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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.9.17

11/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Six weeks later: "A transmission line failure Thursday left thousands in Puerto Rico without power, just after areas had finally seen a restoration of electricity following Puerto Rico's blackout after Hurricane Maria."

* Trump-Russia: "After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to 'send five women' to Donald Trump's hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview."

* The panel voted along party lines: "The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday approved the Republican tax plan after making key changes such as raising repatriation tax rates on corporate cash held abroad, restoring the adoption child credit and changing the bill's treatment of 'pass-through' businesses."

* In related news: "Senate Republicans are forging their own path on the effort to overhaul the U.S. tax code, offering a plan Thursday that would delay President Trump's top business priority and blow up House Republicans' carefully crafted compromise on property tax deductions."

* This sounds like an interesting hearing: "After months of questioning President Donald Trump's temperament and fitness for office, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., announced Wednesday that he would convene a hearing to examine the president's authority to use nuclear weapons."

* The number of broken ribs has gone up: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said Wednesday he had sustained six broken ribs and a build-up of fluids between his chest and lungs as a result of an altercation with a neighbor last Friday, revealing additional maladies about the previously reported incident."

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Alabama's Roy Moore faces sexual misconduct allegations

11/09/17 04:23PM

The news about Alabama's Roy Moore this afternoon is stunning.

An Alabama woman has accused Roy Moore, the state's Republican Senate nominee, of forcing her into a sexual encounter in 1979, when she was 14 and he was 32, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The woman, Leigh Corfman, now 53, told the Post that Moore took off her "shirt and pants and removed his clothes," touched her "over her bra and underpants" and "guided her hand to touch him over his underwear."

Moore, a right-wing culture warrior who's based much of his political career on his role as a moral crusader, has denied the allegations, calling the report "the very definition of fake news and intentional defamation."

People will obviously draw their own conclusions about the reporting, but I want to emphasize that the Washington Post's article is worth your time. This isn't a thinly sourced article based on rumor and speculation; this is a thoroughly reported piece, written carefully, resulting from extensive legwork. The accusers and witnesses are identified by name, with on-the-record allegations, corroborated by contemporaneous accounts.

What's more, Leigh Corfman isn't the only teenaged girl Moore pursued at the time. The article added, "Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks say Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older."

And while I don't doubt Moore's defenders will accuse the women of participating in a smear campaign just weeks before Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, at this point there's no evidence to suggest that's the case. Corfman, for example, is a Trump voter.

OK, so now what?

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Trump's secret tax returns are relevant once more

11/09/17 12:45PM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was asked recently about Donald Trump's claims that he won't personally benefit from the Republican tax plan. If the president insists on keeping his tax returns secret, CBS's Gayle King asked, how can we know whether he's correct?

"I don't know the answer to your question," the Speaker replied, explaining that he doesn't know anything about how Trump's finances are structured.

Of course, that's kind of the point. None of us have any details about the president's recent finances. That's because Trump is the only modern president to hide his tax returns from the public. (Congress could compel the release of the documents, but Ryan has blocked such efforts.)

The controversy doesn't come up every day -- media outlets can only run the "Still No Tax Returns" headline so many times -- but on occasion, Trump's refusal to disclose these materials becomes relevant anew.

Take today, for example. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claimed this morning that the president will have to pay more under the Republican plan. He's almost certainly lying, but if the administration is going to make a claim like that, it has a responsibility to offer some evidence to substantiate it. As it stands. Mnuchin is effectively saying, "The president will pay more, and you should just take my word for it."

Given Trump World's track record, the idea that they've earned the benefit of the doubt is plainly ridiculous.

Complicating matters, the Washington Post noted that elements of the Republican plan appear to be geared specifically to benefit Trump directly.

Even in a bill that favors the 1 percent in ways big and small, there is one especially favored group — commercial real estate interests. And because Trump just happens to have earned his living that way, we can make some educated guesses about what just might be in his mystery returns — and what breaks he would like to receive in the future.

[Seth Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former special assistant to the Obama administration's White House National Economic Council] made this case in a tweetstorm that generated a lot of attention. As he put it: "The Republican tax bill looks like it was written by Donald Trump's accountants and tax lawyers, and I'm not even joking."

Bloomberg Politics added that the same GOP plan also includes "a lucrative break for golf-course owners."

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.9.17

11/09/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) announced that he's retiring at the end of his current term. He is, by my count, the 29th House member to retire, 21 of whom are Republicans.

* On a related note, it's worth emphasizing that Goodlatte's district, Virginia's 6th, is the single most Republican-friendly district in the commonwealth, which means Democrats face an uphill climb if they're going to try to flip it.

