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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.16.17

11/16/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Trump-Russia: "President Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a 'Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite' that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to panel leaders demanding that he produce the missing records."

* Quite a story out of Afghanistan: "No one will ever know what went through the mind of Afghan Police Lt. Sayed Basam Pacha in those moments when he came face to face with a man he suspected of being a suicide bomber on Thursday afternoon, but whatever it was, he did not hesitate to act."

* EPA: "Two Republican senators have announced they oppose President Donald Trump's controversial pick to become the nation's top regulator of toxic chemicals, putting his nomination in serious jeopardy. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both of North Carolina, said Wednesday they could not support Michael Dourson to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's office of chemical safety, citing concerns about his record."

* Another step backwards: "The Trump administration confirmed Thursday it lifted a ban that had prohibited hunters from importing trophies of elephants killed in two African nations, reversing a 2014 rule put in place by the Obama White House."

* I hope you're following this: "Sinclair Broadcasting, which could soon own more U.S. television stations than any other company, has a plan to create a near-national network of local stations delivering the news with a conservative bent. And thanks to some help from federal officials, that plan is inching closer to reality."

* A painful story to read: "Ohio called off the execution of an ailing 69-year-old killer Wednesday after the executioners couldn't find a vein to insert the IV that delivers the lethal drugs. It was only the third time in modern U.S. history that an execution attempt was halted after the process had begun."

* This one isn't over just yet: "A federal appeals court heard arguments Wednesday about whether to upend a $25 million deal President-elect Donald Trump agreed to last year to settle long-running federal lawsuits over alleged fraud in his Trump University real estate seminar program."

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Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) leaves the Senate Democrats' policy lunch in the Capitol on July 6, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Judge declares a mistrial in Menendez's corruption trial

11/16/17 04:38PM

Only one sitting senator is currently under indictment, and as of this afternoon, the effort to prosecute him came up short.

The bribery trial of New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday afternoon when jurors were again deadlocked in a case that threatened to end the Democratic lawmaker's political career.

Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict -- the second time in four days -- even though they reviewed evidence slowly and thoroughly, defense attorney Abbe Lowell told U.S. District Judge William Walls.

One of the 12 jurors later told the press that two of them wanted to convict the Democratic senator, while the other 10 wanted to acquit Menendez on all counts. Unable to reach an agreement, the judge said today he had "no alternative but to declare a mistrial."

Though we don't yet have a full sense of the deliberations, the New Jersey lawmaker likely benefited from the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreeing last year to make it more difficult to convict politicians on corruption charges in U.S. v. McDonnell.

Federal prosecutors have the option of trying again -- in other words, they can refile the charges and try their luck with another jury -- but given the circumstances, that seems unlikely.

So what happens now to Menendez, who's up for re-election next year? In theory, once a senator faces federal bribery charges, it's tempting to think his or her career probably won't recover, but I'd caution against assuming that in this case.

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U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) arrives at a House Republican Conference meeting June 22, 2016 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

House Republicans approve their regressive tax plan

11/16/17 03:23PM

In the end, the vote wasn't especially close.

The House passed a nearly $1.5 trillion tax bill on Thursday that would slash tax rates on corporations and private businesses, overhaul the individual tax code, and eliminate taxes on wealthy heirs.

The 227-205 vote on the "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" is a victory for Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and for President Donald Trump, who spoke to Republican members ahead of the vote.

The full roll call on today's vote is online here. Note that zero Democrats voted for the regressive tax plan -- Dems were not invited to participate in this process in any way -- and 13 House Republicans broke ranks and voted against it.

Of the 13, five represent districts in New York (Dan Donovan, John Faso, Peter King. Elise Stefanik, and Lee Zeldin), four represent districts in New Jersey (Rodney Frelinghuysen, Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo, and Chris Smith), three represent districts in California (Darrell Issa, Tom McClintock, and Dana Rohrabacher), and they were joined by North Carolina's Walter Jones.

