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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

Trump's border-wall dream moves forward, but not with Mexican money

03/16/17 10:41AM

If you actually believed Donald Trump's claims that Mexico would pay for his dream of a wall along the United States' southern border, I have some very bad news for you. Politico reports:
The Trump administration proposes to kick-start construction of a border wall with $4.1 billion in spending through 2018, an official said Wednesday.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the president would request $1.5 billion in a supplemental spending bill and $2.6 billion in his fiscal year 2018 budget.... Despite Trump's repeated campaign promises, the administration does not expect Mexico to pay for the wall. "It's coming out of the treasury," Mulvaney said.
Note, the reference to "the treasury" refers to money from U.S. taxpayers. In other words, Mexico isn't writing a $4.1 billion check; in Trump's vision, you are. (Asked last week whether Mexico would pay for Trump's border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Uh, no.")

The president is nevertheless committed to the idea, telling a Tennessee audience last night that the proposed border wall is "way ahead of schedule" -- which continues to be odd, since there is no actual schedule and the administration doesn't yet have money to begin the project.

The key takeaway from all of this, however, is whether that money will ever be approved. If the White House is counting on Congress ponying up the cash, officials in the West Wing may be disappointed.
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Republicans shouldn't count on the economy to bolster Trump

03/16/17 10:05AM

The newly released Fox News poll points to an electorate that's starting to feel better about the U.S. economy. This question, for example, stood out:
For you and your family, does it feel like the economy is getting better or getting worse?

Getting better: 48%
Getting worse: 29%
Sure, some of this may be the result of raw partisan attitudes -- Republican voters expressing greater confidence because their party is in control -- but 48% is nevertheless the highest this number has been in several years.

Similarly, the same poll asked respondents if they "approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling" the economy. A 47% plurality said they approve. Not bad,

Against this backdrop, one might assume, the president's support would look strong. After all, the economy is nearly always the public's top priority, so it stands to reason that if Americans feel good about the economy, they'll feel good about their president.

Except the exact same poll, pointing to the attitudes of the exact same respondents, shows Trump's approval rating dropping five points since last month to 43%.

The economy makes a big difference in a president's support, but it's not everything. In fact, let me introduce you to a man by the name of George W. Bush,
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Image: Paul Ryan

New polling: Americans are unimpressed with GOP health care plan

03/16/17 09:24AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham yesterday, “Donald Trump is so excited about barnstorming America in Democrat [sic] Senate district states where he won [by] double digits like Missouri and Indiana and North Dakota and Montana.” The point wasn't subtle: Ryan believes Senate Democrats from red states can be pushed to support the Republican health care plan by a president who's eager to apply pressure.

In theory, that makes perfect sense. In practice, red-state Dems probably aren't too worried about an unpopular president barnstorming through the country, pushing an unpopular bill.

The new Fox News poll, for example, shows Trump's approval rating dropping to 43%, down five points from the network's previous survey. The same poll found the health care plan the president is pushing is even less popular than he is:
"Do you favor or oppose the Republican health care plan that would replace Obamacare?"

Strongly favor: 17%
Somewhat favor: 17%
Somewhat oppose: 14%
Strongly oppose: 40%
Combined, it means the American Health Care Act, which some are calling "Trumpcare," has a 34% favorable rating and a 54% unfavorable rating. (Note that a fairly strong plurality put themselves in the "strongly oppose" camp.)

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act now has a 50% favorability rating in the Fox News poll, making it considerably more popular than the bill GOP officials are trying to replace it with. Making matters slightly worse, while Trump enjoys decent support on his handling of some issues, only 35% of Americans support the president's handling of health care.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, which my wife works for and which the Republican health care plan intends to gut, continues to enjoy more national support than the ACA or the Republican plan, with a 57% favorability rating.

For those keeping score, that means, according to Fox News' poll, Planned Parenthood is more popular than the Affordable Care Act, which is more popular than Donald Trump, who is more popular than Paul Ryan, who is more popular than the Republican health care plan, which is more popular than congressional Democrats, who are more popular than congressional Republicans.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump's defense of his wiretap conspiracy theory goes horribly awry

03/16/17 08:40AM

I've tried to keep an open mind about Donald Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory. The idea that President Obama ordered illegal surveillance of the then-Republican candidate obviously seems ridiculous, but it's plausible to me that some members of Team Trump had communications that were caught up in a legitimate, proper investigation.

