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Desks in a classroom. (Photo by Bob O'Connor/Gallery Stock)

Trump is the wrong president to push 'abstinence-only' education

03/12/18 11:30AM

One of my favorite moments of Rick Perry's lengthy tenure as the Republican governor of Texas came in 2011, when he hosted an event in which he fielded questions from Texas Tribune chief Evan Smith. Relaying an inquiry from a voter, Smith asked, "Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs, when they don't seem to be working?"

Perry listened the question, thought for a second, and replied, "Abstinence works."

The reporter pressed on, reminding the governor, "But we have the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate among all states in the country. The questioner's point is, it doesn't seem to be working." The governor responded, "It -- it works."

In reality, Texas helped prove that pushing abstinence was spectacularly ineffective as a public policy -- a fact Perry simply couldn't bring himself to understand, data be damned -- which is why it's all the more discouraging to see the policy "make a comeback" now. The Hill  reported last week:

In a marked departure from the previous administration, conservatives at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are putting an emphasis on abstinence to reduce teen pregnancy rates.

So far, the administration has encouraged organizations applying for Title X federal family planning funds to include in their programs a "meaningful emphasis" on "the benefits of avoiding sex" when communicating with adolescents and to use programs that don't "normalize sexual risk behaviors."

The Trump administration also plans to release its first report early this summer as part of a $10 million research project looking at ways to improve sex education programs, with a focus on the impact of "sexual delay."

Politico  added last week that Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, and a longtime abstinence advocate , "will be the final arbiter of which groups receive federal family planning funds -- a change from prior years, when a group of officials made the decision."

As a matter of public health, all of this is quite discouraging. But there's also a political element to this that shouldn't be overlooked: abstinence is "making a comeback" under the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

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DREAMers (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) listen to speakers during a "United we Dream," rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 10, 2013.  (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Why Trump clings to a cynical lie about Dreamers, DACA

03/12/18 11:00AM

Donald Trump delivered a message to the Latino Coalition Legislative Summit last week, telling attendees that the failure to protect Dreamers from his administration's own policy is Congress' fault. More specifically, he urged the Latino Coalition to blame Democrats for not embracing the White House's immigration plan.

Trump insisted that Democrats "don't care about our immigration system" which is why the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program -- a program the president rescinded -- is in doubt.

Over the weekend, at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, the president went a little further:

"[Democrats] want to stop DACA. DACA is their issue. But I'm willing to go along and get it done. [...]

"I offered a deal that was so good you can't refuse, right, like the mob pictures. I will give you a deal that is so good, you can't refuse. I made a deal. I gave a deal so good, they could not refused. And I did it because I thought they were going to refuse. And they did. And they are getting killed now by the DACA recipients. They are getting killed."

None of this reflects reality in any way, though in this specific instance, I'm less interested in the fact that Trump is lying about DACA and more interested in why Trump is lying about DACA.

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

Treasury's Mnuchin tries to defend Trump's offensive antics

03/12/18 10:31AM

When Donald Trump first went after Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last summer, the president called the Democratic congressman "Sleazy" Adam Schiff. That taunt gave way to "Liddle" Adam Schiff, and later "Phony" Adam Schiff.

The California lawmaker, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, eventually responded, in a message to Trump, "Surely you know the key to a good playground nickname is consistency. I thought you were supposed to be good at this."

Alas, the president isn't good at this, and his bullying has gotten lazy. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) was labeled "Dicky Durbin." Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) was called, simply, "Flake Jeff Flake," which is hardly the kind of name-calling one expects from someone who actually cares about name-calling.

At his campaign rally in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the president seemed eager to dish out Trump-branded insults, calling Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb "Lamb the Sham," which at least rhymes. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) remains "Pocahontas," Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was described as "a low-IQ individual" -- a line he also used at the Gridiron event last week, targeting the longtime lawmaker -- and NBC News' Chuck Todd was condemned as a "son of a bitch."

On that last point, Todd asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on "Meet the Press" yesterday about the president's antics. This exchange stood out for me:

TODD: I think you most recently appeared before [Maxine Waters'] committee. She's the Ranking Member on House Financial Services. If somebody on your staff referred to her that way in public, would that person still be on your staff?

MNUCHIN: Chuck, you know I've been with the president and at campaigns. You know he likes to put names on people. He did that throughout the entire presidential election. Including all of the Republicans that he beat. So these are campaign rally issues.

That's not much of an answer. Trump is, after all, supposed to be the president. Making public appearances and using vulgar, juvenile language because he "likes to" doesn't really answer the question. Obviously he "likes to" do this; the question is whether or not he should.

Besides, describing someone as "a low-IQ individual" isn't even an example of name-calling.

