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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.30.18

01/30/18 12:00PM

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

* USA Today  reports that leading outside groups backing Senate Republicans, including the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, "raised $31.6 million last year -- a record amount for the organizations in a non-election year."

* After Donald Trump's State of the Union address tonight, there will be an official Democratic Party response, an official Democratic Party Spanish-language response, a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) response, and a handful of others.

* Trump's re-election campaign will broadcast the president's speech online tonight, and for those willing to pay at least $35, donor names will appear on screen during the address.

* With Republicans increasingly concerned about Rick Saccone's candidacy in Pennsylvania's congressional special election, the NRCC has reserved "more than $1 million on ads on broadcast and cable TV stations" to give him a hand.

* After less than a year on the job, Jess O’Connell is stepping down as CEO of the Democratic National Committee.

* Though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still favored to win a second term in November, his Democratic rival, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, continues to put up impressive fundraising numbers.

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(FILE) Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' in the Hart Senate office Building in Washington, DC, June 7, 2017.

Trump's fight with the FBI's McCabe comes into sharper focus

01/30/18 11:20AM

When Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, the bureau chief wasn't in his office. In fact, he wasn't even in the city: Comey was in California, preparing to speak at an event intended to help recruit future FBI officials. This led, among other things, to the appointment of a special counsel to the further investigate the Russia scandal.

But in the immediate aftermath of the president's decision, it also led to an odd logistical dynamic: Comey had flown to Los Angeles on a government-funded plane. Trump, watching television coverage at the time, was reportedly enraged by the idea of Comey returning home the same way.

As NBC News reported yesterday, the result was an uncomfortable conversation between Trump and Andrew McCabe -- the then-acting director of the FBI -- that we're just learning about now.

McCabe told the president he hadn't been asked to authorize Comey's flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser -- an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe's wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, "OK, sir." Trump then hung up the phone.

A White House official denied the account, though (a) this White House denies all sorts of things that are true; and (b) the story certainly sounds like the sort of thing Trump would say and do.

After all, we already know Trump is the kind of person who goes after the spouses of people he's unhappy with.

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The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.

The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate

01/30/18 10:40AM

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. "One year of Watergate is enough," the Republican president said at the time.

We now know, of course, that Nixon was wrong, and seven months after making his declaration from Capitol Hill, the scandal forced him to resign the presidency.

But we also know that when it comes to Republican historical references, "one year of Watergate" wasn't even close to being enough. For example, take one far-right congressman's view of the so-called Nunes memo.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) -- who has called for reining in the Mueller probe by gutting its financing, and recently went pheasant hunting with Donald Trump Jr. -- said he was sickened by the memo and that it was "worse than Watergate."

In context, King was referring to the Republican conspiracy theories reportedly included in the memo, not the memo itself.

There's a lot of this going around. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) agreed last month that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a "corrupt" investigation that's "worse than Watergate."

Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an odd enthusiast for baseless conspiracy theories, called for an investigation into "high-ranking" officials in the Obama administration who "colluded" to stop Trump's election. The Republican senator, who appeared to be pointing to a controversy that doesn't exist in reality, added, "This could be worse than Watergate!"

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump, perhaps the nation's biggest proponent of bizarre conspiracy theories, who's constantly identifying Watergates all over the place. Uranium One? That's Watergate, the president has said. Non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower? That's Watergate, too. Benghazi? Watergate. Joe Arpaio's investigation into Barack Obama's birth certificate? Bigger than Watergate.

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An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux)

Senate Republicans make time for a vote on an abortion ban

01/30/18 10:00AM

Congress has a lengthy to-do list -- the deadline for the next government shutdown is next week -- and it's therefore tempting to assume lawmakers would put aside assorted political stunts.

And yet, as the Washington Post reported, the Republican-led Senate made time yesterday to vote on an abortion ban.

