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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.12.17

10/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The death toll in California is at 29: "The winds that have fanned Northern California's wine-country wildfires have calmed, for now, giving firefighters a badly needed break from the 'red flag' conditions that have made this menacing arc of flames so deadly and destructive. But for localities faced with relentless fires that show few signs of being tamed and a mounting death toll that has already reached historically grim heights, any reprieve appears remote."

* The final vote was 353 to 69: "The House, dismissing a smattering of concern for the rising cost, approved a $36.5 billion aid package on Thursday that would provide hurricane and wildfire relief funding while bailing out the financially troubled National Flood Insurance Program."

* Pakistan: "An American woman and three children freed from the custody of a Taliban-linked group are still in Pakistan after her Canadian husband declined to board a plane to the U.S., three American officials said Thursday."

* White House: "President Donald Trump's chief of staff batted down speculation he would be the next member of the administration to go, promising Thursday he was 'not quitting today' and would not be getting fired anytime soon, either."

* Jeff Sessions has a one-track mind: "The Justice Department has given four major U.S. cities a 'last chance' to prove they are not so-called sanctuary cities before losing millions of dollars in critical crime-fighting aid, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday."

* DHS: "President Trump said on Wednesday that he intended to name Kirstjen Nielsen, a top White House aide, to lead the Department of Homeland Security, elevating a former homeland security official in the George W. Bush administration who has lately worked to impose order in Mr. Trump's chaotic West Wing."

* United Nations: "The United States is pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and the need for 'fundamental reform' of the U.N. cultural agency, the State Department said."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

Why Trump needs to be reminded to sign his executive orders

10/12/17 04:55PM

About a month into his presidency, Donald Trump hosted a White House event to sign a measure intended to make it easier to pollute U.S. waterways. Unfamiliar with the process, the president walked into a room, said a few words, smiled for the cameras, and then turned to leave.

An aide quickly intervened, reminding Trump that he actually needed to put pen to paper.

Several weeks later, in late March, it happened again. The president hosted an event in the Oval Office to tout some new executive orders, which he was supposed to sign. Instead, Trump said a few words and left the room.

And then there was this morning. The Washington Examiner noted:

Vice President Mike Pence had to chase down President Trump to remind him to sign the executive order on healthcare he announced Thursday afternoon.

Following Trump's remarks about the action, he turned to his left and walked over to lawmakers. He greeted them and shook hands as he moved to exit the room. Pence sprung into action and swiftly walked over to Trump, and turned him back toward the wooden desk, where the order was waiting to be signed.

It's easy to make the case that Americans would've been better off if Trump hadn't signed the executive order, but the fact that the president had to be reminded to do the one thing he was there to do fits into the apparent pattern.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Told about the 25th Amendment, Trump reportedly asked, 'What's that?'

10/12/17 04:26PM

As Rachel noted on last night's show, the new Vanity Fair piece from Gabe Sherman on Donald Trump's White House paints a rather unsettling picture of behind-the-scenes tumult in the West Wing. The president for example, reportedly vented to his longtime security chief, Keith Schiller, "I hate everyone in the White House! There are a few exceptions, but I hate them!"

The same piece described Chief of Staff John Kelly as "miserable," and West Wing officials describing Trump has "unstable," "losing a step," and "unraveling."

But the part of the article that really stood out for me was this:

Even before [Sen. Bob Corker's] remarks, some West Wing advisers were worried that Trump's behavior could cause the Cabinet to take extraordinary Constitutional measures to remove him from office. Several months ago, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation, former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump that the risk to his presidency wasn't impeachment, but the 25th Amendment -- the provision by which a majority of the Cabinet can vote to remove the president.

When Bannon mentioned the 25th Amendment, Trump said, "What's that?"

Back in mid-November 2016, about a week after Election Day, The Atlantic's David Frum joked, "Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Article 4. We're all going to be talking a lot more about it in the months ahead."

In hindsight, I think David was onto something.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Trump signs new executive order to sabotage the ACA

10/12/17 12:54PM

Last week, Politico had an item noting that Democrats are "accusing" Donald Trump of sabotaging the Affordable Care Act. There wasn't anything especially wrong with the article, except for the fact that it presented the sabotage question as a matter of partisan debate: Dems are making an accusation, while Republicans deny it.

The trouble is, the truth is unambiguous. The Trump administration's sabotage campaign is both real and lacking in subtlety.

Vox had a good piece yesterday summarizing the most obvious ways the White House is deliberately undermining the nation's health care system, and the list wasn't exactly short. From shrinking the open-enrollment period to threatening to cut off cost-sharing-reduction payments to insurers, curtailing ad campaigns to slashing in-person sign-up programs, Trump World seems determined not to help Americans get the health care coverage they're entitled to under the law.

The real-world effects of this are already quite real, with consumers having to pay more -- what congressional Democrats refer to as a "Trump Tax" -- as a direct consequence of Trump's actions.