The significance, of course, is that New York, New Jersey, and California stand to lose the most from the Republican plan because of the state-and-local-tax-deduction (SALT) issue.

There's no shortage of angles to this afternoon's historic vote -- it's the first major vote on overhauling the federal tax code in three decades -- but let's consider just four.

1. This is a bad bill. The Republican tax plan disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans and corporations, and raises taxes on many in the middle class, ostensibly the intended beneficiaries of the entire GOP endeavor. The bill would blow a hole in the budget, and there's no credible reason to believe these massive tax breaks will boost the economy in a meaningful way. Members who voted for it will face brutal, accurate attack ads.

2. This is a bad bill passed in a bad way. The 1986 tax reform effort took two years of bipartisan work to complete. This year, the House GOP leadership wrote a bill behind closed doors and passed it in two weeks -- literally just 14 days.

What's more, the House acted without a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the economic effects of the bill, without a meaningful congressional hearing, and without considering amendments.

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Senator Al Franken speaks to students at the University of Minnesota, Sept. 3, 2014. (Photo by Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMA)

Minnesota's Franken faces sexual misconduct allegations

11/16/17 12:34PM

Sexual misconduct from men in powerful positions is a societal problem, not a partisan problem.

A radio news anchor on Thursday accused Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., of forcibly kissing and groping her a decade ago when they were overseas entertaining U.S. troops.

Leeann Tweeden, a radio news anchor with KABC in Los Angeles, said she met Franken in December 2006 before he became a lawmaker at a USO show to perform for service members that included a skit he wrote that featured a kiss between the two.

As Tweeden described it in a written piece published this morning, Franken, two years before launching his U.S. Senate bid, insisted on rehearsing a kiss before a USO show, to the point that she became uncomfortable. When she reluctantly agreed to the rehearsal, Tweeden alleges that Franken "came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth."

She later found a photograph, which is now publicly available, of Franken with his hands on her breasts while she was sleeping aboard the military airplane.

"I couldn't believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep. I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it's funny?" she said.

In a written statement also released this morning, the Minnesota Democrat said through his spokesperson, "I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."

If Franken is under the impression that this three-sentence statement is a sufficient response, he's going to be disappointed.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.16.17

11/16/17 12:01PM

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

* I'd take this with a big grain of salt, but the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a poll out of Alabama yesterday showing Roy Moore (R) trailing Doug Jones (D) by 12 points. It's worth noting for context that the NRSC desperately wishes Moore would go away.

* In a sign of the times, Moore's campaign website yesterday took down its list of endorsements.

* The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has a good piece today noting that the controversy surrounding Moore is starting to affect statewide races outside of Alabama.

* Now that Richard Cordray is stepping down as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that he'll launch a Democratic gubernatorial campaign in Ohio, where Cordray served in a variety of offices, including state attorney general.

* Speaking of Ohio, state Rep. Wes Goodman (R), considered a rising star in GOP politics and a possible successor to U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R) in the future, resigned this week after party leaders confronted him about unspecified "inappropriate behavior."

* As Democratic officials continue to make plans for the next presidential election cycle, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the party's most recent vice presidential nominee, called this week for the end of superdelegates.

* In Pennsylvania, state House Speaker Mike Turzai (R), who's considered statewide races in recent cycles without following through, has decided to take on incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf (D) next year. Turzai is perhaps best known nationally for controversial comments he made in 2012 about Pennsylvania's voter-ID law and its benefits for the Republican Party.

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(FILE) Republican Representative from Louisiana Steve Scalise holds a copy of the Affordable Care Act, also known as 'Obamacare', during a news conference held by House Republican leadership, March 8, 2017.

On taxes, GOP leader has some bad advice: 'Just look at history'

11/16/17 11:20AM

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) is back on Capitol Hill, and he's doing his part to ensure his party's tax plan clears the chamber this afternoon. As ThinkProgress noted, the Louisiana Republican's pitch includes a straightforward suggestion: "Just look at history."

