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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

Trump's voting commission heads to NH amid ongoing controversies

09/12/17 08:41AM

Members of Donald Trump's scandal-plagued voting commission will host a public event in New Hampshire today, and those expecting a serious examination of the issue are likely to be disappointed. Mother Jones reported that the panel will welcome "a controversial pack of witnesses that includes tarnished academics and political allies" of voter-suppression pioneer Kris Kobach, who co-chairs the commission.

What's more, despite the fact that GOP-imposed voting restrictions tend to adversely affect minority communities, 12 of the 12 announced witnesses are white men. Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, responded, "By stacking the deck with an all-white and male cast of panelists, the Commission has created an echo chamber to support Kris Kobach's baseless claims of voter fraud."

But ahead of today's event, it's also worth appreciating why Trump's ridiculous panel chose the Granite State for today's hearing.

The state was one of the first targets of Donald Trump's claims of illegal voting during the 2016 election — he lost the state by a razor-thin margin (fewer than 2,800 votes). Weeks after he defeated Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed without evidence that the state had "serious voter fraud" and charged that "thousands" of people from Massachusetts were bused into in the Granite State to vote.

Trump's vote fraud panel is coming to New Hampshire on Tuesday for its second public meeting, only days after the commission's vice chairman amplified in an op-ed the president's baseless claims that illegal voting had possibly swayed the election in the state.

The idea that there was rampant voter fraud in New Hampshire was already discredited in February, when Trump first started pushing this nonsense, but Kansas' Kris Kobach renewed the push with a piece last week for the right-wing Breitbart website.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the Republican's argument was thoroughly and completely debunked. Kobach's case, put simply, was demonstrably absurd.

All of which leads to three straightforward questions: (1) is Kobach lying; (2) if so, why; and (3) what should the consequences be for his deliberate attempt to mislead the American people about the right to vote.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

EPA chief: It's 'insensitive' to mention climate change right now

09/12/17 08:00AM

It's fair to say all is not well at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief who's long opposed the EPA's work, is at the center of multiple controversies. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the EPA violated ethics rules in its hiring practices. The EPA's press office recently went after a reporter as if it were a Republican campaign operation.

Making matters considerably worse, the Washington Post reported last week that the EPA has put a political operative with little environmental policy experience, John Konkus, in charge of "vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually." The report explained that Konkus "reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued." As part of his reviews, he looks out for "the double C-word" -- climate change -- and according to the Post, he's repeatedly "instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

Christie Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor who ran the EPA in George W. Bush's first term, wrote a New York Times op-ed last week explaining that all of this helps show "how not to run" the Environmental Protection Agency.

It's against this backdrop that the administrator of the EPA has discovered a new justification for ignoring the climate crisis.

For scientists, drawing links between warming global temperatures and the ferocity of hurricanes is about as controversial as talking about geology after an earthquake. But in Washington, where science is increasingly political, the fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting.

"To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced," Mr. Pruitt said to CNN in an interview ahead of Hurricane Irma, echoing similar sentiments he made when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas two weeks earlier. "To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida," he added.

He didn't appear to be kidding. The head of the EPA believes addressing climate change in the wake of deadly hurricanes might hurt Floridians' feelings.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.11.17

09/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida: "On the day after Hurricane Irma roared through their state, many Floridians emerged blinking from boarded-up homes and shelters on Monday to survey the damage -- and were surprised it wasn't a whole lot worse."

* Don't forget Houston: "Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters have left this sprawling metropolis partially ruined and eager to return to something like normalcy. But the storm has also forced many thousands of people out of their homes. As a result, the city is engaged in one giant collective improvisation. Its defining creative endeavor is where to find a place to sleep."

* The U.S. Supreme Court "agreed Monday to maintain President Trump's temporary ban on travel to America by refugees. The court acted after the Trump administration urged the court to act quickly to keep the refugee ban in place. But the government gave up fighting over whether grandmothers and other relatives should also be subject to the ban."

* This probably won't be well received: "Pope Francis is urging President Donald Trump to rethink his decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation, saying anyone who calls himself 'pro-life' should keep families together."

