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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.6.17

04/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this on tonight's show: "Defense Secretary James Mattis will brief President Donald Trump on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago on military options against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime in the wake of a deadly attack which activists said killed at least 100 people -- including 25 children -- and injured 400 others earlier this week."

* Related news: "Syrian fixed-wing aircraft dropped chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib earlier this week in a deadly attack which activists said killed at least 100 people -- including 25 children -- and injured at least 400 others, two U.S. military officials told NBC News."

* A case worth watching: "Twitter Inc said in a lawsuit on Thursday that it had received a demand from U.S. officials for records that could reveal the user behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump and that it was challenging the demand in court."

* The Secret Service is struggling with the demands of the Trump family: "To keep up, dozens of agents from New York and field offices across the country are being temporarily pulled off criminal investigations to serve two-week stints protecting members of the Trump family, including the first lady and the youngest son in Manhattan's Trump Tower."

* Arkansas: "A federal judge on Thursday blocked the execution of one of eight inmates that Arkansas scheduled for death in a 10-day period -- as the state said it plans to proceed with the rest despite criticism that it's setting the stage for errors."

* Russia "seized on the announcement of Rex Tillerson's first visit to Moscow as U.S. secretary of state by setting out an unusually detailed agenda for talks that it said aimed to eliminate 'numerous irritants' in relations."'

* Watching politicians decide to have people suffer needlessly is profoundly frustrating: "Virginia Republican legislators have blocked Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's latest attempt to expand Medicaid, this time through a state budget amendment."
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Members of the Texas Congressional delegation, from left, Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, address reporters on legal challenge to the health care reform bill, Thursday, March 25, 2010, during a n

Nunes' successor doesn't appear to take Russia scandal seriously

04/06/17 04:31PM

Facing a new ethics investigation, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced this morning he'll recuse himself from the investigation into the Russia scandal, turning the matter over to one of his colleagues, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas).

At first blush, this isn't necessarily good news for Donald Trump or his White House team. Nunes is a cringe-worthy presidential sycophant, and having him leading the investigation into the Russia scandal all but guaranteed a favorable outcome for the Republican president. Nunes' recusal creates uncertainty and a possible risk for the administration.

That is, in theory. Mike Conaway may not be as brazen as Nunes when it comes to acting as a White House employee on Capitol Hill, but the Texas Republican hasn't taken the Russia scandal especially seriously, either. Remember this story from the Dallas Morning News in January?
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, is comparing the use of Mexican entertainers to energize Democratic voters to the email hacking that officials say was orchestrated by Vladimir Putin’s government.

“Harry Reid and the Democrats brought in Mexican soap opera stars, singers and entertainers who had immense influence in those communities into Las Vegas, to entertain, get out the vote and so forth,” Conaway told The Dallas Morning News this week. “Those are foreign actors, foreign people, influencing the vote in Nevada. You don’t hear the Democrats screaming and saying one word about that.”
When the local paper asked if he sees Mexican entertainers on the campaign trail and Russian agents engaged in cyber-espionage as are roughly the same thing, Conaway said, “Sure it is, it’s foreign influence.”

I don't think he was kidding.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Republicans execute 'nuclear option,' ending Supreme Court filibusters

04/06/17 12:59PM

A couple of hours ago, the Senate took up Judge Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination, and the cloture vote didn't go his way. Instead of reaching the 60-vote threshold, Gorsuch ended up with 55 (it would've been 56, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to change his vote for procedural reasons).

That left Republicans with a choice: either encourage Donald Trump to send a more mainstream nominee for the high court -- one who might garner more bipartisan support -- or change the rules of the Senate to end all Supreme Court filibusters forevermore.

The GOP majority chose the latter.
Senate Republicans used the "nuclear option" Thursday to change the chamber's rules and clear the way for the confirmation of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

The rules change will enable Gorsuch to easily pass through the Senate with a simple majority instead of the now-defunct 60-vote threshold.
In the short term, the vote means Gorsuch's nomination will return to the floor, probably tomorrow, for a final up-or-down confirmation vote. With no Republican opponents, the conservative is now all but certain to join the Supreme Court.

But there's an important context to all of this. Today's drama on the Senate floor is the result of a series of Republican abuses, which GOP senators still struggle to defend.

