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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks to reporters following a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Washington, March 15, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GOP 'unmoved' by controversies surrounding Trump's cabinet picks

01/19/17 09:20AM

Last month, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) was celebrating Donald Trump for having assembled a "dream team" cabinet. It was a curious choice of words -- because one would have to be asleep to be impressed with the motley crew the president-elect has assembled.

Some of Trump's choices appear to have no idea what their job entails. Others have no relevant experience or skills. Some are burdened by damaging controversies. Others are overtly hostile towards the work done by the departments they'll soon lead. Senate Democrats set out to prove that many of Trump's nominees had no business being chosen in the first place, and by and large, the senators succeeded.

But nearly all -- if not literally all -- of Trump's choices will be confirmed anyway, because as Politico noted yesterday, the Senate Republican majority doesn't appear to care.
Donald Trump's Cabinet picks have been battered by revelations of questionable stock trades and potentially undocumented employees. They've undergone rocky confirmation hearings and faced criticism from Democrats that they're unfit to lead a major federal agency.

Consider Republicans unmoved.

From the top tiers of GOP leadership to rank-and-file committee members, Republicans are fanning out en masse to defend Trump's Cabinet selections.
Though filibusters are no longer an option for cabinet nominees, the GOP majority is fairly narrow in a 52-48 Senate. If only a handful of Republican senators balk at an unqualified choice, the Trump White House will have to scramble to find someone else.

But that handful doesn't appear to exist. Politico's piece added, "[T]here's no sign that those GOP defections are coming."

There's no great mystery here -- partisan loyalties and tribal instincts dominate in Washington to a degree unseen in generations -- but Republicans aren't actually doing anyone, including their allies, any favors.
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Image: US-TRUMP-POLITICS

Team Trump shouldn't have skipped the vetting process

01/19/17 08:46AM

Ordinarily, a presidential campaign will start preparing a transition process long before Election Day -- without knowing whether they'll win or lose -- in order to be fully prepared to govern. As part of the process, campaign staffers will identify possible cabinet nominees, and begin a preliminary vetting process, all with the goal of being ready, just in case.

Donald Trump, however, told his staff not to make any such preparations -- because he was superstitious about the effects on his candidacy. After the election, Team Trump started making cabinet selections "without extensive reviews of their background and financial records," because the Republican president-elect preferred to make decisions "based on gut instinct and his chemistry with people."

When the president-elect would meet with prospective members of his cabinet and White House team, Trump's principal focus was on how they look, not their qualifications.

That was unwise.
President-elect Donald J. Trump's choice for White House budget director failed to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee, he admitted in a statement to the Senate Budget Committee, the sort of tax compliance issue that has derailed cabinet nominees in the past.

In a questionnaire provided to the committee, Representative Mick Mulvaney, a conservative from South Carolina and vocal proponent of fiscal restraint noted, "I have come to learn during the confirmation review process that I failed to pay FICA and federal and state unemployment taxes on a household employee for the years 2000-2004."
The New York Times' report added that Mulvaney claims that he subsequently paid "more than $15,000 in taxes and awaits the state tax bill, as well as penalties and interests."

In previous administrations, this has been the kind of legal misstep that has derailed nominees for important posts. It's exactly the sort of information a transition team would've uncovered before someone was even offered a powerful government job.

But before anyone says, "Well, this is just one guy with a 'nanny problem,'" it's worth appreciating how many similar problems Trump World is confronting right now.
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Former Gov. Rick Perry prepares to address the National Press Club's Newsmaker Luncheon on his economic plan on July 2, 2015. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Trump offered Rick Perry a job neither one of them understood

01/19/17 08:00AM

An official at the Department of Energy recently found it necessary to "carefully explain" to a Trump transition aide what the agency actually does. The official did so after the Trump staffer "aide asked a series of questions that indicated he wasn't quite sure about the department's portfolio."

As it turns out, the ignorance is widespread in Trump World, as evidenced by this New York Times article on the man the president-elect chose to lead the agency.
When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing -- that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States' nuclear arsenal.
Revelations like these aren't just scary for the public; they're also deeply embarrassing for the amateurs who'll tomorrow take over the executive branch of the world's largest superpower.

For Perry, whose confirmation hearing begins today, this is obviously cringe-worthy. Four years ago, the then-governor was determined to eliminate the Department of Energy, despite not knowing what the agency does. The DOE has a major research laboratory in Texas, but Perry, who led the state for 14 years, still never learned anything about the department's work.

If the Times' reporting is correct, the Republican then accepted a cabinet post without having any idea what his responsibilities would be.

But as bad as Perry looks, let's not overlook his future boss.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.18.17

01/18/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This guy refuses to succumb to cynicism: "President Obama used the final press conference of his presidency to deliver a hopeful message Wednesday to a nation nervous about the looming change of power in Washington: 'At my core, I think we're going to be okay.'"

* Mali: "A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle penetrated a camp in northern Mali on Wednesday, killing at least 60 people and wounding 115 soldiers and former fighters who are trying to stabilize the region. The attack marked a significant setback for peace efforts."

* Note the national scope of this story: "Jewish community centers across the nation are under siege as dozens received bomb threats this month -- including more than 20 reported on Wednesday alone."

* Electing a climate denier to the presidency was unwise: "Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016 — trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.... Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization."

* Western Africa: "After more than two decades in power, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh faced the prospect of a midnight military intervention by regional forces, as the man who once pledged to rule the West African nation for a billion years clung to power late Wednesday."

