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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.13.18

02/13/18 12:00PM

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

* In Minnesota yesterday, Democrat Karla Bigham won her state Senate special election by three points, keeping the seat "blue." It was, however, a competitive district: Donald Trump narrowly won here in the last presidential election.

* In related news, Minnesota was also home yesterday to a state House special election, where Republican Jeremy Munson prevailed in a district that Trump won by 26 points. Munson won by about 18 points.

* In a quote Nevada Democrats will be only too pleased to share with voters in the fall, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said yesterday about his plans for immigration policy, "I have a tendency to support what the president's trying to do, and that's probably the position that's closest to where I am."

* The Republican National Committee now intends to keep the donations it received from Steve Wynn, the RNC's former finance chair, "until state regulators in two states complete their investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him."

* The Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity is reportedly launching new attack ads targeting Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for voting against the regressive Republican tax plan.

* In Alabama, state Attorney General Steve Marshall (R) has been caught in an exceedingly awkward spot: his office is subpoenaing state lawmakers while his political operation seeks campaign contributions from those same lawmakers. (Thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up.)

* In Arizona, Senate hopeful Kelli Ward (R) told MSNBC's Kasie Hunt yesterday that she still wants Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to resign. Ward is currently running to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who's retiring.

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Amtrak Train 111, which was the first Northeast Regional train out of New York City at 5:30 am this morning, arrives at Union Station May 18, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

The unsettling details surrounding Trump's railroad safety chief

02/13/18 11:20AM

The Trump administration has struggled with all kinds of personnel troubles lately, but this Politico piece about Heath Hall points to a different kind of controversy.

A top official charged with overseeing the safety of the nation's railroads has resigned "effective immediately," the Department of Transportation said Saturday after POLITICO raised questions about whether he was simultaneously working as a public relations consultant in Mississippi.

The news comes at a time of strain for the Federal Railroad Administration, which hasn't had a permanent leader for more than a year while it investigates a string of fatal train crashes and deals with a rising trend of rail-related deaths.

As Rachel explained on the show last night, the trouble in this case is that Heath Hall oversaw the Federal Railroad Administration while he maintained an entirely different job: Hall also served as a spokesperson for a local sheriff's department in Mississippi, home to the public-relations firm he's run for years.

In fact, Hall reportedly had federal officials help him with his second job, all while he was ostensibly helping oversee the $1.7 billion agency that's in charge of rail safety for the entire country. No one notified the Department of Transportation about any of this.

Almost immediately after Politico called to inquire about Hall's two simultaneous jobs, he resigned -- suggesting he intended to keep the scheme going until someone finally figured it out.

But before we move on, can we also ask how it is this guy got the job?

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Mick Mulvaney

CFPB ends payday lender lawsuit, leaves Trump voter feeling 'betrayed'

02/13/18 10:42AM

One of the most controversial aspects of the nation's finance industry is the prevalence of payday lenders, and the business practices that consumer advocates consider predatory. The Obama administration unveiled new safeguards in 2016, specifically intended to protect the public.

Last month, Donald Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, announced that those rules would effectively be ignored. CNBC reported yesterday on the latest effects of the Trump administration's approach to the payday-lending industry.

The federal consumer watchdog has dropped a lawsuit against a lender that allegedly charged people up to 950 percent interest rates. It's part of a move away from aggressive enforcement under interim director Mick Mulvaney that has angered career staff, NPR reported.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau confirmed to CNBC on Monday that it scrapped the suit against Golden Valley Lending in January. Mulvaney, who also heads the administration's Office of Management and Budget,was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the CFPB after Democrat Richard Cordray resigned.

Mulvaney -- a harsh critic of the CFPB while serving in Congress -- decided to scrap the legal action even though career officials wanted to move ahead with it, several CFPB staff members told NPR.

Note, NPR's report makes clear that CFPB officials spent years building a case against Golden Valley Lending, and if the litigation had been successful, thousands of Americans stood to get some of their money back. Mulvaney didn't care.

The report specifically highlighted a Michigan woman named Julie Bonenfant, who faced a financial crisis that led her to borrow $900 from Golden Valley Lending. She soon discovered that "her scheduled payments in less than 12 months will total $3,735, or more than four times what she borrowed."

Bonenfant told NPR, "To be honest I'm really mad, really pissed, because I actually voted for Trump. So knowing that his guy threw out this case that affects people like me, I feel kind of like stupid -- just kind of like betrayed."

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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)

Pruitt takes the Trump admin's travel troubles to new heights

02/13/18 10:08AM

One of the few scandals that actually seemed to embarrass the Trump administration last year was the plane problem: top officials kept taking very expensive, taxpayer-financed flights that the White House found difficult to defend.

The controversy cost HHS Secretary Tom Price his job, but he wasn't the only one caught up in this mess. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's travel became a problem. The controversy surrounding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel is starting to look worse. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s travel drew some scrutiny as did Energy Secretary Rick Perry's. VA Secretary David Shulkin’s travel was under investigation, and the latest findings do not paint a flattering picture.

And then there's EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who's tenure has been controversial for a wide variety of reasons, and who now looks a little worse thanks to this Washington Post  report.

Just days after helping orchestrate the United States' exit from a global climate accord last June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt embarked on a whirlwind tour aimed at championing President Trump's agenda at home and abroad.

On Monday, June 5, accompanied by his personal security detail, Pruitt settled into his $1,641.43 first-class seat for a short flight from the District to New York City. His ticket cost more than six times that of the two media aides who came along and sat in coach, according to agency travel vouchers; the records do not show whether his security detail accompanied him at the front of the plane.

In Manhattan, Pruitt made two brief television appearances praising the White House's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, stayed with staff at an upscale hotel near Times Square and returned to Washington the next day.

