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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's views on the 'executive-order concept' have evolved

10/16/17 11:30AM

In January 2014, then-President Barack Obama hosted a cabinet meeting, where he expressed optimism about working with lawmakers from both parties to advance the nation's interests. He also seemed realistic. however, about whether Congress would get anything done.

"One of the things that I'll be emphasizing in this meeting is the fact that we are not just going to be waiting for a legislation in order to make sure that we're providing Americans the kind of help that they need. I've got a pen and I've got a phone," Obama said. The pen referred to executive actions, including executive orders, and the phone referred to Obama's willingness to reach out to people beyond the Beltway -- "non-profits, businesses, the private sector, universities" -- to help work on his priorities.

Almost immediately, Republicans were outraged, suggesting Obama's "pen and phone" rhetoric was proof that the Democratic president intended to ignore our system of government and make major policy changes without congressional input. The "pen and phone" framing quickly became a GOP shorthand for the party's impression that Obama saw himself as a dictator.

And yet, there was Donald Trump last week, arguing that in response to the Republican Congress' ineptitude, "I will be using the power of the pen" to tackle health care policy unilaterally -- which is awfully similar to the kinds of actions GOP lawmakers condemned when Obama was in the Oval Office.

The New York Times had a piece on this over the weekend:

The president was frustrated. Lawmakers were not passing what he wanted. They were "obstructionists," he complained. So he took out his pen, signed his name to an order and took action on his own. "We're taking a little different route than we had hoped because getting Congress -- they forgot what their pledges were," he said.

The chief executive attacking Congress was President Trump, but his words might have been spoken by President Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has concluded that he cannot wait for a polarized Congress to act, so he is turning to executive power to accomplish what lawmakers will not, in this case erasing the legacy of the Obama years.

As is always the case, the substantive details matter, and there's no denying the fact that Obama was far more ambitious when it came to using executive power, at least given what we've seen from Trump thus far.

But at the same time, Obama didn't run on a platform predicated on avoiding executive orders -- and Trump did.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Trump's new drug czar has some explaining to do

10/16/17 11:01AM

While the opioid epidemic has earned a place in the national spotlight in recent years, our understanding of how the crisis went from bad to worse is still coming into focus. To that end, the Washington Post and "60 Minutes" have done some important reporting.

The Post published an amazing piece yesterday explaining that early last year, Congress "effectively stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon against large drug companies suspected of spilling prescription narcotics onto the nation's streets." The point of the measure was to "weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market."

And leading the way on the effort was Tom Marino, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, who championed the controversial legislation, which seems tough to defend.

For years, some drug distributors were fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the DEA to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills, while they racked up billions of dollars in sales.

The new law makes it virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies, according to internal agency and Justice Department documents and an independent assessment by the DEA's chief administrative law judge in a soon-to-be-published law review article. That powerful tool had allowed the agency to immediately prevent drugs from reaching the street.

As the piece explained, the nation's major drug distributors hired a former DEA insider to help formulate a strategy, and then invested in an ambitious lobbying campaign, which included at least $1.5 million in political action committee contributions to the small number of lawmakers who helped advance the issue.

All of this unfolded with almost no scrutiny: "Besides the sponsors and co-sponsors of the bill, few lawmakers knew the true impact the law would have. It sailed through Congress and was passed by unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure reserved for bills considered to be noncontroversial. The White House was equally unaware of the bill's import when President Barack Obama signed it into law, according to interviews with former senior administration officials."

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

As Trump faces criticism, his allies take aim at dissent

10/16/17 10:30AM

At the Values Voter Summit, the year's largest gathering for the religious right movement, former White House aide Sebastian Gorka proclaimed, "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens."

As striking as the comment was, attendees at the summit saw a related attempt to suppress dissent from Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist, who continues to make the case that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) shouldn't criticize the president while U.S. troops are deployed abroad. The Washington Post reported:

"Some U.S. senator in a position of that authority for the first time in the history of our republic has mocked and ridiculed a commander in chief when we have kids in the field," Bannon said of Corker's comments. The remarks were not, in fact, the first time a senator has criticized a president while troops were deployed; it's a routine occurrence during most, if not all, modern presidencies.

Bannon then called on Republican senators John Barrasso (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) to condemn Corker's comments or face possible primary challenges.

Bannon's ignorance about history matters, but the more important takeaway is the degree to which people close to Trump -- including, as we discussed last week, one current White House official -- suggest there's something wrong with American dissent.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

The deadly ambush Donald Trump hasn't yet acknowledged

10/16/17 10:00AM

It's been nearly two weeks since U.S. forces were ambushed in Niger, an attack that left four American servicemen dead. If it seems like this story hasn't generated much in the way of national news, it may be because Donald Trump hasn't said a word about it.

CNN had a report the other day on the president's silence.