* With five weeks remaining before Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, a poll commissioned by Raycom News Network found Roy Moore (R) holding onto a double-digit lead over Doug Jones (D), 51% to 40%.

* On a related note, it appears Moore is unwilling to debate Jones. A local station offered the right-wing candidate six different date possibilities between November 27th and December 7th, and Moore rejected them all.

* How did the pollsters do in Virginia's gubernatorial race this? Not that well: while most polling outlets correctly showed Ralph Northam winning, nearly every pollster understated the strength of his support.

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Poll shows Americans taking the Trump-Russia scandal seriously

11/09/17 11:21AM

There hasn't been a lot of public polling about the Trump-Russia scandal lately, so I was glad to see this question in a CNN survey released this week:

"U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they believe the Russian government attempted to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election last year through hacking of political campaigns and the release of selected information. If this assessment is correct, do you think that would be a crisis for the United States, a major problem, a minor problem, or not a problem at all?"

The poll found that 22% of Americans see the scandal as a "crisis" -- up from 17% earlier this year -- while an additional 44% believe it's a "major problem." Combined that's two-thirds of the country that sees Donald Trump's Russia scandal as an important story.

The same poll found that 64% of Americans believe the investigation into Russia's attack is "a serious matter that should be fully investigated," while 32% see the investigation as "mainly an effort to discredit Donald Trump's presidency." That's a two-to-one margin.

The survey went on to ask, "How concerned are you about reports that people associated with Donald Trump's campaign had contact with suspected Russian operatives during last year's campaign?" A 44% plurality said they were "very concerned" -- the highest it's been all year -- while an additional 21% said "somewhat concerned."

Finally, a 59% majority said they believe Donald Trump personally knew last year about people from his campaign being in contact with Russian operatives.

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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)

White House signals doubts about House GOP tax plan

11/09/17 10:44AM

The White House hosted a meeting this week with centrist Senate Democrats, hoping to persuade them to support a far-right Republican tax plan. In a bit of a surprise, Donald Trump phoned into the meeting, apparently hoping the personal touch would help persuade them.

By all accounts, the presidential outreach didn't go especially well. Trump talked more than he listened; he couldn't address any of the substantive details; he brazenly lied about the tax benefits that would go towards the wealthy in his party's plan; and he apparently shared an anecdote about a fictional conversation with his accountant.

But that's not the part that stood out for me. Rather, what struck me as important is what the Wall Street Journal reported:

President Donald Trump moved to assuage centrist Democratic senators' concerns about the House Republican tax overhaul by telling them the Senate version will be more to their liking, in comments that risk muddying the GOP's effort to get a bill passed.

"You're going to like it a whole lot more," said Mr. Trump of the Senate version, according to two people who attended a Tuesday gathering of Democratic senators that Mr. Trump called into.

The comments risk complicating Republican efforts to present a united front on both the Senate and House versions of the tax bill to keep it on track. Publicly, the president has praised the House plan, but his comments could fuel doubts among lawmakers about how wedded he is to that version.

It wasn't just Trump. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn reportedly told the centrist Senate Democrats, "Don't get too hung up on the House bill."

When Cohn sat down with CNBC's John Harwood, and Harwood pressed him on some of the most unpopular parts of the House Republican proposal, Cohn responded with a similar pitch: "Yeah, look, first of all, we're not done. The only thing you have to work on now is the House blueprint. We're going to get a Senate plan later this week."

If you're a House Republican, and your alarm bells aren't going off, you're not paying close enough attention.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

White House's Cohn touts 'trickle-down' benefits in GOP tax plan

11/09/17 10:12AM

Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council in Donald Trump's White House, sat down for a very interesting chat with CNBC's John Harwood this week, and it looks like the president's top economic adviser ended up saying a few things he probably didn't intend to say.

As recently as late September, for example, Cohn argued that in the Republican tax plan, which he's helped write, "Wealthy Americans are not getting a tax cut." With Harwood, Cohn said something very different.

"When you take a corporate tax rate at 35 percent and move it to 20 percent, and you see what's happened over the last two decades to businesses migrating out of the United States, migrating profits out of the United States, migrating domicile out of the United States, and hiring workers out of the United States, it's hard for me to not imagine that they're not going to bring businesses back to the United States.

"We create wage inflation, which means the workers get paid more; the workers have more disposable income, the workers spend more. And we see the whole trickle-down through the economy, and that's good for the economy."