A closely divided Senate on Monday blocked a proposed federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks in a vote that is likely to be the first of several ­election-year attempts to highlight the split between Democrats and Republicans.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Children Protection Act failed to earn the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle, marking a defeat for opponents of such procedures but fulfilling a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold a vote on the legislation. The vote was 51-46.

The roll call is online here. Note that two Republicans -- Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski -- broke ranks and opposed the measure, while three Democrats -- Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and West Virginia's Joe Manchin -- voted for it.

Defending the bill, McConnell said the legislation "reflects a growing mainstream consensus" that abortions should be banned after 20 weeks. In reality, no such consensus exists.

As we discussed a few months ago, after the House took up the issue, because roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, these later terminations tend to involve "rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman's health." It's why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has consistently opposed bills like these.

But GOP leaders pushed the ban anyway, just as they did in the last Congress, and the Congress before that -- knowing in advance that the bills had no chance of success.

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

Trump's understanding of the climate crisis seems to be getting worse

01/30/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump' ignorance about the climate crisis is, alas, not altogether new. As regular readers know, in 2012, Trump made the case that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly bonkers, but it didn't stop him from dismissing climate change as a "hoax," over and over again.

Last summer, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord, Trump World faced a simple question: does Trump still think global warming is fake? In a curious development, no one in the president's orbit – Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – was willing to answer the question. The president’s position on one of the world’s biggest issues was, to a very real extent, a White House secret.

It's far less of a secret now. Trump sat down over the weekend with Piers Morgan and the Republican elaborated on his perspective.

MORGAN: Do you believe in climate change? Do you think it exists?

TRUMP: There is a cooling and there is a heating, and I mean, look: It used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming.

MORGAN: Right.

TRUMP: Right? That wasn't working too well, because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records, O.K., they're at a record level.

None of this makes any sense. When it comes to understanding the crisis at even the most basic level, everything the president said was just pure madness.

For a point-by-point refutation, The New Republic's Emily Atkin published a great item yesterday, which is well worth your time.

But I also wanted to step back and return to a point we discussed several weeks ago: appreciating the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump balks at fully implementing Russian sanctions law

01/30/18 08:41AM

For much of Barack Obama's second term, congressional Republicans had convinced themselves that the Democratic president had dictatorial impulses that led him to ignore measures approved by Congress. In 2014, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) whined that the United States has "an increasingly lawless presidency."

Perhaps the Speaker had the appropriate concern, but he simply expressed it a few years too early.

The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 "oligarchs" who have flourished during the reign of President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

Yet the administration paired that move with a surprising announcement that it had decided not to punish anybody -- for now -- under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers said President Donald Trump was giving a free pass to those Congress intended to target, fueling further questions about whether the president is too soft on Russia.

Just so we're clear, the law wasn't intended to make sanctions on Russia optional. What's more, this isn't the first time the president and his team have dragged their feet on implementing congressionally approved sanctions on the country that attacked U.S. elections in 2016.

It helps explain why some lawmakers aren't exactly pleased this morning. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said on Twitter this morning, "Congress voted 517-5 to impose sanctions on Russia. The President decides to ignore that law. Folks that is a constitutional crisis. There should be outrage in every corner of this country."

R. Nicholas Burns, the former United States Ambassador to NATO, added, "Congress can't let Putin go unpunished for interfering in our election. Trump's weakness is appalling."

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

House Republicans accused of pro-Trump 'cover up'

01/30/18 08:01AM

Yesterday afternoon was a discouraging one for proponents of democracy. The Trump White House, for example, announced it had no intention of following a recently approved law on Russian sanctions. The deputy director of the FBI, after becoming a Donald Trump punching bag, was apparently forced from his post.

And in case that weren't quite enough, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee took their crusade to shield Donald Trump to unprecedented levels.

The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines Monday to make public a classified memo about some of the government's most sensitive secrets, prompting Democrats to accuse the Republican majority of playing politics with national security to protect President Donald Trump. [...]

Trump has up to five days to object to the memo's release.

Since Trump has already made clear that he sees political value in the document, the outcome appears to be a foregone conclusion.

