporate headquarters of health insurer Anthem, formerly known as Wellpoint, on Dec. 3, 2014 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Trump's health care antics carry consequences for consumers

08/08/17 11:20AM

The pattern is familiar: the public learns of discouraging news about the health care system; the right seizes on the news as evidence against the Affordable Care Act; and a closer look at the news shows the developments are less about "Obamacare" and more about the damage Donald Trump is doing to the markets.

This happened again yesterday, when Anthem, a major private insurer, announced that it's withdrawing from Nevada's exchanges. For the right, including the president himself, this was fresh proof that the ACA isn't working, but those who take a closer look at the coverage know there's more to the story. Take this Reuters report, for example:

Anthem blamed the moves in part on uncertainty over whether the Trump administration would maintain subsidies that keep costs down.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to cut off subsidy payments that make the plans affordable for lower-income Americans and help insurers to keep premiums down, after efforts to repeal the law signed by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, failed in Congress.

The Nevada Independent published a similar report, which stressed the same point.

The [Nevada] exchange's executive director Heather Korbulic said that uncertainty over whether cost-sharing reduction payments from the federal government to insurance carriers will continue and whether any changes to the individual mandate have created "constant ambiguity" for insurers. President Donald Trump has been deciding whether to continue the payments, which help lower deductibles and copays for roughly 7 million low income individuals who buy insurance on the exchange, on a month-by-month basis, referring to them as a "bailout" for insurance companies.

"The insurance companies need some assurances about the cost-sharing reductions and this month-to-month stuff has become increasingly burdensome in terms of volatility. They can't anticipate what their risk will look like if they don't know they're going to get cost-sharing reductions," Korbulic said. "It's unnecessarily dramatic in a market that relies on certainty — or at least some certainty -- about what risk will look like."

In other words, were it not for Trump's pointless and dangerous political games, consumers wouldn't be feeling the adverse effects right now. What looks at the surface like a story about the Affordable Care Act struggling is actually a story about the White House undermining the nation's health care system out of partisan spite.

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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

The Trump-era pact between retired Gens. Mattis and Kelly

08/08/17 10:44AM

The Associated Press ran a lengthy piece last week on retired Gen. John Kelly taking over as Donald Trump's new White House chief of staff, and the article largely focused on Kelly's reputation and level of support. But way down in the piece -- literally the 21st paragraph -- the AP noted something the public hadn't heard before:

[Defense Secretary James Mattis] and Kelly also agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump's presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The AP's article didn't dwell on this point, which is a shame because I'd like to hear a lot more about it. Two retired four-star generals joined Donald Trump's cabinet in prominent and high-profile posts, but they were concerned enough about the president's possible orders that they formed a pact? One of them should be on American soil at all times to keep an eye on the White House?

Putting aside the oddity of a president requiring this kind of supervision, what I'd really love to know is what exactly Mattis and Kelly intended to do if they believed "the orders rapidly emerging from the White House" were misguided or dangerous.

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Politics of health care fight takes its toll on Nevada's Heller

08/08/17 10:03AM

By some measures, the politics of the health care fight have affected no politician more than Sen. Dean Heller (R), the only Republican senator up for re-election next year in a state Hillary Clinton won.

As regular readers know, Heller adopted a bold posture in late June, rejecting his party's plans in no uncertain terms, which predictably infuriated the far-right. In the days and weeks that followed, party pressure increased, and some Republican insiders went so far as to say that Heller could be "bought off."

Ultimately, the Nevada senator sided with his party on the final repeal vote, which left many health care advocates feeling betrayed, and which left Heller with nothing to  show for his trouble when the bill failed anyway.

The Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate Republican leadership's super PAC, has already vowed to invest heavily in Heller's re-election, and it looks like he'll need the help. Not only has the incumbent lawmaker's approval rating dropped to 22%, but as of this morning, as TPM noted Heller also has a primary challenger.

