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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The good question that Team Trump considers 'ridiculous' and 'ludicrous'

06/14/18 10:43AM

In the aftermath of Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, one of the key questions is on verification. The two leaders signed a statement in which the dictatorship agreed to "work toward" denuclearization, but the vague phrasing raised more questions than it answered.

How will North Korea "work toward" that goal? How would the United States know if the authoritarian regime is keeping its word? Instead of answering the questions, the Trump administration yesterday rejected them as annoying. Politico had a good report on this late yesterday:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lost his cool Wednesday with reporters who pressed him on the vague agreement President Donald Trump reached with North Korea in Singapore this week.

During a visit to South Korea Wednesday, Pompeo bristled at and called "ludicrous" questions about why a document Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un signed on Tuesday did not include language that Pompeo has called essential to any nuclear deal.

When asked how a nuclear agreement would be verified, Pompeo snapped: "Don't say silly things.... It's not productive."

Look, I can appreciate the stress Pompeo is under. His boss keeps making concessions to one of the United States' key enemies in exchange for nothing, all while alienating several of the United States' closest allies. This isn't an easy time to be America's top diplomat.

But that doesn't change the fact that Pompeo's frustrations yesterday were absurd. Reporters asked the cabinet secretary to explain why this week's agreement didn't include phrases such as "verifiable and irreversible." Apparently, the pressure got to him.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: EPA Administrator Pruitt testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington

Some on the right grow uncomfortable with Pruitt's flamboyant corruption

06/14/18 10:00AM

It's one of the most common questions in American politics: how in the world does EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt still have his job? There's no shortage of possible explanations, but the Oklahoma Republican has clearly benefited from the right's steadfast support.

So long as the EPA chief's critics are limited to the American mainstream, Donald Trump finds it easier to shrug off criticisms of his scandal-plagued cabinet secretary.

But there's fresh evidence that conservatives' support is not unconditional. In the wake of new revelations about Pruitt using his office to help his family, National Review published a piece yesterday calling for the EPA chief's resignation.

[W]e are now at a point where a good week for Pruitt sees only one report of behavior that is bizarre or venal. He seems to have used government employees to secure a job for his wife and to get a discount on a mattress. His top aides got hefty raises, and Pruitt first told Fox News he did not know about those raises and then told a House committee that he did. He reportedly told aides to find reasons for him to take official trips to countries he wanted to see, and had security aides run errands such as searching for his favorite lotion. And that's just the start.

This is no way for any public official to treat taxpayers.

Also yesterday, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham -- one of a very small number of people whom Trump follows on Twitter -- said Pruitt's "bad judgment" is hurting the president, which means he's "gotta go."

This week, the American Future Fund, a conservative non-profit group, also launched an ad campaign urging Pruitt to resign, with commercials describing him as a "swamp monster" who is "embarrassing President Trump."

Even Republican Sen. James Inhofe, a longtime Pruitt ally and a fellow far-right Oklahoman, said yesterday, "Every day, something new comes out. So I've kind of taken the position that if that doesn't stop, I'm going to be forced to be in a position where I'm going to say 'Well, Scott, you're not doing your job.'"

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Image: SINGAPORE-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

Trump finds new ways to excuse his new friend's heinous crimes

06/14/18 09:25AM

Donald Trump didn't just meet with North Korea's Kim Jong-un this week; the American president also offered gushing public praise for the repressive dictator. Even those who were inclined to approve of the Republican giving North Korea what it wanted, in exchange for nothing, found it difficult to defend Trump over-the-top affection for Kim.

What we didn't know was that the president wasn't done. Consider this exchange between Trump and Fox News' Bret Baier, aired last night:

BAIER: You know you call people sometimes 'killers.' [Kim] is a killer. I mean he's clearly executing people.

TRUMP: He is a tough guy. Hey when you take over a country, tough country, with tough people and you take it over from your father. I don't care who you are, what you are. How much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old you, I mean, that's one in 10, 000 that could do that. So he is a very smart guy. He is a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.

BAIER: But he's still has done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things.

Yes, we've reached the point in history at which the president of the United States is offering public excuses for a communist dictator's barbaric crimes.

If Trump's phrasing sounds at all familiar, just a month into his presidency, the Republican also sat down for a Fox News interview in which he was reminded that Russian President Vladimir Putin "is a killer." Trump responded at the time, "There are a lot of killers."

In English, we have a word to describe those who shrug off the crimes of their pals, making excuses for their misdeeds. They're called "apologists."

