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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.12.18

01/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iran nuclear deal: "President Donald Trump on Friday will extend waivers on Iran nuclear sanctions, keeping alive the landmark 2015 deal for at least another several months despite his past vows to scuttle the deal."

* No "Profile in Courage" Award for you, senator: "Sen. Lindsey Graham did not deny Friday that President Donald Trump called certain nations 's---hole' countries, adding that he 'said [his] piece' in response to the president's 'comments' at a meeting with lawmakers."

* A notable resignation: "U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot, has resigned, telling the State Department he no longer feels able to serve President Donald Trump."

* Scandal in Missouri, Day Two: "St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner will launch a criminal investigation into accusations engulfing Gov. Eric Greitens, she announced Thursday afternoon."

* A story worth watching: "The Russian hackers who stole emails from the Democratic National Committee as part of a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election have been trying to steal information from the U.S. Senate, according to a report published Friday by a computer security firm."

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Image: Michael Cohen, attorney for The Trump Organization, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City

Payment from Trump lawyer to adult-film star raises questions

01/12/18 04:54PM

It's been a surprisingly busy week for controversies related to Donald Trump. Some of the stories have been substantive, such as his confusion about immigration and surveillance proposals. Some have been entertaining, such as the president claiming Norway bought F-52 jets that don't exist.

Some have been odd, such as Trump's claim that he received complimentary letters from television anchors (the correspondence, like the F-52s, apparently didn't exist). Some have been racial, such as denigration of "shithole countries." And some have been connected to established scandals, such as Trump hedging on his previous willingness to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and his willingness to accuse FBI officials of "treason."

But we haven't seen much of anything this week about Trump's personal life. It's against this backdrop that the Wall Street Journal  reports this afternoon on a curious alleged payment during the 2016 campaign season.

A lawyer for President Donald Trump arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Cohen, who spent nearly a decade as a top attorney at the Trump Organization, arranged payment to the woman, Stephanie Clifford, in October 2016 after her lawyer negotiated the nondisclosure agreement with Mr. Cohen, these people said.

Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, has privately alleged the encounter with Mr. Trump took place after they met at a July 2006 celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, these people said. Mr. Trump married Melania Trump in 2005.

The reporting has been met with several specific kinds of denials.

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A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

Trump boasts about Norway buying fighter jets that don't exist

01/12/18 02:33PM

Standing alongside Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at a White House press conference this week, Donald Trump boasted, "In November, we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets."

That wouldn't be especially notable, were it not for the fact that there's no such thing as an F-52. The Washington Post  reported yesterday that the plane does exist in a popular video game.

President Trump's announcement of U.S.-made F-52s fighter aircraft delivered to Norway may have rattled its neighbor Russia, the source of rising tension among NATO allies.

Was it a secret advanced jet capable of beating its Russian counterparts? A ruse to fool intelligence analysts?

Neither, it turns out. The "F-52" is a fictional jet only available to fly if you're a gamer at the controls of "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."

In fairness, at the same press conference, Trump went on to talk about 52 of the F-35 fighter jets -- it's likely he confused the numbers while reading from his prepared text -- but in this case, that was wrong, too: Norwegian officials have so far authorized funding for 40 of the planes, not 52. The president made no effort to correct the record.

Indeed, the Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman joked, "You laugh but I promise you [Lockheed Martin, the defense company that makes the F-35] is scrambling to design an F-52 knowing that the administration would buy it just to avoid admitting a Trump error."

All of which brings us back to a familiar thesis: the president keeps saying odd things about airplanes.

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Image: US-NORWAY-POLITICS-TRUMP

What Donald Trump considers 'a treasonous act'

01/12/18 01:59PM

The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether he wants congressional Republicans to shut down investigations into the Russia scandal. The president said no, before insisting that Democrats colluded with Russians during the campaign, which Trump says with increasing frequency, despite the fact that the claim is plainly ridiculous.

But unprompted, he quickly transitioned to throwing around accusations of treason.

TRUMP: What went on with the FBI, where a man is tweeting to his lover that if she loses, we'll essentially go back to the -- we'll go to the "insurance policy," which is -- if they lose, we'll go to phase 2, and we'll get this guy out of office. I mean, this is the FBI we're talking about. I think that is -- that is treason. See, that's treason right there.

