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(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Trump's cabinet nominees have a plan: disagree with Trump

01/13/17 08:40AM

As a rule, people nominated to serve in a presidential cabinet recognize a simple truth: if confirmed, their job will be to implement their boss' agenda. Indeed, that's largely the point of having cabinet secretaries. Presidents can't directly oversee dozens of federal agencies, so they choose like-minded officials -- presumably with some subject-matter expertise -- to help them govern.

In Donald Trump's case, however, the president-elect seems to have selected a series of nominees who don't like key elements of his agenda at all. The Washington Post reported this morning:
Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have one after another contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned.
It's almost amusing how frequently Trump's nominees rejected Trump's ideas during confirmation testimony this week. Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump's nominee to be Secretary of Defense, expressed strong support for NATO, saw merit in the Iran nuclear agreement, said Israel's capital is Tel Aviv, and criticized Vladimir Putin's Russian government.

Had Hillary Clinton won and sent a Pentagon nominee to Capitol Hill for consideration, we probably would've heard something similar. Mattis is obviously on Team Trump, but he has no use for many of the incoming president's core beliefs. A Vox piece added yesterday, "Mattis aced his hearing -- by throwing Trump under the bus."

Rex Tillerson, Trump's choice for Secretary of State, rejected the president-elect's remarks about nuclear proliferation and voiced support for NATO. Jeff Sessions, Trump's Attorney General nominee, said he'd oppose any plan to ban entry into the United States on the basis of religion, which is the opposite of the line his future boss pushed during the campaign.

Mike Pompeo, Trump's choice to lead the CIA, rejected the president-elect's call for renewed torture policies. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, sounded skeptical of Trump's idea of a wall along the southern border, testifying that "a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job." Kelly also rejected Trump's call for increased torture.

A week ahead of Inauguration Day, Donald Trump hasn't quite persuaded his own cabinet nominees to agree with key elements of his platform.
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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 23, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Paul Ryan faces (and flunks) health care test

01/13/17 08:00AM

Early on in House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) town-hall event last night, the congressman fielded a question from a voter who seemed like an ally. The man, who owns a small business in a red state, explained that he had worked for the Reagan and Bush campaigns, and he opposed the Affordable Care Act.

At least, he used to. This same man explained that he faced a life-threatening form of cancer, which was treated because he had coverage through the Affordable Care Act. "I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart," the man said, "because I would be dead if it weren't for him."

It was a timely reminder that Paul Ryan's repeal crusade, which has already run into some trouble in Washington, probably won't be as easy as the far-right House Speaker hoped.

The man whose life was saved by the ACA specifically challenged Ryan on the Republican replacement. The Speaker said what he was expected to say -- he intends to replace the law with "something better" -- but Ryan went on to point to a specific concern he has with the status quo. From the CNN transcript:
"The problem with Obamacare -- the actuary is called a 'death spiral.' It's a really kind of ugly, gruesome term, but a 'death spiral' is a mathematical term. They say when the insurance gets so expensive, healthy people won't buy it because they -- it's just a trade-off. The penalty to not buy is a lot cheaper than buying the insurance, so healthy people won't buy it; therefore, they won't go and participate in the insurance pool to cover the losses that sicker people, who have to have insurance, buy it.

"That's what's happening to Obamacare now."
No, it's not. This isn't a matter of opinion; it's a matter of reality. If the Speaker of the House is going to hold forums like these, and speak to national audiences about the state of the health care system, it's important that he tell the public the truth.

And the truth is, if the ACA were in "death spiral," we'd see declining enrollment numbers, with consumers withdrawing from the system because they can't afford the premiums and would rather pay the penalty than buy insurance they can't afford.

Enrollment totals, however, are going up, not down.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 1.12.17

01/12/17 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A surprising moment: "President Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to a shocked Vice President Biden on Thursday at the White House. Biden and the president had gathered for what the White House had described as a final tribute to the vice president."

* James Clapper; "The outgoing U.S. director of national intelligence has extended an olive branch of sorts to Donald Trump -- denouncing media leaks, casting skepticism on a report that Russia has damaging material on the president-elect, and assuring Trump that America's spies stand ready to serve him."

* The vote was 81 to 17: "The Senate has approved a waiver that would allow retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as secretary of defense, granting a rare exception to a law meant that requires military veterans to have been out of uniform for at least seven years before taking the top job at the Pentagon."

* We're going to have to talk about this: "Ben Carson would not answer whether President-elect Donald Trump could benefit from Department of Housing and Urban Develop loans during a fierce line of questioning from Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren at his confirmation hearing Thursday."

