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Friday's Mini-Report, 2.24.17

02/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If the White House wanted intelligence that met the preconceived conclusion, officials will be disappointed: "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."

* That's not how this is supposed to work: "Multiple media outlets were blocked from a White House gaggle Friday afternoon, hours after President Donald Trump again labeled the press as enemies of the American people and vowed to 'do something about it.'"

* A sneak peek: "A draft bill detailing Republican plans to begin repealing and replacing many facets of the Affordable Care Act would provide expanded tax credits and health savings accounts for individuals while reducing federal spending on tax subsidies and Medicaid and practically eliminating both the current employer and individual mandate to provide and carry health insurance."

* CPB: "U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Thursday that their agents requested to see the identification of domestic flight passengers landing at a New York airport Wednesday night as they searched for an immigrant who had received a deportation order to leave the United States."

* Why is it so important to have lawmakers host town-hall events? Because sometimes, they end up saying something new: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), for example, "called on President Trump to release his tax returns at a town hall meeting ... Thursday, reflecting the growing pressure on Republican lawmakers this week to assuage angry constituents."

* Trump's wall: "House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul tempered his support of President Donald Trump's plan to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, stressing the need for a multifaceted approach to border security. 'I don't think we need a 2,000-mile wall down there,' McCaul, fresh off a tour of the Rio Grande Valley portion of the boundary with House Speaker Paul Ryan, told the PBS 'NewsHour' on Thursday."
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Wayne LaPierre

Short on enemies, NRA's LaPierre invents a new one

02/24/17 04:49PM

Shortly before Election Day, NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre delivered an election-season message, which seemed oddly detached from reality, even for him.

"When I said Barack Obama would come for our guns and do everything in his power to sabotage the Second Amendment, they savaged me. They called me a liar," the NRA leader proclaimed. "But every one of those predictions came true."

Actually, not one of those predictions came true. Obama didn't come for Americans' guns -- I'm pretty sure we would've noticed -- and Second Amendment wasn't sabotaged. And yet, LaPierre, whose business model remains dependent on a boogeyman, quickly added that Obama's non-existent gun-confiscation campaign would continue unless voters elected the NRA's Republican allies.

And as it turns out, that worked out pretty well for the far-right organization, though with the NRA's successes come a new challenge: if the group's allies now control all federal policymaking, what exactly should NRA members be afraid of? If LaPierre relies on keeping supporters in a perpetual state of near-panic about looming threats posed by Democrats, and Democrats have no meaningful power in Washington, who will LaPierre tell conservatives to be afraid of now?

Apparently, the right is supposed to believe dangerous liberals are on the prowl. TPM reported on LaPierre's appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
"Right now, we face a gathering of forces that are willing to use violence against us," he said. "The leftist movement in this country right now is enraged. Among them and behind them are the most radical political elements there are: Anarchists, Marxists, communists and the left of the -- the rest of the left-wing socialist parade. They hate everything America stands for: Democracy, free market capitalism, representative government, individual freedom. They want to tear down our system and replace it with their collectivist top-down global-government-knows-best-utopia." [...]

LaPierre wrapped up by attacking the media and insinuating violence against the "violent left" if it brings "terror" to communities.
The NRA leader added, by the way, that progressive activists receive $1,500 a week, which works out to roughly $78,000 a year, well above the median national income. He went on to say anti-Trump protesters "spit in the face of Gold Star families" -- which was a curious line of attack given Trump's own history.

I should note, in case there are any doubts, LaPierre did not appear to be kidding. This was not some kind of skit intended to make conservatives appear foolish; the NRA leader was apparently quite serious.
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Image: Supreme Court Upholds Obama's Affordable Care Act

GOP lawmaker: 'Obamacare' may be saved by progressive activism

02/24/17 04:01PM

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has been watching the health care fight from retirement, and he's come to his conclusion: his party is likely to fail.

