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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.12.18

06/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is an outcome that will reverberate: "A federal judge on Tuesday approved the blockbuster merger between AT&T and Time Warner, rebuffing the government's effort to block the $85.4 billion deal, in a decision that is expected to unleash a wave of takeovers in corporate America."

* Today's mass shooting: "A man who police say shot an officer before barricading himself in a Florida apartment killed the four children he had been holding hostage before killing himself, police said Monday."

* This took a little too long: "Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump's trade adviser, apologized Tuesday for saying 'there's a special place in hell' for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after Trudeau criticized the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada."

* I wonder what the House will do: "In a major rebuke to President Donald Trump, the Senate has adopted a measure that would block the administration's deal with Chinese telecom giant ZTE, pitting the president against Congress on what many senators say is an issue of national security."

* This is a case worth watching: "A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Justice Department's argument that President Trump's financial interest in his company's hotel in downtown Washington is constitutional, a fresh sign that the judge may soon rule against the president in a historic case that could head to the Supreme Court."

* Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) yesterday called "fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) 'a danger to the country' for relaying to the media that he had drafted documents to propose an Authorized Use of Military Force (AUMF) if President Donald Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un didn't go well."

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Image: US North Korea Summit in Singapore

To sell benefits of North Korea talks, Trump knows the truth isn't enough

06/12/18 04:37PM

The ostensible point of Donald Trump's talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un was to push the United States' broader goal of denuclearization. On this, the summit in Singapore fell far short: the two leaders agreed to "work toward" denuclearization, but their joint statement was vague, included no commitments, and lacked any kind of tangible roadmap for success.

Even skeptics thought Trump and Kim might agree to something resembling tangible results. They didn't.

But in the American president's mind, the agreement includes commitments that apparently only he can see. Consider this exchange between Trump and ABC News' George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: [North Koreans] have to get rid of all their nuclear weapons?

TRUMP: They have to get rid of, yeah, I think that they will. I really believe that he will. I've gotten to know him well in a short period of time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did [Kim] tell you that?

TRUMP: Yeah, he's de-nuking, I mean he's de-nuking the whole place. It's going to start very quickly. I think he's going to start now.

No, he's not. No one could possibly believe that North Korea is "now" in the process of getting rid of its nuclear program. That's not what Kim Jong-un said; that's not what he and Trump agreed to yesterday; and that doesn't even make sense given everything we know about North Korea's position.

So why in the world did the president say it? There are three possible explanations:

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, June 9, 2018.

White House official identifies the Trump Doctrine: 'We're America, Bitch'

06/12/18 12:38PM

I've long been skeptical of the idea that every president is supposed to have a "doctrine." As Paul Waldman put it a few years ago, "Every president should be judged in foreign policy by the decisions he made, not whether you can sum it all up on a catchy bumper sticker."

But much of the political world tends to find this unsatisfying, assuming that every president must have a foreign policy doctrine that summarizes not the only a leader's priorities, but also a prism through we which we should see his or her decisions.

Last year, after Donald Trump launched some missiles at an installation in Syria controlled by Bashar al-Assad, the White House argued that it was part of a new "Trump Doctrine," in which the United States would punish regimes for abuses -- such as using chemical weapons -- without using ground forces.

Except, it quickly became obvious that this did not a doctrine make. Brief airstrikes, amounting to very little, is not the basis for an overarching vision of international affairs.

But the White House hasn't given up on the idea that there really is a Trump Doctrine, even if the president struggles to explain his own foreign policy. The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg spoke to administration officials and heard a few summaries of Trump's foreign policy canon.

One, for example, said the Trump Doctrine is "No Friends, No Enemies," in large part because the president "doesn't believe that the U.S. should be part of any alliance at all." Another pointed to "Permanent destabilization creates American advantage," because Trump apparently believes keeping everyone off-balance necessarily benefits the United States.

But a senior White House official with direct access to the president and his thinking, brought the question into sharper focus, explaining, "The Trump Doctrine is 'We're America, Bitch.' That's the Trump Doctrine."

There's no reason to think the official was kidding.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.12.18

06/12/18 12:00PM

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

* It's Primary Day in five states today: Nevada, Virginia, Maine, South Carolina, and North Dakota. One of the things to watch is Maine's experiment in ranked-choice voting (or as some call it, instant-runoff voting).

* Also keep an eye on Rep. Mark Sanford's Republican primary in South Carolina's 1st congressional district. The incumbent's media blitz suggests he's concerned, and Sanford has plenty of intra-party critics who aren't pleased with his occasional criticisms of Donald Trump.

