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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

The select few who have Donald Trump's ear

04/24/17 09:30AM

Politico reported over the weekend that Donald Trump likes to leave large blocks of "private time" on his presidential schedule, which are regularly devoted to "spontaneous meetings and phone chats with ex-aides, friends, media figures, lawmakers and members of his Cabinet." For most modern presidencies, this isn't exactly a normal practice, but it's the way Trump has operated for years.

Whether or not this is a good thing appears to be a matter of perspective, and Politico spoke to members of Team Trump who were "split on whether the freewheeling set-up, which can allow friends and unofficial advisers to whisper in the president’s ear on policy issues, is productive."

It matters quite a bit who, exactly, is doing the whispering. With this in mind, the New York Times had an interesting piece over the weekend.
As Mr. Trump’s White House advisers jostle for position, the president has turned to another group of advisers -- from family, real estate, media, finance and politics, and all outside the White House gates -- many of whom he consults at least once a week. [...]

Mr. Trump’s West Wing aides, like President Bill Clinton’s staff two decades before, say they sometimes cringe at the input from people they can’t control, with consequences they can’t predict. Knowing these advisers -- who are mostly white, male and older -- is a key to figuring out the words coming from Mr. Trump’s mouth and his Twitter feed.
The Times did a nice job breaking down the list of 20 presidential confidants -- each of whom, at least for now, works outside the White House -- and the role they play in Trump's orbit. The piece even breaks them down into convenient categories.

Of the 20, 18 are men, 20 are white, and most are roughly the president's age. The demographic characteristics are very likely to make a difference in how Trump sees the world and what challenges most deserve his attention.

But there's one other common thread tying together much of the list that jumped out at me.
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Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) speaks at the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum during the NRA Convention at the Kentucky Exposition Center on May 20, 2016 in Louisville, Ky. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump administration can't keep its story straight on 'Dreamers'

04/24/17 09:00AM

While individual deportations are rarely the basis for national news, last week's story about Juan Manuel Montes was different. The 23-year-old Montes, who's lived in the United States since age 9, was taken into custody last week and returned to Mexico -- making him the first example of a "Dreamer" to be deported since Donald Trump became president.

As USA Today reported, Montes was "twice granted deportation protections" under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump has so far left in place, but which didn't seem to protect the young man last week.

It therefore came as something of a surprise late last week when the Republican president said "Dreamers" -- who get their name from the "Dream Act" that GOP lawmakers blocked in Congress -- should "rest easy" about his immigration policies. Trump told the Associated Press that he's "not after the Dreamers, we are after the criminals." He added, "That is our policy."

Trump might want to let his attorney general know.
[Attorney General Jeff Sessions], in an exclusive interview Sunday on "This Week," told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, "There's no doubt the president has sympathy for young people who were brought here at early ages."

He also said the Department of Homeland Security's "first and strongest priority -- no doubt about it" is to arrest unauthorized immigrants who have committed crimes. "They're focusing primarily on that," he said.
"Primarily" seemed to be doing a lot of work in that sentence.

Asked specifically about the fate of "Dreamers," the far-right attorney general, "Well, we'll see. I believe that everyone who enters the country illegally is subject to being deported."

Oh. Literally two days after the president said these young people can "rest easy," Jeff Sessions, the man Trump and Senate Republicans made the nation's chief law-enforcement official, told these same young people not to rest easy -- because as far as the attorney general is concerned, they're "subject to being deported."
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Image: March For Science in New York

March for Science reflects awakening of civic consciousness

04/24/17 08:30AM

The timing was striking. On Friday afternoon, for no apparent reason, the Trump administration asked U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to resign. This was not a case in which Obama-era officials are replaced with new political appointees after an election; the surgeon general serves a four-year term, and Murthy still had roughly two years remaining.

