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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

White House signals the demise of Trump's infrastructure plan

05/10/18 08:40AM

As recently as late March, Donald Trump headlined an event in Ohio to promote his infrastructure agenda. Six weeks later, the president's plan appears to be dead.

At yesterday's press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked whether we'll ever see legislation to advance Trump's infrastructure initiative. She replied:

"We're going to continue to look at ways to improve the nation's infrastructure. But in terms of a specific piece of legislation, I'm not aware that that will happen by the end of the year."

The comments only made official what most observers assumed to be true. Indeed, in early April, DJ Gribbin, the White House's top infrastructure adviser, announced his resignation, apparently because he didn't have much to do.

As we discussed at the time, Gribbin had worked for months to craft the president's infrastructure plan, but once it was complete, the blueprint, designed to pass the Republican-led Congress, landed on Capitol Hill with a thud.

The reason was simple: it was based on bizarre arithmetic: Trump and his team insisted they could spur $1.5 trillion in investments by spending $200 billion, nearly all of which would come from cuts to other transportation priorities.

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Image: US-POLITICS-INVESTIGATION-TRUMP-COURT

Controversy surrounding Cohen's shell company comes into sharper focus

05/10/18 08:00AM

Michael Cohen's shell company started off as one kind of thing. Shortly before Election Day 2016, Donald Trump's personal lawyer created Essential Consultants LLC to pay hush money to a porn star who allegedly had an affair with the future president. It wasn't a business in the traditional sense -- there was no office or staff -- but Essential Consultants LLC was a vehicle for a payoff.

We learned this week, however, that Cohen's shell company turned out to be much more. Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' attorney, released materials showing a series of payments Essential Consultants LLC received from all sorts of entities, and yesterday, those corporations started confirming the payments -- along with some curious explanations as to why.

Korea Aerospace Industries, for example, was already facing corruption allegations when it started paying Cohen's shell company to assist with its "internal accounting system." That, of course, doesn't make any sense, largely because Essential Consultants LLC was really just one guy who had no background in accounting.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, Korea Aerospace Industries' story evolved  -- which became something of a theme over yesterday afternoon. AT&T initially claimed it paid Cohen's one-person shell company for help with regulatory reform and tax reform, before it too changed its story. Novartis Pharmaceuticals also had a series of explanations, one of which was that Cohen was paid to provide health care consulting services.

While all of this had an entertaining farcical quality, it was hard not to wonder how some of these giant multi-national corporations even heard of a one-person LLC in Delaware. That came into focus yesterday, too.

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, contacted the drug giant Novartis after the 2016 election "promising access" to the new administration, and special counsel Robert Mueller later requested information from the company about the offer, a senior official inside Novartis told NBC News on Wednesday.

Cohen "contacted us after the new administration was in place," the official said. "He was promising access to the new administration." Novartis then signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract with Cohen.

Oh. So it sounds as if Trump's personal lawyer collected big checks through his shell company because he was, in effect, selling influence with his client in the Oval Office.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.9.18

05/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Good news out of North Korea: "Three Americans held in North Korean labor camps were free and on their way home Wednesday, President Donald Trump said. Kim Hak-song, Kim Dong-chul and Kim Sang-duk, who is also known as Tony Kim, were released by Kim Jong Un's regime after spending up to two years in detention."

* On a related note, if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to be the nation's chief diplomat, he should probably learn Kim Jong Un's surname.

* The crisis across parts of Hawaii is serious: "Police went door-to-door in Hawaii late Tuesday to roust residents near two new vents emitting dangerous gases in areas where lava has been pouring into streets and backyards for the past week."

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, contacted the drug giant Novartis after the 2016 election 'promising access' to the new administration, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller later requested information from the company about the offer, a senior official inside Novartis told NBC News on Wednesday."

* So Haspel hopes senators don't hold her record of torture against her? "Gina Haspel, President Trump's CIA director nominee, did not apologize Wednesday for her role using enhanced interrogation techniques after the 9/11 attacks, but told a Senate panel that she would not revive those practices."

* On a related note, it looks like she'll be confirmed: "A few hours after [the Senate confirmation hearing] ended, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., facing a tough re-election fight, told NBC News that he planned to support Haspel's nomination."

