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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

Trump's strange legal team can't seem to help itself

09/07/17 10:57AM

Given the seriousness of the Russia scandal, it's incumbent on Donald Trump to assemble a capable and competent outside legal team to represent his interests. After all, this is a controversy that represents an existential threat to his presidency, and Trump's fate may very well be tied to the work of these attorneys.

And given their recent track record, this should make the president and his allies rather nervous.

For example, John Dowd, who is helping lead Trump's legal team, recently forwarded an email to journalists and government officials that "echoed secessionist Civil War propaganda" and argued that Black Lives Matter "has been totally infiltrated by terrorist groups." Then there's Marc Kasowitz, another Trump lawyer, who was caught sending some unhinged messages of his own.

Yesterday, Business Insider reported that yet another member of the president's legal team has run into related trouble.

White House special counsel Ty Cobb engaged in a lengthy email exchange in which he defended his decision to join President Donald Trump's legal team and appeared to refer to himself and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as the "adults in the room."

The exchange on Tuesday night was with Jeff Jetton, the owner of a popular ramen restaurant in Washington, DC, who has made himself known to reporters by digging into Trump's alleged ties to Russia -- partly as an unabashed troll.

Apparently, Ty Cobb, a partner at a major DC firm and a White House special counsel, received some angry emails from a restaurateur he does not know. Instead of ignoring them, Cobb proceeded to exchange a series of messages with his antagonist, ultimately telling the angry stranger that it's "better" for everyone when there are "more adults in the room" with Trump.

Asked later by Jetton to "set the record straight" and explain how Cobb is "justifying" his role at the White House to himself and others, Cobb replied he "can say assertively [that] more adults in the room will be better. Me and Kelly among others."

The same article noted that Cobb got into another email argument with a different stranger on Tuesday night.

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Trump accepts the same Democratic deal Ryan called 'disgraceful'

09/07/17 10:11AM

A few months ago, at the height of the health care debate, it was an open secret that Republicans were terrified of the prospect of Donald Trump negotiating directly with Democratic leaders. The fear, of course, was that the amateur president would sit down Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he'd find their pitch compelling; and Trump would end up giving Dems everything they asked for.

All of this came to mind yesterday, when the president hosted an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders on some of the fiscal issues pending on Capitol Hill. Democrats had already called for a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, pushing the issue off until December. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), about an hour before the White House gathering, described this approach "ridiculous," "disgraceful," and "unworkable." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hated it, too.

And yet, Donald Trump, without a whole lot of debate, endorsed it anyway.

Steven Mnuchin, seated on a couch to the president's right, had pushed this point before: A longer-term extension of 18 months would extend the deadline past the midterms -- which would take partisan politics out of the debate, in his view.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., disagreed: He wanted something much shorter. The president, in deal-making mode, had heard enough.

As Mnuchin made his case, Trump cut in: He would side with Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to make a 90-day deal to lift the debt ceiling.

The result was a bipartisan package deal that gave Democrats exactly what they wanted: disaster-relief funding for Hurricane Harvey victims, a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, and a three-month spending bill that keeps the government's lights on until December.

I've seen some reports that Trump helped broker the "deal" yesterday, but Slate's Jim Newell raised an excellent point: "It's not even a 'deal' in the sense of give-and-take between two sides. It is, to the letter, the request that Democrats had made and that Ryan and the leadership team had decried as an affront to God immediately after."

I'm not sure who was more surprised yesterday afternoon: Republicans, who thought Trump would defend the GOP line with vigor, or Democrats, who didn't expect to prevail so easily.

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump's case for tax reform rests on a false foundation

09/07/17 09:20AM

Ahead of his event in North Dakota yesterday in support of tax reform, Donald Trump insisted that the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world." Almost immediately, reality-based observers explained that the president was clearly lying about a subject he only pretends to understand.

Despite the pushback, Trump went to Bismarck and repeated the exact same claim: "So we're here today to talk about a plan to create a new age of American prosperity by reducing the crushing tax burden on our companies and on our workers. The taxes are crazy -- the highest taxed nation in the world."

Presidential repetition does not make a falsehood true.

America's tax revenue is 26 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is significantly lower than the average 34 percent other developed countries pay relative to their GDP, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Denmark, France and Sweden are among those nations that top America on taxes.

The U.S. tax burden per capita — $14,115 — also is below average in relation to other developed nations, as well, data from the Tax Policy Center shows.

An Associated Press report added that the overall U.S. tax burden "is actually one of the lowest among the 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development."

