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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Trump loyalist sees last week's failures as a great success

07/31/17 10:42AM

Donald Trump hasn't had many good weeks as president, but by any fair measure, last week seemed especially brutal.

The president demanded that Senate Republicans pass a health care bill, and they did not. He banned transgender Americans from serving in the military, and the decision immediately faced bipartisan pushback. The drama surrounding the White House staff reached a meltdown stage, culminating in the humiliating departure of the president's chief of staff.

Trump picked a pointless fight with his own attorney general, and congressional Republicans were quick to take Jeff Sessions' side in the dispute. The president faced pushback from police departments nationwide after he delivered a speech in which he endorsed police abuses.

And the Boy Scouts felt compelled to issue a public apology after Trump's antics embarrassed the organization.

Despite all of these events unfolding over the course of about five days, the Wall Street Journal reports that some of the president's more sycophantic allies were actually quite impressed with last week's developments.

Rep. Chris Collins (R., N.Y.), the first member of Congress to endorse Mr. Trump, said that instead of turbulence, Mr. Trump last week "had one of the best weeks he has ever had."

I should note that there's no evidence that Chris Collins was out of the country last week. The New York Republican saw last week's developments and felt compelled to say, on the record, that Trump "had one of the best weeks he has ever had."

Baghdad Bob would be proud.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks past the guns of the USS Iowa after speaking on the battleship in San Pedro, Los Angeles, Calif., United States Sept. 15, 2015. (Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Trump's respect for military valor is, at best, haphazard

07/31/17 10:01AM

Donald Trump announced via tweet on Friday that retired Gen. John Kelly, who's served for months as head of the Department of Homeland Security, will be taking over as the new White House chief of staff. A Washington Post report noted in passing that the staffing move reflects the president's appreciation for decorated military service.

Throughout his life, Trump has venerated military valor, and he recruited several generals into his administration, including Kelly.

I wish this were true, but the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

On the surface, Trump tends to honor military service the way a child might: he seems to think it's cool to be around those who served. The more impressive the service record, and the higher the military rank, the more Trump wants to be associated with the bravery others have shown.

But below the surface, the picture turns darker. Far from venerating military valor, Trump is on record mocking prisoners of war, saying he likes those "who weren't captured."

Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, also said he "felt" like he'd served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him "more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military."

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Image: U.S. President Trump calls on Republican Senators to vote on a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington

Trump faces pushback after endorsing police abuses

07/31/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump traveled to Long Island on Friday afternoon, speaking to a law-enforcement audience, touting his administration's stated efforts to combat gang violence. Trump noted, for example, "They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields They're animals."

Left unsaid is that crime on Long Island is actually at a 50-year low, making his rhetoric about "bloodstained killing fields" rather ridiculous.

But far more problematic was this portion of president's speech: "[W]hen you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon -- you just see them thrown in, rough -- I said, please don't be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don't hit their head and they've just killed somebody -- don't hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, okay?"

The fact that many of the police officers in attendance laughed and applauded this rhetoric made matters worse.

But in a familiar pattern, a variety of police departments responded to Trump's comments by making clear they disagree with his endorsement of abuses. BuzzFeed noted:

President Donald Trump's apparent suggestion that police officers be "rough" with suspects in custody is facing sharp criticism from law enforcement agencies across the country, with police chiefs from California to Florida and New York condemning the president's remarks as an irresponsible encouragement of excessive force. [...]

Within a few hours, the Suffolk County Police Department was already distancing itself from Trump's remarks, saying in a statement that the agency would "not tolerate roughing up prisoners." Other police departments were similarly quick to rebuke the quip, warning that the apparent urging of the use of force could erode already fragile relationships between law enforcement and the public and set back efforts to address problems of police brutality.

This was an encouraging reaction to a president whose approach to the rule of law is increasingly dangerous. But there's a larger takeaway for others to keep in mind:

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Image: Tom Price

HHS's Price gives members the wrong advice about health care

07/31/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump's far-right secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, was a guest on "Meet the Press" yesterday, and NBC's Chuck Todd asked the former Georgia congressman to reflect on the state of play after the latest Republican failure on health care.

CHUCK TODD: Look, you were an elected official. You know how politics works. You know how to count votes. You know where the votes are. It's pretty clear a full repeal can't be done. It's pretty clear somehow rescinding the Medicaid expansion, that the support is not there. So what's realistic? What are you asking Congress to do now? What is one thing that you want Congress to do right now that's doable, that's realistic that can help you implement the affordable care act better?

SECRETARY TOM PRICE: Well, what we want Congress to do is to go home and talk to their constituents.

I don't think that's what the Trump administration wants at all. In fact, that's almost certainly what Democrats want -- because if members "go home and talk to their constituents," the GOP's regressive health care plans almost certainly won't come back.

Note, for example, that when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) flew home on Friday, she was greeted with a round of spontaneous applause at the Bangor airport. She said yesterday, "It was just amazing.... It was very encouraging and affirming, especially arriving back home after a very difficult time."

Are these the constituents Tom Price wants the senator to listen to?

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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (C) speaks at the annual RNC winter meeting on Jan. 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Coming to terms with the limits of Trump's loyalty

07/31/17 08:00AM

In February 2016, at the height of the fight for the Republican presidential nomination, Ted Cruz shook up his senior staff, which Donald Trump immediately saw as an opportunity for ridicule. "Wow was Ted Cruz disloyal to his very capable director of communication," Trump tweeted at the time. "He used him as a scape goat - fired like a dog! Ted panicked."

While Trump implied he had higher standards, current evidence certainly refutes the implication.

Even as a candidate, Trump was routinely disloyal to top members of his team -- choosing three campaign managers in five months, for example -- firing staffers when the Republican no longer had any use for them.

