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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.26.18

02/26/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* No one should give Trump any ideas: "China's plan for President Xi Jinping to remain in office indefinitely saw censors block satirical commentary and online searches for 'two-term limit,' also triggering comparisons to North Korea's ruling dynasty."

* North Pole: "Temperatures may have soared as high as 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) at the pole, according to the U.S. Global Forecast System model.... Such extreme warm intrusions in the Arctic, once rare, are becoming more routine, research has shown. A study published last July found that since 1980, these events are becoming more frequent, longer-lasting and more intense."

* Alarmingly typical: "President Trump's personal pilot is 'in the mix' to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, a White House official confirmed Sunday night."

* Trying to accommodate the American president's idiosyncratic views: "President Trump's threat to rip up the Iran nuclear deal has touched off an urgent scramble in European capitals to preserve the agreement -- not by rewriting it, but by creating a successor deal intended to halt Iran's ballistic missile program and make permanent the restrictions on its ability to produce nuclear fuel."

* Sign of the times: "A former law student and male stripper prosecuted for invasion of privacy for secretly filming sex partners two decades ago is now seeking a pardon from Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, indicted under the same criminal statute last week."

* Four years ago, Trump said the U.S. Olympic team's lackluster showing in the medal count was "another Obama embarrassment." Oops.

* I wish he'd stop doing this: "As conspiracy theorists accuse survivors of the Florida school shooting of being 'crisis actors,' President Trump on Saturday retweeted a fringe radio host who once used identical language to peddle hoaxes about the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012."

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A doorman stands as people walk past the Trump Tower in N.Y. on May 23, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

The many bills the RNC is willing to pay for Trump

02/26/18 05:00PM

It started, oddly enough, with legal bills. We learned in the fall that the Republican National Committee, for reasons that have never been altogether clear, paid for Donald Trump's and Donald Trump Jr's attorneys as part of the Russia scandal -- but no one else's.

The story took a turn when we learned last week that the RNC is also paying Trump's former bodyguard generously as part of a consulting contract.

CNBC moved the ball forward the other day, noting that the RNC eventually stopped paying the president's legal bills, at which point it started covering Trump's re-election campaign expenses.

The RNC is using campaign funds to pay Trump's company more than $37,000 a month in rent, and to pay thousands of dollars in monthly salary to Vice President Mike Pence's nephew, John Pence, party officials confirmed this week. The rent pays for office space in the Trump Tower in New York for the staff of Trump's re-election campaign. John Pence is the Trump campaign's deputy executive director.

Campaign finance experts who spoke to CNBC said this type of spending by a party committee on behalf of a campaign is highly unusual but legal, and it appears the RNC disclosed it correctly.

"This is permissible and it's being reported properly, but why they are doing it is a mystery," said Brendan Fischer, senior counsel for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. "One would think the RNC could be spending their money more effectively right now on the 2018 campaign, rather than spending it to pay Trump's rent."

Quite right. The point isn't that the arrangement is somehow untoward. Rather, what's amazing about this is that our self-professed billionaire president has a re-election campaign operation in place, housed in a building the president still owns and profits from, and despite the fact that the operation has millions of dollars in the bank, it's the Republican National Committee that's using donor money to help Trump's campaign with the rent.

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Trump on Parkland: "I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon"

02/26/18 12:43PM

No one knows until it happens how they'd react when confronted with a crisis, though it's often amusing to hear some describe the heroism they think they'd display when the pressure's on.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R), for example, appeared on Fox News this morning and reflected on what she would've done if she were in Parkland two weeks ago during its mass shooting. "When you have a school full of students, and your duty is to protect those students, if I was there and I didn't have a firearm, I would have gone into that scene," Bondi said.

Apparently, this hypothetical bravery extends to Bondi's ally in the White House.

President Donald Trump is telling the nation's governors that he would have run into the deadly Florida high school shooting "even if I didn't have a weapon."

The president is again finding fault with officers who didn't stop the Florida gunman who carried out the massacre earlier this month. Trump said the deputies "weren't exactly Medal of Honor winners."

He told 39 of the nation's governors, "I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon."

To borrow a Chris Hayes line, there is such a thing as "down-the-block tough." As Chris put it on his show several years ago, "You're familiar with the concept of down-the-block tough, if not the phrase. Down-the-block tough is when you start jawing with someone or get into a little fisticuffs, and once it's all over, and you've walked a block away from that person, you say, 'Yeah and your mother.'"

Given an opportunity to actually be tough, Trump shows weakness. But given an opportunity to reflect on the greatness of his imaginary toughness, Trump has quite a tale to tell.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.26.18

02/26/18 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) troubles with her party's base continue: over the weekend, the longtime incumbent came up far short when trying to secure the endorsement of the California Democratic Party.

* Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) generally isn't considered one of this year's vulnerable incumbents, but it's worth noting that his rival, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D), has so far raised $8 million for his campaign. Indeed, since Jan. 1, O'Rourke's fundraising haul has tripled Cruz's.

