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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, exits stage right

08/18/17 02:18PM

At his now-infamous press conference this week, Donald Trump was asked if he still has confidence in Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist. The president's perspective seemed pretty clear.

"Well, we'll see," Trump said. "Look, I like Mr. Bannon. He's a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He's a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He's a good person.... But we'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon."

Keep this in mind when reading today's big news out of the White House.

Steve Bannon, the embattled White House chief strategist, is leaving President Donald Trump's administration, two senior White House officials told NBC News.

Bannon's departure brings to a close his rocky tenure in the West Wing in which he clashed with many of Trump's other top aides, including the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

For Trump's progressive critics, there's reason to see this as a positive development. Trump's campaign adopted a more radical and nationalistic posture when Bannon joined the team, and his role as the president's chief strategist meant Bannon's brand of extremism had a high-profile advocate in the West Wing.

And if Bannon's ouster was motivated by Trump's desire to be a more mainstream president, that'd be even more encouraging. But that's almost certainly not what today's news is all about.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

The worst week of Trump's presidency keeps happening

08/18/17 01:01PM

It's been nearly 20 years since its release, but there's a scene early on in "Office Space" that keeps coming to mind. Peter Gibbons, feeling depressed, goes to see a therapist and explains his state of mind.

"So I was sitting in my cubicle today," our protagonist says, "and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."

The intrigued therapist asks, "What about today? Is today the worst day of your life?"

Without hesitation, Peter responds, "Yeah," to which the therapist replies, "Wow, that's messed up."

I was reminded of the scene this morning reading NBC News' First Read, which labeled this the worst week of Donald Trump's presidency.

For a presidency that's contained some ups and many more downs, this has been President Trump's worst week in office -- highlighted by his controversial comments about Saturday's violence in Charlottesville.

The analysis strikes me as entirely fair; this week has been truly abysmal. Trump's response to the violence in Charlottesville, for example, has been a debacle for the ages. As the backlash to his defense of racists continued, the president also feuded with his ostensible Republican allies, and saw his corporate allies flee White House councils, deeming Trump too toxic to be around.

An ABC News piece this morning added, "This week has arguably been the worst in his presidency and has left members of his party unsure how to pick up the pieces."

Which brings us back to "Office Space" and Peter Gibbons.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 8.18.17

08/18/17 12:00PM

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

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll shows Donald Trump's approval rating at 39%, which is awful, but higher than some other recent polling for this president. He's buoyed by support among Republicans, which now stands at 81%.

* On a related note, Julius Krein, a prominent Trump cheerleader during the campaign, has a new piece in the New York Times explaining why he's giving up: "It is now clear that my optimism was unfounded. I can't stand by this disgraceful administration any longer."

* With only a few months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, Confederate monuments have become a key dividing line. Ralph Northam (D), a native Virginian, wants the statues moved into museums; Ed Gillespie (R), a transplant from New Jersey, wants to maintain the status quo.

* Efforts to trim Alabama's voter rolls have become so problematic that Rep. Mo Brooks (R) discovered he was listed as "inactive" when he went to vote for himself in this week's Senate primary.

* In the wake of events in Charlottesville, the Democratic National Committee hopes to take advantage of progressive activists' heightened passions and direct it into electoral politics. "In addition to calling on Republicans to denounce Trump, the next step is getting people to commit to vote," DNC chief executive Jess O'Connell told the Washington Post. "This is a galvanizing moment."

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

The awkward timing of the RNC's African-American outreach efforts

08/18/17 11:21AM

When Reince Priebus was the chair of the Republican National Committee, he'd occasionally make an effort to reach out to African-American voters. Especially after the 2012 election, Priebus was convinced his party faced demographic challenges that needed to be addressed, and so we'd see the RNC chair make visits to inner-city churches, for example, urging communities of color to keep an open mind.

It was a tough sell  Not only did Priebus have to contend with Republicans' recent history of exploiting racial animus for partisan gain, but even as the RNC conducted the outreach, Republican officials were waging a political war against the first African-American president and taking steps that directly hurt black voters, such as approving new voter-suppression measures.

But as difficult as this was for Reince Priebus, the RNC's job is even harder now. The Detroit News had this report earlier in the week:

The timing couldn't have been more awkward.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, came to Detroit on Monday to try to reach out and attract African-American voters to the GOP.

But her visit came 48 hours after a violent and deadly weekend of rioting in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered to protest the removal of a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

At that point, Donald Trump -- best known for using a racist conspiracy theory to rise to prominence in Republican politics -- had already condemned "both sides" for violence in Charlottesville. But the day after Ronna Romney McDaniel's outreach effort in Detroit, the president publicly defended the "very fine people" among the racist activists.

And all of this was before Trump started expressing his affection for Confederate monuments -- the "beauty" of which, he said, is irreplaceable.

I don't imagine this make the RNC's outreach efforts any easier.

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Image: Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington

Neil Gorsuch to headline an event at Trump-owned hotel

08/18/17 10:40AM

Pretty much everything about Neil Gorsuch's role on the Supreme Court is a matter of some controversy. The fact that Senate Republicans effectively stole a seat and held it for him, for example, remains outrageous.

