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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.13.17

04/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "U.S. forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in a strike against ISIS in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to Pentagon officials. The U.S. dropped a GBU-43 bomb, nicknamed the 'mother of all bombs,' on ISIS fighters and tunnels and caves used by the terror group in the country's Nangarhar province, officials said. It was dropped from an aircraft."

* On a related note, neither the White House nor Donald Trump himself would say specifically whether the president directly authorized today's mission.

* A deadly mistake: "An airstrike by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State killed 18 Syrian fighters allied with the United States, the military said on Thursday."

* Russia scandal: "Britain's spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told."

* I wonder what he knows about the Cuban Missile Crisis: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday said U.S. relations with Russia could have recently hit an 'all-time low' as the two world powers clash over a sarin gas attack in Syria."

* Mar-a-Lago: "Just days before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's Palm Beach private club, Florida restaurant inspectors found potentially dangerous raw fish and cited the club for storing food in two broken down coolers. Inspectors found 13 violations at the fancy club's kitchen, according to recently published reports -- a record for an institution that charges $200,000 in initiation fees."

* With regards to North Korea, Trump said yesterday, "[G]oing it alone means going it with lots of other nations." I haven't the foggiest idea what that means.
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Paul Manafort of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's staff listens during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump's former campaign manager to register as a foreign agent

04/13/17 04:31PM

Donald Trump's former campaign adviser on foreign policy has been investigated as a possible Russian agent. Trump's former National Security Advisor recently registered as a foreign agent.

And Trump's former campaign chairman is also registering as a foreign agent. The Washington Post reported:
Paul Manafort, the former campaign chair for Donald Trump, has signaled that he plans to register as a foreign agent for his past work on behalf of political figures in Ukraine. [...]

A spokesman for Manafort said Wednesday that the longtime political consultant considered a new filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) after receiving "formal guidance recently from the authorities" regarding work he and a colleague had performed on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.
The significance of those "Ukrainian political interests," of course, is that they're closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, these developments coincide with the fact that Manafort received secret money from Putin's allies in Ukraine -- payments he used to deny the existence of -- which were reportedly routed through shell companies. There's certainly nothing suspicious about that at all.

Did I mention that we're talking about the former campaign chairman to the sitting president of the United States? Because this sure is weird.
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Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Colorado

U.S. drug policy poised to take a step backwards in the Trump era

04/13/17 12:45PM

One of the striking things about the so-called "war on drugs" in recent years is the scope and scale of the progress. By popular support, a variety of states have voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, for example. When President Obama commuted the sentences of many non-violent drug offenders, few blinked an eye.

There was a burgeoning consensus that the decades-long "war" was needlessly expensive, punitive, reactionary, and damaging. It was time to move forward with a newer, smarter approach.

At least, that's the way it appeared up until very recently. As the nation's new attorney general, for example, Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his intentions to renew the "war on drugs." Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), meanwhile, is poised to take over the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

And what does Tom Marino bring to the table on drug issues? The Washington Post reported yesterday on the Pennsylvania Republican's approach to the issue.
As a congressman, Marino called for a national program of mandatory inpatient substance abuse treatment for non-violent drug offenders. "One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing non-dealer, non-violent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals," he said at a hearing last year.

"Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision," Marino explained. "If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it."
Got that? If some non-violent adult were caught with marijuana, for example, Marino envisions a system in which that person would be locked up in a "hospital-slash-prison," and subjected to "an intensive treatment program." He or she would eventually be released, but be subjected to "intense supervision."

The GOP congressman added last year that he might consider marijuana legalization, if the science proved persuasive, and if the drug could be produced "in pill form."

Say hello to Donald Trump's new "drug czar."
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.13.17

04/13/17 12:00PM

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

* More than a month before Montana's May 25 congressional special election, Republicans are pouring money into Big Sky Country. The House GOP leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, plans to spend "at least $1 million," and the National Republican Congressional Committee's has already bought nearly $150,000 in air time. Donald Trump Jr. is also scheduled to spend two days "barnstorming the state next week with GOP nominee Greg Gianforte."

* On a related note, the same Wall Street Journal article added, "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to make a substantial investment in the Montana race. DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said the organization is now considering getting more involved."