* United Nations: "The Trump administration has backed away from some of the most stringent penalties it had sought to impose on North Korea, in an apparent effort to draw Russian and Chinese backing for a new raft of sanctions over the country's nuclear weapons advances."

* A story worth watching: "The congressional campaign of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, has twice purchased Costco memberships. The 'membership dues' -- $50 and $150 -- were paid in November 2009 and December 2012, respectively. U-T Watchdog identified the payments in reviewing some of Hunter's older expenses -- an exercise federal investigators are also going through, as they review his personal spending of campaign funds."

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon is ready for his ideological war

09/11/17 12:47PM

Breitbart's Steve Bannon, four weeks removed from his role as chief strategist in Donald Trump's White House, covered quite a bit of ground on CBS's "60 Minutes" last night. Bannon apparently sees himself in some kind of protracted ideological battle with the congressional Republican leadership; he has "contempt" for George W. Bush and his team; and he considers the president's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey as possibly the biggest mistake "in modern political history."

And while all of this was interesting, it wasn't the part of the interview that stuck with me once the show aired. Rather, it was this exchange between Bannon and Charlie Rose that I found myself mulling over afterwards.

ROSE: Everybody listening to you talks about one of the great issues in American life today, which is the plight of the middle class. But they also believe that there is -- on your part and the president's part -- not enough appreciation for some of the values also that made America great. And you don't appreciate that. You don't appreciate the diversity, you don't appreciate the respect for civil rights...

BANNON: I was raised in a desegregated neighborhood. It-- it-- the north side of Richmond is predominantly black, OK? I went to -- I went to an integrated school, a Catholic school. I served in the military. I don't need to be -- I don't need to be lectured by a bunch of -- by a bunch of limousine liberals, OK, from the Upper East Side of New York and from the Hamptons, OK, about any of this. My lived experience is that.

We're all familiar with the old cliché: a person accused of racism will say, "Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank with the relevant minority group)." But that's not quite where Bannon went in the interview.

Instead, his answer was slightly worse. Bannon could've made the case that he respects racial and ethnic diversity, and explained why it's a core element of American strength, but his defensiveness took him in a different direction. In Bannon's case, "Some of my best friends are minorities" has effectively been replaced with, "Some of the people I've been exposed to are minorities."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.11.17

09/11/17 12:00PM

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

* In Alabama's Republican Senate primary runoff, Donald Trump reportedly told appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) he'd headline an in-state rally on Strange's behalf. With just two weeks remaining, the senator is still waiting.

* Voters in Maine will soon have the opportunity to vote on Medicaid expansion through the Affordable Care Act, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has fought to make sure the benefit is described as "welfare" on the ballot. The Maine Secretary of State's office has rejected the governor's request.

* In Virginia on Friday, the State Board of Elections "directed counties to ditch touchscreen voting machines before November's elections, saying the devices posed unacceptable digital risks." As Politico's report noted, the decision applies to this year's elections, which are just two months away.

* Speaking of Virginia, the Washington Post reports that the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and backed by former President Barack Obama, "recently made its first campaign donation: $500,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia to help elect Ralph Northam as the state's next governor."

* And in still more news out of the commonwealth, former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, who's already failed twice in her bids for public office, announced Friday she won't run for the Senate in Virginia next year.

* To no one's surprise, Hillary Clinton will not seek public office again, telling CBS News in an interview that aired yesterday, "I am done with being a candidate. But I am not done with politics because I literally believe that our country's future is at stake."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Even the White House counsel has reportedly lawyered up

09/11/17 11:20AM

When the White House's lawyer needs a lawyer, it's safe to say the Trump-Russia scandal has reached a new level.

President Trump's former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and White House counsel Donald McGahn have reportedly hired the same lawyer to represent them in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. William Burck, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP and a co-chair of the firm's white-collar investigations, will be advising the pair, Law360 reports. [...]

Burck previously served as a White House deputy counsel and is a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

The full Law360 report, which is only available to its paid subscribers, is online here.

