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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.3.17

02/03/17 12:00PM

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

* A conservative group is spending "more than $500,000" to air commercials in support of education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. A vote on the Michigan megadonor is scheduled for Tuesday and the vote will be very close.

* Steve Bannon met with some top-tier Republican donors recently, and according to BuzzFeed's report, the White House strategist explained that he intends to "use the 2018 midterm elections as the arena to test the political clout of Trump's populist message."

* Less than a month into the new Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan has already "set a torrid fundraising pace," delivering $3.4 million raised in January to the National Republican Campaign Committee.

* Following Donald Trump's complaints about the F-35 project, Lockheed Martin Corp. reportedly turned to the lobbying firm owned by Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.

* Speaking of the lobbying industry, former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), on the heels of his gubernatorial defeat in his native Louisiana, has landed a job on K Street.

* How incompetent is the Trump White House? Even Karl Rove, who knows a little something about White House incompetence, is complaining about "amateur hour" at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

* If Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is confirmed as the next attorney general, which appears very likely, Alabama Gov. Bob Bentley (R) will appoint his successor. The governor announced yesterday his six finalists for the post.
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Demonstrators arrive at Union Station for the Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017, in Washington, DC.

Trump and his Republican allies cling to the 'paid protester' myth

02/03/17 10:46AM

Progressive activists have been very active in Colorado of late, pressuring Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), among others, to break with his party's far-right agenda. "It's just been a fire hose," the Republican senator said this week.

But Gardner doesn't seem especially moved by the public outcry. The CBS affiliate in Denver reported, "Gardner said his office is getting so many calls and emails, [he] has staff assigned to do nothing except respond to them. In one night, his office received 3,000 voicemails. Many of them were from what Gardner calls paid protesters from other parts of the U.S."

I haven't seen any evidence to suggest the protesters have been paid, but it's apparently the assumption Gardner is making to dismiss the progressive activism in his home state -- which Donald Trump lost by five points in November.

The conservative Coloradan isn't alone. Sen. Marco Rubio's (R-Fla.) press secretary told the Miami Herald the senator's office was unconcerned with "paid protestors."

And then, of course, there's the new president himself, who decided to start tweeting again this morning:
"Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
First, I'm deeply amused by the very idea of "professional anarchists." I also wish that had been the name of my band in high school.

Second, this is common in authoritarian thinking. When the public rallies in support of the leader, those citizens deserve to be celebrated. When the public rallies in opposition to the leader, those citizens should be dismissed as corrupt and ignored.
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A woman points a handgun with a laser sight on a wall display of other guns during the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 13, 2007, in St. Louis.

House Republicans vote to expand gun access for mentally impaired

02/03/17 10:07AM

When an American suffers from a severe mental illness, to the point that he or she receives disability benefits through the Social Security Administration, there are a variety of limits created to help protect that person and his or her interests. These folks cannot, for example, go to a bank to cash a check on their own.

If congressional Republicans have their way, these impaired people will, however, be able to buy a gun. USA Today reported:
The House of Representatives approved its first effort of the new Congress to roll back gun regulations, voting to overturn a rule that would bar gun ownership by some who have been deemed mentally impaired by the Social Security Administration.

The House voted 235-180 largely along party lines Thursday to repeal an Obama-era rule requiring the Social Security Administration to send records of some beneficiaries to the federal firearms background check system after they've been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs.

The rule, when implemented, would affect about 75,000 recipients of disability insurance and supplemental insurance income who require a representative to manage their benefits because of a disabling mental disorder, ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia.
The full roll call on yesterday's vote is online here. Note that 97% of House Republicans voted for the measure, while 99% of House Democrats voted against it.

While GOP proponents of the bill argued that it's unfair to limit the rights of the mentally disabled, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), among others, explained, "These are not just people having a bad day.... These are people with a severe mental illness who can't hold any kind of job or make any decisions about their affairs."

This did not prove persuasive to Congress' far-right majority, which supported the measure that enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the National Rifle Association.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

State Department differs with White House on Holocaust statement

02/03/17 09:20AM

It never occurred to me this would still be a story a week later, and yet, here we are.
The State Department drafted its own statement last month marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day that explicitly included a mention of Jewish victims, according to people familiar with the matter, but President Donald Trump's White House blocked its release.

The existence of the draft statement adds another dimension to the controversy around the White House's own statement that was released on Monday and set off a furor because it excluded any mention of Jews.
According to Politico's report, the State Department's Office of the Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues "prepared its own statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day." As it has in the past, the department's statement commemorated the Holocaust's Jewish victims.

The White House chose to issue its own statement, which obviously went in a different direction.

Politico added that, according to the White House, officials didn't see the State Department's draft until after the controversial release, and Team Trump wasn't expecting a version from the State Department anyway.

