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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Trump refuses 'to make eye contact' with his top economic adviser

09/11/17 10:03AM

The New York Times had an interesting item over the weekend on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's operation, which included an anecdote I hadn't seen elsewhere.

The new chief of staff has tried to shield Gary D. Cohn, the chairman of the National Economic Council, from Mr. Trump’s continuing wrath since the former Goldman Sachs executive went public with his disgust at the president’s response to the deadly violence last month in Charlottesville, Va.

Mr. Kelly made a point, one staff member said, of throwing his arm around Mr. Cohn in solidarity, in full view of the news media, as they exited Marine One last week on the South Lawn.

But he has not always been successful. Several aides said Mr. Trump is freezing out Mr. Cohn by employing a familiar tactic: refusing to make eye contact with Mr. Cohn when his adviser greets him.

In related news, the president is reportedly prepared to stop passing notes to Cohn in homeroom and may refuse to write "BFF" in his yearbook.

C'mon. Eight months into Trump's presidency, he doesn't want to look his chief economic advisor in the eye? And in the White House this is considered "a familiar tactic" that the president has used with others?

While this obviously raises unsettling questions about Trump's maturity, let's not forget exactly what Cohn did to earn a spot in the president's dog house.

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In this July 19, 2015 photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible. (Photo by LaNola Stone/U.S. Coast Guard/ AP)

Trump touts the Coast Guard's improved 'brand'

09/11/17 09:20AM

After returning from a presidential cabinet meeting at Camp David, Donald Trump briefly spoke to reporters on the White House south lawn yesterday afternoon, and talked about the federal response to Hurricane Irma. What stood out as notable, however, was the one group of people the president singled out for praise:

"I'll tell you what, we have great people, and a group that really deserves tremendous credit is the United States Coast Guard. What they've done, I mean, they're going right into that, and you never know. When you go in there, you don't know if you're going to come out. They are really -- if you talk about branding, no brand has improved more than the United States Coast Guard."

To be sure, I'm glad to see Trump sing the Coast Guard's praises; those men and women have clearly earned the support. But who exactly was talking about "branding"?

One almost gets the impression that the president personally had no idea what the Coast Guard does or how impressive it is. When he says the Coast Guard's "brand has improved," what I think Trump is effectively saying is he's just now starting to appreciate what guardsmen and women do.

Better late than never?

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Fla. Attorney General Pam Bondi makes introductory remarks for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, before Trump arrives at a campaign event in Tampa, Fla. on March 14, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Despite controversy, Florida's AG accepts role on Trump panel

09/11/17 08:42AM

Donald Trump's controversy surrounding his illegal campaign contribution to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) faded from the news -- only to be replaced with other controversies -- but the Washington Examiner reports that the Florida Republican accepted a role on a presidential commission, which should probably help renew questions that were never really answered.

Trump appointed Bondi, a longtime Trump supporter, to the Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis in March, but has yet to join the commission.

"The President always intended for the Attorney General to be on the Commission -- however, Governor Christie choose [sic] to begin the Commission with only himself and four others. The announcement is protocol before the Executive Order is signed next week," Bondi's spokesperson, Whitney Ray, said in an email.

According to local reports, Bondi will not have to give up her post in state government in order to serve on Trump's panel.

Nevertheless, the timing of the developments is a bit odd. According to the White House, the president's commission on the addiction crisis is supposed to issue a report on its findings by Oct. 1. In other words, Bondi is expected to join the administration's panel a few weeks before the commission wraps up its work.

As for the underlying controversy about Bondi and Trump, let's circle back to our coverage from last fall, and consider a brief timeline of events:

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Image: Trump speaks to reporters after a security briefing at his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey

Trump sees hurricanes as a reason to 'speed up' push for tax cuts

09/11/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump assembled a cabinet meeting at Camp David over the weekend, apparently in the hope that it would demonstrate White House engagement on disaster response, and though news organizations weren't on hand for the gathering, the president's YouTube page featured a clip of Trump's opening comments -- which included a pitch for tax cuts.

To be sure, the bulk of the president's message was about Hurricane Irma and public safety, but Trump also took the opportunity to reflect on the storm's effect on his broader agenda.

"To create prosperity at home, [my cabinet and I will] be discussing our plan for dramatic tax cuts and tax reform. And I think now with what's happened with the hurricane, I'm gonna ask for a speed-up. I wanted a speed-up any way, but now we need it even more so.

"So we need to simplify the tax code, reduce taxes very substantially on the middle class. And make our business tax more globally competitive. We're the highest anywhere in the world right now."

The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin had an item yesterday, which didn't directly reference the president's comments, in which she noted, "You almost get the idea that the entire GOP economic philosophy is dependent on a never-ending stream of tax cuts for the rich."

