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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.13.17

06/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russia: "The U.S. Senate has reached a bipartisan agreement on a new round of sanctions against Russia, a move that will likely force President Donald Trump to either sign or veto a measure that he has not said he supports."

* North Korea "has released Otto Warmbier, the American student serving a 15-year prison term with hard labor for alleged subversion, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday."

* DOJ: "Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told members of a Senate appropriations subcommittee that he is the only person who is able to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and that he has seen no reason to do so.... He told senators during a committee hearing that there would have to be 'good cause' for Mueller to be removed from his role."

* It's curious how little the Trump administration seems to care about this: "Russia's cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump's election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported."

* Columbia's Daniel Richman: "A friend of James Comey says he has turned over copies of the former FBI director's explosive memos -- describing murky encounters with President Donald Trump -- to the FBI, sidestepping a request by congressional committees to deliver the materials to Capitol Hill."

* The vote on this was pretty close: "The Senate on Tuesday narrowly rejected an effort to block part of President Trump's $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia."

* I was glad to see this dealt with quickly: "Television reporters covering the Capitol were told midday Tuesday to stop filming interviews in Senate hallways, a dramatic and unexplained break with tradition that was soon reversed amid wide rebuke from journalists, Democratic lawmakers and advocacy organizations."

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People walk down Wall Street in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump's brand of populism goes out of its way to help Wall Street

06/13/17 01:01PM

Just a few weeks after Election Day 2016, Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who advised Donald Trump during the campaign, told a group of Republicans that the party's economic vision had taken an important turn.

"Just as Reagan converted the GOP into a conservative party, Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party," Moore said at the time.

After the election, the Republican president acted as if he believed the rhetoric. In April, Trump spoke at the North America's Building Trades Unions' national conference and said to applause, "Washington and Wall Street have done very, very well for themselves. Now it's your turn."

Those who want to believe Trump may not want to read this Wall Street Journal piece:

The Trump administration proposed a wide-ranging rethink of the rules governing the U.S. financial sector in a report that makes scores of recommendations that have been on the banking industry's wish list for years.

The Treasury Department report, released Monday, gives the most detailed road map yet for President Donald Trump's promise to revisit a wave of regulations put in place after the financial crisis. The proposals would affect activities ranging from mortgage lending to Wall Street trading.

If Mr. Trump's regulatory appointees eventually implement them, the recommendations would pare back restrictions advanced by former President Barack Obama's administration, which argued they were necessary to guard against excessive risk-taking and a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), meanwhile, continues to brag that while the Russia scandal intensifies, he remains focused on his top priorities -- such as removing safeguards that Wall Street lobbyists find inconvenient.

"Trump has converted the GOP into a populist working-class party'? Um, no.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.13.17

06/13/17 12:00PM

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

* It's Primary Day in Virginia for several statewide races, including gubernatorial primaries in both parties. The Democratic race, in particular, is expected to be close.

* In Georgia's special election, where the investment from the House Republicans' super PAC is up to $7 million, a new SurveyUSA poll shows Jon Ossoff (D) and Karen Handel (R) tied.

* On a related note, early voting in Georgia's 6th district has been fairly strong, with roughly 94,000 ballots being cast as of Saturday. Election Day is a week from today.

* Vice President Mike Pence will reportedly travel to the Georgia district on Friday to campaign on Handel's behalf.

* PPP's latest national poll shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 40%. Among those who say they're "very excited" about voting in 2018, the Democratic advantage is even larger, 57% to 39%.

* The Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity is expanding its investment in a tax-reform ad campaign, supporting a Republican plan that does not yet exist. The Hill reports, "The ads will target about 10 senators, including Democrats Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Bill Nelson (Fla.). All three serve on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee and are up for re-election in 2018 in states that President Trump won."

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Republicans lack public support for new health care scheme

06/13/17 11:20AM

There doesn't appear to be any video of the comments, but Barack Obama reportedly spoke at a New York event in April and made a point about health care and public attitudes.

"The Affordable Care Act has never been more popular," the former president reportedly said, "and it's more popular than the current president."

That's quantifiably true -- on both points. Americans' support for the ACA has never been higher, and the health care reform measure is nearly 10 percentage points more popular than Donald Trump, the Republican president desperate to destroy the law that's lowered the uninsured rate to its lowest point on record.

