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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.19.16

09/19/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Ahmad Rahami: "The desperate search for a 28-year-old man wanted in connection with a series of blasts that terrorized New York and New Jersey over the last three days ended Monday in a gun battle with police officers. Ahmad Rahami was taken into custody after he was shot in the leg during the 10:30 a.m. confrontation in Linden, New Jersey, law enforcement sources said."

* Minnesota: "Nine people were hurt in a knife rampage at a Minnesota mall during which the attacker made references to Allah, authorities said. The suspect was shot dead by an off-duty police officer at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, which began around 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET) on Saturday. The suspect was wearing a private security uniform, officials said."

* Syria: "Syria's military declared the end of a nationwide cease-fire Monday, blaming rebel groups for violating the truce and dealing a blow to U.S. and Russian efforts to halt the bloodshed."

* Related news: "The United States' accidental bombing of Syrian troops over the weekend has put it on the defensive, undercutting American efforts to reduce violence in the civil war and open paths for humanitarian relief."

* Philadelphia: "A wild chase and shootout through the streets of Philadelphia left two police officers and three civilians wounded and a woman and the suspect fatally shot."

* Energy: "Gasoline prices increased again across the Deep South on Monday, 10 days after the discovery of a pipeline rupture in Alabama that threatened fuel supplies and prompted worries about environmental contamination."

* Emissions: "The 27 states challenging Obama's Clean Power Plan in court say the lower emissions levels it would impose are an undue burden. But most are likely to hit them anyway. Already, Arkansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Dakota appear to be meeting the CPP's early targets. And changes in the power market, along with policies favoring clean generation, are propelling most of the rest toward timely compliance, according to researchers, power producers and officials, as well as government filings reviewed by Reuters."
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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., Sept. 17, 2016. (Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters)

Donald Trump misses another key leadership opportunity

09/19/16 04:51PM

Writing in the Washington Post today, Paul Waldman highlighted an often overlooked point about the presidential race:
When important events occur during the presidential campaign, we can get some sense of how the candidates would act if they were in the Oval Office. They don't have the ability to do anything about a financial crisis or a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, but at least we can watch what they say and what instincts seem to be driving them.
Agreed. When explosive devices are found in and near New York City -- including one detonation that sent dozens to nearby hospitals -- neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have any official responsibilities. They're both private citizens, watching developments unfold as candidates, not officeholders.

But that doesn't mean their responses are trivial. In effect, stories like these are important pop quizzes for would-be presidents -- and if they haven't studied or prepared, they'll struggle to pass.

For her part, Clinton, a former senator and Secretary of State, has responded to events in New York and New Jersey as one would expect her to: with reasoned, responsible stances, calls for vigilance, appeals to Americans' sense of fairness, and reminders about some of her related policy proposals she intends to implement if elected.

Trump's first instinct over the weekend was to tell supporters, in reference to national security, "I will give you good results. Don't worry how I get there, okay? Please." He added on Saturday night -- before he had any of the relevant facts -- that the explosion in Chelsea was the result of a "bomb," which turned out to be true, and in the process, this became it the single most important part of the story for Trump.

"What I said was exactly correct," the Republican boasted this morning. "I should be a newscaster because I called it before the news." (In case anyone's confused, "newscasters" are not supposed to guess what they think might have happened, and then hope the news proves their guess correct.)
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Senate Chairman Of Transportation Committee Calls For Investigation Into George Washington Bridge Lane Closures

Chris Christie faces new allegations in 'Bridgegate' scandal

09/19/16 12:45PM

In May 2015, Gov. Chris Christie's (R) longtime ally, David Wildstein, pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy, stemming from his role in the "Bridgegate" scandal. At the time, the Republican governor reiterated his longtime position: "I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act."

One of the enduring mysteries of this controversy is that we don't know whether or not Christie's claim is true. In May 2015, Wildstein's lawyer told reporters, "There is a lot more that will come out." He added that the governor "knew of the lane closures as they occurred" and that "evidence exists" that proves it.

