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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.27.17

04/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "At least two U.S. military service members were killed and another wounded Wednesday night during a firefight with ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Documents released Thursday reveal former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was specifically warned in 2014 not to take money from foreign governments without advance permission and is now under investigation by the Pentagon for possibly violating the law, lawmakers said."

* United: "Dr. David Dao, the subject of the now infamous video showing him being dragged from his seat and off a plane, has reached a settlement with United Airlines after a weeks-long public relations nightmare for the company, lawyers said Thursday."

* We're occasionally reminded that Sean Spicer isn't great at his job: "For a few brief moments Thursday afternoon, it appeared as though the White House might be targeting your 401(k)s."

* The process of counting votes on the House Republicans' American Health Care Act is very much underway again, and at least for now, I don't think GOP leaders are going to have the votes to pass this thing.

* Electing an administration of climate deniers may not have been wise: "A report by a leading research body monitoring the Arctic has found that previous projections of global sea level rise for the end of the century could be too low, thanks in part to the pace of ice loss of Arctic glaciers and the vast ice sheet of Greenland."
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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

Trump drives bipartisanship out of the political conversation

04/27/17 12:54PM

With Donald Trump and congressional Republicans moving forward on a variety of their highest-profile priorities -- including major initiatives on health care and tax cuts -- there's been a fair amount of discussion about a dry topic: procedures and the legislative process. What's possible using reconciliation? How will the Byrd Rule affect the GOP's plans?

The questions matter, of course, and will help determine what does and doesn't happen, but the entire line of inquiry tends to skip right past an underlying truth: if the White House and Republican leaders were committed to at least trying bipartisan policymaking, we'd be having a very different kind of conversation.

HuffPost's Jason Linkins had a piece several weeks ago that's been on my mind lately about how the chorus of calls for bipartisanship has "fallen silent" now that Trump's in the Oval Office.
It's worth pointing out because during the Obama era, the demand that he remain true to bipartisanship was constant. The entire notion of presidential “leadership,” during Obama's tenure, was entirely contingent upon his willingness to break with those that had voted him into office and deliver policies that they would almost certainly despise, like deep and immiserating cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.

If Obama wasn't trying to reach some sort of across-the-aisle grand bargain, then he was failing, in the eyes of pundits. And whenever Obama managed to deliver on middle-of-the-road policies, well ― those same pundits moved the goalposts. Journalist and political commentator Greg Sargent called it “the centrist dodge,”  and it, too, was a constant feature of the Obama era.

During the long and tortuous legislative process that eventually brought us the Affordable Care Act, the bipartisanship police pulled double-shifts on their beat, raising a hue and cry whenever it looked like developments weren’t going to yield the optimal center-right health care package. The media practically fulminated against the so-called “public option,” dismissing the strong and consistent public support for it out of hand. Whenever it seemed like the Democrats might have to take a parliamentary short-cut ― like the brief flirtation with “deem and pass,” the Beltway press erupted in a chorus of disapproval.
All of this disappeared on Jan. 20, 2017. On practically every issue, Trump and Republicans haven't even paused to consider reaching across the aisle. The idea of reaching bipartisan compromises might be difficult, but while Obama practically begged GOP lawmakers to work with him toward compromise -- on practically any issue -- this president and his congressional allies don't even bother.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.27.17

04/27/17 12:00PM

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

* In the wake of a controversy stemming from EPA chief Scott Pruitt headlining a Republican fundraiser in Oklahoma, EPA officials intend to correct the Oklahoma GOP's "error" about the nature of the event.

* The DCCC, DSCC, and the Priorities USA Action super PAC each launched digital ads yesterday, targeting Republicans over their renewed health care push. The focus of the message was on Republicans' undermining protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. (Here's the DSCC's ad.)

* In Alabama, former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, twice removed from the bench for ethics violations, announced yesterday that he's running for the U.S. Senate, joining a Republican primary field that's likely to be quite crowded.

* And speaking of Alabama, Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn football coach, was gearing up for a gubernatorial campaign in his home state, but he announced this week that he's passing on the race.

* After Donald Trump speaks at the NRA's upcoming conference in Atlanta, he'll also headline a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in Georgia's congressional special election.

* RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel argued yesterday that the Republican Party's base is less likely to turn out in 2018 if there's no progress on building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. I'm not at all sure that's true, but I guess her comments were intended to push GOP lawmakers on the issue.
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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Reversing course on NAFTA, Trump's threats again appear hollow

04/27/17 11:20AM

The political world was jolted yesterday when Donald Trump said he was considering withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA. It was difficult to know how seriously to take this, but Trump's threat was poised to have considerable economic, political and foreign policy implications.

Soon after, the president had a different message: never mind.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.

The White House made the surprise announcement in a read-out of calls between Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The White House said in a written statement, "President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries."

For those who care about the substantive details of this, it's worth noting that the Obama administration significantly renegotiated elements of NAFTA during the process in which the Trans-Pacific Partnership came together. Many have suggested the Trump administration could now use that framework, picking up where the TPP left off, but Canada and Mexico agreed to those changes because they thought they'd have greater trade opportunities with Asian nations once the TPP was implemented.

With Trump having killed the TPP, he has a lot less to offer Canada and Mexico now.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees. What we have here is yet another example of Trump making a public threat, thumping his chest about some radical move he's prepared to make, only to surrender soon after, in exchange for nothing, without any meaningful explanation for the presidential retreat.
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Immigrants prepare to be unshackled at a detention facility on Nov., 15, 2013 in California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Team Trump launches a misguided anti-immigrant effort

04/27/17 10:42AM

The Trump administration, as promised, launched a new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office yesterday, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security recently asserted, "Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents," and the Trump administration intends to take action.

Apparently, however, some took Team Trump's rhetoric quite literally and reportedly started calling the hotline to report crimes committed by aliens -- as in, extra-terrestrials.

And while that's kind of hilarious, the White House's initiative isn't funny at all. If Donald Trump and his team are committed to take new steps to offer support to crime victims, that's a worthwhile goal. But as a USA Today editorial noted the other day, that's not quite what the president is doing with this initiative.
Never mind that immigrants on the whole -- undocumented or in the U.S. legally -- are less prone to crime than native Americans.... Even if the facts showed otherwise, there are good reasons this country doesn't create separate programs for victims of crimes by Jews or Catholics or African Americans or Asians or juveniles or short people. Categorizing criminals in this way is not going to provide any special comfort to victims. And, by underscoring and overpublicizing the acts of some members, such efforts are the first step toward assigning guilt to a group.

This runs contrary to the core American value that people deserve to be judged as individuals, based on their own behavior. To do otherwise is the very definition of prejudice.
The piece added, "Blaming an already unpopular minority group for the actions of a few has no place in America."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Looking past governance, Team Trump places a high value on theatrics

04/27/17 10:13AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked a couple of weeks ago about Donald Trump's 100th day in office, and what the president will have to show for his efforts. "I think what you've seen out of this White House," Spicer replied, "is a very robust agenda of activity."

I found myself thinking about that phrase quite a bit. The president's press secretary didn't focus much on actual substantive gains, but rather, the robust amount of "activity" in and around the White House. Trump and his team may not have accomplishments to speak of, but we're apparently supposed to marvel at how busy they appear doing ... stuff.

Yesterday offered an amazing peek into the Trump administration's approach to pseudo governance.

* Tax reform: The White House unveiled a one-page tax "plan" that didn't actually say much of anything. It looked like a table of contents without any contents. Team Trump assured the public that officials are "working on" producing "lots" of details that aren't yet ready. Why not wait and unveil a proper plan once it's complete? Because that's not theatrical -- and with the 100-day standard approaching, we apparently need to be reminded of the president's "robust agenda of activity."

* North Korea: Trump asked all 100 members of the U.S. Senate to attend a special briefing on North Korea yesterday, held at the White House, which apparently didn't really include much of anything in the way of new information. Why couldn't administration officials simply drive a mile and a half to Capitol Hill and brief senators in rooms that are already designated for this purpose? Because that's not exciting -- and Team Trump wanted to put on a little show.

* Education executive order: The president made quite a fuss about signing a new education order on federal education policy. During a briefing with reporters, however, an administration official conceded that Trump's new directive gives the Department of Education powers it already has.

Yesterday, in other words, was intended to appear exciting. Look, the president is threatening the 9th Circuit! Look, he's talking about tearing up NAFTA! Trump is focused on education, taxes, national security, and health care -- all at the same time!
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

Trump does himself no favors with attacks on the federal judiciary

04/27/17 09:20AM

In his 2010 State of the Union address, then-President Barack Obama expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

"With all due deference to separation of powers," Obama said, "last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems."

