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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally at University of North Carolina, Sept. 15, 2016, in Greensboro, N.C. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Clinton takes a keen interest in Wells Fargo controversy

09/20/16 10:04AM

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf will be on Capitol Hill today, where he's likely to receive a very unwelcome reception from the Senate Banking Committee, whose members will be demanding answers about the banking giant's latest controversy.

To briefly recap, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently reached a record settlement with Wells Fargo after the company was caught allegedly bilking consumers, enrolling customers in banking services without their permission, then charging them fees for accounts and services they neither sought nor authorized.

Stumpf has been in damage-control mode -- see, for example, his apologetic op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal -- though there are still some unanswered questions about what Wells Fargo executives knew and when they knew it.

Of course, all of this comes against the backdrop of the U.S. presidential campaign, and the story has not escaped Hillary Clinton's attention. In fact, the Democratic candidate released a well-timed open letter to Wells Fargo customers overnight. It reads in part:
"I was deeply disturbed when, last week, we found out that Wells Fargo had engaged in widespread illegal practices over many years. The bank secretly opened up millions of accounts for customers without their consent – betraying their customers, misusing their personal information and leading many to be slapped with unjust fees and other charges. Today, Wells Fargo's CEO will appear before Congress. He owes all of you a clear explanation as to how this happened under his watch.

"There is simply no place for this kind of outrageous behavior in America.

"Our economy depends on a strong and safe banking system to help keep it moving. But even after Americans spent years working hard to recover from the Great Recession, the culture of misconduct and recklessness that preceded that crisis too often persists. I have a plan to address it."
The first tenet of the plan: defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which uncovered the wrongdoing and negotiated a massive settlement.

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An inmate stands by his cell door. (Photo by Danny Johnston/AP)

The campaign for criminal justice reform ends with a whimper

09/20/16 09:26AM

In the wake of Republican gains in the 2014 midterms, expectations were understandably low for the 114th Congress. President Obama and the GOP majority on Capitol Hill freely acknowledged they agreed on practically nothing, leading to widely held assumptions that Congress would simply tread water for two years, accomplishing nothing.

There was, however, an exception: criminal justice reform. If policymakers were going to do anything of significance, this was the issue to watch. Obama told the NAACP last year that there's actually broad agreement on overhauling the costly and ineffective status quo: "It's created some unlikely bedfellows. You've got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. You've got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU. You've got the NAACP and the Koch brothers.... That's good news."

And while that was all true, the bad news is nothing is going to happen. NBC News reported the other day:
In a huge disappointment to advocates, legislation to reform components of the criminal justice system will not come before the House adjourns this month as previously planned, according to two sources who have worked closely on the effort. [...]

House Speaker Paul Ryan had said earlier this year that he planned on bringing up criminal justice reform bills in September during the small window that Congress is in Washington between their August break and before they adjourn at the end of September to continue campaigning for re-election. But that timing has proven difficult.
With members trying to avoid a government shutdown, and then leaving D.C. as quickly as possible, the issue appears to be effectively dead. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of Congress' most notable champions of a bipartisan compromise, is starting to look ahead to 2017.

In theory, one of the principal sticking points in any legislative fight is cost -- Republicans, reflexively skeptical of "government spending," are generally opposed to any priority that requires greater public investment -- but criminal justice reform actually saves money. It's one of the reasons there were high hopes for the bill in this Congress.

So what happened?

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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks with "Face the Nation," May 11, 2013.

Bush's Pentagon chief: Trump is 'beyond repair'

09/20/16 08:43AM

About a month ago, Carlos Gutierrez, Commerce Secretary in the Bush/Cheney administration, announced his rather enthusiastic support for Hillary Clinton's candidacy. And while it always comes as something of a surprise when a notable Republican official throws support to a Democratic candidate, there's a fairly long list of Bush administration officials who are quite eager for Donald Trump to lose.

Indeed, Politico reported overnight that even George H.W. Bush himself has privately said he intends to vote for Clinton over his party's nominee.