"If you go back to when John F. Kennedy Jr. cut taxes, if you go back to the last time we transformed our tax code -- 1986 when Ronald Reagan was president -- you can go to the Clinton years," Scalise said. "Every time we've cut taxes you've seen the economy take off."

Later, Scalise added: "So if you look at history, every time this has been done it's worked. Why not do it again, especially when you've got a slow economy?"

Wouldn't it be great if this were true? Wouldn't it be amazing if policymakers knew with certainty, whenever economic growth disappointed, that they could simply cut taxes and turn things around?

Alas, reality is stubborn. Indeed, if we take Scalise's advice and "look at history," it points in a direction he and his caucus probably won't like.

The last time Congress approved a massive overhaul of the federal tax system, for example, the economy didn't soar at all. This isn't a matter of opinion; the quantifiable evidence for what happened after the 1986 tax reform package become law is readily available. (Similarly, Reagan's 1981 tax cuts didn't boost the economy, either.)

It's also fascinating to see a member of the House GOP leadership celebrate "the Clinton years" -- since it was Clinton who raised taxes in 1993, to the consternation of Republicans who insisted the policy would cause a recession. Instead, "the Clinton years" offered one of the most robust economic boom periods on record.

And as long as we're taking a stroll down memory lane, there's one name that seems to be getting too little attention in this debate: George W. Bush.

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

For Donald Trump, a good deed is never its own reward

11/16/17 10:51AM

Three UCLA basketball players, in China for a recent tournament, were arrested for shoplifting. As part of his Asia-Pacific tour, Donald Trump reportedly brought up the incident to Chinese President Xi Jinping, asked for the matter to be resolved, and soon after, the young men returned to the United States.

Naturally, the American president was pleased with the outcome, though as Trump made clear on Twitter yesterday, he expects thanks for his good deeds.

"Do you think the three UCLA Basketball Players will say thank you President Trump? They were headed for 10 years in jail!"

As it turns out, the players did thank the president yesterday. This morning, Trump returned to Twitter, satisfied with their gratitude. "To the three UCLA basketball players I say: You're welcome," he tweeted.

But what amazes me is the personality of someone who doesn't just grumble privately when he wants to feel appreciated, but who publicly asks for thanks in response to his efforts. It's as if Trump believed the public-relations win wouldn't be complete unless the three student athletes shared their appreciation for the president's efforts with the world.

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Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

Gun background database may finally get a boost

11/16/17 10:07AM

Given the nation's deep political divisions, it's rare to see a public consensus emerge on hot-button controversies. It's what makes results like these so amazing.

In the wake of another massacre, American voters today support 95 - 4 percent, including 94 - 5 percent among voters in households where there is a gun, universal background checks for gun purchases, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

This is the highest level of support for universal background checks since the independent Quinnipiac University Poll first asked this question in February 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.

I honestly can't think of any other issue, in an area of public life, on which 95% of Americans agree.

The same poll found 60% of Americans support stricter gun laws in general, 65% back a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, 74% support a ban on bump-stock gun modifications, and 91% are on board with banning the sale of guns to people convicted of a violent crime.

This is very much in line with other  recent national polls, each of which found increased support for new measures intended to address gun violence.

The University of Virginia's Larry Sabato, a prominent political scientist, responded to the Quinnipiac results by marveling at the "near-unanimity" on universal background checks. He lamented, however, the "crickets in D.C."

That's an understandable sentiment, to be sure, though in this case, Capitol Hill isn't offering complete silence.

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People pass the New York Stock Exchange, June 24, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Richard Drew/AP)

On taxes, Republicans prioritize corporations over people

11/16/17 09:20AM

One of the most memorable lines of the 2012 presidential campaign came when Mitt Romney lectured an Iowa voter, "Corporations are people, my friend." Several years later, Romney's Republican Party seems quite eager to help those "people" -- even at the expense of actual people.

The headline on today's New York Times report is both brutal and accurate: "Republican Tax Plans Put Corporations Over People."

