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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points at supporters after speaking at rally at the Verizon Wireless Center in Manchester, N.H., on Feb. 8, 2016. (Photo by Justin Lane/EPA)

Trump denounces 'witch hunt,' shortly before calling for one

01/09/17 10:30AM

A few years ago, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) heard congressional Democrats denounce the Republicans' Benghazi committee as a "witch hunt." The Texas Republican, unimpressed, argued in response, "Well, Mr. Speaker, that must mean there is a witch somewhere."

Three years later, GOP confusion about the meaning of the phrase appears to be spreading.
Mr. Trump, who has consistently expressed doubts about the evidence of Russian hacking during the election, did so again on Friday. Asked why he thought there was so much attention being given to the Russian cyberattacks, the president-elect said the motivation was political.

"They got beaten very badly in the election. I won more counties in the election than Ronald Reagan," Mr. Trump said during an eight-minute telephone conversation. "They are very embarrassed about it. To some extent, it's a witch hunt. They just focus on this."
That really doesn't make sense. A serious crime was committed. It targeted an American presidential election. According to 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and a bipartisan consensus on Capitol Hill, those responsible for the crime have been identified.

Coming to terms with the facts is not a "witch hunt."

There is some irony to Trump's whining, however, because the president-elect appears surprisingly eager to launch a witch hunt of his own.
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People photograph Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with their smart phones as he speaks to guests during a campaign rally at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School on Jan. 31, 2016 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty)

Trump embraces a title: 'The Ernest Hemingway of Twitter'

01/09/17 10:00AM

The Washington Post had a piece the other day on a week's worth of Donald Trump tweets, which ultimately "stoked anxiety, moved markets and altered plans." What stood out for me, however, was this:
For Trump, his online dominance is a source of pride. He boasts to friends, aides and journalists alike about the quality of his writing -- pointed, pungent and memorable -- and claims that people call him "the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter."
Now, when it comes to the alleged "quality" of Trump's writing, it's obviously a subjective matter. I'm of the opinion that the president-elect generally comes across like an intemperate tween -- complete with unfortunate typos and an unhealthy reliance on exclamation points, scare quotes, and needlessly capitalized letters -- but it's admittedly a matter of taste.

More interesting is the idea that Donald Trump believes unnamed "people" have begun referring to him as "the Ernest Hemingway of Twitter."

I'd like to know who these people are.
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Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) emerges from a closed-door weekly policy meeting with Senate Republicans, at the U.S. Capitol, May 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Rand Paul says Trump backs him, not GOP leaders, on health care

01/09/17 09:30AM

At least for now, congressional Republican leaders have a strategy in mind on health care: "repeal and delay." As we discussed last week, the idea, roughly speaking, involves GOP lawmakers using their majority status to quickly pass legislation that repeals the Affordable Care Act, while also leaving the law -- or at least most of it -- intact for years while Republicans work on their alternative.

But to pass "repeal and delay," GOP leaders will need near-unanimity from Republicans in the House and Senate, and they're not yet close. In fact, as many as six GOP senators -- more than enough to derail the gambit -- have publicly questioned the strategy, instead pushing for an approach in which Republicans repeal "Obamacare" and approve its replacement simultaneously.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is among the most enthusiastic proponents of "repeal and replace" -- instead of "repeal and delay and eventually think of something to maybe replace it with" -- and as Politico noted, the Kentucky Republican says Donald Trump has privately endorsed Paul's approach.
Sen. Rand Paul on Friday said President-elect Donald Trump "fully supports" his plan to simultaneously repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

"I just spoke to [Trump] and he fully supports my plan to replace Obamacare the same day we repeal it," the Kentucky senator tweeted.
I don't doubt that Paul and Trump had this conversation. What's more, I have no reason to believe the senator is in any way exaggerating what the president-elect told him. It's very likely the Kentucky Republican sketched out his preferred strategy and Trump offered his spirited support, leaving Paul feeling quite encouraged.

The problem, however, is that Trump has no idea what he's talking about.
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Federal government forms for applying for health coverage.

NC's Cooper pushes for Medicaid expansion before it's too late

01/09/17 09:00AM

Almost immediately after taking office last year, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) adopted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, making his state the 31st in the nation to embrace the policy. To date, Louisiana's policy has worked very well, and hundreds of thousands of low-income Louisianans have been able to receive affordable coverage.

In light of the results of the presidential election, the question now is whether there will be a 32nd state to do the same thing.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) wanted his state to embrace the policy, but he faced resistance from his own party, and in mid-November, following a conversation with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Daugaard gave up on the idea.

But with time running out on the Obama administration, one more state may be able to take advantage of one of the ACA's most important opportunities. WRAL in Raleigh reported:
North Carolina's new Democratic governor on Friday formally started his effort to expand Medicaid to more of the poor and middle class lacking insurance, even as Republicans in Washington bear down on repealing the federal health care law that offers this coverage option.

[Roy] Cooper's office said he sent a letter to federal regulators alerting them of his intentions to seek changes that could provide health care to more than 500,000 people starting in January 2018.
It's an unexpected turn of events in one of the nation's most politically volatile states. In fact, Roy Cooper, who was narrowly elected by North Carolinians two months ago, is well aware of the fact that the Republican-run state legislature -- which recently scurried to gut the powers of the governor's office -- has prohibited North Carolina from adopting Medicaid expansion.

