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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.12.18

02/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What volatility looks like: "U.S. stocks surged Monday recovering from some of the wreckage left by two weeks of brutal trading that wiped out trillions of dollars in market value."

* Following up on Friday night's news: "The Justice Department's No. 3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months before the department announced her departure on Friday, according to multiple sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand."

* Harvey Rishikof: "Before his sudden firing last week, the Pentagon official who oversaw military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay was exploring potential plea deals to end the long-delayed prosecution of five suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks, a move that would foreclose the possibility of execution, according to several people familiar with the matter."

* This is one of those behind-the-scenes stories that will have a real impact: "The Trump administration has adopted new limits on the use of 'guidance documents' that federal agencies have issued on almost every conceivable subject, an action that could have sweeping implications for the government's ability to sue companies accused of violations."

* I remember when Candidate Trump said his administration would champion the interests of the LGBT community: "The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won't investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration's year-long broadside against LGBT rights."

* Sinclair Broadcast Group "is asking its executives -- including the news directors at its many stations -- to contribute to its political action committee, a move that journalism ethics experts say is highly unusual and troubling."

* Remember, Trump has expressed support for this guy: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told soldiers last week to shoot female rebels in their genitals, the latest of several violent, misogynistic remarks."

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The problem with Trump's infrastructure plan: It's not much of a plan

02/12/18 03:01PM

Donald Trump, both before his election and after, at least said marginally compelling things about infrastructure. The Republican has long seemed to recognize that the nation's infrastructure is in desperate need of investment -- a point Barack Obama made countless times over eight years in the White House -- and this looked like an area where Trump could expect some bipartisan cooperation.

But then the delays occurred, to the point of actual comedy. In Trump World, it was always "Infrastructure Week" and the president's infrastructure plan was always poised to be unveiled "soon."

The good news is, the long-awaited, much-delayed plan now exists. The bad news is, it's not really a plan in any meaningful sense.

The White House unveiled its long-awaited infrastructure plan on Monday, proposing $200 billion in federal spending that it says will ultimately spur a $1.5 trillion investment over the next 10 years. [...]

The plan includes $100 billion in "incentives" that would require local and state governments to pony up big bucks or partner with private companies to unlock federal dollars. While the government will judge several criteria when considering whether or not to give out infrastructure dollars, the biggest will be outside funding.

So, right off the bat, those headlines you may have seen about Trump's "$1.5 trillion plan" painted a misleading picture. What the White House has in mind is roughly $200 billion in federal investment, half of which is intended to entice state and local officials to somehow spend hundreds of billions of dollars they don't have on their infrastructure needs -- probably through regressive privatization schemes.

And what about the other half? According to the blueprint, Trump wants $50 billion for a rural block-grant program, $20 billion for federal loan programs, $10 billion for a capital financing program to build government buildings, and $20 billion for "transformative programs," though the definition of the phrase seems a little murky.

Are state and local governments prepared to fill in the gaps? Of course not. As Vox explained, "Right now, federally funded highways (that's interstates and other routes) are financed on the basis of an 80-20 federal-state split, and federally funded mass transit projects usually get a 50-50 split. Trump's proposal is to flip the 80-20 formula on its head and require that states and cities kick in at least $4 for every $1 in federal money they receive."

Wait, it gets worse.

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Donald Trump

When Trump's anti-immigrant fear-mongering crosses a line

02/12/18 02:04PM

That Donald Trump and his operation want to create public fear of immigrants is not in dispute. What needs to be considered is how far the president and his team are prepared to go in pursuit of this goal.

We know, for example, about the Trump administration's Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. We also know how dangerously ridiculous the VOICE initiative has been.

Last week, as the Washington Post  noted, these efforts took an additional step when the Director of Surrogate & Coalitions Outreach for the Office of Communications at the White House sent an email to reporters. The message described itself as an "Immigration Crime Stories Round Up," purporting to show evidence of immigrants committing crimes.

One of the crimes listed in the "round-up" was an incident in Maryland "that is not clearly connected to immigrants."

