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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.6.17

09/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Irma: "The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history slammed into the easternmost islands of the Caribbean on Wednesday, killing at least two people and churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti before possibly heading for Florida this weekend."

* The House approved a disaster-relief bill for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, 419 to 3, though it looks like the Senate is poised to add quite a bit to the bill.

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that it has discovered it sold ads during the U.S. presidential election to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company's findings."

* The trial is underway: "U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, R-N.J., 'sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn't afford,' federal prosecutors said Wednesday in its opening statement in the Democrat's corruption trial."

* This was unimaginably unwise: "A senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized Wednesday for propaganda leaflets that superimposed a key Islamic text on a dog's image. The leaflets distributed by U.S. forces in Parwan province, north of Kabul, on Tuesday depicted a lion, representing the U.S.-led coalition, chasing a dog with a section of the Taliban's banner, containing a passage from the Koran in Arabic superimposed on its side."

* This was actually a good hearing: "At this Congress's first bipartisan public hearing on health care reform, after a year of Republicans drafting bills behind closed doors, health insurance commissioners from across the country testified to senators that the Trump administration's multi-pronged sabotage of the Affordable Care Act is driving up rates and sowing uncertainty in their states."

* It's worth worrying about who Trump will replace him with: "Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, will step down in mid-October after three years at the central bank, the Fed announced on Wednesday. Mr. Fischer, 73, cited 'personal reasons' in a short resignation letter to President Trump."

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A president who doesn't know where he's going can't lead

09/06/17 01:01PM

After Donald Trump rescinded the DACA program, ending protections for young Dreamers, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a statement calling on the president to set the course on the future of U.S. immigration policy. "It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign," the Florida Republican said.

And while I imagine Rubio's call was sincere, it was hard not to chuckle a little in response to his statement -- because the president clearly has no idea what kind of legislation he'd like to see on his desk. As Simon Maloy noted yesterday, Trump "lit this fuse with absolutely zero planning for what to do next."

Administration officials weren't even confident the president understood yesterday's policy change, making the idea that Trump could offer Congress details on a way forward fanciful thinking. In order to lead, one must know where to go -- and this president is lost without a map.

Business Insider's Josh Barro had a good piece along these lines yesterday.

For Trump, immigration policy is expressly about disrespecting and demeaning certain classes of foreigners and sending the message that they are bad people. Remember "they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"? For Trump, this message is the policy, much more so than actually governing who may be present in the US.

All Trump wanted to do was look tough and show he was protecting Americans from threats, including those immigrants he sees as a menace. He's not here to make complicated policy, and it's not fun for him to deal with the most sympathetic subset of unauthorized immigrants.

Which is largely why he's kicked the immigration debate to Congress: Trump doesn't know what to do next and he isn't especially interested in figuring it out. Rolling up one's sleeves and tackling unglamorous policy details is difficult and frustrating, and the nation's first amateur president can't be bothered.

But whether he realizes this or not, it's Trump's inability to lead that's contributing to his flailing presidency.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.6.17

09/06/17 12:01PM

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

* When Donald Trump makes the pitch for tax reform in North Dakota today, he'll be joined by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who's up for re-election in this red state next year, and who'll be on hand for the presidential event. It's worth noting for context that Trump won North Dakota last year by more than 30 points.

* Though the White House has started to hedge on its support of Sen. Luther Strange (R) in Alabama's Republican Senate primary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to rally behind the appointed incumbent, and will headline a high-dollar fundraiser for Strange tomorrow.

* It was a safe bet that David Clarke, who resigned his law enforcement position last week, would end up somewhere in Trump World, and it now appears the controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff has signed on with a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action.

* The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower court's injunction yesterday and agreed to allow Texas to continue enforcing its controversial voter-ID law. A federal district court ruling recently said Texas' law amounted to a "poll tax" on minority voters.

* Speaking of the Lone Star State, former Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas), after losing two tough races against Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), announced yesterday he will not try again in 2018.

* Politico reports that Democrats are launching a new super PAC this week called Forward Majority, which will focus on "winning back state legislatures ahead of the next round of redistricting in 2021." The project is reportedly being run in part by "a group of Barack Obama campaign alums."

