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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.16.17

02/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Big news on the Muslim ban: "The Justice Department told a federal court Thursday that there's no point in further court battles over President Trump's executive order on immigration, because it will soon be replaced by a different one."

* Iraq: "At least 48 people have been killed in Baghdad in the third blast in the Iraqi capital in three days, security and medical sources say. A car packed with explosives blew up near car dealerships in the Shia area of Bayaa in the south of the city. More than 50 people were injured. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed the attack, saying it targeted 'a gathering of Shias.'"

* More on him tomorrow: "President Donald Trump announced Alexander Acosta as his new pick to head the Department of Labor, less than a day after his first choice for the job, Andy Puzder, withdrew from consideration."

* David Friedman: "President Donald Trump's controversial pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel said Thursday he regretted calling former President Barack Obama an anti-Semite and making other inflammatory remarks about the State Department and liberal Jewish groups."

* The final vote was 51-49: "The Senate confirmed Rep. Mick Mulvaney as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget on Thursday morning, allowing the budget process to move forward."

* Alabama: "New Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday officially recused himself from an investigation of Gov. Robert Bentley. The recusal confirms that the attorney general's office is investigating the governor."

* South Carolina: "Union organizers fell far short on Wednesday in a bid to enlist workers at Boeing's South Carolina facilities in what was widely viewed as an early test of labor's strength in the Trump era."

* An ugly trend: "The number of hate groups in the United States rose for the second straight year in 2016, with a sharp spike in those spreading anti-Muslim messages, according to a civil rights group."
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

After ranting and raving, Trump declares, 'I'm not ranting and raving'

02/16/17 04:30PM

When Donald Trump spoke to the CIA the day after his inauguration, I genuinely believed it was the strangest speech I've ever seen an American president deliver. When he did some television interviews in the days that followed, I concluded, quite sincerely, that they were the strangest interviews I've ever seen conducted with an American president.

And when Trump hosted a White House press conference this afternoon -- his first major media event since taking office -- it was hard not to conclude that it was the strangest press conference ever held by an American president.
President Donald Trump defended his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during a fiery and wide-ranging press conference Thursday afternoon, saying the retired general "did nothing wrong" and blasting the press for its reporting on the scandal.

Flynn "was doing his job. He was calling countries," Trump said of Flynn's conversation with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak. "I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it," Trump said.
In terms of the substantive news this afternoon, that was certainly one of the more relevant takeaways. As far as Trump is concerned, he had to fire his National Security Advisor for lying about benign actions that the president supported, but was unaware of.

This, of course, still doesn't add up: the White House was notified weeks ago that Flynn lied, but Flynn nevertheless remained in his position until this week.

But while Trump's Russia scandal continues to unfold, today's press conference was absolutely stunning, not necessarily because of the news the president broke, but because he was so wildly unhinged.

At one point, he declared, "Tomorrow, they will say, 'Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.' I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people. But I'm not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time doing it. But tomorrow, the headlines are going to be, 'Donald Trump rants and raves.' I'm not ranting and raving."

This was near the end of a lengthy media event in which he was clearly both ranting and raving. It was hard to tell if we were watching a president or a performance artist offering a powerful commentary about the cringe-worthy absurdities of our modern political lives.
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Trump contradicts his own talking points on Russia scandal

02/16/17 12:49PM

For months, Donald Trump rejected the idea that Russia intervened in the American presidential election. A month after his improbable victory, the Republican called the allegations "ridiculous."

In time, however, even Trump couldn't deny the evidence put together by the U.S. intelligence community, and a month after dismissing the controversy as absurd, the president was compelled to acknowledge reality. At a pre-inauguration press conference, a reporter asked Trump if he accepts the findings that show "Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of the DNC."

Grudgingly, at long last, he replied, "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia."

This morning, Trump has apparently gone back to his original posture. The president tweeted:
"The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story - RUSSIA. Fake news!"
As part of the same series of messages, Trump also complained about "illegal leaking" and his belief that media "makes-up stories and 'sources.'" The president added that "low-life leakers ... will be caught!"

Let's get a couple of things out of the way. First, Trump's obsession with his underwhelming electoral-vote totals is becoming increasingly pitiful. The president seems to think he's helping himself with this sad rhetoric, but he couldn't be more wrong.

Second, the contradictions are starting to pile up. If we're talking about stories that the media "made up," then there are no leakers to catch. He's really going to have to get this story straight: are the recent reports the result of leaked information or are they fake news? They can't be both, so Trump is going to have to pick one and go with it.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.16.17

02/16/17 12:01PM

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

* In Minnesota this week, a Republican won a state legislative special election by six points, which wouldn't be especially notable except for the fact that Donald Trump carried this same county by 30 points in November.

* Despite some pressure from GOP leaders, Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) has decided not to run for the Senate in his native Wisconsin next year.

* In the closely watched special election in Georgia's 6th congressional district, former state Rep. Sally Harrell (D) has ended her campaign, giving a boost to Jon Ossoff's (D) chances in HHS Secretary Tom Price's former district.