But every time I try to take at least part of the story seriously, Trump shares some thoughts on the matter, which make his allegations sound crazy all over again. Last night, for example, Fox News aired a new interview between Tucker Carlson and the president.
CARLSON: On March 4th, 6:45 in the morning, you are down in Florida, and you tweet, "The former administration wiretapped me, surveilled me at Trump Tower during the last election." How did you find out? You said "I just found out," how did you learn that?

TRUMP: I had been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous, where he was talking about certain, very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said "Wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about." I have been seeing a lot of things.
Let's pause here for a moment. To hear the president tell it, when he told the world that he'd "just found out" about an illegal surveillance operation launched against him by Barack Obama, that was apparently a lie. The New York Times mentioned wiretapping in January, and Fox's Bret Baier mentioned it again more recently, but neither report made any mention of Obama targeting Trump.

Also note Trump's vague references to "things": he's read some "things," he's read "other things," and he's "seeing a lot of things." This wouldn't work for a child delivering a book report about a book he hasn't read, and it sounds even worse when a president is defending accusations of an illegal espionage operation.

The interview continued:
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump signs a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Monday, leaving Iraq off the list of targeted countries at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S.

As Muslim ban flops again, Team Trump is its own worst enemy

03/16/17 08:00AM

Even if no one at the White House has ever been charged with a crime, members of Team Trump are probably familiar with the opening phrases of the Miranda warning: "You have the right to remain silent... Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law." When it comes to Donald Trump's Muslim ban, it's advice the president and his aides should try to keep in mind.

The original version of the administration's Muslim ban failed in the courts, with judges quoting Trump and his cohorts to prove that the policy was discriminatory. Last night, U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, blocked implementation of the Muslim Ban 2.0, by again citing remarks from the president and his allies.
"A reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion," Watson wrote.

Chin said the public statements by Trump and his associates were crucial to the decision.
Indeed, the degree to which the White House was its own worst enemy is amazing. The ruling specifically notes, "A review of the historical background here makes plain why the Government wishes to focus on the Executive Order's text, rather than its context. The record before this Court is unique. It includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order and its related predecessor."

The ruling then points to a series of public remarks from Donald Trump himself, in which he unambiguously explains the discriminatory intent of his own policy. In an unintentionally amusing twist, the court also quoted White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller, telling a national television audience that the second executive order on this will "have the same basic policy outcome" as the first.

In other words, according to the White House, the first Muslim ban failed in the courts, so officials made superficial changes without altering the ban's broader goals -- which in turn made it easy for a federal court to reject the same policy.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters last night that Trump "should just continue talking, because he is making our arguments for us."
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.15.17

03/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Russian espionage: "The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against two Russian spies and two hackers behind the 2014 theft of data connected to half a billion Yahoo accounts, which officials called one of the largest known data breaches in American history."

* The Federal Reserve "delivered the widely expected increase in its benchmark interest rate on Wednesday, and said the domestic economy remained on a path of slow and steady growth. The decision raises the Fed's benchmark rate to a range between 0.75 percent and 1 percent."

* Much of the world is keeping an eye on the Dutch election: "The first exit polls are coming out and voter turnout is high in the Netherlands as European populism faces its first big electoral test since last year's 'Brexit' referendum and Donald J. Trump's election."

* Syria: "The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter."

* Roger Stone raises eyebrows again: "Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone says he believes his contacts with a Russian-linked hacker who took credit for breaching the Democratic National Committee may have been obtained through a special warrant that allows the government to collect the communications of people suspected of being agents of a foreign nation."

* Gorsuch: "The publicity-shy billionaire Philip F. Anschutz inherited an oil and gas firm and built it into an empire that has sprawled into telecommunications, railroads, real estate, resorts, sports teams, stadiums, movies and conservative publications.... Anschutz's influence is especially felt in his home state of Colorado, where years ago Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a Denver native, the son of a well-known Colorado Republican and now President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, was drawn into his orbit."

* Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) said today he expects the House Republican health care bill to fail in the Senate, so he hopes it doesn't come to the floor for a vote. Lance already voted for it in committee, so I think it's a little late for him to come to this realization.

* Seriously? "State safety inspectors wouldn't inspect West Virginia's coal mines anymore. They would conduct 'compliance visits and education.' Violations of health and safety standards wouldn't produce state citations and fines, either. Mine operators would receive 'compliance assistance visit notices.' And West Virginia regulators wouldn't have authority to write safety and health regulations. Instead, they could only 'adopt policies ... [for] improving compliance assistance' in the state's mines."
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Ford F-150 trucks are prepared to come off the assembly line at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant on June 13, 2014 in Dearborn, Mich.

