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Campaign signs are seen before a rally for Republican Presidential hopeful Donald Trump in Charleston, W. Va., on May 5, 2016. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

West Virginia's governor pitches Trump on a coal bailout

08/11/17 08:40AM

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was a Republican, then became a Democrat, only to reverse course again last week to become a Republican again -- though the timing of his decision seemed odd. At face value, he didn't appear to have a reason to switch to the GOP so soon after winning statewide office as a Dem.

This week, however, the motivation seems a little clearer. The Washington Post reported:

Jim Justice, the born-again Republican governor of West Virginia, is floating a federal proposal to bail out the struggling Appalachian coal industry at a cost to taxpayers of up to $4.5 billion a year.

As Justice described it to the Wall Street Journal, under the proposal, the federal government would pay out $15 to eastern power companies for each ton of Appalachian coal they purchase.

The coal industry has been struggling for quite a while, but it's been especially difficult for companies and their employees in Appalachia: companies in recent years have found it easier and cheaper to produce coal in Western states, which has left coal mining in Appalachia with a shrinking percentage of the market.

Faced with these circumstances, which aren't likely to improve, West Virginia's governor -- who stood alongside Donald Trump last week, at an event in which Justice became a Republican again, who also happens to have made his fortunes as a coal magnate -- believes the White House should give coal companies in Eastern states several billion dollars.

This is not a good idea.

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As Russia expels U.S. diplomats, Trump publicly thanks Putin

08/11/17 08:00AM

There's an expression in Trump World that the president and his allies are fond of: if you attack Donald Trump, he will punch back 10 times harder. It's a maxim that helps explain why the president tends to get a little hysterical in response to so many perceived slights.

But for Trump, the principle applies only to him personally: the president can't tolerate rebukes that target him, but affronts to the United States, in Trump's mind, are surprisingly acceptable.

Two weeks ago, in response to new economic sanctions approved by Congress, Vladimir Putin's Russian government announced it was expelling 755 people from the American embassy and consulate staff. It was a striking diplomatic move, and an escalation of tensions between the two countries, which seemed to warrant a stern White House response.

Trump, however, remained silent -- until yesterday.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you have any response to the Russian president expelling 755 workers from our embassy in Russia?

TRUMP: No, I want to thank [Putin], because we're trying to cut down on payroll. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll. There's no real reason for them to go back. So, I greatly appreciate the fact that they've been able to cut our payroll for the United States. We'll save a lot of money.

To the extent that reality has any meaning, Trump is badly confused about the relevant details. Putin did not "let go" of hundreds of American diplomatic workers -- these U.S. officials have been stationed in Russia, but they were not employees of the Russian government.

The substance of the president's comments are, by fair measure, total nonsense.

But that's really not what's important here. Rather, this is a dynamic in which the Putin government used harsh diplomatic measures to slap the United States in the face, and after two weeks of thought, the American president expressed his gratitude to the Russian government.

Even the most mindless Republican partisans should find this impossible to defend.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.10.17

08/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Another escalation: "President Donald Trump said Thursday that his previous promise of 'fire and fury' in response to threats from North Korea may have not gone far enough, vowing 'trouble' for the country if its actions don't change."

* I hope you saw Rachel's segment on this: "A senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday that several U.S agencies are investigating allegations that Cuban officials directed some kind of ultrasound energy at American diplomats in the Havana embassy that left several with damaged hearing."

* Maybe now he'll take the crisis seriously? "President Donald Trump threw the weight of the White House behind the fight against the opioid crisis Thursday and declared it a national emergency."

* This rhetoric sure does sound familiar: "In a pugnacious speech on Wednesday evening before thousands of supporters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, embroiled in graft investigations, railed against 'the left' and 'the media that serves it,' contending that they had ganged up to overthrow him."

* Seems like a potential problem: "Four senior cybersecurity officials are stepping down from their US government positions, raising concerns that an exodus of top leaders may make the federal government more vulnerable to hacking."

* A case to watch: "Five members of the U.S. armed forces sued President Donald Trump and top military brass, seeking to stop them from banning transgender people from serving 'in any capacity.'"

* Following up on something Rachel touched on last night: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has lost two of her top aides, key departures that come at a time of growing international tensions between the U.S. and North Korea."

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Trump barks orders, expects McConnell to do the real work

08/10/17 04:15PM

Donald Trump and his allies have expressed quite a bit of dissatisfaction this week with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and this afternoon, the president sent his third shot across his ostensible ally's bow.

"Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!"

It's hard not to appreciate the irony of the circumstances: Trump is in the early stages of a 17-day vacation at a golf resort he owns in New Jersey. For the president to urge McConnell to "get back to work," while Trump continues his lengthy break, is kind of hilarious.

Regardless, the president soon after made related comments to the press.

When asked if McConnell should step down from his leadership position, Trump told reporters, "If he doesn't get repeal and replace done, and he doesn't get taxes done and...infrastructure...then you can ask me that question."

