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ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Beleaguered Secretary of State raises stakes with North Korean warning

03/17/17 10:18AM

All is not well at the State Department, which in the Donald Trump era, has found itself marginalized and ignored. This week, the White House announced plans to slash the State Department's budget -- a move that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson inexplicably embraced, further demoralizing the department.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Tillerson told reporters yesterday that the administration believes it can afford to dramatically cut the State Department's funding because "there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in."

It's an odd response. For one thing, investing in diplomacy helps reduce the chances of military engagement. For another, the Trump administration is pushing for vastly larger spending at the Pentagon, apparently in anticipation of new military operations.

And finally, the day after Tillerson said he expects fewer conflicts, he said something very different about U.S. policy towards North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Friday that military action against North Korea was "on the table" if the country continued to develop its weapons program.

"If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action then that option is on the table," he told a press conference in South Korea.

"Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict," he added. "But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response."
One might expect quite a bit of follow up with Tillerson from the American journalists who routinely travel with a Secretary of State during overseas visits, but in this case, Tillerson left most reporters at home. (White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the decision was intended to save money -- an explanation no one seriously believes.)
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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Trump's budget director develops the wrong kind of reputation

03/17/17 09:20AM

When Mick Mulvaney was a member of Congress, the South Carolina Republican, a founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, developed a reputation for almost comical radicalism. Now he's Donald Trump's budget director, where he's proving his critics right.

Just this week, Mulvaney said he believed that the Obama administration "was manipulating the numbers" on unemployment, which is bonkers. Soon after, the OMB chief was caught brazenly lying -- twice -- about basic details surrounding the health care debate.

Yesterday, Mulvaney extremism came into even sharper focus.
Before the Thursday's press briefing got fully underway, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended cuts to community programs, like Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound, often elderly, individuals.

"We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good and great," Mulvaney said. "Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again that's a state decision to fund that particular portion to it. To take the federal money and give it to the states and say look we want to give you money for programs that don't work. I can't defend that anymore."
Trump's budget director added that cutting assistance to struggling seniors is "one of the most compassionate things we can do," telling skeptical reporters, "You're focusing on recipients of the money. We're trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place." He pointed to programs such as Meals on Wheels as initiatives that are "just not showing any results."

The point of Meals on Wheels is to provide food to the low-income elderly. I'm honestly not sure what kind of "results" Mulvaney is looking for -- if the struggling seniors eat the food, and the evidence suggests the meals have a positive impact on their well-being, then the return on Americans' investment is high.
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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)

Questions surrounding Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory grow louder

03/17/17 08:45AM

There are two broad angles to Donald Trump's allegations that Barack Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. Let's take them one at a time.

The first is that pretty much everyone has concluded that the Republican president was lying. The top two members of the House Intelligence Committee looked into the allegations and said there's no evidence to support Trump's claims, and yesterday, top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they too looked into the allegations and reached the same conclusion. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) conceded this week, "No such wiretap existed."

The Trump White House, true to form, remains defiant.
President Donald Trump stands by tweeted claims that President Barack Obama authorized surveillance of his campaign headquarters before the November election, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday, despite a Senate congressional intelligence committee statement that seemed to counter those accusations. [...]

Spicer, in the press briefing on Thursday, which was delayed in starting by nearly an hour, also blamed the media for cherry-picking reports to discredit the president's claims. He aggressively pushed back on journalists' questions about the apparent disconnect and read from a long list of news articles -- reporting he said was further verification of the president's claims and "merit looking into."
Spicer added, "There's a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on." In reality, however, literally none of the media reports substantiate Trump's allegations.

At one point, the White House press secretary literally read a lengthy excerpt from a Fox News report, which alleged that Obama used GCHQ, the British intelligence spying agency, to conduct surveillance on Trump before the election.

When British officials insisted this was both untrue and ridiculous, the White House, according to two reports from the British press, issued a formal apology to our allies in the U.K. overnight.
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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump arrive to the "Make America Great Again Welcome Concert" at the Lincoln Memorial, Jan. 19, 2017, in Washington. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

A painful lesson as Donald Trump's words are put into action

03/17/17 08:00AM

The New York Times' David Brooks suggested today he's a little surprised by Donald Trump's White House agenda. "The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected," the center-right columnist wrote. "But they'll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn't."

Let's not be too cavalier about using the word "we." Some of us predicted precisely what we're seeing from the Republican president.

One of the great challenges of the burgeoning Trump era is deciphering the real-world meaning of the president's rhetoric. Two months ago, in Trump's inaugural address, for example, he spoke about his vision for taking power and "giving it back to you, the American people." Describing the recent past, he said, "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.... Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.... The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

For those who took Trump's rhetoric at face value, and believed that he sincerely intended to be a populist champion of working people, I imagine the reality of the president's agenda must be quite jarring. The "forgotten men and women" of the United States -- the struggling people who have not "shared" in the nation's wealth -- would be punished severely by this White House agenda.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters. [...]

