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White House remains silent following Minnesota mosque bombing

08/09/17 10:18AM

Earlier today, a vehicle plowed into a group of French soldiers as they left their barracks in a town near Paris. While it appears none of the targets were killed, the local mayor described it as a "terrorist" incident, and the suspect was apprehended soon after.

Soon after U.S. media took note of what happened, there was Donald Trump, retweeting a Fox News report on the apparent attack. That's not especially surprising, of course, since the American president routinely makes note of suspected terrorist incidents.

This does, however, make it all the more curious that Trump has had literally nothing to say about a makeshift bomb that was detonated early Saturday morning at a Minnesota mosque. Fortunately, no one was injured, but local officials suspect this was an anti-Muslim terrorist incident.

So, why has Trump said nothing about a bombing targeting Americans on American soil? Sebastian Gorka, one of the president's more controversial national security advisers, appeared on MSNBC yesterday, and shed some light on the White House's thinking.

[Gorka] suggested the attack could have been a "fake" hate crime.

"There's a great rule: All initial reports are false,″ Gorka said. "You have to check them and find out who the perpetrators are. We've had a series of crimes committed, alleged hate crimes, by right-wing individuals in the last six months, that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left."

He added, in reference to the bombing at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, "People fake hate crimes."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump hopes to shift blame to Obama for opioid crisis

08/09/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump interrupted his vacation yesterday to host an event on the opioid crisis at one of his golf resorts, delivering brief remarks on the deadly national emergency. The president reflected, for example, on preventing addiction by stopping the problem before it starts.

"If they do start, it's awfully tough to get off," Trump said. "So we can keep them from going on, and maybe by talking to youth and telling them, 'No good; really bad for you' in every way."

I'm going to hope there's more to the White House plan.

But there was another message in the president's remarks that struck me as notable:

"[F]ederal drug prosecutions have gone down in recent years. We're going to be bringing them up and bringing them up rapidly. At the end of 2016, there were 23 percent fewer than in 2011. So they looked at this scourge and they let it go by, and we're not letting it go by."

In context, it seems "they" referred to Obama administration officials.

There are a couple of core problems with the argument, aside from Trump's creepy preoccupation with trying to blame his predecessor for everything. The first is Barack Obama and his team didn't "let" the opioid crisis "go by"; they pleaded with Congress to make serious investments in the emergency, and by large, lawmakers balked.

The second is the subtle assumption Trump is making: he apparently sees the opioid crisis as a problem that can be solved through "prosecutions." In other words, this White House doesn't see a public-health emergency; it sees a test for law enforcement.

This does not bode well for the near future.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump's claims on nuclear modernization crumble under scrutiny

08/09/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump spent the morning tweeting away, which wouldn't ordinarily be especially interesting, except for one online missive about nuclear weapons. Given the context of a burgeoning crisis with North Korea, this presidential message was bound to raise eyebrows:

"My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before...."

We talked earlier about how important it is for Americans to be able to trust a leader during a crisis, and Trump's tweet serves as a timely reminder that the president has thrown away whatever credibility he may have brought to the office.

As exercises in fact-checking go, this one's surprisingly easy:

1. Trump's "first order" as president dealt with health care, not the nation's nuclear arsenal.

2. It was actually Barack Obama, not Donald Trump, who launched a massive, multi-year effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

3. For Trump to say, the arsenal "is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before," suggests he believes the modernization process is done. That's bonkers: the process has barely started and will take decades to complete.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

In a crisis, Trump looks like the wrong leader at the wrong time

08/09/17 08:00AM

At various times during last year's presidential election, some of the nation's highest-profile figures tried to make the case that Donald Trump was unprepared for a nuclear standoff.

In February, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Trump was so "erratic," he couldn't be trusted with the nation's nuclear codes. In July, Hillary Clinton told voters, "Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons." As late as October, then-President Barack Obama said at a rally, in reference to Trump, "How can you trust him with the nuclear codes? You can't do it."

Nearly 63 million Americans nevertheless thought it'd be wise to put Trump in the Oval Office, and now the nation's first amateur president faces a possible nuclear crisis with North Korea. The Atlantic's David Graham had a great piece yesterday on why Trump is so unsuited for this specific challenge.

At a moment of nuclear brinksmanship like this, any citizen of the United States wants a few things from a leader. You want someone you can trust to tell the truth, and who foreign leaders view as credible, so that threats and statements alike are taken seriously. You want someone who is known to be able to carefully sift through a lot of evidence and assess upsides from downsides. You want someone who has a team of expert advisers whose judgment he trusts and takes seriously. And you want someone who is able to take bad news.

