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Image: Still image from video shows U.S. Senator McCain speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate after a vote on healthcare reform in Washington

It's not enough for John McCain to say the right things

07/26/17 08:52AM

It was a dramatic moment on Capitol Hill yesterday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, arrived on the Senate floor. Without the veteran lawmaker, Republicans would not have been able to advance their effort to take health care benefits from millions of Americans.

Soon after casting his vote with his party, McCain delivered prepared remarks on his concerns about contemporary politics and what's become of the legislative process, and much of the media, which has long gushed over the Arizona senator, could hardly contain its praise. Here, for example, was CNN's report:

In a Washington moment for the ages, Sen. John McCain claimed the role of an aging lion to try to save the Senate, composing a moving political aria for the chamber and the country that he loves.

With a deep-red scar etched from his eyebrow to his temple, the legacy of brain surgery less than two weeks ago, McCain beseeched his colleagues to forsake political tribalism and restore the chamber to a spirit of compromise that had helped forge national greatness.

Roll Call published a related piece, telling readers, "Years from now, when the history of the modern Congress is written, John McCain's address to the Senate on July 25, 2017, is likely to stand among the defining summations of the era."

I realize that the political media has its favorites, and for a variety of reasons, McCain has long been a media darling. I'm also aware of the unique circumstances: a man who's devoted much of his life to public service, including heroic military service, is facing a serious health crisis. Those who want to celebrate McCain's work feel an added incentive to do so quickly and vigorously.

But the adulation paints an incomplete -- and to a very real extent, misleading -- picture for the public. One can respect McCain's lifetime of sacrifices while still acknowledging the glaring gap between the senator's words and his actions.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

'Repeal and replace' plan's defeat spells trouble for Republicans

07/26/17 08:00AM

Yesterday's developments on the Senate floor offered plenty of drama, and the Republicans' procedural measure to begin the health care debate in earnest succeeded, but that simply opened the door to substantive work on the GOP's goal.

And last night, Republicans suffered an important defeat -- the first of several.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully opening debate on the issue. But just six hours later, Republicans faced their first defeat in that process, failing to pass a measure that they've been working on that would have partially repealed and replaced Obamacare.

At issue was the latest iteration of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) bill -- the Better Care Reconciliation Act (or BCRA) -- which has been in the works for over a month. The measure needed 60 votes, but failed to even get 50: as the roll call shows, the final tally was 43 to 57, with nine Republicans voting with Senate Democrats against the measure.

It wasn't, in other words, particularly close.

The Senate then broke for the night, with plans to vote this afternoon on an even-more-radical "repeal and delay" plan that would gut the Affordable Care Act and figure out what to do about it two years later. That will need 50 votes, and by all accounts, the measure will fall short.

And therein lies the point: for all of yesterday's excitement, Republicans still don't have a realistic plan to achieve their goals. GOP senators climbed to the top of the diving platform, jumped off, and hope to figure out what they're doing before they reach the water.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.25.17

07/25/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* There's no link available just yet, but the House approved new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea this afternoon, following a 419-to-3 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.

* The latest on Manafort: "Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the panel's top members said."

* The Boy Scouts are on the defensive after Donald Trump turned one of their national events into a partisan political rally.

* Some House drama: "House Democrats sank two key bills on the House floor Monday, embarrassing Republican leaders who were banking on the noncontroversial legislation sailing through -- in a new sign of the opposition party's frustration with the majority's approach. Kicking off a busy week in the House, most Democrats and a handful of Republicans joined forces to deny GOP leaders big-enough majorities to pass an annual intelligence policy bill and legislation to restore funding for a key veterans health care program."

* It sounds like he's steadily making progress: "A group of House Republicans got a surprise pep talk Monday from their missing man: Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who continues to recover from a gunshot wound suffered in last month's baseball-practice shooting."

* Shouldn't Priebus be playing some role in this? "Anthony Scaramucci spent his third day as White House communications director telling reporters he will 'fire everyone' in the press office if leaks from the administration don't stop.... Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short seemed to be the first part of Scaramucci's overhaul -- he resigned on Tuesday."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber as Republicans pushed legislation toward Senate approval to defund Planned Parenthood and the ACA, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate Republicans overcome hurdle, advance ACA repeal crusade

07/25/17 04:16PM

It wasn't easy, and it took quite a bit more drama than anyone expected to see, but Senate Republicans took their first meaningful step this afternoon toward taking health care benefits from millions of Americans.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully passed a key motion to proceed to debate on repealing and possibly replacing Obamacare.

Momentum built over the course of the day as several previously skeptical members announced they would support Senate GOP leaders after they began detailing plans for more votes over the next days to shape the details of the legislation.

It's important to understand what did and did not happen today. Senate Republicans did not, for example, repeal the Affordable Care Act, in whole or in part. Today's 51-50 vote was a procedural step, not a vote on the substance of any health care legislation.

