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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Giving Trump more information won't solve the problem

01/05/17 10:51AM

By the time the Republican National Convention got underway in July, Donald Trump was already auditioning for the role of America's biggest Vladimir Putin fan. CNBC's John Harwood asked Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) at the time whether Trump's affection for the Russian autocrat serves America's interests.

Cotton was confident that Trump was simply ignorant, which is a problem that could be solved. Putin "was a KGB spy and he never got over that," the Arkansas senator said, adding that after the presidential hopeful received classified briefings, Trump might have "a different perspective on Vladimir Putin and what Russia is doing to America's interests."

That didn't work out well. Trump started receiving classified intelligence briefings soon after Cotton made the comments, but the Republican quickly decided he didn't agree with the information presented to him. Instead of gaining a new "perspective," Trump willfully ignored the intelligence community's findings -- and started publicly taunting the agencies themselves.

Among some leading elected officials, however, hope springs eternal. Politico reported yesterday:
House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed confidence Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump will be "better informed" on Russian hacking after he's briefed by the intelligence community.

"I think he has not received his Russia briefing yet. I believe that's scheduled for Friday," the Wisconsin Republican told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning. "So hopefully, he'll get up to speed on what, you know, has been happening and what Russia has or has not done. And he'll be better informed on that."
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), meanwhile, added this morning that Trump may think differently about Russia's suspected espionage operation targeting the American election if only the president-elect attended more intelligence briefings.

Here's the problem: information only matters to those who are interested in learning. Donald Trump is not. The president-elect has a lengthy record of believing deeply strange conspiracy theories, showing little interest in reality-based facts. Providing him with intelligence briefings doesn't work, in part because he doesn't trust those providing him with the information, and in part because he has his own unique approach to critical thinking -- which filters out facts he doesn't like.
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Republican presidential candidates and Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio shake hands at the end of the debate held by Fox News in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 28, 2015. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Trio of GOP senators unveil risky Jerusalem gambit

01/05/17 10:14AM

In 1995. Congress passed a law that empowered the United States to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but it came with a catch: U.S. presidents could delay the move for security reasons.

And that's precisely what every president has done since. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each signed waivers, keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. As CBS News reported, a trio of Republicans -- Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Dean Heller -- are pushing legislation that would remove what they consider a "loophole," and force the State Department to move the embassy now.
The measure, the Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act ... would withhold "certain State Department funds until that relocation is complete."

The bill says that the State Department would be able to spend no more than half of what Congress will approve for embassy security, construction and maintenance for fiscal 2017 until the secretary of state determines and reports to Congress that the U.S. embassy has relocated to Jerusalem and has officially opened.
Moving the embassy, which Donald Trump claims to be eager to do, poses all kinds of challenges. Because of Jerusalem's unique significance -- politically, historically, religiously -- putting the U.S. embassy in the city would signal that the United States sees Jerusalem as Israel's official capital, which as CBS's report noted, would carry with it a series of "diplomatic and political repercussions."

But just as striking as the potential consequences are the kind of incentives the Republican senators have in mind: move the embassy, the trio's bill says, or they'll cut funding for embassy security in half.
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President Barack Obama (C) hugs an assembly line worker as he tours through the Chrysler Auto Plant in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2010.

Obama's auto-industry rescue continues to pay dividends

01/05/17 09:34AM

In 2015, American consumers broke a record for domestic auto sales. As the Washington Post reported, in 2016, consumers did it again.
U.S. drivers bought more new cars and trucks in 2016 than they ever have, edging out the record set just one year earlier to give the auto industry an unprecedented seventh consecutive year of sales growth. [...]

U.S. automakers, in particular, were able to match or exceed last year's sales totals.
From time to time, it's worth revisiting the political context for stories like these, because the recent history doesn't come up in political conversations anymore.

As regular readers know, in 2009, the American auto industry was on the verge of collapse. At the time, the Great Recession was already ravaging the economy and the jobs crisis was intensifying, and without an effective plan, hundreds of thousands of Americans -- employees of storied American companies -- were headed for the unemployment line.

President Obama took a gamble on an unpopular plan, which fortunately worked like a charm. As he prepares to exit the stage, the success of his industry rescue clearly belongs among his most notable accomplishments.

It also represents one of the Republicans' most obvious failures. GOP leaders were absolutely certain the White House policy would fail miserably, and they were hilariously wrong.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2016. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Without a hint of irony, McConnell decries high court obstructionism

01/05/17 08:43AM

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told Rachel on the show this week that he's "absolutely" prepared to hold open the Supreme Court's vacancy, agreeing that Republicans effectively "stole" a high-court seat with their partisan blockade last year.

The comments did not escape the attention of his Republican counterpart.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed a pledge from his Democratic counterpart to block President-elect Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, insisting "the American people simply will not tolerate" such a move. [...]

"Apparently there's yet a new standard now, which is to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all," McConnell said, adding: "I think that's something the American people simply will not tolerate, and we'll be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it."
Look, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in the subtleties of Americans' attitudes on the federal judiciary, but if there's one thing the 2016 elections made abundantly clear, it's that most of the public couldn't care less about Supreme Court obstructionism. Senate Republicans, for 11 months, refused to even consider a moderate, compromise nominee -- and GOP senators had little trouble keeping their majority.

Ahead of Election Day, three Republican senators suggested they were prepared to block all Supreme Court nominees, regardless of merit, until 2021 at the earliest. Two of the three senators were on the ballot in November. Both won.