On Saturday October 7, the day the body of 25-year-old Army Sgt. La David Johnson was returned to Dover Air Force Base after he was killed in an ISIS ambush in Niger, President Donald Trump was golfing. It's not known if the President ever planned to attend the return of remains ceremony at Dover as he has in the past. But since the ambush on October 4 in Niger, he has not commented publicly on the deadliest combat incident involving US troops since he took office. [...]

The Pentagon has not provided a detailed accounting of the ambush by 50 ISIS affiliated fighters which left four US soldiers dead and two wounded and has said the incident remains under investigation. But CNN has talked to half a dozen US officials who describe details of the chaos and confusion which led to the troops being left on the ground for nearly an hour before help could get to the remote area of southwestern Niger where they were operating.

In fairness, the White House hasn't been completely silent on the matter. Ten days ago, a reporter reminded Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "The body of another U.S. soldier has just been discovered by local forces in Niger, which brings to four the total number of Green Berets that were killed on Wednesday in Niger. So far there's been no response to this by the president, no tweet from the president, no statement from the president."

Sanders responded, "Obviously, anytime one of the members of our great military are injured, wounded, or killed in action, that is certainly something that we take very seriously. Our thoughts and prayers are with those individuals. We're continuing to review and look into this. And as we have more details, we'll certainly let you guys know."

Since then, there's been nothing from Trump World on the deadly incident.

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Image: President Trump Discusses His Plan For The Iran Nuclear Deal

On the Iran nuclear deal, Trump finds the truth isn't good enough

10/16/17 09:30AM

One of the hallmarks of Donald Trump's presidency is the frequency with which he finds reality politically inconvenient. If the Affordable Care Act were really imploding, for example, the Republican White House wouldn't find it necessary to sabotage it. If the tax code were truly in desperate need of a dramatic overhaul, Trump wouldn't find it necessary to constantly remind us how great the economy is.

And if the international nuclear agreement with Iran were really a disaster, Trump wouldn't find it necessary to lie about it. The New York Times  reported:

President Trump declared his intention not to recertify the Iran nuclear deal in a forceful speech on Friday. But the rationale he provided includes several misleading or incomplete statements about the terms of the deal, what he considers a violation of the agreement and Iran itself.

Slate ran a related analysis, marveling at Trump's staggering dishonesty.

President Trump’s statement Friday on the Iran nuclear deal may be the most dishonest speech he has ever given from the White House -- and, depending what happens next, it could be his most damaging. It flagrantly misrepresents what the deal was meant to do, the extent of Iran’s compliance, and the need for corrective measures. If he gets his way, he will blow up one of the most striking diplomatic triumphs of recent years, aggravate tensions in the Middle East, make it even harder to settle the North Korean crisis peacefully, and make it all but impossible for allies and adversaries to trust anything the United States says for as long as Trump is in office.

The Washington Post had a piece of its own, fact-checking Trump's speech, highlighting some of the president's most glaring errors -- of which there were many.

To a certain extent, this may seem like a classic dog-bites-man story -- "Trump says a bunch of untrue things about a policy he pretends to understand" -- but given the seriousness of the situation, that doesn't seem like a satisfying response.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump is convinced he's always 'ahead of schedule'

10/16/17 09:00AM

Nine months into his first year as president, Donald Trump still doesn't have any meaningful accomplishments, but don't worry, he's certain he's "ahead of schedule." This was the point Trump seemed eager to emphasize in his speech to the Values Voter Summit's audience on Friday.

"I'm here to thank you for your support and to share with you how we are delivering on that promise, defending our shared values, and in so doing, how we are renewing the America we love.

"In the last 10 months, we have followed through on one promise after another. I didn't have a schedule, but if I did have a schedule, I would say we are substantially ahead of schedule."

This is an underappreciated staple of the president's rhetorical repertoire. As regular readers may recall, Trump has said, for example, that construction of a border wall is "way ahead of schedule." He's said his plans to overhaul veterans' care are "ahead of schedule." He's insisted that his proposed far-right changes to Americans education are "ahead of schedule."

And in late May, Trump boasted that his tax-cut plan is "actually ahead of schedule."

The trouble, of course, is that none of these claims are true. In fact, when it comes to passing massive tax breaks, the Trump administration expected the entire endeavor to be done by August -- suggesting Team Trump is pretty far behind schedule.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

Even Republicans aren't happy with Trump's health care gambit

10/16/17 08:30AM

One of the oddities of Donald Trump's decision to cut off cost-sharing reduction payments to private health insurers is that literally no one benefits from the move. Usually, at least someone benefits from Republican health care measures, even if the underlying idea is misguided, but in this case, everyone loses from the president's gambit on CSRs.

It takes effort to come up with a policy proposal this foolish. In one move, Trump has managed to hurt consumers, hurt insurers, hurt the health care market, and raise the deficit, creating a bizarre dynamic in which the country will pay more and get less. What's more, the Associated Press found that 70% of those who benefit from cost-sharing reduction payments live in red states.

In other words, the White House is not only making the health care system worse on purpose; it's also hurting parts of its political base.