In other words, Trump is the opposite of what Americans need under circumstances like these. The president is untrustworthy; he's widely recognized as an international joke; he lacks anything resembling critical thinking skills and struggles to differentiate between facts and falsehoods; and he only listens to experts who tell him what he wants to hear.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.8.17

08/08/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this on tonight's show: "U.S. intelligence agencies have made an assessment that North Korea has constructed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile, according to a U.S. official briefed on the assessment."

* Another harsh elections-have-consequences moment: " The Department of Justice reversed its position in the Supreme Court case over Ohio's practice of purging inactive voters from its rolls, siding with the state in a closely-watched voting rights lawsuit."

* Venezuela's ongoing crisis: "As Venezuela reels from a crippling economic crisis and deadly street protests, the military has often served as the guarantor of President Nicolás Maduro's continued power over the country. But daring challenges to his rule in recent weeks have laid bare a split within the military that could ultimately determine the nation's fate: a growing number of officers are openly breaking ranks with the president and taking up weapons."

* The message was sent to embassies from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: "U.S. diplomats should sidestep questions from foreign governments on what it would take for the Trump administration to re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement, according to a diplomatic cable seen by Reuters."

* Erik Pence's latest insights: "The White House is actively considering a bold plan to turn over a big chunk of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to private contractors in an effort to turn the tide in a stalemated war, according to the former head of a security firm pushing the project."

* This is a great project from USA Today: "Since winning the Republican nomination, President Trump's businesses have sold at least 32 luxury condos and home lots for about $20 million to shell companies that shield the identities of buyers."

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Image: Donald Trump

Escalating tensions, Trump threatens North Korea with 'fire and fury'

08/08/17 04:42PM

A few years ago, before he formally launched his political career, Donald Trump declared via Twitter, "The global warming we should be worried about is the global warming caused by NUCLEAR WEAPONS in the hands of crazy or incompetent leaders!"

It's a sentiment to keep in mind as one takes stock of today's news.

Amid sharply escalating tensions with North Korea, President Donald Trump on Tuesday promised "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if the country continues to threaten the United States.

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States," the president warned, responding to a reporter's question during at his Bedminster Golf Club, where Trump has spent the last several days. "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening, beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire and fury --and frankly power -- the likes of which this world has never seen before."

Trump's [rhetoric] came just hours after reports that North Korea had developed a nuclear weapon small enough to fit on a missile.

Trump didn't delve into any specifics -- he's not a detail-oriented kind of guy -- but when a sitting American president effectively threatens a rogue adversary with a nuclear attack, it'd be helpful to get some clarification.

For example, is it Trump's position that "threats" alone from North Korea will necessarily be met with "fire and fury"? Because it's a safe bet that Kim Jong-un's regime still has plenty of saber rattling to do.

Raise your hand if you have confidence in America's first amateur president leading during a nuclear crisis.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

McConnell takes aim at Trump's 'excessive expectations'

08/08/17 04:07PM

It's unlikely we'll ever hear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly condemn Donald Trump. The GOP leader has simply worked too hard -- including dismissing a foreign attack on the United States -- to get to this point to start disparaging one of his partisan brethren.

But CNN reports today on McConnell's remarks yesterday to a Rotary Group in northern Kentucky, where the Kentucky senator left little doubt that he's not altogether pleased with his partner in the Oval Office.

McConnell, who has been relatively measured in his previous critiques of the White House, argued the President's approach to the legislative process is leading to an inaccurate impression of how Congress works.

"Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before," said McConnell according to CNN affiliate WCPO which covered the event. "I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process."

Just as importantly, the Senate leader suggested the amateur president doesn't yet understand the "reality" of the legislative process. "Part of the reason I think people think we're under-performing," McConnell said, "is because of too many artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the legislature which may have not been understood."

One does not need a cipher to know McConnell was referring to Trump -- since the president is the only one who's tried to impose "artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the legislature."

The Kentucky Republican added, "I've been and I will be again today, not a fan of tweeting and I've said that to him privately. I think it would be helpful if the president would be a little more on message."

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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Rural America feels the effects of Trump's trade policies

08/08/17 12:54PM

There was a fascinating piece in Politico yesterday on the country's agricultural sector, which has struggled for a while, but which saw an exciting new opportunity take shape last year. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) was seen as "a lifeline," offering Rural America a chance to reach millions of new, international customers.

Donald Trump, a fierce opponent of the trade pact for reasons he's never been able to explain in any detail, was quick to close that window. Now America's rural exporters are watching other countries reach deals on their own, leaving the United States on the sidelines. China, in particular, may not have been a part of the proposed TPP, but it stands to benefit greatly: as the Politico piece explained, China "smells blood in the water," and is "moving quickly to assert itself, rather than the United States, as the region's trade arbiter."

