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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.27.16

12/27/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Japan: "Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's rare visit with President Barack Obama to Pearl Harbor on Tuesday seems aimed at sending a message that former enemies can mend bonds and form powerful alliances that outlive the devastating effects of war."

* Italy: "It was a routine identity check, the kind Italy has relied on to stem the flow of illegal migration deeper into Europe. But the man stopped by two police officers around 3 a.m. Friday outside the northern city of Milan was anything but an ordinary drifter. He turned out to be perhaps Europe's most wanted man, Anis Amri, the chief suspect in the deadly terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people."

* A Russian plane "with more than 90 on board -- including members of a famous military band -- crashed into the Black Sea on its way to Syria soon after takeoff from the resort city of Sochi on Sunday."

* Ebola: "In a scientific triumph that will change the way the world fights a terrifying killer, an experimental Ebola vaccine tested on humans in the waning days of the West African epidemic has been shown to provide 100 percent protection against the lethal disease."

* Personnel news: "Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that Thomas P. Bossert would serve in the newly created position of Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism."

* Police in Australia "have detained five men suspected of planning a series of Christmas Day attacks using explosives, knives and a gun in the heart of the country's second-largest city, officials said Friday."

* "Booking fees" seem difficult to defend: "An unusual coalition of civil rights organizations, criminal defense lawyers and conservative and libertarian groups have challenged these sorts of policies, saying they confiscate private property without constitutional protections and lock poor people into a cycle of fines, debts and jail."
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Who would've won an Obama vs. Trump race?

12/27/16 02:05PM

Nearly every modern two-term president acknowledges the same feeling as they get ready to leave the White House: "I wish I could run again." In November 1987, then-President Reagan said he intended to "start a movement" to repeal the constitutional amendment establishing presidential term limits.

President Obama is not immune to the sentiment. In fact, he's not especially shy about it. In July, Obama spoke to the African Union, and while making a broader point about leaders honoring their respective countries' legal constraints, he said, "I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can't. So there's a lot that I'd like to do to keep America moving, but the law is the law, and no one person is above the law, not even the president."

With this in mind, Obama's confidence that he could've beaten Donald Trump probably shouldn't come as too big of a surprise.
President Barack Obama suggested that had he been able to campaign for a third term he could have rallied many Americans -- even those who disagreed with him -- behind his vision of a more tolerant and diverse nation during a candid sit-down for his former adviser David Axelrod's podcast "The Axe Files".

Although he complimented Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, saying she "performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances," he also expressed confidence that his progressive vision for the country still has broad appeal in the wake of her stunning defeat of in the general election this November.
The president specifically said he's "confident" that if he'd run again, he "could've mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind" his vision.

There's been some pushback on this from Clinton supporters, who've argued that Obama was being ungracious towards the recently defeated Democrat, but in context, it seems the president was trying to make a point about public support for progressive governance, not boasting about his superiority over Clinton as a candidate.

Nevertheless, it didn't take long for the president-elect to declare on Twitter that there's "no way" Obama could've defeated him in a head-to-head match-up.

We'll obviously never know, and the question itself is little more than a trivial conversation piece, like a debate in a bar about whether the '96 Bulls could've beaten the '72 Lakers. But just for kicks, let's indulge the underlying question -- because the answer seems pretty obvious to me.
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President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak to a "USA Thank You" tour event, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Team Trump takes pay-to-play politics to a new level

12/27/16 12:40PM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump offered voters a two-pronged pitch when it came to contributors' influence. First, he insisted that Hillary Clinton would be "totally controlled" by her donors, and second, the Republican said his purported wealth made him immune to such pressures. Trump even made bogus claims about "self-funding" his campaign with $100 million in personal contributions -- which didn't materialize.

But the depth of the dishonesty surrounding Trump's rhetoric runs deep. Consider, for example, just how far the president-elect is going to please his wealthiest donors.

The Washington Post reported a couple of weeks ago, for example, that Trump "has now tapped six big donors and fundraisers to serve in his administration, lining up an unprecedented concentration of wealthy backers for top posts." Politico moved the ball forward overnight, noting the access donors have been able to purchase.
More than a third of the almost 200 people who have met with President-elect Donald Trump since his election last month, including those interviewing for administration jobs, gave large amounts of money to support his campaign and other Republicans this election cycle.

Together the 73 donors contributed $1.7 million to Trump and groups supporting him, according to a POLITICO analysis of Federal Election Commission records, and $57.3 million to the rest of the party, averaging more than $800,000 per donor.

Donors also represent 39 percent of the 119 people Trump reportedly considered for high-level government posts, and 38 percent of those he eventually picked, according to the analysis, which counted candidates named by the transition and in news reports.
Ordinarily, in both parties' administrations, donors are rewarded with diplomatic posts, but Trump is breaking new ground. Politico's piece added that "the extent to which donors are stocking Trump's administration is unparalleled in modern presidential history."
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.27.16

12/27/16 12:00PM

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

* An interesting observation from CNBC's John Harwood: each of the last five presidents -- Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama -- left office with Congress in the hands of the opposite party.

