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Mitt Romney is interviewed by Neil Cavuto during his "Cavuto Coast to Coast" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Richard Drew/AP)

Six years after his failed presidential bid, Romney runs for Senate

02/16/18 10:10AM

Mitt Romney is from Michigan. He was governor of Massachusetts. He owns homes in New Hampshire and California.

He's now running for the Senate in Utah, and if elected, he'll go to Washington, D.C.

Mitt Romney, the GOP's presidential candidate in 2012 and a former governor of Massachusetts, announced Friday that he would run for U.S. Senate in Utah.

"I have decided to run for United States Senate because I believe I can help bring Utah's values and Utah's lessons to Washington," Romney said in a video announcing his bid.

To be sure, Romney isn't exactly a stranger to Utah. He helped run the Salt Lake City Olympics in 1994, and he owned a ski chalet in the state before selling it in 2010. His family bought another Utah home after Romney's failed presidential campaign in 2012.

He reportedly considered running for office in Utah in the 1990s, but decided against it, saying he was a Massachusetts man, through and through. So much for that idea.

Romney turns 71 next month, and if elected, he'll be among the oldest freshmen senators in American history. He'd also join a small club of politicians who served as governor of one state and senator of another -- joining Sam Houston of Texas and Tennessee.

Republican officials are not only pleased with the news, the party is already considering him for a leadership post, hoping Romney will take over next year as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 23, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Why we can't, as Paul Ryan suggests, 'collect the facts' on guns

02/16/18 09:20AM

The pattern is painfully familiar: there's a mass shooting; much of the public looks to policymakers to take new steps to protect Americans; the NRA's allies make excuses; and the news cycle moves on. Then there's another mass shooting, at which point the cycle begins anew.

And so, in the wake of the deadly high-school shooting in Parkland, Fla., this week, developments on Capitol Hill yesterday were rather predictable. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), however, said something a little different, and it's worth pausing to consider it in more detail.

Congress, Ryan said in a radio interview, needs to "take a breath and collect the facts." The Republican leader added, "We don't just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data."

That's actually a sensible reaction. I'm aware of the political circumstances, of course, and I understand that when Ryan says he wants to "take a breath," it's possible the Speaker simply wants to buy some time and wait for the political world to lose interest, but let's not be cynical. Instead, let's take Ryan's comments at face value.

Why don't we "collect the facts" and pull together "the data"? Because a Republican policy won't let us. The Washington Post  reported last fall:

[O]ne reason the positions are so intractable is that no one really knows what works to prevent gun deaths. Gun-control research in the United States essentially came to a standstill in 1996. After 21 years, the science is stale.

"In the area of what works to prevent shootings, we know almost nothing," Mark Rosenberg, who, in the mid-1990s, led the CDC's gun-violence research efforts, said shortly after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015.

In 1996, the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped funding research into firearm injuries and deaths. The National Rifle Association accused the CDC of promoting gun control. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research -- which had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide.

As regular readers may recall, it’s common knowledge that the NRA and its allies have fought to kill any kind of restrictions on firearm ownership. What’s less recognized is the fact that the gun lobby also helped block basic data collection, to the point that there’s “no current scientific consensus about guns and violence,” in large part because the NRA “has been able to neutralize empirical cases for control.”

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Stormy Daniels visits a local restaurant in downtown New Orleans, Wednesday, May 6, 2009.

Controversy over Team Trump's payment to porn star intensifies

02/16/18 08:42AM

We've now known for several weeks about the money a porn star received, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, in order to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. The adult-film actress, Stormy Daniels, has said very little about her relationship with the future president since receiving the money.

But now that Michael Cohen, a longtime personal Trump attorney, has spoken publicly about the money he "facilitated" for Daniels, the porn star believes she's free to discuss her sexual history. As her manager put it the other day, in apparent reference to a non-disclosure agreement, "Everything is off now, and Stormy is going to tell her story."

Indeed, just yesterday, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, began hinting at revelations to come, including possible physical evidence of her relationship with Trump.

And while I'm sure all of this seems quite provocative, I'm going to say again what I've been saying for a while: the interesting part of this scandal is the money, not the sex. The New York Times  reported yesterday:

The admission by President Trump's longtime personal lawyer that he sent $130,000 to a pornographic film actress, who once claimed to have had an affair with Mr. Trump, has raised potential legal questions ranging from breach of contract to ethics violations.

The lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he had used his own funds to facilitate the payment to the actress ... adding that neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign had reimbursed him for the payment.

OK, but did someone -- say, Donald J. Trump Sr., for example -- reimburse him? Was there any kind of financial arrangement between the lawyer and his client? Cohen replied to the Times, "I can't get into any of that."

But why not?

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Excuse for EPA chief's first-class flights turns farcical

02/16/18 08:00AM

As if Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt weren't facing enough controversies, we learned this week that the Oklahoma Republican has spent quite a bit of taxpayer money on first-class air travel. Donald Trump's EPA chief responded by saying he'd "had some incidents" that made the expensive plane tickets necessary.

This was, however, an odd response. Why would "incidents" be more common in coach?

Yesterday, as the Washington Post  reported, the EPA elaborated on the nature of Pruitt's travel habits.

Verbal confrontations with members of the public prompted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to switch to flying first or business class whenever possible, officials said Thursday.

Henry Barnet, who directs EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training, said in an interview that the head of Pruitt's security detail, Pasquale Perrotta, recommended in May that he fly in either first or business class to provide "a buffer" between him and the public.

It's generally not a good sign when public servants, traveling at taxpayers' expense, look to create "a buffer" between them and the Americans they ostensibly serve. (One wonders whether Pruitt might be better off if he also considered creating a buffer between his office and lobbyists for polluters.)

But even putting that aside, what kind of "confrontations" are we talking about here? According to Politico, at an airport in Atlanta, someone approached Pruitt with his cell phone recording, yelling at him, "Scott Pruitt, you're f---ing up the environment."

And while I'm sure that was unpleasant, Pruitt and his team still seem to be missing the underlying point. Putting aside whether the Trump's EPA chief is, in fact, "f---ing up the environment," what's to stop a first-class traveler from saying the same thing to Pruitt? Or someone in coach saying it to Pruitt on the way toward the back of the plane?

Is the idea that Pruitt, sensitive as he appears to be, needs us to pay for more expensive plane tickets because he's less likely to find angry people if he sits with those who can afford first-class tickets?

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.15.18

02/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This makes Trump's tweet this morning look a little worse: "A YouTube user who used the same name as the suspected Florida gunman was investigated by the FBI for a comment boasting about plans to shoot up a school, the agency said Thursday."

* As expected: "The Senate ended its immigration debate this week exactly where it began — in a stalemate."

* Hmm: "Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump's chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings."

* In related news: "House Republican leaders are weighing 'further steps' to force former top White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon to answer investigators' questions in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election -- including potentially declaring him in contempt of Congress -- after a Thursday interview they called 'frustrating.'"

* Really? "On the campaign trail Donald Trump said he wanted to keep the detention center at Guantanamo Bay open and 'load it up with some bad dudes.' But President Trump may actually oversee a slight decrease in the population."

* South African President Jacob Zuma resigned yesterday "in a televised address to the nation, ending a turbulent tenure marred by corruption scandals that sapped the popularity of the ruling African National Congress and hurt one of Africa's biggest economies."

* Stormy Daniels "believes she is now free to discuss an alleged sexual encounter with the man who is now president, her manager told The Associated Press Wednesday."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House accused of 'unforgivable' security clearance lapses

02/15/18 12:48PM

One of the key elements of the controversy surrounding former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter is his security clearance. For reasons that remain unclear, Porter handled highly sensitive, classified materials as part of his day-to-day duties, despite the fact that he didn't -- and by some accounts, couldn't get -- a permanent security clearance after an FBI review on his background.

There's no great mystery as to why: Porter faced accusations of domestic abuse, including one of his ex-wives telling officials that he was vulnerable to blackmail.

What's now coming into focus, however, is the scope of Trump World's problem in this area. NBC News had this stunning report last night:

More than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President did not have permanent security clearances as of November 2017, including the president's daughter, son-in-law and his top legal counsel, according to internal White House documents obtained by NBC News.

Of those appointees working with interim clearances, 47 of them are in positions that report directly to President Donald Trump. About a quarter of all political appointees in the executive office are working with some form of interim security clearance.