The American people "simply will not tolerate" senators refusing to confirm a high-court nominee? It's a nice idea, and there may have been a point at which I even agreed with the assertion. But McConnell, who somehow managed to make this argument with a straight face, has already provided all the proof we need to know how very wrong he is.
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A man crosses the Central Intelligence A

Confronted with intel he didn't like, Trump eyes major CIA changes

01/05/17 08:00AM

On Tuesday night's show, Rachel talked to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about Donald Trump's overt hostility towards U.S. intelligence agencies. "You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you," the Democratic leader said. "So even for a practical supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he's being really dumb to do this."

When Rachel asked if the president-elect may have "an agenda to try to dismantle parts of the intelligence community," Schumer replied, "Whether you're a super liberal Democrat or a very conservative Republican, you should be against dismantling the intelligence community."

Just 24 hours later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump has some dramatic changes in mind at the agencies that have told him what he didn't want to hear.
President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation's top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said.
Quoting sources familiar with Trump's plans, the Journal reported that the incoming president, who's publicly mocked and taunted intelligence professionals, intends to "restructure" the Central Intelligence Agency.

"The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world has become completely politicized," the source said. "They all need to be slimmed down."

We don't yet have any details about how many cuts would be involved in a "slimming down" and "paring back" of intelligence agencies, but it's the kind of sentiment that's bound to cause alarm in national security circles.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.4.17

01/04/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Turkey: "The Turkish authorities said on Wednesday that they had identified the fugitive gunman who went on a deadly rampage at an upscale Istanbul nightclub in the early hours of New Year's Day, although they did not release his name."

* Iraq: "American troops have been operating alongside Iraqi forces inside of ISIS-held Mosul, a coalition spokesperson acknowledged for the first time Wednesday. 'They have been in the city at different times,' Col. John Dorrian said during a teleconference briefing Wednesday morning."

* An important hire: "Former Attorney General Eric Holder will back the California Legislature in potential legal clashes with the incoming Trump administration. Holder, currently a partner at the law firm Covington & Burling, will serve as an adviser and outside counsel to help 'resist any attempts to roll back the progress California has made' -- in particular with climate change, health care, civil rights and immigration issues, legislative leaders said Wednesday."

* Netanyahu might pardon him: "An Israeli soldier was convicted of manslaughter Wednesday for fatally shooting an unarmed Palestinian assailant as he lay wounded -- ending a trial that sharply divided Israel and could bring more showdowns as backers push for a hero-style pardon."

* South Carolina: "Speaking in public for the first time about the massacre of nine people at a South Carolina church, avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof tried to assure jurors on Wednesday that 'there is nothing wrong with me psychologically.'"

* Kentucky Republicans "opened 2017 by introducing a slate of anti-union bills in both chambers of the state legislature, including legislation that would make the state the last in the South to adopt a so-called 'right-to-work' law."

* You don't say: "The oil industry's top lobbyist said companies are looking forward to a pro-oil, anti-regulation agenda from President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress."
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Image: POLITICS/US/TRUMP/PENCE

Trump sides with Julian Assange over U.S. intelligence agencies

01/04/17 04:13PM

As recently as 2010, Donald Trump called Julian Assange's WikiLeaks "disgraceful." He added, in apparent reference to the website's operators, "I think there should be like death penalty or something."

Like much of the right, Trump's opinions on Assange have changed quite dramatically.
[O]n Wednesday, Trump continued to cast doubt on intelligence findings as he cited WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange's claim that a "14-year-old kid could have hacked" the emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. "Also [Assange] said Russians did not give him the info!" Trump added.
Even for the president-elect, this was an odd tweet. Trump specifically wrote, "Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta' - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!"

Note, for example, that he believes John Podesta's emails were on DNC servers, which isn't even remotely true. Even after all of these months, Trump still doesn't understand the most basic details of the underlying controversy.

But more important is the fact that Assange claims that Russia was not WikiLeaks' source for stolen Democratic materials -- a claim U.S. intelligence agencies dispute. Donald Trump, for reasons he hasn't explained, chooses to believe Assange, not the intelligence professionals whom he'll lead in two weeks.

We don't have to speculate about how the American agencies, which Trump has repeatedly mocked and publicly taunted, feel about the president-elect's derision. George Little, the former spokesperson for the CIA, said plainly today, "On Jan. 20, we will be less safe."
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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

Ignoring promises, Trump taps Wall Street lawyer to oversee Wall Street

01/04/17 12:40PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump led his followers to believe he had no use for Wall Street and its corrupt ways. In fact, the Republican went out of his way to tell voters that it was Hillary Clinton who was far too cozy with the financial industry.

Clinton, Trump said, is "nothing more than a Wall Street puppet." Her campaign is "paid for by her bosses on Wall Street," he added. The public was told that Clinton is "owned by Wall Street," "is in [the] pocket of Wall Street," and is "bought and paid for by Wall Street."

If voters actually believed the rhetoric and supported Trump in order to limit Wall Street's influence, they made an unwise decision.
President-elect Donald Trump decided on Wednesday to select Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. [...]

Clayton, who has worked on high-profile initial public offerings, including that of Alibaba Group, met with Trump last month. He is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, who specializes in public and private mergers and offerings. Clayton has also advised several high-net-worth families regarding their investments.
It's probably worth emphasizing that the Securities and Exchange Commission has a variety of responsibilities, but one of its principal functions is regulating and overseeing Wall Street.

In other words, Donald Trump, who spent months railing against the influence of the financial industry in Washington, has tapped a Wall Street insider to oversee Wall Street.

If you bought into the whole "drain the swamp" nonsense, I have some very bad news for you.
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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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