The controversy surrounding Donald Trump and his hidden tax returns was, at a certain level, stuck. The presumptive Republican nominee could release the materials -- as every major-party nominee has done for the last 40 years -- but he's using an audit as an excuse to justify secrecy. In time, he'll either succumb to pressure or he won't.
But this morning the story took an unexpected turn. For quite a while, Trump has suggested he'd be comfortable with disclosure -- he specifically said this week he'd "like to" disclose the tax documents -- but the IRS process is standing in the way. It's a bogus posture, which he seemed to abandon this morning during an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes or no: Do you believe voters have a right to see your tax returns before they make a final decision?
TRUMP: I don't think they do.
He quickly added that he's willing to "present" the documents anyway, after "the audit ends."
When the host asked what tax rate he currently pays, the Republican candidate snapped, "It's none of your business. You'll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible."
There's no shortage of angles to this -- Trump's hypocrisy, his dishonesty, his reversals from previous commitments -- all of which raise questions about what in the world the presumptive GOP nominee is so desperate to hide. For that matter, given how eager Trump is to slash rates for the wealthiest of the wealthy -- people like Trump himself -- it arguably is our "business" to learn just how big a tax break the Republican candidate intends to give himself.
But just below the surface, Trump's rhetoric reminded me of something we heard four years ago.
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Donald Trump's butler this week called for President Obama's assassination. The Secret Service is following up.
* According to Politico, a group of staffers and volunteers for Bernie Sanders' campaign has begun "circulating a draft proposal calling on the senator to get out of the presidential race after the final burst of Democratic primaries on June 7, and concentrate on building a national progressive organization to stop Donald Trump."
* On a related note, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the only senator to endorse Sanders' candidacy, said this week that he's not on board with Sanders' plan to rely on superdelegates to override voters' will to win the Democratic nomination.
* Seventeen Republicans ran for president this cycle, and Ben Carson is leading an effort to convince each of them to support Trump. Two of them -- Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham -- have already categorically ruled out the possibility.
* Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has reportedly begun working with the Trump campaign, hoping to help the candidate "evolve" on matters of international affairs.
* Sen. Marco Rubio (R) raised some eyebrows yesterday when he hinted he might reverse course and run for re-election after all. His office soon after said the Florida senator was kidding.
* Trump is reportedly considering Newt Gingrich as a possible running mate, though it's hard not to wonder how much of these rumors are being fueled by the former House Speaker himself.
In recent years, Senate Republicans have somehow convinced themselves that "court packing" means making judicial nominations and then having the Senate confirm those jurists to the bench. In fact, as genuinely bizarre as this is, GOP senators have repeatedly suggested in recent years that if a Democratic president follows the constitutional process, the public should perceive it as scandalous and illegitimate.
It's not. "Court packing" was an FDR-era idea in which the executive branch would expand the number of seats on the bench in order to tilt the judiciary in the president's favor. In other words, if the White House's agenda struggled at the Supreme Court in a series of 5-4 rulings, the president could expand the court to 11 members, appoint two new allies, and voila, there'd be 6-5 rulings in the administration's favor.
The idea was floated in the 1930s, but it was considered deeply controversial and didn't go anywhere.
This year, however, Republican policymakers in Arizona have an idea: expand the state Supreme Court from five seats to seven, and let the state's current Republican governor fill the newly created vacancies. The proposal has already passed the GOP-led legislature, though the NBC affiliate in Tucson reported yesterday that the state's top judge is urging Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to veto the bill.
Chief Justice Scott Bales says in a letter to Ducey that the court's caseload doesn't merit expansion, especially when the Legislature has underfunded other court priorities.
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the $1 million-per-year expansion in the just-ended session. It awaits Ducey's signature or veto.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) recently expanded his state's Supreme Court from seven justices to nine, which came on the heels of related efforts in Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Iowa in recent years.
The Arizona initiative, in other words, does not appear to be an isolated incident.
Following up on a story we've been following, it was just four years ago when Mitt Romney chose to float a provocative idea on Veterans' Day. "Sometimes you wonder," the Republican asked, "would there be some way to introduce some private sector competition" into veterans' care?