This morning, the White House's campaign went quite a bit further. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday morning intended to allow small businesses and potentially individuals to buy a long-disputed type of health insurance that skirts state regulations and Affordable Care Act protections.

The White House and allies portray the president's move to expand access to "association health plans" as wielding administrative powers to accomplish what congressional Republicans have failed to achieve: tearing down the law's insurance marketplaces and letting some Americans buy skimpier coverage at lower prices.

OK, let's unpack this a bit, because the consequences are likely to affect a lot of people, and not in a good way.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.12.17

10/12/17 12:00PM

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

* Barack Obama has made a few candidate endorsements since leaving office, but next week, the former president will make his first public appearance in support of a candidate. Obama will headline a rally in Richmond a week from today in support of Ralph Northam's Democratic gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.

* The latest Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, showed Donald Trump with a 38% approval rating. Perhaps more importantly, the same survey found 55% of Americans do not believe Trump is fit to serve as president.

* Billionaire Tom Steyer, a prominent Democratic donor, is reportedly "demanding that lawmakers and candidates on the left support removing President Trump from office." Expect to hear more about this as the 2018 midterms, especially if other leading donors have similar expectations.

* Earlier this year, Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont) was elected to Congress the day after he was recorded assaulting a journalist and lying about it. Yesterday, a judge ordered that his mugshot be released to the public.

* Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump advocacy group, announced its first three Senate endorsements yesterday: Matt Rosendale (R) in Montana, Patrick Morrisey (R) in West Virginia, and Marsha Blackburn (R) in Tennessee. As Roll Call noted, the Alliance's political arm is the Great America PAC.

* With Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) facing a GOP primary challenge from former congressman and convicted felon Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are making it clear they support Donovan.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Is Trump dragging his feet on Russian sanctions?

10/12/17 11:20AM

It was one of the more embarrassing failures of Trump's presidency to date. As lawmakers prepared new sanctions against Russia in response to its attack on the American election, the president opposed the move and tried to shield Moscow from punishment. This, naturally, made Trump look pretty bad.

Congressional Republicans proceeded to ignore the White House's appeal and approved the sanctions anyway -- the Senate vote was 98 to 2. This, naturally, made Trump look quite a bit worse.

Left with limited choices, the president ultimately signed the legislation he opposed, but not before whining and blaming the Republican-led Congress for undermining relations with Putin's government.

At that point, it was widely assumed the administration would honor the law and implement the sanctions. As Foreign Policy noted yesterday, that hasn't happened just yet.

On Wednesday, leading senators from both parties -- Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin and Arizona Republican John McCain -- criticized the Donald Trump administration for not meeting a deadline for implementing new sanctions on Russia's defense and intelligence sectors.

"The delay calls into question the Trump administration's commitment to the sanctions bill which was signed into law more than two months ago, following months of public debate and negotiations in Congress," they said in a statement..... The lawmakers also noted that after writing to the administration on Sept. 28 urging an implementation plan for these sanctions, they have yet to receive a response.

A Mother Jones  piece added that the implementation deadline was Oct. 1 -- 12 days ago -- and it's unclear why the sanctions are not yet in place.

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Alabama's Roy Moore can't escape his controversial past

10/12/17 10:46AM

Alabama's Roy Moore yesterday endorsed Donald Trump's culture-war crusade against athletes who engage in civil-rights protests before games, but the Republican Senate hopeful did so in a remarkable way. In a written statement, Moore argued, "Kneeling during our national anthem not only demonstrates a lack of patriotism for our Country but a disrespect for the rule of law."

For the record, Moore was twice removed from the bench for ethics violations, stemming from his belief that he can defy court rulings he doesn't like. If there's literally anyone in American politics who should avoid discussing the value of "the rule of law," it's Roy Moore.

Oddly enough, this wasn't the most embarrassing development yesterday for the GOP candidate. Rather, that news came from the Washington Post.

Former Alabama judge Roy Moore, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, once said publicly that he did not take a "regular salary" from the small charity he founded to promote Christian values because he did not want to be a financial burden.

But privately, Moore had arranged to receive a salary of $180,000 a year for part-time work at the Foundation for Moral Law, internal charity documents show. He collected more than $1 million as president from 2007 to 2012, compensation that far surpassed what the group disclosed in its public tax filings most of those years.

When the charity couldn't afford the full amount, Moore in 2012 was given a promissory note for backpay eventually worth $540,000 or an equal stake of the charity's most valuable asset, a historic building in Montgomery, Ala., mortgage records show. He holds that note even now, a charity official said.

To state the obvious, this paints an unflattering picture of the extremist Republican, not only because he appears to have made misleading claims about his compensation at the Foundation for Moral Law, but also because there are legal questions about the organization's tax filings.

