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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.10.17

10/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* California wildfires: "Fierce wildfires whipping up nightmare conditions in Northern California have killed at least 15 people, destroyed more than 1,500 structures and turned wineries into charred wastelands."

* Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello today raised the death toll on the island to 43.

* A gut-wrenching day in the entertainment industry: "A wave of Hollywood actresses, including Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have come forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct -- and three other women have alleged that the film executive forced himself on them."

* The White House helps make this possible: "Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved building plans for 3,736 new units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, in what activists say is part of a new wave of construction spurred by the Trump administration's more accommodating stance."

* Korean peninsula: "North Korean hackers stole a vast cache of data, including classified wartime contingency plans jointly drawn by the United States and South Korea, when they breached the computer network of the South Korean military last year, a South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday."

* What a fiasco: "A member of President Donald Trump's voter fraud probe expressed deep frustration Tuesday over the way the commission has been run so far and doubted that the panel would ever meet again."

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Image: U.S. President Trump displays executive order on "energy independence" during event at EPA headquarters in Washington

Trump's EPA takes aim at the Clean Power Plan

10/10/17 04:45PM

Donald Trump's hostility towards the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, in a twisted way, makes perfect sense. The Republican president believes climate change is a conspiracy cooked up by the Chinese; he reflexively opposes any policy his predecessor supports; and Trump has no real interest in helping the United States compete internationally in the area of clean energy.

And so, in March, the president issued an executive order instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to "review" the policy that intends to reduce carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. Today, as the Washington Post reports,  the far-right officials who lead Trump's EPA took the next step.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a proposed rule Tuesday that would repeal sweeping regulation aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions from existing U.S. power plants.

The move, aimed at bolstering the nation's struggling coal industry, will trigger an immediate court fight and could result in months, if not years of litigation.

And it's that second part of the excerpt that stands out. The Trump administration took a deliberate step backwards today, but the policy implications aren't cut and dry. It's not as if power plants were working under one framework yesterday, which will be entirely different from the one that'll be in place tomorrow.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already blocked implementation of the Obama-era policy. The Trump administration's new rule is really just a vague proposal to go in a more regressive direction, but we have no idea what the details of the new policy look like, or when we'll even see them. A New York Times report added that Trump's EPA intends to consider a new rule "at some point."

All the while, the administration will try to fend off a series of lawsuits from environmental advocates, who may very well have some success in preserving Obama-era safeguards.

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon's 'war' plans for 2018 come into focus

10/10/17 12:52PM

The recent Republican Senate primary in Alabama was about far more than a single seat. In a variety of ways, the race between Luther Strange and Roy Moore was a proxy fight, pitting the conservative Republican establishment against even its even-more-conservative insurgent base.

When Moore cruised to a rather easy victory, it jolted GOP politics nationwide. The Washington Examiner reported a few days after the primary that senior Republican strategists have begged red-state incumbents -- including Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) -- to "prepare early for a primary."

With Roy Moore winning despite being outspent and despite the opposition of the Republican establishment, the Examiner's piece added that the activists and donors who fund conservative challengers now believe "their investments might pay off."

As Bloomberg Politics reported the other day, Donald Trump's former chief strategist is ready to lead the charge.

Steve Bannon plans to back primary challengers to almost every Republican senator who runs for re-election next year in an effort to depose Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and streamline Senate voting procedures, three people familiar with his plans said. [...]

Bannon plans to support as many as 15 Republican Senate candidates in 2018, including several challengers to incumbents, the people said. He'll support only candidates who agree to two conditions: They will vote against McConnell as majority leader, and they will vote to end senators' ability to block legislation by filibustering.

"We're going to go after them. There's a coalition coming together that's going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz," Bannon told Fox News last night night. "We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda that Donald Trump ran on. We're going after these guys tooth and nail."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.10.17

10/10/17 12:00PM

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

* With polls showing a potentially competitive Senate race in Alabama, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) has raised a decent amount of money, and his campaign yesterday launched its first television ad of the cycle. "I'm running for the U.S. Senate because our leaders have lost sight of what it means to serve," Jones says in the spot. "Continuing to divide us won't make a positive difference in people's lives."

* After less than a year at his post, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) is kicking off a U.S. Senate campaign against incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) today. I'll have more on this story a little later.