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Rep. Steve King

House Republican retweets Nazi sympathizer, faces no punishment

06/14/18 08:40AM

Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) ugly history on matters related to race, alas, is not new. And yet, new King controversies keep coming up. The Washington Post  reported:

Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa is drawing scrutiny after sharing a social media post from a British white nationalist who has described himself in the past as an admirer of Hitler's Germany and a "Nazi sympathizer."

King, whose racially inflected comments on subjects such as immigration and Western culture have drawn headlines for years, retweeted the British white nationalist Mark Collett, who had shared a statistic from Breitbart News on Tuesday morning about opinions of "mass immigration" in Italy.

"Europe is waking up," King wrote, above Collett's tweet. "Will America ... in time?"

There can be no doubt about Collett's abhorrent vision. As a Slate  piece explained, "According to HuffPost, Collett was once the youth leader of the British National Party, an extreme far-right party, and he once said that AIDS is a 'friendly disease because blacks, drug users, and gays have it.' He has also espoused anti-Semitic beliefs and appeared frequently on far-right and white nationalist podcasts. In his Twitter feed, he talks about white genocide, a popular concept among white supremacists, and the 'price of multiculturalism.'"

But what matters in this case is not Collett's disgusting worldview. It's not even Steve King's unsurprising willingness to promote Collett's online content.

What shouldn't go overlooked is the Iowa Republican's ability to get away with stuff like this -- because the right-wing congressman's party has an endless tolerance for his offensive antics. Or put another way, the question is less about Steve King and more about what GOP leaders intend to do about Steve King.

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Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam

Putin suggested Trump's controversial new foreign policy move

06/14/18 08:00AM

Donald Trump's first big concession to North Korea's Kim Jong-un came before their summit even began: the American president agreed to a bilateral summit, one of the dictatorship's long-sought goals, in exchange for practically nothing.

Trump's second big concession, however, was announced immediately after the summit ended: the president was scrapping joint military exercises with our South Korean allies, to North Korea's delight, also in exchange for practically nothing.

It was a difficult decision to defend. After all, the United States military has been participating in these joint exercises for decades. Making matters worse, Trump made the announcement without notifying our partners in South Korea, who were blindsided by the American leader's decision, or the Pentagon, where officials had no idea what the Republican president was talking about.

So why in the world would Trump do this? His first stated reason was that canceling the military exercises would save us money, which isn't altogether true, and which is an argument officials from both parties found bizarre. Trump also argued that the exercises were overtly "provocative" -- which represented an exceedingly rare instance in which an American president echoed the talking points of North Korea's communist dictatorship.

But to fully appreciate the oddity of the circumstances, it's worth understanding where Trump apparently got this idea in the first place. The Wall Street Journal  reported in January:

Around the same time, Mr. Trump had an idea about how to counter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, which he got after speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin: If the U.S. stopped joint military exercises with the South Koreans, it could help moderate Kim Jong Un's behavior.... Mr. Trump dropped the idea, although he has ordered aides to give the exercises a low profile, eliminating press releases and briefings about them.

In context, "around the same time" refers to the period last summer after Trump met with Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.13.18

06/13/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The United States in 2018: "The undocumented immigrant from Honduras sobbed as she told an attorney Tuesday how federal authorities took her daughter while she breastfed the child in a detention center, where she was awaiting prosecution for entering the country illegally."

* Climate crisis: "Antarctica's ice sheet is melting at a rapidly increasing rate, now pouring more than 200 billion tons of ice into the ocean annually and raising sea levels a half-millimeter every year, a team of 80 scientists reported Wednesday. The melt rate has tripled in the past decade, the study concluded."

* Immigration: "The Trump administration is urging a federal court in Texas to declare DACA illegal, setting up a potential conflict that could allow the government to shut the program down within a matter of weeks."

* He's in a position to do more than complain: "Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday chided his GOP colleagues for being 'cultish' and 'fearful' under President Donald Trump, and said some are concerned about their prospects in the midterm elections."

* Interest rates: "The Federal Reserve approved another rate hike on Wednesday, bumping up the nation's benchmark interest rate by one-quarter of a point. It's the second time Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has raised rates since he took over the nation's central bank in February."

* Is Pruitt starting to lose the right? "Conservative pundit and radio host Laura Ingraham called on President Donald Trump Wednesday to fire Scott Pruitt after a report that the EPA administrator had an aide press GOP donors to give his wife a job."

