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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 1.16.18

01/16/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This guy has been having an odd year: "Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump's former chief strategist, was subpoenaed last week by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to testify before a grand jury as part of the investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump's associates and Russia, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter."

* Kirstjen Nielsen's testimony was, at times, difficult to believe: "The secretary of the Homeland Security Department testified under oath Tuesday that she 'did not hear' President Donald Trump use a certain vulgarity to describe African countries. But she says she doesn't 'dispute the president was using tough language.'"

* Now we know: "President Donald Trump is in good physical and cognitive health following his first medical examination as president, Dr. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, told reporters Tuesday, noting that the president earned perfect marks on a cognitive test that he himself requested."

* DACA: "The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will rush to the U.S. Supreme Court within a few days by skipping over a federal appeals court, hoping for quick action in the legal battle over shutting down the DACA program."

* FBI: "The Justice Department's decision to give congressional Republicans access to documents about FBI investigations risks exposing sensitive sources or material and poses a critical early test for bureau Director Christopher Wray, current and former U.S. law enforcement officials say."

* Keep an eye on the DETER Act: "U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have a message for Moscow: Any interference in future U.S. elections will be met with swift punishment if Congress acts."

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Image: U.S. Attorney General Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

In the Trump administration's terror report, read the fine print

01/16/18 12:52PM

The title of the new Trump administration report isn't subtle. The document, released this morning by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, says its focus is "protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States."

At The Hill, the administration appeared to get the kind of write-up officials were hoping for.

Three out of four individuals convicted on international terrorism charges in the U.S. were foreign born, according to a new report released by the Trump administration amid a contentious debate on national security and immigration.

Between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2016, 549 individuals were convicted on international terrorism charges, of whom 254 were foreign citizens, 148 were naturalized U.S. citizens and 147 were natural born U.S. citizens, according to Department of Justice numbers.

An unnamed senior administration official told reporters the report is intended to "illuminate basic statistics that should be at the hands of the American people to inform public discourse on the issue."

And while that may seem like a worthwhile goal, it's worth considering the fine print in the report when evaluating the "basic statistics."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.16.18

01/16/18 12:00PM

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

* Faced with allegations that he threatened a former mistress with blackmail, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has scrapped a plan to campaign statewide in support of his new tax plan.

* The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Ohio shrunk a little more yesterday when Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley ended her candidacy and endorsed former state Attorney General Richard Cordray, the apparent frontrunner. This comes a week after former Rep. Betty Sutton (D), who was also running, became Cordray's running mate.

* There are state legislative special elections today in Iowa, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.

* Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), rumored to be eyeing a 2020 presidential bid, launched a new podcast yesterday. His first guest: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

* In response to a federal court striking down North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional districts, the state Republican Party complained in a written statement that "a 'gerrymander' is by definition and common understanding, a strange looking 'monster' drawing."

* Last week, an Ohio-based telemarketing company called InfoCision settled a Federal Trade Commission complaint over allegedly "false and misleading" tactics. Among its former clients are Ben Carson's 2016 presidential campaign and a pro-Trump political action committee.

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Foreigners reportedly 'curry favor' with spending at Trump properties

01/16/18 11:24AM

Donald Trump's first legal problem as president began literally on his first day. As regular readers may recall, the "Emoluments Clause" of the Constitution prevents U.S. officials from receiving payments from foreign governments, but Trump, who refused to divest from his private-sector enterprises, never stopped profiting from his businesses, some of which receive payments from foreign governments.

Before the president's inauguration, Trump World vowed that his business would monitor receipts and make sure the president didn't profit from foreign governments, though last summer, NBC News reported that the Trump Organization decided not to keep that promise, determining that it'd be too difficult.

NBC News had a related report this morning:

Four foreign governments, 16 special interest groups and 35 Republican congressional campaign committees spent money at Trump properties in 2017, according to data compiled by the government watchdog group Public Citizen. [...]

[I]n a report called "Presidency for Sale," Public Citizen found that Trump properties in Washington, Florida and elsewhere seem to have benefited from Trump's election as groups with something to gain from U.S. policy have paid to stay or dine there more than 60 times.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, added in reference to the findings, "There is no way to escape the conclusion that these events are being held at the Trump properties as a way to curry favor with the president."

