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House Speaker Paul Ryan arrives at his office on Capitol Hill on June 8, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Republican health care plan leaks, becomes subject of controversy

02/27/17 10:30AM

One of the most important angles to the long-awaited Republican health-care plan is the context: Americans have been promised that the GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act would meet a series of key benchmarks.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised, "I am going to take care of everybody. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now." After the election, the Republican president vowed, "We're going to have insurance for everybody.... Everybody's going to be taken care of."

And it's against this backdrop that Politico, among others, reported on Friday on the GOP plan that makes no meaningful effort to keep any of Team Trump's promises.
A draft House Republican repeal bill would dismantle the Obamacare subsidies and scrap its Medicaid expansion, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by POLITICO.

The legislation would take down the foundation of Obamacare, including the unpopular individual mandate, subsidies based on people's income, and all of the law's taxes. It would significantly roll back Medicaid spending and give states money to create high risk pools for some people with pre-existing conditions. Some elements would be effective right away; others not until 2020.

The replacement would be paid for by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people get at work -- an idea that is similar to the Obamacare "Cadillac tax" that Republicans have fought to repeal.
It's worth emphasizing that this refers to an actual bill. Before members took a break last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) sent Republican lawmakers home with a series of talking points related to health care policy, including the vague outline of a GOP blueprint, but the draft that emerged late last week is actual legislative text, not a public-relations document.

And as is obvious reviewing the bill, it's a doozy. By replacing the ACA with this Republican approach, the wealthy would get a massive tax break, while assistance to working families would be reduced and Medicaid expansion would face a big cut. To pay for their policy, GOP leaders intend to begin taxing employer-provided insurance -- a policy that would cause massive disruptions and which many Republicans have already dismissed as a non-starter.
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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

Why a state Senate race in Delaware became national news

02/27/17 10:01AM

Technically, there have been a few elections since Donald Trump became president last month. In early February, a Democrat won a special election in an Iowa state House district, and a week later, a Dem cruised to an easy victory in a special election in a Virginia state House district.

But those races were largely overlooked outside their local areas and for good reason: they didn't dictate control of any legislative chambers; they didn't attract the attention of any national figures; and they weren't in competitive districts where the outcome was in doubt.

The state Senate special election in Delaware, however, was a very different story. The News Journal in Wilmington reported:
Democrat Stephanie Hansen won the special election for the 10th District Senate seat Saturday, capturing 58 percent of the votes cast and preserving her party's control of the Legislature.

The race drew national attention and donations from across the country. Former Vice President Joe Biden and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley both campaigned on Hansen's behalf in the weeks leading up to the election.
In her victory speech, Hansen declared, "This was the first swing election in the country since the inauguration. It was the first chance for voters to rise up with one voice to say we're bigger than the bullies. It was the first chance for voters to declare with one loud voice that we're better than the politics of fear and division. What we accomplished together will have implications for our entire state and country, and I think tonight they're hearing us loud and clear in all corners of this country -- and certainly in D.C. and in Dover."

Democrats have held Delaware's state Senate for nearly a half-century, but that control was at stake on Saturday, which is precisely why national Democrats were so eager to get involved. For Republicans to gain power in a blue state a month in the Trump era would have been an embarrassing setback.

And as the dust settled on Saturday night, the opposite had happened.
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U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez chats with trainees at the Siemens training facility on Oct. 28, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty)

Tom Perez takes the reins at the DNC, marking a new era

02/27/17 09:30AM

The race to lead the Democratic National Committee seemed to go on quite a while, but at a party gathering in Atlanta over the weekend, it wrapped up in an interesting way.
After a difficult 2016 campaign that saw them lose the White House, both chambers of Congress and state houses across the country, Democrats elected Tom Perez on Saturday to lead the Democratic National Committee and rebuild the party.

Perez, the former labor secretary in the Obama administration, won in a second round of voting and was considered the heavy favorite of the Democratic establishment. He earned 235 votes from the 447 DNC members -- the voting bloc that decides the chairmanship.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the early favorite for the post who enjoyed the support of many of the party's congressional leaders, was a very competitive second. When Perez was gracious enough to offer the Minnesota Democrat the party's vice chairmanship, Ellison was equally gracious in accepting.

"We don't have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided," Ellison told DNC members. "We don't have that luxury, and I just want to say to you that it's my honor to serve this party under Chairman Perez."

Ellison fans are disappointed, but there's a clear upside for them with the results: he gets to stay in Congress -- Ellison had vowed to step down to focus on the DNC full time as its chair -- while simultaneously helping lead the party as its vice chair.