That same week, Pruitt flew on Air Force One to attend an infrastructure event, before taking a military jet to New York, where the EPA chief and his team boarded another flight to Rome.

All of this has cost American taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars -- and that doesn't include the undisclosed costs associated with covering the travel expenses of Pruitt's security -- which is extensive.

Indeed, the closer one looks at this story, the worse it appears.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

On protecting classified information, Sanders' defense falls short

02/13/18 09:20AM

One of the core elements of the White House's Rob Porter controversy is a question about national security: the former staff secretary had day-to-day access to highly sensitive, classified materials, despite not having a permanent security clearance. While Team Trump was entrusting Porter with secrets, one of Porter's ex-wives was warning Team Trump he was susceptible to blackmail.

With this in mind, NBC News' Kristen Welker had an important exchange yesterday with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:

WELKER: Can you guarantee that you are protecting classified information given that you have someone like Rob Porter who didn't have a permanent security clearance to access classified information?

SANDERS: I think we're doing and taking every step we can to protect classified information. I mean, frankly, if you guys have such concern with classified information, there's plenty of it that's leaked out of the Hill, that's leaked out of other communities well beyond the White House walls. If you guys have real concerns about leaking out classified information, look around this room. You guys are the ones that publish classified information and put national security at risk that doesn't come from this White House.

WELKER: Is this White House jeopardizing national security?

SANDERS: We take every precaution possible to protect classified information and certainly to protect national security. It's the president's number-one priority, is protecting the citizens of this country. It's why we spend every single day doing everything we can to do that. And I think if anyone is publishing or putting out, publicly, classified information, it's members of the press, not the White House.

As responses go, this is a mess, and given the seriousness of the underlying issue, it's a problem that deserves special scrutiny.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Following tax cuts for the rich, Trump budget would hurt the poor

02/13/18 08:41AM

In his inaugural address last year, Donald Trump articulated a vision for taking political power and "giving it back to you, the American people." The new Republican president added, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

Well, maybe just a little longer.

President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work. [...]

"This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations," said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "It doesn't reflect the right values."

No, though it does reflect the right's values.

The point about the Republican tax plan stands out as especially important. It was, after all, just two months ago that GOP policymakers approved a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, almost all of which benefited the wealthiest Americans and large corporations. Donald Trump continues to tout the policy as a historic achievement.

But this same president, the self-proclaimed champion of "the forgotten men and women," has created a bookend for the regressive tax breaks: a White House budget that goes out of its way to impose new hardships on those who are already struggling most.

I've been thinking about something Slate's Jamelle Bouie wrote last week:

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Image: Trump departs for travel to Missouri from the White House in Washington

Team Trump still can't get its story straight on Porter scandal

02/13/18 08:00AM

It's now been a week since the public first learned about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter's alleged violence toward his ex-wives. In theory, Donald Trump and his team have had plenty of time to examine how they handled the matter and get their story straight.

It's not going well. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced this question during yesterday's briefing:

"Tuesday night, when the initial story came out, the White House praises Rob Porter. Wednesday morning, photos come out. The White House stands by its statement. Wednesday afternoon, the White House continues to praise Rob Porter. And Chief of Staff John Kelly says he acted 40 minutes within knowing the allegations. Can you explain that?"

She couldn't explain that. White House officials have given competing explanations of when they learned about the allegations and when they responded to the allegations. At different times, they've said Porter chose to resign and was forced out. Their timeline, meanwhile, lacks any kind of consistency.

Politico  reports this morning, meanwhile, that after reports of Porter's alleged domestic violence reached the public, the White House arranged an off-the-record briefing between the aide and several reporters, allowing him to push back against the claims. This appears to be completely at odds with John Kelly's "40 minutes" claim, which was already a mess.

Making matters slightly worse, the L.A. Times  reported yesterday, "Over and over again the past few days, various White House aides have buttonholed reporters to tell them -- anonymously -- that they think Kelly either lied to them or tried to get them to lie about what he knew when."

Fine-tuned machine, indeed.

There is, of course, a broader significance to this that extends beyond one former West Wing aide who's been accused of violent domestic abuse -- allegations he denies. There's also the fact that Trump World doesn't exactly have a reservoir of credibility it can lean on when confronted with controversies like these.

A Washington Post reporter asked rhetorically over the weekend, "What happens when there's an external crisis and the White House needs the American people to believe what it says?" The answer, I suspect, is that much of the public would respond with justifiable skepticism.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.12.18

02/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What volatility looks like: "U.S. stocks surged Monday recovering from some of the wreckage left by two weeks of brutal trading that wiped out trillions of dollars in market value."

* Following up on Friday night's news: "The Justice Department's No. 3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months before the department announced her departure on Friday, according to multiple sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand."

* Harvey Rishikof: "Before his sudden firing last week, the Pentagon official who oversaw military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay was exploring potential plea deals to end the long-delayed prosecution of five suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks, a move that would foreclose the possibility of execution, according to several people familiar with the matter."

* This is one of those behind-the-scenes stories that will have a real impact: "The Trump administration has adopted new limits on the use of 'guidance documents' that federal agencies have issued on almost every conceivable subject, an action that could have sweeping implications for the government's ability to sue companies accused of violations."

* I remember when Candidate Trump said his administration would champion the interests of the LGBT community: "The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won't investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration's year-long broadside against LGBT rights."

* Sinclair Broadcast Group "is asking its executives -- including the news directors at its many stations -- to contribute to its political action committee, a move that journalism ethics experts say is highly unusual and troubling."

* Remember, Trump has expressed support for this guy: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told soldiers last week to shoot female rebels in their genitals, the latest of several violent, misogynistic remarks."

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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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