* On a related note, Carson was supposed to read an opening statement that included plagiarized text. Instead, he "departed almost completely from the prepared text."

* A VW-like controversy: "The Environmental Protection Agency accused Fiat Chrysler on Thursday of installing software that enables certain diesel trucks to emit far more pollutants than emissions laws allow. The company denied those accusations, saying its software meets regulatory requirements."

* Climate crisis: "How we view the costs of future climate change, and more importantly how we quantify them, may soon be changing. A much-anticipated new report, just released by the National Academy of Sciences, recommends major updates to a federal metric known as the 'social cost of carbon' --  and its suggestions could help address a growing scientific concern that we're underestimating the damages global warming will cause."

* Republicans routinely ignore the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "The largest U.S. business lobby group on Wednesday said it could be a mistake to quickly repeal Obamacare without developing a replacement healthcare insurance plan and urged the incoming Trump administration not to erect trade barriers."
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Despite promises, Trump keeps adding Goldman Sachs vets to his team

01/12/17 04:11PM

Given everything Donald Trump said during the campaign, it's almost hard to believe how many Goldman Sachs veterans he's adding to his administration's team. Politico reported yesterday:
Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs partner with deep ties to both Republicans and Democrats in Washington, is leaving the bank to join the Trump administration in a senior role that will focus on entrepreneurship, economic growth and the empowerment of women, people familiar with the matter said. She is expected to work closely with President-elect Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and her highly influential husband, Jared Kushner.

Powell, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation and a major advocate for women, would instantly become one of the more powerful people in Trump's Washington.
This afternoon, the Washington Post's Robert Costa reported that Anthony Scaramucci, who also worked for Goldman Sachs, is also joining Team Trump as a "confidant" to the president.

If announcements like this one seem familiar, there's a very good reason. As regular readers know, she's hardly alone in making the transition. Steven Mnuchin, Trump's choice for Treasury Secretary, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Gary Cohn, who's been offered the directorship of Trump's National Economic Council, is the president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs. Jay Clayton, Trump's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a Goldman Sachs attorney.

And now Powell and Scaramucci joining the team, too. None of this would be especially noteworthy were it not for the way in which the president-elect used the Wall Street giant as a combination wedge/punching bag.
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FBI Director James Comey takes questions from members of the media during a news conference, Nov. 18, 2014, in Boston. (Photo by Steven Senne/AP)

Justice Department to investigate Comey, FBI election activities

01/12/17 02:35PM

There's no shortage of observers who've argued, persuasively, that FBI Director James Comey made reckless decisions at critical moments, which in turn helped put Donald Trump in the White House. Indeed, as recent developments have made clear, Comey had evidence of illegal Russian intervention in support of Trump and questions about possible Hillary Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop.

With just days remaining ahead of Election Day, and with early voting already underway, the FBI director went public with the latter, not the former. When Comey testified on Capitol Hill this week that he "would never comment on investigations" publicly, it drew sardonic laughter.

But given the larger context, none of this is funny. In fact, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced today he is moving forward with an investigation "how the FBI and Justice Department handled certain aspects of the Hillary Clinton email investigation."
[Horowitz's probe] will include a review of FBI Director James Comey's news conference in July and his two letters to lawmakers in late October and early November.

"In response to requests from numerous Chairmen and Ranking Members of Congressional oversight committees, various organizations, and members of the public, the Office of the Inspector General will initiate a review of allegations regarding certain actions by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in advance of the 2016 election," the Justice Department said.
The scope of the review matters. Comey's late-October letter had a direct role in dictating the outcome of the presidential campaign, but the question surrounding the FBI's election-year activities go further than that one misguided-but-consequential letter.
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A man walks across the seal of the Central Intelligence Agency at the lobby of the Original Headquarters Building at the CIA headquarters on Feb. 19, 2009 in McLean, Va. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Trump's CIA chief nominee 'can't imagine' being asked to torture

01/12/17 12:41PM

When Donald Trump tapped Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) to lead the CIA, civil-liberties proponents howled. As a far-right congressman, Pompeo pushed an aggressively conservative line on issues such as government surveillance, detention facilities, and even torture.

Indeed, when the Senate Intelligence Community released a report in 2014 on Bush-era "enhanced interrogation," the Kansas Republican not only condemned the document's publication, but said of the relevant officials, "These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots.... The programs being used were within the law, within the Constitution."

As his CIA confirmation hearing got underway this morning, however, Pompeo adopted a very different posture. The Hill reported:
Donald Trump's pick to lead the CIA on Thursday told lawmakers that he would "absolutely not" comply with an order from the president-elect to resume the use of interrogation techniques considered by the international community to be torture.

