Following up on our previous coverage, congressional Republicans have made a specific gun measure one of their early priorities. As of this morning, it's on its way to becoming law.
Under the status quo, when an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.
They also can't buy a gun. Last week, the GOP-led House passed a measure to expand these Americans' access to firearms, and as the Huffington Postnoted, the GOP-led Senate did the same this morning.
Congress took its final step Wednesday to repeal a Social Security Administration rule that was written to prevent mentally incompetent people from buying guns. [...]
Republicans, who frequently assert that the way to deal with gun violence is to deal with mental illness, in this case argued that the regulation mistreats disabled Americans.
The Senate roll call is online here. Note that literally every Senate Republican voted for it, as did four red-state Democrats and one independent who caucuses with Dems.
As always, the specific substantive details matter. The Social Security Administration reports the names of those who receive disability benefits due to severe mental illness to the FBI's background-check system. The Republicans' bill intends to block that reporting, making more people eligible to legally buy a firearm. read more
Nearly a month into his presidency, Donald Trump is failing by practically every metric. His White House is facing a deeply serious scandal; his National Security Advisor has been forced out; members of his campaign team are facing a counter-espionage investigation; and polls show the American mainstream rejecting what they're seeing out of the West Wing.
The result is something of a test for the new president. How does Trump respond under pressure? Can he show grace under fire? President Obama excelled at keeping his cool -- in ways that often seemed to annoy pundits -- and current conditions offer his successor an opportunity to show he can do the same.
President Donald Trump blamed "conspiracy theories and blind hatred" — and an attempt to "cover-up" for Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign — in a series of tweets Wednesday morning as he tried to distance himself from any links to Russia.
Trump tweeted that the "fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred," and added that "this Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign."
Yes, the president, who loved leaks when they related to Hillary Clinton, had quite a series of angry missives this morning, starting early with complaints about the media and "conspiracy theories" -- this from a man who's been largely defined by his bizarre affection for ridiculous and racially charged conspiracy theories -- which was followed by a torrent of related tweets.
Of particular interest was Trump's complaints about "classified information" from intelligence agencies being shared "illegally" with major news organizations. It creates an interesting contradiction: the information can either be "fake news" or it can be classified materials from official sources, but he really ought to pick one or the other.
At another point, the president raised concerns about the FBI possibly intervening in politics -- which was ironic given James Comey's role in helping Trump win the election.
But aside from the specifics of his social-media tirade, this morning seemed to also offer the public a peek into the president's internal monologue. read more
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* The latest out of North Carolina: "A three-judge panel has rejected Gov. Roy Cooper’s request to continue to block the new Cabinet approval process adopted by the General Assembly in December, but clarified that it’s the governor, not the state Senate, that launches any review of the key administrators." [Note, this is an updated report from the one I mentioned earlier.]
* In the race to become the next DNC chair, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez claims to be closing in on the number of votes he'll need to win. Rep. Keith Ellison's (D-Minn.) team strongly disputes that assessment. The election is a week from Saturday.
* With control of Delaware's state Senate on the line, former Vice President Joe Biden is trying to rally support for Stephanie Hansen, a local candidate who's running in a Feb. 25 special election.
* Despite backing President Obama twice, Iowa easily threw its support to the Trump/Pence ticket in November. It's therefore notable that the new Des Moines Registerpoll shows the Republican president with a 42% approval rating in the Hawkeye State. The same survey found Trump with a 49% disapproval rating.
* In the political parlor-room game about who's feuding with whom in Donald Trump's dysfunctional White House, it stood out yesterday when Breitbart News took aim at Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Steve Bannon, who used to run Breitbart, later said he's "unhappy" with the piece.
* Two years ago, reporter Alison Parker was murdered live on the air. Now, her boyfriend, Chris Hurst, is running for the state House in Virginia. Among the issues he intends to focus on is keeping people under emergency protective orders from having guns. read more
Shortly before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump wanted the world to know he's "totally pro-vaccine" and he also believe vaccines can cause "horrible autism." There is, of course, literally zero evidence linking vaccines and autism, but Trump isn't an evidence-based kind of guy.
After becoming a candidate, Trump declared during a primary debate that autism "has become an epidemic" and has "gotten totally out of control." He even had an anecdote to share: "Just the other day, two years old, two and a half years old, a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
There's no reason to believe that child exists in reality, but Trump seemed quite animated about his beliefs -- which are directly at odds with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine.
Worse, he's apparently not done. New York magazine noted yesterday that Trump hosted an event at the White House with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and a group of educators, and the president focused on one principal of a special education center in Virginia.
After Jane noted that many of her students have autism, Trump asked, "Have you seen a big increase in the autism, with the children?" Jane replied in the affirmative, but seemed to couch her response as being more about an increase in demand for services -- she didn't explicitly agree there's been a big increase in the overall rate.
