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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory makes remarks concerning House Bill 2 while speaking during a government affairs conference in Raleigh, N.C., May 4, 2016. (Photo by Gerry Broome/AP)

North Carolina Republicans complete their 'coup'

12/20/16 08:40AM

Even by 2016 standards, Republican antics in North Carolina have pushed democratic norms to the breaking point. Yesterday, the party added a capstone to an indefensible, maximalist display of raw partisanship.

GOP officials began their power grab a few years ago by carefully drawing district lines, later deemed illegal, to ensure that Republican power would continue. They then passed onerous voter-suppression laws, further intended to ensure that Republican power would continue. And when North Carolinians had the audacity to elect a Democratic governor anyway, GOP officials launched a "legislative coup" to undermine the new governor's powers before he takes office, which is now state law, all in the hopes of trying to ensure more Republican power.
Current North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has signed two bills that will drastically reduce the powers of his successor, incoming Democratic Governor-elect Roy Cooper.

House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 were introduced by Republican lawmakers in the state legislature on Wednesday. Both bills passed in their respective chambers the following day by large margins. McCrory signed SB 4 on Friday and HB 17 [yesterday].
McCrory, the only incumbent governor in the nation to lose this year, conceded that some provisions of the new legislation are "wrong and shortsighted," but the outgoing governor signed the bill into law anyway.

As we recently discussed, just six days ago, Republican officials announced that the General Assembly would gather for a special session, ostensibly to work on disaster relief for hurricane victims -- but hurricane victims were not foremost on GOP lawmakers' minds. Instead, Republicans scurried to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he can even begin.

Of particular interest is a provision related to political appointees -- which led to one of the most amazing political arguments of the year.
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President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

A bizarre election ends with a bizarre Electoral College tally

12/20/16 08:00AM

On Election Day, Donald Trump earned 306 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton's 232, but because 2016 is 2016, it just couldn't be that simple when members of the Electoral College cast their ballots.
[S]ome electors did break with how their state voted, albeit in unexpected ways. In Washington, a state Clinton won by 16 points, the former secretary of state received just eight of the state's 12 electoral votes. Colin Powell received three votes and Native American tribal leader Faith Spotted Eagle received one as part of an effort to promote a candidate other than Trump.

An elector in both Maine and Minnesota attempted to cast a ballot for Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully challenged Clinton in the Democratic primary. However state laws requiring electors to follow the statewide vote invalidated both efforts.
In all, five electors who were supposed to support the Democratic ticket ended up breaking ranks -- one backed an independent senator, three supported a Republican from George W. Bush's cabinet, and one voted for a Native American activist -- while two Republican electors also bucked the GOP ticket, leaving Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Rep. Ron Paul with one vote each.

Seven different people ended up receiving electoral votes -- five of whom didn't earn them -- which is the most in the United States since 1796. Similarly, there were seven "faithless electors," which is the most Americans have seen since the 1800s.

The fact that the process unfolded like this seems oddly appropriate -- a ridiculous year probably deserved a ridiculous capstone -- but yesterday's Electoral College tally didn't do our democratic system any favors. We're left with an election for the nation's highest office in which Americans backed one candidate with more votes, only to have her lose, only to have an additional step in which a small group of voters, largely unknown to the nation, dabbled in constitutional mischief because they felt like it.

The point is not that yesterday's shenanigans affected the outcome; they clearly did not. But if the American public was looking for some kind of reassurance about the integrity and reliability of our system and the strength of its institutions, yesterday's Electoral College vote did largely the opposite. Andrew Prokop added that the final tallies "further spotlight the glaring weaknesses in our country's bizarre, anachronistic Electoral College system that have long been evident."

Making matters slightly worse, Donald Trump's transition team issued a written statement responding to the outcome. It's one of those statements that required some annotating:
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Monday's Mini-Report, 12.19.16

12/19/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Berlin: "A truck plowed through a Christmas market in Germany's capital on Monday evening, killing at least nine and injuring 50, a spokesman for the Berlin police said.... The driver attempted to flee but was apprehended by police, they added."

