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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.24.17

03/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It really wasn't that close: "In the aftermath of his first major legislative defeat on healthcare, President Donald Trump is standing by his team, preaching confidence in House Speaker Paul Ryan and is still convinced of Obamacare's downfall. 'We were very close,' he told reporters Friday afternoon after the health care bill was pulled."

* Devin Nunes should probably find a different kind of job: "The chairman of the House intelligence committee has backed down from his dramatic assertion that Donald Trump and his aides were 'monitored,' by U.S. spies -- a claim the Republicans have cited this week in emails to loyalists."

* On a related note: "The two leaders of the House Intelligence Committee continued their back-and-forth Friday as tension mounts over the panel's inquiry into whether there were ties between Russia and Trump campaign officials as well as the Kremlin's potential meddling in the 2016 elections."

* The day's most jaw-dropping scoop: "Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting."

* Today wasn't a total loss for the White House: "Calling it a 'historic moment for North America,' President Donald Trump announced the federal government's approval Friday of the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- setting in motion a controversial project opposed by environmental groups, landowners and some Native American tribes."

* It's such a shame that it's come to this: "The largest school board in Canada said it won't be booking future trips to the United States, citing 'uncertainty' surrounding President Donald Trump's latest travel restrictions."
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Donald 'The Closer' Trump didn't know how to close the deal

03/24/17 04:58PM

Not long before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump identified what he saw as his greatest strength. "Deals are my art form," the Republican boasted. "Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."

Many voters actually believed this. There was never any evidence that Trump actually excelled in negotiations or deal-making, but he kept talking about his expertise in a way that managed to persuade quite a few people.

The White House has only fed the hype. Sean Spicer bragged this week, in reference to the president, "He is the closer." Kellyanne Conway added that the GOP's health care plan would pass because it enjoys Trump's "presidential leadership." She added, "Some people suggested that he be the closer. Some people suggested that he be the lead-off batter."

It was, however, all nonsense. He started with an unrealistic promise to the nation that Trump would never be able to keep -- insurance for "everybody," which would be far better than the status quo, at a lower cost -- and he proceeded to break his commitments left and right. As the pressure mounted, the president further abandoned his own stated principles and effectively offered recalcitrant Republican all kinds of enticements, in exchange for nothing, which they discarded as pathetic.

Business Insider's Josh Barro, writing before the formal collapse of the American Health Care Act, explained quite well that the GOP bill struggled "because Trump is a bad dealmaker."
You don't walk into a negotiation and tell your counterparty that you're desperate to make a deal fast and on any terms. But Trump did just that, which is why Freedom Caucus members knew the White House was bluffing when it claimed the bill was closed and wouldn't be amended further.

Trump invited the Freedom Caucus to squeeze him dry. Weak! Bad!
To understand the costs of having a clueless, amateur president, look no further than today's developments.
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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.

Republicans give up on controversial, unpopular health plan

03/24/17 04:13PM

Just 17 days ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), boasting about the health care plan he wrote in secret, was certain about the outcome of the fight, at least in his chamber. "We will have 218 votes," the Republican leader told reporters. "This is the beginning of the legislative process. We'll have 218 when this thing comes to the floor. I can guarantee you that."

That promise began a whirlwind process featuring a series of cascading failures and embarrassments, culminating in GOP leaders giving up without so much as an up-or-down vote.
House Republicans have pulled the GOP health care plan from the House floor just minutes ahead of a planned vote, a House leadership aide tells NBC News, leaving the fate of the party's efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare with an uncertain future.

The move comes after a chaotic week of intense negotiations to convince at least 215 Republicans to support the leadership-written health care bill that was ultimately not enough to fulfill a seven-year long pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
After Trump was elected, many assumed it was a foregone conclusion that the ACA would be destroyed by the new, dominant Republican majority. But as it turned out, the only thing GOP policymakers agreed on was that they hated "Obamacare" -- and they had contradictory ideas as to what to put in its place.

There was some talk today about the White House demanding a vote anyway, getting members on the record about the bill Trump wanted, but there was ultimately no point to the exercise. Holding a vote on a GOP bill that would be killed by GOP votes would've needlessly put House Republicans in an awful position.

There's no single explanation that captures why this fiasco ended this way, and a variety of factors contributed to this humiliating failure. Paul Ryan, for example, wrote a ridiculous piece of legislation behind closed doors, failed spectacularly to get any buy-in from stakeholders, couldn't think of any substantive defenses, and had even more trouble reconciling his party's factions.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, couldn't be bothered to learn the basics of the debate, made no real effort to sell the plan's purported merits to the public, and proved to be an abysmal deal-maker.
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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Republican vows to 'explain' health care plan after it passes

03/24/17 12:51PM

For Republicans, it was an instant classic. In 2010, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made the case that Americans would appreciate the Affordable Care Act's benefits once it was fully implemented, the hysterical fictions pushed by reform's opponents faded away.