Cooper, however, is moving forward anyway, telling a group of business leaders last week that the state's 2013 law blocking Medicaid expansion was an unlawful infringement on the authority of the governor's office -- and so he's going behind legislators' backs to help the state, whether Republicans like it or not.
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People stand outside the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, June 14, 2016. (Photo by Paul Holston/AP)

Team Trump: Blame Democrats for Russia stealing their documents

01/09/17 08:30AM

According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Russian agents, acting on Vladimir Putin's orders, stole Democratic materials to be used in a propaganda campaign, all in the hopes of putting Donald Trump in the White House. The latest talking point from Trump World is a doozy: let's blame Democrats.

Last week, the president-elect said "somebody" launched a cyber-attack on the DNC -- Trump still doesn't like to acknowledge the suspected role of his allies in Moscow -- but questioned why Dems did not have a "'hacking defense' like the RNC" used. Soon after, Trump lamented the DNC's "careless" technological defenses.

On Friday night, just minutes after Fox News' Sean Hannity accused the Democratic National Committee of "gross negligence," Trump tweeted:
"Gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee allowed hacking to take place. The Republican National Committee had strong defense!"
Trump alluded to a similar point in his written statement following his intelligence briefing. On "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, the RNC's Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff, insisted the DNC "allowed itself to be hacked" -- a point he reiterated four times during the interview.

To the extent that the transition office cares about relevant details, let's note that U.S. intelligence agencies found that Russia did, in fact, collect stolen materials from "some Republican-affiliated targets," but Putin's agents kept under wraps because they wanted to help Trump win.

But even putting these truths aside, for Trump and his allies to blame the victim in this scandal is bonkers. It's amazing Nixon didn't try this 45 years ago during Watergate. "Why didn't the DNC put better locks on their headquarters' doors?"
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Then, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, on Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the Russia scandal, Trump's lies start to pile up

01/09/17 08:00AM

Almost immediately after Donald Trump met with U.S. intelligence officials on the Russian hacking scandal, the president-elect issued a written statement that claimed, among other things, that he'd learned "there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election."

The next morning, Trump was even more explicit about the point he wants to emphasize, arguing that the intelligence he received "stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results."

As Rachel explained on the show, Donald Trump clearly lied.
"Here's what's actually in the report: 'We did not make an assessment of the impact Russian activities had on the outcome of the election.'

"So, our president-elect is lying to us.  He says this report concluded that Russian hacking had no impact on the election.  This report did not conclude that -- and now we know because we can read it ourselves."
Note the series of events: Trump lied on Friday in his written statement, got called out for his public deception, and then repeated the identical lie on Saturday morning.

On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, who'll soon be a senior advisor in the Trump White House, elaborated on the same lie, telling CNN's Jake Tapper, "If you read the full report, [U.S. intelligence officials] make very clear -- Mr. Clapper in his testimony made very clear on Thursday under oath -- that any attempt, any aspiration to influence our elections failed."
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Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

This Week in God, 1.7.17

01/07/17 08:34AM

First up from the God Machine this week, despite ample evidence that the American public has become more religiously diverse over the last couple generations, there's new evidence that the faith traditions of Americans' elected representatives in Congress haven't changed much over the last half-century.

The New York Times reported this week:
Despite the steady decline in the percentage of Americans who identify as Christian, the proportion of congressional members who say they are Christian has remained very close to what it was in the early 1960s, according to a new report.

The report, released on Tuesday by Pew Research Center, found that 91 percent of the members of the new session of Congress, the 115th, identified as Christian. More than half a century ago, in 1961, 95 percent of United States representatives and senators said that they were Christian, the report said.
That's obviously a very modest shift over the course of nearly six decades, which doesn't reflect changes to the electorate overall. Aleksandra Sandstrom, the report's author, told the Times, "That really is telling, especially with the changing U.S. population and the very big change in the presidency. Congress is really, at least religiously, staying very, very steady."

There are some partisan differences. Among congressional Republicans, 99.3% identify as Christians, while among Democrats, 80% are Christian, while the remaining fifth are Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or religiously unaffiliated. By way of comparison, 71% of Americans consider themselves Christians.

The Pew Research Center's full report, which digs much deeper into the data, including an interesting breakdown by chamber, is online here.

Also from the God Machine this week:
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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.6.17

01/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest mass shooting: "A lone shooter opened fire Friday afternoon at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, killing five people and wounding eight others before he was taken into custody, the Broward County sheriff said."

* Certifying the vote: "Congress made the election of Donald Trump official Friday, certifying the votes of the Electoral College in a formal joint session of Congress. Some Democratic House members attempted to object to some states Electoral College votes to protest the election results. But their objections went nowhere because they were unable to gain the support of a senator, per the rules."

* It's going to get worse: "An iceberg the size of Delaware is poised to break away from Antarctica, an event which may lead to the collapse of a massive ice shelf on the continent, according to researchers."

* Speaking of environmental news: "For the second time in less than a month, the Obama administration on Friday took an action that all but shuts the door on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, denying six permits to companies seeking to use seismic cannons to search for oil under the ocean floor."

* With different election results, we could do this, too: "China intends to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind, the government's energy agency said on Thursday."

* President Obama returns to the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine with a new piece: "Repealing the ACA without a Replacement -- The Risks to American Health Care."

* A story that helps capture congressional dysfunction: "The 114th Congress ended this week, and with it went the confirmation chances of more than 80 qualified men and women nominated to government positions at all levels. On this Going Nowhere List are Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and many others whose names had been put forward for less-exalted positions. I was one of them."
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