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Image: House GOP Pulls Vote On Trump's American Health Care Act

Moderate Republicans suffer a 'staggering loss' on immigration

06/13/18 03:20PM

A sizable group of House Republicans launched an audacious initiative in early May, introducing a discharge petition on immigration reform. And while discharge petitions nearly always fail, this one had a real chance at success.

That is, until yesterday. Politico  reported overnight:

House Republicans will vote next week on two bills addressing the plight of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who face possible deportation, circumventing an intra-party war over immigration and delivering a major blow to moderate Republicans.

The floor votes will effectively stop the effort by moderate Republicans in tandem with Democrats to force a vote on their immigration plans through a so-called discharge petition.... The development effectively kills the discharge petition campaign, a staggering loss for moderates seeking to pass legislation protecting Dreamers.

The more moderate GOP members needed to get 218 signatures to force a bipartisan reform package onto the floor, which would have protected Dreamers and codified the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program into law.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was reportedly "desperate" to avoid a vote on bipartisan immigration legislation, and his leadership team successfully persuaded just enough Republicans not to sign the discharge petition.

Yesterday afternoon, the moderates ended up with 216 signatures, not 218.

As a result, the House will have two votes on immigration measures next week -- one far-right plan written by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and another that's still a work in progress -- though as Politico's report added, "Neither is expected to pass, according to Republicans in all camps."

So, who wins and who loses here?

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

GOP senator makes a clumsy case on nuclear proliferation

06/13/18 12:46PM

While the Bush/Cheney administration struggled with its fiasco in Iraq, a related problem unfolded thousands of miles away: North Korea joined the small circle of nations with nuclear weapons. In response, the Republican White House at the time did effectively nothing.

The result wasn't just a frightening security dynamic, the administration also inadvertently sent an alarming signal to U.S. adversaries: if you want to avoid a military confrontation, you're better off having nuclear weapons (like North Korea), than not having them (like Iraq).

It was a lesson Iran understood all too well: it was on Bush/Cheney's watch that Iran's total number of centrifuges grew from 164 to 8,000.

A decade later, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) raised a related point during an interview yesterday with Hugh Hewitt. The conservative host asked the Republican senator for his response to assertions that Donald Trump gave away too much to Kim Jong-un during this week's summit, and the senator replied:

"There is a school of thought that the United States should not sit down, that the United States president should not sit down with two-bit dictators. I think there's some validity to that school of thought with the exception once those dictators have nuclear weapons.

"You know, countries like Iran and Cuba and other two-bit rogue regimes don't have nuclear weapons, yet. They can't threaten the United States in that way. Once North Korea had nuclear weapons, once they have missiles that can deliver them to use, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators. It's not something that we should celebrate. It's not a pretty sight. But it's a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat."

There's quite a bit wrong with this, starting with the idea that presidential negotiations with North Korea's dictatorship are somehow "necessary." They're not. Trump didn't have to give Kim one of his most sought-after goals in exchange for nothing; he chose to.

And even among those who believe direct and bilateral talks are "necessary," that doesn't explain Trump's effusive praise and affection for one of the world's most brutal authoritarians.

But looking past these relevant details, there's a broader significance to Cotton's vision: it creates a powerful incentive for "two-bit dictators" to get nuclear weapons as quickly as possible.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.13.18

06/13/18 12:00PM

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

* In Virginia's 10th congressional district, widely seen as one of the nation's most competitive House contests, Democratic leaders got the candidate they wanted: state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D) easily won her primary yesterday, and will take on incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) in the fall.

* Things were less encouraging for Democratic Party leaders in South Carolina, where Archie Parnell (D) also won his congressional primary in the 5th district, despite losing party support in response to revelations about spousal abuse in his past.

* The latest Public Policy Polling survey, released today, shows Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 46% to 40%. That's roughly in line with recent national averages.

* After Virginia's Corey Stewart's won his Republican Senate primary last night, the crowd at his victory party chanted, "Lock her up." The GOP nominee told his supporters in response, "That might just happen, by the way."

* Because Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) dislikes his state's ranked-choice voting -- a reform approved by his constituents -- he's threatening not to certify the results of yesterday's primaries.

* On a related note, Mainers are keeping the system in place, at least for now.

* The National Rifle Association has apparently pulled its old scorecards, which give letter grades to lawmakers based on how often they voted with the NRA's position, from the group's website. Why hide them from public view? "I think our enemies were using that," an NRA source told the Washington Post.

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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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