"We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy," the Democratic leader said at the time.

And while much of the right has been endlessly fascinated by this quote, pointing to it as proof of Democratic nefariousness, consider where we've ended up seven years later.
A close congressional ally of President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he would have an opportunity to explain to his constituents exactly what was in the GOP bill to repeal Obamacare once it'd already passed the House.

"In my district right now there's a lot of misunderstanding about what it is we're doing," Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told MSNBC's Brian Williams. "And once we get it done, and then we can have the chance to really explain it."
Oh, so as far as this House Republican is concerned, Republicans will pass their ridiculous health care bill, and then they'll explain to people what's in it.

This isn't just yet another example of breathtaking GOP hypocrisy surrounding the health care fight; it's also a reminder that some folks apparently owe Nancy Pelosi an apology.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.24.17

03/24/17 12:00PM

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

* Increasingly worried about the congressional special election in Georgia, the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC is investing an additional $1.1 million in attack ads targeting Jon Ossoff (D). The first round of voting is on April 18, and the previous Republican attacks ads, taking aim at Ossoff goofing around with his friends in college, apparently didn't work. The runoff, which will likely be necessary, will be June 20.

* Former Sen. Ken Salazar (D) has decided not to run for governor in Colorado next year. His decision shakes up the race a bit: Salazar had effectively frozen the field, with others waiting to see whether he'd run.

* With Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) looking less invincible, locals Dems are showing more interest in next year's gubernatorial race. James Shea, head of one of Maryland's largest law firms, formed an exploratory committee this week, saying he was inspired by opposition to Donald Trump to get more involved.

* It's not a surprise that Republicans will heavily target Sen. Joe Donnelly (D) in Indiana next year, but the GOP primary is likely to be pretty fierce. Two current House Republicans -- Luke Messer and Todd Rokita -- are on track to run against each other.

* We don't yet know about Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) 2020 plans, but Donald Trump told Fox News running against her would be a "dream come true." He added, "Pocahontas would not be proud of her as her representative, believe me."
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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

When a Republican investigator needs to be investigated

03/24/17 11:20AM

It would've been fairly easy for House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.) to maintain some semblance of credibility. Even if he wanted to be Donald Trump's sycophantic cheerleader, even if the Republican congressman wanted to ignore his responsibilities and shield the president from potential embarrassment, Nunes could've at least pretended to take his duties seriously.

But he didn't. The GOP lawmaker, who's spent months trying to protect Trump, going so far as to call reporters to wave them off of a controversy he was ostensibly investigating, engaged in antics so ridiculous this week that the editorial board of the Washington Post today argued that Nunes himself should be investigated.
[On Wednesday], Mr. Nunes himself held a news conference in which he cited a confidential source to describe what clearly appeared to be classified information about intercepted communications involving Trump associates. He did this outside the White House, where he had rushed to brief the president about the intercepts -- even though the House Intelligence Committee he chairs is supposed to be investigating the Trump campaign's possible connections with Russia.

We've said before that it was doubtful that an investigation headed by Mr. Nunes into Russia's interference in the election could be adequate or credible. The chairman's contradictory and clownish grandstanding makes that a certainty. His committee's investigation should be halted immediately -- and Mr. Nunes deserves to be subject to the same leaking probe he demanded for the previous disclosures.
Making matters quite a bit worse, while Nunes breathlessly told reporters -- at two separate press conferences -- that he had secret information about the collection of "incidental" communications involving the Trump transition team, ABC News reported yesterday that the Intelligence Committee chairman "does not know 'for sure' whether President Donald Trump or members of his transition team were even on the phone calls or other communications now being cited as partial vindication for the president's wiretapping claims against the Obama administration."

It reached the point yesterday at which his own aides have let it be known that they're not comfortable with Nunes' ridiculous antics. The Washington Post reported yesterday, "Nunes's own staff were not aware of the chairman's decision to go public and brief the president and were dismayed by his actions, said several individuals familiar with the matter."
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Image: YEAR IN FOCUS - NEWS (1 of a set of 85) Republican National Convention: Day Two

Trump's conflict-of-interest troubles come roaring back

03/24/17 10:40AM

It's admittedly challenging keeping up with all of Donald Trump's scandals and assorted controversies, but we're occasionally reminded that he maintains ownership of business ventures he refused to divest from. The enterprise, we've been assured, is in the hands of the president's adult sons, Eric and Don Trump Jr.

