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Monday's Mini-Report, 8.7.17

08/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Fortunately, no one was hurt: "The governor of Minnesota denounced an attack on a mosque the previous day as a 'terrible, dastardly, cowardly' act of terrorism. 'It's an act of terrorism, a criminal act of terrorism,' the governor, Mark Dayton, said on Sunday during a visit to the mosque, Dar Al Farooq, in Bloomington. 'I hope and pray that the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.'"

* Netanyahu: "Israel's Supreme Court ruled Monday that Benjamin Netanyahu must reveal phone call logs with U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and a former editor of his free newspaper in Israel, as police press ahead with investigations into corruption cases involving the prime minister."

* United Nations: "After a month of deliberations and negotiations, the Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion off North Korea's annual foreign revenue."

* The vote wasn't close: "In a test of labor's ability to expand its reach in the South, workers at a Nissan plant in Mississippi have overwhelmingly rejected a bid to unionize."

* Mueller's probe: "Investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and have questioned witnesses about whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the presidential campaign, according to people close to the investigation."

* On a related note: "Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) on Sunday said he does not expect legislation to shield special counsels from political influence to progress much."

* Trump's pipeline backlog: "Billions of dollars' worth of shovel-ready infrastructure projects have been held up by a bureaucratic morass that President Donald Trump helped to create."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

The Republican Party's birther problem isn't limited to the past

08/07/17 04:13PM

In Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) new book, he reflects on many in his party losing sight of their core principles, largely out of cowardice. "We forgot to affirm in a voice loud and clear that yes, we are proud Republicans, but that we believe in country before party," Flake argues. "We forgot to do that. We were afraid to do that."

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC News' Chuck Todd asked the Arizona Republican yesterday if his party and the conservative movement are still afraid. Flake responded:

"Well, I do think that we've seen more people ready to stand up. And I wish that we, as a party, would have stood up, for example, when the birtherism thing was going along.

"A lot of people did stand up, but not enough.... That was particularly ugly."

Asked if he believes he did enough, Flake added, "On that, I think I did."

There are a few ways to look at this. At face value, Flake's correct: much of his party's base embraced a racist conspiracy theory, and many Republican leaders kept their mouths shut, afraid to anger right-wing activists and conservative media. This allowed a toxicity to spread throughout GOP politics, and now Donald Trump, whose sole contribution to American politics was championing that racist conspiracy theory, is the president of the United States.

As for whether Flake did his part to stand up to the garbage, it's probably fair to say his record is mixed.

But just as important is the fact that it's probably a mistake to perceive this as an ugly stain on Republican politics from the Obama era -- because the truth is the problem hasn't disappeared; it's evolved.

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Image: Trump departs after his remarks to the American Legion Boys Nation and Auxiliary Girls Nation in the Rose Garden at the White House

Trump's instinct for bullying behavior does not serve him well

08/07/17 12:58PM

About three months ago, after Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey to derail an ongoing federal investigation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) was one of the Democrats raising concerns about the president's apparent obstruction of justice. That hardly came as a surprise: Blumenthal is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor.

The president, however, apparently saw the Connecticut senator on TV, and soon after launched a Twitter tantrum. "Richie," Trump said, "devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history." The president went on and on, lambasting Blumenthal, saying the senator "cried like a baby."

This morning, Trump saw Blumenthal on television again, and threw the exact same tantrum.

"Interesting to watch Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut talking about hoax Russian collusion when he was a phony Vietnam con artist! Never in U.S. history has anyone lied or defrauded voters like Senator Richard Blumenthal. He told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests, how brave he was, and it was all a lie. He cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness like a child. Now he judges collusion?"

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Trump is wrong. Blumenthal spent years in the Marine Corps Reserves, but was not deployed overseas during the war in Vietnam, and he never saw combat. But Blumenthal also never "told stories about his Vietnam battles and conquests" -- Trump is just making this up -- and the controversy stems from a 2010 story in which the senator apparently slipped at an event, saying he served "in" Vietnam, rather than "during" Vietnam. He apologized for the mistake.

What's more, this probably isn't a subject Trump should dwell on: while Blumenthal was in the Marine Reserves, Trump was taking advantage of multiple deferments, thanks in part to a dubious foot injury. The Republican later said avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating was his "personal Vietnam."

But what struck me about this morning's presidential missives is Trump's reliance on classic bullying behavior.

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The NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in Louisville, Ky. on May 20, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)

The NRA's core message takes a turn towards culture-war zealotry

08/07/17 12:00PM

The National Rifle Association released an odd video in June, complaining bitterly about American news organizations, public schools, popular culture, Barack Obama, and progressive activism. The diatribe made no mention of guns or the rights of firearm owners, which was probably not an accident: the NRA's central focus has apparently begun to shift away from its core mission.