Look, for now, let's put aside Trump's ongoing confusion about U.S. tax rates relative to international standards, because it's really just the start of what makes his pitch so misguided. For one thing, these comments came on Saturday morning, when tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy probably shouldn't have been at the forefront of the president's mind.

For another, the argument really doesn't make any substantive sense. Victims of these deadly storms and their communities will need considerable public support -- which will be neither cheap nor quick -- but "dramatic tax cuts" isn't high on their list of concerns right now. For the president to exploit hurricanes to sell tax breaks for people who don't need them seems ill-advised.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 9.8.17

09/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Irma: "Gov. Rick Scott urged residents in evacuation zones, including more than a half-million people in Miami-Dade County, to leave their homes as the Category 4 storm with its 155-mph winds lurched closer. In total, about 1.4 million people across Florida and Georgia, which is also in the cross hairs, were ordered to evacuate."

* Mexico: "The death toll from the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century rose to 30 and is expected to climb Friday as rescue crews searched through the ruins of collapsed buildings in the coastal areas closest to the epicenter."

* Ninety Republicans ended up voting against this: "The House passed a $15 billion disaster relief package Friday morning with a broad bipartisan majority, sending the measure to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law later in the day."

* On a related note: "House Republicans hissed and booed senior Trump administration officials Friday as they pitched President Donald Trump's deal with Democrats to increase the nation's borrowing authority."

* Don't be surprised if Rachel gets to this on tonight's show: "Russia's newly installed ambassador to Washington said on Friday that he had a warm and constructive meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, Russian news agencies reported."

* The latest in a series of defeats: "President Donald Trump's travel ban policy suffered another defeat Thursday as an appeals court rejected the administration's attempt to deny grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of Americans a temporary exemption from the controversial executive order."

* Equifax: "A massive cyber security incident at Equifax -- one of the largest credit reporting agencies in the United States -- may have exposed private information belonging to 143 million people -- nearly half of the U.S. population."

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.8.17

09/08/17 12:00PM

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

* With Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) retiring, Democrats have another pick-up opportunity, but winning in Pennsylvania's 15th district won't be easy. John Kerry may have won the district in 2004, but Donald Trump carried it last year by eight points.

* Reinforcing the impression that Alabama's Republican Senate primary is pitting the GOP establishment against the party's activist base, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing its support behind appointed Sen. Luther Strange, His runoff against Roy Moore is on Sept. 26.

* Speaking of Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who rose to the position after Robert Bentley (R) was forced to resign in disgrace, confirmed this week that she will seek a full term of her own in 2018.

* With only two months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity has launched a new attack ad targeting Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D). It's not clear exactly how big the ad buy is, but AFP said it's investing at least $1 million in the spot.

* In Tennessee a few years ago, then-state Rep. Joe Carr (R) nearly scored a major upset in a Republican primary against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R), and this year, Carr is gearing up to challenge Sen. Bob Corker (R) in a primary.

* Though Ohio's statewide races are still several months off, a group called Ohio Conservatives for Change has launched the first television ad buy of the cycle, investing $350,000 in a commercial supporting Secretary of State Jon Husted's (R) Senate campaign.

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Image: Trump Announces Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy (RAISE) Act

Trump suddenly sees the light on the debt ceiling

09/08/17 11:11AM

Before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump used to whine incessantly about debt-ceiling increases. In January 2013, for example, Trump declared on Twitter, "I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling -- I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!" A day earlier, he wrote, "The worst negotiators in history (otherwise known as Republicans) have just offered to suspend debt ceiling for four months. Pathetic!"

It's a message that, with the benefit of hindsight, appears quite foolish, with Trump agreeing this week to extend the debt ceiling for three months, as part of negotiations in which Democrats got everything they wanted in exchange for nothing.

But Trump's evolution on the issue goes considerably further. It's not entirely clear if he knew what debt ceiling was when he used to complain about it, but this week the president declared, "Always we'll agree on debt ceiling automatically because of the importance of it."

In fact, the Washington Post reported that Trump is prepared to do away with the debt ceiling altogether.

President Trump on Thursday signaled openness to a proposal to effectively eliminate the federal limit on government borrowing, a dramatic reversal from his view as a candidate and the long-standing position of the Republican Party that the debt limit should be raised only if other steps are taken to restrain the size of government.

On Wednesday, Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D–N.Y.) reached what one senior White House official called a "gentlemen's agreement" to develop a plan that would no longer require Congress to routinely raise the limit on government borrowing.

When I say this is one of the smartest ideas Donald Trump has ever considered, I'm not being sarcastic. The debt ceiling is an incredibly dangerous tool that should not exist. If the president is inclined to get rid of it, Democrats should welcome the opportunity with vigor.