There are different metrics for measuring a country's tax rates, but there is literally no metric in which the United States is "the highest taxed nation in the world."

Of course, much of the political world is so inured to Trump's mendacity that the president repeating a lazy and brazen lie about one of his highest priorities was about the 50th most interesting political story of the day yesterday. But I mention this because I think there's a certain salience to Trump's bogus talking point.

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In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters near the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Has John McCain thrown a lifeline to the GOP health care crusade?

09/07/17 08:40AM

The Republican health care crusade appeared to have effectively run its course. GOP lawmakers gave it their best shot, but the combination of intra-party divisions, widespread public revulsion, and a looming deadline led many health care advocates to breathe a sigh of relief.

That is, until yesterday afternoon. The Washington Post reported:

Six weeks after he stopped his party from repealing much of the Affordable Care Act, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he could support a compromise that had been shelved months earlier — one that the president has hinted he would sign.

On Wednesday, McCain told the Hill that he backed a proposal from Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) that would end the ACA's Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies, and instead dole out money to states for whatever health insurance programs they favored. McCain, Graham's closest friend in the Senate, said that he would obviously support Graham's bill.

McCain has spoken with great passion of late about the need for the Senate to return to legislating through "regular order" -- having bills go through committee, be subject to extensive debate and amendments, etc. -- insisting this is necessary for the health and stability of the republic. Yesterday, however, the Arizona Republican suggested he might be willing to ignore his principles to help pass his friend's far-right plan.

"If it's not through regular order, then it's a mistake," McCain said. "But it doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for it."

And that, naturally, set off a panic among those who rely on the American health care system. If McCain is prepared to vote for a regressive plan that would take coverage from millions, it raised the prospect of Senate Republican leaders simply bringing the far-right Graham-Cassidy-Heller plan to the floor and passing it with 50 votes.

For health care advocates, McCain's off-hand comment became an immediate here-we-go-again moment.

Which made it all the more important when the senator clarified his position late in the day.

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A magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich on Oct. 10, 2011. (Photo by Joerg Koch/AP)

New evidence emerges on how Russia attacked the U.S. election

09/07/17 08:00AM

There have been multiple reports for months, published by major U.S. news organizations, that when Russia attacked the American election last year, it did so by using social media, including Facebook. The tech giant repeatedly insisted, however, that it had no evidence of Russia targeting American voters, at least not with paid propaganda.

Yesterday, as Rachel explained at the top of last night's show, the story changed. The Washington Post reported:

Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that the social network has discovered that it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company's findings.

Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian "troll farm" with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda, these people said.

The Russian messages were connected to something called the Internet Research Agency, which may sound anodyne, but which was mentioned in the U.S. intelligence agencies' report on the Russian attack. Specifically, officials noted that the Internet Research Agency is essentially a project of Russian military intelligence.

The social-media company released a statement online late yesterday from Facebook's chief security officer, explaining that the Russian ads "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

The Post's report added that Facebook officials "declined to say which candidate the ads favored," but since we already know Russia was responsible for an espionage campaign intended to put Donald Trump in power, there's no great mystery here. If Putin's government was responsible for an influence operation on Trump's behalf, I'll give you one guess as to who "the ads favored."

In case this isn't obvious, we're talking about a crime: a foreign government using foreign money to influence the outcome of an American election.

But this isn't the end of the story. Now that we know the reporting from earlier this year was accurate, there are a host of related questions that need answers.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.6.17

09/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Hurricane Irma: "The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history slammed into the easternmost islands of the Caribbean on Wednesday, killing at least two people and churning along a path pointing to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti before possibly heading for Florida this weekend."

* The House approved a disaster-relief bill for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, 419 to 3, though it looks like the Senate is poised to add quite a bit to the bill.

* Look for more on this on tonight's show: "Representatives of Facebook told congressional investigators Wednesday that it has discovered it sold ads during the U.S. presidential election to a shadowy Russian company seeking to target voters, according to several people familiar with the company's findings."

* The trial is underway: "U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, R-N.J., 'sold his office for a lifestyle he couldn't afford,' federal prosecutors said Wednesday in its opening statement in the Democrat's corruption trial."

* This was unimaginably unwise: "A senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan apologized Wednesday for propaganda leaflets that superimposed a key Islamic text on a dog's image. The leaflets distributed by U.S. forces in Parwan province, north of Kabul, on Tuesday depicted a lion, representing the U.S.-led coalition, chasing a dog with a section of the Taliban's banner, containing a passage from the Koran in Arabic superimposed on its side."

