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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.23.17

03/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest from London: "The knife-wielding terrorist who killed an American tourist and two others outside the U.K. Parliament was British-born and previously investigated for 'violent extremism.'"

* Russia: "A former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed in Kiev Thursday in what the Ukrainian president described as an 'act of state terrorism' by Russia, an accusation that has been quickly rejected by the Kremlin. President Petro Poroshenko said Voronenkov's killing 'clearly shows the handwriting of Russian special services shown repeatedly in various European capitals in the past.'"

* Israeli police "arrested a 19-year-old man Thursday in connection with the wave of bomb threats and hoaxes against Jewish community centers in America, authorities in Israel said. The unnamed man -- a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen -- is Jewish himself, officials said."

* I don't think an apology alone will be nearly enough: "House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to committee members after going to the White House Wednesday with information about President Donald Trump's wiretapping accusations before sharing it with the committee, a Democrat on the panel said Thursday."

* Chuck Schumer makes some news: "Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings ended Thursday on a confrontational note, with the Senate's top Democrat vowing a filibuster that could complicate Gorsuch's confirmation and lead to an overhaul in the way the U.S. Senate conducts its business."

* I remember when Republicans used to say it was a bad thing when Congress created uncertainty, and yet here we are: "Uncertainty surrounding the Republican plan to replace Obamacare is forcing some U.S. hospitals to delay expansion plans, cut costs, or take on added risk to borrow money for capital investment projects, dealing an economic blow to these facilities and the towns they call home."
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House Republicans cancel vote on controversial health care bill

03/23/17 04:31PM

There was a House Republican conference meeting scheduled for this morning, but it was postponed. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was scheduled to host a press conference this afternoon, but it too was scrapped.

And the House was supposed to vote today on the Republicans' wildly unpopular health care plan, but it met a familiar fate.
House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a planned vote on the GOP health care bill Thursday afternoon as they struggled to find sufficient support to pass it. [...]

The move came after House conservatives said there was no deal struck on the bill following a meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House Thursday.
Right around the time House GOP leaders canceled today's vote, Trump told a group, "Today, the House is voting to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare."

Apparently, the merits of the Affordable Care Act aren't the only things the president is unaware of.

In case this isn't already obvious, these are deeply embarrassing developments for Republican leaders. As recently as yesterday afternoon, GOP officials were declaring, with great bravado, "We're voting tomorrow, no matter what." House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told NBC News' Kasie Hunt that members would not only cast their votes on the American Health Care Act by 7 p.m. (ET), but also that the votes would be there to pass it.

And yet, here we are.
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Image: House Speaker Paul Ryan Holds Weekly Briefing

Americans reject Republican health plan in striking numbers

03/23/17 02:01PM

A week ago, there was ample evidence that showed Americans just weren't buying what Republicans were selling on health care. National survey data from Fox News, Public Policy Polling, and the Kaiser Family Foundation showed most of the country souring on the GOP's American Health Care Act, which some call "Trumpcare."

Of course, polls can change, and in the case of the Republican legislation, public attitudes have, in fact, shifted -- but not in a direction GOP leaders will like.
American voters disapprove 56 - 17 percent, with 26 percent undecided, of the Republican health care plan to replace Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. [...]

"Replacing Obamacare will come with a price for elected representatives who vote to scrap it, say many Americans, who clearly feel their health is in peril under the Republican alternative," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
The same poll found 43% of respondents "strongly" oppose the Republican plan. How many "strongly" support it? A whopping 6%. That's not a typo.

A forgiving observer may look for ways to excuse results like these. One might note, for example, that the Affordable Care Act has long been controversial, too. Perhaps one might also argue that Americans would have more favorable impressions of the GOP plan if they had more time to familiarize themselves with the details.