* A story worth watching in the Silver State: "Nevada's chief gaming regulator surreptitiously recorded a conversation with Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who approached him about interceding in a lawsuit on behalf of his biggest donor and Nevada's wealthiest casino magnate, Sheldon Adelson, The Nevada Independent has learned." Note, Laxalt is considered the top Republican candidate in Nevada's gubernatorial race next year.

* The day after Breitbart News went after White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Alex Jones and Roger Stone -- two figures important in Donald Trump's orbit -- piled on and called for his ouster.

* In Florida, there's apparently growing chatter about Sen. Bill Nelson (D) facing a possible primary next year, and among the contenders may be Tim Canova, best known for a failed primary race against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) last year.
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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids

Three years early, Trump to host campaign rally in Florida

02/16/17 11:22AM

Donald Trump loved running for president. The Republican reveled in the parts of the campaign that included applause, fawning audiences, bright lights, and plenty of cameras, each of which made Trump feel very good about himself.

It's probably why, after the election, the president blew off many of his transition duties and hit the road for a series of self-indulgent campaign rallies -- exclusively in red states -- giving Trump an opportunity to celebrate himself before taking office and getting to work.

At least, that was the idea. Now that he's been in the White House for a few weeks, it appears Trump is eager to go back to the parts of the job he actually liked.
In an extraordinarily swift return to politicking after a tumultuous first month in office, the White House on Wednesday said President Trump will hold the first campaign rally of his four-week-old administration on Saturday.

The rally, to be held in an airplane hangar in Melbourne, Fla., is an indication that Mr. Trump, who has sometimes felt isolated in the White House, is eager to get outside of Washington and relive the rapturous reception that greeted him during the presidential campaign.
I heard some jokes yesterday that Trump really just wanted to go back to his Mar-a-Lago resort for the third consecutive weekend, and tacked on a rally nearby to help justify his peripatetic habits, but I think there's more to this.

For one thing, it's a reminder that Trump continues to prefer being a candidate to being a president. Leading the executive branch of a global superpower is incredibly difficult; celebrating one's self before adoring followers is easy. The former is grueling; the latter is fun. Is it any wonder Trump is already eager to bask in the cheers of a crowd again?

The New Republic's Alex Shephard put it this way in December: "Donald Trump, a man who has a very short attention span and requires instant gratification more or less constantly, loves campaigning because he has a very short attention span and requires instant gratification more or less constantly."
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Behind his bluster, Trump seems to fear major news organizations

02/16/17 10:52AM

Over the last week, Donald Trump held three brief press conferences alongside a foreign leader. In all three instances, the Republican and his team chose which American reporters would ask questions, and in each case, Trump called on folks from a specific kind of outlet. As TPM explained:
President Donald Trump called on exclusively conservative news outlets for his third press conference in a row on Wednesday, leading CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta to comment afterward: "The fix is in."

Over three press conferences with world leaders -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Trump called on two outlets in each, respectively: the New York Post and Fox Business; Sinclair Broadcasting-owned WJLA and the Daily Caller; and Christian Broadcasting Network and
Before Trump fans say, "Everybody does it," let's note for the record that everybody doesn't do this. NBC News' Carrie Dann compiled a list of outlets Barack Obama and George W. Bush called on during their first press conferences with foreign leaders, and while the list included Fox News, it also included a variety of major, independent journalistic giants: AP, Reuters, NBC News, CNN, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

You'll notice, the Christian Broadcasting Network, a project of crazed TV preacher Pat Robertson, didn't make the cut.

This comes alongside news that the Trump White House has extended press credentials to truly ridiculous fringe websites known for publishing bizarre hoaxes.

I can appreciate why media coverage of the media can be off-putting for some news consumers, but we're learning something important about Trump World and its approach to the free press.
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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Democrats push creative maneuvers to obtain Trump's tax returns

02/16/17 10:23AM

As the political process strays further from traditional norms, rarely seen legislative maneuvers, usually familiar only to those who follow Congress at a granular level, start to become more familiar.

In recent years, for example, chatter about "discharge petitions" became far more common. More recently, Democrats added "resolutions of inquiry" to the political conversation. This week, USA Today noted an obscure 1924 law related to tax returns that's suddenly significant.
A New Jersey congressman says a rarely invoked 1924 law could be used to examine President Donald Trump's tax returns for possible conflicts of interest and Constitutional violations.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Democrat who serves on the Ways and Means Committee, has asked the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, to order the Treasury Department to provide tax returns to the committee. Brady's office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

After privately examining returns -- Pascrell is seeking 10 years' worth -- the committee could decide to share them with the full House, which would in effect make them public. The 1924 law gives congressional committees that set tax policy the power to examine tax returns.
A day later, the Ways and Means Committee voted on a measure that would require the Treasury Department to provide the panel with the president's returns. Predictably, the vote didn't go the Democrats' way: there are 23 Republicans on the committee, and each of them voted not to take advantage of opportunity available under the law, helping shield Trump from scrutiny.