WSJ: Does any of that make you less...

TRUMP: By the way, that's a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.

As a rule, sitting presidents should be cautious about casually throwing around accusations of treason, and in this case, Trump's recklessness is especially tough to defend.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump opens the door to needlessly cruel Medicaid changes

01/12/18 12:44PM

It's easy to forget, but as a presidential candidate, Donald Trump broke with Republican orthodoxy and promised to champion the social-insurance programs the American mainstream has come to rely on. Indeed, in his campaign kick-off speech, Trump said he'd make no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security -- a vow he repeated on Twitter over and over and over again.

As president, the Republican abandoned the commitment rather quickly, endorsing regressive GOP plans that included brutal cuts to Medicaid. As 2018 gets under way, Trump is taking yet another regressive step on the same issue.

On Thursday, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) released a letter inviting states to impose work and community service requirements on their Medicaid populations and describing what types of restrictions would be acceptable. States would first have to seek a Section 1115 waiver, a provision that allows the administration to approve experimental plans. The Obama administration rejected prior waiver requests from states to add work requirements. [...]

Opponents of the decision have argued that work requirements go beyond Medicaid's stated goal to provide aid to low-income households and that only Congress can expand its objectives to also include pushing people toward employment. This is likely to be a primary contention in lawsuits challenging the administration.

There's reason to believe opponents of the Trump administration's policy will have some success in challenging yesterday's announcement, but even putting legal questions aside, it's important to recognize just how misguided the White House's new policy really is.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.12.18

01/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In the new national Quinnipiac poll, Democrats have opened up a 17-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, which is up a couple of points since last month's poll. If the party can maintain that kind of advantage, Dems are likely to take back the House in the 2018 midterms.

* Republicans really wanted Rep. Kevin Cramer (R) to take on Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) in North Dakota next year, but he's decided against it. The GOP congressman will instead run for re-election to the House.

* As expected, Rep. Martha McSally (R) launched her Senate campaign in Arizona this morning. Hillary Clinton won McSally's U.S. House seat in 2016, making this another key pick-up opportunity for Dems.

* Republican efforts to recruit Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance to run for the U.S. Senate in Ohio next year have run into a small problem: J.D. Vance doesn't live in Ohio.

* Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) was featuring Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) in a re-election campaign ad. In light of Greitens' sex scandal, Rauner's team pulled the spot from the air yesterday.

* With Republicans increasingly worried about the March congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, Donald Trump is personally headed to the district next week to campaign in support of Republican candidate Rick Saccone. Politico's report added that Mike Pence may end up visiting the district twice before Election Day.

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Image: Kim Jong Un attends launching of ballistic missile Hwasong-12

Trump boasts about his 'very good relationship' with Kim Jong-un

01/12/18 11:20AM

The Wall Street Journal asked Donald Trump yesterday whether North Korea is "trying to drive a wedge" between the United States and South Korea, which certainly appears to be the case.

"If I were them I would try," the president replied. "But the difference is I'm president; other people aren't. And I know more about wedges than any human being that's ever lived."

And while that seemed like an odd thing for a person to brag about, the rest of Trump's answer was even more peculiar.

"With that being said, President Xi has been extremely generous with what he's said, I like him a lot. I have a great relationship with him, as you know I have a great relationship with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un of North Korea.

"I have relationships with people, I think you people are surprised."

Hmm. Trump has invested quite a bit of energy in publicly mocking the North Korean dictator and coming up with increasingly insulting nicknames. Trump has ridiculed Kim Jong-un's height and weight, threatened to rain "fire and fury" onto his country, and repeatedly ridiculed the despot as "Rocket Man."

For his part, Kim Jong-un has responded by describing the American president as a "mentally deranged dotard."

And yet, there was Trump yesterday, saying he "probably" has a "very good relationship" with the North Korean leader -- which understandably puzzled nearly everyone.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Polling points to the persistence of Trump's 'reverse Midas touch'

01/12/18 10:40AM

A few months ago, Vox's Matt Matthew Yglesias described Donald Trump's effects on public opinion as a "reverse Midas touch." The idea couldn't be more straightforward: when the president criticizes something, it tends to become more popular.

