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Officials start to ignore the Incredible Shrinking President

08/03/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump hasn't been shy in recent weeks about publicly slamming his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, mocking him as "very weak." Asked whether Sessions would remain at his post, the president was recently non-committal, saying only that "time will tell."

And yet, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly reportedly reached out to the attorney general directly over the weekend, reassuring Sessions that his position is safe, Trump's rhetoric notwithstanding.

We don't know exactly how Kelly put it, but given the circumstances, it's likely the retired general told Sessions not to worry too much about what the president says. As CNBC's John Harwood wrote yesterday, there's a lot of this going around.

Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump.

As stunning as that sounds, fresh evidence arrives every day of the government treating the man elected to lead it as someone talking mostly to himself.

On Tuesday alone, the commandant of the Coast Guard announced he will "not break faith" with transgender service members despite Trump's statement that they could no longer serve. Fellow Republicans in the Senate moved ahead with other business despite the president's insistence that they return to repealing Obamacare. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "we certainly don't blame the Chinese" for North Korea's nuclear program after Trump claimed, "China could easily solve this problem." And Vice President Mike Pence said the president and Congress speak in a "unified voice" on a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill Trump has signed, but not publicly embraced.

Harwood noted a recent LawFare piece from Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official in the Bush/Cheney administration, who wrote, "What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive. Never has a president been so regularly ignored or contradicted by his own officials.... The President is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments."

This isn't limited to the executive branch. Trump is ostensibly the head of the Republican Party, in addition to being president, working with like-minded allies who control Congress, but on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders also treat Trump's directives as instructions that are easily ignored.

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Image: Donald Trump

Donald Trump's support plummets to historic new depths

08/03/17 08:00AM

Eric Trump, who's ostensibly steering clear of politics and helping run his father's business, appeared on Fox News this week and boasted about Donald Trump's broad popularity. "My father has the voice of this country," he said. "The people of this country love him."

There's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. In the latest Gallup daily tracking poll, released yesterday, Trump's approval rating fell to 36%, tying his lowest support to date. His disapproval rating, meanwhile, climbed to 60%, which is unheard of for a president who's only been in office for six months.

A Quinnipiac poll, also released yesterday, pointed in an even more discouraging direction for the White House.

President Donald Trump plunges to a new low as American voters disapprove 61 - 33 percent of the job he is doing, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. White men are divided 47 - 48 percent and Republicans approve 76 - 17 percent. White voters with no college degree, a key part of the president's base, disapprove 50 - 43 percent.

Today's approval rating is down from a 55 - 40 percent disapproval in a June 29 survey by the independent Quinnipiac University. This is President Trump's lowest approval and highest disapproval number since he was inaugurated.

The closer one looks at the results, the worse they appear. Quinnipiac found that most Americans say they are embarrassed to have Trump as president, believe Trump is abusing the powers of his office, and see Trump as positioning himself as above the law.

In terms of the president's personal characteristics, the same survey found a majority of Americans agreeing that Trump is not levelheaded, not honest, lacking in leadership skills, and unconcerned with average Americans.

And while it's generally true that it's best not to focus too heavily on any individual poll, FiveThirtyEight found this week that Trump's average approval rating across all polling reached an all-time low, while his disapproval reached an all-time high.

The president himself recently insisted that his public standing is "not bad." That's plainly wrong.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 8.2.17

08/02/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Perhaps the most significant bill signing of the year to date: "President Donald Trump signed a bill on Wednesday imposing new sanctions on Russia, putting to rest questions about whether he would support the legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress last week. Nonetheless, he still excoriated the measure as 'significantly flawed.'"

* Affirmative action: "The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department's civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times."

* An important ruling: "President Donald Trump's power to clamp off critical Obamacare subsidies took a hit after a federal court ruled that a group of states can join a legal battle over the payments."

* EPA: "Elizabeth 'Betsy' Southerland loved her work at the Environmental Protection Agency. Then Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt came along. Now Southerland, who was director of science and technology in the agency's Office of Water, said she is 'heartbroken about the impact of the new administration on environmental protection in this country.' After 30 years at EPA, her last day was Monday."

* On a related note: "The United States will waive environmental rules so extra barriers can be built to bar illegal immigrants from crossing the border with Mexico near San Diego, the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday."

* Seems significant: "A former U.S. Justice Department official has become the latest lawyer to join special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election, a spokesman for the team confirmed. Greg Andres started on Tuesday, becoming the 16th lawyer on the team, said Josh Stueve, a spokesman for the special counsel."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump keeps describing phone calls that apparently never happened

08/02/17 04:04PM

Donald Trump, apparently desperate for some kind of accomplishment, described a recent conversation on Monday with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

"As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and they're close to 80 percent stoppage," the American president boasted. "Even the president of Mexico called me -- they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they're not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment."

There is, of course, one dramatic problem with this anecdote: that phone call doesn't appear to have happened in reality. The Associated Press reported this afternoon that the Mexican government insists that the conversation Trump described did not occur.

