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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

To pay for tax cuts, Republicans eye radical health care changes

11/15/17 08:00AM

Republicans know they want to cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but they don't know how to pay for their plan. As we discussed in some detail on Monday, that poses a major procedural challenge for GOP policymakers, leaving them with limited options.

Yesterday in the Senate, Republicans apparently made a decision.

To help pay for the GOP tax bill, Republican Senate leaders announced Tuesday that they plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act's requirement that Americans maintain health coverage. [...]

"We're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal (into the tax bill) would be helpful," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters after a caucus meeting.

Helpful for whom? In this case, the answer is obvious: the real beneficiaries are Republicans desperate to pass tax cuts for people who don't need them.

There's no great mystery as to what's driving the GOP's motivations on this. The party has long opposed the individual mandate in "Obamacare," and by scrapping the policy, Republicans will have an additional $338 billion over the next decade to pay for more tax breaks. For Donald Trump and his allies, it's the best of both worlds: the GOP is gutting the health care law they love to hate, and using the money to cut taxes on millionaires, billionaires, and corporations.

But the details matter: the Congressional Budget Office has already told Congress that repealing the ACA's individual mandate will destabilize the insurance market, force many consumers to pay higher premiums, and end coverage for 13 million Americans over the next 10 years.

Indeed, the reason this move would save $338 billion is because the federal government would be paying less to provide coverage for millions of families.

What we're left with is practically a caricature of Republican policymaking: under the Republican tax plan, the rich would pay less, many in the middle class would pay more, millions would lose their health care benefits in order to help finance tax breaks for the wealthy, and many who keep their coverage would end up facing higher costs.

And it's likely to pass anyway -- because Republicans have convinced themselves that this will make the party more popular with voters.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 11.14.17

11/14/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest mass shooting: "A gunman killed four people and wounded a number of others at random Tuesday at multiple locations in rural Northern California, including an elementary school, before police shot him dead, authorities said. Two hospitals said they were treating seven people, including at least three children."

* Attorney General Jeff Sessions "told lawmakers Tuesday he now recalls the meeting with former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, but maintained that he did not lie when he said he was unaware of communications between campaign officials and Russians during the presidential election."

* A societal scourge: "Rep. Jackie Speier told a House panel on Tuesday that she knows of two current members of Congress -- a Democrat and a Republican -- who have engaged in sexual harassment, further exposing an institution that has been accused of looking away from sexual misconduct."

* Welcome back: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) returned to Washington, still in pain from an attack that left him with six broken ribs, but doing little to quell speculation about what caused his neighbor allegedly to lash out."

* New Jersey: "The judge at the bribery trial of Senator Robert Menendez told deadlocked jurors that he hoped they had a good night's sleep and urged them to redouble their efforts to reach a verdict."

* Michael Barry: "With CIA Director Mike Pompeo promising to make his agency more 'vicious,' the Trump administration has elevated to a key White House position a CIA officer who, according to two sources, once worked on a secret CIA assassination program meant to target terrorists."

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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump makes up another bizarre story about Obama

11/14/17 12:40PM

A couple of weeks ago in the White House cabinet room, Donald Trump boasted about the "historic trip" he'd soon launch to Asia-Pacific countries. He placed a special emphasis on the Philippines: "You remember the Philippines -- the last trip made by a president, that turned out to be not so good. Never quite got to land."

The way the president speaks, it's sometimes difficult to know what he's trying to say, so when I first heard that comment, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. But Trump keeps talking about this, telling reporters over the weekend that Barack Obama had "a rough trip" to the Philippines, unlike himself. This morning, in another press gaggle, Trump said it again, this time with more detail.

"...I mean, the Philippines, we just could not have been treated nicer. And as you know, we were having a lot of problems with the Philippines. The relationship with the past administration was horrible, to use a nice word. I would say 'horrible' is putting it mildly. You know what happened. Many of you were there, and you never got to land. The plane came close but it didn't land.

And now we have a very, very strong relationship with the Philippines, which is really important.... So we've accomplished a lot."

Apparently, Trump has convinced himself that Barack Obama, aboard Air Force One, intended to travel to the Philippines, but en route to the country, the American president was not permitted to touch down on Filipino soil.

