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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

On Russian attack, top Obama aide turns to McConnell's negligence

03/05/18 08:03AM

For a year and a half, Donald Trump ignored practically everyone, including his own intelligence officials, and embraced the fiction that Russia may not have attacked the American elections in 2016. About a week ago, however, the president shifted his posture -- and started blaming his predecessor.

"Obama did nothing about Russia!" Trump tweeted, "Why didn't he do something?" Trump asked in a different tweet on the same subject.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has pushed the same line. Asked last week about the Trump administration's reluctance to prepare for another round of attacks in 2018, Sanders seemed eager to change the subject: "Let's not forget that this happened under Obama.... If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration."

The problem, of course, is that every time Trump World turns its attention to officials' response to Russian intervention in 2016, we're reminded that it wasn't Barack Obama who was negligent -- it was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Former White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Sunday said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "watered down" a warning about Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and defended the Obama administration's response to foreign meddling in the campaign.

The language in a September 2016 letter from congressional leaders to state election officials was drastically softened at McConnell's urging, McDonough said in an exclusive interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Let's back up for a minute. As regular readers know, the Obama White House, swayed by the evidence compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, wanted bipartisan support to push back against Russian intrusion, and in mid-September 2016, the then-president dispatched counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco, then-FBI Director James Comey, and then-Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to brief top members of Congress.

Obama didn't want to be seen as using intelligence for partisan or electoral ends, so he sought a "show of solidarity and bipartisan unity" against foreign manipulation of our democracy.

That didn't happen -- because McConnel refused.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Despite recent rhetoric, Rubio eyes only modest reforms on guns

03/05/18 08:00AM

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) didn't appear to enjoy the recent CNN forum on gun violence, where the Republican lawmaker was confronted with angry constituents who saw him as part of the problem. What's more, there's no reason to believe the forum's audience was some kind of political aberration: a Quinnipiac poll released last week found Rubio's approval rating in Florida dropping to just 38%.

These are the kind of conditions that tend to push politicians toward action, and with this in mind, Rubio unveiled new legislation on the issue last week. "We can do this," the GOP lawmaker said. "What happened in Parkland doesn't have to happen again. If we can work together, put aside our differences and focus on meaningful legislation that curbs gun violence -- we can make real progress."

Those are the kind of words one might ordinarily expect from someone advocating sweeping changes to the nation's gun laws. But there seems to be a gap between Rubio's bold vision and Rubio's legislation.

Eight days ago, Marco Rubio endorsed raising the age requirement for buying a rifle from 18 to 21 and voiced openness to placing limits on the size of ammunition magazines.

On Thursday, when the Republican senator from Florida unveiled his plan to address gun violence, he did not outline any specific plans on these very divisive fronts.

Why not aim higher and include some of the popular measures discussed at the recent forum? "These reforms do not enjoy the sort of widespread support in Congress that the other measures I've announced do," Rubio said Thursday.

But that's not really what leadership looks like. Raising the age requirement, for example, is broadly popular with the public, and has received praise from, among others, Donald Trump. Rubio could take advantage of this dynamic, push for the idea he seems to support, and try to rally support from his Capitol Hill colleagues.

He doesn't want to.

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Parishioners with the Sanctuary Church hold onto their AR-15s, which churchgoers were encouraged to bring to a blessing ceremony to rededicate their marriages, at the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, USA, 28 February 20

This Week in God, 3.3.18

03/03/18 07:38AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a report on a Pennsylvania church with services that are far from traditional.

A Pennsylvania-based religious group is scheduled to host a blessing ceremony for couples that will feature their AR-15 rifles.

World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the "rod of iron" in the biblical book of Revelation, and it is encouraging couples to bring the weapons to a commitment ceremony Wednesday morning. The AR-15 is the gun used in the Florida high school massacre.

The Associated Press' report added that this Pennsylvania church's congregation is "a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which often is described as a cult." If the Unification Church, which didn't condone this week's event, sounds familiar, it's because it was led by a controversial Korean religious figure named Sun Myung Moon, who died in 2012, and whose movement has long been aligned with Republican politics in the United States.

