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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 8.15.17

08/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm still trying to catch my breath: "President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday that the counter-protesters demonstrating against white nationalism were also to blame for the violence at race-fueled riots in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend."

* He's quite a social media wiz: "President Donald Trump took about 20 minutes to delete a pair of tweets on Tuesday morning -- one in which a user called the president a 'fascist' and another showing a train with Trump's name on it running over the CNN logo."

* After this afternoon, I expect more rebukes along these lines: "Walmart's chief executive has issued a strong rebuke of President Trump's response to the protests that turned violent in Charlottesville, Va., saying the president 'missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together.'"

* Quite a sight in Durham: "Chanting 'No K.K.K., no fascist U.S.A.,' the protesters slung a rope around the Confederate soldier's neck and pulled. The crowd stepped back, out of the way, and the soldier came crashing to the ground in a heap of crumpled metal."

* Trump-Russia: "Three days after Donald Trump named his campaign foreign policy team in March 2016, the youngest of the new advisers sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: 'Meeting with Russian Leadership - Including Putin.' The adviser, George Papadopoulos, offered to set up 'a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump,' telling them his Russian contacts welcomed the opportunity, according to internal campaign emails read to The Washington Post."

* Boston: "For the second time this summer, the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized when a 17-year-old allegedly threw a rock Monday evening through one of the glass panels, shattering it."

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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the protests in Charlottesville Virginia from his golf estate in Bedminster New Jersey

Already stuck in a hole, Trump finds a shovel, keeps digging

08/15/17 05:08PM

All Donald Trump had to do was stop talking. The president embarrassed himself on Saturday when he responded to violence in Charlottesville by condemning bigotry "on many sides," but Trump tried to put things right with a more sensible statement yesterday.

The underlying controversy wasn't over by any stretch, but it'd fade from the headlines if the president managed to just stop making things worse.

And yet, after finding himself in a hole, Donald J. Trump found a shovel -- and kept digging.

In a long, combative exchange with reporters at Trump Tower, the president repeatedly rejected a torrent of bipartisan criticism for waiting several days before naming the right-wing groups and placing blame on "many sides" for the violence that ended with the deaths of a young woman after a car crashed into a crowd.

Mr. Trump repeated that assertion on Tuesday, criticizing "alt-left" groups that he claimed were "very, very violent" when they sought to confront the nationalist and Nazi groups that had gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a park. He said there is "blame on both sides."

Sounding very much like a right-wing Twitter feed, the president added, "Many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week, it is Robert E. Lee and this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

Trump went on to defend the tiki-torch-wielding racists who gathered on Friday night, before saying, in reference to the racist activists, "Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch."

Why we're supposed to "believe him" is unclear.

I've seen some suggestions that this brings Trump back to where he was over the weekend, but that's ultimately inadequate. I'm afraid this was vastly worse than Saturday's display.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

CBO: High costs if Trump follows through on ACA sabotage threats

08/15/17 04:18PM

For health care advocates, congressional Republicans' difficulties in passing regressive health care legislation have brought some comfort, but the threats haven't gone away. Not only are many GOP lawmakers committed to returning to the issue, but systemic sabotage from Donald Trump remains a real possibility.

Indeed, as we've discussed many times, the president has made repeated threats to cut off cost-sharing reductions (or CSRs) -- a component of the Affordable Care Act that helps cover working families' out-of-pocket costs – which Trump has effectively turned into a political weapon. The mere threat has already pushed consumers' costs higher.

But what if the president followed through on the threat and decide to use this weapon? NBC News' Benjy Sarlin noted the latest findings from the Congressional Budget Office.

Health care premiums will spike, insurers will exit the market, and deficits will increase if President Donald Trump follows through on his threats to cut off government payments to insurance companies, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report.

The cost of a "silver" insurance plan under Obamacare would be 20 percent higher in 2018 and 25 percent higher by 2020 compared to current law, according to the report. About five percent of the population would not be able to buy insurance through Obamacare at all next year, the CBO predicted, because companies would withdraw plans in response to the "substantial uncertainty" created by the move.

The full CBO report, which was prepared at the request of congressional Democratic leaders, is online here, and the executive summary is online here.

The picture painted by the non-partisan budget office isn't pretty. Indeed, it's difficult to find a policy that would force consumers to pay more and increase the overall costs of the program, but if Trump scrapped CSR payments, that's exactly what would happen. As it turns out, sabotaging the American health care system this way is expensive: the CBO found that the deficit would increase by $194 billion over the next decade.

All of which leads to the next question: why in the world would Trump do this?

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks to reporters at Trump Tower, Nov. 29, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Pence says he 'never witnessed' campaign collusion with Russia

08/15/17 12:43PM

Mike Pence has stuck his neck out for the White House, and on plenty of instances, it hasn't turned out well for the vice president.

