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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

The presidential learning curve remains steep for Donald Trump

04/14/17 09:30AM

One of Donald Trump's most important early flip-flops came just 11 days into his presidency. As a candidate, Trump broke with Republican Party orthodoxy and endorsed lowering prices on prescription drugs by using Medicare's negotiating power. That, however, did not last.

On Jan. 31, after a meeting with executives and lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry, Trump denounced the idea he used to support, calling it a form of "price fixing" that would hurt "smaller, younger companies." Trump had one set of beliefs, he heard conflicting information, so he adopted a different set of beliefs.

The Wall Street Journal noted a similar shift this week on the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
During the campaign, Mr. Trump was skeptical of Ex-Im Bank, which funds U.S. trade deals, calling it "unnecessary." The bank has been a target of Republican criticism, which Mr. Trump seized on.

But that view changed earlier this year after he talked to Boeing Co. CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who explained to him what role the bank plays, according to people familiar with the matter.
Explaining his new position, Trump told the Wall Street Journal this week that he "was very much opposed" to the Export-Import Bank, but "it turns out [that] lots of small companies will really be helped."

There's been quite a bit of discussion this week about Trump's many 180-degree turns and what the reversals tell us about his presidency. There's been commentary about Trump "moderating," "pivoting," becoming more "conventional," and choosing sides between the competing factions in his West Wing.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer went so far yesterday as to argue that Trump isn't really flip-flopping, so much as the issues are "evolving towards the president's position." In other words, Trump isn't changing; the world is.

That's obviously foolish, but even putting Spicer's nonsense aside, it seems much of the political world is over-thinking this. Consider the importance of the key phrase in Trump's Ex-Im Bank explanation: "it turns out."
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A laptop in use. (Photo by TEK/Science Photo Library/Corbis)

Asked about privacy changes, GOP rep says internet usage is optional

04/14/17 08:40AM

Despite Republican dominance of federal power, GOP policymakers haven't had any major legislative successes so far this year, though they have had some lower-profile victories. Take online privacy, for example.

As regular readers know, the Obama administration approved privacy protections last year to stop internet service providers from selling information about their consumers' browsing history without their knowledge or consent. Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump's White House undid those rules.

The Washington Post recently reported that service providers, including online giants such Verizon and Comcast (MSNBC's parent company), will now be able to "monitor their customers' behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads.... The providers could also sell their users' information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data – all of whom could use the data without consumers' consent."

I've been eager to hear how GOP lawmakers will respond to concerns about their policy, and American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, posted a video yesterday of Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) answering a constituent's question about this. The Wisconsin Republican said:
"You know, nobody's got to use the internet.... I don't think it's my job to tell you that you cannot get advertising through your information being sold. My job, I think, is to tell you that you have the opportunity to do it and then you take it upon yourself to make the choice...."
The congressman's press office added yesterday afternoon that Sensenbrenner made the case "that nobody has to use the internet. They have a choice."

Oh. So if you have privacy concerns about ISPs selling your browsing history without your knowledge or consent, the solution isn't Obama-era consumer safeguards. Evidently, Jim Sensenbrenner believes you should simply choose to stay offline.
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Trump faces Chinese mockery following embarrassing reversals

04/14/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump has spent years complaining about China and its alleged currency manipulation. As a candidate, the Republican not only blasted President Obama on the issue, he publicly vowed to label China a currency manipulator literally on his first day in office.

That didn't happen, of course, though as recently as last week, the president continued to posture, calling China the "world champion" of currency manipulation. This week, however, Trump dramatically changed direction, declaring that China isn't actually manipulating its currency at all.

The reversal hasn't gone unnoticed in Beijing, where the American president is now the subject of mockery.
Te-Ping Chen, a Beijing-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal, notes that Chinese media are gleefully mocking Trump for doing such an abrupt 180 on an issue that was one of the staples of his 2016 presidential campaign -- in fact, Trump had originally vowed to officially label China a currency manipulator on the first day of his presidency.

"Eating his words!" reads one headline, as translated by Chen.

"Trump slaps self in face, again," reads another.
Note, in China, the media is controlled by the state, so this ridicule is an extension of the government's own messaging.

Of particular interest in these headlines was the use of the word "again" -- because while Trump has only been in office for a few months, this wasn't the first time he's embarrassed himself with China.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.13.17

04/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "U.S. forces dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in a strike against ISIS in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, according to Pentagon officials. The U.S. dropped a GBU-43 bomb, nicknamed the 'mother of all bombs,' on ISIS fighters and tunnels and caves used by the terror group in the country's Nangarhar province, officials said. It was dropped from an aircraft."

* On a related note, neither the White House nor Donald Trump himself would say specifically whether the president directly authorized today's mission.

* A deadly mistake: "An airstrike by the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State killed 18 Syrian fighters allied with the United States, the military said on Thursday."

* Russia scandal: "Britain's spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told."

* I wonder what he knows about the Cuban Missile Crisis: "President Donald Trump on Wednesday said U.S. relations with Russia could have recently hit an 'all-time low' as the two world powers clash over a sarin gas attack in Syria."

* Mar-a-Lago: "Just days before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's Palm Beach private club, Florida restaurant inspectors found potentially dangerous raw fish and cited the club for storing food in two broken down coolers. Inspectors found 13 violations at the fancy club's kitchen, according to recently published reports -- a record for an institution that charges $200,000 in initiation fees."

