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An attendee handles a revolver in the Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. booth on the exhibition floor of the 144th National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn. on April 11, 2015. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

What it takes to get Congress to take a closer look at gun violence

02/07/19 08:40AM

In the recent past, news consumers would come across headlines that referenced a "GOP lawmaker" who said or did something foolish, leaving readers to wonder which Republican the piece was referring to. More often than not, it was Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, or Paul Broun.

And while some of these more cartoonish members are still on Capitol Hill -- Gohmert and Steve King, for example, keep getting re-elected -- we're occasionally reminded about the torch being passed to a new generation of lawmakers who are equally difficult to take seriously.

The Washington Post  reported yesterday, for example, on some of the antics on display during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence.

A congressional hearing on gun violence erupted into recriminations on Wednesday after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) argued for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and called for the removal of two fathers whose children were killed in last year's mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Gaetz, one of President Trump's most vocal supporters on Capitol Hill, prompted an outcry from the Parkland fathers when he argued at a House Judiciary Committee hearing that illegal immigration is a greater threat to public safety than gun violence.

The far-right Floridian already had an unfortunate reputation, and yesterday's display won't help Gaetz's poor standing.

But while the congressman and his absurdities mattered, let's not miss the forest for the trees: there was actually a House hearing yesterday on gun violence.

That may not seem especially notable, but this was the first House hearing on guns this decade. As Rachel noted on last night's show, there have been all kinds of horrible mass shootings in recent years, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, but none of them prompted the House, controlled by Republicans from January 2011 until last month, to convene a single policy discussion on the issue.

We finally know what it takes to get the House to examine gun violence: it's not a mass shooting; it's an election.

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House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy prepares to speak to the media after unexpectedly dropping out of consideration to be the next Speaker of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

Investigation-loving GOP leader sides with Trump against investigations

02/07/19 08:00AM

The most memorable moment of Donald Trump's State of the Union address this week was his remarks condemning congressional investigation into his many scandals. The president warned lawmakers that scrutinizing the controversies would not only be dangerous for the country, it would also prevent any kind of legislative progress over the next two years.

If the idea was to intimidate Democratic lawmakers into submission, Trump's efforts failed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear yesterday that she and her members would not be bullied by the president's "all-out threat," and as Rachel noted on the show last night, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee moved forward yesterday with their plans to get answers to pressing questions.

It was against this backdrop that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) endorsed the White House's position.

"Look, we will never give up our oversight role, but this country is too great for a small vision of just investigations," McCarthy said at a press conference. "There are challenges out there that we have to get done. And to be fair, we have been investigating for the last two years.

"I think it should come to a close. I think the country wants to be able to solve the problems going forward," McCarthy said.

At this point, we could talk about the fact that Congress is more than capable of conducting investigations and legislating at the same time, as it's done many times before. We could also talk about how Kevin McCarthy had a very different perspective on investigating the executive branch when his party was in the majority and his target was the Obama administration.

Indeed, House Republicans were still exploring Hillary Clinton's emails as recently as a few months ago -- despite the fact that the former Secretary of State left office after the 2012 elections -- and the Senate Republican majority still intends to examine the issue this year.

But that's not the funny part.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.6.19

02/06/19 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* New details out of Virginia: "The woman accusing Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of a sexual assault in 2004 detailed her allegation in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday through her legal team."

* A story we've been following: "Any honeymoon President Donald Trump expects after his second State of the Union address Tuesday is proving to be short lived, as newly empowered House investigators make their first significant moves to scrutinize his administration and advance special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation."

* At the border: "Hundreds of migrants in a new caravan that just reached the U.S. border may have to wait in Northern Mexico for months, because the U.S. agents in the tiny Texas town where they want to cross can only currently process fewer than 20 migrants a day, according to Customs and Border Protection officials."

* In related news: "The governor of New Mexico ordered the state's National Guard to withdraw a majority of its troops from the southern border.... 'New Mexico will not take part in the president's charade of border fear-mongering by misusing our diligent National Guard troops,' Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement."

* The climate crisis: "New government data on temperatures around the world offers cold comfort to those who hope that global warming is on the wane. The data, released on Wednesday by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows that 2018 was the fourth-hottest year since 1880, the earliest year for which reliable global temperature data is available. The three hottest years on record were 2015, 2016 and 2017."

* In the wake of Trump's moves on the INF treaty: "Russia said it was working to develop new missile systems, including a hypersonic long-range rocket, in the first concrete indication of its response to the breakdown of a Cold War-era nuclear treaty."