All of this, of course, follows the news from late Friday, which Rachel noted on the show, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has notified the White House of his intention to interview several top members of Donald Trump's team. The Washington Post reported that among the personnel are Priebus, former press secretary Sean Spicer, and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, each of whom may be witnesses to "several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia's meddling in the 2016 election." (Hicks has also reportedly lawyererd up.)

We don't yet know when the interviews will happen, but based on the reporting, Mueller and his team will want to chat with these current and former officials once investigators have a chance to review all of the documents that have been requested.

And why is all of this so significant? I'm glad you asked.

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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 social media director promotes bogus Irma news

09/11/17 10:42AM

Dan Scavino Jr., the White House director of social media, has an unfortunate habit of making headlines for the wrong reasons. A few months ago, for example, after Donald Trump lashed out at the mayor of London following a terrorist attack, Scavino argued the president's criticism was payback for something the mayor said about Trump 13 months ago.

In August, Scavino used his social-media presence to target Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), piling on to the intra-party feud.

Slate noted over the weekend that Scavino made a different kind of misstep related to Hurricane Irma.

Fake images and videos of Hurricane Irma that are making the rounds on social media can fool anyone, including, apparently people who are actually working at tracking the storm. The White House's own director of social media, Dan Scavino Jr., sent out a tweet that he thought showed massive flooding at the Miami International Airport as a way to demonstrate how President Donald Trump's administration was keeping track of Irma's devastation. The problem? The video was not actually of the Miami airport.

Miami International Airport quickly replied to Scavino's tweet to inform him that the video did not depict the situation at the airport.

Scavino eventually deleted the tweet -- roughly a half-hour after publishing it -- though the original message said he was sharing social-media footage of the storm with the president and vice president.

Not surprisingly, the mistake made Scavino the butt of online mockery, but I think there's a serious point just below the surface.

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

Trump refuses 'to make eye contact' with his top economic adviser

09/11/17 10:03AM

The New York Times had an interesting item over the weekend on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's operation, which included an anecdote I hadn't seen elsewhere.

The new chief of staff has tried to shield Gary D. Cohn, the chairman of the National Economic Council, from Mr. Trump’s continuing wrath since the former Goldman Sachs executive went public with his disgust at the president’s response to the deadly violence last month in Charlottesville, Va.

Mr. Kelly made a point, one staff member said, of throwing his arm around Mr. Cohn in solidarity, in full view of the news media, as they exited Marine One last week on the South Lawn.

But he has not always been successful. Several aides said Mr. Trump is freezing out Mr. Cohn by employing a familiar tactic: refusing to make eye contact with Mr. Cohn when his adviser greets him.

In related news, the president is reportedly prepared to stop passing notes to Cohn in homeroom and may refuse to write "BFF" in his yearbook.

C'mon. Eight months into Trump's presidency, he doesn't want to look his chief economic advisor in the eye? And in the White House this is considered "a familiar tactic" that the president has used with others?

While this obviously raises unsettling questions about Trump's maturity, let's not forget exactly what Cohn did to earn a spot in the president's dog house.

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In this July 19, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible. (Photo by LaNola Stone/U.S. Coast Guard/ AP)

Trump touts the Coast Guard's improved 'brand'

09/11/17 09:20AM

After returning from a presidential cabinet meeting at Camp David, Donald Trump briefly spoke to reporters on the White House south lawn yesterday afternoon, and talked about the federal response to Hurricane Irma. What stood out as notable, however, was the one group of people the president singled out for praise:

"I'll tell you what, we have great people, and a group that really deserves tremendous credit is the United States Coast Guard. What they've done, I mean, they're going right into that, and you never know. When you go in there, you don't know if you're going to come out. They are really -- if you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard."

To be sure, I'm glad to see Trump sing the Coast Guard's praises; those men and women have clearly earned the support. But who exactly was talking about "branding"?

One almost gets the impression that the president personally had no idea what the Coast Guard does or how impressive it is. When he says the Coast Guard's "brand has improved," what I think Trump is effectively saying is he's just now starting to appreciate what guardsmen and women do.

Better late than never?

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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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