The Rev. Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon, who leads the Pennsylvania church, is one of Sun Myung Moon's sons.

A separate Associated Press report added that the event did, in fact, happen on Wednesday -- it featured "crown-wearing worshippers clutching AR-15 rifles" who "drank holy wine and exchanged or renewed wedding vows" -- and while there were no incidents, the nearby school canceled its classes for the day.

As for the broader context, Vox had a piece this week noting that the Moon business empire is now known as the Tongil Group, "a multibillion-dollar conglomerate that supports Unification Church goals." The piece added that the Moon family has, in recent years, "made pro-gun rhetoric a major part of their religious and financial activities. Among the Tongil Group’s holdings is Kahr Arms: a small-arms company founded by another of Moon’s sons, Justin Moon. The company has long received attention from politically connected public figures. In 2016, Eric Trump attended the opening of one Tongil-affiliated gun store."

Also from the God Machine this week:

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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.2.18

03/02/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's school shooting: "The sprawling Central Michigan University campus was on lockdown Friday after two people were killed and police were hunting for an 'armed and dangerous' gunman, university police confirmed."

* On a related note: "A seventh-grader who shot and killed himself inside an Ohio middle school restroom last week was planning to shoot others at the school before changing his mind at the last second, a police chief said Thursday."

* Hmm: "The Securities and Exchange Commission late last year dropped its inquiry into a financial company that a month earlier had given White House adviser Jared Kushner's family real estate firm a $180 million loan."

* Donald Trump's lawyers have urged him "not to discuss details of the unfolding Russia investigation with anyone outside his legal team, warning of a conversational 'bright line' that could put aides and associates in legal jeopardy, according to current and former Trump aides. But Trump often ignores that legal advice in the presence of senior aides -- including his departing confidante and White House communications director, Hope Hicks."

* Greitens' other controversy: "Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is investigating the veterans charity that scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens founded eleven years ago."

* FCC: "Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday turned down an NRA gun award he received at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, citing the advice of ethics officials at his agency."

* This NLRB story may be a little obscure, but it's interesting: "First, it reversed an Obama-era rule helping workers challenge the labor practices of big chains. On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board reversed its reversal. The move will make it easier to hold companies responsible for labor law violations committed by franchisees and contractors."

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Image: Donald Trump

Before launching a risky trade war, Trump became 'unglued'

03/02/18 04:13PM

When it comes to the administration's trade policies, Trump World is deeply divided. Many of the president's top advisers on the economy, foreign pollicy, and national security teams have urged him not to impose new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. On the other hand, Donald Trump himself seems to like the idea, as do some in the Commerce Department.

The divisions were on display early yesterday when competing White House factions sent wildly contradictory signals to the press about what the president would do.

Overnight, however, Trump made clear to the public that he'd picked a side, announcing that he not only wants to start an international trade war, he also believes "trade wars are good and easy to win."

What we didn't know was that this president -- who has an astonishing habit of blindsiding his own team with surprise policy pronouncements -- made this decision "without any internal review by government lawyers or his own staff." In fact, NBC News reports today that Trump announced his decision after a meeting with executives from the aluminum and steel industries.

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by [Secretary Wilbur Ross's] team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House.

No one at the State Department, the Treasury Department or the Defense Department had been told that a new policy was about to be announced or given an opportunity to weigh in in advance.

Behold, Trump's fine-tuned machine.

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Image: FILE PHOTO - Kushner arrives to join Trump and the rest of the U.S. delegation to meet with Saudi Arabia's King Salman at the Royal Court in Riyadh

Scandal surrounding Jared Kushner grows more serious

03/02/18 03:13PM

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's young son-in-law, is having an unusually brutal week. It started in earnest with the loss of his White House security clearance, which will almost certainly impair his ability to do his job, and which stems from his difficulties under the scrutiny of an FBI background check.