Even the latest Fox News poll found that most Americans now believe "Obamacare" has been good for the country.

But arguably more interesting than comparing the ACA's support to Trump is comparing the ACA's support to Trump's party's alternative. Public Policy Polling reported yesterday:

Health care continues to be a political disaster for Republicans. Only 24% of voters support the American Health Care Act to 55% who oppose it. It doesn't even have majority support among GOP voters: 42% support it to 29% who are opposed. Voters prefer the current Affordable Care Act to the alternative of the AHCA by a 51/34 spread. [...]

The health care bill could have major political implications in 2018. By a 24-point margin voters say they're less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the American Health Care Act.

The PPP data is consistent with what we've seen from several other pollsters. The latest national Quinnipiac survey, for example, found that only 17% of Americans approve of the Republican health care plan. The most recent Fox News poll showed an identical result: just 17% of the public likes the GOP proposal.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that only 8% -- that's not a typo, it's literally 8% -- of the country wants the House Republicans' bill, which Trump heralded as a triumph of politics and policy, to become law.

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Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions Receives Award From The Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City

Jeff Sessions moves forward with his regressive drug war

06/13/17 10:42AM

As Rachel noted on last night's show, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become a key player in Donald Trump's Russia scandal, and his Senate testimony this afternoon will hopefully bring some answers to important unanswered questions. But it's against this backdrop that the far-right A.G. remains focused on his core priorities.

And in Sessions' case, that means going after people who smoke pot. The Washington Post reports today that the nation's attorney general recently urged congressional leaders to scrap protections for medical marijuana that received bipartisan approval in 2014.

The protections, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, prohibit the Justice Department from using federal funds to prevent certain states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

In his letter, first obtained by Tom Angell of and verified independently by The Washington Post, Sessions argued that the amendment would "inhibit [the Justice Department's] authority to enforce the Controlled Substances Act."

Sessions' letter, sent in May, insists that the nation is "in the midst of an historic drug epidemic," which is why he wants the Justice Department to "use all laws available to combat" the problem.

Of course, the idea that the addiction epidemic has anything to do with medical marijuana is, if we're being charitable, very difficult to take seriously. Indeed, the Post's report added, "[R]esearch strongly suggests that cracking down on medical marijuana laws, as Sessions requested, could perversely make the opiate epidemic even worse."

So why is Sessions doing this? Because he really, really hates marijuana.

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Image: U.S. President Trump's lawyer Kasowitz delivers a statement in Washington

Did Trump's personal lawyer help fire a key U.S. attorney?

06/13/17 10:09AM

There's no shortage of important unanswered questions surrounding Donald Trump's White House, but as we discussed yesterday, one of the more important lines of inquiry is why the president fired dozens of U.S. attorneys without notice or explanation.

Of particular interest are the circumstances surrounding Preet Bharara, who served as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which made him one of the most important and highest profile federal prosecutors in the United States, tackling cases ranging from terrorism to Wall Street to government corruption. After the 2016 election, Bharara wanted to stay at his post, and both Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the same commitment: the New York prosecutor could stay right where he was.

In March, Trump reversed course and fired Bharara anyway, and the federal prosecutor still has no idea why. Pro Publica reports this morning on one possible explanation.

Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, "This guy is going to get you," according to a person familiar with Kasowitz's account.

Kasowitz, it's worth emphasizing, is an ally of the president who's represented Trump in a variety of lawsuits, including the fraud allegations surrounding Trump University. He's now responsible for overseeing the defense of the president, despite his lack of experience in cases like these, and by all appearances, he's off to a rough start.

It's entirely possible that Kasowitz was boasting to his friends and colleagues in a dubious way, exaggerating his influence to make his White House reach sound more impressive. That said, it's at least plausible that Kasowitz would've been in a position to offer Trump occasional advice on legal matters, and he may have seen Bharara as a potential threat to his pal in the Oval Office.

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Image: President Donald Trump waves before delivering keynote address

Reflecting on his record, Trump is convinced of his own awesomeness

06/13/17 09:22AM

Donald Trump hosted a deeply unsettling cabinet meeting yesterday -- his first full cabinet meeting as president -- featuring a display for the cameras in which every member of Trump's team took turns effusively praising their leader. It was unlike any cabinet meeting ever witnessed, at least in this country.