* The consequences of this may be far-reaching: "Russia's ambassador to Turkey was fatally shot Monday at an art exhibition by a gunman shouting 'God is great!' who continued ranting as the diplomat lay dying on the floor and onlookers ducked for cover. Andrey Karlov was delivering a speech at a museum in the capital city of Ankara when a man dressed in a suit and tie suddenly appeared and opened fire."

* Yemen: "A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a military camp in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Sunday morning, killing at least 52 soldiers, a security official said. The Islamic State group's Yemen-based affiliate claimed responsibility."

* Turkey: "A car bombing in Turkey on Saturday killed 13 soldiers who were leaving their base on weekend leave, less than a week after twin bomb blasts killed 44 people outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul."

* Obama has an impressive number of commutations: "President Barack Obama has pardoned 78 people and shortened the sentences of 153 others convicted of federal crimes, the greatest number of individual clemencies in a single day by any president, the White House said Monday."

* New safeguards: "The Obama administration finalized a rule Monday morning that aims to protect thousands of miles of streams by forcing coal mining companies 'to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources ... and threaten forests,' officials said in a statement."

* North Carolina: "Gov. Pat McCrory says he will call lawmakers back to Raleigh this week so the General Assembly can repeal HB2, a bill that has garnered national opprobrium for how it deals with LGBT rights, particularly the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals."
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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Some Republicans tout the benefits of an attack on U.S. election

12/19/16 12:57PM

At his year-end press conference on Friday, President Obama addressed the controversy surrounding Russia's alleged espionage operation targeting the American presidential election, at least in part to help put Donald Trump in the White House. Obama made his case that this "shouldn't be a partisan issue," adding, "I don't think any American wants" foreign influence in our election process.

There are at least some Republicans in Congress who may take issue with the sentiment.
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said Thursday that it was "terrific" that voters got more truthful information about Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, regardless of whether the hackers were Russian.

"The hackers, whether or not they're Russian hackers, I don't know," the California congressman said. "I know the CIA and the FBI disagree as to who the hackers are. But whether they're Russian hackers or any other hackers, the only information that we were getting from hackers was accurate information, was truthful. And that's not gonna turn the tide. If the American people have been given more truthful information, that's terrific."
Rohrabacher, by the way, has been characterized as "Putin's favorite congressman."

Soon after, Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of Trump's most persistent champions, argued that there are "people who are lying and are deceitful" -- he was apparently referring to Democrats, not Donald Trump -- and that the stolen emails "point out the truth."

Collins added that "all countries" launch cyber-attacks, and if Russia's interference in the American political process "had an impact, then so be it."

It's a curious response to the scandal, even by GOP standards. It's a bit like responding to Watergate by saying, "Let's not dwell on Nixon's unprecedented abuses of power; what really matters is what Nixon's White House dug up on its enemies, even if the information was obtained illegally."
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.19.16

12/19/16 12:00PM

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

* Members of the Electoral College will meet in their respective state capitols today to formally make Donald Trump the president-elect. There's been a fair amount of drama leading up to the process, but it's not expected to change the outcome.

* Trump hasn't held a press conference since the summer, but he apparently held court at one of his resorts yesterday, hosting a "relaxed and chatty" conversation with the press. The discussion was off the record.

* At his last campaign rally of the year, Trump told an Alabama audience, "More people are being murdered than in 45 years." This is still completely and demonstrably wrong.

* At the same event, the president-elect told his followers that media professionals who questioned the likelihood of his victory were guilty of "suppressing the vote."

* A day earlier in Orlando, Trump headlined another rally, where he said his followers "were nasty and mean and vicious" during the campaign.

* The Washington Post reported over the weekend on a newly released national poll that found 52% of Republicans believe Trump won the popular vote. (He lost it by nearly 3 million votes.)