But to fully appreciate the depravity behind Trump World's ugly campaign, it's worth reflecting Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, who died in November in what appeared to be an accident. As Dana Milbank explained, Trump and his allies saw Martinez's death as "an opportunity to whip up anti-immigrant fervor."

The public-relations push started at a November cabinet meeting, when Trump argued for the cameras that "we lost a Border Patrol officer just yesterday, and another one was brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt.... We're going to have the wall." A tweet soon followed.

Other Republicans joined in. Fox News told its viewers that the border patrol agent was "brutally murdered," "ambushed by illegal immigrants," and attacked "in the most gruesome possible way."

We now know the evidence doesn't support these claims. From Milbank's piece:

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Democrats gamble by putting policy priorities first

02/12/18 01:01PM

"Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do," Donald Trump falsely claimed over the weekend, unaware of the irony of such a sentiment coming from a president who rescinded DACA. The Republican added that Democrats simply want to use protections for Dreamers "as a campaign issue."

Trump has pushed this line before, and it continues to be demonstrably ridiculous. But the president is inadvertently raising an important point about partisan asymmetry, about which he's making faulty assumptions.

In Trump's mind, Democrats are effectively sticking to the script Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans wrote in the Obama era: Just say no. To work constructively or in a bipartisan fashion might give voters the impression that the White House is governing well. It's therefore better, the GOP decided, to block everything possible as part of a maximalist attempt at obstruction. When the exasperated public expresses frustration, just blame the White House for failing to lead effectively.

Trump apparently assumes this is what Dems are doing. They're not. In fact, the president has this exactly backwards: Democrats keep offering bipartisan deals on immigration -- I believe we're up to four, at last count -- precisely because they'd rather have DACA protections for Dreamers in the short term than have a political wedge later on.

If Dems wanted to use DACA "as a campaign issue," they wouldn't keep putting credible solutions on the table. They'd do the opposite, trying to scuttle bipartisan deals.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump keeps taking credit for Obama-era successes

02/12/18 12:30PM

About a month ago, the Associated Press reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had an important new boast: the number of Superfund sites had shrunk thanks to completed cleanup efforts. It was, officials claimed, a major Trump administration accomplishment.

Except it wasn't, really. The cleanup work on the Superfund sites in question was completed during the Obama administration. Trump World just wanted to take credit. (In fact, the AP found that work on Superfund sites slowed in 2017 to a level lower than any year of the Obama or Bush eras.)

Last week, as the New York Times  reported, something similar happened.

The Trump administration has released data showing a large increase in penalties against polluters, as well $20 billion in commitments from companies to correct problems that have caused environmental damage. [...]

The data from the E.P.A. represented activity during the government's 2017 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, meaning the totals included the final three and half months of the Obama administration, when some of the E.P.A.'s biggest cases were settled. The data also reflected cases that were resolved during the Trump administration but had been initiated and largely handled under President Obama.

Cynthia Giles, who was the assistant administrator for the agency's enforcement office during the Obama administration, explained to the Times, "Nearly all of the large cases included in E.P.A.'s annual enforcement report were essentially over before the new administration arrived at E.P.A. Without an unprecedented disavowal of an already negotiated and public agreement, there is nothing Administrator [Scott] Pruitt's team could have done to change the outcome. In no sense do these cases reflect the intentions or actions of the new administration."

In fact, not only did the Trump administration take credit for work it had nothing to do with, but the New York Times conducted an analysis and found that Trump's EPA sought significantly fewer civil penalties against alleged polluters than the preceding two administrations.

It's not just the EPA, either. Ryan Zinke's Interior Department published a "comprehensive list of accomplishments" in December, which included the Trump administration taking credit for a legal victory over mining near the Grand Canyon -- "a legal fight that had already been argued in federal court a month before the Trump administration took office."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.12.18

02/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, Rep. Lou Barletta (R) still has primary rivals, but Donald Trump has nevertheless decided to effectively endorse the immigration hardliner.

