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Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Trump administration questions birth control's health benefits

10/10/17 10:43AM

The Trump administration rolled back the clock last week on contraception access, declaring that any health provider can refuse to cover birth control if they have "sincerely held" religious or moral objections. But what went largely overlooked is  how officials made the case in support of their new policy.

As we discussed after the policy's unveiling, the practical effects of the change are obvious: some American women who receive contraception at no cost will, as a result of the Trump administration's new policy, have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for birth control -- because their employer says so.

It was largely assumed that Donald Trump and his team would make the argument about principle: the White House would say this change is about protecting "religious liberty" and the moral choices of conservative employers. But as it turns out, they also went after birth control on the merits.

Indeed, as Bloomberg Politics reported the other day, administration officials actually questioned "the links between contraception and preventing unplanned pregnancies."

In the rule released Friday, officials attacked a 2011 report that recommended mandatory birth-control coverage to help women avoid unintended pregnancies. That report, requested by the Department of Health and Human Services, was done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine -- then the Institute of Medicine -- an expert group that serves as the nation's scientific adviser.

"The rates of, and reasons for, unintended pregnancy are notoriously difficult to measure," according to the Trump administration's interim final rule. "In particular, association and causality can be hard to disentangle."

The Trump administration's document fleshing out its new rule went on to say that covering birth control as a core benefit available to American women could "affect risky sexual behavior in a negative way."

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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Following 'moron' flap, Trump ready to 'compare IQ tests' with Tillerson

10/10/17 10:03AM

It started a week ago with an NBC News report on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's frustrations in the Trump administration. Among other things, we learned that Tillerson referred to Donald Trump as a "moron" after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of president's national security team and Cabinet officials.

Common sense suggests members of Trump World would want a story like this to disappear as quickly as possible. That's not quite the course they chose, however.

When the administration pushed back against the reporting, CNN confirmed that Tillerson did, in fact, call Trump a "moron" -- and NBC's Stephanie Ruhle added that, to be precise, the network's sources said the exact phrase was "f***ing moron."

The secretary of state tried to defuse the situation with a hastily organized press conference, at which Tillerson was careful to dodge a question about the language he used to describe the president, which only reinforced suspicions that the original reporting was fully accurate.

For some reason, Trump thought it'd be a good idea to keep the story going a little longer in a new interview with Forbes.

He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron: "I think it's fake news, but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."

Again, it's in the president's interest to end the chatter about whether he's a "moron," but Trump's sense of grievance overwhelms his judgment. The idea of letting this go doesn't seem to occur to him. If commenting like this renews chatter about the president's own secretary of state's low opinion of his intellect, so be it.

On a related note, have you ever noticed Trump's preoccupation with his IQ score?

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

Trump struggles to overcome his economic illiteracy

10/10/17 09:21AM

Donald Trump has a talking point that he believes overshadows his embarrassing failures: economic growth, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product, is still pretty good.

Two weeks ago, for example, after GDP for the second quarter was revised up to 3.1%, the president boasted via Twitter, "Many people thought it would be years before that happened." No one actually thought that -- because 3.1% quarterly growth has been quite common since the end of the Great Recession.

But Trump keeps pretending otherwise, either because he's economically illiterate or because he enjoys pretending to be economically illiterate. During his interview with Mike Huckabee over the weekend, for example, the president added in reference to the latest GDP data, "Everybody was shocked. They said it wouldn't happen for years."

Again, nobody was shocked, just as nobody said it'd take years to see quarterly growth that's been routine for quite a while.

In a new interview with Forbes, Trump went just a little further.

He's similarly proud of the GDP. "So GDP last quarter was 3.1%. Most of the folks that are in your business, and elsewhere, were saying that would not be hit for a long time. You know, Obama never hit the number."

Maybe a chart will help drive the point home. I put this image together to show the GDP by quarter since the start of the Great Recession nearly a decade ago:

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's White House formalizes its praise for itself

10/10/17 08:40AM

For many years, reporters have received press releases from the White House touting various initiatives with “what they are saying” collections. As we discussed several months ago, it’s a straightforward exercise: the White House will collect praise from various corners, package it together, and send it out as proof of a proposal’s merit.

