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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.7.18

02/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The longest-continuous speech in the history of the chamber: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took the rare step Wednesday of giving a marathon speech supporting Democrats' attempts to legalize the status of young immigrant 'dreamers,' in a bid to pressure Republicans to act."

* Syria: "At least 80 people were killed on Tuesday in Syrian government air and artillery strikes on besieged suburbs of the capital, Damascus, one of the last rebel-held strongholds. It was the bloodiest day so far in a weekslong escalation that prompted United Nations officials to issue an unusual call for an immediate cease-fire."

* Puerto Rico: "The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.... By the time 18.5 million meals were due, [FEMA contractor] had delivered only 50,000."

* Will the RNC give back his money? "Billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn stepped down as CEO of Wynn Resorts, the company said Tuesday."

* I could've sworn Trump said he'd produce the opposite result: "The United States trade deficit with China climbed to its highest level on record in 2017, a trend that could prompt the Trump administration toward tougher trade actions in the coming months."

* The CBO's latest findings: "Americans enrolling in college over the next decade would receive about $15 billion less in subsidies than under current law if House Republicans pass their education bill, according to an official estimate Tuesday."

* Leandro Rizzuto Jr: "President Donald Trump's nominee to be the ambassador to Barbados and several other Caribbean countries spread fringe conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks about Trump's political opponents on Twitter, including ones about Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, during the 2016 presidential election."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Abuse allegations lead to White House aide's resignation

02/07/18 03:47PM

The revolving door for the staff at Donald Trump's White House is spinning again, with another top aide announcing his resignation. The circumstances surrounding today's departure, however, are more awful than most.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday, a day after a British newspaper reported allegations from two ex-wives of physical and verbal abuse, the White House said. [...]

Porter's two ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, told in a report published Tuesday that Porter was physically and verbally abusive to them during their marriages. Willoughby said the abuse started on their honeymoon and that she filed a restraining order against Porter in June 2010 after he punched the glass on a door to their home and refused to leave, violating a separation agreement. NBC News has reached out to the women, but has not yet spoken with them, nor investigated their stories.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the staff secretary's departure, telling reporters this was "a personal decision Rob made."

Porter continues to deny any wrongdoing, saying in a statement the allegations are "outrageous" and "simply false."

As NBC News' report added, Porter was an influential senior aide who, among other things, "played a key role in writing the president's State of the Union address last month."

There are still some questions surrounding White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's role in the story, with Politico  reporting that a senior administration official said Kelly "was previously aware" of a 2010 protective order against Porter, which prevented the staff secretary from getting a full security clearance.

Axios added, meanwhile, that Kelly also reportedly urged Porter to remain at his White House post, despite the abuse allegations.

And on that note, this seems like a good time to update the list of prominent Trump World departures:

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Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

Senate budget deal abandons Republican orthodoxy

02/07/18 02:26PM

The deadline for the next government shutdown is tomorrow night, but Senate leaders from both parties have reached an agreement on a spending package that will take the threat off the table for a while.

The measure, negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, increases domestic spending by $63 billion and military spending by $80 billion for 2018 with larger increases in 2019. The spending levels completely eliminate the mandatory spending caps, otherwise known as sequestration, that have been imposed on both military and domestic spending since 2011. [...]

In addition to determining spending levels, it would provide additional funds for disaster relief for wildfires and hurricanes. It would also extend the low-income children's health program for ten years instead of six, which was passed just last month. It would provide $6 billion for opioid treatment and $20 billion for infrastructure.

When all is said and done, it looks like this agreement will increase spending by about $400 billion.

At face value, the agreement is a reminder that in order to strike bipartisan deals in the Trump era, it's important to ignore Donald Trump. In this case, the president yesterday threatened a shutdown, which had no apparent impact on the Senate talks because McConnell and Schumer acted as if Trump were irrelevant.

But what's truly amazing about the Senate deal is its total abandonment of Republican orthodoxy. Throughout the Obama era, GOP officials had one overarching priority in every budget fight: austerity.

Between 2009 and 2016, Republicans said they wanted a balanced budget. They said the national debt was an existential threat to the United States. They said any additional government spending had to be offset by cuts elsewhere. They said, in John Boehner's famous phrasing, that our country "is broke" and therefore incapable of making any new investments, regardless of public needs.

This approach not only caused routine GOP-imposed crises throughout Barack Obama's presidency, it also held back the nation's economy -- deliberately, since that's largely the point of austerity.

The rot of bad faith from those arguments has been exposed.

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The 'swamp' in action: GOP advances coal lobbyist for EPA job

02/07/18 12:47PM

Americans who voted for Donald Trump because they liked his rhetoric about "draining the swamp" should probably avert their eyes -- because today's news is about as swampy as it gets.

Republican senators used their majority to advance President Donald Trump's nomination of a former coal-industry lobbyist to serve as the second-highest ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Environment and Public Works Committee voted along party lines 11-10 on Wednesday to send the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to the full Senate for a vote.