Officials at the State Department, however, believed their statement "was being drafted for the White House to use."

All of which reinforces the belief that the White House made a conscious effort to release a statement honoring International Holocaust Remembrance Day that excluded references to Jews on purpose.
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U.S. job market is off to a strong start in 2017

02/03/17 08:43AM

The good news is, the U.S. job market is off to a strong start in 2017. The bad news is, there will be an annoying debate today as to who deserves credit.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in January. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, remains low, inching higher from 4.7% to 4.8%. It's the 16th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower.

As for the revisions, once a year, the Labor Department publishes a report that revises the monthly totals for the entire previous calendar year. Today's report includes that data, which is reflected in the above chart.

Note, with these revisions, we now know the overall economy added 2.24 million new jobs in 2016 -- an increase over the previous estimate -- which is a very healthy number. What's more, January was the 76th consecutive month of positive job growth, which is the longest on record.

Above you'll find the chart I run every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction – red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush administration, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.
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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Team Trump points to imaginary 'Bowling Green Massacre'

02/03/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump and his White House team have had a fair amount of time to come up with compelling defenses for the president's Muslim ban. So far, their rhetorical pushback isn't going especially well.

Trump World said only 109 people were denied entry into the U.S. under the policy, but that number wasn't true. They tried to argue President Obama did the same thing, but that wasn't true, either. They said the policy had to be sprung on people in order to be effective, but that too wasn't true. An Associated Press fact-check found a variety of other misstatements related to the controversial executive order.

But as the Washington Post noted, Kellyanne Conway appears to have taken her affection for "alternative facts" to a whole new level.
During a Thursday interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the counselor to the president defended President Trump's travel ban related to seven majority-Muslim countries. At one point, Conway made a reference to two Iraqi refugees whom she described as the masterminds behind "the Bowling Green Massacre."

"Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered," Conway said.
And if there had been a massacre in Bowling Green that went ignored by rascally news organizations, Trump's White House counselor might have a credible point.

But the massacre "didn't get covered" because it doesn't exist.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.2.17

02/02/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I hope this doesn't mean Haley's job is in jeopardy: "U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blamed Russia on Thursday for the surge of violence in the eastern Ukraine since late January."

* Initial evidence suggests this was a technical fix, not an important policy shift: "The U.S. Treasury Department announced Thursday it will allow some American companies to do limited transactions with the Russian Security Service, or FSB -- the successor organization to the infamous KGB."

* Iran: "A top aide to Iran's supreme leader blamed the 'inexperienced' Trump administration for apparent U.S. threats and vowed his country would continue testing ballistic missiles."

* It's only ISIS's central stronghold: "Obama's White House worked for months on a plan to seize Raqqa. Trump's team took a quick look and decided not to pull the trigger."

* Strong terms: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) slammed Stephen Bannon on Thursday, saying President Trump's senior adviser is a racist who has no business sitting on the National Security Council (NSC).  'It's a stunning thing that a white supremacist, Bannon, would be a permanent member of the National Security Council,' Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol."

* Berkeley: "A speech by the divisive right-wing writer Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley, was canceled on Wednesday night after demonstrators set fires and threw objects at buildings to protest his appearance."

* In response, Donald Trump personally tweeted this morning, "If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view -- NO FEDERAL FUNDS?" I don't know why the president loves capitalizing letters needlessly, but I do know he appears to have made this threat after watching a Fox News segment.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participates in a roundtable discussion on national security in his offices in Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Team Trump puts Iran 'on notice,' won't explain what that means

02/02/17 04:49PM

Mike Flynn, Donald Trump's controversial National Security Adviser, appeared in the White House press briefing room to make a brief statement yesterday, declaring, "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice."

The president himself added on Twitter this morning Iran "has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile." Press Secretary Sean Spicer used the same phrase this afternoon with reporters.

The trouble is, no one seems able to say what "on notice" means in the context of U.S. foreign policy. Sure, we remember Stephen Colbert's "on notice" board, but when it comes to the White House, it remains an unexplained mystery.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer wouldn't expand Thursday on what President Donald Trump's national security advisor meant when he said the U.S. was putting Iran "on notice."

"The President and national security adviser wants to put Iran on notice but haven't specified what that is," a reporter asked Spicer at the daily briefing. "What options are on the table? Are there any options like military action that might be off the table at this point?"

Spicer did not specify what retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn meant when he said Wednesday that "we are officially putting Iran on notice," after the nation tested a ballistic missile.
"I think Gen. Flynn was very clear yesterday," Spicer said, which is obviously untrue, since no one has any idea what exactly the White House is saying. The press secretary added, "Clearly we wanted to make sure that Iran knows they are on notice,"

Right. But that's the only thing that's "clear" in this equation.
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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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