When the Republican president killed the TPP soon after taking office, he assured Americans he'd replace it with a "beautiful" alternative. Nearly eight months later, the Trump administration still has no meaningful trade policy or strategy.

As a matter of domestic politics, there is an unfortunate irony to this: many of the areas that stand to suffer the most as a result of Trump's approach also backed Trump -- usually by large margins -- in last year's election. The Politico piece highlighted some folks in Rural America who hoped the Republican president would adopt a more constructive posture.

[Stu Swanson, who farms corn, soybeans and pork] acknowledged his own household is split over its support for Trump.... Swanson was less sure where Trump drew the line between campaign-trail bluster and real action. There was, he thought, far too much at stake for his rural base to make any rash decisions. Then, three days after he was sworn in, Trump made good on a promise to drop U.S. support for TPP.

"I was disappointed Trump kind of broadly wiped out TPP before there was even a discussion," Swanson said.

Jerry Maier, a Wright County corn and soybean farmer who supported Trump, said he feels the same way.

"If you're at the table and nothing happens, that's one thing. But if you aren't even at that table, that's frustrating," he said.

If you think this is reminiscent of the health care debate, we're on the same page.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.8.17

08/08/17 12:00PM

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

* Two new national polls show Donald Trump's approval rating stuck below the 40% threshold. A CBS News poll puts the president's support at 36%, while CNN's poll shows Trump slightly better off at 38%.

* With only three months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, the latest statewide poll from Virginia Commonwealth University shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest advantage over Ed Gillespie (R), 42% to 37%.

* We don't know for sure whether Sen. Susan Collins (R) will run for governor in Maine next year, but if she does, she may have some trouble with her party's base. Public Policy Polling found Collins' approval rating among likely Republican primary voters is just 33% -- less than half the support Trump enjoys among the same Mainers.

* Ahead of Detroit's mayoral primary, former Vice President Joe Biden raised a few eyebrows by recording a robocall in support of incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan (D).

* To get a flavor of Alabama's U.S. Senate Republican primary, note that former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore showed off a gun his wife keeps in her purse at a local forum last week to prove his family's support for the Second Amendment.

* Hillary Clinton probably won't be running for anything again, but she's nevertheless hired a pair of former campaign aides "to help manage Onward Together, the project she founded this spring with former governor Howard Dean to fund and support a coalition of Democratic groups led by activists and organizers."

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A pedestrian walks past the corporate headquarters of health insurer Anthem, formerly known as Wellpoint, on Dec. 3, 2014 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

Trump's health care antics carry consequences for consumers

08/08/17 11:20AM

The pattern is familiar: the public learns of discouraging news about the health care system; the right seizes on the news as evidence against the Affordable Care Act; and a closer look at the news shows the developments are less about "Obamacare" and more about the damage Donald Trump is doing to the markets.

This happened again yesterday, when Anthem, a major private insurer, announced that it's withdrawing from Nevada's exchanges. For the right, including the president himself, this was fresh proof that the ACA isn't working, but those who take a closer look at the coverage know there's more to the story. Take this Reuters report, for example:

Anthem blamed the moves in part on uncertainty over whether the Trump administration would maintain subsidies that keep costs down.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week threatened to cut off subsidy payments that make the plans affordable for lower-income Americans and help insurers to keep premiums down, after efforts to repeal the law signed by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, failed in Congress.

The Nevada Independent published a similar report, which stressed the same point.

The [Nevada] exchange's executive director Heather Korbulic said that uncertainty over whether cost-sharing reduction payments from the federal government to insurance carriers will continue and whether any changes to the individual mandate have created "constant ambiguity" for insurers. President Donald Trump has been deciding whether to continue the payments, which help lower deductibles and copays for roughly 7 million low income individuals who buy insurance on the exchange, on a month-by-month basis, referring to them as a "bailout" for insurance companies.

"The insurance companies need some assurances about the cost-sharing reductions and this month-to-month stuff has become increasingly burdensome in terms of volatility. They can't anticipate what their risk will look like if they don't know they're going to get cost-sharing reductions," Korbulic said. "It's unnecessarily dramatic in a market that relies on certainty — or at least some certainty -- about what risk will look like."

In other words, were it not for Trump's pointless and dangerous political games, consumers wouldn't be feeling the adverse effects right now. What looks at the surface like a story about the Affordable Care Act struggling is actually a story about the White House undermining the nation's health care system out of partisan spite.

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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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