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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign rally at the Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Penn., Aug. 12, 2016. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Middle East takes note of Trump's conspiracy theories

08/17/16 11:00AM

In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Cairo for some diplomatic talks when her motorcade was confronted with angry protesters. An unfortunate scene unfolded, with people throwing shoes and tomatoes at the U.S. delegation.
 
What was the protest all about? The protesters had apparently heard conspiracy theories from American extremists, who said the Obama administration "harbors a secret, pro-Islamist agenda" and backs the Muslim Brotherhood. It wasn't in any way true, of course, but Republicans like Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert said it, the comments were picked up by U.S. skeptics in the Middle East, and it wasn't long before many confused people came to believe the nonsense, unaware of the GOP lawmakers' lack of credibility.
 
"I guarantee you nobody in Egypt really knows who Louie Gohmert is or what he's about," said Steven A. Cook, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, explained in 2013. "So they could very well point to this and say 'Look! He's a member of Congress. This must be serious. There must be something to it.'"
 
Now, of course, there's a related problem that takes the entire dynamic to the next level. The problem's name is Donald Trump.
 
In the New York Times yesterday, there was an interesting piece from Michael Wahid Hanna, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and at the Center on Law and Security at N.Y.U.'s School of Law, and Daniel Benaim, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. They made the point that when the Republican presidential hopeful shares one of his many conspiracy theories -- including his recent assertion that President Obama and Hillary Clinton are the original "founders" of ISIS -- Americans aren't the only folks who notice.
Public opinion has a profound impact on American interests in the Middle East and around the world. The United States' military strategy against the Islamic State depends on mobilizing local actors to lead the fight on the ground. Imagine how much harder that is when people have been led to believe that President Obama created the group. Or think of the added danger to American troops in Iraq, where Shiite militant groups who are fighting the Islamic State remain deeply wary of the United States military.
 
Just this weekend, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, publicly endorsed Mr. Trump's remarks: "This is an American presidential candidate. This was spoken on behalf of the Republican Party. He has data and documents."
I can think of a few GOP lawmakers who likely winced after seeing that "spoken on behalf of the Republican Party" comment.
A logo sign outside of a facility occupied by Aetna, Inc., in Blue Bell, Penn., on June 28, 2015. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar/AP)

Insurer's ACA plans spark unexpected controversy

08/17/16 10:00AM

While nearly all of the recent news surrounding the Affordable Care Act has been positive, this week brought an important setback: Aetna, one of the nation's largest private insurers, announced that it's losing money through "Obamacare" plans. As a result, Aetna said it will now "sell individual insurance on the government-run online marketplaces in only four states next year, down from the current 15 states."
 
For the ACA system, this was clearly a step in the wrong direction. For the exchange marketplaces to be effective, consumers need private insurers to compete for their business. The more insurance companies scale back, the less effective the law.
 
To be sure, this isn't a complete disaster -- as the New York Times' editorial board explained, the Affordable Care Act can certainly survive this -- but there's no denying the fact that it's bad news for the system overall.
 
What's less clear is why, exactly, Aetna made this decision. As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum noted this week, "Aetna did a lot of business on the Obamacare exchanges, and until recently claimed that it was a good investment. Now they've suddenly changed their mind. Why? No one can say for sure, but the skeptical among us suspect it's payback. The Obama administration blocked their proposed merger with Humana, so now they're going to exit Obamacare. Nyah nyah nyah."
 
There's fresh evidence Kevin may have been onto something. The Huffington Post's Jonathan Cohn and Jeffrey Young published a rather striking report overnight.
[Aetna's] move also was directly related to a Department of Justice decision to block the insurer's potentially lucrative merger with Humana, according to a letter from Aetna's CEO obtained by The Huffington Post. [...]
 
[J]ust last month, in a letter to the Department of Justice, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said the two issues were closely linked. In fact, he made a clear threat: If President Barack Obama's administration refused to allow the merger to proceed, he wrote, Aetna would be in worse financial position and would have to withdraw from most of its Obamacare markets, and quite likely all of them.
The report added that for ACA supporters, this suggests the insurer "was using its participation in Obama's signature domestic policy initiative as a bargaining chip in order to secure approval of a controversial business deal."
Liz Cheney

Liz Cheney appears to be on her way to Congress

08/17/16 09:12AM

If you think what's missing from Congress is a member of the Cheney family, you'll be pleased with yesterday's primary results out of Wyoming.
Liz Cheney has won Wyoming's Republican primary for U.S. House. Cheney beat seven challengers for a chance at the job her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney, first won 40 years ago.
 