That in no way reflects reality. In the real world, Obama was scheduled to meet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Laos last year, but the Democratic president canceled following a Duterte tantrum.

A year earlier, before Duterte took office, Obama visited the Philippines and the trip went smoothly.

In other words, Trump has embraced an odd fantasy as if it were true, pointing to an incident that never occurred as evidence of his diplomatic superiority over his predecessor.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.14.17

11/14/17 12:00PM

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

* TPM reported this morning that the 21 members of Alabama's Republican Party central steering committee will hold a meeting this week to further explore Roy Moore's fate.

* Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who ran against Moore in Alabama's Senate Republican primary, announced last night that he isn't wavering in his support for Moore candidacy.

* On the other hand, Alabama's senior U.S. senator, Republican Richard Shelby, said yesterday it'd be "easier" for everyone if Moore stepped aside. Shelby also suggested Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R), whose seat voters will soon fill, could be a write-in candidate for Republicans to rally behind.

* Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, has a new television ad featuring Republican voters saying on camera that they won't support Moore's candidacy. Alabama's special election is four weeks from today.

* Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) announced yesterday that he'll retire at the end of this term. Green represents Texas' 29th district, which is heavily Democratic, and which appears unlikely to be competitive for Republicans next year.

* The latest from Virginia: "It has been almost a week since Election Day and the control of the Virginia House of Delegates is still in question. Possible recounts for a few seats could swing the majority. Right now, Republicans appear to hold a 51-to-49 lead. Whether they will hold on to the edge is still to be determined."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump meets with members of the House Ways and Means Committee

Trump pushes Congress to approve more tax breaks for the wealthy

11/14/17 11:00AM

The Republican campaign to pass a massive tax plan has reached a delicate stage. House GOP leaders have vowed to bring their regressive plan to the floor for a vote this week and are still rounding up enough votes to pass it. Similar efforts are under way in the Senate, which intends to vote on a related plan in two weeks.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to jump in with a disruptive tweet.

"I am proud of the Rep. House & Senate for working so hard on cutting taxes {& reform.} We're getting close! Now, how about ending the unfair & highly unpopular Indiv Mandate in OCare & reducing taxes even further? Cut top rate to 35% w/all of the rest going to middle income cuts?"

Just so we're clear, the president's message, delivered from Asia, directed Republicans to take health care benefits from millions of Americans, while cutting taxes on the wealthy -- including himself.

Note, the GOP plans in both the House and Senate have top marginal rates above 35%, which means that Trump, at this sensitive time in the process, is publicly complaining that the Republican proposals don't go far enough to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

Can't you just feel the populism?

Making matters slightly worse, no one benefits from Trump popping off like this. GOP lawmakers are already struggling to make their arithmetic work, and they can't afford to cut taxes for the rich even more. As a result, congressional Republicans have no choice but to ignore their own party's president -- who hasn't even tried to play a constructive policymaking role -- and push a plan that's at odds with Trump's wishes.

If and when the tax overhaul passes, the president has guaranteed coverage that will say Trump "didn't get what he wanted" out of the plan.

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Things get worse for Trump's most outlandish judicial nominee

11/14/17 10:20AM

Donald Trump has sent some outrageous judicial nominees to the Senate for confirmation, but there's something special about Brett Talley, who's up for a lifetime position on the federal bench in Alabama.

As we discussed on Friday, Talley, who's just 36 years old, has never tried a case or argued a motion in court, which probably had something to do with his unanimous "not qualified" rating from the American Bar Association. Talley did, however, work as a blogger, where he pledged support for the NRA and published gems such as "Hillary Rotten Clinton."

But the story keeps getting worse.

One of President Trump's most controversial judicial nominees did not disclose on publicly available congressional documents that he is married to a senior lawyer in the White House Counsel's Office.

The nominee, Brett J. Talley, is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote that could come as early as Monday to become a federal district judge in Alabama. He is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.

Talley also appears to have failed to disclose other work he published online, including his reaction to massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary. "My solution would be to stop being a society of pansies and man up," Talley wrote in 2012.

Wait, it gets better.