* Bad timing: "The little-known federal agency in charge of enforcing financial punishments against the United States' geopolitical foes is busy these days. But it's also starving for cash and staff, and its director left the government last week."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump says 'everyone' believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize

05/09/18 02:47PM

About a week ago, a group of 18 House Republicans wrote a joint letter, formally nominating Donald J. Trump for ... wait for it ... a Nobel Peace Prize. Their argument, which was not a joke, was that the American president's efforts to reach an agreement with North Korea made Trump worthy of the honor.

By sheer coincidence, I'm sure, many of the signatories were GOP House members who were seeking a promotion to statewide offices, and eager to tell Republican primary voters how much they love their party's president. The list included Indiana's Luke Messer (Senate candidate), Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn (Senate candidate), Tennessee's Diane Black (gubernatorial candidate), North Dakota's Kevin Cramer (Senate candidate), West Virginia's Evan Jenkins (Senate candidate), and Ohio's Jim Renacci (Senate candidate).

These Trump loyalists could've waited, of course, for the American president to actually sit down for talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, but that wouldn't work with the GOP primary calendar -- some of the Republicans who signed the letter lost yesterday -- and they were apparently feeling impatient.

Evidently, the intended beneficiary of all of this flattery noticed. In the White House Cabinet Room this morning, someone broached the subject with the president.

Q: Do you deserve the Nobel prize, do you think?

TRUMP: Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it.

Trying to appear gracious, he added that "the only prize I want" is a "victory for the world."

I won't pretend to know what the Nobel committee might do, but I have a hunch the Republican should lower his expectations.

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Voting stickers are seen at the Ohio Union during the U.S. presidential election at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio November 6, 2012.

Gerrymandering suffers a setback in a key battleground state

05/09/18 12:48PM

Like many states, Ohio Republicans had a very good year in the 2010 elections, and one of the key priorities for the GOP-led state government in 2011 was redistricting -- or more to the point, gerrymandering.

Their efforts worked exactly as intended. Republicans now hold 12 of Ohio's 16 U.S. House seats, and neither party has flipped a district this decade. Even when Barack Obama won Ohio in 2012, the congressional races went as planned: GOP candidates received 52% of the vote and 75% of the power.

All of which made the Buckeye State a prime target for redistricting reform. The Republican-led legislature, fearing a more ambitious and progressive proposal championed by the League of Women Voters and its allies, got to work on its own anti-gerrymandering plan, which went before voters yesterday, and passed easily.

While gerrymandering disputes from other states have landed in the U.S. Supreme Court, Ohio voters took the historic step Tuesday of passing a bipartisan proposal aimed at creating fairer and more logical congressional districts.

Issue 1 amends the Ohio Constitution by putting rules in place, where none exist now, aimed at creating districts that make geographic sense - rather than districts designed solely with political gain in mind. [...]

The unofficial vote tally showed Issue 1 with a 75 percent to 25 percent lead -- 1,165,409 votes for to 391,527 against.

For reformers, the tally was good news, but some caution is in order: this a modest step that may not work out.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.9.18

05/09/18 12:00PM

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

* No one seemed to know for sure what would happen in Ohio's Democratic gubernatorial primary, but former CFPB Director Richard Cordray easily dispatched former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, winning by 40 points. Cordray will face state Attorney General Mike DeWine, who easily won a bitter Republican primary against Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

* And speaking of the Buckeye State, Ohio voters yesterday also easily approved a ballot measure intended to address the state's gerrymandering problem.

* In West Virginia, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won the Republicans' Senate primary, earning the right to take on incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D). Despite all the hype surrounding Don Blankenship, he finished a rather distant third.

* In Indiana, Greg Pence, Vice President Mike Pence's brother, easily won his congressional primary, despite running "a largely hermetic race, declining to debate his opponents and refusing most requests for interviews."

* An interesting tidbit from Politico: "There were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday night, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them."

* A related observation from USA Today: "The number of women donating to political campaigns is climbing to new heights ahead of this year's midterm elections, as women swarm to politics and run in record numbers for Congress and other elected posts around the country."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

As Trump breaks his promises, he boasts about keeping his promises

05/09/18 11:20AM

As Donald Trump abandoned the international nuclear agreement with Iran yesterday, the president offered a handy soundbite, intended to capture his resolve:

"Today's action sends a critical message: The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them."

