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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.27.17

11/27/17 12:00PM

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

* The day before Thanksgiving, Roy Moore's communications director, John Rogers, resigned from his position. Alabama's U.S. Senate special election is two weeks from tomorrow.

* Donald Trump, meanwhile, continued over the holiday weekend to take steps to boost Moore's right-wing candidacy, even as other Republican leaders distance themselves from the Alabaman.

* That said, a White House official told the Associated Press this morning that the president will not campaign in person on Moore's behalf before the election. Trump, you'll recall, did travel to Alabama to campaign for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) before the GOP primary. Strange nevertheless lost badly.

* On a related note, if you happen to be reading this from Alabama, if you're planning to vote in the Dec. 12 election and you're not registered to vote, today is the registration deadline.

* In Minnesota, a KSTP/SurveyUSA poll conducted last week found that Sen. Al Franken's (D) approval rating has plummeted and 33% of respondents said he should resign. A 36% plurality, however, are prepared to wait for the results of Senate Ethics Committee investigation.

* On a related note, Franken said in a Thanksgiving message that he intends to stay in office and hopes to win back Minnesotans' trust.

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John Conyers

Conyers leaves key Capitol Hill post amid harassment accusations

11/27/17 11:30AM

A week after the public learned about Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and sexual-harassment allegations, the fallout continues.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., stepped down as the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday, following sexual harassment accusations.

The 27-term congressman said he denied the allegations, but was stepping down because of the ongoing House Ethics Committee investigation.

It's an important development -- last week, Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) both called on Conyers to give up this committee post -- but there's a growing chorus arguing that the Michigan Democrat needs to go much further.

Shortly before the holiday weekend, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) became the first congressional Democrat to call on Conyers to quit, which followed an editorial from his hometown newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, which also called for his resignation in light of the allegations.

Conyers' lawyer has said that won't happen, though pressure from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could change that. We learned yesterday, however, that pressure is unlikely to materialize.

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Image: US Secretary of State Tillerson rebukes resignation reports

Why is Tillerson hollowing out the U.S. State Department?

11/27/17 11:00AM

For much of 2017, much of the world has watched Secretary of State Rex Tillerson slowly hollow out the U.S. State Department, but even for those who've followed the developments closely, the New York Times' latest report on this was striking.

It began by noting that Bill Miller, the cabinet agency's chief of security, seemed to be the kind of official Tillerson would want to keep around -- at least in theory.

But in his first nine months in office, Mr. Tillerson turned down repeated and sometimes urgent requests from the department's security staff to brief him, according to several former top officials in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Finally, Mr. Miller, the acting assistant secretary for diplomatic security, was forced to cite the law's requirement that he be allowed to speak to Mr. Tillerson.

Mr. Miller got just five minutes with the secretary of state, the former officials said. Afterward, Mr. Miller, a career Foreign Service officer, was pushed out, joining a parade of dismissals and early retirements that has decimated the State Department's senior ranks.

The picture painted by the Times is alarmingly bleak. Senior Foreign Service officers are leaving in droves; career diplomats and civil servants are being bought out; and Tillerson and his team have forced many to resign "by refusing them the assignments they wanted or taking away their duties altogether."

In some cases, some diplomats returning from high-level assignments, have been ordered to "spend months performing mind-numbing clerical functions beside unpaid interns."

For most observers, all of this is simply baffling. The secretary of state's principal responsibility is to oversee the nation's diplomatic efforts, and yet, Donald Trump's chief diplomat appears determined to undermine his own department's capacity. In a rather literal sense, it defies explanation.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently wrote, "The purposeful gutting of American power abroad is mystifying. If you didn't know better, you'd think some rival government was running our foreign policy."

But this isn't a situation in which the political world should be satisfied with the ambiguity. If it's now painfully obvious Trump World is deliberately hollowing out the State Department, and it seems more than fair to say it is, the time has come for a discussion about why.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

House Dem blasts Trump's response to deadly attack in Egypt

11/27/17 10:31AM

The attack in Egypt's North Sinai on Friday was gut-wrenching. As Reuters reported, gunmen "in military-style uniforms and masks" appeared in a mosque's doorway and at windows, opened fire on worshipers, and killed more than 300 people, including dozens of children. It was "the worst bloodshed of its kind in Egypt's modern history."