But before Trump listened to his cabinet chiefs express their adoration for him, the president took some time to reflect on how impressed he is with how awesome his tenure has been thus far.

"[W]hen I ran, it was make America great again, and that's what we're doing, believe me. We're doing it and we're doing it at a much faster pace than anyone thought. I would say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions -- in the case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle -- who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than what we've done, between the executive orders and the job-killing regulations that have been terminated, many bills, I guess over 34 bills Congress signed, a Supreme Court justice who's going to be a great one, going to be a great Supreme Court justice, and many other things.

"We've achieved tremendous success. And I think we've been about as active as you can possibly be, and at a just about record-setting pace."

Maybe there's a broader political strategy behind such boasts. It's quite likely, for example, that Trump is aware of how woefully unpopular he is. His White House is gripped by crisis and scandal; there are credible allegations that Trump personally obstructed justice; and his presidency is an international laughingstock. Perhaps, Trump has come to the conclusion that if he tells people he's an extraordinary success, some marks might actually believe it.

The trouble is, reality is stubborn.

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Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The scandalous secrecy surrounding the Republican health care gambit

06/13/17 08:41AM

A group of Senate Republican men have been meeting in secret for weeks, trying to craft their own health care plan, which is reportedly near completion. Once it's done, the GOP blueprint will, oddly enough, remain a secret, Axios reported yesterday:

Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.

"We aren't stupid," said one of the aides.

It's important to understand the sentiment behind the comment. The Senate Republican aide was effectively conceding that the GOP proposal will be awful and unpopular, and it'd be "stupid" to let the public see it because the scrutiny would risk derailing the entire effort.

The plan, therefore, is for conservative senators to finalize a plan, quietly share it with the Congressional Budget Office, and then rush it onto the floor for a vote. There would no hearings, no amendments, no expert testimony, no input from industry stakeholders, no bipartisan negotiations, and no transparency.

The word "un-American" is probably used a bit too often, usually to impugn others' patriotism, but in the case of Republicans overhauling the nation's health care system, the process is un-American in a rather literal sense. In the United States, we have a legislative system elected officials are supposed to use to pursue their goals and policy priorities. In 2017, however, Congress' GOP majority has decided to abandon the American policymaking model, without defense or explanation, while pushing life-or-death legislation affecting one-sixth of the world's largest economy.

There is nothing like this in the American tradition. Republican leaders are being so secretive about their health care overhaul that even other GOP senators have no idea what they'll soon be asked to pass. Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said yesterday's he's "curious" what's in his party's proposal, before adding, "It's not a good process."

You don't say.

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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty...

Would Trump fire the special counsel investigating the Russia scandal?

06/13/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump already fired an FBI director overseeing the investigation into the Russia scandal. Would the president raise the stakes and fire former FBI Director Bob Mueller, the special counsel who's now leading the probe?

As Rachel noted on the show last night, one of Trump's confidants said publicly that the move is a possibility.

The friend, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, who was at the White House on Monday, said on PBS's "NewsHour" that Mr. Trump was "considering, perhaps, terminating the special counsel."

"I think he's weighing that option," Mr. Ruddy said.

The comment raised more than a few eyebrows -- Ruddy has been privy to Trump's thinking on many issues for several years -- and raised the prospect of another Watergate-like development in the Russia affair.

Taking a step back, there are three broad questions to consider: can Trump fire the special counsel, would Trump fire the special counsel, and what would the consequences be if Trump does fire the special counsel.

On the first point, the answer is an unambiguous yes. Mueller is overseeing the ongoing investigation, but he's not entirely independent, and if the president wanted to get rid of him, Trump could order the Justice Department's leadership to fire him. If DOJ officials refused and/or resigned, the president could simply work his way down the department's hierarchy until he found someone willing to follow his orders.

What's more, because the special counsel exists as a result of executive-branch regulations -- as opposed to federal law -- Trump could also repeal those regulations and effectively strip Mueller of his authority to act.

Which leads us to whether Trump would take such a dramatic step. As a rule, looking back over the last several years, we've confronted the question multiple times, in multiple contexts: "He wouldn't go that far, would he?" In more instances than not, Trump has managed to surprise skeptics with his radicalism.

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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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