Why would Donald Trump dismiss an accomplished and successful physician without explanation? Perhaps because the president lacks a meaningful appreciation for science -- a point that was driven home nicely the day after Murthy was shown the door.
Lovers of science got their day in the rain Saturday as they rallied around their passions, delivering applause for the technology that brought their smart phones to the obvious theme of climate change on Earth Day. And while the March for Science was on the surface nonpartisan, politics bubbled up again and again. [...]

Because it was a march, protest signs abounded, from the funny ("I just came for the pi" and "Without science, it's just fiction") to the sincere ("Science Saves Lives").
There's no official count of how many participated in the event at the National Mall in D.C., but the NBC News estimate was that "at least 10,000 turned out" in dreary weather.

And while that may sound like a modest total, let's not forget that (1) this was one of over 600 satellite Marches for Science around the world, many of which also brought out thousands of people; and (2) this total, if accurate, would mean Saturday's March for Science in the nation's capital was on par with the largest Tea Party rallies held at the height of the so-called conservative "movement."

There's also the context to consider. In the immediate aftermath of Trump's unexpected election, Americans took to the streets in protest of the Republican and his agenda, and in recent months, the civic engagement has been unlike anything seen in at least a generation: the historic Women's March, the recent Tax Day March, well attended national events in support of the Affordable Care Act, and now the March for Science.
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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 makes an offer Dems can easily refuse

04/24/17 08:00AM

This Friday at midnight, current funding for the federal government will expire. Without some kind of agreement, Americans will see the latest government shutdown -- and the first in which Congress and the White House are held by the same party.

There's more than one dividing line in this dispute, but increasingly, the fight is coming down to one thing: Donald Trump's demand that Congress appropriate money for his border wall. As hard as this may be to believe, it appears the White House is quite serious about this, as evidenced by this exchange between ABC News' George Stephanopoulos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions yesterday:
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the president is trying to get a down payment for the border wall in the government funding bill that needs to pass this week. Democrats insist it's a nonstarter. So is the president going to insist on that funding even if it means a government shutdown?

SESSIONS: I can't imagine the Democrats would shut down the government over an objection to building a down payment on a wall that can end the lawlessness.
There are all kinds of substantive problems with such a posture -- including the idea that Dems will be to blame if Republicans shut down the government -- but given the circumstances, Sessions may need a greater imagination.

If the Trump administration sticks to its guns, a shutdown is inevitable, because there's simply no way Democrats will agree to spend taxpayer money on a border wall few outside the White House actually want. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece the other day noting that among lawmakers who represent districts along the U.S./Mexico border -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- literally none of them support the president's wall proposal.

But Team Trump believes it's identified an area of possible negotiation, which is actually more accurately seen as a clumsy hostage strategy. Slate reported late Friday:
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New Trump hire resurrects corruption question

New Trump hire resurrects corruption questions

04/21/17 09:00PM

Rachel Maddow revisits the questions that surrounded a Donald Trump Foundation donation to the campaign of Florida A.G. Pam Bondi coinciding with her decision not to join a lawsuit against Trump University, now that a top lawyer for Bondi, Carlos Muniz, has joined the Trump administration. watch

Friday's Mini-Report, 4.21.17

04/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Arkansas "executed death row inmate Ledell Lee late Thursday, its first death sentence in more than a decade and the first of four inmates scheduled to die before the end of the month when a crucial lethal injection drug is set to expire."

* The March for Science is tomorrow: "[T]housands of people who never saw themselves as the sign-carrying type will hit the streets Saturday.... They're trying to think of clever and eye-catching posters, and, being scientists, organizing teach-ins."

* With one week to go: "The White House ordered federal agencies Friday to began preparations for a potential partial government shutdown after signaling President Donald Trump would demand money for key priorities in legislation to continue funding the government beyond April 29."

* Texas: "On Thursday, a three-judge federal court ruled that Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters in drawing its state House district map in 2011.... Thursday's ruling marks the third time in recent weeks that the federal judiciary has found Texas to have intentionally burdened its Hispanic voters."

