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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.9.17

02/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Syria: "U.S. forces killed 11 al Qaeda operatives -- including a longtime ally of Osama bin Laden -- in two airstrikes last week in Syria, the Defense Department said Wednesday."

* Following Kellyanne Conway's on-air endorsement of Ivanka Trump's product line: "Asked about Conway's comments during Thursday's White House press briefing, Sean Spicer said she 'has been counseled on that subject, and that's all.'"

* Arizona: "Emotional protests broke out in Phoenix Wednesday night after a Mexican-born mother-of-two was detained for deportation. Dozens of demonstrators surrounded a van carrying Guadalupe García de Rayos from a detention center, with one man putting his arm in a wheel well to stop it."

* Afghanistan: "The commander of the American-led international military force in Afghanistan told Congress on Thursday that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers."

* North Dakota: "Construction crews have resumed work on the final segment of the Dakota Access pipeline, and the developer of the long-delayed project said Thursday that the full system could be operational within three months. Meanwhile, an American Indian tribe filed a legal challenge to block the work and protect its water supply."

* Resignation was the right call: "A Michigan Republican has resigned after causing outrage by suggesting that protesters at University of California, Berkeley, should be shot."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

New questions surround Trump's conversation with Putin

02/09/17 04:41PM

As president-elect, Donald Trump spoke to a variety of international leaders, and in a few too many instances, the calls did not go well. Obama administration officials offered to help prepare the Republican, and offer guidance on avoiding potential pitfalls, but Trump and his team decided to wing it -- and the consequences weren't pretty.

As president, Trump has spoken to many more officials from around the world, and the calls appear to be getting worse. The amateur leader's recent call with the president of Mexico was a disaster. His chat with the Australian prime minister was worse. Politico reported yesterday that Trump "spent much of a recent phone call with French President Francois Hollande veering off into rants about the U.S. getting shaken down by other countries ... creating an awkward interaction with a critical U.S. ally."

And then, of course, there's Russia. This Reuters report is getting a lot of attention today, and for good reason.
In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.
As is always the case with stories like these, the sourcing matters, and we don't know for sure who Reuters spoke to. The report hasn't been independently verified by NBC News or MSNBC.

But the reporting is also very easy to believe.
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House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) sits in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Congress' oversight of the White House is put on indefinite hold

02/09/17 12:52PM

The Atlantic's David Frum, lamenting the "ominous indicators of a breakdown of the American political system," recently noted that raw partisanship has led to a collapse in congressional oversight of the executive branch. "Congress has increasingly become a check only on presidents of the opposite party," Frum wrote.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) seems a little too eager to prove the thesis correct. TPM reported yesterday:
House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said Wednesday that he doesn't think President Donald Trump's tweet attacking department store Nordstrom for dropping his daughter Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessories line is "a big deal."

"Is it appropriate, do you believe, is it ethical -- and you oversee the executive branch of the government -- for the President to be commenting about his daughter's business like this?" CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Chaffetz.

"I think most people can relate to the fact that a father, a doting father with very successful children is going to look after those children and, you know, if he sees something going wrong, he's going to call it out," Chaffetz said. He said that he doesn't "pay much attention to it."
The chairman of the Oversight Committee went on to compare Trump's comments yesterday about Nordstrom to elected officials giving their opinions on the Super Bowl and "which hamburgers they like."

It's hard to imagine Chaffetz actually believing his own rhetoric. The president went on the offensive against an American company for no longer selling his daughter's merchandise, effectively using his powerful platform to interfere in his daughter's retailing opportunities. This bears little resemblance to tweets about someone's lunch preferences.

If this were Hillary Clinton's administration, is there any doubt the Oversight Committee would've scheduled hearings before close of business yesterday? [Update: See below.]
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.9.17

02/09/17 12:00PM

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

* Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) probably had no idea he was creating a meme this week when he said about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted."

* After making repeated references to a terrorist attack in Atlanta that did not happen, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insists he was referring to Orlando.

* Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) office estimates that the number of calls per day from citizens to Capitol Hill has reached around 1.5 million lately.

* As if Vladimir Putin's intervention in the U.S. presidential race weren't quite enough, Russia is also facing accusations that it's intervened in the upcoming French presidential election, too.

* Michael Anton, a Trump-appointed staffer on the National Security Council, has a record of having published some striking content: "A senior national security official in the Trump administration wrote under a pseudonym last year that Islam is an inherently violent religion that is 'incompatible with the modern West,' defended the World War II-era America First Committee, which included anti-Semites, as 'unfairly maligned,' and called diversity 'a source of weakness, tension and disunion.'"