But perhaps the highest profile veteran of the Bush cabinet to raise anti-Trump concerns is former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who stayed on as a member of President Obama's cabinet, and who wrote a rather striking piece on the 2016 race for the Wall Street Journal.
At least on national security, I believe Mr. Trump is beyond repair. He is stubbornly uninformed about the world and how to lead our country and government, and temperamentally unsuited to lead our men and women in uniform. He is unqualified and unfit to be commander-in-chief.
And that's really just the overarching summary of Gates' concerns. The former Pentagon chief also said Trump is "in a league of his own" when it comes to "credibility problems"; he condemned Trump for being "cavalier about the use of nuclear weapons"; he criticized Trump's "insults" of service-members and their families; and he lamented the fact that Trump is "willfully ignorant about the rest of the world, about our military and its capabilities, and about government itself."
The world we confront is too perilous and too complex to have as president a man who believes he, and he alone, has all the answers and has no need to listen to anyone. In domestic affairs, there are many checks on what a president can do; in national security there are few constraints. A thin-skinned, temperamental, shoot-from-the-hip and lip, uninformed commander-in-chief is too great a risk for America.
And while all of this seems quite fair under the circumstances, Trump seemed surprisingly eager to prove Gates right about being thin-skinned and temperamental.
Smoke raises behind an Islamic State flag after Iraqi security forces and Shiite fighters took control of Saadiya in Diyala province from Islamist State militants, Nov. 24, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Reuters)

Is one candidate a 'recruiting sergeant for the terrorists'?

09/20/16 08:00AM

In the 2004 presidential election, the first national race after 9/11, there was considerable focus on national security and the question of which candidate was better prepared to combat al Qaeda. Just a few days before the election, Osama bin Laden released a new video, which only served to intensify the debate.

Though CIA analysts later concluded that the terrorist's message was "clearly designed to assist" then-President George W. Bush's re-election, the video had largely the opposite effect. John Kerry later said the bin Laden tape contributed to his defeat.

Twelve years later, bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda's potency has waned, but a similar political fight is nevertheless underway. The New York Times reported overnight:
With a manhunt still in progress before an arrest later in the day, [Hillary Clinton] sought to shift the terms of the presidential contest back in her direction. She called [Donald Trump] a "recruiting sergeant for the terrorists" and, from a rainy airport in White Plains, offered herself as a seasoned warrior against terrorism. [...]

Citing former intelligence and counterterrorism officials who have criticized Mr. Trump's caustic remarks about Islam, Mrs. Clinton leveled an attack that might have shocked the political world in any other campaign: In addition to calling him a "recruiting sergeant" for terrorists, she accused him of giving "aid and comfort" to the Islamic State with his campaign oratory.
Not surprisingly, the Republican nominee returned fire, arguing that ISIS terrorists are "hoping and praying that Hillary Clinton becomes president so that they can continue their savagery and murder."

At a certain level, this seems like predictable campaign posturing in the midst of a competitive presidential campaign. When the public's attention turns to national security and terrorist threats, it's only natural for a candidate to say something along the lines of, "The bad guys would much rather deal with my opponent than me."

But isn't this a knowable thing? ISIS won't get a vote in the American presidential election, but isn't there independent information that offers some sense of their political preferences?
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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.19.16

09/19/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ahmad Rahami: "The desperate search for a 28-year-old man wanted in connection with a series of blasts that terrorized New York and New Jersey over the last three days ended Monday in a gun battle with police officers. Ahmad Rahami was taken into custody after he was shot in the leg during the 10:30 a.m. confrontation in Linden, New Jersey, law enforcement sources said."

* Minnesota: "Nine people were hurt in a knife rampage at a Minnesota mall during which the attacker made references to Allah, authorities said. The suspect was shot dead by an off-duty police officer at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, which began around 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET) on Saturday. The suspect was wearing a private security uniform, officials said."

* Syria: "Syria's military declared the end of a nationwide cease-fire Monday, blaming rebel groups for violating the truce and dealing a blow to U.S. and Russian efforts to halt the bloodshed."

* Related news: "The United States' accidental bombing of Syrian troops over the weekend has put it on the defensive, undercutting American efforts to reduce violence in the civil war and open paths for humanitarian relief."

* Philadelphia: "A wild chase and shootout through the streets of Philadelphia left two police officers and three civilians wounded and a woman and the suspect fatally shot."

* Energy: "Gasoline prices increased again across the Deep South on Monday, 10 days after the discovery of a pipeline rupture in Alabama that threatened fuel supplies and prompted worries about environmental contamination."

