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Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Self-disenfranchisement is a very bad idea

07/10/17 11:00AM

Donald Trump, with the help of some of the nation's most aggressive voter-suppression pioneers, is moving forward with a ridiculous "voter-integrity" commission, seeking full voter rolls from every state in the nation. So far, the effort is off to an awful start, with many states nationwide -- including officials from red and blue states -- telling the White House's panel to go away.

But there's apparently a new problem: some voters, who don't want Trump World to have their personal information, are withdrawing from the system. BuzzFeed reported:

As of Friday, 46 states had refused to fully cooperate with the commission's request, but Colorado, a state that had agreed to turn in publicly available information, had seen people looking to withdraw their information completely from their voter systems.

"What we're hearing from voters is that they are concerned with the commission," Haley McKean, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Clerk in Colorado, told BuzzFeed News. McKean said at least 160 people had withdrawn their information in the county since the start of July and that "dozens" of others had changed their information to confidential.

"Colorado prides itself on its voter registration and its voter turnout," Lynn Bartels, communications director for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, told BuzzFeed News. "The idea that people are withdrawing their registration, even if it's just temporary, is not news we want to hear."

It's hard to say whether this is an isolated development, or if similar incidents have popped up in other areas. Either way, for the record, let's make something clear: self-disenfranchisement is a very bad idea.

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Image: Mitch McConnell

As fight continues, GOP senator calls McConnell's health bill 'dead'

07/10/17 10:30AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had a plan. He and his aides would write a bill in secret, rally GOP senators behind it, and then hold a vote before Congress broke for the 4th of July. That gambit failed spectacularly.

Which led McConnell to pursue Plan B. He'd make some changes to his bill, build a partisan consensus, shore up GOP support over the holiday recess, and then pass it this week. That, too, hasn't worked out well.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told Fox News yesterday that the legislation McConnell drafted "clearly ... is dead" -- a point bolstered by Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who suggested on Friday night that the Senate Republicans' proposal no longer exists.

As Politico put it, "It was a grim week for the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare."

The few GOP senators who hosted town hall meetings over the Fourth of July recess were hammered by constituents for trying to undo the health care law. Reliable conservatives like Sens. Jerry Moran and John Hoeven outlined their opposition to the current version of the Senate repeal bill. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged at a luncheon back home in Kentucky that the effort might fail.

Buffeted by headwinds, Republicans will return to Washington on July 10 facing even longer odds for piecing together a bill that can win over skeptical moderates and conservatives in the three weeks before the August recess.... [C]orralling 50 votes looks even more challenging after the holiday. The time away from Washington seemed to embolden uncommitted moderates, who are worried about the political and policy implications of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), taking aim at one of the key policy goals of her party leaders, added, “I only see it through the lens of a vulnerable population who needs help, who I care about very deeply. So that gives me strength. If I have to be that one person, I will be it.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told some of his constituents the other day, "I don't even know if we're going to get a bill up." Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made similar comments on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday.

So, now what?

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Image: North Korea

Trump and his foreign policy team aren't on the same page (again)

07/10/17 10:00AM

One of these days, Donald Trump should probably have a chat with the top members of his foreign policy team. On Friday, for example, the president said "nobody really knows" whether Russia intervened in the American election, and a day later, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said "everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections."

Yesterday, it happened again when Haley tried to describe Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"What he did was bring up right away the election meddling, and he did that for a reason," Haley [told CNN's Dana Bash], referring to Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign. "One, he wanted ... to basically look him in the eye, let him know that: 'Yes, we know you meddled in our elections. Yes, we know you did it, and cut it out.'"

Soon after, Trump pointed in the opposite direction, pointing to Vladimir Putin's "vehement" denial of wrongdoing, which the president apparently accepts: he is, after all, ready to "move forward in working constructively with Russia."

Similarly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters the other day that Trump and Putin did discuss the push in Congress for additional sanctions on Russia. And yet, there was the American president yesterday, declaring, "Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved!"