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Some Republicans ready to use Dreamers as a bargaining chip

09/06/17 11:25AM

There was no consensus yesterday among congressional Republicans in response to Donald Trump ending the DACA policy protecting Dreamers. Some GOP officials condemned the move as needlessly cruel, others praised the move, while others complained the president's policy isn't punitive enough.

But as the afternoon progressed, one thing became clear: many Republican lawmakers see Dreamers as a bargaining chip and are eager to make a deal. The HuffPost had a good piece on this:

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill broadly agreed on Tuesday that something should be done about young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who will eventually lose deportation protections if Congress does not step in to help them.

But Republicans are already placing conditions on their support that could kill the effort entirely. They are willing to vote for protecting so-called "Dreamers" -- but not without getting something in exchange for it.

Some suggested trading the Dream Act for a down payment on Trump's proposed border wall. Others suggested trading the Dream Act for the RAISE Act, a far-right bill that would slash legal immigration to the United States. A variety of other possible deals were floated, though none were specifically endorsed by either party's leadership.

But as this chatter moves forward, it's worth appreciating some of the underlying flaws to this entire approach.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

How committed is Trump to his plan to punish Dreamers?

09/06/17 10:54AM

At 11 a.m. (ET) yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration had rescinded the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers. As of 10 a.m. (ET) yesterday, according to a New York Times report, administration officials "privately expressed concern that Mr. Trump might not fully grasp the details of the steps he was about to take, and when he discovered their full impact, would change his mind."

That's an extraordinary sentence in its own right. The president is so ignorant that officials in his administration are left to wonder if Trump might abandon his own plans after learning what they are and what they'll do.

This isn't how the executive branch of a global superpower is supposed to operate. But in an unexpected twist, as of last night, those fears from administration officials appeared well grounded.

Trump started the day by telling members of Congress that when it came to the DACA policy, they should "get ready to do [their] job." Soon after, the White House effectively challenged lawmakers to address immigration policy within six months -- or else. Trump's Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, began moving forward with plans predicated on the assumption that Congress would fail, putting in writing that DACA recipients should "prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States."

But by the end of the day, the president was expressing a very different sentiment via Twitter:

"Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!"

Oh. So, just hours after the president demanded that Congress tackle immigration, this master negotiators announced publicly that if Congress fails, he's prepared to "revisit" his needlessly cruel policy? Effectively negating the point of the threat?

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Marijuana plants are displayed for sale.

Trump's new 'drug czar' poised to roll back the clock

09/06/17 10:01AM

After years of regressive and reactionary policies associated with the "war on drugs," Americans saw real progress in the Obama era. As we discussed in April, voters in a variety of states voted in recent years to legalize recreational marijuana use -- a step that seemed hard to imagine in the not-too-distant past -- and when Barack Obama commuted the sentences of many non-violent drug offenders, few blinked an eye.

There was a burgeoning consensus, backed by plenty of prominent figures from the right and left, that the decades-long "war" was needlessly expensive, punitive, and damaging. It was time to move forward with a newer, smarter approach.

That progress, however, was interrupted by Donald Trump's election. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his intentions to renew the drug war, and he'll likely have a partner in Tom Marino, a Republican congressman whom the president nominated late last week to take over the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Vox noted yesterday that Marino's voting record "suggests he's to the right of many of his Republican colleagues on the war on drugs." Among other things, the Pennsylvania Republican "voted against a bipartisan measure (which ultimately passed) that blocked the US Department of Justice from cracking down on medical marijuana businesses in states where medicinal pot is legal. He voted against a bill that would've let Veterans Affairs doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients."

But I remain especially interested in this Washington Post piece from April.

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."

Wait, did he say "hospital-slash-prison" for non-violent drug users?

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

A way out of the GOP's debt-ceiling mess comes into focus

09/06/17 09:20AM

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress that it must raise the debt ceiling by Sept. 29 -- just three weeks away -- to prevent the nation from defaulting on its debts and crashing the economy. That deadline has since been moved up "a couple of days," leaving lawmakers with even less time to do what needs to be done.