To be sure, there was no shortage of evidence to bolster the thesis. Support for the Affordable Care Act, government solutions to the climate crisis, athletes protesting racism, and even public confidence in American media all improved in the fall, despite -- or perhaps because of -- Trump's criticisms.

Three months later, the "reverse Midas touch" persists. A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday found the Trump administration and the American public moving in very different directions.

Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, so-called "Dreamers," should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship, 79 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Another 7 percent say Dreamers should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 11 percent say Dreamers should be required to leave the U.S. [...]

American voters oppose 63 - 34 percent building a wall along the border with Mexico. Republicans support The Wall 78 - 19 percent and white voters with no college degree are divided with 47 percent supporting The Wall and 49 percent opposed. Every other party, gender, education, age and racial group opposes The Wall.

Looking at marijuana, voters say 58 - 36 percent, including 79 - 17 percent among voters 18 to 34 years old, that marijuana use should be made legal. Voters also support 91 - 6 percent the legalization of medical marijuana.... Voters oppose 70 - 23 percent enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized medical or recreational marijuana.

Trump puts Dreamers' futures in jeopardy, and Americans want to see them protected. Trump pursues a giant border wall, and Americans have no use for the idea. Trump's attorney general eyes turning back the clock on marijuana, and Americans tell him not to.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Paul Ryan reportedly had to tutor Trump on surveillance law

01/12/18 10:04AM

Even those who expect little from Donald Trump found yesterday morning's developments jarring. As the Republican-led House was preparing to vote on a controversial surveillance measure, the president decided to weigh in on the debate by criticizing a policy his administration supports and has spent months fighting for.

As we discussed yesterday, the drama unfolded when Trump watched a Fox News segment he apparently misunderstood, which led the president to contradict his own White House's agenda, all in service of an anti-Obama conspiracy theory that's never made any sense.

The Washington Post had an interesting behind-the-scenes report on what happened after Trump's errant tweet.

The presidential decree -- a mere 40 words -- set off a mad scramble across Washington.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) spent 30 minutes on the phone with the president explaining the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance, as many fellow Republicans reacted in disbelief and befuddlement. White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly also directly intervened with Trump, reiterating the program's importance before traveling to the Capitol, where he parried questions from confused lawmakers.

Evidently, the scramble had the intended effect: Trump published a new tweet endorsing his own position and 702 policy passed the House a few hours later.

But it's nevertheless amazing that the Speaker of the House had to spend a half-hour with the president, tutoring him on surveillance law. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Trump was a candidate for the nation's highest office for a year and a half. He's been in the Oval Office, receiving daily intelligence briefings, for nearly 12 months.

How is it that the president still needs a member of Congress to explain to him the differences between domestic and foreign surveillance?

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Image: President Trump meets GOP senators at the White House

Trump's confusion and contradictions undermine progress on immigration

01/12/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump sat down with the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and when the conversation turned to immigration, the president apparently wanted to clarify a point that no one has been confused about.

TRUMP: [F[irst of all, there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers, OK? Dreamers are different. And I want American kids to be Dreamers also, by the way. I want American kids to be Dreamers also. But there's a big difference between DACA and Dreamers. And a lot of times when I was with certain Democrats they kept using the word dreamer. I said, "Please, use the word DACA." You know it's a totally different word.

WSJ: Sure.

TRUMP: OK, people think they're interchangeable, but they're not.

When I'd first heard about this, I thought Trump might have been trying to make a point about branding. More than once over the last year, the president has shaped his policy preferences based on whether he likes the way certain words or phrases sound, and so I assumed Trump didn't like the word "Dreamers" because it helps frame the young immigrants in a positive light.

But the transcript suggests something more basic is going on: Trump just doesn't know what he's saying. "DACA" is an acronym for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era policy created to benefit Dreamers. Trump sees a "big difference" between DACA and Dreamers, but no such difference exists. The president, despite making immigration one of his signature issues for the last two-and-a-half years, appears to be clueless.

But the point here is not just to point and laugh at the amateur president's ignorance. There are real consequences to Trump's confusion and contradictions.

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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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