The "nothing will be done" vow is clearly at odds with what 97 senators recently had to say on the subject, but it was also an example of the president publicly contradicting Tillerson on an important issue.

And if this sounds familiar, it's probably because Trump and his foreign policy team are regularly at odds.

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Image: G20 Summit in Hamburg

At G-20 gathering, Ivanka Trump literally had a seat at the table

07/10/17 09:30AM

There were several memorable moments from the G-20 meeting in Germany, but Bloomberg Politics flagged one of the more jarring.

Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, took his seat at a Group of 20 meeting table in Hamburg, sitting in for the president when he stepped away for one-on-one discussions with other world leaders.

A photo on Twitter showed Ivanka Trump, 35, sitting in her father's seat between Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Also seated nearby were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey's President Recip Tayyip Erdogan.

One official who was watching the session said Ivanka Trump had taken her father's place at the table on at least two occasions on Saturday, but didn't speak.

The president himself described this as "very standard." Veteran diplomats drew the opposite conclusion: former NATO ambassador Nicholas Burns, who served as a diplomat under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told the Washington Post the incident with Ivanka Trump was a breach of protocols for such summits.

Having the U.S. secretary of state take the president's place at the table would be normal; having the president's inexperienced daughter take his place was not.

But in the broader context, one of the striking aspects of the president's daughter taking on such a role is how unsurprising it is.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Where the world sees failure, Team Trump sees success

07/10/17 09:00AM

By most measures, Donald Trump's second trip as president was a disaster, though the White House chooses not to see it that way. The New York Times reported:

[F]rom the perspective of Mr. Trump’s team, the trip to Poland and Germany turned out to be a surprising early high point in his presidency, providing a brief but welcome respite from the forever wars in Washington.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer described the trip as an "historic" visit. The president himself said it was a "great success."

That's certainly one way to look at it. On the other hand, Andrea Mitchell, NBC News' chief foreign affairs correspondent, and a veteran reporter who's covered a great many presidential trips abroad, concluded over the weekend, "I can't think of a worse summit since Reykjavik."

The comment referred to Reagan's failed nuclear talks with the then-Soviet Union in 1986 -- more than three decades ago.

The assessment hardly seems hyperbolic. While the president of the United States used to be seen as the leader of the free world, and the United States used to be the dominant force at international gatherings like these, Trump and his team were isolated at the G-20 gathering, leaving our allies unsure of what the world will look like now that the United States doesn't want to lead.

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Image: TOPSHOT-GERMANY-G20-SUMMIT

Despite the 2016 attack, Trump ready to 'move forward' with Russia

07/10/17 08:30AM

After Donald Trump's recent skirmish with two MSNBC hosts, many were reminded of Melania Trump's plans to combat cyber-bullying -- which her husband appeared to be engaged in. Asked for comment, Melania Trump didn't seem at all concerned about the president's abusive behavior, saying through a spokesperson that "when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder."

The president does not, however, seem to apply that standard to the United States. When the country is attacked, Trump not only fails to punch back 10 times harder, he also agrees to cozy up to the adversary responsible for the attack. Here was the Washington Post's report from midday yesterday:

President Trump vowed Sunday to "move forward in working constructively with Russia," including forming a cybersecurity unit between the two countries, after Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump's pledge to partner with Putin on cybersecurity drew swift and stern denunciations from both Democratic and Republican officials, who described the U.S. president as dangerously naive for trusting his Russian counterpart.

After Trump's problematic meeting with the Russian president whose attack helped elevate Trump to power, there was some disagreement among officials from both countries about exactly what was said during the private discussion.

But the American president removed all doubt yesterday with a series of statements via Twitter. Trump said Putin "vehemently denied" intervening in the American election, and so, as far as Trump is concerned, it's time to "move forward."

And with that in mind, the U.S. leader added that he's prepared to form "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" with Russia "so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded."