* On Thursday, the Trump Transition Office announced that Jason Miller would become the new White House Communications Director. On Christmas Eve, Miller reversed course and said he wouldn't take the job, following reports of an alleged extra-marital affair with a Team Trump colleague. Sean Spicer will now serve as communications director and press secretary.

* Speaking of Spicer, the RNC official took offense over the weekend when an RNC press statement said "this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King," and some wondered whether Republicans were referring to Donald Trump.

* There's a great deal of interest in Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's (D-N.D.) career plans, and on Thursday morning, she said on a radio show that "it's likely" she'll remain in the Senate, rather than joining Trump's cabinet.

* Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) still has two years remaining before his re-election bid, but for now, his goal is to scare off would-be rivals. With that in mind, the Republican incumbent just announced the other day he's contributed $50 million to his own campaign. Rauner is independently wealthy following a career in private equity.

* Carl Paladino, the co-chair of Trump's New York campaign, said on Friday he wants President Obama to die from mad-cow disease in 2017. Paladino, a failed Republican gubernatorial candidate, also said in reference to First Lady Michelle Obama, "I'd like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla."
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A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

The bond between Putin and Trump grows stronger

12/27/16 11:20AM

After U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia launched an espionage operation against the American presidential election, in part to help put Donald Trump in the White House, it was tempting to assume the president-elect would temper his frequent praise for Vladimir Putin.

Those assumptions, however, would be wrong. Despite the allegations that a foreign power helped elect America's president-elect, Trump appears to be cozying up to the Russian autocrat with even greater vigor. The Washington Post reported over the holiday weekend:
President-elect Donald Trump late Friday publicly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for attacking Trump's former Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

In a striking statement that seems to further align Trump with Putin, the incoming U.S. president tweeted that he agreed with the Russian leader's assessment that Clinton and the Democratic Party generally have not shown "dignity" following widespread losses in the November election.

"So true!" Trump tweeted of Putin's comments, apparently referencing statements the Russian made at his year-end news conference.
It's worth pausing to appreciate the context: a foreign foe publicly mocked Americans, and our president-elect quickly endorsed the criticism, siding with the Russian leader who's accused of subverting our democratic system. This is the same president-elect who also sided with the Russian leader over U.S. intelligence agencies.

Putin, at his year-end press conference, went on to say in reference to cyber-attacks targeting Democrats, "[I]t's not important who did the hacking, it's important that the information that was revealed was true, that is important."

In a remarkable coincidence, that's the identical talking point being pushed by pro-Trump Republicans.
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House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., presides over a markup session on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Trump's pick for HHS faces stock-trading controversy

12/27/16 10:45AM

If Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Donald Trump's choice to lead HHS, is confirmed by the Senate, the Republican will be required by law to divest in companies regulated by the agency he'll lead or recuse himself from decisions related to those companies. But as a member of Congress, Price faces a much lower standard.

And as the Wall Street Journal reported, the GOP congressman has apparently acted in such a way as to raise questions that will need answers.
President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Health and Human Services Department traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies' stocks.

Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, bought and sold stock in about 40 health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012, including a dozen in the current congressional session, according to a Wall Street Journal review of hundreds of pages of stock trades he filed with Congress.
Some of the specific examples are hard to overlook. For example, the Journal noted Price's investment in an Australian biomedical firm, Innate Immunotherapeutics, whose largest shareholder is Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Price colleague and a leading member of Donald Trump's transition team. In August, Collins bought four million shares in the company, and two days later, Price bought between $50,000 and $100,000 in the same company.

A few months later, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which boosted investment in medical research, and sent Innate Immuno's stock higher, more than doubling in value since Price's investment.

Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration, told Roll Call members of Congress should avoid actively investing in industries they oversee.

"Good judgment would be to stay out of health care stocks if you are on a health-care related committee," Painter said. "Stay out of energy stocks if you are on an energy committee. Stay out of defense stocks if you are on Armed Services."

Price, who's benefited greatly from generous contributions from the health care industry, evidently feels differently.
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Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback speaks to supporters in Topeka, Kansas, on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Brownback eager to see Trump repeat Kansas' mistakes

12/27/16 10:00AM

Arthur Laffer, the architect of Kansas' failed far-right economic experiment, is certain that if Donald Trump adopts similar policies at the national level, it will "lead to economic 'nirvana' in the U.S."

The last chief executive to listen to Laffer's advice, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), is thinking along the same lines. The Wall Street Journal reported over the holiday weekend:
Sam Brownback, the Kansas governor whose tax cuts brought him political turmoil, recurring budget holes and sparse evidence of economic success, has a message for President-elect Donald Trump: Do what I did.

In 2013, Mr. Brownback set out to create a lean, business-friendly government in his state that other Republicans could replicate. He now faces a $350 million deficit when the Kansas legislature convenes in January and projections of a larger one in 2018. The state's economy is flat and his party is fractured.