And as a president, Trump has made clear he sees loyalty as something he expects to receive, not bestow. Sean Spicer was unflinching in his loyalty towards the president, which ultimately meant nothing to the man in the Oval Office. Jeff Sessions was loyal to Trump when no one else would be, and for his trouble, the attorney general is being publicly mocked by the president he helped elect.

And Reince Priebus never wavered in his Trump loyalty, only to be kicked to the curb by the president who didn't value his service. The Washington Post highlighted the final indignity of the former White House chief of staff's tenure.

Priebus' final departure was a humiliating coda for what had been a largely demeaning tenure during which he endured regular belittling from rival advisers -- and even, at times, the president himself. His exit was described by one Republican strategist as "the red wedding," a reference to a mass-murder blood bath episode of HBO's "Game of Thrones."

When Air Force One touched down Friday afternoon at Andrew's Air Force base, Priebus, senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and social media director Dan Scavino all loaded into a Suburban. But moments later, Miller and Scavino hopped out of the vehicle, and as word trickled out about the chief of staff's ouster, reporters inched close to snap photos of Priebus, who sat alone on the rain-soaked tarmac. Priebus' vehicle then pulled out of the presidential motorcade, which proceeded along to the White House without him.

The same article noted an anecdote in which Trump summoned Priebus to kill a fly for him during an Oval Office meeting.

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Image: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Trump ousts Priebus as White House chief of staff, taps Kelly

07/28/17 05:25PM

In his wholly inappropriate speech to the Boy Scouts, Donald Trump said if the Senate failed to pass a health care bill, he'd fire HHS Secretary Tom Price. As it turns out, Price is still at his post, but the president has instead fired his White House chief of staff.

In a trio of tweets -- not the normal venue for such an announcement -- Trump broke the late-Friday-afternoon news:

"I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration. I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!"

The news doesn't come as too big of a surprise. Priebus had clearly fallen out of favor and rumors have been circulating about moving Kelly from DHS to the West Wing. Priebus had shown unflinching loyalty to the president -- we won't soon forget the creepy adulation he showed Trump at the first full cabinet meeting in June -- but as has become clear in recent months, Trump's true loyalty is always to himself.

There will no doubt be plenty of analysis of Priebus' interpersonal conflicts in the evolving White House soap opera, and for good reason, since the drama no doubt contributed to his departure. But the fact is, Priebus was never a good choice for chief of staff in the first place.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.28.17

07/28/17 12:00PM

Today's much-earlier-than-usual edition of quick hits:

* The blowback: "Russia on Friday ordered the U.S. to cut the number of its diplomats posted to Russia and said it was seizing two properties used by American officials in retaliation for a new bill of sanctions that overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate this week."

* In the Senate, the final vote was 98 to 2: "The Senate approved new sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote Thursday, gaining tentative support from the White House before its passage."

* A considerable improvement in GDP over the first quarter: "The U.S. economy rebounded strongly between April and June, government data showed Friday morning, as businesses invested more and consumers shelled out for furniture, washing machines and other goods."

* This won't end well: "The House passed a $788 billion spending bill Thursday that combines a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump's controversial border wall with Mexico with a whopping budget increase for the Pentagon."

* Pakistan: "[P]rime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country's top court Friday amid a corruption investigation into his family wealth triggered by a data dump known as the Panama Papers. The third-term leader was ruled unfit for office by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision by five judges."

* An important angle: "Since Election Day, President Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront lots for about $33 million.... Now, details of some of those deals and other transactions by Trump's family business could be unmasked as special counsel Robert Mueller expands his inquiry into election-meddling by Russia and whether Trump's campaign colluded."

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally outside the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning on Nov. 7, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

House Republicans want a special counsel for Clinton, not Trump

07/28/17 11:16AM

Sometimes, the line between House Republicans and their caricature becomes blurred.

House Judiciary Committee Republicans on Thursday called for a new special counsel -- to investigate Hillary Clinton, James Comey and Loretta Lynch.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Republicans said they were writing to "request assistance in restoring public confidence in our nation's justice system and its investigators, specifically the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)."

In other words, if Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have their way, we'd have two parallel investigations: one special-counsel probe examining the Trump-Russia scandal, and another special-counsel probe going after Hillary Clinton.

There's no reason to believe the Justice Department will take such a request seriously, but we live in deeply strange times and it's probably best not to make any assumptions.

Also note, even if there is no second special counsel, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to move forward with a Clinton investigation of its own. The Washington Post reported this week that the GOP-led panel has begun requesting documents for a new round of Clinton-related scrutiny.

All of this, coincidentally, follows Donald Trump's recent insistence that Clinton's imagined "crimes" face an investigation.

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Image: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media

Scaramucci shows the kind of White House culture Trump has created

07/28/17 09:48AM

On his sixth day as the White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci had a rather interesting series of experiences.

He falsely accused the White House chief of staff of a "felony," insisting that Reince Priebus had leaked a public document that, by definition, cannot be leaked. Scaramucci then claimed he'd improperly spoken with the Justice Department

Yesterday afternoon, the White House communications director then got to read the comments he made to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza -- which were, shall we say, colorful.

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn't happy. Earlier in the night, I'd tweeted, citing a "senior White House official," that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question -- for me.

"Who leaked that to you?" he asked. I said I couldn't give him that information.

It went downhill from there. Scaramucci said, for example, "Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac." He added, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c**k."

Scaramucci went on to say, "What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers."

I think it's probably fair to say Americans have never before read an interview like this with a senior White House official. Indeed, in any previous administration, if an official were to make on-the-record comments like these to a reporter, that official would no longer be working in the White House.

In Donald Trump's White House, however, Scaramucci is likely to get a promotion.

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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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