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Image: US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering press statements

Trump takes an alarming risk with shift in Israel policy

12/06/17 12:41PM

To appreciate the significance of Donald Trump's announcement today on U.S. policy in Israel, it's important to appreciate the context. In 1995, Congress passed a law moving the United States' Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, from Tel Aviv. The legislation, however, came with a catch: U.S. presidents could delay the move for security reasons.

And that's precisely what every president has done since. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each signed waivers, keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. There's no great mystery as to why: because of Jerusalem's unique significance -- politically, historically, theologically -- putting the U.S. embassy in the city would signal that the United States sees Jerusalem as Israel's official capital. That would touch off a series of repercussions that would risk destabilizing the region and irreparably harming the Middle East peace process.

Donald Trump vowed to do what his predecessors would not, though many (including me) never thought he'd be foolish enough to follow through. Those assumptions were mistaken.

President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital on Wednesday, while also delaying moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, officials said.

Though Trump will not relocate the embassy any time soon -- one White House official told reporters it could take years -- the president still intends to fulfill that promise made early in his administration.

Senior administration officials called Trump's expected recognition of Jerusalem an affirmation of "reality" -- both historical and current, pointing out that the city is already home to Israel's parliament, supreme court and other government sites. Palestinians, however, also claim Jerusalem as their capital, and Trump's anticipated announcement has touched off an uproar in the Arab world.

For the record, the president will apparently sign the same waiver his recent predecessors signed, but (a) it's for logistical reasons, not security reasons; and (b) this doesn't much matter since he's apparently going to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and begin the process of formally relocating the U.S. embassy.

Trump's approach to politics is often transactional. Always looking for some kind of "deal," the Republican president routinely looks for ways to advance his agenda through some kind of exchange of interests.

What makes today's announcement so unsettling is that Trump doesn't seem to be advancing his or the United States' interests at all. Many of our closest allies have urged him not to do this, but the president is ignoring them -- in exchange for nothing.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.6.17

12/06/17 12:00PM

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

* The two latest statewide polls in Alabama pointed in opposite directions. A poll from Mobile-based Strategy Research for Raycom News Network found Roy Moore (R) ahead by seven points, while a poll from Gravis Marketing showed Doug Jones (D) with a four-point lead.

* Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) tweeted a picture yesterday afternoon of a personal $100 check he wrote in support of Doug Jones' (D) Senate campaign. The accompanying text read, "Country over party."

* In Georgia yesterday, Jen Jordan (D) won a state Senate seat yesterday previously held by a Republican, denying the GOP a supermajority in the chamber. According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), it's the 33rd state legislative seat that's flipped from "red" to "blue" this year.

* And speaking of Georgia, Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) appears to have narrowly won Atlanta's mayoral yesterday, but her opponent, Mary Norwood (I), has requested a recount.

* The latest national Quinnipiac poll shows Democrats with a 14-point lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot. If that holds up -- a big "if" -- it's the kind of advantage that would likely flip control of the U.S. House.

* On a related note, Gallup reported this week that 37% of Americans now identify as Republicans, which is roughly an eight-year low.

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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 wasn't part of Susan Collins' tax deal

12/06/17 11:20AM

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) surprised many when she threw her support behind the Republicans' tax plan on Friday. Among other things, independent estimates showed that the GOP proposal would leave 13 million Americans without health insurance, and that's ordinarily the sort of thing the Maine Republican would care about.

As part of an explanation, Collins said she'd reached an agreement with party leaders for votes on two other pieces of legislation, which she believes would mitigate the harm done by the GOP tax plan. There are, however, two problems with this, the first being that the proposals Collins has in mind appear inadequate to address the systemic harm done by her party's proposal.

The second problem is that Collins' deal didn't guarantee success in the House. The Hill reported yesterday:

Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) office told a meeting of congressional leadership offices on Monday that the Speaker is not part of a deal to get ObamaCare fixes passed before the end of the year, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a commitment to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that he would support passage of two bipartisan ObamaCare bills before the end of the year, a promise that helped win her vote for tax reform.

However, Ryan's office told a meeting of staff from the four top congressional leadership offices on Monday that he has not made that same commitment, raising further questions about whether the ObamaCare bills, already opposed by House conservatives, can pass the House.

The Daily Beast had a related report on Monday, noting, "House conservatives are already indicating that they're prepared to block some of the key legislative promises that Senate Republicans demanded in exchange for their votes on tax reform legislation."