Keep this in mind when reading about this morning's developments. The New York Times reported:
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey knew that his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him, prosecutors said on Monday.

It was the first time Mr. Christie, a Republican, has been accused of knowing about the scheme as it unfolded. The prosecutors made the assertion during opening statements in the trial of two former Christie administration officials charged with closing the lanes in 2013 and then covering it up.
Remember, Christie's posture has evolved over time on this story. For months, the Garden State governor insisted the entire controversy was absurd and that his office would never conspire to punish Christie's own constituents as part of some petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta.

When evidence proved that Christie's office really did conspire to punish the governor's own constituents as part of a petty and unnecessary partisan vendetta, he claimed ignorance. Sure, top members of Christie's team orchestrated and executed the plan, but the governor, his reputation for micromanaging notwithstanding, insisted he had no idea what was going on with his own top aides who were abusing their power in his name.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, Christie's second line was as wrong as his first.

Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.19.16

09/19/16 12:00PM

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

* In Florida, a new poll from Siena College/New York Times Upshot shows Hillary Clinton narrowly leading Donald Trump in a four-way contest, 41% to 40%. In a head-to-head match-up, the two are tied at 43% each.

* The same poll shows Sen. Marco Rubio (R) ahead in his re-election bid in Florida, 48% to 42%, over Rep. Patrick Murphy (D).

* The Clinton campaign unveiled a new video over the weekend featuring a World War II vet reflecting on Trump's criticisms of former prisoners of war. At 87 seconds, it's too long for a television ad, but as a web video, it's pretty devastating.

* In Pennsylvania, a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll shows Clinton leading Trump in Pennsylvania, 47% to 38%.

* The same poll found Katie McGinty (D) ahead in Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, leading incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey (R), 43% to 38%.

* Is President Obama fired up about the 2016 election cycle? Watch this two-minute clip from his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation gala Saturday night. It's been a while since I've seen him speak with quite this much passion.

* Based on its investments, it looks like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is increasingly optimistic about competitive Senate races in Missouri and North Carolina, and less optimistic about the contests in Ohio and Florida.

* On a related note, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), increasingly worried about losing, has abandoned a conservative Medicare plan he helped write.
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Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., March 4, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

RNC throws a 'brush-back pitch' at anti-Trump Republicans

09/19/16 11:20AM

The Republican Party's #NeverTrump contingent isn't exactly a dominating force within the GOP, but it has some notable members. Late last week, for example, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) told NBC News is it's "very, very" unlikely he'll vote for Donald Trump this fall. The governor added he's still inclined to put "country first."

CBS News' John Dickerson talked about this with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus yesterday, and the Republican leader adopted a fairly aggressive posture.
PRIEBUS: Those people need to get on board. And if they're thinking they're going to run again someday, you know, I think that we're going to evaluate the process of the nomination process, and I don't think it's going to be that easy for them.

DICKERSON: It -- would the party itself penalize somebody who does not make good on the pledge that they made to support the party's nominee?

PRIEBUS: I think these are things that our party's going to look at in the process. And I think that people who gave us their word, used information from the RNC, should be on board.
When the host specifically mentioned Kasich's name, Priebus said, "Sure." Dickerson added, "So if he wants to run again, it seems like he might want to, he might be out of luck as far as the RNC goes?"

The party leader didn't mention any details about sanctions, but he nevertheless said Republican presidential candidates pledged to support the party's nominee, and "those participants [who] don't follow through" should expect to be punished.

"Sounds like a brushback pitch," Dickerson added.
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Smoke rises from the Trade Ministry in Baghdad on March 20, 2003 after it was hit by a missile during the US-led forces attack, marking the start of the invasion of Iraq.

Before and after a war is not 'the same thing'

09/19/16 10:40AM

One of Donald Trump's favorite lies is his assertion that he opposed the war in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion. The evidence to support the claim simply doesn't exist: the only public comments Trump made in advance of the war was on Howard Stern's radio show in September 2002, when the host asked, "Are you for invading Iraq?" Trump replied, "Yeah, I guess so."