Conservatives, the media, and many prominent figures in the legal community responded with a spirited freak-out -- not to defend the Citizens United rulings, but to balk at the president's public concerns. Americans were told that the remarks, delivered in front of several justices who were on hand for the address, represented an assault on the federal judiciary. A debate ensued about whether Obama had gone too far.

Seven years later, with Donald Trump continuing to rant and rave about federal courts that refuse to do what he wants them to do, the complaints from 2010 seem almost quaint.
President Trump said Wednesday that he has "absolutely" considered proposals that would split up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges have blocked two of his executive actions.

"Absolutely, I have," Trump said of considering 9th Circuit breakup proposals during a far-ranging interview with the Washington Examiner at the White House. "There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous."
In his comments to the Washington Examiner, the president added that his opponents "immediately" run to the 9th Circuit, expecting a favorable outcome from the nation's most progressive bench. The interview followed a Trump Twitter tantrum yesterday morning about the 9th Circuit.

In reality, much of Trump's rhetoric was plainly wrong, and the idea that plaintiffs in San Francisco were court-shopping when they filed suit in San Francisco is pretty silly.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump agrees to let his health care hostage go (for now)

04/27/17 08:40AM

Exactly two weeks ago, Donald Trump publicly acknowledged a not-so-subtle hostage strategy he thought, at the time, would be a good idea. The Republican president said he was prepared to destroy American health care markets by withholding cost-sharing subsidies -- unless congressional Democrats took steps to make him happy.

Trump said on Twitter that he didn't "want people to get hurt," before suggesting he'd start hurting people.

Yesterday, the White House decided to let the hostage go -- at least for now.
White House officials notified lawmakers earlier in the day that President Trump abandoned a threat to end subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act, a concession to Democrats that is expected to clear the way for a bipartisan budget agreement. Trump had threatened to cut off the subsidies in an attempt to force Democrats to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a fight that became less serious after Republicans withdrew their border wall request this week.

"It is good that once again the president seems to be backing off his threat to hold health care and government funding hostage," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "Like the withdrawal of money for the wall, this decision brings us closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and is good news for the American people."
A White House official told Reuters, "While we agreed to go ahead and make the ... payments for now, we haven't made a final decision about future commitments."

It's apparently Team Trump's way of effectively saying, "Remember, we can re-take this hostage again at some point."

White House posturing notwithstanding, it's a major development. Now that the administration is going to make the ACA payments, the threat of a government shutdown is effectively over and private insurers can move forward with some sense of security about the stability of the markets.
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Republican health plan at the end of a trail of broken promises

04/27/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump was never specific about the substantive details of his health care plan, but he wasn't shy about telling Americans exactly what his policy would do and what the system would look like once it was in place.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," he vowed. The Republican added that once the Affordable Care Act is replaced with his plan, we'd see lower premiums, "much lower" deductibles, and a system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

This wasn't just campaign palaver, ad-libbed during a rally, from a candidate pleading for support from unsuspecting voters. Rather, these were commitments Trump made after he'd won the presidential election.

The president then proceeded to break his word without explanation, throwing his support behind congressional Republicans' American Health Care Act, which would take coverage from tens of millions of people, raise premiums, and raise deductibles. How does Trump explain his failure to follow through on his commitments? So far, he hasn't even tried to justify the shift.

But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the congressional Republicans find themselves in the exact same position. When House GOP leaders unveiled their health plan last month, they also created a website to answer the public's questions. As of this morning, it still says the Republican proposal "prohibits health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions," which is the opposite of what the latest iteration of their legislation does. The Q&A portion adds:
Are you repealing patient protections, including for people with pre-existing conditions?

No. Americans should never be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition. [...]

Won't millions of Americans lose their health insurance because of your plan?

No. We are working to give all Americans peace of mind about their health care.
This is the exact opposite of the truth. Under the latest version of the Republican plan, protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions would be gutted, and tens of millions of people would lose their health coverage.

This isn't even a point of contention anymore: what House GOP leaders promised and what they're offering are plainly at odds. These Republicans made commitments -- in writing -- that they're now choosing not to keep.
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