Now that he's on the bench, Gorsuch has raised eyebrows as the far-right stalwart that GOP partisans hoped he'd be. An NPR analysis last month found that the high court's newest justice has taken the conservative position on literally 100% of the cases on which he's ruled.

But there's also his decisions away from the bench that are starting to draw scrutiny. The New York Times reports:

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump's travel ban.

Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University, questioned the justice's decision to speak at the hotel, which is at issue in lower-court cases challenging the constitutionality of payments to Mr. Trump's companies.

"At this highly divisive political moment, especially as many Trump decisions are likely soon to reach the court's docket, one just days later, a healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur," he said.

The Times spoke to a variety of experts in legal ethics, and in fairness, it's worth emphasizing that they were not unanimous in their concerns.

That said, the assessment from Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode rings true: "It's a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending. It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest."

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Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin responds to US President Donald Trump ordering missile strikes on Syria

Some U.S. allies trust Putin more than Trump

08/18/17 10:02AM

The Pew Research Center published a new report this week on international attitudes towards Vladimir Putin, and not surprisingly, the Russian president is not a popular global figure. The report explained, "Around the world, few people trust Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. A global median of roughly one-in-four (26%) say they have confidence in the Russian leader."

This is certainly in line with expectations. For much of the world, Putin is an autocratic thug, unworthy of respect. This, however, was the part of the new Pew report that was startling:

Although confidence in Putin's handling of foreign affairs is generally low, in many countries he is more trusted than American President Donald Trump.

And that doesn't just refer to traditional Russian allies; it actually refers to traditional American allies.

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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 keeps finding new ways to blindside his own aides

08/18/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump didn't explicitly endorse a sitting Republican senator's primary rival yesterday, but he came awfully close. The president, apropos of nothing, said via Twitter, "Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate. He's toxic!"

Trump has already been at odds with Senate Republican leaders, and this won't help, but what I found amusing were the White House aides who told Politico how surprised they were.

Trump aides were taken aback by the tweet. Many of them are deeply skeptical about Ward's ability to defeat Flake. In 2016, Ward received 39 percent of the vote in an unsuccessful effort to unseat GOP Sen. John McCain. More recently, she came under fire for saying that McCain should step down from the Senate "as quickly as possible" after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. [...]

It is not the first time that Trump has caught his team off guard on political matters. Last week, the president announced on Twitter that he was endorsing Alabama Sen. Luther Strange in an upcoming special election, a move that directly contradicted the advice of aides who urged him to stay out of the fight, which has pitted establishment Republicans against the conservative base.

As an electoral matter, the White House aides appear to have given Trump good advice: Ward is almost certainly a weaker statewide candidate than Flake, which makes the president's praise strategically unwise, and the president probably would've been better off staying out of Alabama's Senate primary.

But the entertaining part of this is the ongoing White-House-aides-were-taken-aback series, which appears to have an endless number of episodes.

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Travel During July 4th Holiday Weekend Expected To Be Heavy

Short on friends, Trump's White House councils start to unravel

08/18/17 08:41AM

Facing an exodus of private-sector leaders who no longer wanted to be associated with him, Donald Trump this week disbanded his American Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, both of which featured some of the nation's most prominent CEOs. It was the latest embarrassment for a president who's increasingly isolated, even from ostensible allies from corporate America.

Yesterday, the White House pulled the plug on yet another panel.

President Donald Trump has scrapped plans for an infrastructure advisory council after two similar panels dissolved this week amid backlash to Trump from corporate America.

"The President's Advisory Council on Infrastructure, which was still being formed, will not move forward," a White House official told CNBC.

Unlike the other panels that were disbanded, the infrastructure advisory council didn't really exist in any meaningful sense. While a variety of high-profile private-sector leaders were already serving on the American Manufacturing Council and Strategy and Policy Forum, the infrastructure council had no roster of CEOs -- it was instead run by a couple of Manhattan real estate developers, Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, whom Trump tapped in January.

The advisory panel has never met and had no firm plans in place to do any real work.

But its demise is nevertheless yet another embarrassment for the White House. A New York Times reporter added late yesterday that the infrastructure panel was disbanded because Trump was worried about its members quitting. America's Businessman in Chief has discovered he's a little too toxic for other business leaders.

Wait, it gets worse.

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Sen. Bob Corker

GOP senator questions Donald Trump's stability, competence

08/18/17 08:00AM

As recently as last summer, there was a fair amount of chatter about Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) serving as Donald Trump's 2016 running mate. It reached the point that the Tennessee Republican felt the need to publicly and formally withdraw from consideration.

After the election, the scuttlebutt was nearly as loud about the GOP senator joining Trump's cabinet as secretary of state.

At this point, though, it's apparently a very good thing that Corker is not a member of Team Trump.

A prominent Republican senator delivered a stinging rebuke Thursday of Donald Trump's short time in office, declaring he has not shown the stability or competence required for an American president to succeed.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also said Trump "recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation." During comments to local reporters after a speech to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Corker called for "radical changes" in how the Trump White House operates.