The question, of course, is why. Steve Bannon, the president's former chief strategist, said over the weekend that Trump's goal is to "blow up" insurance markets, which is an amazing thing for him to admit out loud.

The president had a different explanation.

REPORTER: You promised that you would help people who are struggling. The CSR payment looks like it will hurt low-income people.

TRUMP: The CSR payments, if you take a look at CSR payments, that money is going to insurance companies to prop up insurance companies.

REPORTER: To help lower-income people.

TRUMP: That money is going to insurance companies to lift up their stock price, and that's not what I'm about. Take a look at who those insurance companies support, and I guarantee you one thing: It's not Donald Trump.

The president is badly confused about his own actions. The money goes to insurers to cover out-of-pocket costs for lower-income Americans. Ending the CSR payments may hurt insurers stock prices -- something Trump was especially excited about over the weekend for reasons he didn't explain -- but it also directly hurts those who benefit from the payments, while indirectly hurting everyone through increases in premiums.

The list of critics of the president's ridiculous decision isn't short -- and it includes plenty of Republicans.

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Image: Trump Announces Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act

Team Trump faces subpoena over sexual misconduct allegations

10/16/17 08:00AM

Though the story largely faded after last fall's election, Donald Trump was recorded in 2005 bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive -- "I don't even wait," Trump claimed at the time -- which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

"When you're a star, they let you do it," Trump said on the recording. "You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p---y."

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, 11 women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct -- one of whom, Summer Zervos, is currently suing the president for defamation, after Trump insisted each of his accusers is a liar.

BuzzFeed reported yesterday the latest development in this ongoing litigation.

A high-stakes legal showdown is brewing for President Donald Trump, as a woman who said he groped her has subpoenaed all documents from his campaign pertaining to "any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately." [...]

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the Trump's reality TV show The Apprentice, accused Trump of kissing and grabbing her when she went to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 to discuss a possible job at the Trump Organization.... As part of that suit, her lawyers served a subpoena on his campaign, asking that it preserve all documents it had about her.

Note, while the lawsuit isn't new, we weren't aware of the detail highlighted by BuzzFeed. The subpoena was entered into the court file on Sept. 19, nearly four weeks ago.

The article added that Zervos and her lawyer have asked for "all documents" related to the president's other accusers.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.13.17

10/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* U.S. allies are outraged by this, while Iranian hardliners are thrilled: "President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to terminate the Iran nuclear deal if Congress doesn't strengthen it, warning the agreement was merely a 'temporary delay' in Tehran's quest to obtain nuclear weapons."

* Wildfires: "Some of the worst wildfires ever to tear through California have killed 31 people and torched a vast area of the state's north this week, but the reach of the blazes is spreading dramatically further by the day, as thick plumes of smoke blow through population centers across the Bay Area."

* I get the feeling the picture out of Las Vegas is growing murkier, not clearer: "The chronology of events in the Las Vegas music festival shooting shifted again Friday when authorities said a hotel security guard injured by the gunman was struck just as the massacre unfolded, and not minutes earlier."

* It's Trump's party now: "A state lawmaker in Indiana has drafted a measure to require licenses for journalists akin to those that pertain to handgun owners, a proposal legal experts says directly violates the First Amendment."

* Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin "has no plans to fill the No. 2 slot in his department after two candidates for the job dropped out of the running. The department made the surprising announcement after Brian Brooks withdrew from consideration for deputy Treasury secretary, according to several people familiar with his decision. In May, Goldman Sachs executive Jim Donovan dropped out due to family concerns."

* Keep an eye on this one: "Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran. The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess -- not to mention how long he'll be able to continue leading a high-profile committee or even remain in the Senate."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump loves to hate the Iran deal, despite not knowing what it is

10/13/17 12:56PM

There's never been any ambiguity about Donald Trump's disgust for the international nuclear agreement with Iran -- to my mind, perhaps the most impressive U.S. diplomatic achievement since the end of the Cold War. There's quite a bit of uncertainty, however, as to whether he knows what the Iran deal actually is.

The Republican has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible.” As a candidate, Trump declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal “poses a direct national security threat.” Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement “will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country.” After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to “lead to nuclear holocaust.”

As president, Trump has gone into "meltdown" mode when his own team has told him that the policy is actually working as intended, because the facts were simply inconceivable to him. He knows the policy is a disaster, so when reality points in a different direction, Trump finds it necessary to reject reality.

I can't help but wonder, though, if maybe Trump would like the policy if he took the time to get to know it better.

This week, for example, the president made his case to Fox News, explaining why he hates the international agreement so much.

"It's no secret, I think it was one of the most incompetently drawn deals we've ever seen. $150 billion given, we got nothing. They got past the nuclear weapons very quickly.

"Think of this, $1.7 billion in cash. This is cash out of your pocket. I do know how many airplane loads that must be? For they have $1 million? This is $1.7 billion. Who would be authorized to do it and who are the people to deliver it? You may never see them again. Right? This is the worst deal. We got nothing."

This is not something a knowledgeable person who understands the basics of the debate would say out loud.

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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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