* Michael Roman used to lead an "intelligence-gathering unit" for the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners. Now he's director of special projects and research at the White House, though as Politico  noted, "Few people in or close to the White House have any idea what Michael Roman does all day."

* As Republicans worry about their control of Congress, GOP officials traveled to Las Vegas over the weekend to heap praise onto billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a key party mega-donor.

* The RNC said it would keep former Finance Committee Chairman Steve Wynn's money until Wynn's company completed its independent investigation into his alleged misconduct. Late last week, the company's board ended that investigation before it was complete.

* With a month to go before the congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, Conor Lamb (D) launched an ad last week tying his opponent, Rick Saccone (R), to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and the GOP campaign against Social Security and Medicare.

* Lissa Lucas, a Democratic state legislative candidate in West Virginia, tried to deliver testimony last week on a bill to expand companies' drilling rights for oil and gas. When she began to read a list of industry donations to state lawmakers, Lucas' microphone was cut off and she was eventually dragged away.

* Though I haven't seen this elsewhere, CNN is reporting that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is reconsidering his decision to retire at the end of the year.

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

Dems ask the right questions about White House security clearances

02/12/18 11:30AM

Before Rob Porter resigned last week as the White House staff secretary, he was responsible for, among things, screening every document that reached the president's desk. In other words, Porter had access to highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis.

We now know that was a problematic dynamic. As Rachel explained on the show, Porter didn't have, and apparently couldn't get, a permanent security clearance. In fact, while he was handling highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis, Porter's ex-wife was telling the FBI that he was a potential target for blackmail.

So, how is it, exactly, that Porter was cleared to handle secret information as part of his duties? It's unlikely we'll see any congressional hearings on this, but as Politico reported, Democratic lawmakers appear to be asking the right questions.

Democratic senators on Thursday requested an intelligence community investigation into security clearance procedures under President Donald Trump, after a White House aide who had not gotten full clearance announced he would resign over domestic abuse allegations.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to Wayne Stone, the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, asking for information about how the administration determines who can access classified information.

In their letter, the senators noted, "Members of the Senate have sent several requests for information to the administration seeking clarification on the security clearance review process." After noting that those requests have gone unmet, they added, "We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance."

They're not alone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Committee, insisted last week that the Porter controversy is the latest reminder that the White House's security clearance process needs "credible oversight."

On Friday, a separate group of 12 senators from the Democratic conference wrote to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn, asking why Porter was hired to handle classified documents "despite the fact he could not get a security clearance."

The controversy surrounding Porter has certainly helped elevate the questions, but it'd be a mistake to think Trump World's problems with security clearances are limited to one aide.

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Steve Scalise

GOP leader flunks test on separation of church and state

02/12/18 11:00AM

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. last week, and devoted much of his remarks to his recovery from last year's shooting that nearly killed him. It was his faith, the Republican said, that helped him persevere.

But Scalise ran into a little trouble when he decided to share some thoughts on American history.

"This was a nation founded with a deep belief in God. Our founding fathers talked about it when they were preparing to draft the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson -- who was the author of the Constitution -- if you go to the Jefferson Memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson: 'God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?'

"You can't separate church from state.... People would say, you know, when you're voting on issues, how do you separate your faith from the way you vote? Faith is part of who you are."

OK, there's a lot to unpack here, so let's take this one step at a time.

We know that despite Scalise's claim, Thomas Jefferson didn't write the Constitution. He was actually in France at the time the Constitution was crafted. Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence a decade earlier, but that isn't the same thing. (That's not to say Jefferson was irrelevant -- his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom likely helped influence the drafting of the First Amendment -- but to say Jefferson was the Constitution's "author" is plainly wrong. That title largely belongs to James Madison, who, incidentally, also championed the separation of church and state.)

We also know that while Jefferson's approach to religion was complex -- see the Jefferson Bible, for example -- his approach to religious liberty was straightforward: he was an ardent champion of church-state separation. It's what makes Scalise's reliance on Jefferson to argue against the principle so spectacularly wrong.

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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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