But the Republican presidential hopeful continues to tout his imaginary foresight anyway, in speech after speech, interview after interview, often without challenge. Trump avoided the major Sunday shows yesterday, but he called into Fox News' "Media Buzz" program where host Howard Kurtz broached the subject and recommended more truthful talking points.
KURTZ: Why not say, "I was a private businessman. I had no responsibility to take a public position before the war and I criticized the invasion after it began?"

TRUMP: Well, I fought with Sean Hannity over it and the Neil Cavuto statement is pretty close to being like, "Don't go in and don't make the mistake of going in." I said, I think, the economy is, you know, has to come first. And also if you look shortly thereafter, one of the major people on television actually say, "You know, whether Trump was for it or not before the war, the fact is he was totally against it in the Esquire interview," which took place pretty quickly after the war started and that's the same thing.
This is actually closer to something resembling an answer, but it's still completely wrong.

Trump did speak to Fox's Neil Cavuto in January 2003, a couple of months before the invasion, but he didn't express any opposition to the war. Instead, Trump simply sounded impatient: "[Americans] are getting a little bit tired of hearing, 'We're going in, we're not going in,' you know, whatever happened to the days of the Douglas MacArthur? He would go and attack. He wouldn't talk."

Trump now wants these comments to be seen as a warning of a "mistake" in Iraq. That's obviously untrue.

And what about the Esquire interview? That came out in August 2004.
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Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is pictured during an eventon May 12, 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Mike Pence's VP role model: Dick Cheney

09/19/16 10:00AM

In 50 days, Americans will have a new vice president-elect, and the honor may go to Indiana's right-wing governor, Mike Pence. ABC News' Martha Raddatz talked to Donald Trump's Republican running mate about his vision of the job.
GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said his role model for the number two spot is the last Republican to hold the job -- Dick Cheney.

"I frankly hold Dick Cheney in really high regard in his role as vice president and as an American," Pence said on ABC's "This Week."
Let's not brush past this too quickly, because Cheney's tenure in national office was one of the more important fiascoes in modern political history. Cheney's time as vice president was marked by scandals, consequential lies, deadly misjudgments, and routine incompetence. This was a vice presidency of undisclosed locations, a man who saw himself as his own branch of government, and an official who told a cordial senator, "Go f*** yourself."

Cheney left office with a 13% approval rating -- roughly half the support Richard Nixon enjoyed at the height of Watergate.

In private correspondence, former Secretary of State Colin Powell described Cheney as an "idiot."

This is Mike Pence's role model for the office to which he aspires.
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New Jersey Governor Chris Christie accompanies Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump off the stage after a press conference on March 1, 2016 in Palm Beach, Fla. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Following birther reversal, Trump's allies lie about his lie

09/19/16 09:20AM

Donald Trump surprised many on Friday, replacing one of his most notorious lies with a brand new one. The Republican, whose entire political persona was built on his racist conspiracy theory about President Obama's birthplace, announced he no longer believes his own nonsense -- which he now falsely blames on Hillary Clinton.

It takes a special kind of candidate to walk back one brazen lie by replacing it with another.

Perhaps thinking they no longer have a choice, Trump's allies hit the Sunday shows yesterday, pretending that the newly manufactured fiction is actually fact. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway insisted yesterday -- repeatedly and falsely -- that the birther conspiracy theory "started with" the Clinton campaign. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, who must know better, was equally eager to peddle the same nonsense.

But no one was quite as brazen in his dishonesty as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who told CNN's Jake Tapper yesterday that the birther garbage has been "done" as an issue "for a long time." The host reminded the viewing audience that Trump kept the conspiracy theory going for five years after President Obama made his long-form birth certificate available to the public. It led to an amazing exchange:
CHRISTIE: Jake, that's just not true. It's not true that he kept it up for five years.

TAPPER: Sure, he did.

CHRISTIE: It's simply not true.

TAPPER: It is true.