* Speaking of the Lone Star State, early voting in Texas' primary races suggests there's been a surge of interest among Democratic voters.

* In Donald Trump's Fox News interview on Saturday night, host Jeanine Pirro mentioned the president's approval rating four times, assuring viewers that his support is "soaring." It's not. The new CNN poll shows Trump's approval rating dropping to just 35%, while a new USA Today/Suffolk poll puts the president's support at 38%.

* At the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, Republicans didn't seem especially eager to offer support to Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), who was indicted last week on charges stemming from his sex scandal.

* Asked if she regrets saying mass murderers are Democrats, Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.) said, "Not at all. Don't regret.... No. Of course not."

* The Fresno Bee asked House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) about whether he'll hold any town-hall hearings ahead of this year's election. The Republican responded that his hometown newspaper is "a joke" and "a left-wing rag."

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Supreme Court undermines Trump's immigration strategy

02/26/18 11:29AM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump could've had the most important policy victory of his presidency. Most congressional Democrats had endorsed a bipartisan compromise that would have extended DACA protections to Dreamers, while also providing funding for the president's proposed border wall.

Trump turned it down -- along with five other bipartisan compromises on immigration legislation. It seemed obvious to most that the president should've accepted the deal, but he thought he could hold out for a bigger ransom. Asked on Fox News over the weekend about his plans for a wall, for example, Trump added, "The Democrats have actually agreed to that. But I have to get more."

The strategy isn't subtle: the president believes he can effectively hold Dreamers hostage until Democrats agree to fund the border wall and agree to cut legal immigration. With Trump's deadline for scrapping DACA looming, the White House appeared to have all the leverage.

That leverage has suddenly evaporated.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the Trump administration's appeal of a federal judge's ruling that requires the government to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program going.

Under a lower court order that remains in effect, the Department of Homeland Security must continue to accept applications to renew DACA status from the roughly 700,000 young people, known as Dreamers, who are currently enrolled. The administration's deadline of March 5, when it intended to shut the program down, is now largely meaningless.

This clearly isn't what the White House wanted to hear.

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Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, speaks during a town hall meeting, Thursday, May 11, 2017, in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Iowa Republican faces a doozy of an ethics mess

02/26/18 11:00AM

At first blush, it sounded like a rather mundane controversy. Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), a top target for Democrats in this year's midterms, reportedly violated House ethics rules by "failing to disclose his role in a company that he formed."

Given the scope of some of the recent political scandals we've seen, Blum's disclosure issue seemed easy to overlook. But the Associated Press had a longer report on the Iowa Republican's "mysterious outfit," which suggests this story is a lot more interesting than first assumed.

Rep. Rod Blum was one of two directors of the Tin Moon Corp. when the internet marketing company was incorporated in May 2016, as the Republican was serving his first term, a business filing shows. Among other services, Tin Moon promises to help companies cited for federal food and drug safety violations bury their Food and Drug Administration warning letters below positive internet search results.

Blum said in a statement Wednesday evening that he made an "oversight" in failing to disclose his ties to the company on his personal financial disclosure covering calendar year 2016, which he submitted last August. He said he was amending the form to list his role as director of the company and Tin Moon as an asset, even while he downplayed the significance of the matter.

So, while serving in Congress, Rod Blum helped create a sketchy-looking company intended to help those who are accused of violating FDA standards. The GOP congressman, who was featured on the company's website in a photo featuring his congressional members' pin, was required to disclose his role in the business, but didn't. What's more, as the Associated Press' report noted, the business is based in the same Iowa office as a construction software company Blum also owns.

The congressman called the disclosure failure an "administrative oversight," which isn't exactly a compelling defense.

And while this is probably starting to sound bad, this makes it sound vastly worse.

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Image: House GOP Pulls Vote On Trump's American Health Care Act

The kind of action on guns 19 House Republicans can endorse

02/26/18 10:30AM

If you only look at headlines, stories like this one in Politico suggest congressional Republicans are starting to buckle under public pressure to act on gun policy.

Nineteen House Republicans on Friday urged House Speaker Paul Ryan to hold a vote on a bill that pushes for stronger background checks on those seeking to buy firearms, a little more than a week after the deadly school shooting in Florida.

"Background checks are the first line of defense in law enforcement's efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers and those deemed dangerously mentally ill," Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), one of the signers of the letter to Ryan, said in a statement.

The Washington Post had a similar piece, with a headline that read, "House Republicans push Ryan to hold vote on background-check bill."

As of Friday, a total of 19 House Republicans -- representing about 8% of the House GOP conference -- signed the letter to the Speaker requesting a vote. Most are vulnerable incumbents, worried about their re-election prospects, or members who are retiring and less inclined to care about pressure from the far-right.

And while it may seem encouraging to see any Republicans in Congress calling for fresh action on gun policy, when I say the bill in question is the least lawmakers could do, I'm being quite literal.