As recently as two weeks ago, Don Trump Jr. insisted that there's no cause for concern, and that the current arrangement is working out well. "I basically have zero contact with [the president] at this point," the younger Trump said at a Republican fundraiser.

In a new interview with Forbes, however, it appears his brother has a different perspective. In fact, Eric Trump had all kinds of interesting things to say about his family's controversial business arrangement.
"There is kind of a clear separation of church and state that we maintain, and I am deadly serious about that exercise," he says, echoing previous statements from his father. "I do not talk about the government with him, and he does not talk about the business with us. That's kind of a steadfast pact we made, and it's something that we honor."

But less than two minutes later, he concedes that he will continue to update his father on the business while he is in the presidency. "Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that's about it." How often will those reports be, every quarter? "Depending, yeah, depending." Could be more, could be less? "Yeah, probably quarterly." One thing is clear: "My father and I are very close," Eric Trump says. "I talk to him a lot. We're pretty inseparable."
This is quite a distance from the "I basically have zero contact" posture his brother took two weeks ago.
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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

White House has some bad advice for women seeking maternity care

03/24/17 10:00AM

In a last-ditch effort to make far-right lawmakers happy, the White House and Republican leaders have agreed to change their health care bill, scrapping the Essential Health Benefits provision of existing federal law. Team Trump, as of this morning, has an amazing new defense for the shift.

As we discussed this morning, under the Affordable Care Act, private insurers are required to include a series of health care benefits in every plan. These protections guarantee, for example, that American women will have maternity care if they need it.

Under the Republican plan, that guarantee will disappear entirely. How does Team Trump defend such a change? Mick Mulvaney, Trump's extremist budget director, made his pitch to CBS News this morning.
Co-host Alex Wagner asked Mulvaney about people who do not live in a state that requires maternity coverage.

"Then you can figure out a way to change the state that you live in," Mulvaney replied.

Wagner asked if Mulvaney meant that people should move.
"No, they can try to change their own state legislatures and their state laws," he responded. "Why do we look to the federal government to try and fix our local problems?"
Oh, I see. As far as the White House is concerned, American women shouldn't have the guarantee of maternity care; American women in blue states should have the guarantee of maternity care.
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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort appears at a press conference at the Republican Convention on July 19, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

White House finding new ways to throw Manafort under the bus

03/24/17 09:23AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer probably wasn't trying to be funny this week with his answers about Paul Manafort, but he nevertheless generated laughter. Asked about Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, caught up in the Russia scandal, Spicer described Manafort as someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time."

Manafort, of course, effectively ran the campaign when Trump secured and accepted the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

Yesterday, Spicer went just a little further, dismissing the former Trump campaign chairman as someone who was on the team "for five months."
"[Y]ou pull out a gentleman who was employed by someone for five months and talk about a client that he had 10 years ago? No, I can't unequivocally say that nobody ever in his past, who may or not have come in contact with him, sat next to him in a plane, who grew up with him in grade school..."
At this rate, by next week, I half-expect Spicer to describe Manafort as "some guy Trump once said hello to."
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Team Trump preemptively distances itself from flailing health bill

03/24/17 08:47AM

In about six hours, House Republicans will vote on a wildly unpopular health care bill. They won't have a CBO score; they won't know how much the bill costs; they won't know how many Americans will lose their health benefits if the bill becomes law; and they won't know how many Senate Republicans will even consider it.

That said, House GOP lawmakers will know that Donald Trump's White House expects them to vote for it -- because the president is fully on board with the legislation.

Or is he? There's a fair amount of evidence this morning that Team Trump isn't just expecting defeat when the House bill reaches the floor later today; it's also preemptively distancing itself from this fiasco. The New York Times reported this morning, for example:
Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan's plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans. [...]

To Mr. Trump and his team, the health care repeal is a troublesome stepchild. His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, who is vacationing with his family in Aspen this week, has said for days that the bill was a mistake to support.
Soon after, we learned that White House strategist Stephen Bannon is reportedly displeased with the current Republican bill because it doesn't "drive down costs."

CNBC's John Harwood also spoke to a senior White House aide this morning who said the president is already preparing to "walk away" from health care and take on the "next battle," which the aide said will be tax cuts. The same White House staffer said a decisive health care defeat today would work out well for Team Trump.

Given all of this, MSNBC's Chris Hayes asked this morning, "Um, is the White House now whipping against the bill?"

Chris was probably kidding, but it's hardly an outlandish question under the circumstances.
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