This seemed equally obvious on Friday, when the far-right group released a follow-up online video, which also starred spokesperson Dana Loesch, and which also put a spotlight on the NRA's broad, new objectives.

"We the people have had it. We've had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We've had it with your constant protection of your Democrat [sic] overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we've had it with your pretentious, tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth or fact-based journalism.

"Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. We are going to fisk he New York Times and find out just what 'deep, rich' means to this old, gray hag, this untrustworthy, dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one, two, three, more decades. We're going to laser-focus on your so-called 'honest pursuit of truth.' In short, we're coming for you."

After the video was released, Loesch said phrasing such as "we're coming for you" shouldn't be seen as a threat of physical violence. Others appear to have had alternate interpretations.

Note, however, that the NRA once again made no mention of guns, ammunition, personal safety, or the Second Amendment, even in passing. Watching the video in isolation, free of context, and one might assume it was created by some far-right media watchdog, not the nation's premier organization committed to firearm ownership.

And that's because in 2017, the lines for the NRA have become blurred.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump's attention span creates challenges for Afghanistan policy

08/07/17 11:20AM

There's no reason to believe the war in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year, is moving in the right direction. NBC News had a good report last week on Donald Trump's growing frustration over the state of the conflict, his team's inability to produce a strategy he approves of, and his willingness to replace Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser and a three-star general, appears to be doing his best to answer Trump's questions and guide his hand through the process. The Washington Post reports, however, that one of McMaster's challenges is keeping Trump's attention and focus.

Among his biggest challenges was holding the attention of the president. In classified briefings, Trump would frequently flit between subjects.... Trump had little time for in-depth briefings on Afghanistan's history, its complicated politics or its seemingly endless civil war. Even a single page of bullet points on the country seemed to tax the president's attention span on the subject, said senior White House officials.

"I call the president the two-minute man," said one Trump confidant. "The president has patience for a half-page."

Did I mention that we're talking about the longest war in American history? And the amateur president's uncertainty about how best to proceed?

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A "Help Wanted" sign is posted in the window of an automotive service shop on March 8, 2013 in El Cerrito, California.

The part of the job numbers Team Trump doesn't want to talk about

08/07/17 10:40AM

The latest job numbers were released on Friday morning, and they looked quite good. Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has tweeted about the data four times since the employment report was made public.

But Trump's re-election campaign, which already exists, issued a curious statement about the job numbers, citing the data as "proof" of something specific.

Today Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. trumpeted the new jobs report just released, announcing that 209,000 new jobs were created, on top of revised numbers in June of 231,000 jobs, up from 222,000, as proof that the President has already begun to Make America Great Again.

For now, let's put aside the debate over whether this administration, which hasn't implemented any major economic policies, can plausibly claim credit for recent economic news.

Instead, let's consider the possibility that Trump and his team haven't looked closely enough at the data they're so excited about.

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Trump weakness raises specter of 'shadow campaign' ahead of 2020

08/07/17 10:00AM

When a presidency collapses to the extent that Donald Trump's has, just months into its first year, consequences are inevitable.

CNBC's John Harwood noted last week, for example, "Increasingly, federal officials are deciding to simply ignore President Donald Trump." Jack Goldsmith, a top Justice Department official in the Bush/Cheney administration, added, "What is most remarkable is the extent to which his senior officials act as if Trump were not the chief executive.... The President is a figurehead who barks out positions and desires, but his senior subordinates carry on with different commitments."

The ripple effects of this dynamic have clearly reached Capitol Hill, where congressional Republicans are not only openly criticizing the president with increased vigor, but where GOP lawmakers are also comfortable ignoring Trump's instructions.

And then there are the electoral questions to consider. The New York Times had an eyebrow-raising piece over the weekend on Republicans who appear to have their eyes on the 2020 presidential race -- because of the perilous conditions Trump is facing.

Senators Tom Cotton and Ben Sasse have already been to Iowa this year, Gov. John Kasich is eyeing a return visit to New Hampshire, and Mike Pence's schedule is so full of political events that Republicans joke that he is acting more like a second-term vice president hoping to clear the field than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago.

President Trump's first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 -- as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue weren't involved.

The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party's most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles.

The article, citing interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, added that "elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said plainly, "They see weakness in this president."