Her campaign focused on national security and rolling back federal regulations affecting Wyoming's beleaguered coal industry.
Incumbent Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R), who has served as Wyoming's sole representative for the last eight years, is stepping down at the end of this Congress. There was a large GOP primary field, which Cheney ended up leading with relative ease.
 
Yesterday's results don't guarantee Cheney's place in Congress, but given Wyoming's status as a ruby-red state, it's widely assumed that the winner of the Republican primary is well positioned to win the U.S. House seat in the fall.
 
What's especially notable about Cheney's victory is the degree to which the former Fox News pundit and State Department official had to undo the damage done by her last congressional bid.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks out at Lake Michigan during a visit to the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center in Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 16, 2016. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Reuters)

Trump campaign undergoes (another) major staff shake-up

08/17/16 08:00AM

In April, in the face of broad criticisms about his campaign's direction, Donald Trump shook up his leadership team and implemented a "massive restructuring." Two months later, in June, the Republican presidential candidate made another major staffing change, ousting campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
 
And now, two months after that, facing long odds of success, Team Trump is once again undergoing an overhaul.
Donald Trump is shaking up his campaign's leadership amid flagging poll numbers, NBC News has learned.
 
Kellyanne Conway -- already a senior adviser to the campaign -- told NBC News she has been promoted to the role of campaign manager. She confirmed that Paul Manafort will stay on as campaign chair but said Stephen Bannon, the co-founder of conservative Breitbart News, will come on board as campaign CEO.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the staffing changes, said Manafort will stay on, though his power will clearly be diminished. The Washington Post's report added, "Trump's stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump's presentation and pitch for the general election."
 
And just when it seemed things couldn't get much worse for Manafort, the Associated Press reported this morning that the Republican lobbyist "helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party's efforts to influence U.S. policy."
 
If accurate, a report like this will raise questions anew about why Manafort is maintaining any kind of leadership role in the Republican nominee's presidential campaign.

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.16.16

08/16/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Louisiana flooding: "The death toll for the Louisiana Flood of 2016 climbed to 10 Tuesday (Aug. 16) and eight more parishes were declared federal disaster areas. Roads are still closed across the state and at least 11,000 people are in shelters after a slow-moving weather system dumped as much as two feet of rain in 48 hours on parts of East Baton Rouge, Livingston and St. Helena parishes."
 
* Following up on the report from last night's show: "Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was convicted Monday of perjury and other crimes, announced she will resign Wednesday."
 
* New York: "Two days after an imam and his assistant were gunned down after afternoon prayers in Queens, the police said late Monday that a man they had in custody had been charged in the killings."
 
* Discouraging ACA news: "Aetna, the nation's third largest health insurer, announced Monday night the most significant departure yet from the marketplaces set up by President Obama's signature health care law. The company, citing $430 million in losses selling insurance to individuals since January of 2014, will slash its participation from 15 states to four next year."
 
* Climate crisis: "Earth just broiled to its hottest month in recorded history, according to NASA. Even after the fading of a strong El Nino, which spikes global temperatures on top of man-made climate change, July burst global temperature records."
 
* FBI: "Responding to requests from House Republicans, the FBI sent members of Congress the notes from its July interview with Hillary Clinton about her private email server on Tuesday."
 
* Worth watching: "Russian bombers flying from an Iranian air base struck rebel targets across Syria on Tuesday, Russian and Iranian officials said, dramatically underscoring the two countries' growing military ties and highlighting Russia's ambitions for greater influence in a turbulent Middle East."
In this Sept. 3, 2014, file photo, shows flowers blooming in front of the Salt Lake Temple. in Temple Square, in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Why Utah is suddenly receiving so much presidential attention

08/16/16 12:44PM

In presidential elections, Utah is such a Republican stronghold, it's practically the basis for clichés. The state has backed the GOP candidate in 12 of the past 12 campaign cycles. Over the last half-century, the closest any Democrat has come to winning Utah was in 1992, when Bill Clinton lost by 19 points.
 
And Clinton finished third in Utah that year, trailing Ross Perot.
 