* In Alabama, the state's Senate special election isn't scheduled until 2018, but new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is considering moving it up to this year.

* Looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told the Washington Post yesterday the committee has had had 275 "serious conversations" with potential candidates in 68 districts. "It's absolutely moving much more quickly and with higher quality candidates" than in previous cycles, Kelly added.

* Former Gov. Martin O'Malley's 2016 presidential campaign came up far short, but the Maryland Democrat appears to be gearing up to try again, visiting Iowa and South Carolina recently, and scheduling stops in New Hampshire next month.
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Markwayne Mullin

GOP rep asks constituents the wrong question at town-hall event

04/13/17 11:20AM

Why is it so important for members of Congress to hold town-hall events with their constituents? Because you just never know what they'll end up saying.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) faced off with constituents at a town hall this week, telling the audience that they don't pay his salary.

"You say you pay for me to do this? That's bullcrap," Mullin said at the town hall in Jay, Okla., according to a video of the incident.
A typical member of Congress receives an annual salary of $174,000 a year, financed entirely by taxpayers. As best as I can tell, the far-right Oklahoman does not forgo his compensation.

The Tulsa World, after speaking to the lawmaker's office, reported that when Mullin said it's "bullcrap" to believe taxpayers pay him to serve in Congress, what he meant was that he's "paid more in federal income taxes than he's received in congressional salary."

Indeed, the rest of the video shows the congressman saying he's paid his "own salary" through his taxes, adding, "No one here pays me to go."

Whether folks in Oklahoma's 2nd district will find this argument persuasive is unclear. (The fact that Mullin faced angry constituents is itself rather amazing: Oklahoma's 2nd has a PVI of R+24, making it one of the most Republican congressional districts in the United States.)
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The U.S. Capitol building stands at daybreak in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 11, 2015. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Tax reform shouldn't be decided by a debate over branding

04/13/17 10:42AM

With many Republican officials focusing attention on tax reform, the party is already divided over something called a border adjustment tax, which House Republican leaders support, but Senate Republicans hate. The provision, which would effectively impose a tax on imports, matters a great deal -- it's intended to help pay for the broader GOP goal of lower rates -- and some presidential leadership will be necessary to resolve the intra-party fight.

With that in mind, it raised a few eyebrows when Donald Trump declared earlier this year, "Anytime I hear 'border adjustment,' I don't love it."

That led many to believe the White House was, at best, skeptical of the idea, but that wasn't quite right. In this case, we needed to take Trump very literally: when he hears the words "border adjustment," he doesn't like it, not because he doubts the utility of the policy, but because he's uncomfortable with the phrase itself.

This came up during Trump's interview yesterday with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo:
BARTIROMO: How are you on the border adjustment tax? Have you decided?

TRUMP: I haven't really wanted to talk about it. I have my own feelings. I don't like the word "adjustment." ... I don't like the term "border adjustment."

BARTIROMO: Any tax at the border?

TRUMP: Weak. Let's call it an import tax. Let's call it a reciprocal tax.
Asked about his policy position, Trump responded by talking about word-choice. He has opinions about the underlying idea, but his perspective is shaped by his concerns about which words might sound "weak."

Trump might like the idea more if it were called something else.
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President-elect Donald Trump,  walks with his wife Melania Trump, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Trump blasts obstructionism that exists only in his mind

04/13/17 10:03AM

In late February, Donald Trump sat down with Fox News, which asked the president about the vacancies in key posts throughout his administration. Trump said the question was based on a faulty assumption.

"When I see a story about 'Donald Trump didn't fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,' it's because, in many cases, we don't want to fill those jobs," the president argued with a straight face. "A lot of those jobs, I don't want to appoint, because they're unnecessary to have... Many of those jobs, I don't want to fill."

Six weeks later, Trump apparently no longer remembers this argument. He sat down with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, and complained about "waiting right now for so many people" to get confirmed by the Senate.
BARTIROMO: You're under staffed.

TRUMP: Hundreds and hundreds of people. And then they'll say, "Why isn't Trump doing this faster?" You can't do it faster, because they're obstructing. They're obstructionists.  So I have people -- hundreds of people that we're trying to get through. I mean you have -- you see the backlog. We can't get them through.