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The view from a witness room facing the execution chamber of a "death house" at a correctional facility. (Photo by Caroline Groussain/AFP/Getty)

Trump offers new support for executing drug dealers

03/12/18 10:00AM

It started as little more than a rumor. A few weeks ago, Axios had a report that Donald Trump has privately expressed admiration for how Singapore deals with drug-trafficking offenses: the government executes those found guilty. The American president, the report said, has been "telling friends for months" that Singapore's model is effective.

Trump kicked things up a notch during a recent White House summit on the opioid crisis, reminding attendees that countries that kill drug dealers "have much less of a drug problem than we do."

Now he's taking this pitch to the public.

President Trump on Saturday again called for enacting the death penalty for drug dealers during a rally meant to bolster a struggling GOP candidate for a U.S. House seat here. [...]

Trump said that allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty for drug dealers -- an idea he said he got from Chinese President Xi Jinping -- is "a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don't know if this country's ready for it."

So, Donald Trump believes that to address the drug problem, the American government should probably kill more American citizens. What's more, Trump's thinking on criminal justice issues has apparently been shaped by China -- a country led by an unelected president who expects to serve for life, in a country that isn't exactly known for serving as a model on civil liberties.

For those concerned about Trump's authoritarian tendencies, this won't help.

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Is Trump eyeing another change to his legal defense team?

03/12/18 09:30AM

There's practically been a revolving door at Donald Trump's White House, with key aides departing at a dramatic rate, creating a staffing crisis with no modern precedent. But let's not forget that the president's outside legal team has also seen some shake-ups.

As the Russia scandal intensified, and the president found it necessary to bring on outside counsel, Trump initially turned to Marc Kasowitz to head up the team. That didn't go especially well -- Kasowitz had no relevant background in this kind legal work -- and the baton was soon passed to Ty Cobb.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that a new lawyer is suddenly in the mix.

President Trump is in discussions with a veteran Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during the impeachment process about joining the White House to help deal with the special counsel inquiry, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office this past week to discuss the possibility, according to the people. No final decision has been made, according to two of the people.

This isn't exactly my area of expertise, but Flood has an exceptional reputation, and given the seriousness of the scandal facing the president, Trump would be lucky to secure Flood's services. The performance of the president's current outside legal team has been underwhelming for a while, and Flood's background is exactly what Trump needs.

Which is why it was of interest when Trump denied the accuracy of the Times' reporting and insisted via Twitter that he's "VERY happy" with his lawyers. (The newspaper stands by its article.)

So, what's going on here?

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump is clearly not 'the ultimate deal-maker and negotiator'

03/12/18 09:00AM

At the end of Friday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders what "specific steps" Donald Trump is taking to prepare for a summer with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The president's press secretary suggested there's nothing to worry about:

"[T]he president is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation.... And we feel very confident in where we are."

Around the same time, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the other day that Trump is "one of the best negotiators." Soon after, in a separate interview, asked why the American leader agreed to the meeting, a senior administration official added that the president "has made his reputation on making deals."

Perhaps, but has Trump earned that reputation, or is it a sales pitch based on meaningless hype with no grounding in reality?

To be sure, this president wants to be perceived as a world-class negotiator. Not long before launching his presidential campaign, Trump identified what he saw as his greatest strength. “Deals are my art form,” the Republican boasted. “Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.” It's partly why he paid a ghost-writer to help write a book called, "The Art of the Deal."

But in practice, this is proving to be one of Trump's biggest weaknesses.

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Image: Stormy Daniels Hosts Super Bowl Party At Sapphire Las Vegas Gentlemen's Club

Trying to silence porn star, Trump World reportedly eyes new lawsuit

03/12/18 08:30AM

We learned last week that Stormy Daniels, the porn star who received $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump, sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview to air on CBS's "60 Minutes."

BuzzFeed reported yesterday that the president's attorneys are considering new litigation to block the segment from airing.

Lawyers associated with President Donald Trump are considering legal action to stop 60 Minutes from airing an interview with Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director who goes by Stormy Daniels, BuzzFeed News has learned.

"We understand from well-placed sources they are preparing to file for a legal injunction to prevent it from airing," a person informed of the preparations told BuzzFeed News on Saturday evening.

It's worth emphasizing that Trump World has an unfortunate habit of threatening all kinds of litigation, and those threats often amount to nothing. It was just two months ago, for example, that the president's lawyers tried to block the publication of Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury." The effort went nowhere.

And there's no reason to think litigation against CBS, if it's filed, would be any better. At issue is something called "prior restraint," in which a plaintiff asks a court to suppress media -- broadcasts, print content, etc. -- that the litigant considers harmful. The existence of the First Amendment makes this difficult and creates a high bar to be cleared.

We don't know what, if anything, Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, told "60 Minutes" about her alleged affair. Chances are, Trump's lawyers don't know, either. But if Trump World does bring this to court, it's probably going to claim that Daniels is subject to a non-disclosure agreement -- an agreement that CBS News had no part of -- and that her claims will be libelous to the president if aired.