But the excuses don't work in this case. The Republican legislation is far less popular than the ACA was -- and also less popular than the Clinton plan from the 1990s. What's more, if GOP leaders had any confidence that the public would like their plan once Americans got to know it they wouldn't be rushing to force it through Congress so quickly.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but it's political suicide to rally behind a life-or-death piece of legislation, which would leave tens of millions of people without health coverage, knowing it enjoys the support of just 17% of the public.
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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)

Where things stand with the Republican health care bill

03/23/17 12:47PM

It's hard not to feel some trepidation about writing a piece on where things stand with the Republican health care bill, because the existing dynamic is subject to dramatic changes at a moment's notice. But fortune favors the bold, so let's dig in.

Is the American Health Care Act going to pass today?

That's largely dependent on which version of the American Health Care Act we're talking about. The original bill is dead. The revised bill, written in secret in the middle of the night earlier this week, doesn't have the votes.

So we're just waiting for the bill's inevitable failure?

Not so fast. Overnight, there was talk of a new effort that would move the bill sharply to the right in order to make members of the House Freedom Caucus happy.

What kind of changes are House GOP leaders prepared to offer?

As of noon (ET), there is no new bill, but multiple reports suggest the Republican leadership is prepared to start scrapping essential health benefits -- provisions in the Affordable Care Act that require insurers to cover things like prescription drugs and maternity care -- in order to woo right-wing members.

You're making it sound as if some House Republicans believe the existing bill isn't cruel enough.


If the new, more far-right version becomes the official bill, will it pick up enough Freedom Caucus votes to pass?

There is no headcount on this -- the bill doesn't yet exist, and may never exist -- so no one knows for sure. For some Freedom Caucus members, scrapping essential health benefits is nice, but it's not enough. Complicating matters, the House GOP's center-right members are already running away from the bill, and their opposition will stiffen if the legislation becomes even more regressive.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.23.17

03/23/17 12:00PM

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

* The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a fundraising appeal this morning with a subject line that read, "Confirmed: Obama spied on Trump." That's demonstrably untrue, but other Republican entities have launched similar fundraising efforts off of House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes' (R-Calif.) bizarre antics yesterday.

* Though the state of the Republican health care plan is unclear, the Koch brothers' network is prepared to offer financial support to GOP lawmakers who buck their party leadership and kill the existing Republican legislation.

* In Wisconsin, which Trump narrowly won last year with 47% of the vote, the latest Marquette Law School Poll shows the president's approval rating at just 41% in the Badger State.

* In Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, most leading members of the Clinton's political network are supporting Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, but many top officials from the Obama campaign are backing former Rep. Tom Perriello.

* I mentioned a month ago that this was likely and now it's happened: state Rep. Beth Fukumoto, considered one of the Hawaii GOP’s rising stars, has officially quit the Republican Party. She's planning to become a Democrat.

* Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) remains popular in his home state, but his standing appears to be slipping. In a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, Hogan's lead over a generic Democrat in next year's election shows the Republican governor ahead by four points. Last fall, the same poll showed Hogan ahead by 16 points.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

New poll shows Trump slipping further, even among Republicans

03/23/17 11:20AM

The latest Quinnipiac poll, released yesterday, includes all kinds of bad news for Donald Trump. His overall approval rating, for example, has fallen to just 37%, his lowest to date, and a depth of support with no modern precedent for a president just two months into his first term.

But just as interesting as the topline results are some of the specific details. From the pollster's report:
President Trump is losing support among key elements of his base:

* Men disapprove 43 - 52 percent, compared to a 49 - 45 percent approval March 7;
* Republicans approve 81 - 14 percent, compared to 91 - 5 percent two weeks ago;
* White voters disapprove 44 - 50 percent, compared to a narrow 49 - 45 percent approval March 7.
To be sure, when a president enjoys 81% approval from voters in his own party, that may sound pretty good. It's not. Note that Trump's support from the GOP has fallen 10 points since the last Quinnipiac poll.