There was some irony hanging over the boast: Trump, for reasons that don't make any sense, yesterday abandoned an American promise to honor an international agreement, which made it an odd time for the president to brag about keeping promises.

It was also curious to hear Trump denounce empty threats, given how regularly he bluffs badly. Indeed, it was last summer when the president promised to rain "fire and fury" onto North Korea if Pyongyang continued to threaten the United States. In response, Kim Jong-un continued to threaten the United States, at which point Trump did nothing -- except eventually praise Kim and give the dictator much of what he wants.

While we're at it, the idea that Trump keeps his promises is itself rather amusing. After all, this is a president who promised not to cut taxes on the wealthy and not to endorse cuts to Medicaid and Social Security. He also promised Dreamers they could "breathe easy," right before he cut them off at the knees, while also promising families he'd repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with a plan that achieved universal coverage with higher quality and at a lower price.

Or put another way, this guy breaks his promises nearly as often as he brazenly lies.

But even putting all of this aside, there's something else about this that bugged me: yesterday's move on the Iran deal isn't exactly what Trump promised he'd do.

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Image: President Trump announces steep tarrifs on imported steel and aluminum

For Trump, critical coverage is necessarily 'fake' coverage

05/09/18 10:40AM

Fox News this morning aired an on-screen visual that told viewers 91% of network news coverage of Donald Trump was "negative" between January through April. There's reason for some skepticism about the statistic: the figure came by way of the Media Research Center, a Mercer-funded conservative enterprise, and defining objectively "negative" coverage can be tricky.

But Donald Trump saw the segment and quickly shared his knee-jerk response.

"The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?"

I suppose the most troublesome aspect of this is the president's assertion that American news organizations are "corrupt," and the White House might consider revoking press credentials based on whether Trump approves or disapproves of journalists' reports.

In case this isn't obvious, this isn't how leaders of a free society are supposed to operate.

But just as interesting was Trump drawing a parallel between "negative" news coverage and "fake" news coverage. In the president's mind, they're apparently the same thing: news reports that are critical of Trump are necessarily untrue.

Because, as far as Trump is concerned, he can do no wrong?

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

House Republicans confront a fresh round of discouraging news

05/09/18 10:01AM

There were some important primary races in four states yesterday, and as far as Donald Trump is concerned, the Republican Party "had a great night." The truth is a little more complicated.

At face value, since yesterday's contests were primaries, it would have been tough for the GOP to have a bad night, since these were intra-party races. But more important is the fact that for one key part of the Republican Party -- current GOP members of the U.S. House -- it wasn't a great night at all.

In fact, last night saw the first defeat for a House incumbent of 2018. Roll Call  noted:

North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger is the first incumbent of 2018 to lose, falling to former pastor Mark Harris in Tuesday's 9th District Republican primary.

Harris defeated Pittenger 48.5 percent to 46 percent, reversing the result from two years ago when the latter won by just 134 votes in a recount.

President Donald Trump carried the district, which stretches along the South Carolina border and includes affluent neighborhoods of Charlotte and its suburbs, by 12 points in 2016. Pittenger and Harris both sparred over loyalty to the president.

The congressman heavily outspent his challenger, but it didn't matter. As a Washington Post  analysis put it, Harris "portrayed the third-term lawmaker as a creature of 'the swamp' and relentlessly hammered him over his March vote for the $1.3 trillion spending bill."

What's more, Pittenger isn't the only GOP congressman suddenly facing unemployment at the end of this Congress. In Indiana's U.S. Senate primary, the contest was supposed to come down to Republican Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer, who spent months attacking each other, and who both ended up losing to businessman (and former Democrat) Mike Braun, who based much of his message on criticizing Congress.

In West Virginia's U.S. Senate primary, Republican Rep. Evan Jenkins was supposed to be a top contender, but he lost, too.

Even in Ohio's U.S. Senate primary, Republican Rep. Jim Renacci prevailed, but he was supposed to cruise to an easy victory, and he instead fell short of 50% of the vote in his four-way contest.

These results weren't just unexpected; they're also a departure from the historical norm.

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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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