Mexico's Foreign Relations Department said in a statement late Monday that Pena Nieto "has not had any recent telephone communication with President Donald Trump." [...]

An American official confirmed that no telephone conversation recently occurred between Trump and Pena Nieto.

The issue sparked some controversy in Mexico because Pena Nieto's domestic critics seized on Trump's comments to suggest the two leaders had a secret call in which the Mexican president praised the American president, who is not popular south of the border.

And while the two reportedly did have a conversation about deportations during the G20 summit in early July, it seems the call Trump described didn't happen, and when the two spoke in person in Germany, the conversation is not quite how Trump described it. The figures the American president cited, for example, are not in line with what Pena Nieto said.

What's more, if this sounds a little familiar, it's because it's the second time in 24 hours in which we've learned about a phone call that reportedly exists only in the Republican's imagination.

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Image: Donald Trump, Tom Cotton, David Perdue

Trump announces support for plan to cut legal immigration, too

08/02/17 02:10PM

In Republican politics, we tend to think of the immigration debate in binary terms: one GOP contingent takes a more progressive view towards undocumented immigrants, supporting measures such as the Dream Act and a pathway to citizenship, while another contingent pushes a hardline stance, condemning reforms as "amnesty."

But this framework is ultimately incomplete, because there are plenty of Republicans who aren't just concerned with immigrants who've entered the country illegally; they also want to curtail legal immigration.

Today, Donald Trump threw his support behind just such a proposal. NBC News reported:

President Donald Trump announced his support Wednesday for legislation that would cut in half the number of legal immigrants allowed into the United States while moving to a "merit-based" system of entry. [...]

The RAISE Act, which [Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue] introduced in February, would scrap the current lottery system to get into the U.S. and instead institute a points-based system for earning a green card. Factors that would be taken into account include English language skills, education, high-paying job offers and age..... Slashing legal immigration is a key feature of the Cotton-Perdue bill.

It's that last part that's going to be the most controversial. Trump isn't just talking about moving away from a lottery system; he's specifically throwing his support behind a proposal that drastically reduces the number of immigrants who can come to the United States legally.

And while this may seem predictable given Trump's rhetoric about immigration since he launched his presidential campaign two years ago, today's announcement was not a foregone conclusion. As NBC News' Benjy Sarlin reported earlier this year, many in the business community are enthusiastic supporters of legal immigration, and Trump had signaled to them that he'd be on their side.

Of course, Trump had also told opponents of legal immigration that he'd be with them. (When politicians don't really understand what they're saying, they tend to agree with the last person they spoke to.)

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U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham talks to a reporter as he arrives at Capitol Hill in Washington U.S. on May 10, 2016. (Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Only one Republican health care bill still stands, but it's a mess

08/02/17 12:45PM

The list of Republican health care bills that have failed so far this year isn't short. House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) original GOP plan, for example, was so short on votes, party leaders didn't even bring it to the floor. In the Senate, the first iteration of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) plan failed, as did his second.

"Repeal and replace" didn't have the votes, and neither did "repeal and delay." The "skinny repeal" bill came close, but it failed, too.

And though I've lost count of just how many competing bills have come and gone with various tweaks, I can report that there's still one Republican health care plan standing. It's sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and as Vox explained yesterday, it's arguably "the most radical" proposal the party has presented to date.

The senators are selling this idea as a compromise plan and say it is a way to return power to states, giving local governments more control over how they spend federal dollars. [...]

But the plan does much more than that. The proposal would eliminate the health care law's subsidies for private insurance and end the Medicaid expansion. The health insurance marketplaces would no longer exist as they are envisioned to continue under other Republican proposals..... Cassidy-Graham would arguably be more disruptive, not less, to the current health care system. It would let money currently spent on health insurance go toward other programs, providing no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act programs individuals rely on today would continue into the future.

For now, there's no score from the Congressional Budget Office on this bill, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a helpful analysis and found that "many millions of people would lose coverage" if the proposal were implemented.

So, could this bill pull together the support needed to pass?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.2.17

08/02/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest Politico/Morning Consult poll shows Democrats with a seven-point advantage over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, which is the Dems' largest advantage "since the poll began asking the question this past spring."

* Speaking of polling, FiveThirtyEight yesterday found Donald Trump's approval rating reaching an all-time low (37.8%) and his disapproval reaching an all-time high (56.7%).

* When the Heritage Foundation chose its most recent president, it persuaded Jim DeMint to give up his Senate seat and join the conservative think tank. With DeMint out, Heritage reportedly tried to do something similar with Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), who declined the overtures.

* House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is making his first trip to Idaho, but locals will have to pay between $1,000 and $10,000 to see him. The Idaho Statesman reports that the Republican leader's visit, which is still a few weeks away, "is presented by Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee that includes Ryan for Congress, Ryan's PAC Prosperity for Action and the National Republican Congressional Committee."

* Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) allegedly made an improper contribution to his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. The finding comes by way of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), who also happens to be one Renacci's rivals for the GOP nomination.

* As part of a broader Democratic push to recruit military veterans to run for Congress, Amy McGrath, a 20-year Marine vet and a retired combat fighter pilot, unveiled a very impressive campaign launch video yesterday in Kentucky's 6th congressional district. She hopes to take on incumbent Rep. Andy Barr (R) next year.

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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)

McConnell rebuffs Senate Democrats' outreach on tax reform

08/02/17 11:28AM

The last major overhaul of the federal tax code was in 1986. It was the result of a multi-year effort, which was largely bipartisan. That's not to say it was easy -- the process was excruciating at times -- but the Democratic House and Republican Senate eventually reached an agreement, which the Reagan White House accepted.

With this in mind, the Senate Democratic minority acknowledged yesterday that another tax-reform push is poised to get underway, and they released a letter presenting some benchmarks, including a package that doesn't cut taxes for the top 1% and doesn't increase the deficit.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn't exactly welcome the Democratic recommendations. Politico reported:

Senate Republicans are sticking to their plans to pass a tax bill with 50 Republican votes, despite Democratic pleas not to be sidelined as they were on health care.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday reaffirmed the GOP's long-standing intention to shield any tax overhaul from a likely Democratic filibuster by using the procedural protections of budget reconciliation.

The GOP leader pointed to the Democrats' letter as a justification to exclude Democrats from the process. Politico's report added that, as far as McConnell is concerned, Dems are "not interested in addressing" Republican priorities.

McConnell added, "I don't think this is going to be 1986" -- which is true, because apparently he doesn't want it to be like 1986.

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The bronze 'Charging Bull' sculpture that symbolizes Wall Street is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006, in the financial district of New York.

Trump's preoccupation with the stock market is a losing proposition

08/02/17 11:01AM

The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly topped 22,000 this morning, which is notable to the extent that people like round numbers, but there's also an increasing political relevance to the Wall Street figures -- because Donald Trump's interest in them borders on obsession.

When the president officially welcomed John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff this week, a reporter asked what he expects to be different after the change in leadership. Trump almost immediately began talking about Wall Street. "If you look at stock markets -- the highest it's ever been," the president said. Moments later, Trump added, "Strongest stock market ever. On Friday, we hit the highest in the history of the stock market."

Remember, the question was about what Kelly might change in the West Wing. No one asked about Wall Street, but it was what Trump wanted to talk about anyway.

On Twitter, it sometimes seems as if the president thinks of little else. Trump tweeted about the stock market yesterday, and the day before, and two days before that. On July 15, the president used Twitter to talk about the stock market three times in one afternoon -- and that doesn't include Fox News' coverage of Wall Street, which Trump has retweeted.

Let's get a few things straight.

1. The stock market is not a presidential report card. Though Trump administration officials have explicitly argued otherwise, to see the markets as a barometer of economic health is a mistake. Sometimes the markets go up during tough economic times, sometimes they go down during good economic times.

2. Live by Wall Street, die by Wall Street. Will Trump World continue to see the markets as the only metric that matters if there's a correction? Somehow, I doubt it.

3. Obama. Under Trump's predecessor, the markets nearly tripled in value. If Wall Street performance is a measure of a president's economic successes, Trump must see Barack Obama as a legendary genius.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump's State Deptartment finds new ways to make Russia happy

08/02/17 10:15AM

Donald Trump has heard the U.S. intelligence assessments about Russia taking steps to help put him in power, but the president refuses to believe it. Trump recently sat down with radical TV preacher Pat Robertson said, in reference to Russia's Vladimir Putin, "Why would he want me?"

It's easy to come up with quite a few reasons, actually.

As we recently discussed, Trump is giving Putin what he wants in Syria,  while simultaneously isolating the United States diplomatically, fracturing Western alliances, largely ignoring Russia's attack on the U.S. elections -- all of which serve Moscow's strategic goals. As Rachel noted on the show last week, the list of actions the Trump administration continues to take to satisfy Putin appears to be growing.

Take this Politico piece, for example, which was published this morning.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is resisting the pleas of State Department officials to spend nearly $80 million allocated by Congress for fighting terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation.

It is highly unusual for a Cabinet secretary to turn down money for his department. But more than five months into his tenure, Tillerson has not issued a simple request for the money earmarked for the State Department's Global Engagement Center, $60 million of which is now parked at the Pentagon. Another $19.8 million sits untouched at the State Department as Tillerson's aides reject calls from career diplomats and members of Congress to put the money to work against America's adversaries.

The $60 million will expire on Sept. 30 if not transferred to State by then, current and former State Department officials told POLITICO.

The article added that R.C. Hammond, a Tillerson aide, "suggested the money is unwelcome because any extra funding for programs to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow, according to a former senior State Department official."

By this reasoning, the U.S. Secretary of State has made a conscious decision not to counter Russian disinformation because he believes Russia wouldn't like it.

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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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