Trump continued: "So what's going on with autism? When you look at the tremendous increase, it's really -- it's such an incredible -- it's really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase. Do you have any idea? And you're seeing it in the school?" Jane replied -- again, in a way that seems a bit noncommittal vis-a-vis Trump's claim -- that the rate of autism is something like 1-in-66 or 1-in-68 children. To which Trump responded: "Well now, it's gotta be even lower [presumably meaning higher, rate-wise] than that, which is just amazing -- well, maybe we can do something."
As the New Yorkarticle makes clear, Trump's rhetoric may be in line with his claims from the campaign -- though he did not specifically mention vaccines yesterday -- but actual science doesn't support his assertions. Trump was simply peddling nonsense about a "tremendous amount of increase" that doesn't exist.
At first, this seemed to simply fit into a broader pattern in which Trump simply assumes, incorrectly, that practically everything has gotten worse in advance of his presidency. He's insisted, for example, that murder rates are at a 45-year high, despite the fact that this isn't even close to being true. Trump's made similarly bogus claims about everything from unemployment to trade to illegal border crossings. read more
The bulk of Donald Trump's presidential acts have been executive actions, not signing legislation into law. Soon after taking office, the Republican signed a waiver allowing John Mattis to serve as Secretary of Defense, and about a week later, he signed a small measure related to the Comptroller General's powers, but other than these largely overlooked policies, Trump hasn't put his signature on many bills.
President Donald Trump Tuesday signed the first in a series of congressional regulatory rollback bills, revoking an Obama-era regulation that required oil and mining companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.
That regulation, part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms, was strongly opposed by the oil and gas industry -- including Trump's Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who as head of Exxon Mobil personally lobbied to kill the Securities and Exchange Commission's rule that he said would make it difficult to do business in Russia.
"It's a big deal," Trump said at the signing.
That's a matter of perspective. Oil giants want the ability to hide payments they make to foreign governments, and Republican policymakers agreed to prioritize this as 2017 got underway. Democrats wouldn't agree to the change in the Obama era, but now that the GOP is in a dominant position, the disclosure requirement will not be implemented.
ExxonMobil was no doubt pleased with the president's bill signing yesterday, but for the American mainstream, this isn't "a big deal" at all.
What struck me as interesting, however, is what Trump said at the bill-signing ceremony, which took place in the Oval Office, and which lasted a grant total of two minutes. read more
About a month ago, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was reminded that he seemed to be applying easier standards for Donald Trump's cabinet nominees than previous presidents' nominees. The Republican Oklahoman didn't make much of an effort to deny the allegation.
"So it's different now because it's Trump?" a reporter the Huffington Post asked. "That's just right," Inhofe replied.
It was an interesting moment because of the GOP senator's unexpected candor. Politicians routinely apply different standards to their allies, but they generally don't admit it, preferring instead to claim to be fair and even-handed. Inhofe simply abandoned the pretense.
Yesterday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) did something similar, explaining why he's inclined to ignore the Russia scandal surrounding the Republican White House.
Paul said that Republicans will "never even get started" with major policy changes like repealing Obamacare if they are focused on investigating their colleagues.
"I just don't think it's useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We'll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we're spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense," Paul said.
It's a great example of what some call a Michael Kinsley Moment: a politician making a mistake by accidentally telling the truth. read more
The White House's Republican allies are prepared to look the other way in response to all kinds of Team Trump controversies, but even GOP lawmakers weren't pleased with Kellyanne Conway last week.
Donald Trump's presidential counselor, speaking from the West Wing, appeared on national television and encouraged the public to buy Ivanka Trump's merchandise. Conway, a public official whose salary is paid by taxpayers, was pushing back against retailers who'd dropped the president's daughter's product line following poor sales.
Or put another way, a White House official did a little on-air testimonial in support of her boss' daughter's business -- despite laws that appear to prohibit such behavior. No wonder the Office of Government Ethics is unimpressed.
The Office of Government Ethics warned the White House there is "strong reason" to believe presidential aide Kellyanne Conway violated ethics rules and that disciplinary action is warranted in a letter made public on Tuesday.
OGE Director Walter Shaub said Conway's urging of Americans to buy Ivanka Trump's products during a television interview from the White House briefing room "would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position."
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the day after the incident that Conway had been "counseled" -- he didn't elaborate on what that entailed, exactly -- but Shaub's letter added that his office was unaware of any disciplinary action.
"Executive branch officials should use the authority entrusted to them for the benefit of the American people and not for private profit," he wrote, adding that he recommends "the White House investigate Ms. Conway's actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her." read more
On Jan. 26, less than a week into Donald Trump's nascent presidency, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates notified the White House of an alarming revelation: the Justice Department had evidence that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his post-election talks with Vladimir Putin's government and may be vulnerable to a Russian blackmail campaign.