* EPA: "The Environmental Protection Agency is again moving to derail Obama-era regulations aimed at reducing pollution from the fossil fuel industry. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Wednesday he's issued a 90-day delay for oil and gas companies to follow a new rule requiring them to monitor and reduce methane leaks from their facilities."

* Florida: "A Florida state senator who used a racial slur and vulgar insults during a private, after-hours conversation with two African-American colleagues resigned Friday. Sen. Frank Artiles, a Republican who represents District 40 in Miami-Dade, announced that he was stepping down in a letter sent to Senate President Joe Negron."

* VW: "A federal judge in Detroit Friday signed off on what could be one of the last big developments in the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, ordering the German maker to pay a $2.8 billion criminal penalty negotiated as part of a settlement with the U.S. Justice Department last January."
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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

DOJ departure shakes up investigation into Russia scandal

04/21/17 04:30PM

A key aspect of the scandal surrounding Russia and its efforts to elect Donald Trump is the hacking operation, which stole Democratic materials. But as Reuters reported, that wasn't the only element of the broader espionage operation.
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters' faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election.
Of particular interest is what changed in October 2016, as Americans learned of allegations surrounding Trump's sexual misconduct -- and the recording in which Trump boasted of assaulting women -- when it appeared Hillary Clinton was likely to win. At that point, the Reuters report noted, the Kremlin switched gears, moving away from pro-Trump propaganda and instead trying to raise questions about the legitimacy of the U.S. election.

The point was to undermine Clinton's presidency before it occurred, in the eyes of Americans and the world. What's more, as Rachel noted on last night's show, this wasn't some low-level scheme: this was a government-run, intelligence operation, coordinated in part by the Kremlin`s in-house intelligence think tank, which Vladimir Putin has staffed with his former senior intelligence officers.

It was right around this time that Trump's message mirrored the one the Kremlin's think tank was pushing, with the Republican insisting that the American election process is "rigged" and unreliable.

It's interesting that Moscow and Moscow's preferred American candidate adopted similar messaging at similar times.
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Image: U.S.  President Trump listens during joint news conference with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg at the White House in Washington

It's a little late for Trump to say the 100-day metric is 'ridiculous'

04/21/17 01:03PM

We still have a week to go before Donald Trump's presidency reaches the 100-day mark, but the Republican president is apparently coming to terms with the fact that he's off to a dreadful start, and the 100-day coverage will be unflattering.

And so, Trump is doing something that, at first blush, seems quite rational: he's telling everyone to ignore the metric, which he now sees as unimportant.
Donald Trump just called using his first 100 days in office to judge him a "ridiculous standard," but he repeatedly boasted about what he would achieve in that exact time frame before he took office.

Trump tweeted Friday morning that "no matter what I accomplish during this ridiculous standard of the first 100 days," media organizations "will kill!" He said he has accomplished "a lot," including the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Note, the one accomplishment the president pointed to is the one that required him to do practically no work: he was encouraged to nominate Gorsuch; he did; and then Senate Republicans did the heavy lifting.

Nevertheless, there are basically three angles to Trump's whining: (1) the broader significance of a president's first 100 days in office; (2) what this president has to show for his first 100 days of effort; and (3) why it's too late for Trump to pretend the standard is, as he put it, "ridiculous."

On the first point, Trump's argument is not entirely without merit. At the start of every new presidency, many historians are quick to remind the political world that the importance of the 100-day metric is exaggerated a bit, and I'm generally sympathetic to the argument. A handful of presidents, facing extraordinary crises -- FDR and Obama, for example - managed to complete some historic tasks in their first 100 days, but as a rule, it's better to evaluate presidencies over whole terms, not the first few months.

It's not completely meaningless -- the 100-day standard tells us something useful about an administration's preparedness and ability to hit the ground running -- but there's nothing inherently magical about this standard.