A spokesperson for Veterans of Foreign Wars very quickly made clear the VFW "doesn't support privatization of veterans' health care," and Romney backpedaled soon after, saying he was just kicking around a hypothetical scenario he didn't intend to pursue.
A lot has changed since 2012. As Rachel noted on the show last night, privatization of veterans' care is back as a Republican priority, as this Wall Street Journalreport yesterday helped prove.
Donald Trump says the Department of Veterans Affairs' health-care system is badly broken, and this week his campaign released some guidelines that would steer changes he would implement if he wins the presidency.
While short on details, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee would likely push VA health care toward privatization and might move for it to become more of an insurance provider like Medicare rather than an integrated hospital system, said Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump's chief policy adviser, in an interview.
Clovis told the newspaper, "We want quality care top to bottom. If that means we have some form of privatization or some form of Medicare, we don't see anything wrong with that."
Veterans, however, tend to have a very different opinion on the matter.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has found himself with quite a few critics, and as it turns out, his campaign is keeping track of those who've slighted him.
Politicoreported overnight that as Trump's team begins to take over the RNC apparatus, "some campaign aides and allies are pushing him to block lucrative party contracts from consultants who worked to keep him from winning the nomination." The article added that the "blacklist" would mostly target "operatives who worked for Never Trump groups, but also some who worked for Trump's GOP presidential rivals or their supportive super PACs."
If this were the end of Team Trump's vindictiveness, it would still be pretty striking, but this is really just the start. USA Todayreported overnight:
One again Donald Trump has kindled the fires of conspiracy. The soon-to-be Republican nominee for president says Jeff Bezos, the Amazon CEO who owns The Washington Post, is using the paper to attack him and the other political enemies who would force the massive online retailer to pay more in taxes.
Donald Trump told Sean Hannity in an interview Thursday that Bezos is using the Post "like a toy" and "for power so that the politicians in Washington don't tax Amazon like they should be taxed."
As part of a long, rambling, barely coherent tirade, Trump added in reference to Bezos, "[H]e's got a huge antitrust problem because he's controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they're doing. And what they've done is, he bought this paper for practically nothing and he's using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people. And I'll tell you what: we can't let him get away with it."
Trump didn't explicitly say he'd use the power of the federal government to target Bezos if elected, but in light of "we can't let him get away with it," it certainly sounded as if the candidate were effectively saying, "It's a nice business operation you have going; it'd be a shame if something happened to it."
I'll confess that I don't quite understand why yesterday's meeting between Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan generated quite so much attention. The Republican leader has spent months vowing to support his party's presidential nominee, no matter what, and we learned yesterday that Ryan is likely to eventually do exactly what he's said he would do.
Apparently we're supposed to be impressed that Ryan is dragging this out, adding an element of drama to a process with an inevitable end?
Regardless, while there probably wasn't much to be learned from yesterday's high-profile, behind-closed-doors chat, Politico's report on the meeting noted, "[Paul Ryan] even brought charts and slides illustrating the nation's budget woes to help Trump understand the problem he has spent 20 years trying to solve."
As much as I appreciate someone who brings charts and slides to meetings, the assumption -- stated as fact -- that Ryan has "spent 20 years trying to solve" the nation's budget woes is demonstrably incorrect. As regular readers may recall, the Wisconsin congressman voted for George W. Bush's tax cuts and didn't feel the need to pay for them. Then he voted for Bush's extremely expensive Medicare expansion, and didn't feel the need to pay for that, either. He also voted for Bush's wars, and had no qualms whatsoever about adding the costs the national credit card. To top things off, Ryan also voted to bail out Wall Street, and once more, he decided the costs should just be added to the debt.
During the Bush administration, Ryan distinguished himself from the president by demanding even larger tax cuts -- and, during the fight over privatizing Social Security, advocated a plan that the administration rejected because it would have exploded deficits by too much.
Likewise, Ryan has opposed all of the major deficit-reducing legislation during this period -- ending portions of the Bush tax cuts, ending overpayments to private tuition lenders, and enacting the deficit-reducing Affordable Care Act, especially its cost-containment measures. Ryan also voted against the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction framework, and torpedoed bipartisan efforts to negotiate a deficit-reduction compromise between the Obama administration and Congress.