For example, Pence said Donald Trump firing then-FBI Director James Comey had nothing to do with the Russia scandal, and as regular readers know, that turned out to be untrue. We also know that Pence’s claims about when he learned of Michael Flynn’s work as a foreign agent clearly aren’t true. The vice president’s claims about Flynn’s communications with Russia were also proven to be false. And, of course, when Pence said no one from Team Trump spoke with Russian officials before Election Day, that wasn’t even close to being true.

It's apparently dawned on the Indiana Republican that he should be a little more circumspect when issuing blanket denials, especially when it comes to Team Trump and the Russia scandal. CBS News reported this morning:

Vice President Mike Pence says he "never witnessed" any evidence of collusion between the Russian government and Trump campaign officials during the 2016 campaign, and reaffirmed his commitment to cooperating with the special counsel's investigation into Russian election interference and possible Russian ties to the Trump organization.

During his visit to a Christian mission in Cartagena, Colombia on Monday, Pence told reporters "during all of my experience on the campaign, I never witnessed any evidence of collusion or any of the allegations, I'm not aware of that ever having occurred."

Note the caution and the caveats. Months ago, when Pence was asked whether campaign officials communicated with Russian officials during Russia's espionage operation, the vice president said, "Of course not." We now know, of course, that the truth is the exact opposite.

And so, phrases such as "of course not" have been replaced with lawyerly phrasing such as "I never witnessed" and "I'm not aware of."

It's almost as if the vice president is preparing his defense in the event we learn about even more collusion between Trump World and Moscow -- beyond the evidence of collusion that's already come to light.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.15.17

08/15/17 12:00PM

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

* Primary voters in Alabama will head to the polls today in the state's U.S. Senate special election. Donald Trump continues to scramble in support of Sen. Luther Strange (R), tweeting twice about him this morning, and recording robocalls on the appointed senator's behalf.

* In Nevada, the Democratic National Committee announced yesterday it's putting Sen. Dean Heller (R) on a couple of billboards, highlighting his vote for the Republicans' unpopular health care bill. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, meanwhile, is creating billboards targeting Heller's likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Jacky Rosen, trying to tie her to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

* On a related note, Heller told reporters in October 2016 that he was 99% certain he wouldn't vote for Donald Trump. It took a while for the GOP senator to come clean, but Heller finally admitted yesterday that he did, in fact, vote for his party's presidential ticket.

* Some odd people end up running for Congress: "House Speaker Paul Ryan's Republican challenger says he believes an unfounded right-wing online conspiracy theory dubbed 'pizzagate.' Paul Nehlen voiced his opinion during an online question-and-answer session with voters earlier this month on Reddit. He was asked, 'What are your thoughts on Pizzagate?' In response, Nehlen wrote, 'I believe it is real.'"

* Because contemporary politics continues to get even weirder, the head of the Senate Republican leadership's super PAC said on Friday's he's "very interested" in having Kid Rock run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan next year.

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The Oklahoma City skyline is pictured in an aerial photo, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Anti-government bomb plot thwarted in Oklahoma

08/15/17 11:21AM

Before 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil was carried out in Oklahoma City in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two anti-government radicals. The blast left 168 people, including many children, dead.

Someone apparently wanted a sequel.

Federal authorities were holding a man in custody Monday who domestic terrorism investigators said planned and tried to execute an anti-government bombing of an Oklahoma City bank.

Documents filed in federal district court say that Jerry Drake Varnell, 23, drove what he believed was a stolen van containing a 1,000-pound ammonium nitrate bomb early Saturday morning to an alley beside BancFirst in downtown Oklahoma City.

There was, however, no real bomb. Varnell came under FBI surveillance several months ago, when he started discussing plans for a domestic bombing, and the people the terrorist suspect thought were his co-conspirators were actually law enforcement officials. As the NBC News report added, "The cell phone that Varnell believed was a detonator dialed law enforcement, and the getaway driver was an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

The alleged terrorist was apparently another anti-government radical, and in a Facebook message he thought would be posted after his plot succeeded, Varnell wrote that the bombing was in "retaliation" for the "freedoms that have been taken away from the American people."

The officials involved in this case are to be congratulated, of course, for preventing the suspect from hurting anyone, but the news got me thinking about Sebastian Gorka, an adviser to Donald Trump who routinely appears in the media.

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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)

Defense chief hedges on implementing Trump's transgender ban

08/15/17 10:31AM

Three weeks ago tomorrow, Donald Trump surprised a lot of people by announcing a new policy via Twitter: "Please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military."

Almost immediately, it became obvious that the president had tweets, but no policy. The White House struggled to defend the discriminatory ban; service chiefs dismissed it; and the Joint Chiefs effectively ignored it, leaving the status quo in place.