I imagine some of you are wondering right now about whether a federal court would consider all of this kosher. As it happens, we recently received an answer to that question.

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

White House feared Trump would be 'tricked' into backing immigration deal

01/16/18 10:56AM

There was every reason to hope last week that policymakers would work out a deal on immigration and prevent a government shutdown. Donald Trump urged lawmakers to work out a bipartisan agreement, which he vowed to support, explicitly telling them that he didn't care what was in it.

And so, on Thursday, the president talked to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the phone, and the Illinois Democrat explained that a bipartisan deal was in place. Trump asked if Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was on board, and Durbin said he was. The president then invited Durbin and Graham to the White House for a meeting to discuss the deal.

Graham and Durbin thought the discussion would be with Trump. Instead, they arrived to discover that far-right opponents of the bipartisan deal -- including Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) -- would also be part of the meeting.

The Washington Post  reported overnight that the president, after signaling support for the Senate agreement, quickly switched gears, telling the meeting's participants "he wasn't interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together." It was at this same meeting that Trump dismissed immigrants from "shithole countries."

So, what happened? This happened.

[S]ome White House officials, including conservative adviser Stephen Miller, feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him and would hurt him with his political base. As word trickled out Thursday morning on Capitol Hill that Durbin and Graham were heading over to the White House, legislative affairs director Marc Short began to make calls to lawmakers and shared many of Miller's concerns.

Soon, Goodlatte, one of the more conservative House members on immigration, was headed to the White House. Trump also called House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and asked him to come, McCarthy said. Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Cotton were also invited to rush over.

And this, in a nutshell, is why negotiations with the White House are effectively impossible.

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Millions of Americans added to the ranks of the uninsured

01/16/18 10:06AM

One of the core goals of the Affordable Care Act was to bring health care coverage to uninsured Americans, and on this metric, "Obamacare" has been successful: according to Gallup data, the uninsured rate went from 18% before the ACA was fully implemented to below 11%.

That progress has now stopped and the trend is starting to move in the opposite direction. Axios reported this morning on the newest data from Gallup and Sharecare.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance ticked up 1.3 percentage points in 2017, ending the year at 12.2%, according to the latest data from Gallup. That's still a lot lower than it was before the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion took effect, but this is the biggest single-year increase since 2008, well before the ACA.

To be sure, that probably seems like a minor increase. That said, as Gallup's report made clear, "That 1.3 point increase represents an estimated 3.2 million Americans who entered the ranks of the uninsured in 2017."

If you or people close to you are part of that 3.2 million, the uptick in the uninsured rate probably doesn't look that small.

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Undocumented immigrants wait to be loaded onto an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) charter jet early on Oct. 15, 2015 in Mesa, Ariz. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

The deportation of Jorge Garcia

01/16/18 09:20AM

Jorge Garcia of Michigan apparently doesn't have a criminal record. He does, however, have a wife and two children, all of whom are American citizens.

Yesterday, however, he had to say goodbye to them. As USA Today  reported, Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States from Mexico at age 10, was deported after three decades of life in the United States.

His arms wrapped around his wife and two teenage children, Jorge Garcia's eyes welled up Monday as he looked into their eyes one last time near the entrance to the airport security gate.

His wife, Cindy Garcia, cried out while his daughter, Soleil, 15, sobbed into Garcia's shoulder as they hugged, with two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents keeping a close eye on them.

After 30 years of living in the United States, Jorge Garcia, a 39-year-old landscaper from Lincoln Park, Mich., was deported on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to Mexico, a move his supporters say is another example of immigrants being unfairly targeted under the Trump administration.

The article added that the Obama administration had given Garcia several stays of removal, but "because of the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration, in November Jorge Garcia was ordered to return to Mexico."

This is obviously a very sad story and the deportation of a man who doesn't match the president's description of a "bad hombre."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

When alleged hush money trumps personal improprieties

01/16/18 08:51AM

It's been several days since the Wall Street Journal first reported that Donald Trump's lawyer, shortly before the 2016 presidential election, arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star. The story was quickly met with a series of denials.

What it wasn't met with was an around-the-clock, red-siren, screaming-all-caps feeding frenzy. In fact, much of the political world remained focused on other Trump-related controversies, and largely ignored Friday's bombshell in the WSJ.