Making the case against the idea, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) told reporters, "If Congress begins to use its powers to rummage around in the tax returns of the president, what prevents Congress from doing the same to average Americans? Privacy and civil liberties are still important rights in this country, and the Ways and Means Committee is not going to start to weaken them."

And if Congress had oversight authority over average Americans, this might actually make some sense.
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Image: *** BESTPIX *** President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Press Conference In New York

Trump pursues the wrong kind of 'extreme vetting'

02/16/17 09:20AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump routinely boasted about his ability to "hire the best people." The Republican made it sound as if it were some kind of innate superpower.

But when it comes to actually vetting people for high-ranking government posts, "best" isn't exactly the adjective that comes to mind. The New York Times' Frank Bruni put it this way yesterday:
Donald Trump's zeal for extreme vetting has one glaring exception, one gaping blind spot: his own administration.

If you're a bedraggled sixth grader from a beleaguered country where the Quran is a popular text, he will stop you at our border. If you're a retired lieutenant general who hallucinates an Islamic terrorist behind every last garden shrub in America, he will welcome you to the White House.
Quite right. Trump clearly believes in a strenuous and comprehensive vetting process -- for everyone except the top officials who'll work in his administration.

This came to mind yesterday, of course, when Andrew Puzder, the president's choice to lead the Labor Department, was forced to quit in the face of bipartisan opposition. Everything that brought Puzder down could've been uncovered in advance by the White House, but by all accounts, Trump World doesn't particularly care for this kind of scrutiny.

The same is true of Vincent Viola, Trump's choice for Army Secretary, who quietly ended his own nomination late on a Friday night two weeks ago. Viola's troubles could've been uncovered before the president nominated him, but the White House was careless in following through on its due diligence.

This same dynamic applies to Michael Flynn. And Monica Crowley. And Tom Price, Betsy DeVos, and Steve Mnuchin -- each of whom likely would've been rejected under a cloud of controversy were it not for compliant Senate Republicans, eager to carry Trump's water. In every instance, the White House was caught completely off guard by controversial revelations because Trump World simply chooses not to do its homework.
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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.

Some intelligence officials don't trust Trump with sensitive info

02/16/17 08:41AM

The day after his inauguration, less than 24 hours into his presidency, Donald Trump traveled to Langley to deliver an odd, rambling speech to the Central Intelligence Agency. Early on in his remarks, the new president made a point to explain why he was there.

"The reason you're my first stop is that, as you know, I have a running war with the media," Trump said. "They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know, the reason you're the number-one stop is exactly the opposite -- exactly."

In reality, of course, Trump's feud with the intelligence community wasn't a media creation; it was a real problem that the Republican created, seemingly on purpose, over the course of many months. Trump, before and after the election, publicly attacked the intelligence community's integrity, accuracy, and reliability in unprecedented ways.

If this Wall Street Journal report is any indication, it's safe to assume intelligence professionals noticed.
U.S. intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. [...]

In some of these cases of withheld information, officials have decided not to show Mr. Trump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information, the current and former officials said. Those sources and methods could include, for instance, the means that an agency uses to spy on a foreign government.
The article added there have been instances in which intelligence officials have withheld select information when "secrecy is essential for protecting a source," but these latest developments are different. In those previous instances, "the decision wasn't motivated by a concern about a president's trustworthiness or discretion."

Matt Yglesias joked last night that if the intelligence community really wanted to keep information from Trump, officials could just "submit it to him in writing" -- knowing that the president is so averse to reading reports, he'd never actually see the sensitive materials.
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

White House struggles to keep its story straight on Michael Flynn

02/16/17 08:00AM

On Monday afternoon, the White House was dismissive of the controversy surrounding then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, insisting that Donald Trump still has "full confidence" in Flynn. A few hours later, Trump World reversed course, saying the president was actually "evaluating the situation" surrounding the controversial NSA.

On Tuesday afternoon, following Flynn's resignation, the White House line changed again, with Press Secretary Sean Spicer telling reporters that the president forced Flynn out because Trump could no longer trust his National Security Advisor.

Yesterday, Trump publicly addressed the Flynn scandal for the first time this week, and changed the White House's position once more. From a brief press conference:
"Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media -- as I call it, the fake media, in many cases. And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think, in addition to that, from intelligence -- papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It's criminal actions, criminal act, and it's been going on for a long time -- before me. But now it's really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

"I think it's very, very unfair what's happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally -- I stress that -- illegally leaked. Very, very unfair."
So, the president believes the man he fired was "treated so badly"? And that the conspiracy isn't related to Russia, but rather, to Hillary Clinton fans?

It's not a good sign that the White House can't keep its story straight, but it's equally unsettling that Trump believes "what's happened to" Flynn is "very, very unfair" -- despite the fact that Trump was responsible for what's happened to Flynn.
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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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