TRUMP: And then the newspapers will say, 'Trump doesn't get them through.' Well, not — nothing to do with me... I wish it would be explained better, the obstructionist nature, though, because a lot of times I'll say, "Why doesn't so and so have people under him or her?" The reason is because we can't get them approved.
Oh. Trump has gone from saying he wanted key executive-branch offices empty on purpose, which didn't make any sense, to blaming Democratic obstructionism for the fact that so many executive-branch offices are empty, which makes even less sense.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

There is no method to the White House's flip-flopping madness

04/13/17 09:20AM

Before he became a politician, Donald Trump was disgusted by President Obama's reluctance to classify China as a currency manipulator. As a candidate, Trump vowed to slap the label on China literally on his first day in office.

Last month, Trump blasted China as the "grand champions" of currency manipulation. Last week, he called China the "world champion" of currency manipulation. All of which brought us to yesterday, when Trump declared that China isn't manipulating its currency.

It was right around this time that Trump, after recently boasting about the NATO alliance being "obsolete," decided that NATO isn't obsolete after all. Justifying his reversal, the president said NATO members "made a change, and now they do fight terrorism." (In reality, NATO did not actually make a change; he just made this up.)

These were not isolated incidents. Politico noted overnight that Trump is "shifting positions at breakneck pace."
Donald Trump promised to be open-minded on a number of issues. Over the past week, he's delivered.

The man who pledged to cut deals rather than adhere to any ideology -- or to any detailed policy platform -- has, in recent days, demonstrated an incredible willingness to bend his past positions, or abandon them entirely.
A Washington Post report added, "Perhaps no politician is a bigger flip-flopper than President Trump."

That's not hyperbolic. Just this week, Trump has reversed course on labeling China a currency manipulator, NATO's utility, the administration's hiring freeze, the Export-Import Bank, Janet Yellen's job performance, his preference on interest rates, the White House's interest in paying the national debt, and Trump's willingness to move on from health care to tax reform.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump is still learning what most people already know

04/13/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump has spent a fair amount of time talking to China's Xi Jinping over the last week, including a summit of sorts at the president's private club in Florida, and a lengthy phone conversation with the Chinese leader this week. Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he's actually learning a few things.
Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy," Mr. Trump recounted. "I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power" over North Korea," he said. "But it's not what you would think."
Trump clearly has quite a few problems as president, but for a quick summary of why his ignorance is such a hindrance to his success, you could do worse than pointing to these two paragraphs.

When Trump says, "But it's not what you would think," what he means, of course, is that the details aren't what he thought. The president believed the dynamic was simple -- he'd just tell China to control North Korea, as if the latter is reflexively subservient to the former -- but he "realized" after talking to Xi that it's not as "easy" as he'd assumed.

To be sure, I'm delighted that Trump has learned something important, but what the president may not realize is how embarrassing his acknowledgement is. He's effectively saying that he made a series of assumptions about two nuclear-powered countries; he campaigned on those assumptions for a year and a half; and after three months in the Oval Office, he's just now realizing -- following a private tutorial from the president of China -- that his overly simplistic understanding wasn't exactly accurate.

"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy" is perhaps the quintessential Donald Trump sentence.
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump considers provocative new hostage strategy on health care

04/13/17 08:00AM

After the Republican health care plan collapsed last month, beset by intra-party divisions and widespread public revulsion, Donald Trump immediately blamed Democrats. That didn't make any sense: no one reached out to congressional Dems; they played no role in the process; and it was GOP lawmakers who killed the bill.

But the confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should've helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare -- because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House's previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he's also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.
Nearly three weeks after Republican infighting sank an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump dug back into the battle on Wednesday, threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.

In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.
"Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn't get that money," Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. "I haven't made my viewpoint clear yet. I don't want people to get hurt.... What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating."

In other words, when the president says he doesn't "want people to get hurt," he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.

It's a bit like a criminal who declares, "I don't want to shoot the hostages, but I haven't yet received my ransom."

What Trump may not realize is how truly ridiculous his new posture is. For a guy who paid someone to write "Art of the Deal" for him, the president doesn't seem to have any idea how to negotiate effectively.
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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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