CHRISTIE: It wasn't like he was talking -- no, Jake, it wasn't like -- it wasn't like he was talking about it on a regular basis until then.
To the extent that reality matters at all, Donald Trump was not only a birther ringleader in the years leading up to 2011, and he not only rejected the president's birth certificate as a "fake" and a "fraud" in 2011, Trump also proceeded to push the same conspiracy theory in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Fact-checking the New Jersey governor's claim yesterday, the Washington Post concluded, "This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face.... [C]learly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television."
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Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally with US Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, at Ernst Community Cultural Center in Annandale, Va., July 14, 2016. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Kaine accuses Trump of trying to incite anti-Clinton violence

09/19/16 08:40AM

In contemporary politics, there aren't many lines remaining that political candidates are prohibited from crossing, but the American mainstream tends not to tolerate promoting violence. In a time in which it seems anything goes, this is arguably the final taboo.

It was therefore of great interest yesterday when Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton's running mate, made the case that Donald Trump is encouraging violence against the Democratic presidential nominee.
The Democratic vice-presidential nominee told "Fox News Sunday" that Mr. Trump's recent comments about Mrs. Clinton show he either wants his supporters to turn violent or simply doesn't care if someone is hurt as a result of his words. Asked directly whether he believes Mr. Trump is inciting violence, Mr. Kaine said, "I do."

"He is using language that is an incitement to violence or an encouragement of violence, or at least being cavalier and reckless about violence. And that has no place in any election," Mr. Kaine said. "When you look at a series of these comments he's making, I do believe it is an incitement or at a minimum an expression of indifference whether violence would occur."
The impetus for this came on Friday night when Trump told supporters, in reference to Clinton, "She goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm. Right? Right? I think they should disarm immediately. What do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn't want guns.... Let's see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous."

Substantively, the rhetoric was ridiculous: Clinton hasn't proposed banning guns. Trump is trying to suggest there's some kind of hypocrisy about having armed Secret Service agents protecting Clinton, but his point is plainly absurd.

But note that the Republican candidate went further, speculating about what would happen to her once the Secret Service agents are disarmed. "It would be very dangerous" for Clinton, Trump said.

This follows comments from a month ago in which Trump said "Second Amendment people" could offer some kind of remedy if Clinton wins the presidency.
FBI agents review the crime scene of remnants of bomb debris on 23rd St. in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood on Sept. 18, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty)

Candidates react to explosive devices in New York, New Jersey

09/19/16 08:00AM

Though an investigation is still underway, and the facts are still coming together, there was an explosion Saturday night in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, which injured 29 people. Within a few hours, police found a "possible secondary device" a few blocks away.

Early this morning, as NBC News also reported, a backpack that appeared to contain pipe bombs exploded as a police robot examined it near a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which is just 20 miles from Manhattan. The explosion reportedly occurred while a bomb-squad robot was cutting into the device. There were no reports of any injuries.

Not surprisingly given the circumstances, the incidents have once again renewed interest in national security as a presidential campaign issue. On Saturday night, soon after the explosion in Chelsea, Hillary Clinton spoke to reporters, extended her best wishes to the affected families and first responders, and said she would have "more to say... when we actually have the facts." Yesterday, Clinton went into far more detail, "strongly condemning the apparent terrorist attacks."

Donald Trump preferred a different approach. The Republican spoke in Colorado late Saturday and, before having any real information, told his audience "a bomb went off in New York." Before quickly transitioning to rhetoric about polls, the GOP nominee added, "We better get very, very tough. We'll find out. It's a terrible thing that's going on in our world, in our country and we are going to get tough and smart and vigilant. ... We'll see what it is. We'll see what it is."

Of particular interest, though, was this portion of Trump's speech, as transcribed by CBS News' Sopan Deb:
"So often, they'll ask me, 'How do you defeat ISIS?' I say, 'You know what? I have a real chance of winning. I don't want to tell the enemy how I'm thinking. [...]

"I will give you good results. Don't worry how I get there, okay? Please."
That's awfully close to a perfect encapsulation of Donald Trump's entire policy platform in the 2016 campaign: "I will give you good results. Don't worry how I get there, okay? Please."

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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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