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Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mike Pence

Why Pelosi was unimpressed with Trump's underwhelming cancer plan

02/06/19 04:43PM

A common element of every State of the Union address is a president introducing a laundry list of priorities he or she would like Congress to tackle. About halfway through Donald Trump's remarks, we heard something unfamiliar from the Republican:

"Tonight, I am also asking you to join me in another fight that all Americans can get behind: the fight against childhood cancer.

"Joining Melania in the gallery this evening is a very brave 10-year-old girl, Grace Eline. Every birthday since she was 4, Grace asked her friends to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. She did not know that one day she might be a patient herself. Last year, Grace was diagnosed with brain cancer. Immediately, she began radiation treatment. At the same time, she rallied her community and raised more than $40,000 for the fight against cancer. When Grace completed treatment last fall, her doctors and nurses cheered with tears in their eyes as she hung up a poster that read: 'Last Day of Chemo.' Grace -- you are an inspiration to us all.

"Many childhood cancers have not seen new therapies in decades. My budget will ask the Congress for $500 million over the next 10 years to fund this critical lifesaving research."

I thought it was at least possible that he misspoke when he requested $500 million over the next decade, but the White House published the text of the remarks as written, and that's what he meant to say.

On the surface, this probably seemed like one of the least controversial appeals in the address. It's not like childhood cancer is an issue with two equally weighted sides.

But it wasn't long before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised a legitimate concern about Trump's proposal -- not because she's against cancer research, but because of the paucity behind the president's request. Politico reported today:

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Image: Ralph Northam

Things go from bad to worse with new revelations in Virginia

02/06/19 12:49PM

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is already facing a scandal over racist incidents from his past, and there's near-unanimity in Democratic politics that the governor should resign. If he were to step down, Northam would be succeeded by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D).

Except, he's facing a scandal of his own. Dr. Vanessa Tyson, an associate professor of politics at Scripps College in California, has accused Fairfax of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in 2004. The lieutenant governor has said there was a sexual encounter, but he's insisted it was consensual. Tyson has hired Christine Blasey Ford's legal team to represent her.

If Northam and Fairfax were to step down, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) would become governor, except he too now has a problem.

Virginia's Democratic attorney general ... admitted on Wednesday he once wore blackface at a college party in 1980.

"In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song," AG Mark Herring said in a statement. "It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes -- and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others -- we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup."

Herring called it "a onetime occurrence" and said, "I accept full responsibility for my conduct." He said the "shame of that moment has haunted me for decades."

Herring's statement was just released a couple of hours ago, and it's not yet clear whether Northam's many critics will also call for the attorney general's ouster.

Unlike the governor, Herring left open the possibility of stepping down, adding in his written statement, "In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general, but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation."

And who serves if the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general all step down?

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.6.19

02/06/19 12:00PM

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

* Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made a little news with Rachel last night, saying on the air that she'll announce her 2020 presidential plans at an event in Minneapolis on Sunday.

* In related news, though we don't yet know for sure what the Minnesotan will say on Sunday, Klobuchar has scheduled an event in Iowa on Feb. 21.

* And speaking of Minnesota, there was a state Senate special election just south of Duluth yesterday, in a district Donald Trump won by 13 points, but which had a Democratic incumbent, State Rep. Jason Rarick (R) prevailed, which means the Republican Party's narrow majority in the chamber remains intact. (Minnesota is the nation's only state in which the state legislative chambers are controlled by different parties.)

* "I can't go back," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the Washington Post yesterday in reference to her previous claims of Native American ancestry. "But I am sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted."

* Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who still hasn't resigned, has reportedly "toyed with the idea of leaving the Democratic Party and governing as an independent." With so many Dems calling for his ouster, it's hard to imagine the party objecting.

* Mississippi is one of only three states holding gubernatorial races this year, and a new Mason-Dixon poll shows Jim Hood (D) with a narrow lead over Tate Reeves (R), 44% to 42%. There's still some question, however, as to whether retired state Supreme Court Justice Bill Waller Jr. will run in the same race as an independent.

* As part of her 2020 presidential campaign, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) appeared on MSNBC this morning and said Syria's Bashar Assad "is not the enemy of the United States." Pressed on whether Americans should see Assad as an "adversary," the congresswoman didn't answer directly.

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After claiming Obama skipped intel briefings, Trump skips intel briefings

02/06/19 11:23AM

Before formally launching his political career, Donald Trump took a keen interest in the presidential daily intelligence briefing. In fact, as regular readers may recall, in 2014, he seemed convinced that Barack Obama wasn't taking the national-security briefings as seriously as he should.

