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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.6.17

10/06/17 12:00PM

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

* In a sign of the times, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), poised to kick off a U.S. Senate campaign, "quietly reached out" to Steve Bannon last week, apparently hoping to curry favor with the influential far-right figure.

* The 2018 midterms are still a year away, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched its first media campaign of the cycle, making a six-figure ad buy in support of this spot. Note that the focus is on Paul Ryan and health care, not Donald Trump.

* On a related note, the DCCC is launching this minute-long radio ad in 11 congressional districts, also focusing on health care.

* In Maryland, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Gov. Larry Hogan with a strong 61% approval rating, but in hypothetical match-ups against likely Democratic challengers, the same poll shows the incumbent with relatively modest leads, including a seven-point advantage over Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (D).

* Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) announced yesterday she'd like to see House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) step down and make way for "a new generation of leaders."

* Remember Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green, Donald Trump's failed far-right Army Secretary? Green is now running for Congress, and he picked up an endorsement yesterday from the Club for Growth.

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Marsha Blackburn

Disappointing GOP leaders, Blackburn launches Senate campaign

10/06/17 11:20AM

Last Wednesday morning, Senate Republican leaders received two pieces of bad news. The first came by way of Alabama, where the GOP's preferred candidate, Luther Strange, lost a Senate primary to Roy Moore, a fringe radical who believes he isn't bound by the American legal system.

The second was a retirement announcement from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Not only are Senate Republican leaders sorry to see him leave -- Corker is a popular figure on Capitol Hill -- but GOP officials realized his departure would open the door to him being replaced by someone from the party's crackpot wing.

Almost immediately, several Republican senators reached out directly to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who's wrapping up his second and final term, urging him to run. Yesterday, he officially declined.

Soon after, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), while attacking her party's Senate leadership, announced she's running for the open Senate seat. The Tennessean reported:

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is entering the 2018 U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker, ending a week's worth of speculation and immediately catapulting her to front-runner status as others consider launching their own bids. [...]

"I know the left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what, I say that's alright, bring it on," Blackburn says in the nearly three-minute video.

And why would anyone call the congresswoman "a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative"? Because Blackburn has gone out of her way to position herself as something of a far-right extremist.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on Dec. 5, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Even red states feel the brunt of Trump's ACA sabotage campaign

10/06/17 10:43AM

Donald Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 points in the presidential election. The state has a Republican governor, two Republican U.S. senators, a Republican-led state House, and a Republican-led state Senate. It's therefore tempting to believe whatever Iowa wants from the White House, this president is likely to say yes.

But there's fresh evidence that Trump hates the Affordable Care Act more than he loves the Hawkeye State. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:

For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application.

Trump’s message was clear, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations: Tell Iowa no.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act see the president’s opposition even to changes sought by conservative states as part of a broader campaign by his administration to undermine the 2010 health-care law. In addition to trying to cut funding for the ACA, the Trump administration also is hampering state efforts to control premiums. In the case of Iowa, that involved a highly unusual intervention by the president himself.

Some background is probably in order. Over the course of several months, GOP officials in Iowa crafted an ambitious series of reforms to help stabilize its state insurance market, taking advantage of a provision in the ACA -- known among health care wonks as Section 1332 waivers -- that allows states to come up with state-specific modifications to the law.

The catch is, federal officials have to sign off on the changes. Iowa Republicans probably thought their ally in the White House would side with them, but they thought wrong.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

Trump declared an opioid emergency, but then did nothing

10/06/17 10:00AM

Speaking from one of his golf resorts in early August, Donald Trump used the words many in the public-health community wanted to hear.

"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency," the president said from Bedminster. "It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis."

As we discussed over the summer, Trump's use of the word "officially" stood out because of its procedural significance: when a president makes an official emergency declaration, a series of steps are supposed to kick into action. NBC News reported at the time, "Experts said that the national emergency declaration would allow the executive branch to direct funds towards expanding treatment facilities and supplying police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone."

Four weeks later, the New York Times reported that the White House hadn't actually followed up on this in any way.

When President Trump announced in early August, following a presidential commission's recommendations, that the opioid crisis was a "national emergency," he called it "a serious problem the likes of which we have never had."