The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where 1 in 3 people are living paycheck to paycheck -- a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the center.
A New York Times report added, "The approach is a risky gamble for Mr. Trump, whose victory in November came in part by assembling a coalition that included low-income workers who rely on many of the programs that he now proposes to slash." (The budget would be especially brutal towards struggling families in Appalachia, where Trump won by overwhelming margins.)

T
hose who believed the president when he said, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer" may have missed the fine print: under Trump, you're on your own.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.16.17

03/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It wasn't just the judge in Hawaii that ruled against Donald Trump's Muslim ban: "A second federal judge in Maryland ruled against Mr. Trump overnight, with a separate order forbidding the core provision of the travel ban from going into effect."

Michael Flynn: "The state-sponsored Russian television network RT paid former Defense Intelligence Agency head Mike Flynn more than $45,000, plus perks, to speak at its 10th anniversary gala in December 2015, according to documents released by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee Thursday."

* It was close: "The Republican health care bill passed another step of the process Thursday morning as the House Budget Committee advanced the measure out of its committee despite growing opposition from Republicans. Three Republicans, all members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, voted with all Democrats against the measure:"

* Asia-Pacific: "Diplomacy has failed and it's time to 'take a different approach' to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said here Thursday, as the North Korean Embassy in China warned that American military threats were bringing the region to the brink of nuclear war."

* Europe: "The sighs of relief among the European leadership were almost palpable on Thursday after Dutch voters turned out in record numbers to deny the populist leader Geert Wilders victory in an election seen as a barometer of far-right nationalism's appeal on the Continent."

* DOJ: "Less than two years after the Drug Enforcement Administration officially admitted that 'heroin is clearly more dangerous than marijuana,' new Attorney General Jeff Sessions revisited that comparison in remarks [yesterday] before law enforcement officials in Richmond."
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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 doesn't deny punishing his base with his health care plan

03/16/17 04:15PM

One of the most politically striking aspects of the Republican health care plan is the degree to which it punishes the party's own base. The Americans who stand to lose the most from the American Health Care Act, which some have labeled "Trumpcare," are many of the same folks who backed Donald Trump in large numbers last fall.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" this week, the New York Times' David Brooks said the Republican plan is effectively "declaring war on their own voters."

On Fox News last night, Tucker Carlson asked the GOP president about this, and Trump offered an unexpectedly candid response.
CARLSON: This bill has, as one of its centerpieces, a tax cut for investors that would primarily benefit people making over $250,000 a year. Already done pretty well in the past 10 years, as you know. A Bloomberg analysis showed that counties that voted for you, middle class and working class counties, would do far less well under this bill than the counties that voted for Hillary, the more affluent counties.

TRUMP: Oh, I know. I know.
When the host highlighted the asymmetry, suggesting "maybe this isn't consistent with the message of the last election," the president responded, "A lot of things aren't consistent."

Trump added, by way of an argument, that the policy implications are "very preliminary" and in the process of being "negotiated."

In other words, the president is conceding that the evidence is true, and his health care proposal really will punish key segments of his electoral base. I suppose there's something vaguely refreshing about the fact that Trump didn't deny reality; I more or less expected him to respond to the question by saying the facts are "fake news," cooked up by nefarious conspirators, who are no doubt in league with Barack Obama, George Soros, and Bigfoot, all of whom are working to obscure the fact that his core supporters would all get free ice cream and ponies as a result of "Trumpcare."

Instead, Trump implicitly acknowledged reality. He knows his bill will punish his supporters; he knows it will require him to break key promises he made to the nation; but at least for now, the president is content to assume he and his team will figure out solutions later.
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia U.S.

Trump may have blurted out classified information

03/16/17 12:54PM

Fox News' Tucker Carlson asked Donald Trump last night about his wiretap conspiracy theory, which his Republican allies are quickly running away from, and the host specifically pressed the president on a specific point: "Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?"

Trump responded, "Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of an agency. We have enough problems."

I honestly haven't the foggiest idea what this was supposed to mean. The president, for whatever reason, came to believe he was the target of illegal surveillance, and he could've asked officials in his administration to provide him with information about his concerns. He didn't, however, because it would've "violated" the "strength" of an intelligence agency? Since when do factual questions from a president to intelligence professionals undermine government agencies?

Trump quickly added:
"And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken -- that was during the Obama years. That was not during us. That was during the Obama situation."
This was an apparent reference to reports, which surfaced earlier this month, that WikiLeaks released thousands of pages of documents that were apparently obtained as part of a hack of the Central Intelligence Agency.

At the time, however, the agency wouldn't even confirm the authenticity of the materials, and a CIA spokesperson told reporters, "We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents."

All of which suggests Trump, responding to a question he was not asked, may have blurted out something important on national television. Indeed, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, noted in a statement, "In his effort to once again blame Obama, the president appears to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information."
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.16.17

03/16/17 12:00PM

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

* At a rally in Tennessee last night, Donald Trump told supporters, The law and the Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration when he deems -- or she, or she. Fortunately, it will not be Hillary she." His crowd responded, once again, by chanting, "Lock her up."

