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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.

At the intersection of a debt-ceiling mess and a shutdown threat

07/10/19 10:06AM

I've long thought of debt-ceiling fights like a scheduled root canal on the calendar: it's one of those unpleasant things you know is coming, but you'd prefer not to think too much about it until it's absolutely necessary.

Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center insisted it's absolutely necessary. The think tank concluded that federal tax revenue is falling short of projections, so the time we thought we had in advance of the next debt-ceiling increase is evaporating. In fact, the group said the borrowing limit would probably have to be addressed by early September -- not October or November, as previously estimated.

As it turns out, the Bipartisan Policy Center isn't alone in its concerns. The Hill reported this morning that lawmakers are "growing anxious that they might have to vote to raise the nation's debt ceiling in a matter of weeks."

Lawmakers had hoped they would be able to avoid the politically painful vote to raise the debt ceiling until the fall -- and that it could be packaged with other legislation to fund the government and set budget caps on spending.

But that could be much more difficult if Treasury's ability to prevent the government from going over its borrowing limit ends in mid-September -- just days after lawmakers would be set to return from their summer recess.

At some point, we should all probably have a conversation about why federal tax revenue is proving to be a problem -- have I mentioned lately that the Republican tax plan was a bad idea? -- but in the short term, the prospect of an ugly train wreck is coming into sharper focus.

Because increasing the debt ceiling isn't the only related challenge on Congress' late-summer to-do list.

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Pro-choice signs are seen during the March for Life 2016, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Jan. 22, 2016. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

The more abortion rights are threatened, the more Americans support them

07/10/19 09:20AM

About a month after Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, a reporter asked Donald Trump whether he could understand why American women are concerned about the future of the Roe v. Wade precedent.

As regular readers may recall, the president replied, "I do understand, but I also understand that, you know, that's a 50/50 question in this country."

To hear the Republican tell it, Americans are evenly divided on the legal right to an abortion. Half the country is satisfied now, the argument goes, but if the high court's five-member conservative majority overturns Roe, the other half will be pleased.

The trouble is, Trump's assumptions about public attitudes are wrong, as polling data keeps reminding us. In fact, it seems the more Republicans target reproductive rights, the more the American mainstream supports reproductive rights.

Support for legal abortion stands at its highest level in more than two decades according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as numerous states adopt restrictions that challenge the breadth of rights established by the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The Post-ABC poll finds a 60 percent majority who say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 55 percent in a 2013 Post-ABC poll, and tying the record high level of support from 1995. The latest survey finds 36 percent say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, also tying a record low.

Our current president isn't great with numbers, but even Trump should be able to appreciate the difference between a 50-50 split and a 60-36 split.

The results from the Washington Post/ABC News poll are roughly in line with an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month, which also found a growing majority of Americans concluding that abortion should be legal or legal most of the time.

A variety of factors probably contribute to shifts like these, though it seems plausible, if not probable, that the American mainstream took reproductive rights for granted for many years, assuming that existing laws were safe and enduring.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Conservative judges put the ACA's future in jeopardy

07/10/19 08:40AM

For much of the year, health-care advocates have been concerned about the Texas v. U.S. case, but not too concerned. Yes, a far-right judge in Texas used the case as a weapon to rule against the Affordable Care Act in its entirety late last year, but there was a general consensus -- from the left, right, and center -- that the ruling was absurd and would obviously fail on appeal.

It may be time to revisit those assumptions.

A federal appeals court panel grilled Democratic attorneys general on Tuesday about whether Obamacare violates the U.S. Constitution, as it weighs whether to uphold a Texas judge's ruling striking down the landmark healthcare reform law.

The judges focused on whether the 2010 Affordable Care Act lost its justification after Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 signed a law that eliminated a tax penalty used to enforce the ACA's mandate that all Americans buy health insurance. [...]

"If you no longer have a tax, why isn't it unconstitutional?" Judge Jennifer Elrod, who was appointed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals by Republican President George W. Bush, asked attorneys for the Democratic officials defending the law during a hearing in New Orleans.

It's a tough question to wrap one's head around. For much of this decade, the right argued, "The individual mandate is unconstitutional so judges must tear down 'Obamacare.'" The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and the law remained intact.

In late 2017, however, Republicans effectively scrapped the mandate penalty in their tax plan, at which point, the right argued, "The individual mandate has been zeroed out so 'Obamacare' must be seen as impermissible."

There is no scenario in which this makes sense, and yet, there was a Bush-appointed appellate judge yesterday, suggesting the ACA's future is in doubt precisely because of this nonsensical train of thought.

Indeed, by some measures, it wasn't even the strangest thing Elrod said during oral arguments in the 5th Circuit yesterday.