Those titles are of particular importance here. We're not talking about low-level aides who have a peripheral role in Trump World. This is about dozens of officials who report directly to the president -- including Jared Kushner and White House Counsel Don McGahn, for goodness sakes -- who didn't have a permanent security clearance.

Heck, as of November, nearly half the staffers on the National Security Council were working with nothing more than an interim clearance.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.15.18

02/15/18 12:00PM

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

* Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was poised to launch his Utah Senate campaign today, but the announcement was delayed because of yesterday's school shooting.

* On a related note, Rob Anderson, the Utah Republican Party chair, doesn't seem overly impressed with his party's likely Senate nominee. "I think he's keeping out candidates that I think would be a better fit for Utah because, let's face it, Mitt Romney doesn't live here, his kids weren't born here, he doesn't shop here," Anderson told  The Salt Lake Tribune. He added, in reference to Romney, "He has never been a Trump supporter."

* Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered an unscheduled speech at the National Congress of American Indians in Washington yesterday, and addressed Donald Trump's attacks on her purported family heritage.

* Despite Dems' recent successes, Republicans still win plenty of state legislative special elections: in an Oklahoma state Senate race this week, Casey Murdock (R) prevailed by a two-to-one margin over his Democratic rival.

* On a related note, John LaHood (R) also easily won a state House special election in Georgia this week.

* Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), both likely presidential candidates, announced this week that they'll stop accepting campaign contributions from corporate political action committees.

* In related news, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) had pledged during his special-election campaign not to accept any corporate PAC money. He's since changed his mind.

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley speaks to members of the press, June 27, 2013.

Grassley is the wrong senator with the wrong message on guns

02/15/18 11:22AM

On. Feb. 10, 2013, exactly five years ago this week, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) appeared on NPR and was asked about what steps policymakers could take to reduce gun violence.

"[T]he biggest problem that we have to deal with, and quite frankly I don't think any of us have an answer to the mental health issue," the Iowa Republican said at the time. "How do you get more people that have mental health problems that shouldn't have guns, and under present law can't get guns, but you got to get their name into the database as well."

This morning, Grassley spoke briefly to MSNBC in a Capitol Hill hallway, commenting on yesterday's mass shooting in a Florida high school, and echoing the sentiment he shared almost exactly five years ago:

"[We] have not done a very good job of making sure that people that have mental reasons for not being able to handle a gun, getting their name into the FBI files, and we need to concentrate on that."

The Iowan then walked away.

This is, to be sure, a complex issue, but let's take a moment to remember what Grassley did between February 2013 and February 2018 -- by focusing specifically on what he did in February 2017, when Grassley was the chief sponsor of a bill to make it easier for the mentally impaired to buy a gun.

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Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, La. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty)

Jindal changes his mind about the GOP being 'the stupid party'

02/15/18 10:50AM

Republicans genuinely believed Mitt Romney was going to defeat Barack Obama in 2012, right up until the Democratic president won with relative ease. Many in the GOP expressed their disgust with the results in colorful ways, but none were as memorable as then-Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

Jindal spoke to Politico the week after the 2012 election and said his party would recover if it learned to "stop being the stupid party." He added, "It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments -- enough of that. It's not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can't be tolerated within our party."

The then-governor went on to say, "We've also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters." The GOP, he advised, should "stop reducing everything to mindless slogans, tag lines, 30-second ads that all begin to sound the same."

Jindal, of course, was an awful messenger for the message. His approach to governance decimated Louisiana's finances, and he tried to parlay his failure into a doomed presidential campaign. But five years after he denounced Republicans' embrace of "offensive, bizarre comments" and "dumbed-down conservatism," Jindal has apparently changed his mind.

Here was his latest pitch in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday:

You hear it all the time from Trump supporters: "I like a lot of what he's done, especially the judges and tax cuts. But I wish he'd stop tweeting and picking fights. I wish he acted more presidential and stopped insulting reporters, entertainers, senators, foreign leaders and Gold Star families."

Sounds right, seems smart. Yet for millions of Trump voters it misses the point entirely. Mr. Trump's style is part of his substance. His most loyal supporters back him because of, not despite, his brash behavior. He would not be in the Oval Office today had he followed a conventional path or listened to the advisers telling him to tone down his rhetoric and discipline his behavior.

In other words, Trump rose to power because he did the opposite of what Jindal said Republicans should do -- which Jindal apparently now finds quite impressive.

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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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