And for Trump, that's good news, because his first 92 days have been a national embarrassment.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.21.17

04/21/17 12:00PM

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

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, is investing $800,000 in Montana's congressional special election, trying to connect Rob Quist to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

* On a related note, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is reportedly "making an initial six-figure investment into the Montana state party to back Quist's campaign."

* In Georgia's special election, Republican Karen Handel has decided to accept Donald Trump's backing ahead of the June runoff: the president sent out a fundraising appeal on the GOP candidate's behalf yesterday.

* On a related note, the DCCC launched its first negative ad against Handel yesterday. It's not yet clear how big the ad buy in support of the spot will be.

* The latest national PPP poll shows Trump with a 43% approval rating. Looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, the same results found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic ballot, 47% to 41%.

* Speaking of survey data, Gallup reported yesterday that Trump is the first president since the dawn of modern polling to end the first quarter of his first term with support well below 50%.

* On the heels of his surprise retirement announcement, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) conceded yesterday that he's thinking about leaving Congress early, stepping down before his term ends next year.

* Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, has become the subject of an intra-party controversy after some of his national supporters discovered he "supported legislation to require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion" eight years ago.
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Trump's quiet meeting with former Colombian presidents matters

04/21/17 11:06AM

When Donald Trump traveled to his private Florida resort last weekend, he made time for golf, but as the Miami Herald reported, he also made time to meet with Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana, former presidents of Colombia, and it wasn't just to exchange pleasantries.
President Donald Trump quietly met a pair of former Colombian presidents last weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, thrusting his administration into an ugly power struggle in Latin America that threatens to undermine the country's controversial peace agreement with rebel leaders.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is expected to push Trump to support the peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia at their first meeting at the White House next month. He wants the Trump administration and Congress to maintain the $450 million in foreign aid promised by former President Barack Obama to implement the plan to end Latin America's longest armed conflict.
Uribe and Pastrana oppose the plan, and the meeting with Trump was reportedly arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also opposes the Colombian plan.

Part of the problem with this is the secrecy. It's one thing for a president to visit with foreign dignitaries; it's something else to leave these meetings off the president's official schedule and fail to disclose them to journalists who were there to report on his activities.

There's also the apparent dishonesty to consider. A White House spokesperson told McClatchy News the meeting happened, but said this was an instance in which the former Colombian presidents were at Mar-a-Lago and they "briefly said hello when [Trump] walked past them." Pastrana, however, extended his thanks to Trump for the "cordial and very frank conversation" about Colombia's challenges.

As a rule, when the White House finds it necessary to lie about what Trump's up to, it only raises more questions about why the dishonesty was deemed necessary.
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Flowers on a tree bloom near the Treasury Department building in Washington, DC on March 10, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty)

Trump admin: Tax cuts for the wealthy will pay for themselves

04/21/17 10:14AM

As things stand, it's hard to say with confidence whether Donald Trump's White House intends to pursue a sweeping tax reform package, which would overhaul the entire federal system, or a more modest package of tax cuts. The former is a very heavy lift, while the latter is difficult to pay for.

At least, that is, in theory. In practice, the Washington Post reports that the Trump administration isn't too worried about finding the money to pay for tax cuts, because it believes the Tax Fairy will come along and make the costs magically disappear.
The Trump administration plans to rely on controversial assumptions about economic growth to offset steep cuts to business and individual tax rates, a chief architect of the plan said Thursday.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme -- close to $2 trillion over 10 years -- that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.
Mnuchin declared yesterday, "The plan will pay for itself with growth."

This, alas, is not a new concept. For decades, conservative policymakers have said tax breaks, especially those targeted at the wealthiest Americans, supercharge the economy to such an extent that increased growth leads to increased revenue. Ergo, there's no need to try to offset the costs of tax cuts because the cuts necessarily pay for themselves.

Republicans have even come up with some nice sounding jargon, "dynamic scoring," to help rationalize the fiscal strategy.

The problem, of course, is that this has not worked, and does not work, in practice.
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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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