If even one additional GOP senator either missed the vote or voted "no," the Republicans' repeal crusade would have effectively ended today. But with two GOP senators -- Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski -- voting "no" instead of three, it means the process can and will move forward.

Perhaps the most striking vote was cast by West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito‏ (R), who assured voters just last week, "I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns." She appears to have broken her word: there is no replacement plan that addresses her concerns, but Capito voted the way her party told her to on the motion to proceed anyway.

Indeed, Capito, like every other senator, still has no idea what health care reform policy they're moving towards. There is no bill; there is no Congressional Budget Office analysis; there have been no legislative hearings; there has been no scrutiny of the final plan because the plan does not currently exist.

And yet, 50 Republican senators and the far-right vice president voted to move forward toward their amorphous finish line anyway.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Senators still don't know what health care bill they're voting on

07/25/17 12:11PM

Last week, when Senate Republican leaders announced plans to begin a series of health care votes today, their schedule immediately became the subject of ridicule. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knew he wanted the legislative fight to begin in earnest on the chamber floor, but just days ahead of the showdown, no one -- including McConnell and his members -- had any idea what they'd be voting on.

As of today, with just hours remaining before the floor process gets under way, that mockery has led to genuine and widespread bafflement. As Dylan Scott explained, senators still don't know.

Senate leaders are bent on holding a vote. But after the plan was drafted in secret, it now needs substantial revisions under the Senate budget rules. And yet the White House and GOP leadership insist on forcing members to vote on Tuesday.

It is an unprecedentedly opaque process to try to pass legislation that overhauls an industry worth more than $3 trillion, which would undercut a law that has extended health coverage to more than 20 million middle-class and low-income Americans in the past seven years.... [As] the vote approaches, there is no final text, no Congressional Budget Office score.

The scale of this absurdity has no precedent in the American tradition. The Huffington Post, noting that the United States Senate used to describe itself as "the world’s greatest deliberative body," explained quite accurately that the institution "gives more care and consideration to bills renaming post offices than it has to legislation with staggering consequences for the health care system."

Making matters worse, some members not only don't know what they'll be voting on; they also don't care. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), asked about not know the specifics of his own party's plan, said yesterday, "It doesn't concern me. As I said, I'll vote for anything"

An inspiring approach to modern governing in a global superpower, to be sure.

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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Abandoning subtlety, Trump lashes out at AG Jeff Sessions

07/25/17 08:40AM

Last week, Donald Trump complained bitterly about Attorney General Jeff Sessions, condemning the Alabama Republican's decision to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal. The president's argument wasn't subtle: Trump wanted Sessions to help shield the White House, and he's outraged that the A.G. isn't helping cover up the controversy.

Almost immediately, there was a question about whether Sessions, lacking the confidence of the president who appointed him, would have to resign, but the attorney general vowed to remain at his post.

That, in turn, has apparently led to a new strategy: Trump will attack Sessions publicly, in the hopes that the attorney general will get the hint and quit.

President Donald Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter early Tuesday as having a "very weak position" when it comes to investigating Hillary Clinton and intelligence leakers.

His tweetstorm began with claims that Ukraine had tried to "sabotage" his campaign in favor of his Democratic rival. He appeared to allude to a Politico report in January that said a Ukrainian-American operative working for the Democratic National Committee had gone to the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington for help to uncover any ties between Trump, campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia.

"So where is the investigation A.G.," Trump tweeted.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, this comes against the backdrop of a new Washington Post report, which said the president and his advisers "are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some confidants are floating prospects who could take his place were he to resign or be fired, according to people familiar with the talks."

It's hard to overstate how extraordinary these developments are.

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Image: U.S. President Trump calls on Republican Senators to vote on a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington

Even the Boy Scouts aren't exempt from Trump's boorishness

07/25/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump recently said his bizarre antics and behavior may not be "presidential," per se, but he believes they're "modern-day presidential." In practice, evidently, that means putting on a partisan political show for a group of children.

President Trump looked out Monday evening at the sea of Boy Scouts who were gathered in a remote field, far away from the travails of the capital, and declared that he would not talk about politics.

"Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" he asked.

As it turns out, Donald Trump wants to speak about politics when he's in front of the Boy Scouts.

The rules of the Boy Scouts appear to discourage participation in partisan political events, but Trump just couldn't seem to help himself. He spent his time yesterday lashing out at journalists, pollsters, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Affordable Care Act.

Trump celebrated the 2016 electoral-college map, promised the restoration of "Merry Christmas," and threatened to fire his HHS secretary if the Republican health care plan didn't pass Congress.

If it sounds like I'm describing a Trump campaign rally, it's because, in effect, I am. From Trump's perspective, that's precisely what his appearance was supposed to be.

Daniel Dale highlighted the 17 "most jaw-dropping moments" from the president's appearance, which included a meandering five-minute story about developer William Levitt:

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