Let's back up for a minute to provide some important context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy's CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)

In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's preeminent climate deniers.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency -- a decision literally every Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed this morning.

The New Republic's Emily Atkin recently explained, "Wheeler is not just the figurative embodiment of the swamp, but the literal embodiment of it. The coal industry is responsible for 72 percent of toxic water contamination in the United States, making it the nation's largest water polluter. That's according to the agency where Wheeler is about to be second in command -- the agency that is charged with protecting clean water. There's no better person to represent how polluted Trump's swamp has become."

Wait, it gets a little worse.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.7.18

02/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a pair of new statewide polls show incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with narrow-to-modest leads over Gov. Rick Scott (R). The Republican governor hasn't yet formally launched a campaign, but it's widely assumed Scott will run.

* Diane Neal, an actress on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," launched a "progressive" independent congressional bid in New York's 19th congressional district this week. The seat is currently held by Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), who's considered vulnerable, but if Neal and a Democrat split the center-left, Faso is far more likely to prevail.

* In Michigan, state Democratic officials appear to have some concerns about whether gubernatorial hopeful Abdul El-Sayed (D) meets the state's residency requirements. While teaching at Columbia University, El-Sayed was a registered New York voter as recently as 2015.

* Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) launched an initiative yesterday, urging all senators to sign a pledge, agreeing not to campaign against other sitting senators. (I know his idea sounds quaint, but I'd note for context that for most of American history, sitting senators wouldn't even endorse candidates running against their colleagues, much less campaign against them.)

* In a refreshing change of pace, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro (D) was candid with NBC News this week about his presidential ambitions, acknowledging, "I have every interest in running." He'll be in New Hampshire next week.

* Remember when I mentioned last summer that former Attorney General Eric Holder might run for president in 2020? This morning he said, "I think I'll make a decision by the end of the year about whether or not there's another chapter in my government service."

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Image: U.S. Attorney General Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

AG Sessions tries to connect opioid crisis to marijuana

02/07/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump largely ignored the opioid crisis in his State of the Union address, mentioning it only once. As the president put it, if Congress adopts the White House's far-right immigration agenda, it will "support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction."

In other words, the key to addressing the crisis, according to Trump, is through immigration policy.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking at a Heritage Foundation event last night, fielded a question about opioids, and while he steered clear of the president's position, Sessions tried to make a curious connection of his own. After mentioning the importance of reducing opioid prescriptions, the attorney general added:

"Sometimes, you just need to take two Bufferins or something and go to bed.... These pills become so addictive. The [Drug Enforcement Agency] said a huge percentage of the heroin addictions start with prescriptions. That may be an exaggerated number -- they had it as high as 80 percent -- we think a lot of this is starting with marijuana or other drugs, too."

I guess my first question is, "What do you mean, 'we'?"

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White House's Kelly suggests some Dreamers were 'too lazy'

02/07/18 10:43AM

When John Kelly made the transition from Secretary of Homeland Security to White House Chief of Staff, many observers had high hopes. At the time, the expectations hardly seemed unreasonable: perhaps the retired general's commitment to public service would instill some much-needed maturity to Donald Trump and his chaotic West Wing.

It now seems more accurate to think Trump is dragging Kelly down to his level.

Some immigrants may have been "too afraid" or "too lazy" to sign up for the Obama-era program that offered protection from deportation, White House chief of staff John Kelly said Tuesday as he defended President Donald Trump's proposal aimed at breaking the impasse on immigration.

In remarks to reporters, Kelly described Trump's plan, which would provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million people -- more than Democrats had sought. He noted extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was "beyond what anyone could have imagined."

"There are 690,000 official DACA registrants and the president sent over what amounts to be two and a half times that number, to 1.8 million," Kelly said, adding, "The difference between [690,000] and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses, but they didn't sign up."

Part of the problem is Kelly's crude -- and according to some, offensive -- rhetoric about Dreamers being "lazy" immigrants. But for those who don't care about his language, there's also the fact that Kelly's description of the White House's position on immigration is woefully incomplete.

To hear him tell it, Congress should be grateful for Trump's magnanimous generosity. After all, the president graciously went "beyond what anyone could have imagined." What Kelly neglected to mention is that the offer may be great for Dreamers, but the White House's related demands -- including billions of U.S. dollars for a border wall and major cuts to legal immigration -- have made Trump's blueprint a non-starter on Capitol Hill.

For that matter, Dreamers weren't "too lazy to get off their asses." Many couldn't afford the application and renewal fees, and many more believed a mistake or a shift in the political winds could lead to their deportation.

Kelly apparently looked past these details.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

The politics of patriotism takes an ugly turn in the Trump era

02/07/18 10:04AM

Donald Trump, annoyed by Democratic reactions to his State of the Union address, told a group of supporters this week that Dems had adopted an "un-American" posture. The president added, "Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn't seem to love our country very much."