Still, Mr. Brownback views his signature idea -- eliminating the 4.6% state individual income tax for partnerships, limited liability corporations and similar businesses -- as a national model.
He's not alone. In 2012, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of Brownback's radical economic experiment, "This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington."

This is an unbelievably crazy idea.
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Trump gets caught lying about his charitable foundation

12/27/16 09:20AM

If Donald Trump intends to take his conflict-of-interest troubles seriously, that would be an important step in the right direction. The president-elect, however, appears to be missing the point of his problem.
President-elect Donald Trump announced Saturday that he would dissolve his namesake foundation to avoid any potential conflict of interest during his time as president.

The plan may quickly run into a snag, however.

"The Trump Foundation is still under investigation by this office and cannot legally dissolve until that investigation is complete," New York Attorney General spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said in a statement released Saturday.
In a statement, Trump said he would close his controversial charitable foundation "to avoid even the appearance of any conflict" with his role as president. But when it comes to Trump's conflicts, his foundation was hardly at the top of the list of concerns: it's his for-profit enterprises that are the basis for most of the controversies.

And since Trump can't dissolve an entity while it's still under investigation, even this half-step may not happen.

The president-elect nevertheless seems eager to talk about the end of his scandal-plagued foundation, arguing via Twitter last night that "all" of the money it raised was "given to charity." He added soon after that "100%" of the millions raised went to "wonderful charities."

We know Trump's lying, in part because the Trump Foundation has already admitted that some of its money covered non-charitable expenses.
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U.S. President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1, 2014. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Netanyahu lashes out following United Nations rebuke

12/27/16 08:40AM

Friday wasn't the first time the United Nations dealt with a resolution criticizing Israel over settlements, but it was the first time in a while the Security Council passed a resolution -- because the Obama administration abstained, rather than vetoing the measure the way Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted.
It is the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years.

The lack of U.S. involvement in the vote represents a sharp break with tradition of protecting Israel from UN action. It was seen as a last-ditch attempt by the council to put the brakes on settlement building and get the Israelis and Palestinians talking again before Trump's inauguration.
The political reactions have been swift, and at times severe, but what's interesting about a story like this one is appreciating just how many angles there are to the underlying controversy.

* Netanyahu vs. Obama: The Israeli prime minister has gone to almost ridiculous lengths to undermine the American president, but for eight years, Obama kept his cool. The outgoing American leader does have his limits, however, and in this case, Netanyahu wanted U.S. support for Israel ignoring the White House's position on settlements. Israeli officials were outraged that Americans allowed the vote to happen, but they shouldn't have been surprised.

* Trump tries to play diplomat: At least for now, Donald Trump is a private citizen with literally no experience in foreign policy, but that didn't stop him from urging the Obama administration to side with Israel and against other U.S. allies on the settlement resolution. Trump reportedly intervened following a direct appeal from Israeli officials who privately reached out to the Republican, hoping to play the incoming U.S. president against the outgoing U.S. president. (As a rule, American allies don't work behind the scenes with a president-elect to undermine a sitting president.)
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Contradicting his own aides, Trump welcomes nuclear 'arms race'

12/27/16 08:00AM

Late last week, apropos of nothing, Donald Trump rattled much of the world with an alarmingly ambiguous tweet about nuclear weapons: "The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes." Within hours, the president-elect's aides, eager to lower the temperature, downplayed the significance of the statement.

Kellyanne Conway told Rachel, for example, "What he's merely saying is he wants us to be ready to defend ourselves and he's not making new policy." Jason Miller added soon after that the president-elect is not starting a new arms race.

Trump said the exact opposite on Friday morning, telling MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski:
"Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."
When considering the threats a Trump presidency may pose to the nation, his critics generally point to concerns such as the environment, public health and health security, civil rights and social justice, civil liberties, and the future of the judiciary. But the president-elect's rhetoric about nuclear weapons serve as a painful reminder that there's an even more alarming danger, which Trump appears eager to make worse.

It's all a bit terrifying, actually. For decades, presidents of both parties recognized the seriousness of the nuclear threat and the need for clear and calm positions from leading U.S. officials. Trump, however, wants to "expand its nuclear capability" -- a phrase the transition office has not explained -- as part of a newly reinitiated "arms race" in which we'll "outmatch them."

The uncertainty, here and around the world, about what Trump means by "expand" and "them," all while the incoming president contradicts his own top aides, makes an alarming situation considerably worse. Indeed, it's not at all clear who Trump sees as our competitor in his newly imagined "race" -- because it's certainly not Russia, led by Team Trump's closest international pal, Vladimir Putin.
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Thank you Kellyanne Conway

Thank you Kellyanne Conway

12/22/16 09:59PM

Rachel Maddow expresses her appreciation to Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President-elect Trump, for taking time out to hash through important issues in a way that is "civic, civil, and confrontational when it needs to be without being mean." watch


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