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A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Trump boasts about Norway buying fighter jets that don't exist

01/12/18 02:33PM

Standing alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at a White House press conference this week, Donald Trump boasted, "In November, we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets."

That wouldn't be especially notable, were it not for the fact that there's no such thing as an F-52. The Washington Post  reported yesterday that the plane does exist in a popular video game.

President Trump's announcement of U.S.-made F-52s fighter aircraft delivered to Norway may have rattled its neighbor Russia, the source of rising tension among NATO allies.

Was it a secret advanced jet capable of beating its Russian counterparts? A ruse to fool intelligence analysts?

Neither, it turns out. The "F-52" is a fictional jet only available to fly if you're a gamer at the controls of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."

In fairness, at the same press conference, Trump went on to talk about 52 of the F-35 fighter jets -- it's likely he confused the numbers while reading from his prepared text -- but in this case, that was wrong, too: Norwegian officials have so far authorized funding for 40 of the planes, not 52. The president made no effort to correct the record.

Indeed, the Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman joked, "You laugh but I promise you [Lockheed Martin, the defense company that makes the F-35] is scrambling to design an F-52 knowing that the administration would buy it just to avoid admitting a Trump error."

All of which brings us back to a familiar thesis: the president keeps saying odd things about airplanes.

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Image: US-NORWAY-POLITICS-TRUMP

What Donald Trump considers 'a treasonous act'

01/12/18 01:59PM

The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether he wants congressional Republicans to shut down investigations into the Russia scandal. The president said no, before insisting that Democrats colluded with Russians during the campaign, which Trump says with increasing frequency, despite the fact that the claim is plainly ridiculous.

But unprompted, he quickly transitioned to throwing around accusations of treason.

TRUMP: What went on with the FBI, where a man is tweeting to his lover that if she loses, we'll essentially go back to the -- we'll go to the "insurance policy," which is -- if they lose, we'll go to phase 2, and we'll get this guy out of office. I mean, this is the FBI we're talking about. I think that is -- that is treason. See, that's treason right there.

WSJ: Does any of that make you less...

TRUMP: By the way, that's a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.

As a rule, sitting presidents should be cautious about casually throwing around accusations of treason, and in this case, Trump's recklessness is especially tough to defend.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump opens the door to needlessly cruel Medicaid changes

01/12/18 12:44PM

It's easy to forget, but as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump broke with Republican orthodoxy and promised to champion the social-insurance programs the American mainstream has come to rely on. Indeed, in his campaign kick-off speech, Trump said he'd make no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security -- a vow he repeated on Twitter over and over and over again.

As president, the Republican abandoned the commitment rather quickly, endorsing regressive GOP plans that included brutal cuts to Medicaid. As 2018 gets under way, Trump is taking yet another regressive step on the same issue.

On Thursday, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) released a letter inviting states to impose work and community service requirements on their Medicaid populations and describing what types of restrictions would be acceptable. States would first have to seek a Section 1115 waiver, a provision that allows the administration to approve experimental plans. The Obama administration rejected prior waiver requests from states to add work requirements. [...]

Opponents of the decision have argued that work requirements go beyond Medicaid's stated goal to provide aid to low-income households and that only Congress can expand its objectives to also include pushing people toward employment. This is likely to be a primary contention in lawsuits challenging the administration.

There's reason to believe opponents of the Trump administration's policy will have some success in challenging yesterday's announcement, but even putting legal questions aside, it's important to recognize just how misguided the White House's new policy really is.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.12.18

01/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In the new national Quinnipiac poll, Democrats have opened up a 17-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, which is up a couple of points since last month's poll. If the party can maintain that kind of advantage, Dems are likely to take back the House in the 2018 midterms.

* Republicans really wanted Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) to take on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in North Dakota next year, but he's decided against it. The GOP congressman will instead run for re-election to the House.

* As expected, Rep. Martha McSally (R) launched her Senate campaign in Arizona this morning. Hillary Clinton won McSally's U.S. House seat in 2016, making this another key pick-up opportunity for Dems.