* With regards to North Korea, Trump said yesterday, "[G]oing it alone means going it with lots of other nations." I haven't the foggiest idea what that means.
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Paul Manafort of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's staff listens during a round table discussion on security at Trump Tower in the Manhattan borough of New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump's former campaign manager to register as a foreign agent

04/13/17 04:31PM

Donald Trump's former campaign adviser on foreign policy has been investigated as a possible Russian agent. Trump's former National Security Advisor recently registered as a foreign agent.

And Trump's former campaign chairman is also registering as a foreign agent. The Washington Post reported:
Paul Manafort, the former campaign chair for Donald Trump, has signaled that he plans to register as a foreign agent for his past work on behalf of political figures in Ukraine. [...]

A spokesman for Manafort said Wednesday that the longtime political consultant considered a new filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) after receiving "formal guidance recently from the authorities" regarding work he and a colleague had performed on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.
The significance of those "Ukrainian political interests," of course, is that they're closely aligned with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, these developments coincide with the fact that Manafort received secret money from Putin's allies in Ukraine -- payments he used to deny the existence of -- which were reportedly routed through shell companies. There's certainly nothing suspicious about that at all.

Did I mention that we're talking about the former campaign chairman to the sitting president of the United States? Because this sure is weird.
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Recreational Marijuana Sales Begin in Colorado

U.S. drug policy poised to take a step backwards in the Trump era

04/13/17 12:45PM

One of the striking things about the so-called "war on drugs" in recent years is the scope and scale of the progress. By popular support, a variety of states have voted to legalize recreational marijuana use, for example. When President Obama commuted the sentences of many non-violent drug offenders, few blinked an eye.

There was a burgeoning consensus that the decades-long "war" was needlessly expensive, punitive, reactionary, and damaging. It was time to move forward with a newer, smarter approach.

At least, that's the way it appeared up until very recently. As the nation's new attorney general, for example, Jeff Sessions has made no secret of his intentions to renew the "war on drugs." Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), meanwhile, is poised to take over the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

And what does Tom Marino bring to the table on drug issues? The Washington Post reported yesterday on the Pennsylvania Republican's approach to the issue.
As a congressman, Marino called for a national program of mandatory inpatient substance abuse treatment for non-violent drug offenders. "One treatment option I have advocated for years would be placing non-dealer, non-violent drug abusers in a secured hospital-type setting under the constant care of health professionals," he said at a hearing last year.

"Once the person agrees to plead guilty to possession, he or she will be placed in an intensive treatment program until experts determine that they should be released under intense supervision," Marino explained. "If this is accomplished, then the charges are dropped against that person. The charges are only filed to have an incentive for that person to enter the hospital-slash-prison, if you want to call it."
Got that? If some non-violent adult were caught with marijuana, for example, Marino envisions a system in which that person would be locked up in a "hospital-slash-prison," and subjected to "an intensive treatment program." He or she would eventually be released, but be subjected to "intense supervision."

The GOP congressman added last year that he might consider marijuana legalization, if the science proved persuasive, and if the drug could be produced "in pill form."

Say hello to Donald Trump's new "drug czar."
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.13.17

04/13/17 12:00PM

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

* More than a month before Montana's May 25 congressional special election, Republicans are pouring money into Big Sky Country. The House GOP leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, plans to spend "at least $1 million," and the National Republican Congressional Committee's has already bought nearly $150,000 in air time. Donald Trump Jr. is also scheduled to spend two days "barnstorming the state next week with GOP nominee Greg Gianforte."

* On a related note, the same Wall Street Journal article added, "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to make a substantial investment in the Montana race. DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said the organization is now considering getting more involved."

* In Alabama, the state's Senate special election isn't scheduled until 2018, but new Gov. Kay Ivey (R) is considering moving it up to this year.

* Looking ahead to the 2018 midterms, DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told the Washington Post yesterday the committee has had had 275 "serious conversations" with potential candidates in 68 districts. "It's absolutely moving much more quickly and with higher quality candidates" than in previous cycles, Kelly added.

* Former Gov. Martin O'Malley's 2016 presidential campaign came up far short, but the Maryland Democrat appears to be gearing up to try again, visiting Iowa and South Carolina recently, and scheduling stops in New Hampshire next month.
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Markwayne Mullin

GOP rep asks constituents the wrong question at town-hall event

04/13/17 11:20AM

Why is it so important for members of Congress to hold town-hall events with their constituents? Because you just never know what they'll end up saying.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) faced off with constituents at a town hall this week, telling the audience that they don't pay his salary.

"You say you pay for me to do this? That's bullcrap," Mullin said at the town hall in Jay, Okla., according to a video of the incident.
A typical member of Congress receives an annual salary of $174,000 a year, financed entirely by taxpayers. As best as I can tell, the far-right Oklahoman does not forgo his compensation.

The Tulsa World, after speaking to the lawmaker's office, reported that when Mullin said it's "bullcrap" to believe taxpayers pay him to serve in Congress, what he meant was that he's "paid more in federal income taxes than he's received in congressional salary."

Indeed, the rest of the video shows the congressman saying he's paid his "own salary" through his taxes, adding, "No one here pays me to go."

Whether folks in Oklahoma's 2nd district will find this argument persuasive is unclear. (The fact that Mullin faced angry constituents is itself rather amazing: Oklahoma's 2nd has a PVI of R+24, making it one of the most Republican congressional districts in the United States.)
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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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