* Discrimination: "JPMorgan Chase said Wednesday that it had agreed to settle a federal lawsuit accusing the bank of working with mortgage brokers who discriminated against minority borrowers for years by charging them $1,000 more than white customers."

* This seems to contradict what was promised last week: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Wednesday, via his lawyer, that President Obama's commutation of Chelsea Manning's sentence does not meet the conditions of his offer to be extradited to the U.S. in return for the Army leaker's release."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

In intelligence briefings, Trump prefers 'as little as possible'

01/18/17 12:50PM

One of the unexpected developments of the transition period has been Donald Trump's disinterest in daily intelligence briefings. President Obama, immediately after the election, ordered the relevant agencies to make available to the president-elect the same information that's delivered to the Oval Office, but in a bit of a surprise, Trump largely blew off the information.

Last month, Fox News' Chris Wallace noted reports that the Republican was only receiving one briefing a week, instead of seven. Trump didn't deny the accounts, but said it didn't matter because he's "like, a smart person." He added, "I get it when I need it."

A month later, with his inauguration drawing closer, Trump sat down with Axios yesterday, and referring to the intelligence he's seen, the president-elect said, "I've had a lot of briefings that are very … I don't want to say 'scary,' because I'll solve the problems." The exceedingly confident Republican added this in reference to the PDB:
Trump said he likes his briefings short, ideally one-page if it's in writing. "I like bullets or I like as little as possible. I don't need, you know, 200-page reports on something that can be handled on a page. That I can tell you."
Hmm. President Obama likes to read daily intelligence briefings and pose follow-up questions in writing. Bill Clinton had a similar approach. George W. Bush, during his two terms, changed the briefing process, preferring oral reports from intelligence professionals.

Trump, apparently, has in mind something akin to Powerpoint slides.

The point here is not to chuckle at the obviously unprepared amateur, who, in 47 hours, will be the Leader of the Free World. There's a substantive angle to this that's worth appreciating.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.18.17

01/18/17 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump declared yesterday that he's already chosen his slogan for his 2020 re-election campaign: "Keep America Great!" The exclamation point was his addition, not mine.

* Despite recently describing himself as the "Hemingway of Twitter," Trump said last night he doesn't "like" tweeting.

* In the same remarks, Trump said his 2016 campaign "set records in so many different ways." He didn't actually identify any of these ways, but the president-elect emphasized the number of counties he won on Election Day.

* As of this morning, I believe the new number of congressional Democrats who will not attend Friday's inaugural event stands at 63.

* Given his authoritarian tendencies, it was a little unnerving to see Trump tell the Washington Post yesterday, "[W]e're going to display our military. That military may come marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. That military may be flying over New York City and Washington, D.C., for parades. I mean, we're going to be showing our military."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters during a campaign rally on June 18, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty)

Trump prepares preemptive falsehoods about his inauguration

01/18/17 11:23AM

Donald Trump declared weeks ago that he intends to "set the all-time record" for attendance at a presidential inaugural. By all appearances, that's extremely unlikely to happen.

But the president-elect spoke at a pre-inauguration event last night, where Trump made this interesting claim:
"I also want to tell you, you know, so many people are talking about what's going on and now they've just announced we're going to have record crowds coming."
As a rule, whenever Donald Trump uses the word "they," look out. In this case "they've" announced "record crowds" are coming to the Republican's inauguration, but there's been no such announcement. "They" don't appear to exist outside of Trump's imagination.

But relying on "them" will enable Trump to claim a record without regard for actual attendance data. What we're witnessing is a preemptive falsehood: the president-elect is laying the groundwork for an untrue claim about his inauguration that Trump seems very likely to make soon after he takes the oath of office.

Indeed, he's already told related falsehoods, such as,  "All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It's hard to find a great dress for this inauguration." This wasn't remotely true, but Trump made the claim anyway.
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U.S. President Barack Obama walks the Colonnade toward the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on election day, Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The 'most successful' Dem president since FDR ends on a high note

01/18/17 10:55AM

Donald Trump is entering the White House with the weakest public support of any new president since the dawn of modern polling. The Republican may prefer to see a giant media conspiracy against him -- Trump yesterday dismissed survey results as "rigged" -- but if so, the scheme incorporates a plethora of national news organizations and polling outfits, each of which show the president-elect with surprisingly awful backing.

There's a school of thought that suggests this isn't entirely Trump's fault. Maybe the public is just in a sour mood. Perhaps Americans, after a long and ugly campaign, are inclined to hold every political figure in low regard, and Trump is simply caught up in a wave of broad public revulsion.

Of course, if that were true, President Obama wouldn't be leaving office with rising popularity.
While Trump is entering office with the worst numbers in the history of the NBC/WSJ poll, outgoing President Barack Obama is exiting with some of his highest numbers. Fifty-six percent of Americans approve of Obama's job, which is his highest rating since the first few months of his presidency.

Moreover, 53 percent of Americans believe the country is better off than it was eight years ago, while 42 percent think it's worse off. A similar 54 percent say Obama mostly brought the right kind of change.

And a combined 55 percent believe Obama - compared with the past several U.S. presidents - will either go down as one of the very best or be better than most.
Democratic pollster Fred Yang put it this way: "If Donald Trump enters office on a down note, the current occupant is enjoying a second honeymoon of sorts."

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll, meanwhile, puts Obama's final approval rating at 60% -- one of only four presidents since World War II to leave the White House with so much public support.

Similarly, a new CNN poll also shows Obama with a 60% approval rating. The same survey found 65% of Americans consider Obama's presidency as a success.

The 2016 election may not have turned out the way the president wanted, but there's no doubt that Obama is exiting the stage on a very high note.
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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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