Things got much worse when the Washington Post  reported that officials in at least four foreign countries concluded that Kushner's financial difficulties and inexperience made him easy to manipulate. It didn't help that White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster discovered that Kushner hadn't coordinated – or even fully disclosed – some of his foreign contacts.

Making matters even more serious, the New York Times published this bombshell report on Wednesday night, which said Kushner's family real-estate company received two enormous loans from two companies whose executives met with Jared Kushner as part of his White House duties.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, nobody's denying that the loans were made; nobody's denying that Kushner had a personal financial stake in the specific entities that received these giant loans; and nobody's denying that the White House meetings took place with Kushner before those loans were made to his family's company.

The result is a picture that looks awfully corrupt: a senior adviser to the president of the United States took meetings in the White House with companies who are seeking something from the White House, and then subsequently those companies shoveled hundreds of millions of dollars to that White House official and his family business.

But as bad as these developments looked, today's NBC News report put Kushner in an even worse light:

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2011 Ford Motor Co. Flex sport utility vehicles (SUV) sit on display at the Capital Ford dealership in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's new trade policy will push car prices higher

03/02/18 02:37PM

Donald Trump hasn't yet announced the details of his new tariffs on aluminum and steel, but Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce and a faux billionaire, appeared on CNBC this morning to defend the controversial policy.

Ross used a can of Campbell's Soup to stress his point about what he calls insignificant price increases from Trump's tariffs.

"In a can of Campbell's Soup, there are about 2.6 pennies worth of steel. So if that goes up by 25 percent, that's about six-tenths of 1 cent on the price on a can of Campbell's Soup," Ross contended. "I just bought this can today at a 7-Eleven ... and it priced at a $1.99. Who in the world is going to be too bothered?"

As a rule, I'm not sure it's a good idea to have wealthy Republican cabinet secretaries argue that rising food costs are irrelevant, though at first blush, Ross' pitch probably seems like a reasonable argument. But sometimes consumers buy steel-based products that are much bigger than a can of soup. How about a car?

Ross went on to argue there's about a ton of steel in every car, adding, "The price of a ton of steel is $700 or so, so 25% on that would be one half of 1% price increase on the typical $35,000 car. So it's no big deal."

In other words, once Trump's tariffs kick in, the price of an average car would go up $175, which according to the Trump administration, is "no big deal."

But that's not quite compelling, either. If an American family receives $175 from the Republican tax cut, for example, we're supposed to believe that's an extraordinary sum. Now we're also supposed to believe it's trivial?

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A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 30, 2014. (Photo by Tami Chappell/Reuters)

Republicans plan to keep restrictions on gun research in place

03/02/18 12:59PM

The day after the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a longtime opponent of new gun measures, said Congress needs to "take a breath and collect the facts." The Republican leader added, "We don't just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data."

At face value, that seemed like an entirely sensible approach. After all, who could be against collecting facts and data before engaging in policymaking?

The trouble, of course, is that there's already a federal restriction in place to prevent officials from collecting facts and data -- and Politico  reports today that congressional Republicans intend to leave it in place, despite recent developments.

Republicans are intent on preserving the so-called Dickey amendment, which prohibits the CDC from advocating on gun control, POLITICO's Jennifer Haberkorn reports. [...]

Opponents say the Dickey amendment has had a chilling effect on CDC research into gun deaths. But Republicans say they don't want to add additional controversy to the upcoming spending bills by eliminating it.

I don't imagine most Americans have heard of the Dickey amendment, but it's an important policy. As Vox explained this week, "Congress has made it effectively impossible for federally funded researchers to study gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health are the gold standards for public health research in the United States. But they are effectively barred from studying a problem that kills more than 35,000 people in a year."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.2.18

03/02/18 12:00PM

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

* On the generic congressional ballot, the latest USA Today/Suffolk poll found Democrats leading Republicans by 15 points, 47% to 32%. If that holds, the odds of Dems taking the House majority are quite good.