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Failing self-awareness, boycott-loving Trump condemns boycotts

07/10/19 08:00AM

A couple of weeks ago, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a report on Bernie Marcus, the 90-year-old Atlantan who helped found Home Depot, and how he intends to donate much of his considerable fortune. The article noted, among other things, Marcus' financial support for Donald Trump's 2020 re-election, following his other Republican contributions in recent election cycles.

This apparently prompted some on the left to call for a Home Depot boycott, despite Marcus' retirement from the company several years ago.

The whole story was fairly obscure, though that changed last night when the president turned to Twitter to share several thoughts on the subject.

"A truly great, patriotic & charitable man, Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot who, at the age of 90, is coming under attack by the Radical Left Democrats with one of their often used weapons. They don't want people to shop at those GREAT stores because he contributed to your favorite President, me!

"These people are vicious and totally crazed, but remember, there are far more great people ('Deplorables') in this country, than bad. Do to them what they do to you. Fight for Bernie Marcus and Home Depot!

"More and more the Radical Left is using Commerce to hurt their 'Enemy.' They put out the name of a store, brand or company, and ask their so-called followers not to do business there. They don't care who gets hurt, but also don't understand that two can play that game!"

If I worked at Home Depot's corporate public-relations department, I suspect Twitter tantrums like these would be unwelcome. There's not much of an upside for a major national retailer to be in the middle of an odd partisan fight, the result of which is being tied to one side of the political divide.

But what makes Trump's missives especially interesting is the degree to which they represent a failure of self-awareness.

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Two 'significant incident reports' obtained exclusively by NBC News

07/09/19 11:48PM

NBC News obtained many "significant incident reports" that document dozens of accounts by migrant children held in a border detention facility in Yuma, Arizona.

Two of the reports featured on The Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday night are printed below.

The reports have been re-typed and reformatted from their original presentation but the language is verbatim. 

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.9.19

07/09/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Flynn case: "Federal prosecutors have notified a judge that they no longer plan to put Michael Flynn on the stand when his former business partner goes on trial in Virginia next week -- not because they don't need his testimony but because they no longer believe he's telling the truth."

* Interesting case out of the 2nd Circuit: "President Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account because they criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling could have broader implications for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era."

* Virginia: "Barely more than 90 minutes after it convened a special session called by the Democratic governor to debate gun legislation, the GOP-controlled General Assembly abruptly adjourned without taking action, stunning hundreds of gun control activists and gun rights protesters who had packed the Capitol."

* Annie Donaldson: "The White House has blocked a third witness who provided crucial testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller from describing the chaos she witnessed in the West Wing as President Donald Trump sought to assert control over the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election."

* This one will be appealed: "A federal judge ruled on Monday that the Trump administration cannot force pharmaceutical companies to disclose the list price of their drugs in television ads, dealing a blow to one of the president's most visible efforts to pressure drug companies to lower their prices."

* Hong Kong protesters prevail: "Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Tuesday that legislation to allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial had failed after weeks of massive protests."

* Good advice: "Two dozen governors from across the country, including three Republicans and governors of four states that voted for President Trump in 2016, urged his administration on Tuesday to halt one of his biggest climate policy rollbacks: the weakening of federal clean car rules."

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Despite having praised Epstein, Trump now says he 'wasn't a fan'

07/09/19 02:23PM

The scandal surrounding Jeffrey Epstein, his criminal charges, and his many alleged underage victims is multifaceted, complicated by the fact that the defendant has socialized with some very powerful friends. The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Jeffrey Epstein has hobnobbed with some of the world's most powerful people during his jet-setting life. Future President Donald Trump called him a "terrific guy." Former President Bill Clinton praised his intellect and philanthropic efforts and was a frequent flyer aboard his private jet.

The arrest of the billionaire financier on child sex trafficking charges is raising questions about how much his high-powered associates knew about the hedge fund manager's interactions with underage girls, and whether they turned a blind eye to potentially illegal conduct.

A spokesperson for Bill Clinton said yesterday that the former president "knows nothing about the terrible crimes Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty to in Florida some years ago, or those with which he has been recently charged in New York." The statement did, however, note a series of instances in which Clinton made use of Epstein's private plane.

For Trump, the story is made more difficult by an infamous quote he made in 2002.

"I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy," the future president said. "He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it -- Jeffrey enjoys his social life."

Given that Epstein is now facing sex-trafficking charges and allegations that he abused dozens of underage women, Trump's "on the younger side" quote is now seen in a more horrific light.

An attorney for the Trump Organization has said Trump had "no relationship" with Epstein. I suppose "relationship" is a word with some nuance, but there are photographs of the two men socializing 20 years ago.