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

GOP senator asks whether Trump is 'recanting' his oath of office

10/12/17 10:05AM

In 2009, after President Obama had been in office for about eight months, he and some of his top aides had some unkind things to say about Fox News. As regular readers may recall, the Beltway establishment did not take it well.

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus, for example, was outraged -- not because the Democratic president had said something untrue, but because Obama had the audacity to criticize a major news organization directly. Marcus called the White House's Fox criticisms "dumb," "childish," "petty," "self-defeating," and having "a distinct Nixonian ... aroma."

Soon after, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) took the Senate floor to complain that the White House's criticism of a news organization was evidence of the president's team creating an "enemies list."

Eight years later, I wonder what the reaction would've been if Obama had threatened the broadcast licenses of news organizations that ran reports that the White House disapproved of.

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump, apparently irked by NBC News, asked rhetorically at what point it might be "appropriate to challenge" the broadcast licenses of networks he apparently doesn't like. He went on to suggest major American news organizations are "bad for country!" Ten hours later, the president turned the question into a statement.

"Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!"

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), an occasional Trump critic who nevertheless votes with the White House's position in nearly every instance, responded by asking whether the president is "recanting" his oath of office -- since it was nine months ago when Trump swore to "preserve, protect, and defend" the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment.

And while that's a compelling point, all of this got me thinking: if Trump's authoritarian instincts got the best of him, and he actually tried to follow through on these threats, what would (or could) he do?

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Despite lacking a plan, Trump vows end to highway potholes

10/12/17 09:20AM

Remember "Infrastructure Week"? The White House, looking for public-relations wins, devoted the first full week in June to Donald Trump's apparent interest in infrastructure, which included a fake signing ceremony in honor of the president's one big idea: privatizing the nation's air-traffic control system.

Congress soon after rejected that idea and Trump's infrastructure agenda more or less disappeared.

Or so it seemed. Yesterday, the president was in Harrisburg to deliver a speech on tax cuts, but he took some time to put the spotlight on his renewed interest in infrastructure. From the transcript:

"My administration is also committed to passing a historic infrastructure package that will generate $1 trillion to rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure, with a special focus on roadways and highways. [...]

"American goods will sail across the oceans. American trucks will glide along our highways -- so beautiful will those highways be -- smooth, beautiful, no potholes. I know, no potholes.

"I have many friends in the trucking business and they tell me it's never been like this. They'll buy beautiful new equipment, by the time it goes from Los Angeles to New York and back, they have a big renovation job on their hands. They said they've never seen it like this before. They will be beautiful again, they will be smooth, beautiful highways again."

For now, let's put aside the fact that presidents generally don't talk about filling potholes -- it's the sort of vow Americans are more likely to hear from local or state officials -- and instead focus on the larger problem.

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Trump's posture towards Puerto Rico takes a more callous turn

10/12/17 08:40AM

Over the last year, Donald Trump's willingness to publicly contradict Mike Pence has led to some cringe-worthy moments, but developments over the last 24 hours offer an especially awkward example.

The vice president spoke at a National Hispanic Heritage Month reception yesterday, and offered strong assurances to the people of Puerto Rico: "We're with you; we stand with you; and we will be with you every single day until Puerto Rico is restored bigger and better than ever before."

In a trio of tweets this morning, Pence's boss said pretty much the opposite.

"'Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.' says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

Let's note for context that as of yesterday, more than 80% of Puerto Rico is still without power, three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit. What's more, roughly a third of the island's American residents do not yet have access to clean water.

It's against this backdrop that the president thought it'd be a good idea to blame Puerto Ricans and starting laying the groundwork for a weaker response to the island's disaster.

"We will be with you every single day," at least until Donald Trump feels like he's seen enough.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

In embarrassing display, Trump flubs test on how money works

10/12/17 08:00AM

Before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump struggled throughout his adult life in his private-sector ventures. The New York Republican was often over-leveraged, faced multiple bankruptcies, and routinely tried to cut costs by refusing to pay contractors what they were owed. He's a rare people who managed to lose money running a casino.

With Trump now in the White House, we're starting to get a better sense of why he had so many difficulties in the business world. As The Daily Beast  noted, the president tried to argue last night that he's already managed to shave off a huge chunk of the national debt.

"The country -- we took it over and owed over $20 trillion. As you know the last eight years, they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet, we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market," Trump told Sean Hannity. "So you could say, in one sense, we're really increasing values. And maybe in a sense, we're reducing debt. But we're very honored by it."

This wasn't just some verbal gaffe. Yesterday afternoon in Harrisburg, during a speech on taxes, he pushed a related point: "Very proudly, just in the stock market alone, we have increased our economic worth by $5.2 trillion, that's right, since Election Day. $5.2 trillion. Think about that, that's a quarter of the $20 trillion that we owe."

This is gibberish. They're the remarks of someone who doesn't know what the national debt is. Or how the nation's finances work. Or even how money works.

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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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