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Monday's Mini-Report, 6.25.18

06/25/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This was a setback for voting rights: "The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Texas does not have to redraw the boundaries for the state's congressional districts, a victory for Republicans and a defeat for challengers who said the lines were drawn at the expense of minority voters."

* In related news: "The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will not take up a fight over the boundaries for congressional districts in North Carolina that challengers say were drawn in such a blatantly partisan manner that the resulting map is unconstitutional."

* It was an annoying day: "President Donald Trump on Monday slammed the central Virginia restaurant that booted his press secretary over the weekend as an establishment with 'filthy canopies, doors and windows' and suggested it was also 'dirty on the inside.'"

* Something for Trump to pretend not to notice: "The markets took another drubbing on Monday on worries that President Donald Trump's protectionist trade rhetoric marked a dangerous foray into uncharted economic waters."

* This strikes me as outrageously dumb: "Javier Solana, a former secretary general of NATO who played a central role in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program when he was the European Union's foreign policy chief, has been denied electronic authorization to enter the United States because of a visit to Iran in 2013."

* Trump's pal in Ankara: "Turkey entered a new era Monday, but with the same man in charge. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who at 64 has dominated Turkish politics for 15 years, won another five-year term in presidential elections."

* Office of Government Ethics: "The government's top ethics official said some of President Trump's business dealings 'raise serious concerns' but that the office lacks the authority to launch an investigation requested last month by congressional Democrats."

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Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa, waves to supporters as she rides the lead bike in a group motorcycle ride in Des Moines, Iowa on June 6, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's policies push some Harley-Davidson production abroad

06/25/18 01:00PM

Just 12 days into his presidency, Donald Trump hosted a meeting with officials from Harley-Davidson at the White House, where the Republican was eager to take credit for the company's recent successes. He argued, "There's a lot of spirit right now in the country that you weren't having so much in the last number of months that you have right now."

That "spirit" is apparently starting to change. The iconic American motorcycle company closed a domestic factory earlier this year, and Harley-Davidson's CEO said the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal "would have helped us a lot" -- but didn't when Trump killed the agreement.

This morning, as the Associated Press reported, the story took another turn.

Harley-Davidson, up against spiraling costs from tariffs, will begin shifting the production of motorcycles headed for Europe from the U.S. to factories overseas.

The European Union on Friday began rolling out tariffs on American imports like bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice. The EU tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. products are retaliation for duties the Trump administration is imposing on European steel and aluminum.

The company was explicit that the production shift is intended to "alleviate the EU tariff burden," which was recently added as a retaliatory measure in response to Trump's tariffs on European steel and aluminum.

Of course, Harley-Davidson is just part of a larger puzzle. The New York Times  reported the other day on the effects of Trump's so-called "trade war," which are "beginning to ripple" through the economy, disrupting domestic supply chains.

The article added, "The cascade of tit-for-tat tariffs has spooked corporate executives, potentially slowing investment, and the Federal Reserve suggested this week that it might have to rethink its economic forecasts if the trade wars continue."

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

EPA's Pruitt finds himself facing yet another federal investigation

06/25/18 12:30PM

As of mid-May, EPA chief Scott Pruitt was the subject of 14 separate federal investigations. Over the weekend, Politico reported on the 15th.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is reviewing claims that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt retaliated against a handful of employees who pushed back against his spending and management, according to three people familiar with the process.

At least six current and former agency officials were reportedly fired or reassigned to new jobs, allegedly for questioning Pruitt's need for a 24-hour security protection -- which has now cost at least $4.6 million -- as well as his other spending and practices. OSC is in the process of interviewing some of those employees, according to the sources, although an OSC spokesman said the agency cannot comment on or confirm any open investigations.

For those keeping score, the far-right EPA administrator was sworn in at his current post in mid-February 2017 -- which means Pruitt has only been on the job for roughly 16 months. Fifteen investigations in 16 months has to be some kind of record, right?

What's more, this tally only refers to official probes that are already underway, and which have been publicly disclosed. It doesn't include all kinds of other Pruitt-related scandals that are not yet under investigation.

Indeed, the larger list of corruption allegations against Donald Trump's EPA chief is considerably longer -- and continues to grow. The New York Times  reported overnight:

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.25.18

06/25/18 12:00PM

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

* In another 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning largely ruled in favor of Texas legislative district map, concluding that it does not constitute an impermissible racial gerrymander.

* It's a pretty big week for party primaries, with seven states holding contests tomorrow: New York, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and South Carolina. (Note: The primaries in South Carolina and Mississippi are primary runoffs.)

* On a related note, Donald Trump published a series of tweets last week touting South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) ahead of tomorrow's race, and the president will travel to the state on the governor's behalf today.

* Speaking of the Palmetto State, Republican congressional hopeful Katie Arrington, fresh off her primary win over Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), was in a serious car accident on Friday night, though the latest reports suggest she's expected to fully recover.

* Jennifer Carnahan, the chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, acknowledged on Friday that she's been targeted by some of her fellow Republicans with racist attacks. Carnahan, who was born in South Korea, conceded that the slurs are "starting to get to me."

* Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander (D), who nearly pulled off an upset in his Senate campaign two years ago, confirmed that he is planning to run for mayor in Kansas City.

* After the NRA took down its archives with grades for members of Congress, Everytown for Gun Safety, a prominent proponent of gun reforms, put together a database of those grade and posted the information that the NRA pulled.

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

Trump says coverage of North Korea talks has been 'almost treasonous'

06/25/18 11:20AM

After Donald Trump's recent talks with Kim Jong-un, the American president was reportedly impressed with North Korea's state-run television news and was struck by "how positive the female North Korean news anchor was" toward the brutal dictator. According to a Washington Post report, Trump added "that maybe she should get a job on U.S. television."

It was a reminder about what the Republican president would like to see from American news organizations. Of course, because journalists at independent outlets are free to report the truth, rather than follow the dictates of an authoritarian strongman, Trump is routinely outraged by coverage of his presidency.

In fact, he apparently believes some recent coverage has bordered on "treason."

President Trump is continuing to hail his historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a win for the United States, but says media coverage of the meeting is "almost treasonous." In an excerpt of an interview with conservative pundit Mike Huckabee that airs on Saturday, Mr. Trump says that the two leaders came to a "wonderful agreement" in Singapore, but that it's a "shame that the fake news covers it the way they do."

"It's honestly, it's really almost treasonous, you want to know the truth," he said. "If you listen to the mainstream media, it's almost like I lost the negotiation."

Broadly speaking, there are two relevant angles to this. The first, obviously, is that Trump doesn't seem to understand just how unimpressive his "deal" with North Korea is. The Republican president made a variety of concessions in exchange for practically nothing, which means the agreement is only "wonderful" to officials in Pyongyang.

"If you listen to the mainstream media, it's almost like I lost the negotiation"? In reality, it's not at all necessary to see the talks as a zero-sum affair, with a definite winner and a loser, but if Trump insists on seeing this through a competitive lens, there's no need for the word "almost." The American leader gave up a lot in exchange for very little. In negotiating terms, that's what losing looks like.

But even putting aside these nagging details, no one should be comfortable with a president with authoritarian tendencies casually throwing around words like "treason."

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Why the tax returns for Trump's charitable foundation are so important

06/25/18 10:42AM

It's been a couple of weeks since the New York attorney general's office accused Donald Trump's charitable foundation of being little more than a slush fund, which, among other things, made illegal in-kind contributions for Trump's campaign. The scope of the legal issues raised by the New York court filing are still coming into focus.

There are, of course, questions surrounding the president and his family allegedly running a fraudulent charitable entity. There are additional questions about violations of federal election law, which appear to have been quite flagrant.

But what may be one of the most difficult legal angles is an issue that has long been a trouble area for Trump: tax returns.

As the New York Times recently reported, the president personally signed federal tax returns swearing that his foundation wasn't used for political and/or business purposes, and we now know there's quite a bit of evidence that suggests it was used for both. Indeed, the article added that when he signed those tax documents, Trump stated, under penalties of perjury, "that the foundation did not engage in transactions with interested parties, and that the foundation did not carry out political activity."

The Washington Post's David Fahrenthold added the other day that Trump's signature appeared "just below a stern warning from the IRS: Providing false information could lead to 'penalties of perjury.'"

In 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014, the Donald J. Trump Foundation stated that none of its money had been used to benefit Trump or his businesses. But the New York attorney general found that, in each of those years, Trump had used his charity's funds to help one of his businesses. In 2013, the attorney general alleged, Trump also failed to disclose an improper gift to a political group.

This suggests we're not just talking about a possible one-time bureaucratic slip-up. Trump and his family stand accused of running a fraudulent charitable operation and repeatedly lying in official legal documents about the nature of the foundation's work.

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Trump discredits his own talking points with order on North Korea

06/25/18 10:00AM

It's not at all clear if Donald Trump is capable of embarrassment, but this  New York Times report really ought to do the trick.

The gulf between President Trump's rhetoric and a thorny geopolitical reality widened a bit further on Friday, when the White House said it would extend a decade-old executive order declaring a national emergency over the nuclear threat from North Korea.

The announcement came days after Mr. Trump declared to the world that "everybody can now feel much safer" after his meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un: "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," Mr. Trump said on Twitter.

Apparently, there still is.

Over the last decade or so, three different presidents have kept in place a White House notice that officially recognizes an ongoing national emergency related to North Korea. Trump, contradicting his own misguided boasts about triumphantly eliminating the nuclear threat, quietly admitted that his recent claims were nonsense.

"The existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean Peninsula and the actions and policies of the government of North Korea continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States," Trump's latest notice to Congress said.

Or put another way, when the president declared, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea," he was, according to his own written declaration, lying.

But there's a broader significance to this, because when it comes to this president's assessment of his "deal" with North Korea, Trump continues to alert the public to the fact that he has no idea what he's talking about.

