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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.28.18

06/28/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Today's mass shooting: "Several people were shot dead Thursday afternoon at the Capital Gazette, a newspaper in the Maryland capital, Annapolis, officials said. Anne Arundel County Executive Steven Schuh confirmed the fatalities at a press conference."

* A Reuters scoop on Manafort: "A search warrant application unsealed on Wednesday revealed closer links than previously known between President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort and a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin."

* It's striking that Republicans have so little to say about this: "The first suspect charged in the 2012 Benghazi attacks has been sentenced to 22-year prison term for his role in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Libyan militant Ahmed Abu Khatallah received his sentence for conspiracy and providing support for terrorism Wednesday in Washington, D.C."

* This would be effective, if he were prepared to play hardball: "U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake said Wednesday he would not try to strong-arm the Trump administration on tariffs -- or other issues -- by withholding his support from a Supreme Court nominee."

* GDP: "The growth in the U.S. economy in the first quarter was trimmed to 2% from 2.2%, largely reflecting lower spending on health care and a somewhat smaller buildup in inventories."

* Backing down again: "The White House won't be looking to block companies with at least 25 percent Chinese ownership from buying certain U.S. tech-related companies."

* Watching Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein make Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) look foolish was oddly satisfying.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump (L) meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at The Capitol Building on Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

The immigration fight becomes Trump's latest legislative failure

06/28/18 04:07PM

NBC News' First Read team noted this morning that this has been "a very good week" for Donald Trump: "Victory at the Supreme Court with the travel ban. Victory at the Supreme Court over union dues. And now his chance to put another justice on the Supreme Court."

This is undeniably true, and the White House is no doubt thrilled by the developments. But as the judicial branch gives Trump reason to celebrate, it's probably worth noting for the record that the president suffered a rather humiliating setback in Congress yesterday.

Indeed, just minutes before the public learned of a certain Supreme Court justice's retirement, House Republicans roundly rejected their own immigration bill, ignoring Trump's guidance.

Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected the bill in a 121-301 vote, falling short of the roughly 218 votes needed to pass. No Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

While 121 Republicans voted in favor of the bill, 112 Republicans voted against it even after the president called on them to support the measure this morning. A number of those who opposed the legislation are members of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

As vote tallies go, 121 to 301 is pretty brutal -- and on a normal day, it probably would've dominated the political headlines.

This was, after all, a proposal negotiated by Republicans, for Republicans, intended to carefully conform to the agenda laid out by a Republican president. This wasn't about the law, per se, since everyone involved knew the partisan bill couldn't pass the Senate. Rather, this was supposed to be an exercise in raw political power.

And it failed spectacularly.

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House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C. reacts to a question during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 3, 2015. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Despite his Benghazi panel past, Gowdy calls for Russia probe's end

06/28/18 02:03PM

House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) has joined the ranks of the Republicans who believes the investigation into the Russia scandal should end. CNBC reports:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Thursday rejected Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy's call to abruptly end special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Gowdy, who is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made the remarks to Rosenstein during a hearing on the Justice Department inspector general's report into the federal probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The report found numerous examples of agent misconduct.

But Gowdy focused on the special counsel, which he said was being used by congressional Democrats as a fundraising tool. He admonished Rosenstein: "Whatever you got, finish it the hell up, because this country is being torn apart."

The congressman must realize how bad an argument that is. An ongoing federal investigation should end, not because it has run its course, but because of national divisions? Since when does our criminal justice system operate this way?

But even putting that aside, the irony of hearing Trey Gowdy, of all people, talk about the length of an investigation is a bit much.

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The front columns at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 5, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The end of complacency about the Supreme Court?

06/28/18 12:53PM

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick said something on the show last night that stuck with me. Reflecting on what Donald Trump's opponents will need to do to prevent him from replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy with a far-right ideologue, Lithwick explained, "They are going to need behind them all the folks who didn't prioritize the Supreme Court in 2016 when there was an open seat -- and two octogenarians sitting on the court -- and Democrats just didn't prioritize the court. Republicans did."

There's some compelling evidence to bolster the observation. The Washington Post  reported this week:

While President Trump was campaigning, he was well aware that a lot of Republicans were not particularly enthusiastic about his candidacy, so as 2016 wound on, he began embracing a very specific appeal: Remember the Supreme Court.

"We don't have four more years," he said in late September of that year in Wisconsin. "They'll start appointing justices of the Supreme Court. Remember that, Supreme Court." Over and over, his closing pitch to voters involved some variation of "we're going to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States." [...]

It worked. Exit polling from the 2016 election shows that a majority of those who saw the president's ability to nominate justices to the high court as the most important factor in their vote backed Trump.

Remember, in 2016, there was already a Supreme Court vacancy, thanks to Justice Antonin Scalia's passing and Senate Republicans' blockade against Judge Merrick Garland. The choice for Americans couldn't have been clearer: with four justices appointed by Republican presidents, and four justices appointed by Democratic presidents, the winner of the 2016 election would decide whether the left or right was ascendant on the high court.