The easiest, almost laziest, argument today is that Democrats executed their own "nuclear option" in 2013, and today was an example of Republicans simply returning the favor. But let's not brush past what actually happened four years ago.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.6.17

04/06/17 12:00PM

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

* While Democratic fundraising in Georgia's 6th congressional district usually doesn't exceed five digits, Jon Ossoff (D), the top candidate in the upcoming congressional special election, has raised over $8 million.

* In Montana's congressional special election, Rob Quist (D) released his first television ad, telling voters, "There's nearly 300 millionaires in Congress, but not one Montana folk singer." The election is on May 25.

* In Virginia's 10th congressional district, which is represented by Republican Barbara Comstock despite Hillary Clinton defeating Donald Trump in the district, Democrats are clamoring to run against the two-term incumbent. Among the leading candidates: Dorothy McAuliffe, who's married to current Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

* Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) stepped down yesterday as the finance chair of the NRCC, leading many to believe she's poised to launch a campaign against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

* In Illinois, the field of Democrats ready to take on incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is growing: "Billionaire entrepreneur and investor J.B. Pritzker, a longtime Democratic fundraiser, will formally join the race.... Pritzker, an heir to the family's Hyatt Hotel fortune, is a founder of Pritzker Group, a private investment firm. He also founded the technology startup 1871. Forbes estimates his wealth at $3.4 billion."

* When Nikki Haley joined the Trump administration, Henry McMaster (R) became the new governor of South Carolina, a year ahead of the state's next gubernatorial election. The incumbent, however, won't be able to run for a term of his own without a primary challenge: former state health department director Catherine Templeton kicked off a campaign this week, and others appear likely to jump in to the GOP contest.
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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Ethics Committee to examine Nunes' alleged leaks of classified info

04/06/17 11:22AM

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced this morning that he's agreed to recuse himself from his panel's investigation into the Russia scandal. Why now after weeks of controversy? Because the investigator is now being investigated: the Republican congressman learned this morning that the House Ethics Committee has initiated a probe into allegations of Nunes' wrongdoing.

Of course, the Intelligence Committee chair has been accused of quite a bit lately, so let's be more specific. What exactly will the Ethics Committee examine? A written statement from the panel explained:
"The Committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct. The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations.

"The Committee has determined to investigate these allegations in order to fulfill its institutional obligation, under House Rule X, clause 11(g)(4), to investigate certain allegations of unauthorized disclosures of classified information, and to determine if there has been any violation of the Code of Official Conduct under House Rule XXIII, clause 13."
I can appreciate that formal language like this may seem a little stilted, so let's make this plain: the Ethics Committee is looking into whether Nunes leaked classified information.

Nunes, not surprisingly, has described the allegations as "false and politically motivated," but given what we know, it's hardly surprising the Ethics panel is going to take a look.
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Image: House Votes On Trump's American Health Care Act

Facing ethics probe, Nunes steps down from Russia investigation

04/06/17 10:20AM

There's no modern precedent for an Intelligence Committee chairman humiliating himself quite as severely as Rep. Devin Nunes has. The California Republican, who's supposed to be leading an investigation into the Russia scandal, has taken steps to effectively blow up his own probe, partnering with the White House, keeping secrets from his colleagues, and lying publicly about his own antics.

Literally every Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said they simply couldn't trust Nunes to oversee a legitimate investigation, and even some Republicans have found it difficult to defend Nunes' bizarre behavior.

As of this morning, the House Intelligence Committee has decided to recuse himself from the probe he was leading. The New York Times reported:
Representative Devin Nunes, the embattled California Republican who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced on Thursday he would step aside from leading his committee's investigation into Russia's efforts to disrupt last year's presidential election.

The congressman has been under growing criticism for his handling of the Russian inquiry. Many on Capitol Hill have said he is too eager to do the White House's bidding and cannot be an impartial investigator into questions about any role President Trump's associates may have had in last year's Russian campaign to disrupt the election.
Nunes, conceding that he's now facing an inquiry from the House Ethics Committee, blamed "left-wing activist groups" for making "false and politically motivated" accusations against him.

It is, of course, ironic to hear Nunes, of all people, accuse others of making "false and politically motivated" accusations, given his track record of late. As for "left-wing activist groups," it wasn't liberals who forced Nunes to make a secret trip to the White House, abuse his position, and lie about his actions.