Asked about his previous rhetoric about Epstein, Trump told reporters this afternoon, "Well, I knew him like everybody in Palm Beach knew him. I mean, people in Palm Beach knew him; he was a fixture in Palm Beach. I had a falling out with him a long time ago. I don't think I've spoken to him for 15 years. I wasn't a fan. I was not -- yeah, a long time ago. I'd say, maybe 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you. I was not a fan of his."

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R. Alexander Acosta

Following Epstein's arrest, Trump cabinet sec faces resignation calls

07/09/19 12:53PM

The Washington Post reported this morning that there was "no substantial vetting" done on Labor Secretary Alex Acosta before Donald Trump chose him for his cabinet. That's not surprising given this president's record, but it also means the White House wasn't fully aware of Acosta's role in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.

As many now know, Epstein was originally accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, but he benefited from a sweetheart deal that Acosta signed off on. Indeed, as we discussed in February, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors, under Acosta's leadership, actually broke the law in their handling of the case.

As Rachel summarized at the time, "So, a federal judge just ruled that the current Labor secretary gave a secret non-prosecution agreement to a prolific, serial child sex offender -- then broke the law by agreeing with the guy's defense team that they'd all keep it secret from the victims."

Five months later, prosecutors have gone after Epstein again, and as Politico reports, Democratic leaders have decided it's time for the Labor secretary to go.

Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Acosta should go because of the "sweetheart" deal he cut with Epstein as U.S. attorney in 2008. It's an escalation from his comments on Monday that Acosta needed to "explain himself" for allowing Epstein to serve 13 months in prison and avoid a federal trial. [...]

Schumer joins House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in calling for Acosta's ouster... Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also said in an interview that Acosta's involvement with Epstein is "serious enough for him to resign." And Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader, said that the new charges against Epstein and more reporting on Acosta's handling of the case made "clear it is time for him to step aside."

The editorial board of the Miami Herald also called for Acosta's ouster today. "If Acosta had not shown himself to be ethically challenged 10 years ago, we wouldn't be calling for his resignation as U.S. secretary of Labor now," the editors wrote. "But we are -- again."

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.9.19

07/09/19 12:00PM

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

* Just two weeks after his first debate performance, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) ended his presidential candidacy yesterday, vowing instead to run for re-election to Congress. His national campaign only lasted three months.

* On a related note, those who were pleased to see the Democratic presidential field shrink yesterday from 25 candidates to 24 didn't have much time to celebrate: billionaire activist Tom Steyer kicked off his White House campaign this morning. Six months ago, Steyer announced he wouldn't run for president, though he appears to have changed his mind.

* Republican voters in North Carolina's 3rd congressional district today will choose their nominee for the upcoming special election. State Rep. Greg Murphy is facing pediatrician Joan Perry in today's runoff primary. The general election is Sept. 10.

* In Kentucky, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D), who ran a strong-but-unsuccessful congressional campaign last year, announced this morning that she's running to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in 2020. 

* On a related note, former Rep. Scott Taylor (R), who lost his re-election bid in Virginia last year after his campaign was rocked by a fraud scandal, kicked off his U.S. Senate campaign on Fox News yesterday.

* In an Emerson poll released this morning, former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leads the Democratic presidential field with 30%, while Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) were tied for second with 15% each. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) was the only other candidate to reach 5%.

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Accused of 'radiating insecurity,' Trump proves Kim Darroch right

07/09/19 11:20AM

Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, has spent his tenure doing what all foreign ambassadors do: he's reported back to his home country with honest and candid assessments about American developments and personnel. The trouble for Darroch, however, is that his private cables were leaked to the public.

And as we discussed yesterday, that's proven to be quite problematic given the British ambassador's conclusions that the current U.S. administration is "inept" and "incompetent," and Donald Trump "radiates insecurity."

Over the weekend, the American president briefly took a few rhetorical shots at Darroch, arguing that the ambassador "has not served the UK well." Trump added, "We're not big fans of that man."

To the extent that reality has any meaning, Darroch actually has a reputation as a respected ambassador who's worked fairly closely with the Trump administration despite difficult circumstances.

Nevertheless, the Republican president decided to publish a more spirited response via Twitter this morning:

"The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy. He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled.

"I told [May] how to do that deal, but she went her own foolish way-was unable to get it done. A disaster! I don't know the Ambassador but have been told he is a pompous fool.

"Tell him the USA now has the best Economy & Military anywhere in the World, by far and they are both only getting bigger, better and stronger.....Thank you, Mr. President!"

So to recap, Kim Darroch privately told his colleagues in the U.K. that Donald Trump "radiates insecurity." After learning of the ambassador's private assessment, the American president went out of his way to prove Darroch right.

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