* With time running out in the congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, former Vice President Joe Biden -- a Pennsylvania native -- will travel to the district to campaign for Conor Lamb this upcoming Tuesday. The election is March 13.

* A fascinating scoop from CNBC: "America First Policies, a nonprofit group with close ties to President Donald Trump, has hired Trump's pollsters.... Such a practice breaks with decades of tradition and raises concerns about potential coordination between the pro-Trump dark money group, the White House and the RNC."

* Voters in Florida will vote this fall on whether to restore convicted felons' voting rights, and as things stand, the ballot measure appears likely to pass: the latest Quinnipiac poll found Floridians favoring the idea, 67% to 27%.

* I guess not everyone in Utah is pleased with their new U.S. Senate candidate? "The Foiled Plot to Kick Mitt Romney Out of the Republican Party"

* In California's gubernatorial race, the GOP's odds of success dropped some more when Doug Ose (R) ended his candidacy this week. "There's nobody willing to invest in a statewide Republican campaign to the level that needs to be done," he said. "The people that have traditionally written $25,000 checks are now writing $1,000 checks because they don't see a path for a Republican to win."

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'No one is really hiring people with Trump White House experience'

03/02/18 11:22AM

The staff churn in Donald Trump's White House is almost hard to believe. The Onion recently ran a satirical piece with a headline that read, "White House Now Just Holding Continuous Going-Away Party For Departing Staffers." It struck a chord for a reason.

But as much as this president has hemorrhaged staffers, there's a reason the problem isn't even worse: some of those associated with Trump would love to leave, but they're finding it more difficult than expected. BuzzFeed reported yesterday:

A former White House official said he's spoken with more aides inside the White House who are trying to leave the administration, but not necessarily getting the kinds of high-paying offers in the corporate world as former aides usually do.

"Things are still pretty bleak inside the White House," the source said. "I've talked to several people in the last week trying to find a way out, but they can't get out because no one is really hiring people with Trump White House experience. Not a fun time to say the least."

Traditionally, "White House" are two words that tend to stand out in a good way on a resume, especially among those looking for work in D.C. But there's a broad understanding that working in this White House isn't something one can credibly brag about.

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

The two most dangerous words in Trump's vocabulary: 'It's easy'

03/02/18 10:55AM

It's not often that American presidents publicly praise international trade wars, which is probably why this overnight tweet from Donald Trump was seen as important across the globe.

"When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don't trade anymore-we win big. It's easy!"

It's important to understand that Donald Trump lacks any kind of meaningful understanding of what trade deficits are and what they mean. Trade wars are not, in fact, "good," and this president's economic illiteracy remains a serious national threat.

But for me, the two most important words in the presidential missive were actually the last two: "It's easy!"

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-UT., talks to reporters as he walks to the weekly Senate policy luncheons in the U.S. Capitol on June 4, 2013.

As ACA support climbs, Hatch calls law's supporters 'dumbass people'

03/02/18 10:01AM

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been conducting extensive public-opinion research on the Affordable Care Act since "Obamacare" became law, and the latest results are striking. KFF's report this week found 54% of Americans now have a favorable opinion of the health care law -- the strongest support to date.

It's against this backdrop that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) delivered remarks yesterday, suggesting those who support the ACA -- which is to say, a majority of the country -- are idiots.

"We also finally did away with the individual mandate tax that was established under that wonderful bill called 'Obamacare,' Hatch, who is retiring after this term, said while discussing the Republican tax overhaul.

"Now, if you didn't catch on, I was being very sarcastic. That was the stupidest, dumbass bill that I've ever seen. Now, some of you may have loved it. If you do, you are one of the stupidest, dumbass people I've ever met."

Now, I could respond to this by pointing out what a terrible shame it is to see Orrin Hatch, at the end of his career, throw away his stature so carelessly with juvenile rhetoric.

Or I could point out how ironic it is to see the Utah Republican deliberately insult the American majority after his appeals for civility and respectful discourse.