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Roy Moore, speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Alabama Republicans have a Democratic alternative to Roy Moore

11/14/17 09:27AM

The revelations surrounding Roy Moore are not nearly done. had a report late yesterday, for example, noting that the Alabama Republican's "penchant for flirting with teen girls was 'common knowledge' and 'not a big secret'" in his hometown. Of particular interest, the article quoted locals who claimed Moore, as an adult, used to hang out alone at the mall.

"He would go and flirt with all the young girls," one witness said. "It'd seem like every Friday or Saturday night (you'd see him) walking around the mall, like the kids did." Another man who grew up in the area "recalled being told by a mall employee that they kept watch for an older guy who was known to pick up younger girls."

A related piece in the New Yorker quoted another source who said, according to local rumors, that Moore "had been banned from the mall because he repeatedly badgered teen-age girls."

It's against this backdrop that Republicans are struggling to deal with Moore's latest scandal, but the Washington Post's George Will, an MSNBC contributor, has a provocative suggestion: those who don't want Moore to win next month's special election should support his opponent, Democrat Doug Jones.

It has been 21 years since a Democratic Senate candidate won even 40 percent of Alabama's vote. It has, however, been even longer -- not since the George Wallace era -- that the state's identity has been hostage to a politician who assumes that Alabamians are eager to live down to hostile caricatures of them.

A week ago, days before Moore faced allegations of sexual misconduct, ran a piece noting a small "Republicans for Doug Jones" movement gaining ground in the state, which suddenly seems relevant anew.

Indeed, the group, such as it is, may even pick up a Senate ally: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said yesterday that he'd support Jones over Moore. "If this choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat, a Democrat," Flake told reporters. "For sure."

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Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence waits for the start of the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Another Pence claim about Russia scandal turns out to be untrue

11/14/17 08:40AM

Just a few weeks before Election Day 2016, then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) appeared on Fox News, where he faced a question about WikiLeaks that's even more interesting now than it was at the time:

FNC: Some have suggested, on the left, that all this bad stuff about Hillary, nothing bad about Trump, that your campaign is in cahoots with WikiLeaks.

PENCE: Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was literally that same day -- Oct. 14, 2016 -- that Donald Trump Jr., who'd been in communications with WikiLeaks, used social media to promote a link he'd received from WikiLeaks in order to help disseminate stolen materials, intended to help put his father in power.

In other words, the exact same day that Mike Pence said the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks were not in cahoots, we now know that the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks were clearly in cahoots.

With this in mind, the vice president's office last night released a written statement, which said Pence "was never aware of anyone associated with the campaign being in contact with WikiLeaks. He first learned of this news from a published report earlier tonight."

What Pence told the public was false, but we're now supposed to believe he didn't know it was false at the time.

If only this were an isolated incident.

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Why Trump Jr's campaign contacts with WikiLeaks matter

11/14/17 08:00AM

Even now, a year after the 2016 presidential election, we're still learning about previously unreported communications between Trump World and Russia and its compatriots. Take the revelations from late yesterday, for example.

President Donald Trump's oldest son on Monday released a series of direct messages he received from the Twitter account behind the WikiLeaks website, including his responses to the communications.

Donald Trump Jr.'s release of the messages on Twitter came hours after The Atlantic first reported them.... The documents released by Trump Jr. show him responding three times, at one point agreeing to "ask around" about a political action committee WikiLeaks had mentioned. He also asked the site about a rumor about an upcoming leak. The messages began in September 2016 and ran through July.

Julia Ioffe's report in The Atlantic, documenting the exchanges that occurred during WikiLeaks' dissemination of stolen materials, is well worth your time. Among other things, it makes clear that Donald Trump's eldest son was communicating -- during the campaign -- with the same people who were helping carry out the Russian intelligence operation that was mounted during our election to put his father in power.

What's more, as Rachel added on last night's show, Trump Jr. has effectively admitted that he helped Russia's allies distribute their stolen materials.

What's more, Trump Jr. hadn't exactly gone rogue while these events unfolded. The Atlantic's reporting added, "[O]n the same day that Trump Jr. received the first message from WikiLeaks, he emailed other senior officials with the Trump campaign, including Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, telling them WikiLeaks had made contact. Kushner then forwarded the email to campaign communications staffer Hope Hicks."

Team Trump has a standard move in circumstances like these, but it's not available to them in this specific case.

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