* Emissions: "The 27 states challenging Obama's Clean Power Plan in court say the lower emissions levels it would impose are an undue burden. But most are likely to hit them anyway. Already, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Dakota appear to be meeting the CPP's early targets. And changes in the power market, along with policies favoring clean generation, are propelling most of the rest toward timely compliance, according to researchers, power producers and officials, as well as government filings reviewed by Reuters."
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Donald Trump misses another key leadership opportunity

09/19/16 04:51PM

Writing in the Washington Post today, Paul Waldman highlighted an often overlooked point about the presidential race:
When important events occur during the presidential campaign, we can get some sense of how the candidates would act if they were in the Oval Office. They don't have the ability to do anything about a financial crisis or a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, but at least we can watch what they say and what instincts seem to be driving them.
Agreed. When explosive devices are found in and near New York City -- including one detonation that sent dozens to nearby hospitals -- neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have any official responsibilities. They're both private citizens, watching developments unfold as candidates, not officeholders.

But that doesn't mean their responses are trivial. In effect, stories like these are important pop quizzes for would-be presidents -- and if they haven't studied or prepared, they'll struggle to pass.

For her part, Clinton, a former senator and Secretary of State, has responded to events in New York and New Jersey as one would expect her to: with reasoned, responsible stances, calls for vigilance, appeals to Americans' sense of fairness, and reminders about some of her related policy proposals she intends to implement if elected.

Trump's first instinct over the weekend was to tell supporters, in reference to national security, "I will give you good results. Don't worry how I get there, okay? Please." He added on Saturday night -- before he had any of the relevant facts -- that the explosion in Chelsea was the result of a "bomb," which turned out to be true, and in the process, this became it the single most important part of the story for Trump.

"What I said was exactly correct," the Republican boasted this morning. "I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news." (In case anyone's confused, "newscasters" are not supposed to guess what they think might have happened, and then hope the news proves their guess correct.)
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Senate Chairman Of Transportation Committee Calls For Investigation Into George Washington Bridge Lane Closures

Chris Christie faces new allegations in 'Bridgegate' scandal

09/19/16 12:45PM

In May 2015, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) longtime ally, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, stemming from his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. At the time, the Republican governor reiterated his longtime position: "I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act."

One of the enduring mysteries of this controversy is that we don't know whether or not Christie's claim is true. In May 2015, Wildstein's lawyer told reporters, "There is a lot more that will come out." He added that the governor "knew of the lane closures as they occurred" and that "evidence exists" that proves it.

Keep this in mind when reading about this morning's developments. The New York Times reported:
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey knew that his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him, prosecutors said on Monday.

It was the first time Mr. Christie, a Republican, has been accused of knowing about the scheme as it unfolded. The prosecutors made the assertion during opening statements in the trial of two former Christie administration officials charged with closing the lanes in 2013 and then covering it up.
Remember, Christie's posture has evolved over time on this story. For months, the Garden State governor insisted the entire controversy was absurd and that his office would never conspire to punish Christie's own constituents as part of some petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta.

When evidence proved that Christie's office really did conspire to punish the governor's own constituents as part of a petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta, he claimed ignorance. Sure, top members of Christie's team orchestrated and executed the plan, but the governor, his reputation for micromanaging notwithstanding, insisted he had no idea what was going on with his own top aides who were abusing their power in his name.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Christie's second line was as wrong as his first.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.19.16

09/19/16 12:00PM

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

* In Florida, a new poll from Siena College/New York Times Upshot shows Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Donald Trump in a four-way contest, 41% to 40%. In a head-to-head match-up, the two are tied at 43% each.

* The same poll shows Sen. Marco Rubio (R) ahead in his re-election bid in Florida, 48% to 42%, over Rep. Patrick Murphy (D).

* The Clinton campaign unveiled a new video over the weekend featuring a World War II vet reflecting on Trump's criticisms of former prisoners of war. At 87 seconds, it's too long for a television ad, but as a web video, it's pretty devastating.

* In Pennsylvania, a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll shows Clinton leading Trump in Pennsylvania, 47% to 38%.

* The same poll found Katie McGinty (D) ahead in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, leading incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 43% to 38%.

* Is President Obama fired up about the 2016 election cycle? Watch this two-minute clip from his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation gala Saturday night. It's been a while since I've seen him speak with quite this much passion.

* Based on its investments, it looks like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is increasingly optimistic about competitive Senate races in Missouri and North Carolina, and less optimistic about the contests in Ohio and Florida.

* On a related note, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), increasingly worried about losing, has abandoned a conservative Medicare plan he helped write.
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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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