The point is to generate positive "buzz" about an administration priority by presenting the media with evidence that an idea has been well received -- by other news organizations, members of Congress, pundits, advocacy organizations, etc.

As The Week noted yesterday, Donald Trump's White House has an entirely different approach to this public-relations strategy.

President Trump's Cabinet had great things to say about the boss' immigration priorities, a bizarre press release from the White House proved Monday. Instead of quoting nonpartisan groups or experts in the field, the press release cited Attorney General Jeff Sessions, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Secretary of Commerce Wilber Ross, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The bunch, perhaps unsurprisingly, was in favor of Trump's priorities: "These are reasonable proposals that will build on the early success of President Trump's leadership," raved Sessions. "This plan will work."

Even by Trump World standards, this kind of propaganda is cringe-worthy. The White House went to the trouble of issuing a press release to highlight praise from Trump's cabinet about Trump's agenda.

In other words, Trump administration officials alerted the media to the fact that Trump administration officials like the Trump administration's policies.

What's more, yesterday wasn't the first time the White House pulled this stunt.

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To 'contain' Trump, White House tries treating him like a toddler

10/10/17 08:00AM

As the first year of Donald Trump's presidency has unfolded, we periodically hear from people within the White House who suggest conditions, behind the scenes, are worse than Americans probably realize. In April, one presidential adviser said his job was to "talk him out of doing crazy things." In August, another added, "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said this week, "I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it's a situation of trying to contain him."

And while that's obviously unsettling given that we're talking about the most powerful office on the planet, there's a question that's always lurking in the background: how, exactly, does the White House "contain" a confused, amateur president who's ill-suited for the job?

Six months ago, Politico reported that officials in the West Wing learned that Trump made better decisions when they narrowed his choices down to one. Today, Politico reports that the president can also be managed through a series of delays and distractions.

[I]nterviews with ten current and former administration officials, advisers, longtime business associates and others close to Trump describe a process where they try to install guardrails for a president who goes on gut feeling – and many days are spent managing the president, just as Corker said.

"You either had to just convince him something better was his idea or ignore what he said to do and hoped he forgot about it the next day," said Barbara Res, a former executive in the Trump Organization.

The article described a work environment in which the president sometimes starts the day "worked into a lather," often based on something he saw on television, at which point aides try to distract him with something new, exploiting Trump's limited attention span.

As one White House official put it, "You have to just move the conversation along to something else."

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US tech giants oddly unhelpful on Russia

US tech giants oddly unhelpful on Russia

10/09/17 09:03PM

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Silicon Valley correspondent for the Washington Post, talks with Rachel Maddow about the slow pace of discovery of Russian ad buying and other online manipulations as U.S. tech giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google have seemed reluctant to give up information. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 10.9.17

10/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A scary scene in California: "One person has died and at least 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures have been destroyed as more than 14 fires ravaged eight counties throughout Northern California on Monday, authorities said."

* Turkey: "One is a NASA scientist who was vacationing with relatives in Turkey. Another is a Christian missionary who has lived in Turkey for 23 years. Others include a visiting chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and his brother, a real estate agent. They are among a dozen Americans who have been jailed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and face long prison sentences for allegedly playing a part in a failed coup last year."

* In case you missed Rachel's report on this on Friday: "A fourth American soldier has been found dead after an ambush in Niger this week that killed three United States Army Special Forces and wounded two, American officials said on Friday."

* Charlottesville "is exploring giving police more intelligence-gathering powers after torch-carrying white nationalists again marched near the University of Virginia, city leaders said Sunday. White nationalist Richard Spencer and about 40 to 50 other people held another 'tiki-torch rally' Saturday that lasted about 10 minutes, police said."

* Bizarre FBI labeling: "In August, the FBI's counterterrorism division published a report warning law enforcement across the country of a new threat. It called the threat 'Black Identity Extremism.' In reality, there is no 'Black Identity Extremist' movement, at least not one that goes by that name. It appears to be an invented label, Foreign Policy reported."

* Expect several similar lawsuits: "Massachusetts dove headfirst into another legal confrontation with the Trump administration Friday, as Attorney General Maura Healey sued the federal government over newly issued rules giving employers the right to deny women birth control coverage by claiming religious or moral objections."