Speaking at a health care conference in Orlando this week, Boehner -- who held dozens of ACA repeal votes against his better instincts -- said the existing law is likely to remain largely intact, despite Republican dominance. "Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act," he said, "that's going to be there."

The former Speaker added that his party will continue to struggle to agree among themselves on an alternative, and conceded many of the reform law's most popular provisions are now likely irreversible.

Of course, Boehner is no longer on the front lines of the conflict. Perhaps Republicans who are still in the thick of the fight have a different perspective about the state of the fight? Perhaps not.
Republican Rep. Mo Brooks said Thursday that protests at town halls around the country might prevent Republican lawmakers from repealing the Affordable Care Act.

"I'll tell you, Toni, there are a, in my opinion, a significant number of congressmen who are being impacted by these kinds of protests and their spine is a little bit weak," the Alabama congressman said in an interview on "The Morning Show with Toni & Gary" on WBHP 800 Alabama radio. "And I don't know if we're going to be able to repeal Obamacare now because these folks who support Obamacare are very active, they're putting pressure on congressman and there's not a counter-effort to steal the spine of some of these congressmen in tossup districts around the country."
To be sure, Brooks wants to repeal the law -- a point he emphasized during the interview -- but the far-right Alabaman nevertheless sees the fight slipping away. He added yesterday that Congress "may not even" vote to repeal the law. "We don't have the votes in Congress to pass a repeal bill, in part because of what these people are doing," Brooks concluded.

"These people," in this case, refers to ACA proponents who've made their voices heard.
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American businessman Donald Trump leaves the stage after addressing the American Conservative Union's 42nd Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/EPA)

For Donald Trump at CPAC, it's still 2016

02/24/17 01:09PM

During Donald Trump's appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today, it was tempting to check the calendar to make sure we weren't watching a speech from last year. This was one of the more memorable moments of the presidential appearance:
TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.... Hillary called them deplorable. They're not deplorable.

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
That's right, nearly four months after Election Day, over a month after Inauguration Day, and with Team Trump facing a multi-agency investigation, far-right activists still have the same old, Pavlovian reaction to even a passing reference to Hillary Clinton.

As the president made clear today, we remain stuck in 2016 -- a year Trump seems to long for now that his presidency is off to such a disastrous start. At CPAC, the Republican reflected on his primary rivals, which pre-election polls he liked best, and the budget sequester that he still doesn't know how to pronounce.

Trump even made multiple references to "super-delegates," and alleged a conspiracy against Bernie Sanders that never existed in reality.

Repeating a familiar line, the president also declared, "By the way, you folks are in here -- this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks and I tell you that because you won't read about it, OK. But there are lines that go back six blocks." Trump used to use nearly identical boasts on the campaign trail, but outside of CPAC this morning, these lines existed only in his imagination. You won't read about it because it's fantasy.

He's like the boy who doesn't want to grow up and face adult responsibilities, except in this case, it's the 70-year-old president who doesn't want to let go of the campaign and face governing responsibilities.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.24.17

02/24/17 12:00PM

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

* On MSNBC yesterday, Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, ended his bid to be the next chair of the DNC, and threw his support behind Tom Perez. The election is tomorrow in Atlanta.

* With control of the state Senate on the line, Delaware will host a special election tomorrow. Though television ads in state legislative races are unusual, former Vice President Joe Biden is the star of a new ad in support of the Democratic candidate, Stephanie Hansen.

* Senate Democratic leaders announced this morning that after Donald Trump's presidential address to Congress next week, the Dems' response will be delivered by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. Astrid Silva, a DREAMer and immigration activist, will deliver the party's Spanish-language response.

* Despite some chatter to the contrary, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has decided not to run for president in 2020.

* American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, is launching a digital ad campaign targeting Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) -- both of whom are up next year -- urging them to support an independent investigation of Donald Trump's Russia scandal.

