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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.30.18

01/30/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz "denounced on Tuesday the U.S. federal government's plan to end emergency food and water aid to [Puerto Rico], saying she had just sent powdered milk to a school that was still operating without power and struggling to have the necessary supplies for its students."

* It's not too late to tweak the speech: "The Dow Jones suffered a triple-digit drop on Tuesday -- just hours before President Donald Trump was set to deliver his State of the Union address, a speech that many expect will tout the stock market's highs and focus on the impact the administration has had on the economy."

* Korean peninsula: "The White House's original choice for U.S. ambassador to South Korea is no longer expected to be nominated after he privately expressed disagreement in late December with the Trump administration's North Korea policy, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Something to keep an eye on: "Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase announced on Tuesday that they would form an independent health care company for their employees in the United States."

* Wait, you mean Scott Pruitt was briefly right about something? "Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a 2016 interview that 'Donald Trump in the White House would be more abusive to the Constitution than Barack Obama,' according to an audio recording released Tuesday by an advocacy group, prompting questions as he faced the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for the first time since taking office."

* I remain fascinated by countries that commit acts of self-sabotage: "The government's new analysis of the impact of Brexit says the UK would be worse off outside the European Union under every scenario modelled, BuzzFeed News can reveal."

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

House Republican wants 'illegal aliens' at State of the Union arrested

01/30/18 03:51PM

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) is developing an unfortunate reputation. I tend to think of the Arizona Republican as the guy who wanted to impeach former Attorney General Eric Holder for no particular reason, and when that didn't pan out, he wanted to impeach former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for no particular reason.

The GOP congressman then said he'd boycott Pope Francis' 2015 congressional address because, as Goas put it at the time, the Pontiff "chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician."

Last fall, Gosar went completely around the bend, suggesting George Soros played a role in financing white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville.

Today, as Roll Call reported, the Arizona Republican made headlines for a brand new reason.

Rep. Paul Gosar has asked the Capitol Police and the Department of Justice to "consider checking identification" of everyone attending President Donald Trump's State of the Union address and "arresting any illegal aliens in attendance," the Arizona Republican announced Tuesday on Twitter.

The move is presumably aimed at so-called Dreamers who will be in attendance.

Dozens of congressional Democrats intend to make a symbolic statement at tonight's event by bringing beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to Capitol Hill.

There's no reason to take them into custody -- or to want to take them into custody.

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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

Ahead of the State of the Union, Trump is in 'a remarkably weak position'

01/30/18 12:57PM

As Donald Trump gets ready to deliver his State of the Union address, the occasion has led many to reflect on the state of his presidency. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently told reporters, with a straight face, "I don't think anyone can argue it is probably one of the most successful first years in office."

Alternatively, I think nearly everyone can argue it wasn't a successful first year at all. In fact, as the Associated Press noted, the president will deliver his remarks from "a remarkably weak position."

Considering the strength of the economy, Trump will step before lawmakers Tuesday night in a remarkably weak position. His approval rating has hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency and at the close of 2017, just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

At a certain level, it may be tempting to stop there. After all, at this stage, Trump is the least popular president since the dawn of modern polling, and it's awfully difficult to make the case that he's succeeding if the American electorate is rejecting him en masse.

But the president's public standing is really just the start of the conversation. A variety of members of Trump's campaign team, for example, are currently under criminal indictment, and his former White House national security advisor has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

The president himself is under a federal investigation for obstruction of justice. Trump is also at the center of a serious scandal that may yet end his presidency prematurely.

His sole legislative accomplishment is an unpopular package of tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, which were rammed through Congress with little thought and no regard for the fact that the plan was the opposite of what the American mainstream actually wanted.