But this is an odd year for all sorts of reasons, and Utah suddenly finds itself receiving far more attention than state voters are accustomed to. Polls show Donald Trump leading Hillary Clinton in the state, but by modest margins, and state GOP officials have been quite candid in their warnings that Clinton has a credible chance of winning Utah's six electoral votes.
 
As The New Republic noted the other day, the unusual circumstances have not escaped the attention of the GOP candidate.
The Republican nominee spoke Thursday in Florida to a right-wing evangelical Christian group, the American Renewal Project, and couldn't help but take a dig at another state and a demographic of voters with whom he's slipping.
 
"You've gotta get your people out to vote. And especially in those states where we're represented," Trump said. "I'm having a tremendous problem in Utah. Utah's a different place. I don't know -- is anybody here from Utah?" [Silence.] "I mean, it's -- I didn't think so."
His rival seems aware of the opportunity. In fact, Trump's "tremendous problem in Utah" comments came a day after Hillary Clinton published an op-ed in Utah's Deseret News, a project of the Church of Latter Day Saints. In it, the Democratic nominee emphasized Mitt Romney's condemnations of Trump, Clinton's record in support of religious freedom, and the parallels between her vision and Mormon traditions.
 
"Generations of LDS leaders, from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to Gordon Hinckley and Thomas Monson, have noted the infinite blessings we have received from the Constitution of the United States," Clinton wrote. "The next president will swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend that document for successive generations. And if you give me the honor to serve as your president, I will fight every day to carry out that sacred responsibility."
 
Yesterday, Trump had an op-ed of his own in the same church newspaper, reinforcing the perception that he's having to focus attention on a state that most Republican presidential candidates feel free to overlook.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.16.16

08/16/16 12:01PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* In Virginia, which is supposed to be a battleground state, a new Washington Post poll shows Hillary Clinton with a pretty healthy lead over Donald Trump among likely voters, 51% to 43%.
 
* The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll shows Clinton with a nine-point advantage over Trump nationally, 50% to 41%. At least for now, the Democrat's post-convention bounce hasn't faded.
 
* The presidential election, by the way, is 12 weeks from today.
 
* President Obama headlined a Massachusetts fundraiser yesterday, and urged Democrats not to be complacent in the face of positive polls. "If we are not running scared until the day after the election, we are going to be making a grave mistake," the president said.
 
* Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), the only sitting senator in New England who supports the Republicans' presidential nominee, wants voters to perceive a "big distinction" between endorsing Trump and her stating publicly that she intends to vote for Trump.
 
* In North Carolina, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll found Deborah Ross (D) leading incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) in their match-up, 46% to 44%, while Roy Cooper (D) leads incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) by an even wider margin, 51% to 44%.
 
* In Colorado, the same poll showed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) with a comfortable, double-digit lead over challenger Darryl Glenn (R), 53% to 38%.
 
* The news was better for Republicans in Florida, where the poll found Sen. Marco Rubio (R) with a growing lead over Rep. Patrick Murphy (D), 49% to 43%.
 
* Will Georgia become a 2016 battleground? It's worth noting that the Clinton campaign is staffing up in the Peach State, which probably isn't what Republicans wanted to see.
Voting booths await voters in Red Oak, Iowa, Tuesday, June 3, 2014, ahead of the Iowa primary elections.

Automatic voter registration hits an Illinois pothole

08/16/16 11:20AM

In March 2015, Oregon became the first state in the nation to embrace automatic voter registration, California adopted the same idea soon after. This year, West Virginia, Vermont, and Connecticut joined the small-but-growing club.
 
The AVR road, however, is not without roadblocks. A bill passed in New Jersey, for example, only to be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie (R). Late last week, as the Chicago Tribune reported, Illinois' Republican governor also balked, at least for now.
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill aimed at making voter registration automatic in Illinois, citing concerns about potential voting fraud and conflicts with federal law.
 
The first-term Republican governor said he wanted to continue negotiations with supporters to work out those issues, but groups backing the measure accused him of playing politics with his veto and said they would seek an override.
Note, automatic voter registration faced little resistance in Illinois' Democratic-led state legislature. AVR passed the state House 86 to 30, in the state Senate, it was even more lopsided, 50 to 7.
 
Given those totals, state lawmakers will likely have the support necessary to make the legislation law anyway, overriding the GOP governor's veto.
 
That said, Rauner insists he remains open to the idea, his veto notwithstanding, and in a statement, he said he intends to "continue working" on the idea.

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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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