For progressives, it was an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim the court's majority, with consequences that would be felt for decades on countless issues of significance.

But on Election Day, it was Republicans who prioritized the court -- and the right that is now reaping the rewards.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.28.18

06/28/18 12:00PM

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

* An interesting observation from Politico: barring any radical election surprises, the number of pro-choice Republicans in the U.S. House next year will fall to zero.

* New Jersey's 11th congressional district is considered a key pick-up opportunity for Democrats, and the latest Monmouth University poll found Mikie Sherrill (D) with a narrow lead over Jay Webber (R), 40% to 38%. The seat is currently held by Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R), who's retiring.

* Are Donald Trump's tariffs a possible campaign issue for Dems? In Tennessee's U.S. Senate race, former Gov. Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) launched a new ad this week, highlighting the adverse impact the president's tariffs will have on Jack Daniel's, a major exporter in the state.

* The Democratic National Committee's lengthy debate over the role of "superdelegates" was apparently resolved yesterday, and going forward, these unpledged delegates will only be able to help choose the party's presidential nominee on a second ballot at the convention.

* Primaries this week in Oklahoma were the first contests since the state's labor dispute with public-school teachers, and the AP reported, "At least six Republican incumbents were bounced from office during Oklahoma's primary election, including several who were targeted by pro-education groups."

* On a related note, voters in Oklahoma -- by some measures, the nation's reddest red state -- also approved a medical marijuana bill this week. Oklahoma is now "the 30th in the nation to permit the use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation."

* The North Carolina Republican Party this week withdrew its support for Russell Walker, a GOP state House nominee, over a racist website Walker has written for.

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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., center, joins Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, right, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, left, to speak to reporters as the Senate votes on a farm bill that sets policy for farm...

Democrats, Republicans, and a tale of two governing standards

06/28/18 11:27AM

If Donald Trump's opponents are going to prevent the president from filling Justice Anthony Kennedy's vacancy on the Supreme Court, they have quite a bit of work to do. The strategy starts with rallying the Senate's 49-member Democratic conference to stand together, and then involves finding a Republican senator or two who may not be entirely comfortable with the consequences of confirming another far-right jurist.

As the fight gets underway, however. it's worth appreciating how difficult that first task is likely to be. Many prominent Senate Dems yesterday insisted that the party must take a stand against the Republican scheme, pointing to the GOP's mistreatment of Merrick Garland two years ago.

But not every Democrat in the chamber agreed.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a red-state Democrat who has made working with Trump a cornerstone of her 2018 re-election campaign, distanced herself from some Democrats and suggested the President's nominee should get a vote before the midterm elections.

"I was taught that two wrongs don't make a right," Heitkamp said, a nod to the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed voting on Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's 2016 pick for the court, until after the presidential election.

Manchin and Heitkamp, along with Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, were the only Democrats to vote for Trump's first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

At first blush, this might seem admirable. Heitkamp recognizes that Republicans abused their power in 2016, and ahead of a tough re-election fight in a state Donald Trump won by an overwhelming margin, she's not altogether comfortable participating engaging in similar tactics in 2018.

But it's worth appreciating the consequences of such a high-minded posture. What Heitkamp is describing is a dynamic in which there are competing governing standards in the United States: an easier one for Republicans, and a tougher one for Democrats.

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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 appears to make up a conversation with steel company executive

06/28/18 10:57AM

When Donald Trump lashed out at "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon the other day, the president referred to a call the host purportedly made to the president after he appeared on the show. Fallon soon after explained, "I've never called this human in my life. I don't have his number. I don't want his number."

In other words, Trump referred to a call that happened only in his imagination -- which wouldn't be especially notable, except the president keeps doing this.

At an event in Minnesota last week, Trump said, "The head of U.S. Steel called me the other day, and he said, 'We're opening up six major facilities and expanding facilities that have never been expanded.' They haven't been opened in many, many years." The president told the same story last night, saying U.S. Steel called him to announce the opening of six plants.

By all appearances, that conversation did not happen. The Washington Post  explained this morning:

Here's a puzzler: Why is the president of the United States announcing the opening of new factories that a major U.S. company has not announced?

U.S. Steel is a publicly traded company, so it is supposed to disclose materially important information. The opening of six major facilities and the expansion of even more would be huge news.

It would, indeed, if the news were real. U.S. Steel has apparently been reluctant to tell reporters that the president's story isn't real, but that doesn't make it true. Indeed, the Post  added, "The president is wrong. But apparently U.S. Steel is afraid to say that out loud."

And while that's certainly important, what troubles me most is Trump's incessant habit of describing imaginary conversations.

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Ahead of summit, Trump again defends Russia over its 2016 attack

06/28/18 10:00AM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on Capitol Hill yesterday and testified that Donald Trump's upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin will include a stern warning from the American leader.

"I'm confident that when the president meets with Vladimir Putin, he will make clear that meddling in our elections is completely unacceptable," Pompeo told senators.