As is always the case, it's best to pay less attention to what Trump and his aides say and more attention to what they do. In this case, in response to the most serious attack against the United States since 9/11, Team Trump has done nothing, is doing nothing, and intends to continue to do nothing -- except partner with Russia on some kind of "cyber-security unit."

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Donald Trump Jr. and his wife Vanessa Trump wait for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Trump Jr. meeting takes Russia scandal in an alarming direction

07/10/17 08:00AM

In any political controversy, when a relevant player starts dramatically changing his or her story, from one day to the next, it's a sign of real trouble.

In March, for example, Donald Trump Jr. said that during his father's campaign, he never participated in any campaign-related meetings with Russian nationals. Over the weekend, that claim fell apart when the New York Times reported that he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, best known for opposition to the Magnitsky Act, which blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers.

The meeting took place in June 2016 in Trump Tower, and Trump Jr. was joined by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman at the time. None of the players deny that the meeting took place, but Trump Jr. said the discussion focused on an adoption program. This was "the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump's inner circle during the campaign."

Soon after Team Trump's story changed again, this time in a statement from the president's outside legal team, suggesting that Democrats were somehow to blame.

Yesterday, the story changed once more. As the Times reported, the meeting wasn't about adoptions.

President Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it. [...]

The meeting -- at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican nomination -- points to the central question in federal investigations of the Kremlin's meddling in the presidential election: whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.

In a statement, Trump Jr. acknowledged that the meeting took place, and was arranged at the request of an acquaintance he did not name. "After pleasantries were exchanged," he said, "the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information." He added that "the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting."

Trump Jr. may not fully appreciate the significance of that statement.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.7.17

07/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Will we ever really know what was said? "President Donald Trump pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia's interference in the 2016 election when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Friday."

* A dozen plants were targeted: "Russia is suspected to be behind recent hacker intrusions at American power plants, including at least one nuclear facility, two U.S. officials told NBC News."

* He should be backing away from his absurd promise, not doubling down on it: "President Trump told reporters on Friday that he 'absolutely' still wants Mexico to pay for a border wall in the United States, ahead of a private meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Group of 20 summit."

* The latest elections-have-consequences moment: "Texas' new voter identification law fully absolves the state from having discriminated against minority voters in 2011, and courts should not take further action in a battle over the state's old voter ID law, President Donald Trump's Department of Justice argued in a legal filing Wednesday."

* Scary thought: "Buried in a New York Times profile of CNN chief Jeff Zucker was a brief comment from an unnamed official that could make the Trump administration's already rough political road that much rockier. 'White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary' CNN, the official told the Times’s Michael Grynbaum: 'a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T.'"

* Here's hoping other sheriffs know better: " The sheriff of one opioid-ravaged Ohio county is refusing to equip his deputies with Narcan, the drug that has saved the lives of countless overdosing addicts."

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

The White House's volatile employment environment

07/07/17 04:11PM

Donald Trump's White House is unusual in a wide variety of ways, but one of its more bizarre traits is the competing factions that have taken root after just six months in office. Politico reported yesterday that in the West Wing, "top advisers have built up personal staffs to support their own agendas instead of using a traditional White House policy and messaging operation."

The article added that this dynamic includes staffers, such as Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, having their own press operations, separate from the White House's messaging apparatus. Even Republicans concede there is no precedent for anything like this.

The dynamic appears to be an outgrowth of the competing factions within Trump World, which includes a sizable Breitbart contingent, made up of several veterans of the right-wing website: Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Julia Hahn, and Tera Dahl.

This week, that faction got a little smaller.

As rival factions inside the White House continue to battle over urgent foreign policy decisions, a key ally of Donald Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon is leaving the National Security Council, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Tera Dahl, deputy chief of staff at the NSC and a former columnist for Breitbart, is being reassigned to a position outside of the White House, three people familiar with the decision told BuzzFeed News. The move frees up National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to install another staffer of his choosing in his drive to reshape the NSC to his liking.

As for the growing list of Trump World departures, we can now update the overall tally. Note, some of the departures were voluntary, some weren't.

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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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