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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.1.17

08/01/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm pretty sure the president's outside counsel said the opposite: "The White House said Tuesday that President Donald Trump 'weighed in, as any father would' on his son Donald Trump Jr's statement regarding a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer last year."

* I still think this was a mistake: "The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Christopher A. Wray as the next FBI director, filling a critical post that has remained vacant since President Trump fired James B. Comey in May. The vote was 92 to 5."

* Nuclear test: "The U.S. military is poised to test launch an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile from California early Wednesday morning -- just days after North Korea's second test of an ICBM. The 576th Flight Test Squadron will conduct the test between 12:01 a.m. and 6:01 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California."

* What an incredible story: "The Fox News Channel and a wealthy supporter of President Trump worked in concert under the watchful eye of the White House to concoct a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee aide, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday. The explosive claim is part of a lawsuit filed against Fox News by Rod Wheeler, a longtime paid commentator for the news network."

* Venezuela's crisis: "Masked security forces carried out predawn raids Tuesday and hauled away two top Venezuelan opposition leaders, suggesting an expanded crackdown on dissent after widely denounced elections aimed at boosting the authoritarian government."

* Provocative steps near Belarus: "Russia is preparing to send as many as 100,000 troops to the eastern edge of NATO territory at the end of the summer, one of the biggest steps yet in the military buildup undertaken by President Vladimir V. Putin and an exercise in intimidation that recalls the most ominous days of the Cold War."

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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

Acting DEA chief rejects Trump's 'joke' about police abuses

08/01/17 05:02PM

In a speech to a law-enforcement audience last week, Donald Trump suggested officers shouldn't be "too nice" to criminal suspects, prompting pushback from a variety of police departments nationwide.

"[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," the president said. '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?"

As it turns out, some of the most striking pushback came from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Director Chuck Rosenberg, a holdover from the Obama administration, who sent an agency-wide email over the weekend suggesting DEA officials not follow the president's advice. The email, with a subject line that read, "Who we are," said in part:

"The President, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement.

"In writing to you, I seek to advance no political, partisan, or personal agenda. Nor do I believe that a Special Agent or Task Force Officer of the DEA would mistreat a defendant. I know that you would not.... I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere.

"I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.... We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards. Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably."

I don't imagine the email will endear Chuck Rosenberg to Team Trump, which makes it all the more notable that the acting DEA chief was willing to put his concerns in writing.

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An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.

GOP under the false impression it's ready for tax-reform fight

08/01/17 12:50PM

Donald Trump and his White House team have spent the last several days telling congressional Republicans to focus solely on repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite the GOP's recent failures on health care. It's against this backdrop that Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) was on the chamber floor this morning, previewing "the fight for historic tax reform in the coming months."

It would appear Congress has begun its pivot to the next issue on its to-do list.

In fact, those involved in the process are apparently feeling quite ambitious about what's possible. White House Legislative Director Marc Short spoke to some political groups backed by the Koch brothers yesterday and said he expects tax reform to start moving in Congress in September, passing the House in October, and clearing the Senate in November.

The last time policymakers overhauled the federal tax code, it took two years. Contemporary Republicans expect to wrap things up in a few months.

That may not be entirely possible. In April, Trump released a one-page summary of his expectations for tax reform -- it was effectively a table of contents without any real content -- which was little more than a joke. The "plan," such as it was, made clear the president expects others involved in the process to do the heavy lifting.

And that's not happening. Politico reported late last week:

The White House, the Treasury Department and congressional leaders issued a six-paragraph statement Thursday that tried to show off their commitment to pursuing tax reform without delving into any policy specifics.

The only problem? Tax overhauls live and die on details -- and their absence, after months of weekly meetings aimed at achieving consensus, showed that the GOP's dream of achieving tax reform may be years from completion.

Missing from the "Big Six" leaders' statement were details such as what rates Republicans think major corporations, the wealthiest individuals and the middle class should pay. Also unresolved were the status of the estate tax and the fate of prized tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct business interest and state and local taxes.

Republicans basically have a plan to eventually come up with a plan. In fact, they're regressing: last week's summary was even shorter than the one-page document the White House released in April.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.1.17

08/01/17 12:00PM

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

* In North Carolina, a federal three-judge panel ruled yesterday that state lawmakers will have to draw new General Assembly district boundaries this fall, for use in elections in November 2018. A request for special elections in advance was rejected.

* Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) said yesterday's he's "unlikely to release any state voter registration data" to Donald Trump's voting commission, which is notable in large part because Dunlap is a member of Trump's commission.

* Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), who's developed a reputation as a GOP hardliner on immigration, is gearing up to take on incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) in Pennsylvania next year.

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) announced yesterday he's retiring at the end of this term after three decades in Congress. Given the leanings of Tennessee's 2nd congressional district, the seat is expected to remain in Republican hands. (A Democrat hasn't represented this district since the 1850s.)

* The DCCC has decided not to impose an abortion-rights litmus test on prospective 2018 candidates, which means the party is prepared to support at least some congressional candidates who are not pro-choice.

* The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which is being chaired by former Attorney General Eric Holder, has raised $10.8 million, from a total of 10,000 donors. Politico noted that total "is split between its various entities: a federal PAC, plus 501c3 and 501c4 entities that house much of its structural work."

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Image: Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan boosts support for Trump's proposed border wall

08/01/17 11:22AM

Shortly after the 2016 elections, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) talked to CBS's "60 Minutes" about the Republican agenda and Donald Trump's plans to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. The congressman's answer at the time left some ambiguity about his plans.

"Yeah, I think conditions on the ground determine what you need in a particular area," Ryan said at the time. The Speaker said "some areas" might require a wall, while other areas wouldn't.

Seven months later, Ryan's position has come into much sharper focus. The Speaker's office published an online item on the issue this morning:

It's time for The Wall. That's why the House voted to fully fund the Trump administration's request to build it.

The item featured a 30-second video, with on-screen text that read, "1,954 miles along America's southern border. It's time for The Wall. Let's get it done." (The slick clip featured video of Ryan at an airfield, on a helicopter, on a dock, and on a horse. It was a little tough to know whether the video was intended to promote the wall idea or to help make the Speaker look cool.)

So, with Ryan's enthusiastic backing behind American taxpayers financing a giant border wall, is this likely to actually happen?

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump struggles to understand who doesn't like his tweets

08/01/17 10:40AM

Donald Trump apparently saw something in the news this morning about his use of social media, prompting the president to defend his odd online missives:

"Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!"

For now, let's put aside the amusing idea that what Trump is publishing reflects "the truth." A variety of words come to mind that describe the president's online output, but "the truth" aren't among them.

More important is the idea that Trump believes the media and his critics want him to stop publishing his poorly written thoughts. This, of course, isn't even close to being true.

Media professionals tend to rely on presidential tweets, not only for provocative coverage of the White House, but also as a peek into Trump's thinking on a variety of subjects. For good or ill, the president often makes news when he pops off online.

Trump's detractors, meanwhile, often welcome Trump's tweets because they destabilize his White House, distract from the message the West Wing wants to promote, and cause all kinds of trouble for the president.

So who does want Trump to curtail his online tantrums? That'd be the president's allies.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

On Iran, Trump wants to start with the answer, then work backwards

08/01/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump has an important problem: a major U.S. foreign policy is working exactly as designed, and he wishes it weren't.

As a presidential candidate, Trump had convinced himself that the international nuclear agreement with Iran was a disaster. As a president, however, Trump has discovered that the policy is working quite well, and the conflict between what's true and what he wants to be true has apparently infuriated the easily confused president.

Trump's new goal is to start with the answer that makes him feel better, and then have his staff reverse-engineer the evidence to arrive at the conclusion he prefers. The New York Times reported the other day:

President Trump, frustrated that his national security aides have not given him any options on how the United States can leave the Iran nuclear deal, has instructed them to find a rationale for declaring that the country is violating the terms of the accord.

American officials have already told allies they should be prepared to join in reopening negotiations with Iran or expect that the United States may abandon the agreement, as it did the Paris climate accord.

It's important to understand that Trump, presented with evidence of a successful American policy, is furious -- because he wants and expects the policy to fail.

Last week, when it came time to recertify the provisions of the deal, Trump reportedly wanted his team to present him with a rationale for abandoning the international agreement. When reality interfered, and that wasn't one of his options, the president reportedly "had a bit of a meltdown."