* Republican efforts to recruit Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance to run for the U.S. Senate in Ohio next year have run into a small problem: J.D. Vance doesn't live in Ohio.

* Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) was featuring Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) in a re-election campaign ad. In light of Greitens' sex scandal, Rauner's team pulled the spot from the air yesterday.

* With Republicans increasingly worried about the March congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, Donald Trump is personally headed to the district next week to campaign in support of Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Politico's report added that Mike Pence may end up visiting the district twice before Election Day.

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Image: Kim Jong Un attends launching of ballistic missile Hwasong-12

Trump boasts about his 'very good relationship' with Kim Jong-un

01/12/18 11:20AM

The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether North Korea is "trying to drive a wedge" between the United States and South Korea, which certainly appears to be the case.

"If I were them I would try," the president replied. "But the difference is I'm president; other people aren't. And I know more about wedges than any human being that's ever lived."

And while that seemed like an odd thing for a person to brag about, the rest of Trump's answer was even more peculiar.

"With that being said, President Xi has been extremely generous with what he's said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

"I have relationships with people, I think you people are surprised."

Hmm. Trump has invested quite a bit of energy in publicly mocking the North Korean dictator and coming up with increasingly insulting nicknames. Trump has ridiculed Kim Jong-un's height and weight, threatened to rain "fire and fury" onto his country, and repeatedly ridiculed the despot as "Rocket Man."

For his part, Kim Jong-un has responded by describing the American president as a "mentally deranged dotard."

And yet, there was Trump yesterday, saying he "probably" has a "very good relationship" with the North Korean leader -- which understandably puzzled nearly everyone.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Polling points to the persistence of Trump's 'reverse Midas touch'

01/12/18 10:40AM

A few months ago, Vox's Matt Matthew Yglesias described Donald Trump's effects on public opinion as a "reverse Midas touch." The idea couldn't be more straightforward: when the president criticizes something, it tends to become more popular.

To be sure, there was no shortage of evidence to bolster the thesis. Support for the Affordable Care Act, government solutions to the climate crisis, athletes protesting racism, and even public confidence in American media all improved in the fall, despite -- or perhaps because of -- Trump's criticisms.

Three months later, the "reverse Midas touch" persists. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found the Trump administration and the American public moving in very different directions.

Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, so-called "Dreamers," should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship, 79 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Another 7 percent say Dreamers should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 11 percent say Dreamers should be required to leave the U.S. [...]

American voters oppose 63 - 34 percent building a wall along the border with Mexico. Republicans support The Wall 78 - 19 percent and white voters with no college degree are divided with 47 percent supporting The Wall and 49 percent opposed. Every other party, gender, education, age and racial group opposes The Wall.

Looking at marijuana, voters say 58 - 36 percent, including 79 - 17 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old, that marijuana use should be made legal. Voters also support 91 - 6 percent the legalization of medical marijuana.... Voters oppose 70 - 23 percent enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Trump puts Dreamers' futures in jeopardy, and Americans want to see them protected. Trump pursues a giant border wall, and Americans have no use for the idea. Trump's attorney general eyes turning back the clock on marijuana, and Americans tell him not to.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Paul Ryan reportedly had to tutor Trump on surveillance law

01/12/18 10:04AM

Even those who expect little from Donald Trump found yesterday morning's developments jarring. As the Republican-led House was preparing to vote on a controversial surveillance measure, the president decided to weigh in on the debate by criticizing a policy his administration supports and has spent months fighting for.

As we discussed yesterday, the drama unfolded when Trump watched a Fox News segment he apparently misunderstood, which led the president to contradict his own White House's agenda, all in service of an anti-Obama conspiracy theory that's never made any sense.

The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes report on what happened after Trump's errant tweet.

The presidential decree -- a mere 40 words -- set off a mad scramble across Washington.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program's importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.

Evidently, the scramble had the intended effect: Trump published a new tweet endorsing his own position and 702 policy passed the House a few hours later.