* Still nervous about the upcoming congressional special election in Georgia, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC backed by House Republican leaders, has launched its second attack ad targeting Jon Ossoff (D). Like the first, the commercial goes after Ossoff for goofing around with his friends while in college.

* In New Jersey, home to one of the two gubernatorial races held this year, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows former Ambassador Phil Murphy (D) and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) leading their respective primary fields, though most voters in both parties are far from making up their minds.

* On a related note, in a hypothetical match-up in the Garden State, the same poll showed Murphy with a significant lead over Guadagno, though again, a big chunk of New Jersey's electorate is undecided.

* In a bit of a surprise, Rep. Ron Kind (D) announced this week that he isn't running for governor in Wisconsin next year, and he'll instead seek re-election in his competitive district. Incumbent Gov. Scott Walker (R) is expected to run for a third term in 2018.

* Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's Democratic presidential campaign didn't work out too well last year, but he's apparently eyeing another try in 2020: "The leadership PAC tied to [O'Malley] conducted a poll in Iowa this month testing the state of play in the Hawkeye State."
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This Nov. 18, 2008 file photo shows the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip in southeastern Mont. (Photo by James Woodcock/Billings Gazette/AP)

GOP takes one step forward, two steps back on climate crisis

03/16/17 11:20AM

When it comes to Republicans taking the climate crisis seriously, it's sometimes necessary to grade on a curve. This piece from The New Republic, for example, may not look encouraging, but it nevertheless points to evidence of incremental progress.
Seventeen GOP members of Congress signed a resolution on Wednesday promising to take "meaningful and responsible action" to address human-caused climate change. It is the largest number of Republicans ever to join an action-oriented climate initiative in "maybe ever," said Jay Butera, a congressional liaison for Citizens' Climate Lobby, which helped put together the resolution. "I've been working on this issue for 10 years," he told me. "This is a high-water mark." Of course, these 17 Republicans represent just 7 percent of the House GOP.

The resolution, which is entirely symbolic, is a remake of a 2015 pledge which put 11 House Republicans on record agreeing with the scientific fact that humans cause climate change. Like the 2015 resolution, this year's resolution states that it's a "conservative principle" to "be good stewards of our environment, responsibly plan for all market factors, and base our policy decisions in science and quantifiable facts on the ground." It acknowledges that, left unaddressed, climate change will have devastating impacts on "key economic sectors," as well as on vulnerable populations.
The piece added that in the last Congress, the House's Climate Solutions Caucus had six Republican members. Now, its GOP representation is up to 15.

By most measures, that's a woefully small number given the total number of Republicans in Congress, but for those looking for some kind of hope, the modest improvement at least exists.

And then one looks at Donald Trump's proposed budget, and those hopes are quickly washed away by rising tides.
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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

Trump's border-wall dream moves forward, but not with Mexican money

03/16/17 10:41AM

If you actually believed Donald Trump's claims that Mexico would pay for his dream of a wall along the United States' southern border, I have some very bad news for you. Politico reports:
The Trump administration proposes to kick-start construction of a border wall with $4.1 billion in spending through 2018, an official said Wednesday.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the president would request $1.5 billion in a supplemental spending bill and $2.6 billion in his fiscal year 2018 budget.... Despite Trump's repeated campaign promises, the administration does not expect Mexico to pay for the wall. "It's coming out of the treasury," Mulvaney said.
Note, the reference to "the treasury" refers to money from U.S. taxpayers. In other words, Mexico isn't writing a $4.1 billion check; in Trump's vision, you are. (Asked last week whether Mexico would pay for Trump's border wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Uh, no.")

The president is nevertheless committed to the idea, telling a Tennessee audience last night that the proposed border wall is "way ahead of schedule" -- which continues to be odd, since there is no actual schedule and the administration doesn't yet have money to begin the project.

The key takeaway from all of this, however, is whether that money will ever be approved. If the White House is counting on Congress ponying up the cash, officials in the West Wing may be disappointed.
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Republicans shouldn't count on the economy to bolster Trump

03/16/17 10:05AM

The newly released Fox News poll points to an electorate that's starting to feel better about the U.S. economy. This question, for example, stood out:
For you and your family, does it feel like the economy is getting better or getting worse?

Getting better: 48%
Getting worse: 29%
Sure, some of this may be the result of raw partisan attitudes -- Republican voters expressing greater confidence because their party is in control -- but 48% is nevertheless the highest this number has been in several years.

Similarly, the same poll asked respondents if they "approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling" the economy. A 47% plurality said they approve. Not bad,

Against this backdrop, one might assume, the president's support would look strong. After all, the economy is nearly always the public's top priority, so it stands to reason that if Americans feel good about the economy, they'll feel good about their president.

Except the exact same poll, pointing to the attitudes of the exact same respondents, shows Trump's approval rating dropping five points since last month to 43%.

The economy makes a big difference in a president's support, but it's not everything. In fact, let me introduce you to a man by the name of George W. Bush,
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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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