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Trump describes investigation into Russia scandal as 'illegal'

02/26/18 10:00AM

Donald Trump's willingness to play make-believe extends to pretending to be a legal expert who's uncovered evidence of all kinds of crimes.

On Saturday, for example, the confused president, pointing to a memo prepared by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, argued that the Justice Department and intelligence agencies did "terrible things" that were "so illegal." The Democratic document actually proved the opposite.

Soon after, he called into a Fox News program to argue that Hillary Clinton's campaign was guilty of unspecified crimes, worthy of investigation. The president's eagerness to lobby the Justice Department to probe his political adversaries continues to be unhealthy.

But perhaps most importantly, Trump published a tweet about an entirely new criminal allegation:

"This whole Witch Hunt is an illegal disgrace..."

Trump was referring to the investigation into the Russia scandal, which isn't a witch hunt, illegal, or disgraceful.

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Ivanka and Donald Trump in Aston, Pa. where they outlined Trump's proposal on childcare on Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

Why is Ivanka Trump engaging in international diplomacy?

02/26/18 09:30AM

Not long after the 2016 election, CBS News' Leslie Stahl noted to Ivanka Trump that there were widely held assumptions that she would soon have a role in her father's administration. "No," she replied. "I'm going to be a daughter."

It was a commitment she quickly abandoned. Ivanka Trump soon had a West Wing office, a staff, a policy portfolio, and a presence on the international stage.

Trump World continues to push this envelope. On Friday, Donald Trump announced new sanctions on North Korea, and soon after, the Wall Street Journal had this report:

U.S. presidential adviser Ivanka Trump arrived in Seoul on Friday as South Korea's leader faced a backlash for agreeing to host a North Korean general blamed for the deaths of 46 South Korean sailors.

Ms. Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, landed in the afternoon and headed to the presidential Blue House in Seoul for a dinner with President Moon Jae-in.

In case this isn't obvious, Ivanka Trump, who previously created a consumer fashion brand and made frequent appearances on her father's reality show, has no experience in foreign policy or diplomacy.

And yet, according to the Trump administration, Ivanka Trump reportedly briefed South Korean leaders on the new U.S. sanctions on North Korea. When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked if the president's daughter had the necessary security clearance for such a briefing, he replied, "She has the appropriate access to brief the president."

The difference between "access" and "clearance" matters. Indeed, Ivanka Trump is one of several people in the president's orbit who has not yet obtained a permanent security clearance.

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Public attitudes on gun policy shift quickly following Parkland

02/26/18 09:00AM

At an event in Florida last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seemed displeased when his constituents applauded the idea of banning consumer access to semiautomatic rifles. The morning after, the Republican senator said such an approach would be outside "the mainstream."

As a factual matter, Rubio's understanding of public attitudes is clearly askew, but just as importantly, he and the rest of the political world should probably pause to appreciate just how much "the mainstream" has shifted of late.

Support for stricter gun laws has spiked to the highest level since 1993, and almost two-thirds say government and society can take action to prevent future mass shootings, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

The findings suggest the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has shifted public opinion on gun laws in a way other recent mass shootings have not.

Overall, 70% now say they back stricter gun laws, up from 52% who said so in an October poll not long after a mass shooting in Las Vegas killed 58 people. Just 27% oppose stricter laws.

To be sure, it hasn't quite been two weeks since the mass shooting in Stoneman Douglas High School, but if it feels like the reaction to the gun violence is different this time, it's not your imagination.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Long-awaited Democratic document lowers the boom on GOP stunt

02/26/18 08:33AM

It wasn't long ago that some of the rabid voices in Republican politics had exceedingly high hopes for the so-called "Nunes memo." The document, prepared by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and his staff, was one of the most hyped reports in recent memory, which proved to be rather embarrassing when it proved to be utterly pointless.

The problem was painfully obvious: the memo set out to prove a handful of partisan points, intended to help Donald Trump, and it failed spectacularly. In fact, instead of advancing the White House's interests, Nunes created a setback for his presidential ally, leaving the GOP worse off than it was before the previously classified materials were released to the public.

It quickly became clear that the memo had effectively discredited itself. What we didn't know was that the Democratic rebuttal to Nunes' document, would make Republicans look even worse.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a long-awaited and freshly declassified rebuttal Saturday to Republican claims that federal officials abused the process for obtaining warrants to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a former campaign aide to President Donald Trump who had Russian contacts.

The 10-page memo offers insight into one of the most secretive processes in government, directly quoting from the text of a secret surveillance warrant application to show that the Justice Department had disclosed that some evidence sprang from political opposition research intended to discredit a political campaign, contradicting a key GOP claim.

The entire document, organized by House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his colleagues, is online here, and it's worth your time -- because it does more than just debunk the Republican memo that was clearly a dumb mistake.

Consider some of the topline revelations:

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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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