Initially, Donald Trump responded to the events by tweeting, "Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!"

That wouldn't have been especially notable, were it not for the second half of the American president's message.

"Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life. We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt."

This led Rep. Filemon Vela Jr. (D-Texas), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, to call Trump "an idiot," and the Democratic congressman wasn't the only one with concerns.

First, it was just hours after the attack that the president thought it'd be a good idea to use the bloodshed to tout his political agenda. Second, his political agenda has no meaningful connection to what transpired: Egypt's North Sinai is nowhere near Mexico, so Trump's beloved wall idea is irrelevant, and while the White House's proposed Muslim ban has gone through several iterations, none of them included Egypt among the targeted countries.

For that matter, the idea that Trump wants to use the slaughter of hundreds of Muslims as a rationale to ban Muslims seems rather perverse.

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A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

As Trump spins, ACA enrollment numbers climb

11/27/17 10:00AM

As regular readers know, Donald Trump desperately wants Americans to believe that the Affordable Care Act is "dead," and to that end, the president and his administration have gone to considerable lengths to undermine the law.

And yet, as the Washington Post reported the other day, "Obamacare" enrollment totals continue to exceed everyone's expectations.

The number of Americans signing up for health-care plans under the Affordable Care Act continues to run ahead of last year in states relying on the federal insurance exchange, according to federal figures released Wednesday that span nearly half of an abbreviated enrollment season.

Between the start of the current sign-up period on Nov. 1 and Saturday, nearly 2.28 million people chose health-care plans for the coming year -- slightly more than during the first four weeks of the ACA enrollment period a year ago, reports from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show.

The latest tallies aren't entirely good news for the system's proponents: enrollment over the most recent week slowed a little when compared to the week before. That said, as the Post's article added, "the proportion of newcomers to ACA insurance crept up, rising from 23 percent of the enrollment during the first two weeks to nearly 28 percent during the third week."

As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, apples-to-apples comparisons get a little tricky since Trump shrunk the open-enrollment window, but by any fair measure, the enrollment totals are better than anyone expected, especially given White House sabotage efforts.

As for why, exactly, enrollment totals are up despite Trump's efforts to suppress them, experts aren't altogether sure what's driving the numbers, though there are quite a few credible theories

Common sense suggests a president might consider good news for his nation's health care system to be cause for celebration, but Donald Trump had a different reaction to the latest developments.

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Trump picked an odd time to target US media's global reach

11/27/17 09:30AM

Donald Trump recently told reporters, "I don't get to watch much television, primarily because of documents. I'm reading documents a lot, and different things."

Whether or not one is inclined to believe that the president has become a voracious reader, Trump seems to whine quite a bit about the medium for which he has so little time. Over the weekend, for example, the president turned to Twitter to declare, "Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!"

I'm happy to let CNN defend itself, but a few obvious problems stood out with this. For example, if Trump is concerned about how the United States is presented to the world, he should probably focus less on news outlets he disapproves of and more on getting his presidency under control.

For that matter, as The Atlantic's David Frum noted, CNN and other news organizations are protected by the First Amendment here, but internationally, journalists depend on official support from U.S. officials, making Trump's words "a direct attack on those international journalists' freedom and even safety."

But it was the timing of the president's offensive that seemed especially problematic. Trump targeted CNN International on Saturday, against the backdrop of his Russian benefactor taking some related actions of his own.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents -- a move largely seen as retaliation against the U.S. for similar crackdowns on Kremlin-funded media outlets.

Putin signed the bill into law Saturday after the upper chamber of the Russian parliament adopted it Wednesday. The move is seen as a quid pro quo after U.S. officials demanded that state-media outlet Russia Today, or RT, register as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department.

One might expect, under these circumstances, to see an American president respond to Russia's move by expressing an unyielding commitment to the freedom of the press and the constitutional principles that empower journalists to serve the public's interests.