After facing backlash from President Donald Trump and a Pro-Trump group over his sometimes-critical stance on the Senate Republican's Obamacare repeal and replace bill, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) now has a GOP challenger for his seat in 2018.

[Danny] Tarkanian announced on "Fox and Friends" Tuesday morning that he is running for Heller's seat. The Nevada Republican said he plans to campaign on the promise of supporting Trump's agenda, which he claims Heller hasn't done.

Tarkanian, the son of a famous basketball coach, will at least have a name familiar to voters: according to his Wikipedia page, he's run unsuccessful campaigns for state Senate (2004), Nevada Secretary of State (2006), U.S. Senate (2010), and U.S. House (2012 and 2016).

But what stood out as especially notable about his announcement this morning was its timing.

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Droplets of water fall from a melting ice block harvested from Greenland and installed on Place du Pantheon in Paris, France, Dec. 3, 2015 as the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) continues. (Photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Climate scientists preempt possible suppression from White House

08/08/17 09:20AM

The New York Times obtained a striking new report on the climate crisis that, under normal circumstances, we wouldn't yet be able to read.

The average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report awaiting approval by the Trump administration.

The draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.... The report was completed this year and is a special science section of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the draft report, and the authors are awaiting permission from the Trump administration to release it.

What the New York Times obtained, in other words, is an advance look at one of "the most comprehensive climate science reports" ever written. The findings demand the world's attention: we're already feeling the effects of the climate crisis, and without significant action, the problems will only intensify. We know what's causing the crisis and what we must do to address it.

But then there's the story behind the story: this report was leaked for a reason.

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Trump uses Twitter to promote leaked intelligence on North Korea

08/08/17 08:40AM

If you've spent time on Twitter, you've probably seen the phrase "retweets do not equal endorsements." It's largely self-explanatory: sometimes folks retweet something they find notable, but that doesn't necessarily mean they like the content.

But in the Trump era, we're confronted with a very different kind of question: do presidential retweets equal confirmations?

Fox News ran a report yesterday on North Korea, which pointed to some provocative moves on the part of the U.S. adversary.

Despite the United States' insistence that North Korea halt its missile tests, U.S. spy agencies detected the rogue communist regime loading two anti-ship cruise missiles on a patrol boat on the country's east coast just days ago.

It's the first time these missiles have been deployed on this type of platform since 2014, U.S. officials with knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region told Fox News on Monday. It also points to more evidence that North Korea isn't listening to the diplomatic threats from the West.

Fox's report, which hasn't been independently verified, relied on leaks from unnamed U.S. officials, who apparently shared highly sensitive information with the network.

These anonymous sources, Fox News said, had "knowledge of the latest intelligence in the region."

All of this would ordinarily seem like a routine report, were it not for one thing: on Twitter this morning, Donald Trump retweeted Fox News' report without comment, highlighting the story for his 35 million followers -- and anyone else who happens to check his page.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Touting job numbers, RNC forgets what 'unprecedented' means

08/08/17 08:00AM

In response to Friday's jobs report, which found the U.S. economy added 209,000 in July, Donald Trump's re-election campaign argued that the figures are "proof that the president has already begun to Make America Great Again." That, of course, doesn't stand up well to scrutiny: job growth since Trump took office is actually down a little, not up.

Which is why it was even stranger yesterday, when the Republican National Committee declared that job growth under Trump -- 1 million new jobs from February to July -- is "unprecedented."

Perhaps there's some confusion as to what "unprecedented" means. Let's revisit the data we discussed yesterday, showing job growth over comparable periods:

February 2017 to July 2017: 1.07 million jobs

February 2016 to July 2016: 1.24 million jobs.

February 2015 to July 2015: 1.37 million jobs

February 2014 to July 2014: 1.51 million jobs

February 2013 to July 2013: 1.17 million jobs

In fact, you can pick pretty much any six-month period from Barack Obama's second term and find at least a million new jobs -- suggesting the RNC may not fully appreciate the not-so-subtle nuances of the word "unprecedented."

But wait, we can go a little further down this road.

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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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