A month has now passed, and that urgent talk has yet to translate into urgent action. While the president's aides say they are pursuing an expedited process, it remains to be seen how and by what mechanism Mr. Trump plans to direct government resources.

That was in September. As of yesterday, eight weeks have passed since Trump "officially" declared this an emergency, and he and his team still haven't followed through.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Team Trump makes a habit of hiding inconvenient truths

10/06/17 09:26AM

Americans who visited FEMA's website yesterday, looking for information about the federal response to Hurricane Maria, could learn some important details. They'd see, for example, how many federal workers are in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They'd also learn about the number of ports, post offices, and grocery stores that have re-opened, along with how many roads have been cleared.

As the Washington Post reported, however, what visitors to FEMA's site wouldn't find is the news the Trump administration considers unpleasant.

As of Wednesday, half of Puerto Ricans had access to drinking water and 5 percent of the island had electricity, according to statistics published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on its Web page documenting the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

By Thursday morning, both of those key metrics were no longer on the Web page.

In other words, there are statistics available to the public, just not the ones Team Trump dislikes. The data that points to progress in Puerto Rico has been deemed worthy of promotion, while the data on access to water and electricity has suddenly disappeared.

When the Post asked FEMA about the removal of the data, an agency spokesperson pointed to other ways to find that information. As for why these statistics were removed from FEMA page, the spokesperson "didn't elaborate."

This would be less outrageous if it weren't an increasingly common way this administration does business. [Update: see below.]

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U.S. lost jobs last month for the first time in 7 years

10/06/17 08:50AM

Every sitting president gets a sneak peek at U.S. job numbers the day before the official report is released. It's just a perk of the job. So when Donald Trump started tweeting yesterday about how impressed he was with the stock market, he seemed to be sending a subtle signal: the job numbers probably weren't great.

As it turns out, they were worse than anyone expected. While projections showed the U.S. economy adding about 80,000 jobs in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy actually lost 33,000 jobs in September.

It's important to emphasize that these totals were heavily affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which depressed hiring. That said, the new job numbers still fell short of low expectations. What's more, the combined job totals from July and August were revised down, and that can't be attributed to hurricanes.

This is the first time the U.S. economy has lost jobs since September 2010 -- seven years ago. It interrupts the longest streak on record of consecutive months in which the economy added jobs.

Providing some additional context, the U.S. added 2.14 million over the first nine months of 2014, 1.89 million over the first nine months of 2015, 1.79 million over the first nine months of 2016, and 1.33 million over the first nine months of 2017.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: US Treasury Secretary nominee Mnuchin and  Linton arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol

Trump administration travel abuses start to look even worse

10/06/17 08:00AM

There was a point shortly after Donald Trump's election victory in which Republicans came up with an amazing new argument in support of the new president: his wealth, and that of his cabinet picks, was effectively an immunization against corruption.

As regular readers may recall, CNBC's Larry Kudlow, an adviser to Donald Trump's team for months, wrote a piece celebrating the Republican's presidential transition, and touting the wealthy people who would serve in top administration posts. "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" Kudlow wrote. "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."

After the inauguration, then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made the same argument to defend his indifference to White House controversies. Asked about the president cashing in on his office, the Utah Republican replied, "He's already rich. He's very rich. I don't think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more."

The arguments were laughable at the time, but they seem quite a bit worse now.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has flown on military aircraft seven times since March at a cost of more than $800,000, including a $15,000 round-trip flight to New York to meet with President Trump at Trump Tower, according to the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General.

The inquiry into Mr. Mnuchin's air travel, prompted by an Instagram posting by his wife, found he broke no laws in his use of military aircraft but lamented the loose justification provided for such costly flights.

The New York Times' report noted one flight Mnuchin took to Miami in June to meet with a Mexican official, at a cost of $43,725.50. The Treasury Department apparently sent a note to the cabinet secretary's assistant, explaining that there was "a round-trip commercial flight would cost just $688."

I think it was the agency's way of saying, "Hint, hint."

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.5.17

10/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Pay careful attention to the details on this one: "In its first public statement since the deadliest shooting in modern American history, the National Rifle Association on Thursday called for new regulations on bump stocks that rapidly accelerate a weapon's rate of fire."