The White House later said the comments were "tongue in cheek." Whether one is inclined to accept the explanation or not, Trump's comments were not an isolated incident.

[White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders] questioned the patriotism of Democrats who sat on their hands during Mr. Trump's discussion of the thriving American economy. "Democrats are going to have to make a decision at some point really soon," Ms. Sanders said. "Do they hate this president more than they love this country? And I hope the answer to that is, 'No.'"

Meanwhile, Trump's re-election campaign yesterday unveiled a new attack ad, saying Democrats are "disrespecting our country" -- and for proof, the commercial points to Dems failing to enjoy the president's State of the Union address. The Republican National Committee reportedly created a related ad of its own.

This has reached Capitol Hill, too. Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said yesterday that Democratic reactions to the State of the Union were "un-American," adding, "And they don't love our country."

There are a few basic truths that are worth keeping in mind as the Republican line continued to get more ridiculous.

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As deadline looms, Trump says, 'I'd love to see a shutdown'

02/07/18 09:20AM

It's admittedly an unpleasant subject, but the federal government will shut down -- again -- in about 39 hours unless there's some kind of bipartisan agreement in Congress. It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump is accusing Democrats of "treason" because they failed to clap to his satisfaction during the president's State of the Union address.

But that's not all he's saying. Trump hosted a "Law Enforcement Roundtable on MS-13" at the White House yesterday, and unprompted, welcomed the prospect of a government shutdown over immigration policy.

"Frankly -- I'll go a step further -- if we don't change the legislation, if we don't [get] rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill -- gang members. And we're just talking about MS-13. There are many gang members that we don't even mention. If we don't change it, let's have a shutdown. We'll do a shutdown. And it's worth it for our country. I'd love to see a shutdown if we don't get this stuff taken care of."

Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president is "not looking for" a shutdown, despite the fact that her boss had just said he'd "love to see" one.

But even putting that apparent contradiction aside, there was a more glaring problem with Trump's comments yesterday: they didn't appear to make any sense.

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In this Jan. 7, 2014 file photo the Gateway Arch dominates the skyline in St. Louis. (Photo by Jeff Roberson/AP)

In a pro-Trump district, Republicans come up short (again)

02/07/18 08:40AM

Missouri was home to four state legislative special elections yesterday, and Republicans had reason to be confident about each contest. These were four ruby-red districts, where voters backed Donald Trump by landslide margins, and where Democrats didn't even bother to field a candidate in the most recent election cycle.

And yet, the races did not go the way the GOP had hoped. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch  reported overnight:

Democrats made a small dent in the GOP's supermajority in the Missouri House on Tuesday, swiping a Jefferson County-based district that had been held by a Republican.

Democrat Mike Revis snagged nearly 52 percent of the vote compared to Republican David Linton's 48 percent, according to preliminary results from the Missouri secretary of state.

Based on the unofficial results, Republicans held on to three other seats in four special elections on Tuesday, winning decisively in two western Missouri districts and narrowly in the southeast Missouri 144th District.

Note, in the district where Mike Revis (D) prevailed, Donald Trump won by 28 points in the most recent presidential election. At face value, this did not look like an area where a Democrat would expect to be competitive, but the seat flipped from red to blue anyway.

And while the Republican candidates won in yesterday's other Missouri contests, Daily Kos' Carolyn Fiddler highlighted the fact that the Democratic candidates in each of those races overperformed relative to Trump's margin in 2016.

Those are the kind of results that should probably make Republicans nervous, especially given the recent trend: since this president took office, Democrats have now flipped 35 state legislative districts, according to a tally from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

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Trump directs Pentagon to prepare a military parade

02/07/18 08:00AM

In theory, Donald Trump seems to have a lengthy to-do list. The president and congressional lawmakers are engaged in difficult talks over everything from immigration to the budget to North Korea, and there's no shortage of pressing deadlines.

But in practice, Trump seems to have quite a bit of time to consider some of his other priorities -- such as military parades. NBC News reported overnight:

At President Donald Trump's urging, the Pentagon is looking at dates for a possible military parade in Washington that could take place in November, a spokesperson confirmed Tuesday.

The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that Trump expressed his desire for a military parade at a Jan. 18 meeting between Trump and top generals, and his desire was heard as a presidential directive. The paper cited two officials briefed on the planning.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed to NBC News that the president has made the request. A senior administration official added that Trump has "given the directive to begin the planning so the planning has begun."

And while plenty of details still need to be worked out, the Washington Post's report included this tidbit: "The location is still being discussed, though Trump has said he would like it to proceed along Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the Capitol and the White House. It would be the same route as Trump's inaugural parade and pass by his family's showpiece: Trump International Hotel."

It's as if the president heard criticisms of his authoritarian instincts and responded, in the voice of a James Bond villain, "I'll show them...."

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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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