So why are we told -- in a news piece, not an op-ed -- that Paul Ryan has "spent 20 years trying to solve" the nation's budget woes? Because the Speaker of the House benefits from an extraordinary reputation that he never actually earned.
There was quite a bit of breathless coverage this week about Donald Trump "flip-flopping" on tax policy, but the closer one looks, the more it appears that there was no reversal. The presumptive Republican nominee committed to massive tax breaks for the wealthy, and some clumsy phrasing notwithstanding, his platform hasn't changed.
There was a legitimate question, however, about whether Trump's tax plan might get "tweaked" for the general election. Politicoreported on Wednesday that the Republican candidate's campaign "enlisted influential conservative economists to revise his tax package and make it more politically palatable by slashing the $10 trillion sticker price." The article added that Trump's team, just last month, reached out to CNBC's Larry Kudlow and the Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore "to spearhead an effort to update the package," and the duo has already done a fair amount of work on a new blueprint.
Late yesterday, however, the story took an unexpected turn. The New York Timesreported:
After days of confusion over Donald J. Trump's hints that he would change his tax plan to reduce its budget-busting cost and make it less generous to the rich, his spokeswoman on Thursday sought to clear things up: He plans no changes, Hope Hicks said, and advisers who say otherwise do not speak for him.
One of those advisers, Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation, had his own response: "I'm a little bummed out if his spokeswoman says they're not going to make any changes to the plan."
Moore's emotional state notwithstanding, this is not a positive development. Even if we put aside the confusion surrounding the competing news accounts, the more pressing matter is the fact that Trump's tax plan actually needs revising because it's a ridiculous plan.
Over the course of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton hasn't had a whole lot to say about the Federal Reserve or monetary policy in general, which is why it was all the more interesting to see the Democratic frontrunner's campaign yesterday endorse a change long sought by progressive activists. The Washington Postreported:
The Fed is led by a seven-member board of governors based in Washington and a dozen regional bank presidents based across the country, from New York to Kansas City to San Francisco. The governors are nominated by the White House and approved by the Senate, but regional bank presidents are selected by their boards of directors, whose occupants are chosen by the banking industry and by the Fed governors in Washington.
In a statement to The Washington Post, Clinton's campaign said she supports removing bankers from the boards of directors and increasing diversity within the Fed.
In a written statement, a campaign spokesperson told the Post, "The Federal Reserve is a vital institution for our economy and the well-being of our middle class, and the American people should have no doubt that the Fed is serving the public interest. That's why Secretary Clinton believes that the Fed needs to be more representative of America as a whole and that commonsense reforms -- like getting bankers off the boards of regional Federal Reserve banks -- are long overdue."
This brings Clinton in line with Bernie Sanders, who endorsed this policy late last year, saying he wants a system in which "the foxes would no longer guard the henhouse."
The statement also came the same day Clinton wrote an op-ed for the Washington Informer, an African-American newspaper, vowing to be a "vocal champion" for D.C. statehood.
"In the case of our nation's capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy," Clinton wrote, adding, "Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries, and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet, they don't even have a vote in Congress."
Earlier this week, Clinton also emphasized her support for a "public option" in health care coverage, including a possible Medicare buy-in policy.
The broader pattern matters, and it's not altogether expected.
Leo Shane, Capitol Hill bureau chief for Military Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about Donald Trump's apparent immunity to the consequences of saying political unpopular things, including disrespecting veterans and supporting the privatization of the V.A. watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news from the New York Times that the Obama administration intends to issue a declaration to all public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their identify. watch
Danny Freeman, covering Sanders campaign for NBC News, talks with Rachel Maddow about what it means that the Bernie Sanders campaign is not buying any television ads as part of their strategy in California. watch
Rachel Maddow makes the case that the Republican Party is not as divided in its support for Donald Trump as the dramatic media narrative would suggest, pointing out that very few Republicans have done more than grumble before supporting Trump anyway. watch
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