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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

White House routinely blindsided, upended by Trump's tweets

08/07/17 09:20AM

When Donald Trump announced Christopher Wray would be his nominee to lead the FBI, the rollout was a little bizarre. When the president tweeted the news, the White House had nothing prepared on Wray or the decision. Neither did the FBI or the Justice Department. Key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, whom you'd expect to be in the loop, were caught completely off guard.

So how exactly did Trump settle on the recently confirmed director? Politico had a report the other day that shed interesting light on the behind-the-scenes process.

[A]dvisers believed for days that Trump was likely to pick John Pistole as FBI director. Inside the administration, three officials said, there was little initial support for Christopher Wray, the former FBI official who was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's attorney in the bridge-closing controversy. "No one really was pushing for Wray," one senior administration official said.

After talking extensively with Christie, who sold Trump on the former FBI official's bona fides as a lawyer, Trump decided to go with Wray without telling others on staff, advisers said. White House officials waking up to the tweet were startled, and hurriedly wrote a news release to correspond to it. Much of the president's inner circle knew little about Wray. Trump was simply tired of the search, these people said.

Oh. In other words, the president, bored and impulsive, talked to Christie, who spoke highly of Wray, which apparently meant it was time to wrap up the process. A Trump tweet soon followed -- with White House aides finding out the big decision along with the rest of us.

As bizarre as this sounds, it was not an isolated incident. Administration officials had warned the president not to try to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military, but he not only ignored them, he let them know his decision by making a announcement about the discriminatory policy via Twitter.

White House aides didn't know in advance that Trump would falsely accuse Barack Obama via Twitter of tapping his phone. They didn't know ahead of time that the president would tweet news about his new chief of staff. Politico highlighted an instance from earlier this year in which Trump lashed out at China via Twitter "while U.S. officials were meeting with a Chinese delegation at the State Department."

True to form, the officials from Trump's own administration had no idea the president would do this (or what he was talking about).

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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Conway suggests lie-detector tests may be used in White House

08/07/17 08:40AM

It's not exactly a secret that Donald Trump and his team have changed their minds about the value of leaks. In 2016, when Russia stole Democratic materials and shared them with WikiLeaks, Trump World couldn't be more pleased with leaks. In 2017, with much of the West Wing leaking like a sieve for months, the president and his allies are far less impressed.

But just how far is Team Trump prepared to go to address the problem? Kellyanne Conway gave an interesting answer the other day to a provocative question.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said Friday that the White House may have staff members take a lie detector test to determine who is leaking sensitive national security information.

"Well they may -- they may not. There are many different ways to discover who is leaking," Mrs. Conway said on Fox News.

She added that "it's easier to figure out who's leaking than the leakers may realize."

Let's note for context that two weeks ago, Kellyanne Conway appeared on the same program and said asking prospective White House employees to comply with Office of Government Ethics rules has left many of them "completely demoralized."

If routine ethics paperwork has left members of the president's team "completely demoralized," one wonders how those same staffers might respond to lie-detector tests.

But even putting that aside, the irony here is hard to overlook.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media on the golf course at his Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeen, Scotland, June 25, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump heads out on vacation, pretends it's 'not a vacation'

08/07/17 08:00AM

There's nothing at all wrong with sitting presidents taking a break from the White House and going on vacation. Presidential respites, especially in August when Congress isn't in session, have been common for generations, and there's generally no point in criticizing a chief executive for enjoying a little R&R.

But as is often the case with the current president, Donald Trump's circumstances are a little different. The Washington Post noted over the weekend:

President Trump, who knocked his predecessor's work ethic and said he probably wouldn't take vacations as president, has settled in for 17 days here at his secluded golf club in New Jersey's fox-hunt and horse country. [...]

"This is a not a vacation -- meetings and calls!" he wrote [on Twitter on Saturday], as part of a string of tweets on varied topics, including a U.N. Security Council vote earlier in the day.

First, only Donald Trump would go on vacation and then declare to the world, "This is not a vacation." There's no real point in getting into a semantics debate, but when a 71-year-old man gets away from the office for more than two weeks, goes to a resort, watches TV, and plays golf, it certainly looks like a vacation.

Yes, by all appearances, Trump will still have some "meetings" and take "calls," but that's because no modern president can truly unplug for 17 days. The responsibilities of the office, even under Trump, are simply too great. That doesn't mean, however, that he's working his fingers to the bone.

Second, Trump may not have realized what he was saying while running a campaign he didn't expect to win, but let's not forget that this guy did run on an anti-vacation platform. "I would rarely leave the White House because there's so much work to be done," Trump told voters at one point. "I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off. You don't have time to take time off."

I don't blame Trump for taking a break, but I do blame Trump for vowing before the election that he wouldn't take breaks.

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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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