Trump declares end to non-existent 'assault' on US auto industry

03/15/17 04:15PM

One of President Obama's most important economic successes was rescuing the American auto industry from collapse. It makes remarks like these, reported by TPM, that much more ridiculous.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed that he ended "the assault on the American auto industry," though the actions of President Barack Obama's administration are widely understood to have saved the industry.

"The assault on the American auto industry, believe me, is over. It's over. Not going to have it anymore," Trump said in a speech at the American Center for Mobility near Ypsilanti, Michigan. "I kept my word." Trump said that he has "followed through on his promise, and by the way many other promises."
The Republican president assured his audience that he'd help improve auto production through a new "task force" that would look for possible regulations to eliminate. Evidently, that includes Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards, which in Trump's mind, represents an "assault."

Even by this president's standards, today's boasts in Michigan were pretty odd. For example, for all the talk about Trump "keeping his word," he didn't actually do anything today in terms of substantive changes. As the Associated Press reported, today's move, which has no immediate effect, requires the EPA "to determine no later than April 2018 whether the 2022-2025 standards established are appropriate. If the EPA determines they are not appropriate, the agency will submit a new proposal next year."

The idea that fuel-efficiency standards represent some kind of industry-crushing burden is strange enough, but even if one were to accept the premise, the Obama-era policy still exists. It's not "over."

But even more laughable is the idea that the American auto industry was suffering during Obama's presidency.
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Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

One of Trump's top allies questions validity of wiretap allegations

03/15/17 12:49PM

It's been nearly two weeks since Donald Trump claimed Barack Obama illegally tapped phone lines in Trump Tower, because as the Republican put it, his presidential predecessor is a "bad (or sick) guy." In general, the responses from GOP lawmakers to the explosive allegations fell somewhere between confusion and apathy.

There was, however, an exception. House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump's most enthusiastic supporters on Capitol Hill, said on March 5 he would take the conspiracy theory seriously and "make inquiries" into the allegations.

This morning, the California Republican updated reporters on what he's found.
"[A]bout the issue with the president talking about tapping Trump Tower, that evidence still remains the same. We don't have any evidence that that took place. In fact, I don't believe, just in the last week of time, the people we've talked to, I don't believe there was an actual tap of Trump Tower."
A few minutes later, Nunes went on to tell reporters that if you take Trump's tweets very literally, then "clearly the president was wrong." (In context, Nunes seemed to be referring to the idea that Barack Obama personally went to New York and surreptitiously entered Trump Tower for the purpose of conducting covert surveillance.)

The fact that a member of Congress is skeptical of Trump's controversial claims may seem routine, but Nunes' comments are notable because of his strong support for this White House, including serving on Trump's executive transition committee. Practically every time there are new revelations surrounding the administration's many controversies, it's the House Intelligence Committee chairman who rushes to defend Team Trump, even going so far as to call reporters to wave them off of scandals Nunes is supposed to be examining.

So when even he publicly distances himself from a high-profile Trump allegation, it suggests the White House is isolated on one of the president's more important conspiracy theories.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.15.17

03/15/17 12:00PM

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

* The progressive "Save My Care" campaign, intended to preserve the Affordable Care Act and defeat the Republican alternative, is launching television ads targeting five GOP senators: Maine's Susan Collins, Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Arizona's Jeff Flake, Nevada's Dean Heller, and West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito. The ad buy in support of this commercial is reportedly six figures.

* On a related note, the "Save My Care" campaign commissioned a Public Policy Polling survey for voters in Alaska, Arizona, Maine, and Nevada, which found broad disapproval of the Republican health care plan.

* In a bit of a surprise, NARAL's state affiliate endorsed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in Virginia's gubernatorial race. Northam's primary rival, former Rep. Tom Perriello (D) was considered a less reliable ally of abortion rights during his tenure in Congress.

* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee set a record for February fundraising, taking in $9.8 million last month. This roughly keeps pace with its Republican counterpart, which raised $10.5 million over the same period.

* Republican Rep. Joe Barton, representing a reliably "red" district in Texas, faced some angry constituents at a town-hall event this weekend, and the usually mild-mannered congressman lost his cool a bit. "You," Barton said, pointing to a man in the audience. "You, sir, shut up."

* After Rosie O'Donnell expressed support for Kathryn Allen, Rep. Jason Chaffetz's (R) Democratic challenger, the Utah Republican launched a new fundraising campaign, urging supporters to help him push back against the entertainer.
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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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