The cabinet secretary probably ought to check in with his boss about this. Officials confirmed this morning that Trump and Putin will hold their first dedicated summit in Helsinki on July 16, but just ahead of the announcement, the Republican had something he wanted to get off his chest:

Before details of the meeting were announced Thursday, the president tweeted about the investigation, writing that "Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election!"

Well, yes, Russia hasn't yet confessed to launching an intelligence operation intended to install the Kremlin's preferred presidential candidate in the White House, but Trump's own intelligence and national security officials have told him for quite a while that Putin is responsible for the attack.

The question is why Trump continues, even now, to suggest officials in Moscow are more reliable than officials in his administration.

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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Kennedy's retirement is about abortion (but that's not all it's about)

06/28/18 09:22AM

Soon after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Rachel told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace that the retiring jurist is "probably the reason we have abortion rights in this country, and I think within a year, abortion will be illegal in half of the United States."

That may have struck some people as a bold, almost inflammatory, prediction. It wasn't. This is simply a matter of being about to count to five.

Clarence Thomas is the only sitting justice who has publicly declared opposition to the ruling, having joined the dissent in the court's 1992 landmark ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld much of Roe. That dissent explicitly argued that Roe was "plainly wrong." [...]

But many advocates and some legal scholars nonetheless predicted that the three other conservatives on the court -- Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch -- would likely join the new Trump-appointed justice in rulings that would target abortion rights and chip away at the protections of Roe.

Indeed, the likely scenario is already in sharp focus: Trump will keep his promise to nominate a justice who opposes abortion rights; Senate Republicans will confirm him or her; the Supreme Court will take up an abortion case; and Roe v. Wade will be overturned before the next presidential election.

As Trump himself put it during the third presidential debate in 2016, "[T]hat'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court."

Abortion-rights advocates who stayed home in 2016, or voted for a third-party candidate, took a dangerous gamble. It now appears they placed the wrong bet.

But while this is almost certainly the highest-profile issue at stake right now, it's not the only issue worth watching.

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Kennedy secures his legacy by placing his 'confidence' in Trump

06/28/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump headlined another campaign rally last night, this time in North Dakota, where the president briefly addressed the vacancy he'll soon try to fill on the U.S. Supreme Court. The New York Times  reported:

Hours after Justice Anthony M. Kennedy presented an opportunity to push the Supreme Court to the right with his retirement, President Trump celebrated on Wednesday night the coming nomination of his second justice, an indisputable trophy as he tries to rally support for Republicans before the midterm elections.

"I'm very honored that he chose to do it during my term in office," Mr. Trump said of Justice Kennedy during a 70-minute freewheeling speech at a rally in this Republican stronghold, "because he felt confident for me to make the right choice and carry on his great legacy" -- one that has been far more moderate than Mr. Trump's.

To be sure, the president says a great many ridiculous things on a daily basis, but this boast was unnervingly sound. By stepping down from the Supreme Court when he did, Anthony Kennedy sent a clear, albeit mind-numbing, signal that he believes Donald J. Trump and his radicalized allies on Capitol Hill are deserving of a rare gift.

The retiring justice has watched Trump's presidency unfold, and he came to the conclusion that the Republican is a responsible and judicious leader who should shape the direction of American law for a generation.

And that in turn tells us something important about Anthony Kennedy's judgment -- and his legacy.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Dems press McConnell to honor his principles (which he'll ignore)

06/28/18 08:00AM

When Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted no time in making clear that the Obama White House would not fill that vacancy. When the Democratic president chose a centrist, compromise choice for the Supreme Court, McConnell ensured that Judge Merrick Garland be treated in ways no high court nominee has ever been treated.

Senate Republicans, at McConnell's insistence, would not speak to Garland. Or give him a hearing. Or vote on him in committee. Or consider him on the Senate floor.

It was therefore difficult to stifle laughter yesterday afternoon when the GOP leader told reporters that it's "imperative" that Donald Trump's next Supreme Court nominee "be treated fairly."

The Senate Democrats' strategy for the upcoming fight is taking shape, but part of the minority party's pitch is calling out McConnell for his breathtaking cynicism, and demanding that he honor the standards he set just two years ago.

As Democrats geared up for an epic fight they're not likely to win over the next Supreme Court nominee, they spoke with one loud voice: Wait until after the midterm elections. [...]

Democrats cried foul as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed Wednesday to push ahead with the confirmation of Kennedy's replacement before November's elections — despite refusing to advance President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee ahead of the 2016 presidential race.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke on the Senate floor yesterday, and argued that the vote on Justice Anthony Kennedy's successor should wait until after the midterm elections. Using a phrase several Democrats used, the New York senator added, "Anything but that would be the absolute height of hypocrisy."

As a simple matter of propriety, the Democratic argument has merit: if nine months before an election is too soon to consider a Supreme Court nominee, then four months is, too. The arithmetic is tough to argue with.

But there's a reason this argument will fall short: Mitch McConnell doesn't care.

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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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