When a beleaguered president's overall approval rating is just 37%, he's even more dependent on die-hard loyalists. When that same president is shedding support from his own base, it's evidence of a leader with a problem.
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Trump's ability to separate fact from fiction is evaporating

03/23/17 10:49AM

Donald Trump told reporters yesterday he felt "somewhat" vindicated about his wiretap conspiracy theory following the bizarre press conferences yesterday from House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.). The president then turned to Twitter to promote messages saying how right he was.

This was an odd reaction. There's more to this story than the specific details in the president's tweets, but the fact remains that when he was making the case for his conspiracy theory, Trump said he was personally targeted, and Nunes said the opposite. He said the surveillance was illegal, and Nunes said the opposite. He said Obama was personally involved, and Nunes said the opposite. He said the surveillance was before the election, and Nunes said the opposite. He said this was all part of a campaign-related scheme, and Nunes said the opposite.

In other words, Trump was "vindicated" to the extent that the president got literally every detail wrong.

I mention all of this because it's emblematic of a leader who continues to struggle, in alarming ways, to separate fact from fiction. If you haven't read Trump's newly published interview with Time magazine's Michael Scherer, it's well worth your time. The questions about the president's awareness of reality and appreciation of objective truths are only going to grow louder as a result of some of his more ridiculous comments.

He started by arguing that Hillary Clinton's emails were on Anthony Weiner's laptop, the Democratic primary race was "rigged against Bernie Sanders," and that he was "totally right" about Brexit. All three of these claims are plainly and demonstrably wrong.

Trump went on to say his conspiracy theory about Barack Obama conducting illegal surveillance of him has merit because, "I have articles saying it happened." He does not actually have articles saying it happened.

This exchange soon followed:
TIME: One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election…

TRUMP: Well I think I will be proved right about that too.

TIME: The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey…

TRUMP: Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.
When the conversation turned to Trump's conspiracy theory about Ted Cruz's father and the JFK assassination, the president said, "Well that was in a newspaper.... I didn't say that. I was referring to a newspaper.... Why do you say that I have to apologize? I'm just quoting the newspaper."

The "newspaper," in this instance, was the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid with which Trump has an eerily friendly relationship.
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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

Dems take aim at Wall Street lawyer before he oversees Wall Street

03/23/17 10:05AM

Of all the many Goldman Sachs veterans Donald Trump has tapped for key posts in his administration, perhaps the toughest to defend is Jay Clayton, the president's choice to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is, after all, a Wall Street lawyer who's been asked by the president to help oversee Wall Street.

In a new op-ed, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), members of the Senate Banking Committee that will consider Clayton's nomination today, sounded a skeptical note.
American families need an SEC chairman who will watch out for their interests -- not short-term corporate profits. That's why we'll be asking Clayton about his willingness to be more vigilant and increase oversight of stock buybacks. We also want to know if Clayton will be willing to help investors identify companies that choose to invest in the U.S. economy and American workers.

If the SEC would require publicly traded companies to disclose more detailed information about jobs moved overseas -- and jobs brought back home -- investors could choose to invest in companies that make our economy stronger. Additionally, requiring public, country-by-country disclosure of profits stashed overseas would reveal to investors the companies that rely on tax havens to avoid U.S. taxes.
Though the op-ed didn't mention Clayton's background, it doesn't offer much hope for those seeking robust oversight of the finance industry. As the Washington Post recently reported, "As chairman of the SEC, Clayton would help police many of the same large banks he has spent decades representing as a lawyer, including Goldman Sachs and Barclays."
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Image: Sean Spicer

White House struggles with questions about the Russia scandal

03/23/17 09:20AM

At yesterday's White House press briefing, a reporter asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer about the day's most shocking report: Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was paid millions of dollars a year to "benefit" Vladimir Putin's government in Russia. Spicer responded by talking about Hillary Clinton -- mentioning her seven times.

Later, at the same briefing, NBC News' Peter Alexander asked the press secretary, "[C]an you say with certainty with right now that there isn't anybody else that's working in the interests of another foreign government working for this government right now?" Spicer wouldn't answer the question directly.