Or perhaps I could marvel at how popular the Affordable Care Act is compared to the Congress and the White House that are so eager to tear the American health care system apart.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence, R-Ind., during a town hall, July 25, 2016, in Roanoke, Va. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump contradicts Pence once again, this time on guns

03/02/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump surprised much of the political world this week when he expressed support for law enforcement confiscating Americans' firearms without due process. But did you happen to catch what prompted the comment?

Vice President Mike Pence was talking about providing law-enforcement officials with "additional tools" to deal with those who are reported to be a potential danger to themselves or others. Pence added:

"Allow due process, so that no one's rights are trampled, but the ability to go to court, obtain an order, and then collect not only the firearms, but any weapons in the possession of that individual."

That's when Trump interjected, dismissing Pence's concerns. " Or, Mike, take the firearms first, and then go to court," the president said, complaining that due process "takes so long." Trump added, "I like taking the guns early.... So you could do exactly what you're saying, but take the guns first, go through due process second."

Pence, likely confused, kept talking, effectively pretending he hadn't just heard what the president had said -- because, really, what was the vice president supposed to say?

It was a bizarre moment for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Pence keeps confronting moments like these in which Trump publicly contradicts him.

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A drug user takes a needle before injecting himself with heroin on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Trump's new suggestion to address the opioid crisis: executions

03/02/18 08:40AM

Last weekend, Axios had a report that Donald Trump has privately expressed admiration for how Singapore deals with drug-trafficking offenses: the government executes those found guilty. The American president, the report said, has been "telling friends for months" that Singapore's model is effective.

Trump "doesn't just joke about it," Axios added. "According to five sources who've spoken with Trump about the subject, he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty.... Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America."

It's one thing to see an article like this, which quoted unnamed sources close to the president. It's something else when Trump effectively confirms the reporting.

President Trump suggested that executing drug dealers could help solve the opioid crisis during a White House summit Thursday, an event the administration billed as a way to measure its progress in combating the nation's drug problem.

"Some countries have a very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty, and they have much less of a drug problem than we do," Trump said.

"You know, if you shoot one person, they give you life, they give you the death penalty," Trump added. "These people can kill 2,000, 3,000 people and nothing happens to them."

This comes months after the Republican praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for his approach to dealing with drugs in his own country -- an approach that involves relying on death squads to kill drug dealers.

For those concerned about Trump's authoritarian tendencies, this won't help.

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Donald Trump speaks during the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Harrison McClary/Reuters).

Trump meets with NRA, tells group what it wants to hear

03/02/18 08:00AM

At his White House meeting with senators on Wednesday about gun policy, Donald Trump offered hearty praise for the National Rifle Association, but seemed eager to suggest he doesn't really care whether the NRA is satisfied with his agenda or not.

"They do have great power, I agree with that," the president said of the far-right group and its members. "They have great power over you people. They have less power over me."

At one point during the discussion, when Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) explained his bipartisan background-check bill, Trump effectively mocked his ostensible ally, telling the Republican his proposal didn't deal with age limits "because you're afraid of the NRA."

Soon after, referring to no one in particular, the president added, "Some of you people are petrified of the NRA."

Just one day later, Trump welcomed NRA representatives into the Oval Office, and while we don't know exactly what was said, the far-right lobbying group certainly seemed pleased.

The top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association claimed late Thursday that President Trump had retreated from his surprising support a day earlier for gun control measures after a meeting with N.R.A. officials and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

The lobbyist, Chris Cox, posted on Twitter just after 9 p.m. that he met with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, saying that "we all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control. #NRA #MAGA."

Around the same time, Trump boasted about the "good (great) meeting" he had with the NRA's lobbyist.

The New York Times' report noted that the twin messages "suggest that it may have taken the gun rights group only a little over a day to persuade the president to back away from his apparent embrace of gun control during a remarkable, televised meeting on Wednesday with members of Congress."

I think "suggest" is the right word under the circumstances, because Trump himself doesn't seem to know what he wants, or even intends, to do on gun policy.

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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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