* After Donald Trump endorsed Ed Gillespie's gubernatorial candidacy via twitter, the Virginia Republican didn't exactly sound excited about receiving support from the unpopular president. "I wasn't aware the president was going to tweet," Gillespie told reporters, "but I'm obviously not surprised that the Republican president is supportive of the Republican nominee."

* On a related note, Gillespie tweeted yesterday, "Always great being with the hardworking ladies of the James River Republican Women!" The tweet included a photograph of the GOP candidate standing alongside a group of men.

* Apparently Blackwater founder Erik Prince isn't the only Republican eyeing a possible primary challenge to Sen. John Barrasso in Wyoming next year. Foster Friess, a prominent GOP donor, told the Washington Post, "I sense a responsibility to prayerfully explore the possibility."

* In the latest national poll from the Associated Press, Trump's approval rating has dropped to just 32%. The same survey found the president with 67% support among Republican voters, which is down from 80% in March.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with supporters during a campaign rally at the USS Wisconsin battleship in Norfolk, Va., Oct. 31, 2015. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In defense of dissent 'in a time of war'

10/10/17 11:29AM

Donald Trump and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have been trading criticisms for months, but the intensity of their dispute escalated quite a bit over the last few days. After the president said the Tennessee Republican "didn't have the guts" to run for re-election, Corker lowered the boom.

"It's a shame the White House has become an adult day care center," the senator wrote. "Someone obviously missed their shift this morning." In a New York Times interview, Corker went quite a bit further, explaining his "concerns" about Trump's stability in more detail.

Not surprisingly, Trump's boosters are not pleased. Kellyanne Conway called the senator's criticisms "incredibly irresponsible," adding in reference to Corker's rebukes, "World leaders see that."

It's that last part of Conway's reaction that came to mind while reading about Breitbart's Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist, calling on the GOP senator to resign.

"Sen. Corker is an absolute disgrace," Bannon, who left the White House in August, told Fox News' Sean Hannity. "If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately. He should not let those words stand."

Bannon said Corker's comments were "totally unacceptable in a time of war."

"We have troops in Afghanistan, in the northwest Pacific and Korea, we have a major problem that could be like World War I, in the South China Sea, in the Persian Gulf, we have American lives at risk every day."

The point of pushback like this isn't subtle: in "a time of war," harsh criticisms of the president should be seen as potentially dangerous.

And if this seems a little familiar, it's because we confronted a similar tack in the recent past.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Trump administration questions birth control's health benefits

10/10/17 10:43AM

The Trump administration rolled back the clock last week on contraception access, declaring that any health provider can refuse to cover birth control if they have "sincerely held" religious or moral objections. But what went largely overlooked is  how officials made the case in support of their new policy.

As we discussed after the policy's unveiling, the practical effects of the change are obvious: some American women who receive contraception at no cost will, as a result of the Trump administration's new policy, have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for birth control -- because their employer says so.

It was largely assumed that Donald Trump and his team would make the argument about principle: the White House would say this change is about protecting "religious liberty" and the moral choices of conservative employers. But as it turns out, they also went after birth control on the merits.

Indeed, as Bloomberg Politics reported the other day, administration officials actually questioned "the links between contraception and preventing unplanned pregnancies."

In the rule released Friday, officials attacked a 2011 report that recommended mandatory birth-control coverage to help women avoid unintended pregnancies. That report, requested by the Department of Health and Human Services, was done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine -- then the Institute of Medicine -- an expert group that serves as the nation's scientific adviser.

"The rates of, and reasons for, unintended pregnancy are notoriously difficult to measure," according to the Trump administration's interim final rule. "In particular, association and causality can be hard to disentangle."

The Trump administration's document fleshing out its new rule went on to say that covering birth control as a core benefit available to American women could "affect risky sexual behavior in a negative way."

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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Following 'moron' flap, Trump ready to 'compare IQ tests' with Tillerson

10/10/17 10:03AM

It started a week ago with an NBC News report on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's frustrations in the Trump administration. Among other things, we learned that Tillerson referred to Donald Trump as a "moron" after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of president's national security team and Cabinet officials.

Common sense suggests members of Trump World would want a story like this to disappear as quickly as possible. That's not quite the course they chose, however.