* On a related note, USA Today continues to scrutinize recordings of Steve Bannon's talk radio show, and the controversial comments he made on the air about religious minorities and immigrants.
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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump's new partnership with Wall Street creates economic risks

02/09/17 11:23AM

Last week, in a story that probably didn't get as much attention as it deserves, Donald Trump issued a new directive to make it easier for your financial advisor to deliberately rip you off. At the same time, the Republican president, who made anti-Wall Street rhetoric a key part of his campaign message, began laying the groundwork to undo elements of the Dodd-Frank reform law.

Don't worry, though, because Trump has a perfectly clear rationale for his actions: "I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses and they can't borrow money. They just can't get any money because the banks just won't let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank."

In other words, the president is targeting legal safeguards and layers of financial-industry accountability so that his friends can get more money. The comments were certainly candid.

But they were also baffling. To the extent that reality matters, commercial lending is actually at record highs right now -- even with Dodd-Frank safeguards in place -- so it's not altogether clear what the president is whining about.

At the same White House event, Trump turned to JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon and said, "There's nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than Jamie." If you voted for Trump because you thought he'd stand up to Wall Street, I'm afraid you were suckered.

But perhaps most alarming of all is the potential impact of this administration's vision as it relates to the finance industry. Vox's Matt Yglesias had a good piece on this yesterday, noting that Trump seems determined to encourage Wall Street to engage in more risky lending.
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A view of the state capitol on March 6, 2015 in Montgomery, Ala. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

How Senator Strange made it from Alabama to Capitol Hill

02/09/17 10:40AM

With the Senate voting late yesterday to confirm Jeff Sessions as the next U.S. Attorney General, the Alabama Republican leaves a rare vacancy in his 100-member chamber. In a narrowly divided Senate, even one seat can make a difference.

And with that in mind, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) wasted little time in announcing Sessions' successor, appointing state Attorney General Luther Strange (R) to fill the vacancy for the remainder of Sessions' term. Strange, who had already announced plans to run the Senate seat in 2018, will now run as an incumbent.

Perhaps the most interesting part, however, is considering the possible motivation behind the governor's decision. The Alabama Media Group reported this morning:
The appointment comes four months after Strange asked the Alabama House Judiciary Committee to suspend an investigation into impeachment articles against Bentley because his office was conducting a related investigation.

"I respectfully request that the Committee cease active interviews and investigation until I am able to report to you that the necessary related work of my office has been completed," Strange wrote in a Nov. 3 letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones, who agreed to suspend the proceedings.
It creates an amazing political dynamic: Gov. Bentley is under investigation for an unseemly scandal, in which he's accused of having an extramarital affair with an aide and using state resources to help cover it up. The state attorney general, in his letter to state lawmakers, suggested his office's investigation is ongoing.

Bentley certainly couldn't make the investigation go away by firing Strange, but the governor has now done the next best thing: he's giving Strange a promotion and sending him out of town.
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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Kellyanne Conway endorses Ivanka Trump's merchandise

02/09/17 10:08AM

Donald Trump, already beset by a series of conflict-of-interest controversies, broke new ground yesterday: the Republican president used his office to chastise an American company for no longer selling his daughter's merchandise. In case this isn't obvious, we're not accustomed to seeing the chief executive of a superpower exploit his platform to interfere in his daughter's retailing opportunities.

Making matters worse, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Nordstrom's decision to stop selling Ivanka Trump's products represented an "attack."

And just when it seemed this story couldn't get more ridiculous, a prominent member of Team Trump turned things up a notch.
During a Thursday morning Fox & Friends interview, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway told viewers to buy products from Ivanka Trump's clothing line.

This comes the day after Donald Trump tweeted angrily at Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's line, writing that she had been "treated so unfairly." Conway referred to Ivanka as a "champion for women empowerment, women in the workplace," before adding, "Go buy Ivanka's stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, and I'm gonna go get some on myself today."
Hmm. A White House official -- which is to say, a public official whose salary is paid by American taxpayers -- appeared on national television this morning in what looked like the press briefing room in the West Wing. She then used that platform to, in effect, do a little commercial/testimonial in support of her boss' daughter's merchandise, encouraging people to buy Trump products.

It wasn't long before knowledgeable observers started asking whether this was even legal.
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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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