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A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

The case of the president and the invisible airplane

11/27/17 09:00AM

Donald Trump devoted some time on Thanksgiving talking to members of the U.S. military -- first in a teleconference to troops stationed abroad, and then in person, addressing Coast Guard members near one of the president's golf resorts. The core message seemed to be how pleased Trump is with himself.

"I have to say, just directly to the folks in Afghanistan, everybody is talking about the progress you've made in the last few months since I opened it open," he boasted clumsily. "We opened it up. We said go ahead, we're going to fight to win. We're not fighting anymore to just walk around." This was soon followed by several not-so-subtle criticisms of the Obama administration, which seemed wildly inappropriate for a Thanksgiving message to active-duty military personnel.

In his remarks to Coast Guard members, the president also said that when we sell military equipment to other countries, it's not quite as good as the resources we keep in the U.S. "You know, when we sell to other countries, even if they're allies -- you never know about an ally," Trump said. "An ally can turn. You understand. You're going to find that out."

How and when they're "going to find that out" was unclear.

This, however, was the message that stood out for me.

"With the Air Force, we're ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is, you know, almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, 'How good is this plane?' They said, 'Well, sir, you can't see it.' I said, yeah, but in a fight -- you know, a fight -- like I watch in the movies -- they fight, they're fighting. How good is this? They say, 'Well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it's right next to it, it can't see it.' I said, 'That helps. That's a good thing.'"

Trump has previously explained that the F-35 is undetectable by radar, but as best I can tell, this was the first time the president has publicly made the case that an enemy can't see the fighter jet, even if they're "right next to it."

I'm starting to wonder if he thinks the plane is literally invisible -- as if "Wonder Woman" were some kind of documentary.

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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Flynn puts new distance between himself and Trump's White House

11/27/17 08:30AM

Back in May, The Atlantic had an interesting piece quoting a source close to the White House saying Donald Trump is "worried about" Michael Flynn, the former National Security Adviser.

"[Trump] has questioned whether or not he should have fired Flynn," the source said at the time. "They don't know what Flynn's going to say."

This came to mind reading the New York Times' report on Thanksgiving.

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, notified the president's legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel's investigation, according to four people involved in the case -- an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating a deal.

Mr. Flynn's lawyers had been sharing information with Mr. Trump's lawyers about the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is examining whether anyone around Mr. Trump was involved in Russian efforts to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

That agreement has been terminated, the four people said.... [T]he notification led Mr. Trump's lawyers to believe that Mr. Flynn -- who, along with his son, is seen as having significant criminal exposure -- has, at the least, begun discussions with Mr. Mueller about cooperating.

There are still relevant details we don't yet know, and there's been no confirmation that Flynn is definitely cooperating with Mueller and the special counsel's investigation.

But it opens the door to a provocative possibility.

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U.S. Senator Warren talks with U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Cordray after he testified about Wall Street reform before a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

Trump creates crisis within key consumer-protection agency

11/27/17 08:00AM

Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump's right-wing budget director, hasn't exactly been shy when giving his opinion about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I don't like the fact that CFPB exists," the South Carolina Republican said two years ago.

That was actually one of his milder condemnations. Mulvaney has also decried the consumer-protection agency as "a sad, sick joke," which was right around the time he, during his congressional career, co-sponsored legislation to eliminate the CFPB altogether.

And yet, late on Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving, when most of the country probably wasn't paying close attention to political developments -- Trump decided Mulvaney should take over as the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. [Update: Richard Cordray, who stepped down from the CFPB last week, will be on tonight's show.] Under the plan, Mulvaney would still lead the Office of Management and Budget, but at least for now, he'll also oversee the agency whose existence he opposes.

So, when CFPB officials show up for work this morning, Mulvaney will be their new boss? Well, not exactly.

President Trump and the outgoing head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau both named acting directors to head the watchdog agency on Friday, throwing its leadership into disarray.

Legal analysts were split over whether the White House or the CFPB had authority to name an acting director, with each side citing the fine print of dueling federal rules. Some said the laws were open to interpretation and the courts ultimately would have to decide the matter.

If this sounds messy, it is.

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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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