When the administration pushed back against the reporting, CNN confirmed that Tillerson did, in fact, call Trump a "moron" -- and NBC's Stephanie Ruhle added that, to be precise, the network's sources said the exact phrase was "f***ing moron."

The secretary of state tried to defuse the situation with a hastily organized press conference, at which Tillerson was careful to dodge a question about the language he used to describe the president, which only reinforced suspicions that the original reporting was fully accurate.

For some reason, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to keep the story going a little longer in a new interview with Forbes.

He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron: "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."

Again, it's in the president's interest to end the chatter about whether he's a "moron," but Trump's sense of grievance overwhelms his judgment. The idea of letting this go doesn't seem to occur to him. If commenting like this renews chatter about the president's own secretary of state's low opinion of his intellect, so be it.

On a related note, have you ever noticed Trump's preoccupation with his IQ score?

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

Trump struggles to overcome his economic illiteracy

10/10/17 09:21AM

Donald Trump has a talking point that he believes overshadows his embarrassing failures: economic growth, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product, is still pretty good.

Two weeks ago, for example, after GDP for the second quarter was revised up to 3.1%, the president boasted via Twitter, "Many people thought it would be years before that happened." No one actually thought that -- because 3.1% quarterly growth has been quite common since the end of the Great Recession.

But Trump keeps pretending otherwise, either because he's economically illiterate or because he enjoys pretending to be economically illiterate. During his interview with Mike Huckabee over the weekend, for example, the president added in reference to the latest GDP data, "Everybody was shocked. They said it wouldn't happen for years."

Again, nobody was shocked, just as nobody said it'd take years to see quarterly growth that's been routine for quite a while.

In a new interview with Forbes, Trump went just a little further.

He's similarly proud of the GDP. "So GDP last quarter was 3.1%. Most of the folks that are in your business, and elsewhere, were saying that would not be hit for a long time. You know, Obama never hit the number."

Maybe a chart will help drive the point home. I put this image together to show the GDP by quarter since the start of the Great Recession nearly a decade ago:

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's White House formalizes its praise for itself

10/10/17 08:40AM

For many years, reporters have received press releases from the White House touting various initiatives with “what they are saying” collections. As we discussed several months ago, it’s a straightforward exercise: the White House will collect praise from various corners, package it together, and send it out as proof of a proposal’s merit.

The point is to generate positive "buzz" about an administration priority by presenting the media with evidence that an idea has been well received -- by other news organizations, members of Congress, pundits, advocacy organizations, etc.

As The Week noted yesterday, Donald Trump's White House has an entirely different approach to this public-relations strategy.

President Trump's Cabinet had great things to say about the boss' immigration priorities, a bizarre press release from the White House proved Monday. Instead of quoting nonpartisan groups or experts in the field, the press release cited Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The bunch, perhaps unsurprisingly, was in favor of Trump's priorities: "These are reasonable proposals that will build on the early success of President Trump's leadership," raved Sessions. "This plan will work."

Even by Trump World standards, this kind of propaganda is cringe-worthy. The White House went to the trouble of issuing a press release to highlight praise from Trump's cabinet about Trump's agenda.

In other words, Trump administration officials alerted the media to the fact that Trump administration officials like the Trump administration's policies.

What's more, yesterday wasn't the first time the White House pulled this stunt.

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To 'contain' Trump, White House tries treating him like a toddler

10/10/17 08:00AM

As the first year of Donald Trump's presidency has unfolded, we periodically hear from people within the White House who suggest conditions, behind the scenes, are worse than Americans probably realize. In April, one presidential adviser said his job was to "talk him out of doing crazy things." In August, another added, "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said this week, "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

And while that's obviously unsettling given that we're talking about the most powerful office on the planet, there's a question that's always lurking in the background: how, exactly, does the White House "contain" a confused, amateur president who's ill-suited for the job?

Six months ago, Politico reported that officials in the West Wing learned that Trump made better decisions when they narrowed his choices down to one. Today, Politico reports that the president can also be managed through a series of delays and distractions.

[I]nterviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling – and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.

"You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day," said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.

The article described a work environment in which the president sometimes starts the day "worked into a lather," often based on something he saw on television, at which point aides try to distract him with something new, exploiting Trump's limited attention span.

As one White House official put it, "You have to just move the conversation along to something else."

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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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