On the economy, Trump's promises of robust economic growth have turned out to be wrong; his first year in office led to the slowest job growth in six years; and the trade deficit he swore to shrink actually grew. On foreign policy, Trump has helped create a crisis with North Korea, while doing severe harm to the United States' standing and credibility around the globe.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.30.18

01/30/18 12:00PM

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

* USA Today  reports that leading outside groups backing Senate Republicans, including the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation, "raised $31.6 million last year -- a record amount for the organizations in a non-election year."

* After Donald Trump's State of the Union address tonight, there will be an official Democratic Party response, an official Democratic Party Spanish-language response, a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) response, and a handful of others.

* Trump's re-election campaign will broadcast the president's speech online tonight, and for those willing to pay at least $35, donor names will appear on screen during the address.

* With Republicans increasingly concerned about Rick Saccone's candidacy in Pennsylvania's congressional special election, the NRCC has reserved "more than $1 million on ads on broadcast and cable TV stations" to give him a hand.

* After less than a year on the job, Jess O’Connell is stepping down as CEO of the Democratic National Committee.

* Though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is still favored to win a second term in November, his Democratic rival, Rep. Beto O'Rourke, continues to put up impressive fundraising numbers.

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(FILE) Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the 'Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act' in the Hart Senate office Building in Washington, DC, June 7, 2017.

Trump's fight with the FBI's McCabe comes into sharper focus

01/30/18 11:20AM

When Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, the bureau chief wasn't in his office. In fact, he wasn't even in the city: Comey was in California, preparing to speak at an event intended to help recruit future FBI officials. This led, among other things, to the appointment of a special counsel to the further investigate the Russia scandal.

But in the immediate aftermath of the president's decision, it also led to an odd logistical dynamic: Comey had flown to Los Angeles on a government-funded plane. Trump, watching television coverage at the time, was reportedly enraged by the idea of Comey returning home the same way.

As NBC News reported yesterday, the result was an uncomfortable conversation between Trump and Andrew McCabe -- the then-acting director of the FBI -- that we're just learning about now.

McCabe told the president he hadn't been asked to authorize Comey's flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser -- an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe's wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied, "OK, sir." Trump then hung up the phone.

A White House official denied the account, though (a) this White House denies all sorts of things that are true; and (b) the story certainly sounds like the sort of thing Trump would say and do.

After all, we already know Trump is the kind of person who goes after the spouses of people he's unhappy with.

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The Watergate Hotel Washington, D.C., June 11, 2012.

The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate

01/30/18 10:40AM

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. "One year of Watergate is enough," the Republican president said at the time.

We now know, of course, that Nixon was wrong, and seven months after making his declaration from Capitol Hill, the scandal forced him to resign the presidency.

But we also know that when it comes to Republican historical references, "one year of Watergate" wasn't even close to being enough. For example, take one far-right congressman's view of the so-called Nunes memo.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) -- who has called for reining in the Mueller probe by gutting its financing, and recently went pheasant hunting with Donald Trump Jr. -- said he was sickened by the memo and that it was "worse than Watergate."

In context, King was referring to the Republican conspiracy theories reportedly included in the memo, not the memo itself.

There's a lot of this going around. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) agreed last month that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is leading a "corrupt" investigation that's "worse than Watergate."

Soon after, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an odd enthusiast for baseless conspiracy theories, called for an investigation into "high-ranking" officials in the Obama administration who "colluded" to stop Trump's election. The Republican senator, who appeared to be pointing to a controversy that doesn't exist in reality, added, "This could be worse than Watergate!"

And then, of course, there's Donald Trump, perhaps the nation's biggest proponent of bizarre conspiracy theories, who's constantly identifying Watergates all over the place. Uranium One? That's Watergate, the president has said. Non-existent wiretapping of Trump Tower? That's Watergate, too. Benghazi? Watergate. Joe Arpaio's investigation into Barack Obama's birth certificate? Bigger than Watergate.

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An exam room at the Whole Woman's Health clinic, in McAllen, Texas on March 4, 2014. (Photo by Jennifer Whitney/The New York Times/Redux)

Senate Republicans make time for a vote on an abortion ban

01/30/18 10:00AM

Congress has a lengthy to-do list -- the deadline for the next government shutdown is next week -- and it's therefore tempting to assume lawmakers would put aside assorted political stunts.