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Image: Roy Moore

The politics behind the GOP's reversal on Roy Moore

12/06/17 10:45AM

Sen. Ben Sasse's (R-Neb.) perspective on Roy Moore's Senate candidacy is a little muddled. On the one hand, Sasse does not support Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, and thinks it's a mistake for Republicans to help Jones' campaign.

On the other hand, the Nebraska Republican responded to news that the Republican National Committee is investing $170,000 into the Alabama race by saying it's a "bad decision" and a "very sad day." Sasse added that he believes Moore's accusers, as did other Republican officials. "What's changed?" the senator asked this morning.

As it turns out, I think we know the answer. Indeed, when Donald Trump reversed course this week and embraced the right-wing candidate, the president wasn't exactly subtle.

"Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama," Trump said.

As Vox's Matt Yglesias explained yesterday, the connection between the Alabama race and tax breaks for the wealthy is growing stronger.

Back before Moore was accused of enjoying sexual predation of teen girls, he was already a controversial figure due to his habit of defying valid court orders, his view that Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress, his view that homosexuality is a "criminal lifestyle," etc. The GOP establishment wanted to nominate someone else for the seat, but when Moore won, they embraced his despite his disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution because -- in the immoral words of Rob Portman -- "he's going to be for tax reform, I think."

That same calculus applies today.

The vote-counting arithmetic is pretty straightforward.

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A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.

The government shutdown deadline is just two days away

12/06/17 10:09AM

There's never been a federal government shutdown when one party controls both the White House and Congress. That may change this week.

As Rachel noted on the show the other day, when there's a possible shutdown looming, the political world is ordinarily fascinated by the drama. It's a testament to just how frenetic the current environment is that the federal government will run out of money in two days, and much of the country probably isn't aware of the pending deadline.

The first step in preventing the government from shutting down will be a spending bill in the House. Politico reports that Republican leaders appear to have settled on a plan.

House Republican leaders have promised conservatives that they won't grant concessions to Democrats to get enough votes for a stopgap spending bill -- gaining GOP support but also raising the specter of a government shutdown later this month.

As John Boehner can attest, House Republican leaders are in an awkward position. There's a sizable contingent of far-right House members who don't like to vote for spending bills, pushing GOP leaders to turn to Democrats for votes. In this case, however, Dems have a lengthy list of priorities they'd love to see tied to the temporary spending bill -- called a "continuing resolution" (or CR) -- which Republicans naturally oppose.

So, as of yesterday, House GOP leaders said they won't turn to Democrats for support, and will instead work with far-right members to pass a spending measure and prevent a shutdown.

Problem solved? Of course not. That bill would go to the Senate, where it'll need 60 votes -- which means persuading at least eight Democratic senators to vote with all 52 Senate Republicans. If the House passes a partisan, GOP-centric measure, Dems in the upper chamber will balk and the odds of a shutdown will improve.

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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.

"The more you read, the more you go, 'Holy crap, what's this?'"

12/06/17 09:20AM

In the spring, after the first of several Republican failures on health care policymaking, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters, "We're going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party."

Very recently, some GOP officials decided they'd figured out how to overcome those growing pains. The Washington Post reported the other day, "After nearly a year of frustration, dysfunction and infighting, Republicans believe they are on the cusp of demonstrating that they can govern." The proof, apparently, is the GOP's progress on a regressive and unpopular tax plan.

But the confidence is borne of confusion. Ramming through poorly crafted legislation is an exercise in raw political power, but governing requires a very different skill set. A "governing party," to use Paul Ryan's phrase, acts deliberately and judiciously, carefully examining an issue and paying attention to the consequences of every proposed solution.

Any fool can write a piece of legislation, but to demonstrate an ability to govern requires forethought about what that legislation would do. With this in mind, Politico reports today that the Republicans' tax plan is "riddled with bugs, loopholes and other potential problems that could plague lawmakers long after their legislation is signed into law."

Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. Their plans to cut taxes on "pass-through" businesses in particular could open broad avenues for tax avoidance.

Others would have unintended results, like a last-minute decision by the Senate to keep the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to make sure wealthy people and corporations don't escape taxes altogether. For many businesses, that would nullify the value of a hugely popular break for research and development expenses.

Some provisions are so vaguely written they leave experts scratching their heads.... In many cases, Republicans are giving taxpayers little time to adjust to sometimes major changes in policy. An entirely new international tax regime, one experts are still trying to parse, would go into effect Jan. 1, only days after lawmakers hope to push the plan through Congress.