* The next congressional special election is slated for Aug. 7 in Ohio's 12th congressional district, and Vice President Mike Pence is traveling to the area this week to raise money for state Sen. Troy Balderson's (R) bid. This is a district Donald Trump won by 11 points, and since World War II, the district has been represented by a Democrat for exactly one term, in the early '80s.

* On a related note, a Monmouth University poll released yesterday showed Balderson with a roughly 10-point lead over his Democratic rival, Danny O'Connor, a former prosecutor and local official.

* How worried is Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) about her far-right primary rivals in Arizona's U.S. Senate race? The congresswoman last week deleted an online video in which she defended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Her primary isn't until Aug. 28.

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Image: People stand on rocks on the shore during low tide as the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower Panama is seen next to apartment buildings in Panama City

Trump recommends thinking of North Korea 'from a real-estate perspective'

06/12/18 11:20AM

In his post-summit press conference, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he took notes in order to verify assurances North Korea's Kim Jong-un made behind closed doors. "Well, I don't have to verify because I have one of the great memories of all time," the president replied. "So I don't have to, okay?"

That said, he was willing to discuss some of the topics of conversation with the dictator, including Trump's acknowledgement that he spoke to Kim about beachside real-estate opportunities.

According to the president's version of events, he used an iPad to show Kim a video prepared by the White House about a possible bright future for North Korea, full of economic development. Trump told reporters:

"I told him, 'You may not want this. You may want to do a much smaller version of this. I mean, you're going to do something. But you may want to do a smaller version. You may not want that with the trains and the everything. You know, it's super -- everything the top. And maybe you won't want that.'

"It's going to be up to them. It's going to be up to them. It's going to be up to the people what they want. They may not want that. I can understand that too.

"But that was a version of what could happen, what could take place. As an example, they have great beaches. You see that whenever they're exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, 'Boy, look at the view. Wouldn't that make a great condo behind?' And I explained, I said, 'You know, instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.' Think of it from a real-estate perspective."

The president apparently added that real-estate values between China and South Korea could be especially lucrative.

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Image: SINGAPORE-NKOREA-US-SUMMIT-NUCLEAR-POLITICS-TOURISM

Flattering Trump will apparently get Kim Jong Un everywhere

06/12/18 10:47AM

Donald Trump said over the weekend that he expected to know how his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un would go "within the first minute." That was absurd, of course, but it pointed to one of the president's more glaring flaws: his susceptibility to flattery.

All the brutal dictator would have to do is show up, look Trump in the eye, and tell the president what he wanted to hear, at which point the Republican would be both charmed and impressed.

And by some measures, that's what happened. Trump told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, for example, in reference to Kim, "He said openly, and he said it to a couple of reporters that were with him that he knows, that no other president ever could have done this.... He said no other president could have done this."

Substantively, this is bonkers -- every modern American president could've done this, but none was prepared to give North Korea what it wanted in exchange for nothing -- but Kim apparently understood that flattering Trump creates opportunities with Trump.

Consider this exchange from the president's post-meeting press conference:

Q: What did Kim Jong Un say to you to give you the confidence that, for once in the history of North Korea, they are not cheating the system, and gaming the world, and gaming the people who will have to go in and make sure that they're actually giving up their nuclear arsenal? What did he say to you?

TRUMP: Yeah, I mean, very fair question. He actually mentioned the fact that they proceeded down a path in the past, and, ultimately, as you know, nothing got done. In one case, they took billions of dollars -- during the Clinton regime -- took billions of dollars and nothing happened. That was a terrible thing, and he actually brought it up to me.

And he said we have never gone this far. I don't think they've ever had the confidence, frankly, in a president that they have right now for getting things done and having the ability to get things done.

For now, let's put aside Trump referring to Bill Clinton's democratically elected administration as a "regime" -- a word he did not use in reference to North Korea's dictatorship. Instead, consider the peek into the president's narcissism.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

Trump finds new ways to alienate our South Korean allies

06/12/18 10:03AM

A few weeks ago, when Donald Trump abruptly canceled his summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, the American president apparently forgot to give a heads-up to our South Korean allies. South Korean officials issued a statement saying they were "trying to figure out what President Trump's intention is and the exact meaning of it."

Of course, Trump changed direction soon after, un-canceled the summit, and ended up agreeing to scrap scheduled joint U.S./South Korean military exercises. Guess who the American president forgot to tell.