Under normal circumstances, Nunes would be facing consequences far more serious than a simple recusal.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who's continued to defend Nunes despite the evidence, said in a statement he supports the chairman's decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, saying the ethics probe "would be a distraction."
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Steve Bannon, appointed chief strategist and senior counselor to President-elect Donald Trump, arrives for the Presidential Inauguration of Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

Did Bannon share too much of the spotlight with Trump?

04/06/17 09:23AM

We know Donald Trump removed Stephen Bannon from his seat on the National Security Council this week. We're less clear on why.

The only version of events that's implausible is the one the White House is pushing. According to Team Trump, Bannon was only appointed to a full seat on the principals committee of the NSC to help keep an eye on Michael Flynn. That, of course, would suggest the president didn't trust his own National Security Advisor. And since Flynn resigned in February, it doesn't explain why it took so long for Bannon to be demoted.

The behind-the-scenes explanation, as reported by the New York Times, is much easier to believe.
Mr. Bannon resisted the move, even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward, according to a White House official who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. [...]

Moreover, Mr. Bannon's Svengali-style reputation has chafed on a president who sees himself as the West Wing's only leading man. Several associates said the president had quietly expressed annoyance over the credit Mr. Bannon had received for setting the agenda -- and Mr. Trump was not pleased by the "President Bannon" puppet-master theme promoted by magazines, late-night talk shows and Twitter.
As if to prove the point, Steven Colbert said last night, "Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council. No word on when he'll step down from his role as president."

There was a joke that made the rounds in early February that Steve Bannon was in trouble in the White House because the aide was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Trump would be outraged, the joke went, because only he's allowed to be on the cover of Time magazine.

Two months later, perhaps there was something to this joke after all.
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U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi ranking member Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 16, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Trump pushes laughable claim about a leading congressional Dem

04/06/17 08:40AM

Before we get into what Donald Trump said yesterday about Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), some context is in order.

Less than a month into his presidency, Trump declared at a White House press conference how eager he was to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. "I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings, and he was all excited," Trump claimed. "And then he said, 'Well, I can't move, it might be bad for me politically. I can't have that meeting."

Cummings soon after explained that Trump simply made all of this up. "I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today," the Maryland Democrat said.

The following week, Trump and Cummings did meet, and according to the congressman, Cummings told the president some things he didn't want to hear.

Reflecting on the conversation, Trump seems to remember the meeting very differently. Here's what he told the New York Times yesterday:
TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, "You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country."

NYT: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, "Was that the same man?"
Moments later, the president thought it'd be a good idea to repeat the exact same anecdote for emphasis. "[Cummings] said, in a group of people, 'You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.' And then I watched him on television and I said, 'Is that the same man that said that to me?'"

Effective liars learn early on that falsehoods are more likely to be believed if they're somewhat plausible. Trump's claim about Elijah Cummings is not.
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump faces foreign policy tests he doesn't know how to pass

04/06/17 08:00AM

At a White House press conference yesterday alongside Jordan's King Abdullah, Donald Trump was asked about Iranian support for the Syrian regime. The president responded by complaining about the Iran nuclear deal, which in context, didn't make any sense. At the same event, asked about his administration's plans for U.S. policy towards Syria, Trump's answer was even stranger.

"I don't have to have one specific way, and if the world changes, I go the same way," he said. "I don't change. Well, I do change."

Soon after, BuzzFeed reported that officials in Trump's Defense Department "were left confused" by what, exactly, the president intends to do.
[T]hree defense officials told BuzzFeed News they cannot begin to craft a military response, if that is what Trump wants, without a clear understanding of what the president wants to see happen in Syria. Does he only want the Assad regime to stop using chemical weapons? Does he want regime change? Is he seeking a negotiated settlement? Or were Trump's comments simply rhetoric?
It's one thing when you and I have no idea what Trump's intentions are, but as Rachel explained on the show last night, when officials in his own administration can't figure out what their boss wants to do, there's a much larger problem.

It's not that Trump is implementing the wrong foreign policy. We're dealing with a more alarming dynamic in which the president and his White House team don't seem to have a foreign policy.

Trump is quite clear about two core beliefs: the president is (a) convinced "Obama's bad," and (b) committed to some vague sense of "toughness." But bumper-sticker slogans do not a foreign policy make.
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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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