I'm happy to let legal experts speak to this in detail, but I have a hunch the end result will be higher ratings for the interview.

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U.S. President Donald J. Trump speaks to the media during a meeting with congressional leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, in Washington, D.C., November 28, 2017.

Despite recent rhetoric, Trump abandons ambitious plans on guns

03/12/18 08:00AM

Two weeks ago, Donald Trump hosted a fascinating meeting at the White House with a bipartisan group of senators, and to the surprise of many, the Republican president expressed support for "comprehensive" reforms to the nation's gun laws. In fact, Trump said, he envisioned a "beautiful" bill that included all kinds of provisions.

Such as? The president's vision included everything from hiking age requirements on long-guns to "powerful" background checks to gun confiscation without prior due process. As for the National Rifle Association, Trump went so far as to mock Republicans to their face for fearing the far-right lobbying group.

Almost immediately, the White House signaled that Trump's rhetoric may not reflect the president's actual policy vision, and now that Team Trump has unveiled a blueprint, the 180-degree turn is complete. A Washington Post  report noted:

Trump has said he was personally moved by the shooting -- and by the persistent and impassioned calls for action from some of the teenage survivors as well as parents of the victims -- and elevated the issue of school safety in his administration. He has called for raising the minimum age for purchasing an AR-15 or similar-style rifles from 18 to 21 years old.

"Now, this is not a popular thing to say, in terms of the NRA. But I'm saying it anyway," Trump said in a Feb. 28 meeting with lawmakers. "You can buy a handgun -- you can't buy one; you have to wait until you're 21. But you can buy the kind of weapon used in the school shooting at 18. I think it's something you have to think about."

Yes, and apparently Trump administration officials are done thinking about it and have decided to leave it up to state officials to decide what to do about age requirements.

The president's plan, however, does include support for arms training for school teachers and creates a commission to examine school safety, to be led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Nearly all of Trump's ambitious vision, however, has been shelved, just two weeks after it was articulated by the president.

And that in turn reinforces a few key truths:

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Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Dallas Church Choir speaks as he introduces President Donald Trump during the Celebrate Freedom event at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

This Week in God, 3.10.18

03/10/18 07:30AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the kind of defense Donald Trump's evangelical Christian allies are offering in the wake of the president's Stormy Daniels scandal.

Helping lead the defense is far-right megachurch leader Robert Jeffress -- a familiar name to regular readers -- who first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) candidacy and attacked Mitt Romney as "a member of a cult."

Much of the country soon became acquainted with the Texan's record of over-the-top extremism, including his description of Roman Catholicism as a "cult-like pagan religion," which represents "the genius of Satan."

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said to associate with Robert Jeffress was "beneath the office of president of the United States."

Donald Trump, however, has embraced Jeffress as a close ally, and the megachurch pastor has returned the favor.

"Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star," Robert Jeffress told Fox News on Thursday. "However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him."

Jeffress, who is an evangelical adviser to the president, said Trump's personal behavior isn't an issue. "Evangelicals knew they weren't voting for an altar boy when they voted for Donald Trump," he said.

Let's pause to note that anytime a prominent Christian evangelist begins an argument by saying, "Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star. However..." the sentence probably won't end well.

Nevertheless, in the same interview, Jeffress emphasized his bond with his ally in the White House. "I'm his friend," he said. "I will never walk away."

This is not an uncommon sentiment among Christian conservatives. In January, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the religious right and the movement's adherents agree that Trump should "get a mulligan" when it comes to his personal misdeeds.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.9.18

03/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) "on Friday signed into state law new gun restrictions -- and a provision that allows teachers to arm themselves -- crafted in response to the February killing of 17 people at a suburban high school."

* Shkreli: "A Brooklyn federal judge dismissed the tearful plea for mercy from 'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli and sentenced him Friday to seven years in prison for defrauding investors."

* Quite an op-ed from former U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley: "I resigned because the traditional core values of the United States, as manifested in the president's National Security Strategy and his foreign policies, have been warped and betrayed. I could no longer represent him personally and remain faithful to my beliefs about what makes America truly great."

* Libya: "The United States military has carried out twice as many airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya since President Trump took office as it has publicly acknowledged, raising questions about whether the Pentagon has sought to obscure operations in the strife-torn North African nation."

* That's unexpected: "Former President Barack Obama is in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows that will provide him a global platform after his departure from the White House, according to people familiar with the discussions."

* Remember this case? "The man accused of tackling U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in the Kentucky lawmaker's yard has pleaded guilty to the attack that broke the senator's ribs. Rene Boucher's lawyer says his client pleaded guilty Friday to a federal charge of assaulting a member of Congress resulting in personal injury."

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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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