The New York Times' Michelle Goldberg wrote a great column on this, noting the demise of '90s-era standards about presidents and sex scandals, and the role of conservatives, eager to protect their political ally in the Oval Office, in killing off "the last remaining unspoken rules about presidential sexual ethics."

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that, a month before the 2016 election, Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a $130,000 payout to the porn star Stephanie Clifford, known by the stage name Stormy Daniels, to stop her from discussing a 2006 dalliance with Trump. The New York Times added new details. The Daily Beast then reported that another porn actress, Jessica Drake, who had accused Trump of offering her $10,000 for sex, signed a nondisclosure agreement barring her from talking about the president.

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of "Good Will Humping" during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

As Goldberg explained, the left doesn't much care about Trump's personal sexual escapades, so long as his relationships were consensual. The right, suddenly discovering the value of moral relativism, appears to care even less because of conservatives' marriage of convenience with Trump.

Indeed, the right made this bargain before the president was even elected. Conservatives knew precisely what they were getting by forging a partnership with a secular, thrice-married, casino-owning adulterer. They didn't hesitate before the election and they see no value in looking back now.

And perhaps that's a good thing. Maybe the political world has forged a new consensus about presidents and their private lives. Perhaps the American mainstream can separate with clear eyes the difference between a bad spouse and a politician, which is as it should be.

But can we still talk about that $130,000?

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

House GOP leader impresses Trump with candy, pictures

01/16/18 08:00AM

At a White House meeting on immigration last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Donald Trump if he'd support a "clean" bill on DACA now, extending protections to Dreamers, with a commitment to then begin negotiations on comprehensive immigration reform. The president agreed. It was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who quickly interjected, reminding the president of what the Republican position is supposed to be.

Did Trump mind or see McCarthy's comments as somehow insolent? No, because the president and the House majority leader apparently have a budding friendship.

The Washington Post had an interesting piece yesterday on the relationship, including an anecdote about the California congressman discovering that Trump likes Starbursts candies, paying careful attention to pluck out the cherry and strawberry flavors.

"We're there, having a little dessert, and he offers me some," McCarthy recalled in an interview. "Just the red and the pink. A bit later, a couple of his aides saw me with those colors and told me, 'Those are the president's favorites.' "

Days later, the No. 2 Republican in the House -- known for his relentless cultivation of political alliances -- bought a plentiful supply of Starbursts and asked a staffer to sort through the pile, placing only those two flavors in a jar. McCarthy made sure his name was on the side of the gift, which was delivered to a grinning Trump, according to a White House official.

The same article added that the House majority leader delivered a presentation to Trump on the party's expectations ahead of the midterm elections, which the president appreciated because of McCarthy's "use of pictures and charts rather than a memo."

Or put another way, one of Congress' top ranking officials has discovered how best to "manage" his party's president: give him candy and show him pretty pictures.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 1.15.18

01/15/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "A pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up in central Baghdad early Monday, killing 27 people and injuring scores more in the first major attack in the capital since Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State in December."

* Quite a story over the weekend: "Hawaii residents were thrown into a panic Saturday morning after an emergency alert was mistakenly sent, warning them to 'seek immediate shelter' from a ballistic missile threat, and it took emergency officials 38 minutes to send a new alert to mobile phones that the threat was a false alarm."

* How Trump spent the King holiday: "President Trump's first stop Monday was Trump International Golf Club, apparently beginning the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with golf rather than the charitable service the slain civil rights leader's family has urged as the best way to memorialize him."

* How's that swamp-draining exercise going? "A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday by the Education Department to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars."

* I'll be eager to hear Jared Kushner's solution: "President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said on Sunday that Israel had killed the Oslo Accords and angrily assailed the Trump administration over its handling of the conflict. He vowed to reject American leadership of any peace talks and urged Palestinians to reconsider their signed agreements with Israel."

* The White House's pal in the Philippines: "A popular news website that has been critical of the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was shut down by the country's securities regulator, a move the company called harassment."

* Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) "told a South Carolina newspaper on Monday that his 'memory hasn't evolved' about the White House meeting in which President Donald Trump reportedly referred to African nations as 'shithole countries.'"

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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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