* Speaking of progressive advertising, the "Save My Care" campaign has launched new television ads in support of the Affordable Care Act, featuring a Trump voter who explains that the reform law saved his life. The spots are set to run in Tennessee and Ohio, in the hopes of putting pressure on Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman.
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Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, questions David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during his testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Key congressman: It's 'a good thing' if more Americans lose coverage

02/24/17 11:20AM

Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee related to health care, which makes his perspective on the issue rather important. If Republicans ever present their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, for example, Burgess' panel would be among the first to tackle the policy.

It was therefore rather striking yesterday when the far-right congressman appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and shared an unusual insight. BuzzFeed reported:
Burgess was asked about concerns that repealing Obamacare will lead to a drop in the number of people with health insurance. He responded that it would be a good thing because it means fewer people are subject to the individual mandate.

"First off, we're not going to send an IRS agent out to chase you down and make you buy health insurance," said Burgess. "So if the numbers (of insured people) drop I would say that's a good thing because we restored personal liberty in this country."
It's a fascinating perspective. It doesn't matter if the ACA is helping bring health security to millions of Americans; what matters, in Burgess' mind, is conservative ideological principles.

U.S. News' Robert Schlesinger noted in response, "If you listened to Burgess, you'd think that all or most of [the 20 million people insured by the ACA] were dragged kicking and screaming into the system and that they yearn for liberation from the tyranny of being able to afford catastrophic illness."

Burgess, however, isn't the only one reading from this script. Vice President Mike Pence said this week he wants to gut "Obamacare" in order to bring back "freedom." House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added that his anti-ACA plans is based on a single principle: "Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need. Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs."
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Gabrielle Giffords testifies before a Washington state House panel Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.

Giffords offers advice to lawmakers afraid of their constituents

02/24/17 10:40AM

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) isn't a politician who generally has to worry about pushback from the left. The far-right congressman won re-election in the fall by more than 49 points, and the district he represents -- Texas' 1st -- is among the reddest in the country.

But Gohmert still doesn't want to hold a town-hall events for his constituents, and as the Washington Post noted, the Texas Republican pointed to a specific excuse for his decision.
As Republican lawmakers across the country have faced raucous, chaotic town halls in recent days, a number have refused to have these events. Some cited safety as a reason, while others said they didn't want their events "hijacked" by the confrontations seen elsewhere.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), in a statement released this week, blamed his decision not to hold these events in person on "the threat of violence at town hall meetings." He also pointed to a specific violent event to bolster his case, invoking the 2011 shooting that severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others.
"Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge," he said in a written statement. "However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed -- just as happened there."

By this reasoning, of course, members of Congress, six years after the Giffords shooting, shouldn't hold any public appearances.

This prompted Giffords herself to speak up and push back.
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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Trump administration's infrastructure plans start to unravel

02/24/17 10:13AM

Of all of Donald Trump's grand ideas, the Republican's dream of a massive infrastructure package seemed almost plausible. "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals," Trump vowed the night he won the election. "We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

Democrats thought that sounded pretty good, and they even unveiled their own proposal to mirror Trump's goals and demonstrate that the minority party was serious about tackling the issue.

But as president, Trump's focus has shifted away from areas of bipartisan consensus. Axios reported yesterday that the Capitol Hill calendar is already "way overstuffed," so Republicans are moving forward with a different infrastructure strategy in mind.
[The plan is to] push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that'll require massive effort, time and political capital. [...]

Republican strategists say that Democrats, who'll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They'll be under huge pressure to support big projects that'll bring money and improvements to their districts. And blue-collar unions, including construction and building trades, can be expected to favor of the package, driving a wedge into the Democratic base.
As political strategies go, this is ... odd. Trump could pursue this popular goal now -- instead of, say, fighting to take Americans' health care benefits away -- but according to these Republican sources, the White House prefers to use the plan as an election-year prop in 2018.

And that wouldn't necessarily be absurd -- interesting things can happen when election-year pressures rise -- were it not for the fact that the entire plan appears based on faulty assumptions.
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