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Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chair of the Senate Republican Caucus, speaks with reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

GOP senators have no appetite for another health care fight

08/01/17 09:20AM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump was under the impression he could taunt GOP senators into passing some kind of health care bill. In fact, the president said via Twitter, "Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!"

The same day, Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said it's the official White House policy that the Senate -- part of a separate and co-equal branch of government -- put aside its entire legislative schedule, presumably indefinitely, until the chamber makes the president happy by passing some kind of health care legislation.

At least for now, Republican senators don't seem to care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared in the early hours of Friday morning, "It's time to move on," and as the Washington Post reports, quite a few Republican senators are thinking along the same lines.

"We've had our vote, and we're moving on to tax reform," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's top lieutenants, speaking of the next big GOP legislative priority.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), another member of the Republican Senate leadership, put it this way: "I think it's time to move on to something else. Come back to health care when we've had more time to get beyond the moment we're in -- see if we can't put some wins on the board."

A Politico report added, "Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a 'hard pivot to tax reform,' one Senate aide said."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Republican senator: GOP is 'in denial' about dangers Trump poses

08/01/17 08:40AM

Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) personal relationship with Donald Trump has long been strained. In fact, the president has reportedly met with some Arizona Republicans about launching a primary challenge against the incumbent senator, who's up for re-election next year.

It now appears the relationship between Trump and Flake will not be repaired, at least not anytime soon. The senator has written a new book in which he expresses concerns about what's become of conservative politics, and Politico published a striking op-ed from Flake yesterday in which the Arizona Republican says his party has been "in denial" about the dangers Trump poses.

It was we conservatives who were largely silent when the most egregious and sustained attacks on Obama's legitimacy were leveled by marginal figures who would later be embraced and legitimized by far too many of us. It was we conservatives who rightly and robustly asserted our constitutional prerogatives as a co-equal branch of government when a Democrat was in the White House but who, despite solemn vows to do the same in the event of a Trump presidency, have maintained an unnerving silence as instability has ensued.

To carry on in the spring of 2017 as if what was happening was anything approaching normalcy required a determined suspension of critical faculties. And tremendous powers of denial.

To his credit, Flake's piece doesn't pull its punches. The senator compares Trump to a biblical flood; he marvels at his party's disinterest in the Russia scandal; and he takes aim at the GOP's passivity when it comes to checks and balances against a White House run by partisan allies.

"If by 2017 the conservative bargain was to go along for the very bumpy ride because with congressional hegemony and the White House we had the numbers to achieve some long-held policy goals -- even as we put at risk our institutions and our values -- then it was a very real question whether any such policy victories wouldn't be Pyrrhic ones," Flake added. "If this was our Faustian bargain, then it was not worth it. If ultimately our principles were so malleable as to no longer be principles, then what was the point of political victories in the first place?"

It took courage for the senator to write a provocative piece like this, and I'm glad it's generating conversation. But as powerful as Flake's words are, it's not unreasonable to ask when, and whether, the Arizona Republican intends to back up the talk with action.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Cover-up allegations raise awkward questions for Trump's lawyer

08/01/17 08:00AM

It's been a few weeks since the New York Times first learned of a campaign meeting between top members of Donald Trump's inner circle and Russian nationals at Trump Tower last year. At the time, Donald Trump Jr. issued a written statement saying participants "primarily discussed" an adoption program, which was "not a campaign issue."

The statement omitted the fact that the point of the meeting was for Team Trump to acquire information from the Russian government, which had offered to provide dirt to Republicans about Hillary Clinton.

As Joy explained on last night's show, the Washington Post has quite a bit of new information on how the deceptive statement came together -- with the president's direct involvement.

On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump's advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump's oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.

The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn't be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president's direction, the plan changed.

The plan changed because the president changed it. In fact, Trump Sr. reportedly dictated the statement's language, making him directly responsible for misleading the public about a Trump campaign meeting with Russian nationals.

Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration's leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, told the Post, "The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president. They are still treating this like a family-run business and they have a PR problem.... What they don't seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them."

Making matters just a little worse, a member of the president's outside legal team specifically denied what now appears to be true.

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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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