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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump boasts he's 'gutted' the ACA, avoids blame for consequences

06/25/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump was in Nevada over the weekend, campaigning in support of Sen. Dean Heller (R), and reflected on the vote Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) cast against the Republicans' plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The president told supporters:

"It's all right, because we've essentially gutted it anyway."

Seven seconds later, Trump added:

"Just remember, if you see [premiums going up], it is the Democrats' fault."

The president's supporters cheered with approval, seemingly oblivious to the rhetorical whiplash. Trump is absolutely certain that, in his words, he's "essentially gutted" the backbone of his own country's health care system, and he's equally certain that the consequences of his actions should be blamed on the one group of people who have no control over the levers of federal power.

There's no reason for any sensible person to take this seriously, but it is worth understanding why Trump seems a little defensive on the issue.

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Trump takes anti-immigrant fear-mongering to an alarming new level

06/25/18 08:40AM

The fact that Donald Trump hopes to use his office to generate public fear of immigrants is obvious. What the political world needs to come to terms with is just how far the president is prepared to go in pursuit of this goal.

We talked several months ago, for example, about the Trump administration's Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. The fact that the VOICE initiative has proven to be ridiculous hasn't discouraged the White House.

On the contrary, in February, the White House distributed to reporters a "round-up" of "immigration crime stories," purporting to show -- in some cases, falsely -- evidence of immigrants breaking the law.

Late last week, Trump took his campaign, which has genuinely scary antecedents, a little further.

President Donald Trump ended a week of criticism of his administration's now-reversed policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border Friday with another event highlighting the stories of Americans whose family members had been killed by undocumented immigrants.

The president blasted the news media, Democrats and other critics at the event, accusing them of ignoring the plight of "the American victims of illegal immigration," while the victims' families, called Angel Families, stood behind him holding poster-sized photos of their deceased relative.

At face value, the event was difficult to defend. As far as this president is concerned, victims of crimes deserve our sympathy, but victims of crimes committed by immigrants deserve special attention, a special White House event, and a special name.

The point is to generate fear of immigrants in the hopes of advancing the president's crusade. There is no other reason to exploit these families' grief.

But making matters worse was the degree to which Trump found it necessary to lie during the event.

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Image: President Trump speaks at swearing in ceremonies for new CIA Director Haspel

When it comes to deporting migrants, Trump has no use for due process

06/25/18 08:00AM

About four months ago, while whining about the investigation into the Russia scandal, Donald Trump asked rhetorically, "Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?" As it happens, this president seemed eager to answer his own question over the weekend.

President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday morning that the U.S. "Cannot accept all of the people trying to break into our Country" and called for migrants to be "immediately" deported without a trial.

"When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came," he said. His tweet did not mention people coming to the U.S. to seek asylum, which is legal to do.

"Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order," he said, adding in another tweet that legal entry to the country should be based on "merit."

The contradiction at the heart of the message -- Trump wants "law and order," but he doesn't see any reason for migrants to receive due process -- was apparently lost on him.

Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, told NBC News in response to the president's message, "What President Trump has suggested here is both illegal and unconstitutional. Any official who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws should disavow it unequivocally."

Jadwat's correct, of course, but explaining to Trump that his recommended course is illegal isn't likely to matter, because from this president's perspective, the rule of law should yield to his ideological wishes.

When Trump declares his support for "law and order," he's really just expressing support for "order" as he defines it. If that means taking extrajudicial steps, so be it.

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Image: Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes vsit to U.S. Mexico border in San Diego

This Week in God, 6.23.18

06/23/18 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a faith-based angle to the controversy over Donald Trump's family-separation policy, which has left Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an awkward position.

The White House's "zero tolerance" immigration measures have created no shortage of problems for the embattled attorney general, but NBC News reported this week that hundreds of leaders from the United Methodist Church -- Sessions' denomination -- have argued that the Alabama Republican violated church laws.

A group of more than 600 United Methodist clergy and church members are bringing church law charges against Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" immigration crackdown — chiefly the policy that has separated thousands of children from their parents along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The group accuses Sessions, a fellow United Methodist, of violating Paragraph 270.3 of the denomination's Book of Discipline. He is charged under church law with child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and "dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church."

In a letter addressed to Sessions' pastors, 640 clergy members and laity urge "some degree of accountability" for the top law enforcement official in the country, who they say is affiliated with United Methodist churches in Alabama and the suburbs of Washington.

While Sessions may be accustomed to defending his position in federal courts or on Capitol Hill, responding to accusations of violating church law may prove to be more complicated.

If found guilty of breaking his denomination's laws, Sessions could theoretically be expelled following an ecclesiastical trial, though few expect this controversy to reach such a level.

In fact, Washington Post  analysis concluded that it's likely the attorney general will simply brush the Methodists' concerns aside: "It is not yet clear how Sessions responded to the letter from his fellow Methodists, but the likelihood of him changing his mind after getting pushback from individuals he does not know seems low, considering the affirmation he is getting from Christians who believe in what he does."

Also from the God Machine:

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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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