Greg Jenner, a former top tax official in George W. Bush's Treasury Department, told Politico, "The more you read, the more you go, 'Holy crap, what's this?'"

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Image: Trump Designates North Korea as State Sponsor of Terror During Cabinet Meeting

The consequences of a Trump-era 'pause' in American leadership

12/06/17 08:40AM

Barack Obama invested considerable energy during his time in office to strengthening U.S. ties to India, and that continued over the weekend when the former president attended a leadership forum in New Delhi. Not surprisingly, there was quite a bit of interest in what the Democrat had to say about political developments in his country.

By all accounts, Obama was cautious -- lamenting those who use Twitter too often, for example, without mentioning any names -- while also acknowledging the "pause in American leadership" since his administration's role in helping craft the Paris climate agreement.

This came to mind yesterday, reading the New York Times' report on the reception Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received in Belgium yesterday, where America's chief diplomat has traditionally "been greeted in Europe's heart with broad smiles and open arms." Not anymore.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson's reception in Brussels was distinctly chilly, as disappointment among European diplomats in President Trump's nationalistic tone and insulting messages on Twitter built into quiet fury on the eve of an expected announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Such a move could infuriate the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be their capital in a future Palestinian state.

In a brief public appearance beside Mr. Tillerson, Federica Mogherini, the European Union's top diplomat, gave the kind of stone-cold statement of facts that she would normally provide standing beside her Russian counterpart, not the American one.

The list of concerns wasn't short. The EU's chief diplomat, who already saw Donald Trump's opposition to the Paris climate accord as a major step backwards, urged the United States not to destabilize the Middle East with an announcement about Jerusalem, while also pushing the Trump administration not to abandon the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Germany's foreign minister added yesterday at a conference in Berlin that that relations with the United States "will never be the same," in part because Donald Trump doesn't see Europe as a U.S. ally.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump (L) meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) at The Capitol Building on Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Despite talk of a 'win,' GOP tax plan is a loser with the public

12/06/17 08:00AM

Yesterday at the White House, Donald Trump boasted about how great he thinks the Republican tax plan is. "I think people see that, and they're seeing it more and more," the president said. "And the more they learn about it, the more popular it becomes."

As is too often the case, what Trump said is pretty much the opposite of what's true.

A Gallup poll found that 29% of people surveyed approved of the GOP tax bill, named the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, while 56% disapproved. [...]

And a poll from Quinnipiac University also found that 29% of those surveyed approved of the bill while 53% disapproved.

The results of both of these surveys were quite brutal for supporters of the regressive GOP package. The Gallup and Quinnipiac results both pointed to an American mainstream that believes the Republican tax policy will deliver the bulk of its benefits to the wealthy and big corporations -- which happens to be true.

Of particular interest in the Quinnipiac data, the poll asked Americans which party they trust more on the issue of taxes. As recently as August, Democrats and Republicans were tied. Now, Dems have an eight-point advantage.

Asked which party can do a better job "fighting for the working class," Democrats are ahead, 56% to 34%.

After Senate Republicans narrowly rammed through their tax plan in the middle of the night a few days ago, much of the coverage hailed the developments as a "win" and an important "victory" for the GOP and its leaders. And while that may have been true in one sense -- Senate Republicans successfully passed what they wanted to pass -- public revulsion toward their legislation makes it difficult to see the developments as some kind of triumph.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.5.17

12/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Cabinet: "The Senate has confirmed Kirstjen Nielsen as President Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Senators approved Nielsen's nomination, 62-37, on Tuesday. Nielsen, 45, is a former DHS official who now serves as deputy White House chief of staff."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Special prosecutor Robert Mueller zeroed in on President Donald Trump's business dealings with Deutsche Bank AG as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections widens."

* The consequences of cheating: "Russia's Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country's government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound. Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals."

* Really, FEMA? "Federal disaster workers who plugged in long overtime hours during back-to-back emergencies this year may have some of their pay clawed back, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has told staffers."

* I think K. T. McFarland has a problem: "A leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned on Monday whether a high-ranking official in Donald J. Trump's transition team had been deceptive over the summer about her knowledge of discussions between Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, and a former Russian ambassador."

* It's tough to deny Dems have a point: "Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are raising fresh concerns about the GOP-led panel's appetite for digging into the Russian ties forged by multiple advisers to President Donald Trump."

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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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