Within days, Trump took decisive action -- by firing Yates. Flynn, however, remained in place, guiding the White House's policies on national security.
Late Monday night, Flynn stepped down from his powerful position, and yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the NSA's ouster was a result of the revelations three weeks ago. It led, as Spicer put it yesterday, to an "evolving and eroding level of trust" between the president and Flynn.
The trouble, of course, is the gap on the calendar. A reporter asked Spicer yesterday what in the world took so long. If the White House was notified about Flynn on Jan. 26, and the president was briefed right away, why not show Flynn the door on Jan. 27, instead of waiting until Feb. 13?
Spicer responded that Trump, "from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive."
I'm delighted the press secretary used the word "unbelievably," because in this case, it's literally true. read more
We learned this week that Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was in communications with Vladimir Putin's government during the 2016 presidential election, while Russia was in the midst of an illegal espionage operation to help hand Trump the presidency.
The New York Times published a report last night noting that Flynn wasn't the only one.
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.
CNN had a related report this morning, noting that "high-level advisers" close to Trump were in "constant communication" with Russian officials during the American election season. Investigators, the CNN report added, were struck by "the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved."
It's worth emphasizing that the Times' reporting added that U.S. investigators have found "no evidence" of cooperation between the Republican campaign and Moscow, at least not yet.
And for Trump allies and much of the right, that effectively ends the conversation. Russia may have been trying to intervene on Trump's behalf during the campaign, the argument goes, and Trump's aides may have been talking to Russian officials at the time, but so long as Republicans weren't actively colluding with Putin's agents, the importance of the communications is limited.
But while this calculus may make Trump World feel better, it overlooks a key detail. read more
Rachel Maddow points out the opportunity for Democrats to take over Tom Price's Georgia congressional as he moves to become Donald Trump's HHS secretary and yet the DCCC seems half-hearted about taking advantage. watch
Rep. Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about how and whether government institutions can be counted on to investigate the Donald Trump campaign's interactions with the Russian government when Republicans control Congress and Jeff Sessions refuses to recuse himself on any related matters. watch
Rachel Maddow relays breaking news from the New York Times that U.S. officials say Donald Trump campaign aides had repeated contact with Russian intelligence officials, though evidence of collusion has not yet been found. watch
Rachel Maddow runs through a litany of questions that remain unanswered in the wake of Donald Trump NSA Mike Flynn's resignation and notes the conflicts of interest and partisan obstacles to having those questions answered by a government investigation. watch
* If only the White House were prepared for a move like this: "Russia has secretly deployed a new cruise missile despite complaints from American officials that it violates a landmark arms control treaty that helped seal the end of the Cold War, administration officials say."
* North Korea: "The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un died suddenly at an airport in Malaysia's capital on Tuesday, local officials told Reuters. Police said they were investigating the cause of death of Kim Jong Nam after he fell ill at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, according to the news agency."
* Northern California: "Officials in California were racing against the weather Tuesday, struggling to shore up the Oroville Dam's emergency spillway before more rains pummel the area and place the structure under even greater stress."
* In an interview this morning, Kellyanne Conway offered this memorable gem: "I can't reveal what the White House knew or didn't know and who in the White House knew or didn't know."
* This probably isn't the kind of support that will help Michael Flynn's case: "The strongest support for Flynn came from Moscow on Tuesday morning."
* Trump will name his successor: "The head of the Secret Service announced Tuesday that he was retiring. Joseph Clancy, a career agent who'd first left the federal protection force in 2011 for a job in the private sector, returned in 2014 to restore credibility to the scandal-plagued agency."
* Remember, the White House considers these "attacks" against the First Family: "The list of retailers dumping some Trump products continues to grow. Sears and Kmart announced over the weekend that they're removing 31 items in the 'Trump Homes' brand from their websites, though many remain." read more
Much of the recent discussion surrounding Michael Flynn, Russia, and Donald Trump's team have focused on the events that unfolded after the election. It's easy to understand why.
Flynn spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition; the two apparently spoke about U.S. sanctions; White House officials spent quite a bit of time telling the nation things about those conversations that weren't true; and the National Security Advisor was forced to resign after three weeks on the job.
But let's not overlook what happened before the election.
Multiple reports indicated late last week that Michael Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador before Americans cast their ballots. This is consistent with what Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in the fall, when he said "there were contacts" between the Russian government and Trump's campaign team ahead of Nov. 8.
The latest Washington Postreport, published overnight, includes a rare official confirmation from the Russian ambassador that he did, in fact, speak with Flynn before the U.S. Election Day.
U.S. intelligence reports during the 2016 presidential campaign showed that Kislyak was in touch with Flynn, officials said. Communications between the two continued after Trump's victory on Nov. 8, according to officials with access to intelligence reports on the matter.
Kislyak, in a brief interview with The Post, confirmed having contacts with Flynn before and after the election, but he declined to say what was discussed.
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.