And for a while, that looked like it might be a real problem. As recently as two weeks ago, Politico published a piece saying Republicans "are in a really, really bad spot" when it comes to raising the nation's debt limit, adding that GOP leaders "have no plan, nothing on the horizon, and very little time to get this done."

Hurricane Harvey appears to have changed the political landscape, at least a little. The Washington Post reported overnight:

Senate leaders are prepared to vote this week on legislation that would pair an increase in the federal government's borrowing limit with $7.9 billion in disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey despite opposition from conservatives.

The decision to combine the two unrelated measures is a potentially risky strategy that could further alienate conservatives who have insisted that any debt-limit increase be paired with corresponding spending cuts.

Before the deadly storm, congressional leaders were working on a plan to pass a clean debt-ceiling bill with considerable Democratic support. In recent days, however, officials decided it'd just be easier to attach a debt-ceiling increase to a disaster relief bill -- which members of both parties will, by and large, be inclined to support.

For now, the plan is as follows: the House will pass a Harvey-related spending package today, sending the bill to the Senate, which will add a debt-ceiling increase to the legislation, before sending it back to the lower chamber. According to the Post's reporting, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said last night his chamber would likely pass that bill and send to the White House for the president's signature.

There's no guarantee this will work -- quite a few far-right members in both chambers, including the House Freedom Caucus, have said publicly they don't want the two priorities tied together -- but it probably offers the most straightforward path to success, and when it comes to the debt ceiling, the GOP doesn't appear to have a back-up plan.

But even if the plan works, it'd only be the first rung on a tall September ladder.

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Image: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony Scaramucci

White House sends a provocative shot across the GOP Congress' bow

09/06/17 08:40AM

In a moment that raised eyebrows in D.C. yesterday, Nancy Pelosi said that if the Republican-led Congress can't address the nation's problems, these failing lawmakers should be replaced with members who know how to get things done.

Wait, did I say Nancy Pelosi? My mistake. It was actually White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, apparently indifferent to the fact that it's her party that controls the legislative branch.

"I don't think the American people elected Congress to do things that were easy. They elected them to make a government that works, to work properly, and to work for American people. And that's their job. And if they can't do it, then they need to get out of the way and let somebody else who can take on a heavy lift and get things accomplished. [,,,]

"If Congress doesn't want to do the job that they were elected to do, then maybe they should get out of the way and let someone else do it."

In all, the president's chief spokesperson said three times at yesterday's briefing that members of the GOP-led Congress should be prepared to "get out of the way" and let someone else do their jobs.

I can't think of a modern precedent for rhetoric like this, with a White House controlled by one party threatening a Congress controlled by the same party. A former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Sanders' rhetoric "senselessly provocative."

And yet, there's no reason to think Trump World cares. Indeed, the president himself has picked all kinds of fights with individual Republican lawmakers, so Sanders sending a shot across the GOP-led Congress' bow is consistent with the White House's curious political strategy.

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Image: Donald Trump

Looking for the method behind Donald Trump's political madness

09/06/17 08:00AM

They're known as "wedge issues." Partisans, looking for a political advantage, identify controversial issues on which their rivals are divided, and use them to drive a wedge between allies. In the Bush/Cheney era, for example, Republicans used same-sex marriage as a wedge, dividing Democrats ahead of the 2004 elections, when marriage equality was far less accepted than it is now.

Donald Trump has developed a unique talent for turning the entire model on its head. The president keeps taking unpopular positions on hot-button issues -- health care, immigration, civil rights -- dividing his allies and uniting his opponents. NBC News' Benjy Sarlin yesterday described Trump's approach as embracing "anti-wedge issues."

One need not be a political scientist to conclude this is bizarre. Instead of taking steps to become more popular, Trump is pitting himself against the attitudes of the American mainstream. Instead of driving a wedge between Democrats and their allies, the president is making divisions among Republicans considerably worse.

This was obviously the case yesterday, when the president, at least for now, decided to end protections for Dreamers -- another unpopular move that exacerbates intra-party tensions.

The question is why in the world any politician, even a hapless amateur like Trump, would do this. Is there a method lurking beneath the president's madness?

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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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