But it's nevertheless amazing that the Speaker of the House had to spend a half-hour with the president, tutoring him on surveillance law. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump was a candidate for the nation's highest office for a year and a half. He's been in the Oval Office, receiving daily intelligence briefings, for nearly 12 months.

How is it that the president still needs a member of Congress to explain to him the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance?

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump's confusion and contradictions undermine progress on immigration

01/12/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and when the conversation turned to immigration, the president apparently wanted to clarify a point that no one has been confused about.

TRUMP: [F[irst of all, there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers, OK? Dreamers are different. And I want American kids to be Dreamers also, by the way. I want American kids to be Dreamers also. But there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers. And a lot of times when I was with certain Democrats they kept using the word dreamer. I said, "Please, use the word DACA." You know it's a totally different word.

WSJ: Sure.

TRUMP: OK, people think they're interchangeable, but they're not.

When I'd first heard about this, I thought Trump might have been trying to make a point about branding. More than once over the last year, the president has shaped his policy preferences based on whether he likes the way certain words or phrases sound, and so I assumed Trump didn't like the word "Dreamers" because it helps frame the young immigrants in a positive light.

But the transcript suggests something more basic is going on: Trump just doesn't know what he's saying. "DACA" is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy created to benefit Dreamers. Trump sees a "big difference" between DACA and Dreamers, but no such difference exists. The president, despite making immigration one of his signature issues for the last two-and-a-half years, appears to be clueless.

But the point here is not just to point and laugh at the amateur president's ignorance. There are real consequences to Trump's confusion and contradictions.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump falsely blames Obama for his London fiasco

01/12/18 08:40AM

Donald Trump's unpopularity in the U.K. is not without consequence.

President Donald Trump has canceled a trip to London to open the new U.S. Embassy, blaming the Obama administration for selling the old building in the city for "peanuts."

His decision was greeted with relief by London's Mayor Sadiq Khan who said Trump had "finally got the message" that he was not welcome in the capital.

Late last night, Trump wrote on Twitter: "Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts,' only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!"

Before we take a closer look at Trump's poorly written rationale, it's important to acknowledge the fact that the actual reason for his cancellation is not a mystery. The American president is deeply unpopular in the U.K., and by all appearances, Trump saw little value in facing widespread protests and condemnations while visiting one of the United States' closest allies.

But to acknowledge these obvious truths is, for all intents and purposes, an impossibility for Trump, who has convinced himself of his universal popularity. It was therefore necessary for the Republican to craft an alternate, face-saving explanation.

Which is why Trump decided to blame Barack Obama -- a self-satisfying rationale that completely unravels under modest scrutiny.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PRISON REFORM

White House simply can't overcome Trump's racist presidency

01/12/18 08:00AM

In the fall, after Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly clashed publicly with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Trump World faced repeated questions about the president and his provocative views on race. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders grew exasperated by the entire discussion.

"The media continues to want to make this and push that this is some sort of a racially charged ... White House," the president's chief spokesperson told reporters.

Of course, if Sanders doesn't want Americans to see Trump's presidency as racist, she should probably focus her concerns less on the media and more on her boss.

President Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries" during a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators at the White House, a Democratic aide briefed on Thursday's meeting told NBC News.

Trump's comments were first reported by The Washington Post, which said the nations referred to by Trump also included El Salvador.

Two sources briefed on the conversation say that during the portion of the conversation about Haiti — which came at the top of the exchange that led to the "shithole" comment — the president questioned why Haitians should be given specific consideration.

According to the Washington Post, Trump added that he'd prefer to see immigrants from countries such as Norway -- which is an overwhelmingly white country.

In late December, the New York Times had a related report about the president making behind-the-scenes comments about Haitians, whom Trump reportedly said "all have AIDS." Referencing immigrants from Nigeria, he reportedly added that they'd never "go back to their huts" in Africa after having seen life in the United States.

At the time, the White House pushed back aggressively against the article, insisting that the quotes were inaccurate. Yesterday, however, Trump World made no real effort to deny the president's "shithole countries" comments, which had been heard by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

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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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