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

House Republican: 'It's easy to be bold when you're not coming back'

10/09/17 04:20PM

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has become increasingly unrestrained in his criticisms of Donald Trump's presidency. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, told the Associated Press he's unimpressed:

"It's easy to be bold when you're not coming back."

The quote is in reference to the fact that Corker will retire from the Senate at the end of this Congress, which in turn means he's unencumbered by traditional political constraints. It's all quite straightforward: it's tough to pressure an official who doesn't want or need anything from his party or its leaders, and lawmakers who need not worry about voters' attitudes can say and do as they please.

But Meadows' quote doesn't do anyone in the Republican Party any favors. He made it sound as if rank-and-file GOP members can't be bold, even if they want to be, because they must remain principally focused on their re-election prospects, instead of their principles.

The North Carolina congressman later clarified that he also believes Corker's criticisms are without merit. Given Meadows' ideology and political perspective, that's very easy to believe.

But even if Meadows deserves the benefit of the doubt about the intended meaning of the sentiment, we know with some certainty that many of his GOP colleagues on Capitol Hill bite their tongue -- choosing not to be "bold" -- when it comes to this White House because they lack the freedom Corker enjoys by virtue of his looming retirement.

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Trump moves away from the deal he struck with Dems on Dreamers

10/09/17 12:51PM

At the time, it seemed like Donald Trump might have done something important. A week after rescinding the DACA policy that extended protections to nearly 1 million Dreamers, the president appeared to reach an agreement with Congress' top two Democrats -- Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- to protect the young immigrants.

Though a variety of details needed to be worked out, Trump and the Democratic leaders appeared to endorse a framework in which the White House accepted DACA protections, while Dems agreed to boost border security. The fight over the border wall, the president said at the time, would "come later."

Almost immediately, Trump received a round of positive press; his approval rating started improving; and there was chatter about his impressive "independent" streak. The president had every incentive to follow through on the agreement he reached with Schumer and Pelosi.

A month later, Trump is nevertheless headed in a regressive direction.

The Trump administration Sunday sent Congress a list of tough immigration reforms it would require to be included in any legislation that would allow immigrants brought into the United States illegally as children, known as Dreamers, to remain. The proposals include funding for a southern border wall and are likely to be rebuked by Democrats. [...]

[T]he policies outlined by the White House on Sunday night are likely to push Democrats away from the negotiating table. Some of the toughest proposals include removing protections for unaccompanied minor immigrants, allowing state and local police to investigate immigration status more broadly and limiting visas given to spouses and family members of immigrants who come to the United States to work to curb a pattern referred to as chain migration.

The list of demands also includes money for his proposed border wall, though the list didn't specify how much money the White House expects to see for the project in exchange for DACA protections.

In other words, the terms of a fairly straightforward agreement were reached in September -- a shield for Dreamers in exchange for increased border security measures -- only to see Trump change the terms in October.

If you thought the president was becoming more pragmatic and responsible a month ago, I have some very bad news for you. The White House knows Dems will never accept these terms, which is probably why Trump World made the demands in the first place.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.9.17

10/09/17 12:00PM

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

* In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) announced this morning that she'll seek another term in California next year. At 84, the Democratic senator, first elected in 1992, is currently the chamber's oldest member, and it's not yet clear whether she'll face a primary rival.

* Virginia's gubernatorial election is five weeks from tomorrow, a new Wason Center poll shows Ralph Northam (D) with a seven-point advantage over Ed Gillespie (R), 49% to 42%.

* Over the weekend, Donald Trump's re-election campaign sent a solicitation to donors using the Las Vegas mass shooting as the basis for a pitch.

* On a related note, some House Democrats, including Ohio's Tim Ryan and Minnesota's Tim Walz, have decided to donate previous contributions they received from the NRA to charity.

* And speaking of returned donations, a variety of prominent congressional Democrats are starting to "give charities thousands of dollars in donations they had received from disgraced Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein."

* In New Hampshire, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) announced late last week she won't seek re-election in 2018. Her competitive district is likely to be a hard-fought battleground in the midterms.

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