And yet, as the Washington Post reported, the Republican-led Senate made time yesterday to vote on an abortion ban.

A closely divided Senate on Monday blocked a proposed federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks in a vote that is likely to be the first of several ­election-year attempts to highlight the split between Democrats and Republicans.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Children Protection Act failed to earn the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle, marking a defeat for opponents of such procedures but fulfilling a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold a vote on the legislation. The vote was 51-46.

The roll call is online here. Note that two Republicans -- Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski -- broke ranks and opposed the measure, while three Democrats -- Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Indiana's Joe Donnelly, and West Virginia's Joe Manchin -- voted for it.

Defending the bill, McConnell said the legislation "reflects a growing mainstream consensus" that abortions should be banned after 20 weeks. In reality, no such consensus exists.

As we discussed a few months ago, after the House took up the issue, because roughly 99% of abortions occur before the 21st week of a pregnancy, these later terminations tend to involve "rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman's health." It's why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has consistently opposed bills like these.

But GOP leaders pushed the ban anyway, just as they did in the last Congress, and the Congress before that -- knowing in advance that the bills had no chance of success.

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

Trump's understanding of the climate crisis seems to be getting worse

01/30/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump' ignorance about the climate crisis is, alas, not altogether new. As regular readers know, in 2012, Trump made the case that climate data is part of an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by China to undermine the American economy. That, of course, made Trump sound hopelessly bonkers, but it didn't stop him from dismissing climate change as a "hoax," over and over again.

Last summer, after the president announced his rejection of the Paris climate accord, Trump World faced a simple question: does Trump still think global warming is fake? In a curious development, no one in the president's orbit – Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – was willing to answer the question. The president’s position on one of the world’s biggest issues was, to a very real extent, a White House secret.

It's far less of a secret now. Trump sat down over the weekend with Piers Morgan and the Republican elaborated on his perspective.

MORGAN: Do you believe in climate change? Do you think it exists?

TRUMP: There is a cooling and there is a heating, and I mean, look: It used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming.

MORGAN: Right.

TRUMP: Right? That wasn't working too well, because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records, O.K., they're at a record level.

None of this makes any sense. When it comes to understanding the crisis at even the most basic level, everything the president said was just pure madness.

For a point-by-point refutation, The New Republic's Emily Atkin published a great item yesterday, which is well worth your time.

But I also wanted to step back and return to a point we discussed several weeks ago: appreciating the difference between ignorance and willful ignorance.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Trump balks at fully implementing Russian sanctions law

01/30/18 08:41AM

For much of Barack Obama's second term, congressional Republicans had convinced themselves that the Democratic president had dictatorial impulses that led him to ignore measures approved by Congress. In 2014, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) whined that the United States has "an increasingly lawless presidency."

Perhaps the Speaker had the appropriate concern, but he simply expressed it a few years too early.

The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 "oligarchs" who have flourished during the reign of President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

Yet the administration paired that move with a surprising announcement that it had decided not to punish anybody -- for now -- under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers said President Donald Trump was giving a free pass to those Congress intended to target, fueling further questions about whether the president is too soft on Russia.

Just so we're clear, the law wasn't intended to make sanctions on Russia optional. What's more, this isn't the first time the president and his team have dragged their feet on implementing congressionally approved sanctions on the country that attacked U.S. elections in 2016.

It helps explain why some lawmakers aren't exactly pleased this morning. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said on Twitter this morning, "Congress voted 517-5 to impose sanctions on Russia. The President decides to ignore that law. Folks that is a constitutional crisis. There should be outrage in every corner of this country."

R. Nicholas Burns, the former United States Ambassador to NATO, added, "Congress can't let Putin go unpunished for interfering in our election. Trump's weakness is appalling."

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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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