There are tough choices at the heart of the Republican tax bills speeding through Congress, and they make clear what the party values most in economic policy right now: deep and lasting tax cuts for corporations. [...]

The version of the bill moving through the Senate Finance Committee chooses to give peace of mind to corporate executives planning their long-term investments. That comes at the expense of added anxiety for individual taxpayers, particularly those in the middle class, who could face stiff tax increases on Jan. 1, 2026.

At issue are complex procedural hurdles that are making it more difficult for Republicans to pass their massive and unpopular tax plan. Long story short, in order for the GOP proposal to permanently lower taxes, it has to be deficit neutral after 10 years.

To that end, GOP lawmakers have scrapped all kinds of popular deductions, intend to redirect money from health care coverage to tax breaks, and have written their plan in such a way as to allow many tax cuts for individuals to expire.

They've carefully protected tax cuts for corporations, however. In other words, the Republican plan in a nutshell includes tax increases on millions in the middle class, temporary tax breaks for others, and permanent tax breaks for Big Business. This is true in both the House and Senate versions.

Asked for an explanation, GOP lawmakers already have a response: their entire plan is built on a massive budget gimmick.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is seen as the sun sets on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

GOP hopes to boost its popularity with woefully unpopular tax plan

11/16/17 08:40AM

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) boasted yesterday that the goals of the Republican Party's tax plan "are shared by many Americans." I'm not sure which polling data the West Virginia senator is reading, but before GOP policymakers radically overhaul the nation's finances, they may want to consider the actual attitudes of the American mainstream.

Take, for example, a national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday.

American voters disapprove 52 - 25 percent of the Republican tax plan.... The wealthy would mainly benefit from this tax plan, 61 percent of American voters say, while 24 percent say the middle class will mainly benefit and 6 percent say low-income people would mainly benefit.

American voters say 59 - 33 percent that the Republican tax plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class. [...]

Only 36 percent of voters believe the GOP tax plan will lead to an increase in jobs and economic growth, while 52 percent do not believe it.

One of the most striking tidbits from the data was that only 33% of Republican voters said they expect their own party's plan to give them a tax break -- suggesting GOP policymakers haven't even convinced their supporters about the benefits of their tax pitch.

And while I'll gladly concede that it's unwise to overreact to any one set of results, these results are bolstered by nearly identical findings from poll after poll after poll after poll after poll.

What's more, as Rachel noted on last night's show, the Quinnipiac survey was conducted before Senate Republicans altered their tax plan to include a health care change that would push 13 million Americans into the ranks of the uninsured.

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Image: Roy Moore

Republicans scramble as Alabama's Roy Moore faces new accusers

11/16/17 08:00AM

The original Washington Post report on Roy Moore's alleged sexual misconduct pointed to four accusers, including one woman who was 14 when Moore pursued her. He was 32 at the time. Earlier this week, another accuser came forward, alleging that the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama attacked her when she was 16.

Yesterday afternoon, AL.com reported on two more accusers, which was soon followed by a Washington Post report that highlighted two more.

As Rachel explained on last night's show, it was against this backdrop that the Alabama GOP's steering committee had an important decision to make.

The Alabama Republican Party is sticking with Senate candidate Roy Moore, party leaders told NBC News on Wednesday night, even as more women were reported to have accused him of making unwanted advances. [...]

The steering committee of the state Republican Party -- the only entity with the power to remove Moore from the Dec. 12 special election ballot -- took no action on Moore's nomination at a meeting Wednesday.

By law, the Alabama Republican Party's steering committee couldn't remove Moore's name from the ballot -- it's too late for that -- but it could decertify him as the GOP candidate, which would effectively nullify votes cast for his candidacy. The idea would be for party officials to open the door to a write-in candidate, which is an idea that several Republicans at the national level have expressed an interest in.

Except the steering committee's members said no. They're sticking with Roy Moore -- even now.

And that, in turn, has led increasingly desperate Republican officials in Washington to consider an even more dramatic possibility. Politico reported last night:

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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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