* Reflecting on the election, First Lady Michelle Obama told Oprah Winfrey, "[W]e're feeling what not having hope feels like."

* On a related note, Trump wasn't pleased with the comment.
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ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Exxon's Rex Tillerson gets by with a little help from his friends

12/19/16 11:30AM

In theory, Donald Trump's cabinet nominees shouldn't expect too much resistance: when a Republican White House is working with a Republican-led Senate, and Democrats can't filibuster nominees, the outcome is effectively predetermined.

But ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice to be the nation's next Secretary of State, poses a challenge. Tillerson has literally no background in diplomacy or public service, and against the backdrop of a scandal involving a Russian espionage operation intended to help put Trump in the White House, it's problematic that the president-elect chose Vladimir Putin's closest American ally for Trump's top cabinet post.

In a 52-48 Senate, the margin for error is modest. What's more, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the GOP advantage is just one member -- 10 to 9 -- giving some Trump critics hope that Tillerson may become the first Secretary of State nominee in history to be derailed on Capitol Hill.

The Washington Post reported that Tillerson has some very powerful friends who are eager to prevent that from happening.
At the start of the week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seemed bent on opposing the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.

By the end of it, Rubio had heard directly from former vice president Richard B. Cheney, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation, as well as other key supporters of the ExxonMobil chief executive.
The same article noted that Robert McNair, a Texas-based GOP donor who gave $500,000 to a super PAC supporting Rubio's failed presidential campaign, also indicated he's prepared to push Rubio to support Tillerson's nomination.

It's quite a combination of influential backers. Lawmakers are hearing from Republican donors (from the oil industry), Dick Cheney (a former oil executive), and even George W. Bush (another former oil executive), each of whom want the ExxonMobil CEO in charge of the State Department, despite Tillerson's obvious lack of qualifications.

The future nominee is also receiving endorsements from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Bob Gates -- both of whom happen to be on ExxonMobil's payroll.
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A Donald Trump supporter's sign reads "I'm Not Politically Correct" as the Republican presidential candidate speaks during a rally on August 21, 2015 in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty)

Trump explains the point of his self-congratulatory tour

12/19/16 11:00AM

It was a tour unlike anything Americans have ever seen from a president-elect. Donald Trump traveled to Alabama on Saturday for yet another self-indulgent rally, his ninth since launching the tour on Dec. 1. As we talked about the other day, the Republican is the first president-elect in American history to interrupt his own transition period to hit the campaign trail for a multi-stop series of events and speak at length to his followers about how impressed he is with his own success.

Trump, apparently uninterested in reaching out to voters who didn't support him, limited the rallies to states that voted for him in November (though in several instances, he hosted events in cities that heavily backed Hillary Clinton).

But in his final stop of 2016, the president-elect took a moment to explain what he sees as the point of these self-congratulatory gatherings.
"This is the last time I'm speaking at a rally for maybe a while, you know? They're saying as president, he shouldn't be doing rallies, but I think we should, right? We've done everything else the opposite. This is the way you get an honest word out."
That last point -- Trump sees the events as an opportunity to circumvent news organizations and take his message directly to the public -- isn't necessarily outlandish. Plenty of national leaders have become frustrated with "media gatekeepers," and have found value in hitting the road to tell Americans what they have to say. Usually they wait until they're actually president, pushing a specific idea or proposal, but Trump says he has a message now, and he wants to get the "word out."

Fine. What is it that Trump has to say? In his last event of the year, the president-elect focused on his favorite subject: himself.
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Security personnel stand guard as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Redding, Calif. on June 3, 2016. (Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Trump raises eyebrows by maintaining a private security force

12/19/16 10:30AM

The first time Donald Trump's reliance on private security drew real scrutiny came in March. The Republican candidate was hosting a rally in North Carolina, where Trump urged his followers to raise their hand and take an oath to support his campaign, but while this bizarre pledge was unfolding, undercover "private intelligence officers" moved through the crowd, looking for potential protestors.