And then, of course, there were the questions about whether the president was aware -- or should have been aware -- of Manafort's foreign lobbying work. Spicer didn't seem to appreciate the line of inquiry. From the official transcript:
"[Manafort] was a consultant, he had clients from around the world. There is no suggestion that he did anything improper. But to suggest that that the president knew who his clients were from a decade ago is a bit insane. There is not -- he was not a government employee. He didn't fill out any paperwork attesting to something. There is nothing that he did that suggests, at this point, that anything was nefarious. He was hired to do a job; he did it. That's it -- plain and simple."
As part of the same Q&A, Spicer added, "No, the president was not aware of Paul's clients from last decade. No." Asked if that lack of scrutiny is a problem, the press secretary said, "What else don't we know? I mean, where he went to school, what grades he got, who played he played with in the sandbox?"

That's a nice little soundbite, but it's hardly persuasive.
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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

House Intel chair trashes what's left of his credibility

03/23/17 08:49AM

House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.) has forgotten some important things. The California Republican no longer remembers, for example, that he doesn't actually work for Donald Trump's White House.

At the same time, Nunes has also forgotten that powerful members of Congress who intend to serve as sycophantic cheerleaders for their party's president should at least try to pretend to be credible and responsible.

When it comes to the Russia scandal, Nunes announced in mid-December that he had no intention of even looking into the matter, though he later changed his mind under pressure. Two months later, he tried to exonerate then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, shortly before the White House fired him for lying about his communications with Russia.

By Valentine's Day, Nunes was making the White House's arguments about executive privilege, while contacting reporters and trying to wave them off of a controversy he was ostensibly investigating. In fact, the Intelligence Committee chairman has spent the better part of 2017 running interference for Donald Trump -- who's presidential transition committee he helped lead.

And then yesterday happened. As Rachel explained on last night's show:
"[Nunes] held not one, but two fairly breathless press conferences alleging ... something, he couldn't quite say what, about the intelligence community and the Trump transition, of which he was an executive member. Things that he had seen, but he could not describe, that made him feel alarm, that made him feel concern, that ought to make us all feel alarm and concern, and they certainly would make us feel those things if only we knew what these things were, but he would not tell us.

"In fact, he did not even have those things in his possession, and he had not shown them to the rest of the people on his committee, who are participating in this investigation he's supposed to be leading."
It is exceedingly rare to see a powerful member of Congress, in the middle of an investigation into a serious scandal, commit an act of self-sabotage in such a dramatic fashion.
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Key Dem points to evidence of collusion between Russia, Team Trump

03/23/17 08:00AM

Russia's intervention in last year's presidential campaign is no longer in doubt. What's unclear is whether Vladimir Putin's government received cooperation from Republican campaign officials who were eager to help their allies in Moscow.

House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who's helping lead a congressional investigation into the Russia scandal, appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend, and raised a few eyebrows with vague references to circumstantial evidence.

"There is circumstantial evidence of collusion," Schiff said, referring to alleged cooperation between Russia and Donald Trump's campaign. "There is direct evidence, I think, of deception and that's where we begin the investigation.... There is certainly enough for us to conduct an investigation. The American people have a right to know and in order to defend ourselves, we need to know whether the circumstantial evidence of collusion and direct evidence of deception is indicative of more."

Schiff made related comments to Rachel a day later.

But on MSNBC yesterday afternoon, the California Democrat again talked to Chuck Todd, and this time he took another step forward when describing the nature of the evidence.
TODD: But you admit, all you have right now is a circumstantial case?

SCHIFF: Actually, no, Chuck. I can tell you that the case is more than that. And I can't go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now. So, again, I think -

TODD: You have seen direct evidence of collusion?

SCHIFF: I don't to want go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial, and it very much worthy of investigation. So, that is what we ought to do.
When we contacted the congressman's office, asking if Schiff may have misspoken, and giving him a chance to walk this back, his office said Schiff meant what he said.
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