"Moreover, I can't imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect," Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) said in response to questions from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).... Asked if he could commit to senators that the CIA is "out of the enhanced interrogation business," Pompeo affirmed that, "You have my full commitment."
First, while the testimony was encouraging, this certainly seems to be a departure from comments the congressman has made in the past.

Second, Pompeo "can't imagine" being asked by the Trump White House to adopt torture policies? That's odd -- because I find it pretty easy to imagine it.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.12.17

01/12/17 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump recently spoke to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and tried to persuade him to change parties. The West Virginia Democrat, the most conservative Dem in the chamber, declined.

* Asked this morning about the president-elect's conflicts of interest, Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, said, "The president by law does not have conflicts. It's a somewhat silly conversation."

* Former Attorney General Eric Holder will reportedly kick off his anti-gerrymandering initiative with a speech at the Center for American Progress today. "[President Obama] thinks, and I think, that this is something that threatens our democracy," Holder told the New York Times yesterday.

* Barring any unexpected legislative developments, Vice President Joe Biden will become the first vice president in American history to serve two full terms and not cast any tie-breaking votes.

* As Rachel noted on the show the other day, Coretta Scott King wrote a pretty powerful letter in 1986 speaking out against Jeff Sessions' judicial nomination. Now that the Alabama Republican is up for Attorney General, the message is newly relevant.

* Speaking of news from last night's show, in an unexpected development, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub spoke out publicly yesterday, criticizing Trump's plan to deal with his conflicts of interest.

* Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) this morning called on CNN to fire Jim Acosta for being "disrespectful" towards Trump at yesterday's press conference and "disrupting" the event. I have a hunch that's not going to happen.
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Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Giuliani will give Trump a hand with 'the cyber'

01/12/17 11:26AM

In the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State spoke in some detail about Russian cyber-crimes and Vladimir Putin's government using technology to undermine its adversaries. The political world was too focused on her emails to appreciate the seriousness of her comments.

But in response, Trump's answer referred to "the cyber" and insisted the United States must get "very tough on cyber." The Republican quickly added, "I have a son. He's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it's unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it's hardly doable."

Nearly four months later, I still don't know what Trump was trying to say, exactly.

Regardless, the president-elect -- who yesterday said he wants credit for the RNC's security software -- clearly needs some help when it comes to this issue. As the Wall Street Journal noted, Trump has turned to Rudy Giuliani.
President-elect Donald Trump said Thursday that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani would play what appears to be an unofficial role advising him on cybersecurity and private-sector developments in this area.

Mr. Giuliani has been a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump and was under consideration to be secretary of state. In an announcement Thursday morning, Mr. Trump did not give Mr. Giuliani an official title for this new role, saying only that he will be "sharing his expertise and insight as a trusted friend."
It's not at all clear what Giuliani will do, or whether the former mayor will serve on Trump's new cybersecurity panel which is supposed to present him with policy suggestions 90 days after he takes office.

This may, in other words, be a courtesy role Trump is giving to someone who was passed over for assorted cabinet posts.
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During a campaign rally Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reads a statement made by Michelle Fields, on March 29, 2016 in Janesville, Wis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)

Trump not above using his notoriety to reward allies, punish critics

01/12/17 10:54AM

The New York Times had an interesting article this week about the health care industry and its anxieties surrounding the changes Donald Trump and congressional Republicans intend to impose on the system. The piece, however, was a little short on quotes, and as it turns out, there was a specific reason for that.

"Some companies, anxious about changes in health policy, said they were afraid to speak out because they feared that Mr. Trump would attack them on Twitter, as he has badgered Boeing, Ford, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and Toyota," the Times explained.

President Obama spoke at MacDill Air Force Base last month, where he celebrated one of the great American freedoms: we can "criticize a president without retribution." Evidently, that freedom is a little less secure in the Trump era.

Indeed, the New York Times' report followed a related piece on tech companies on the West coast adjusting their schedules, making sure "someone is up at 3 a.m. local time to catch the [president-elect's] tweets out of fear that a Trump tweet could crash their stock and put their company into a frenzy."

As it turns out, the president-elect isn't just intimidating potential critics; as he demonstrated on Twitter this morning, he also wants to use his notoriety to reward allies.
"Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean."
Apparently, Linda Bean, the granddaughter of L.L. Bean's founder and a member of the company's board of directors, made an illegally large campaign contribution to a pro-Trump political action committee. This prompted some on the left to announce they'll no longer buy from the national retailer.
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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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