I generally think the significance of the party chairs is overstated. In 2009 and 2010, for example, Republican officials clashed repeatedly with then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele, but the conflicts did nothing to slow the party's massive gains in 2010. After Republicans' failures in 2012, then-RNC Chairman Reince Priebus established a roadmap to help the party get back on track. Party officials ignored it, did largely the opposite, and took total control of Washington in 2016. Priebus received a nice promotion soon after.

That said, the fight for the DNC chairmanship did tell us something notable about the state of Democratic politics.
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Image: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Priebus' improper contacts with the FBI come into focus

02/27/17 09:00AM

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a top Donald Trump ally, did his best yesterday to defend the White House urging FBI officials to downplay the Russia scandal. The Republican governor's defense isn't that the White House is innocent, but rather, that Team Trump doesn't know what it's doing.
"I can guarantee this, I don't think [White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus] will ever have that kind of conversation with the FBI, with FBI personnel, again," he said.

"Remember, these are all people who have never been in government before," Christie said. "And so they're going to need to learn these things."
Factually, Christie's point has merit -- we have an amateur president who's surrounded himself with people who have no governing experience -- but it's still not much of a defense. By his reasoning, it didn't occur to the president's chief of staff it might be problematic for the White House to intervene in a pending federal investigation. It's one of those things the person running the White House needs to know, not "learn."

Of course, Christie's defense of Priebus' outreach to the FBI acknowledges the underlying detail that matters: Priebus reached out to the FBI. The allegation that shook the political world on Thursday night and Friday morning, we now know, is true.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

White House seeks intelligence that tells Trump what he wants to hear

02/27/17 08:30AM

Donald Trump hasn't given up on his Muslim ban, but after failing in the courts, the president realizes his proposal needs some work. Hoping to craft a policy that can pass legal muster, the White House has moved forward in recent weeks with a plan that involves defending the legality of the administration's policy by pointing to security risks that, in Trump's mind, makes his proposal necessary.

With that in mind, a senior White House official told CNN late last week that intelligence officials at the Department of Homeland Security "are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and that these seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States."

As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the key phrase in the quote is "will demonstrate." The White House hadn't seen the incomplete intelligence reports, but Team Trump was nevertheless comfortable describing the findings and boasting about how they would support the president's preconceived conclusions. As the Bush/Cheney administration's handling of pre-invasion Iraq intelligence helped prove, this is exactly the opposite of how the process is supposed to work.

But a funny thing happened to derail Team Trump's plan: intelligence professionals decided to tell the White House the truth, instead of what the president wanted to hear.
Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011.
The Associated Press published the full document, prepared by the Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, online. Note that it also asserts that people from the seven suspect countries are “rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism."

In practical terms, the White House's strategy has failed spectacularly. They started with the preconceived answer -- the one Trump unveiled during the campaign without any meaningful analysis or substantive thought -- and then asked intelligence officials to reverse-engineer the evidence to justify the administration's goal.

What's less clear is whether the White House cares. A Wall Street Journal report suggests the answer is no.
The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

White House makes matters worse by trying to suppress Russia scandal

02/27/17 08:00AM

Top White House officials have been so alarmed by the Russia scandal that they reached out to the FBI -- during the FBI's ongoing investigation -- to encourage federal law enforcement to quietly tell the media to ignore the controversy. The outreach is itself problematic -- the phrase, "obstruction of justice" keeps coming to mind -- but FBI officials ignored the West Wing's pleas.

As it turns out, however, the FBI wasn't the office the White House contacted. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, the Washington Post published an important scoop: after the FBI said it wouldn't talk to the media on the White House's behalf, Donald Trump's team found others who were more amenable.
The Trump administration has enlisted senior members of the intelligence community and Congress in efforts to counter news stories about Trump associates' ties to Russia, a politically charged issue that has been under investigation by the FBI as well as lawmakers now defending the White House.

Acting at the behest of the White House, the officials made calls to news organizations last week in attempts to challenge stories about alleged contacts between members of President Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, U.S. officials said.
Of particular interest, the White House's public-relations campaign included Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), both of whom confirmed that they spoke to journalists about the Russia scandal at the White House's request.

And that's extraordinary. While Burr and Nunes were supposed to be overseeing investigations into the Russia scandal, they were also cooperating with the White House, telling reporters not to take the Russia scandal seriously.

In other words, the investigators were undermining their own investigation -- at the behest of those being investigated.

There's no shortage of questions about the developments, but there's an obvious one near the top of the list: what happens now?
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