South Korea's presidential office seemed blindsided by the announcement on the joint exercises.

"We need to try to understand what President Trump said," a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in said.

NBC News added, “There is every indication from Seoul that the South Korean leadership and military did not know the U.S. was about to cancel Joint Military exercises.”

Trump also held a press conference before leaving Singapore, and in response to a question about the cancellation of the military exercise, the American president offered some not-so-subtle criticism of his ostensible allies.

"South Korea contributes [to the cost of the exercises], but not a hundred percent, which is certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about also," Trump told reporters. "And that has to do with the military expense and also the trade."

Taken together, which country's leaders are feeling better about their relationship with the White House this morning, South Korea or North Korea?

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Image: SINGAPORE-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT

Trump gushes about Kim Jong-un's intelligence, 'great personality'

06/12/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump has, in recent months, offered some inexplicable praise for North Korea's Kim Jong-un, calling the dictator "open," "honorable," and "a pretty smart cookie."

But now that the American president has actually spent some time with Kim, Trump is taking the praise to a whole new level. For example, here's what the Republican told VOA contributor Greta Van Susteren:

"Really, he's got a great personality. He's a funny guy, he's very smart, he's a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I'm surprised by that, but he loves his people. [...]

"He has to be a rough guy or he has been a rough person. But we got along very well. He's smart, loves his people, he loves his country."

Reminded that Kim Jong-un has starved and brutalized his own people, Trump replied, "Look, he's doing what he's seen done, if you look at it."

At his press conference, Trump went to say that Kim "is very talented." Asked if he still believes the people of North Korea are "more brutally oppressed" than "any regime on Earth," the Republican added, "I believe it's a rough situation over there. It's rough in a lot of places, by the way, not just there."

Asked by ABC News' George Stephanopoulos whether he trusts Kim, Trump replied, "I do trust him, yeah." (In the same interview, the president added, in reference to Kim, "His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.")

Finally, Trump also boasted overnight about having "developed a very special bond" with the North Korean leader.

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In this handout photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) transits the East Sea on March 8, 2016 during Exercise Ssang Yong 2016. (Photo by MCSN Craig Z. Rodarte/U.S. Navy/Getty)

Trump echoes North Korean rhetoric on military exercises

06/12/18 08:49AM

Perhaps the most notable substantive development from Donald Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-un was the American president's latest concession: Trump announced that he's curtailing scheduled military exercises with our South Korean allies.

Consider, for example, what the Republican told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos. From the network's transcript:

"[W]e're not gonna play the war games. You know, I wanted to stop the war games, I thought they were very provocative. But I also think they're very expensive. We're running the country properly, I think they're very, very expensive. To do it, we have to fly planes in from Guam -- that's six and a half hours away. Big bombers and everything else, I said, 'Who's paying for this?' I mean, who pays, in order to practice.

"So one of the things that I suggested and I wanna do is we're going to stop the war games, unless for some reason, we're unable to go further."

Similarly, at his press conference, Trump three times called the military exercises "very provocative," adding, "I think it's inappropriate to be having war games." The president went on to say "like to be able to bring" U.S. troops home from South Korea.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but if North Korean officials had literally written the talking points for the White House, they probably would've sounded similar to this. Kim Jong-un is the one who condemns joint U.S./South Korea military exercises as "provocative" and "inappropriate."

And now the sitting American president is saying the same thing, effectively endorsing North Korean propaganda -- handing Kim another concession in exchange for very little.

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Image: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with President Donald Trump

At summit with North Korea's Kim, Trump gets his spectacle (but little else)

06/12/18 08:00AM

In the weeks leading up to Donald Trump's talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un, White House officials made clear that the American president "remained squarely focused on the summit's spectacle." To this extent, Trump has every reason to be pleased with the developments in Singapore: the president preoccupied with optics, theatricality, and "central casting" enjoyed the international spotlight alongside his new dictatorial pal.

But looking past the spectacle, what exactly did Trump and Kim accomplish?

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement Tuesday agreeing to pursue the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. [...]

While the agreement fell short of outlining concrete steps that would lead to Kim giving up his nuclear weapons program -- the stated long-term goal of U.S. negotiators -- it gave Trump and Kim a piece of paper to point to as a sign of progress and a symbol of goodwill.

It was possible that the summit would descend into a fiasco and the two men would agree to literally nothing. What they ended up with is certainly better than that.

But to see this as some kind of substantive triumph is to overlook the fact that their joint statement says very little, and Trump will return to D.C. effectively empty-handed.

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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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