* This was actually a good hearing: "At this Congress's first bipartisan public hearing on health care reform, after a year of Republicans drafting bills behind closed doors, health insurance commissioners from across the country testified to senators that the Trump administration's multi-pronged sabotage of the Affordable Care Act is driving up rates and sowing uncertainty in their states."

* It's worth worrying about who Trump will replace him with: "Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, will step down in mid-October after three years at the central bank, the Fed announced on Wednesday. Mr. Fischer, 73, cited 'personal reasons' in a short resignation letter to President Trump."

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-ELECTIONS-TRUMP

A president who doesn't know where he's going can't lead

09/06/17 01:01PM

After Donald Trump rescinded the DACA program, ending protections for young Dreamers, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) issued a statement calling on the president to set the course on the future of U.S. immigration policy. "It is important that the White House clearly outline what kind of legislation the president is willing to sign," the Florida Republican said.

And while I imagine Rubio's call was sincere, it was hard not to chuckle a little in response to his statement -- because the president clearly has no idea what kind of legislation he'd like to see on his desk. As Simon Maloy noted yesterday, Trump "lit this fuse with absolutely zero planning for what to do next."

Administration officials weren't even confident the president understood yesterday's policy change, making the idea that Trump could offer Congress details on a way forward fanciful thinking. In order to lead, one must know where to go -- and this president is lost without a map.

Business Insider's Josh Barro had a good piece along these lines yesterday.

For Trump, immigration policy is expressly about disrespecting and demeaning certain classes of foreigners and sending the message that they are bad people. Remember "they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists"? For Trump, this message is the policy, much more so than actually governing who may be present in the US.

All Trump wanted to do was look tough and show he was protecting Americans from threats, including those immigrants he sees as a menace. He's not here to make complicated policy, and it's not fun for him to deal with the most sympathetic subset of unauthorized immigrants.

Which is largely why he's kicked the immigration debate to Congress: Trump doesn't know what to do next and he isn't especially interested in figuring it out. Rolling up one's sleeves and tackling unglamorous policy details is difficult and frustrating, and the nation's first amateur president can't be bothered.

But whether he realizes this or not, it's Trump's inability to lead that's contributing to his flailing presidency.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.6.17

09/06/17 12:01PM

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

* When Donald Trump makes the pitch for tax reform in North Dakota today, he'll be joined by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who's up for re-election in this red state next year, and who'll be on hand for the presidential event. It's worth noting for context that Trump won North Dakota last year by more than 30 points.

* Though the White House has started to hedge on its support of Sen. Luther Strange (R) in Alabama's Republican Senate primary, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continues to rally behind the appointed incumbent, and will headline a high-dollar fundraiser for Strange tomorrow.

* It was a safe bet that David Clarke, who resigned his law enforcement position last week, would end up somewhere in Trump World, and it now appears the controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff has signed on with a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action.

* The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a lower court's injunction yesterday and agreed to allow Texas to continue enforcing its controversial voter-ID law. A federal district court ruling recently said Texas' law amounted to a "poll tax" on minority voters.

* Speaking of the Lone Star State, former Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Texas), after losing two tough races against Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), announced yesterday he will not try again in 2018.

* Politico reports that Democrats are launching a new super PAC this week called Forward Majority, which will focus on "winning back state legislatures ahead of the next round of redistricting in 2021." The project is reportedly being run in part by "a group of Barack Obama campaign alums."

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Some Republicans ready to use Dreamers as a bargaining chip

09/06/17 11:25AM

There was no consensus yesterday among congressional Republicans in response to Donald Trump ending the DACA policy protecting Dreamers. Some GOP officials condemned the move as needlessly cruel, others praised the move, while others complained the president's policy isn't punitive enough.

But as the afternoon progressed, one thing became clear: many Republican lawmakers see Dreamers as a bargaining chip and are eager to make a deal. The HuffPost had a good piece on this:

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill broadly agreed on Tuesday that something should be done about young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who will eventually lose deportation protections if Congress does not step in to help them.

But Republicans are already placing conditions on their support that could kill the effort entirely. They are willing to vote for protecting so-called "Dreamers" -- but not without getting something in exchange for it.

Some suggested trading the Dream Act for a down payment on Trump's proposed border wall. Others suggested trading the Dream Act for the RAISE Act, a far-right bill that would slash legal immigration to the United States. A variety of other possible deals were floated, though none were specifically endorsed by either party's leadership.

But as this chatter moves forward, it's worth appreciating some of the underlying flaws to this entire approach.

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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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