In the same public remarks, the Republican senator reportedly said, "The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order for him to be successful -- and our nation and our world needs for him to be successful, whether you are Republican or Democrat."

That's not the kind of rhetoric we expect to hear from a prominent GOP senator about the president from his own party -- but it's becoming progressively more common of late.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 8.17.17

08/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest out of Spain: "A terrorist-driven rental van plowed through a crowded pedestrian plaza in the heart of Barcelona on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens, the latest in a series of low-tech attacks in European cities."

* The end of an important case: "A settlement in the lawsuit against two psychologists who helped devise the Central Intelligence Agency's brutal interrogation program was announced on Thursday, bringing to an end an unusual effort to hold individuals accountable for the techniques the agency adopted after the Sept. 11 attacks."

* This probably won't make it to Trump's Twitter feed: "The Dow Jones took a triple-digit dive on Thursday afternoon as escalating worries about the Trump administration's ability to push through its agenda rattled investors. The Dow closed at 21,750, its biggest drop in three months and the second-worst day of the year."

* I wonder how a vote on this would turn out: "Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) will introduce legislation after Congress reconvenes next month calling for the removal of at least a dozen statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians located inside the U.S. Capitol."

* On a related note: "Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, called on Thursday for the removal of Confederate statues from the United States Capitol, opening a new front in the debate ignited by the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend."

* Good decision: "A leading U.S. hospital pulled its annual fundraiser from Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday, reversing course after initially resisting pressure from health professionals and others over the president's support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting federal budget dollars to medical research."

* Quite a sight: "Activists in Durham County, North Carolina, attempted to surrender en masse at a courthouse on Thursday morning in an act of solidarity with those charged for the act of pulling down a statue of a Confederate soldier on Monday, news reports and social media accounts say."

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump motions to the crowd following a speech at a rally on May 26, 2016 in Billings, Montana. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

Trump points to ahistorical nonsense following deadly terrorism

08/17/17 03:58PM

The news out of Barcelona this afternoon is heartbreaking: an apparent terrorist in a van targeted a crowded pedestrian plaza, and according to Spanish officials, the current death toll is 13 people, with dozens more hospitalized. One suspect is already in custody.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump, who says he always wants to have all the "facts" before speaking on any subject, thought it'd be appropriate to highlight one of his favorite stories.

"Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!"

For those who followed Trump's presidential campaign closely, this is familiar rhetoric. The Republican candidate loved to rile up far-right voters by telling them a myth about General John Pershing. Here, for example, is a Washington Post report from June 2016, following a Trump event in South Carolina.

As the crowd cheered him on, Trump told them about Pershing -- "rough guy, rough guy" -- who was fighting terrorism in the early 1900s. Trump didn't say where this happened, but variations of this story online usually state that it happened in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War -- part of the island nation's protracted battle for independence -- early in Pershing's career.

"They were having terrorism problems, just like we do," Trump said. "And he caught 50 terrorists who did tremendous damage and killed many people. And he took the 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men and he dipped 50 bullets in pigs' blood -- you heard that, right? He took 50 bullets, and he dipped them in pigs' blood. And he had his men load his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the 50th person, he said: You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened. And for 25 years, there wasn't a problem. Okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn't a problem."

The more Trump told the story, the more he'd change the details of the myth -- in several instances, he said Pershing's solution stopped terrorism for 42 years, or 35 years, or sometimes 25 years -- but ultimately, it doesn't much matter.

Because the myth isn't real.

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Image: Trump speaks at Trump Tower in New York

The world takes note of Trump's 'failure of character'

08/17/17 12:48PM

Former CIA Director John Brennan, watching Donald Trump's reaction to Charlottesville unfold in recent days, wrote a letter to CNN yesterday, arguing that the president, through "his words and his actions," is "putting our national security and our collective futures at grave risk."

Brennan added that Trump is poised to do "lasting harm to American society and to our standing in the world."

It's that last point that may need a brighter spotlight. Much of the American mainstream has recoiled in response to seeing a president defend racist activists, but no one should forget that we're not the only ones who've noticed.

The Economist, based in London, published a brutal piece in its new issue on Trump's "failure of character," featuring a cover in which Trump is depicted shouting into a white megaphone -- which also happens to be a Klansman's hood.

The Washington Post reported that the American president's latest offense "earned him another wave of backlash from world leaders."

British Prime Minister Theresa May didn't call Trump out by name but said in a statement Wednesday there was "no equivalence" between the two sides. [...]

"I see no equivalence between those who propound fascist views and those who oppose them," May said. "I think it is important for all those in positions of responsibility to condemn far right views wherever we hear them."

Trump's remarks renewed calls by some British leaders and activists for his state visit to the country to be canceled, according to the Guardian.

Some of the most heated criticisms came by way of Berlin, where German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement, "It is unbearable how Trump is now glossing over the violence of the right-wing hordes from Charlottesville. No one should trivialize anti-Semitism and racism by neo-Nazis."

There was even a demonstration yesterday at the Brandenburg Gate. Foreign Policy reported, "Hundreds of protesters gathered at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate Wednesday to denounce white supremacy and express support for victims of the recent violence in Charlottesville."

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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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