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Elizabeth Warren, who was then still a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 5, 2012. (Photo by Jason Reed/Reuters)

Warren throws support behind Sanders' single-payer plan

09/08/17 10:24AM

About a week ago, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised a few eyebrows when she announced she'd sign on as a co-sponsor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) “Medicare for All’’ bill. As the California Democrat said at a town-hall meeting in Oakland, she sees a single-payer system as “the right thing to do.”

The Boston Globe reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) apparently agrees.

Senator Elizabeth Warren said Thursday she will support Bernie Sanders' single-payer health care plan, thrilling liberals who see the legislation as the next major battle for the soul of the Democratic Party.

The Massachusetts Democrat described the bill as expanding Medicare, the government insurance that covers people age 65 and older, to all Americans. She said it would guarantee care for everyone at the lowest prices, and she downplayed an emerging split between liberals and Democratic centrists over such a massive expansion of a government-run program.

The Globe article added that Massachusetts' other senator, Democrat Ed Markey, also intends to sign on.

It's worth noting that Sanders' proposal has not yet been introduced, which means we don't yet have any legislative details or a full list of the bill's co-sponsors. That said, we know it's a single-payer plan and we know that this approach has growing acceptance in the Democratic mainstream, which is itself pretty remarkable.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), meanwhile, is moving forward with a related proposal, which as Politico noted yesterday, would allow "every individual and business buy into Medicare as part of Obamacare’s exchanges." It's not single-payer, but because Medicare is a socialized system, it'd be a significant step in a progressive direction -- and offer an interesting alternative to lawmakers who aren't yet on board with Sanders' model.

I wonder if Republicans fully appreciate their role in creating these political conditions.

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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

GOP again moves to help keep Trump's tax returns secret

09/08/17 09:20AM

For the most part, the controversy over Donald Trump's secret tax returns has been replaced with other presidential scandals, forcing the story out of the headlines. Much of the political world has accepted the fact that the materials will likely never reach the public.

Trump said he'd release them, as every major-party presidential nominee has done since Watergate, but for reasons the Republican hasn't explained, he refuses to be transparent in this area.

But some congressional Democrats remain tenacious on the issue. NJ.com reported overnight:

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. tried once again Thursday to force President Donald Trump to release his income tax returns. And once again walked away empty-handed.

The Republican majority on the House Ways and Means Committee turned down Pascrell's latest motion, as it has his previous attempts to force the president to follow a 40-year precedent and release his financial information.

Pascrell, who's measure demanded Trump's personal and business returns, argued, "How can we debate tax reform proposals without seeing the president's tax returns? [...] Congress has the authority and the duty to obtain and review President Trump's tax returns to ensure there are no potential conflicts of interest in the tax policies he is proposing."

This, evidently, did not prove persuasive. The Ways and Means Committee voted 21 to 14 to reject the New Jersey Democrat's motion, which would've directed the Treasury Department to provide the documents to Congress, with literally zero Republicans breaking ranks.

Why did the panel bring up the motion in the first place if the majority intended to kill it? Well, it's an interesting story.

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Image:

ACA repeal crusade starts to look like 'the zombie apocalypse'

09/08/17 08:41AM

At 1:50 p.m. (ET) yesterday, Politico reported that the Republican campaign to overhaul the nation's health care system has effectively run its course.

Senate Republicans are throwing cold water on the idea of holding another Obamacare repeal vote before their opportunity to gut the law on a party-line vote expires at the end of this month.

Almost exactly an hour later, at 2:52 p.m. (ET), Bloomberg Politics reported the exact opposite.

Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham said Thursday they will introduce a revised version of their proposal to replace Obamacare, with the goal of getting a vote by the end of this month.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised a vote in September if the senators can line up 50 of their colleagues to back the measure, Cassidy said in an interview, adding that President Donald Trump is supportive of the plan.

So, which of these reports is correct? As odd as this may seem, they're both largely right.

A week ago, when the Senate parliamentarian announced that Senate Republicans have until the end of the month to pass their health care bill with just 50 votes, it looked like the GOP's repeal crusade was just about dead. Indeed, one of the most striking political aspects of this was that practically no one on the right responded to the parliamentarian's ruling by saying, "Quick, let's get this done before it's too late!" Instead, the news was met with quiet resignation.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed to throw a lifeline to the repeal campaign this week, before clarifying that he expects any health care bill to follow regular order, which involves a process anti-health care forces simply don't have time for.

GOP leaders, reluctant to keep banging their heads into this particular wall, and still recovering from its last attempts at health care legislating, sent every signal that they'd welcome the Sept. 30 deadline and leave this issue behind them.

The trouble is, there are 52 Senate Republicans -- and they're not all on the same page.

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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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