It's worth appreciating, just as a matter of political rhetoric, that there are certain phrases that the right has learned to avoid. Advocates of privatizing public education, for example, steer clear of the word "vouchers," for example, because they're not popular -- so they use pleasant sounding euphemisms such as "school choice" instead.

Similarly, advocates of massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations tend to avoid references to "trickle-down" tax policies because most of the public is repulsed by the idea of giving more money to those at the very top and waiting for prosperity to eventually work its way to everyone else.

And yet, Cohn, perhaps inadvertently, said what he actually believed, confirming what critics of the Republican plan have been saying all along.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump (L) meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at The Capitol Building on Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Paul Ryan makes it plain: 'We're with Trump'

11/09/17 09:20AM

As the results from this week's off-year elections came in, nearly everyone was amazed to see just how well Democrats did from coast to coast. This wasn't an instance in which the party scored a few heartening victories here and there; this was a legitimate national sweep.

And the result left Republicans in an awkward position. Does the party plow forward in a misguided direction or does the GOP consider a change of course? House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) answered that question in a rather definitive way yesterday.

After some back and forth with Fox News' Brian Kilmeade, the host asked the House Speaker, "Is it going to be a choice for Republicans, Bush or Trump?" referring to former President George W. Bush, who's raised concerns about the current president.

I expected Ryan to say the GOP has some diversity of thought, and there's room in the tent for Republicans of various ideological persuasions, but as the Washington Post noted, the Speaker went in a different direction.

"We already made that choice," he said. "We're with Trump."

And a thousand Democratic campaign ads were born.

"We already made that choice," Ryan repeated. "That's a choice we made at the beginning of the year. That's a choice we made during the campaign, which is we merged our agendas. We ran on a joint agenda with Donald Trump. We got together with Donald Trump when he was President-elect Trump and walked through what is it we want to accomplish in the next two years. We all agreed on that agenda. We're processing that agenda."

My concerns about Paul Ryan notwithstanding, he isn't necessarily wrong.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

In Beijing, Trump abandons years of tough talk towards China

11/09/17 08:40AM

At a bilateral meeting in Beijing this morning, Donald Trump lamented the U.S.-China trade imbalance, but said he blames "past administrations." In other words, in the American president's mind, the trade gap is the United States' fault.

He reiterated the point at a question-free press briefing soon after.

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he does not blame China for its economic success at the expense of the United States, what he called a "one sided" trade relationship.

"I don't blame China," he said at a business event joined by Chinese President Xi Jinping. "After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit."

It's hard to overstate just how dramatic a departure this is from the American president's previous posturing. ABC News did a nice job rounding up some of Trump's most notable quotes on China from the campaign, during which he insisted, among other things, that China is "ripping us off," is an "enemy" of the United States, has perpetrated "the greatest theft in the history of the world," and prefers to "lie, cheat, and steal in all international dealings."

At one campaign event in May 2016, Trump went so far as to say, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country and that's what they're doing."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

Millions face tax hike under controversial Republican tax plan

11/09/17 08:00AM

Republicans are understandably nervous about the political position they've found themselves in. A year after an election that vaulted them to total dominance over the levers of federal power, GOP officials have effectively nothing to show for their efforts; Donald Trump is the least popular first-year president of the polling era; the Russia scandal is an existential crisis for the Republican White House; and Democrats just won sweeping victories in off-year elections.

It's against this backdrop that Republican leaders are convinced that an unpopular tax plan will put things right. That's exceedingly unwise.

Part of the problem is that many of the provisions in the plan are political suicide. The current version of the GOP legislation scraps all kinds of deductions and tax credits that enjoy broad public support. Everything from medical expenses to adoption costs to education costs are on the chopping block because Republicans can't figure out how else to pay for their tax breaks.

GOP officials are quick to point out, of course, that the details of their plan haven't been finalized. That's true. But they wrote the pending legislation, and this is what they've put on the table for everyone to see.

The other part of the problem is that, according to multiple independent analyses, millions of Americans would end up paying more, not less, under the Republican proposal. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

[A] growing number of nonpartisan analyses show that some middle-class Americans would not get more money in their pockets under the GOP plan. Instead, they would face higher tax bills, a potential pitfall in selling this plan to the public and to enough lawmakers for it to pass.

Nine percent of middle-class tax filers (those earning between $48,600 and $86,100) would pay more in taxes next year, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released Wednesday. By 2027, 31 percent of middle-class filers would see tax hikes, the center said.

The Tax Policy Center analysis, which is online in its entirety here, found that the bulk of the cuts would benefit the wealthiest Americans, while the number of middle-class households facing tax increases would steadily grow over the course of the next decade.

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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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