* Niger: "Three United States Army Special Forces were killed and two were wounded on Wednesday in an ambush in Niger while on a training mission with troops from that nation in northwestern Africa, American military officials said."

* An important ruling: "Rebuffing the Trump administration, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to reinstate an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands."

* Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed "a federal government policy that said transgender workers were protected from discrimination under a 1964 civil rights law, according to a memo on Wednesday sent to agency heads and US attorneys."

* The final vote was 65 to 32: "The Senate on Thursday confirmed Randal K. Quarles as the Federal Reserve's vice chairman for supervision, an important victory for the Trump administration in its campaign to ease some financial regulations imposed after the 2008 financial crisis."

* Trump-Russia: "The special counsel investigating whether Russia tried to sway the 2016 U.S. election has taken over FBI inquiries into a former British spy's dossier of allegations of Russian financial and personal links to President Donald Trump's campaign and associates, sources familiar with the inquiry told Reuters."

* This is a good round-up of the top 10 "career recipients of N.R.A. funding – through donations or spending to benefit the candidate – among both current House and Senate members."

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In this April 13, 2014 file photo, the Internal Revenue Service Headquarters (IRS) building is seen in Washington, D.C. (Photo by J. David Ake/AP)

The demise of the IRS 'scandal' and the need for accountability

10/05/17 04:51PM

There was a brief point a few years ago in which the IRS "scandal" looked like a legitimate, proper controversy, worthy of real scrutiny. As regular readers may recall, when the story first broke, there was reason to believe politically motivated officials at the Internal Revenue Service "targeted" conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, and the uneven treatment represented an outrageous abuse of power. President Obama even denounced what he saw as possible wrongdoing.

After a few days, though, the story unraveled. Despite the apoplexy from Republicans and much of the Beltway media, we soon discovered that the tax agency scrutinized groups from the left, right, and center with equal vigor, effectively ending the story.

Much of the right, however, wouldn't give up, convinced that they'd finally found a credible Obama-era scandal. They were spectacularly wrong: the Justice Department and the FBI launched an exhaustive search and found nothing. The Washington Post reports today that the Treasury Department came up empty, too.

A federal watchdog has identified scores of cases in which the Internal Revenue Service may have targeted liberal-leaning groups for extra scrutiny based on their names or political leanings, a finding that could undermine claims that conservatives were unfairly targeted under President Barack Obama.

The Washington Post's phrasing is quite generous: the revelations "could undermine claims that conservatives were unfairly targeted under President Barack Obama"? If "could undermine" is synonymous with "completely discredits," then sure.

For those of us who've followed the story closely, this new reporting isn't exactly a breakthrough moment. The "scandal" evaporated years ago, and despite assorted partisans desperately trying to keep it alive, every serious examination has come to the same conclusion: the controversy never existed. After several years of scrutiny and multiple investigations, there's just nothing here.

The only thing missing is some accountability.

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Sen. Bob Corker

GOP senator: Trump's cabinet separates 'our country from chaos'

10/05/17 12:41PM

During his exceedingly brief tenure as the White House's communications director, Anthony Scaramucci expressed disappointment in some of the people in Donald Trump's orbit. "There are people inside the administration who think it is their job to save America from this president," he noted.

Yesterday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) made the case that there are people inside the administration whose job really is saving America from this president. The Republican senator, who recently announced his retirement, was quite candid with reporters yesterday when asked about reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a "moron" and had to be talked out of quitting.

"I think Secretary Tillerson, [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis], and [White House Chief of Staff John Kelly] are those people that help separate our country from chaos, and I support them very much.... I think [Tillerson's] in a very trying situation, trying to solve many of the world's problems, a lot of times without the kind of support and help that I'd like to see him have."

Asked specifically if he meant officials like Tillerson, Mattis, and Kelly are preventing Trump-imposed "chaos," Corker didn't answer directly. "They work very well together to make sure that the policies we put forth around the world are sound and coherent," the Republican senator replied. "There are other people within the administration, in my belief, that don't."

Subtle, this wasn't. As a Washington Post report noted, "Suggesting that there would be 'chaos' if not for the generals and Tillerson is to suggest that not only is Trump not a steady leader, but that things are basically ready to unravel behind the scenes."

I think that's right, but it's also a little terrifying.

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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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