At issue is the so-called "Nunes memo." As we discussed yesterday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who's embarrassed himself more than once as a Trump toady, has prepared a document intended to discredit the investigation into the Trump/Russia scandal.

And while the report, for lack of a better word, includes classified information, it's not a secret summary of intelligence officials' findings that the congressman is trying to bring to the public. Rather, the memo was prepared by Nunes and his committee staffers as part of a partisan exercise, intended to shift attention away from the White House by pointing the finger at the Justice Department, the FBI, Fusion GPS, and intelligence professionals.

Democrats have prepared a rival document that refutes the Nunes memo, though last night, Republicans voted against its release. Democrats also proposed a classified briefing from Justice Department officials and intelligence professionals, offering committee members a chance to go point by point, scrutinizing the Nunes memo for accuracy before its release. Republican voted against that, too.

A Trump-appointed official at the Justice Department recently described the move as “extraordinarily reckless,” but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used a different phrase last night: "Tonight, the House Republicans crossed from dangerous irresponsibility and disregard for our national security into the realm of cover up."

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.29.18

01/29/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "At least 103 people were killed and 235 people injured after explosives hidden in an ambulance were detonated at a police checkpoint in the Afghan capital, Kabul, a day earlier, officials said Sunday."

* 5G networks: "Federal regulators and major telecommunication companies pushed back on Monday against the idea of the government running a next-generation mobile broadband network as a way to address economic and security concerns related to China. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, said he opposed the notion."

* Cape Town is running alarmingly low on water: "The prospect that large sections of South Africa's showcase city, which features a seafront and is famously perched not far from where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, might have to cope without running water has induced anxiety as well as resolve among Cape Town's nearly 4 million residents."

* I'm reasonably certain he has no idea what feminism is: "In an interview airing Sunday, Trump unapologetically told British journalist Piers Morgan that he is not a feminist."

* Capitol Hill: "As the nation grapples with a wake-up call on workplace sexual harassment and assault, Senator Marco Rubio, the most prominent figure in Florida politics, abruptly fired his top staffer. But Clint Reed's dismissal Saturday shortly before midnight is largely a mystery."

* Greitens' scandal is far from over: "Missouri Democrats are calling on Gov. Eric Greitens to sign an affidavit legally certifying that he did not attempt to blackmail a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015."

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(FILE) Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' in the Hart Senate office Building in Washington, DC, June 7, 2017.

FBI's McCabe, a frequent Trump target, is stepping down

01/29/18 04:24PM

By the halfway point of Donald Trump's first year in office, the new president had already identified several federal law-enforcement officials with whom he wasn't pleased.

Near the top of the list was FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom the president appointed to lead the bureau temporarily after firing James Comey, but whom Trump routinely attacked because his wife ran for office a few years ago as a Democrat. (The FBI scrutinized the allegations against McCabe and determined the deputy director didn't have any conflicts of interest, the president's attacks notwithstanding.)

It didn't help matters that Trump reportedly asked McCabe how he voted in the 2016 campaign during a meeting held after Comey's ouster.

As of today, in a move that the White House will no doubt like, McCabe is stepping down from the FBI.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been attacked by President Donald Trump, stepped down Monday, multiple sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

McCabe will remain on the FBI payroll until he is eligible to retire with full benefits in mid-March, the sources said. One source said McCabe was exercising his retirement eligibility and characterized his decision as "stepping aside."

A New York Times  report, which includes details that haven't been independently confirmed by NBC News, added that as recently as last week, McCabe had told people he hoped to stay at his post until March. His sudden departure, the article added, was the result of "pressure" from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was chosen by Trump.

The Times' report added that McCabe was offered a different position, "which would have been a demotion." Instead, he left.

Asked about Trump's possible involvement in these developments, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters earlier that the president "didn't play a role in any of that process." Whether that's true or not remains to be seen.

The larger trend is nevertheless clear: there's a partisan push underway to create more favorable conditions for Trump among federal law enforcement officials.

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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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