Yesterday, as the Washington Post reported, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis left open the possibility that at least some transgender service members could continue their military careers, despite what Trump said on Twitter.

Mattis, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said that he and his staff are still studying the issue, including how having transgender service members affects other members of their units.

The Pentagon chief, asked whether transgender people now in the military will be forced out of their service, pointed to a statement that Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a day after Trump's announcement last month. Dunford said that openly transgender people will be allowed to continue to serve until there is guidance from the president on how to proceed.

The oddity of the circumstances is hard to miss. The Commander in Chief publicly declared that the United States military "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity." No one knew exactly what that meant, so everyone simply put the declaration aside.

Three weeks later, there's still no clarity as to what Trump was talking about, so his ban is in limbo: it exists on Twitter and in the president's mind, but in practice, according to Mattis, the Pentagon has decided to "study" the issue.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Dems demand scrutiny of white supremacists and domestic terrorism

08/15/17 09:25AM

Twice this year, Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee have urged Republican leaders to hold hearings on the security threats posed by white supremacists and their allies. In both instances, GOP officials ignored the requests.

Politico reports that in the wake of Charlottesville, House Dems are trying again.

Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee are asking panel Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) to examine racist fringe groups, including those that organized Saturday's violent protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on the University of Virginia campus. [...]

California Rep. Lou Correa, who sits on the Homeland panel, was the first Democrat to call for hearings. "Yesterday's horrific acts against innocent Americans were clear acts of terrorism," he said. "Our country has a homegrown terrorism problem we refuse to address. That ends now. We must hold hearings and finally address that terrorism inflicted by white supremacy extremists is destroying our country."

As best as I can tell, the panel's Republican leadership hasn't yet responded, but I'm hard pressed to imagine why the House Homeland Security Committee would choose not to take a closer look at this threat.

Indeed, just yesterday, Foreign Policy magazine published a striking report, noting that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned in May "that white supremacist groups had already carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years and were likely to carry out more attacks over the next year, according to an intelligence bulletin obtained by Foreign Policy."

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After finally denouncing racists, Trump steps on his message

08/15/17 08:45AM

It took far longer than it should have, but Donald Trump finally denounced white supremacists yesterday, two days after the president responded to Saturday's deadly violence in Charlottesville by condemning bigotry "on many sides." And while I think it's generally wise to steer clear of questioning others' motives, it's also fair to consider the broader context of Trump's brief public statement to get a sense of his sincerity.

For example, the president's use of Twitter last night shed light on what was on his mind. The Chicago Tribune reported:

[Trump] retweeted a post from an eyebrow-raising Twitter account: that of right-wing provocateur Jack Posobiec, a Trump supporter known for advancing a number of conspiracy theories, such as those tied to "Pizzagate" and the murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich.

His tweet had nothing to do with Charlottesville, instead linking to a story about Chicago homicides.

Posobiec's tweet linked to a story from the Chicago ABC affiliate and read, "Meanwhile: 39 shootings in Chicago this weekend, 9 deaths. No national media outrage. Why is that?"

The implication wasn't exactly subtle: Trump promoted a message that suggested there was too much coverage of Charlottesville violence.

That, of course, followed Trump telling Fox News he's considering pardoning Arizona's Joe Arpaio, a notorious birther and hero to fringe far-right activists.

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Image: President Trump Meets With The National Association of Manufacturers

CEOs start running away from away from Donald Trump

08/15/17 08:00AM

When Donald Trump unveiled his White House American Manufacturing Council in January, it had 28 members, each of whom were prominent business or labor leaders. In June, Tesla's Elon Musk resigned from the panel after the president abandoned the Paris climate accords, and yesterday, it shrunk a bit more.

Ken Frazier, the CEO of Merck, got the ball rolling yesterday morning, announcing that he'd stepped down from Trump's council, following the president's reaction to white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville. True to form, Trump responded by lashing out at Frazier -- twice.

Nevertheless, by last night, Frazier had some company. The New York Times reported:

Brian Krzanich, C.E.O. of Intel -- one of the most important global manufacturers of computer chips -- announced his departure from President Trump's advisory council on manufacturing in a late-night blog post on Monday.

The decision followed similar moves from Kenneth C. Frazier, the chief executive of drugmaker Merck, who was the first executive to leave the advisory group on Monday, and Kevin Plank, the founder and chief executive of athletic apparel maker Under Armour, who also announced his decision on Monday evening.

Taken together, the executives' decisions are the business community's strongest rebuke to date of a president who has courted controversy for his entire career.

Other members of the American Manufacturing Council -- and other White House panels featuring plenty of other private-sector chiefs -- have plenty of reasons to do the same thing.

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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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