A member of Trump's private security team later told reporters that he and his colleagues were doing "intelligence work" while "assisting" law-enforcement personnel. By September, the then-candidate had reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private security, even after Trump received protection from the U.S. Secret Service.

After the election, I had largely assumed these practices would end. Then I read this unsettling Politico article.
President-elect Donald Trump has continued employing a private security and intelligence team at his victory rallies, and he is expected to keep at least some members of the team after he becomes president, according to people familiar with the plans.

The arrangement represents a major break from tradition. All modern presidents and presidents-elect have entrusted their personal security entirely to the Secret Service, and their event security mostly to local law enforcement, according to presidential security experts and Secret Service sources.
The piece added that Trump has "opted to maintain an aggressive and unprecedented private security force," even now, more than a month after he became president-elect.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who worked on President Obama's protective detail during the 2012 campaign, told Politico, "It's playing with fire." Wackrow added that such a dynamic -- having a private security team working events with Secret Service simultaneously -- "increases the Service's liability, it creates greater confusion and it creates greater risk."
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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Why Mick Mulvaney may be one of Trump's most alarming picks

12/19/16 10:00AM

The Office of Management and Budget is one of those federal agencies with a boring, seemingly anodyne name. The typical American has probably never heard of OMB, and has no interest in its leadership.

That's a mistake. OMB is easily the most important agency the country knows very little about, and the fact that Donald Trump has picked a far-right congressman to lead the office is, to put it mildly, unsettling.
South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a staunch fiscal conservative who was elected to Congress as part of the tea party wave, will be nominated as Donald Trump's White House budget chief, the president-elect said Saturday. [...]

Mulvaney, 49, who has represented South Carolina's 5th congressional district since 2011, added that the Trump administration would "restore budgetary and fiscal sanity back in Washington."
Reviewing the Republican congressman's record, "sanity" is not the first word that comes to mind. Mulvaney, for example, is a Tea Partier who helped create the right-wing House Freedom Caucus.

When GOP lawmakers shut down the federal government in 2013, it was Mulvaney who helped lead the charge, celebrating the shutdown as "good policy." When Republicans launched their debt-ceiling hostage crisis in 2011, threatening to push the nation into default unless the party's demands were met, Mulvaney not only championed the dangerous scheme, he publicly argued that default wouldn't be a big deal, and undermining the full faith and credit of the United States would carry few consequences.

Now he's being promoted -- to a position where he can do even more damage.
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Sean Spicer speaks to reporters in the spin room after the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. on Feb. 6, 2016. (Photo by Meredith Dake-O'Connor/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Blaming Clinton for Russia's pro-Trump intervention is bonkers

12/19/16 09:30AM

The RNC's Sean Spicer, a spokesperson for Donald Trump's transition team, rolled out an amazing new defense for Russia's alleged intervention in the American presidential election on behalf of the Republican ticket. Here's Spicer's pitch from Friday:
"I think the problem I have with this story and the narrative that's out there about Russia is a few things. Number one, this wouldn't have happened if Hillary Clinton didn't have a secret server.

"It wouldn't -- I mean, she didn't follow protocols."
MSNBC's Chris Hayes, visibly gobsmacked, told viewers the other day, "Just to reiterate and make painfully clear, Russia's alleged cyber espionage into the DNC and John Podesta has nothing to do whatsoever, at all, in any way shape or form, definitively, at all, absolutely with Clinton's email server -- at all."

Just so we're clear, Chris was right and Spicer was wrong. The question I had, however, is why the Republican, rumored to be a leading contender to be the next White House press secretary, made a claim that was spectacularly ridiculous in the first place.

The obvious explanation, I suppose, is that Spicer was trying to pull a fast one, making a brazenly false argument in the hopes of shifting responsibility for this mess away from Trump and his boosters in Moscow, and towards Hillary Clinton.
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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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