Whether he understands this or not, this tells us quite a bit about how Trump views his role in governing.

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Testing the limits of Trump's 'obsession' with Obama

08/10/17 12:50PM

BuzzFeed published an interesting piece yesterday based on interviews with "six top European government officials who've had firsthand dealings on the international stage with [Donald Trump] and his administration." Not surprisingly, the foreign officials characterized the American president as erratic, ignorant, and "something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings."

But what stood out for me was the description of Trump's obsession with his predecessor. "It's his only real position," one European diplomat said. "He will ask: 'Did Obama approve this?' And if the answer is affirmative, he will say: 'We don't.' He won't even want to listen to the arguments or have a debate. He is obsessed with Obama."

And while that's plainly pathetic, it's consistent with everything we've seen from this president -- who seems to think about Barack Obama far more than he should, accusing him of all sorts of weird things, including secretly tapping his phones. Just this morning, Trump highlighted an unscientific poll of sympathetic Twitter users who said they like him better than his predecessor, which the Republican apparently considered important for reasons he didn't explain.

In fact, the burgeoning crisis in North Korea seems to have brought these festering attitudes to the fore. The Washington Post reported this morning, "Starting on Wednesday night, the Republican president retweeted a series of Twitter posts related to his Democratic predecessor, starting with one by John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Fox News contributor, who said the United States is at risk because of Obama."

The problem -- well, one of them, anyway -- is that aside from the reckless rhetoric, Trump's policy towards North Korea is surprisingly similar to Obama's.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.10.17

08/10/17 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia's gubernatorial race, which is now just three months away, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest lead over Ed Gillespie (R), 44% to 38%. That six-point advantage is roughly in line with other recent polling from the commonwealth.

* On a related note, Northam unveiled his first television ad of the general election this week, and it focuses on protecting families' health care benefits.

* The Indianapolis Star published an interesting report today, noting that state and local Republican officials "expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas," which had a "significant" impact on participation rates.

* In Massachusetts, Rep. Niki Tsongas (D) announced yesterday she's retiring at the end of this Congress, following a decade on Capitol Hill. A variety of local Dems have already expressed an interest in succeeding her.

* Robert Mercer, a billionaire Trump donor, is reportedly investing in an effort to derail Sen. Jeff Flake's (R) re-election plans in Arizona next year. Politico said Mercer is "contributing $300,000 to a super PAC supporting former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who is challenging Flake in a Republican primary."

* In Florida's gubernatorial election, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum's (D) campaign received some good news yesterday when a grand jury cleared him "in his office's purchase of software used to send a handful of politically tinged emails to constituents, an issue that's dogged his campaign for governor since it began."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump holds press conference

Trump's political antics push consumers' health care costs higher

08/10/17 11:00AM

At a press briefing a few weeks ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there's all kinds of evidence that the Affordable Care Act is facing a "collapse." To prove her point, Donald Trump's principal spokesperson told reporters, "Premiums continue to skyrocket."

And while it's true that many consumers are having to pay more for coverage, what Team Trump doesn't like to talk about is its role in creating the problem the president and his aides like to complain about. The Associated Press reported this morning:

The Trump administration's own actions are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many consumers, a nonpartisan study has found.

The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty "far outside the norm," leading insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.

In fairness, there are multiple factors that contribute to premium increases -- which were, of course, common long before "Obamacare" became the law of the land -- but as the AP's report explained, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "mixed signals" from the Trump administration have clearly made matters worse.

"The vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the administration," the report said.

The result is what some on the left have begun calling a "Trump Tax" on consumers: Americans are being forced to pay more for health care insurance as a direct result of the White House's political tactics.

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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump's favorite tabloid takes aim at Manafort at a key moment

08/10/17 10:09AM

The more federal investigators turn their attention to Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, the more Team Trump would love to put some distance between the president and his former top aide. In the spring, for example, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer twice tried to downplay the significance of Manafort's role in Trump's political operation.

Just how far would Trump World go to throw Manafort under the bus? The question took a curious turn yesterday.

The National Enquirer, the president's favorite supermarket tabloid, announced its latest scoop yesterday, insisting that Manafort has been caught up in some kind of sex scandal -- a story that ran just hours after we learned the FBI raided the former campaign chairman's home last month. The National Enquirer's piece went on to quote a "White House adviser" who said Manafort was guilty of "betraying ... his country."

This comes about a month after the president publicly suggested he has some influence over the tabloid's editorial decisions.

Slate summarized the larger context nicely:

So, six weeks after Trump seemingly admitted that he can use National Enquirer stories as leverage in personal disputes, the Enquirer has published a sensational attack on an individual who may (may!) possess incriminating information about Trump-Russia collusion.

Let's note for context that when former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's troubles grew more serious, he started receiving unflattering coverage in the National Enquirer, too.

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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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