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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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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump gets the Russian intel briefing he's been waiting for

01/06/17 04:55PM

Earlier this week, Donald Trump tweeted, "The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!" Just about every assertion in the message was wrong.

There's no need to put information from U.S. intelligence agencies in scare quotes; the briefing wasn't delayed because it had always been scheduled for Friday; intelligence professionals didn't need more time to build a case; and the only thing that's "very strange" is the president-elect publicly taunting the intelligence officials who'll soon work for him.

Nevertheless, today is Friday, and Trump was willing to actually participate in today's briefing. Soon after, his transition office released a statement that was clearly written by someone other than the president-elect.
"I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.

"While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.

"Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America's safety and security will be my number one priority."
This is, by the way, the statement in its entirety, not an excerpt.

Note, this nearly 200-word statement says very little of substance. Trump has insisted for months that he believes Vladimir Putin's denials and the president-elect refuses to consider the possibility that the evidence against Russia is correct. Nothing in today's statement suggests he's changed his mind.

Indeed, Trump's statement doesn't even acknowledge the intelligence agencies' findings. In other words, intelligence professionals told the president-elect today that Russia was responsible, but Trump doesn't want to mention this core truth.
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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)

The Republican 'Obamacare' crusade is off to a very shaky start

01/06/17 04:04PM

Since Election Day, Republicans have coalesced around a health care idea called "repeal and delay." Roughly speaking, the strategy 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.

The original GOP idea, of course, was "repeal and replace," but that fell out of favor when it dawned on Republicans that replacing an effective reform system is extremely difficult, and they had no idea how to achieve their goals.

But as the new Congress gets underway, even "repeal and delay" is running into trouble. Bloomberg Politics reported today:
A fourth Republican senator has voiced strong doubts about the party's current strategy to repeal Obamacare without detailing a replacement, more than enough to scuttle efforts to deliver swiftly on a central promise from President-elect Donald Trump.

Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Friday morning that he wanted a different approach.

"Repeal and replacement should take place simultaneously," he said.
I suspect for most people, this sounds like common sense. If you're a public official opposed to one policy, and you'd prefer a different approach, you try to replace one with the other.

Most Republican leaders, however, reject that model -- because they have political goals in mind, not policy goals. GOP officials want to pass an "Obamacare" repeal bill so that they can say, "Hey look, we repealed 'Obamacare.'" They do not, however, want to deal with the sweeping, potentially life-or-death consequences of such an approach, so Republicans insist on pushing legislation that looks like repeal, while buying the party some time to come up with an ACA alternative -- which they've been working on since June 2009.

Bob Corker said this morning that this approach doesn't work for him, and in a development that should matter a great deal to his party's leadership, he's not the only one.
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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump discovers he doesn't like leaks after all

01/06/17 02:57PM

NBC News reported last night that a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed an important detail: intelligence professionals "picked up senior Russian officials celebrating Donald Trump's win." The official added, "Highly classified intercepts illustrate Russian government planning and direction of a multifaceted campaign by Moscow to undermine the integrity of the American political system."

The president-elect, who's spent months denying the U.S. intelligence community's findings, initially complained via Twitter, "How did NBC get 'an exclusive look into the top secret report he (Obama) was presented?' Who gave them this report and why? Politics!"

This morning, Trump went even further:
"I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it."
It's a curious posture. Trump doesn't want Congress to investigate a foreign adversary subverting American democracy on his behalf, but he does want Congress to investigate a news organization -- in this case, NBC News -- reporting details he doesn't like.

Of course, during his time as a presidential candidate, Trump thought leaks were great ... just so long as they benefited his campaign. At one point, the Republican literally encouraged Russia to leak stolen Hillary Clinton emails to news organizations, reminding Russian officials they would "probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

It appears he has a new perspective.
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