"Fact -- Obama does not read his intelligence briefings," Trump complained, making up details that were in no way factual. Around the same time, Trump added, "Obama has missed 58% of his intelligence briefings" – which, again, was completely untrue.

All of this seemed quite ironic when, during Trump's presidential transition process, he skipped nearly all of his intelligence briefings. Asked why, the Republican told Fox News in December 2016, "Well, I get it when I need it.... I don't have to be told -- you know, I'm, like, a smart person."

Many hoped Trump would adopt a more responsible posture once in office, but NBC News reports today that the president isn't just skipping the daily intelligence summary prepared for him, he's also participating in "relatively few in-person briefings from his spy agencies."

A series of recently published presidential schedules show that he has been in just 17 intelligence briefings over the last 85 days. That's about the same frequency as two of his predecessors, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, according to a former CIA briefer who has written a book on the subject.

But unlike those former presidents, Trump does not regularly read the written intelligence briefing sent over each day to the White House, U.S. officials tell NBC News, and in private he frequently questions the integrity and judgment of the intelligence officials who are giving him secret information.

The NBC News report added that it's "extremely difficult" to dissuade the Republican president from believing something he shouldn't, even with a mountain of evidence, once he's convinced himself that he's right.

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A man votes  in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Rick Bowmer/AP)

Utah Republicans poised to undo voter-approved Medicaid expansion

02/06/19 10:43AM

On a variety of fronts, Republican officials responded to the 2018 elections by taking deliberate steps to undo what voters had done. In Wisconsin and Michigan, that meant stacking the policymaking deck to undermine incoming Democratic officials; in Missouri, it meant weakening an ethics-reform package; and in Utah, it meant scaling back a Medicaid-expansion measure approved by the state's voters.

As the Salt Lake Tribune  reported this week, GOP lawmakers in the state are nearly done undoing what their own state's voters did.

Utah Senators voted 22-7 on Monday for SB96, sending to the House a replacement Medicaid expansion plan that initially costs considerably more money to cover fewer people than the voter-approved Proposition 3, and which would automatically repeal itself if the state fails to receive funding waivers from the federal government. [...]

Republican senators argued that despite majority approval by voters, Proposition 3 does not pay for itself over time and must be contained to protect the state's budget.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a brief report yesterday, explaining that the voter-approved policy would extend Medicaid coverage to roughly 150,000 low-income Utahns, but the Republican replacement would cover "48,000 fewer Utahans and would cost the state $50 million more over the next two years."

Complicating matters, the GOP plan includes an awkward trigger mechanism: Utah would request waivers from federal officials, seeking permission to apply harsh eligibility restrictions. If federal officials balk, under the Republican proposal, the entire Medicaid expansion initiative would immediately disappear.

At face value, the legislative effort reflects an obvious hostility toward health care benefits, but let's not miss the forest for the trees: it also points to antagonism toward democracy. Voters in Utah approved Medicaid expansion. Republican legislators in Utah have responded by effectively asking those same voters, "Who put you in charge?"

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Mick Mulvaney

White House concludes that 'nobody cares' about the deficit anymore

02/06/19 10:01AM

It wasn't long ago that Republicans were hair-on-fire obsessed with the deficit and the nation's multi-trillion-dollar debt. Though the purpose of the Tea Party "movement" was always a bit murky, it was ostensibly about the right's overwhelming anxiety about the United States' fiscal imbalance. The irony of these Republicans' concerns went largely overlooked.

After all, as a percentage of the economy, Ronald Reagan was responsible for some of the largest deficits in American history. After the deficit disappeared entirely under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush added trillions to the debt.

It was in 2003 when then-Vice President Dick Cheney declared that "deficits don't matter."

After Barack Obama shaved a trillion dollars off the deficit in his first seven years, the deficit is soaring again under Donald Trump -- and Cheney's adage is back as a governing principle.

The president won office as the rare Republican to pledge not to touch Social Security or Medicare -- while still slashing taxes for top earners and for corporations. You don't need much math to know what that means for deficits. And not only that, but Democrats opposed to the administration barely make an issue of it. They have their own deficit-financed plans to expand access to education and health care that they want to pursue.

The State of the Union, accordingly, did not mention the deficit situation, in either a positive or negative light. Indeed, Chief of Staff and budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who pretended very, very hard to care about the deficit as a congressman during the Obama years, told Republicans privately that "nobody cares" anymore.

It's largely true that "nobody cares" about the deficit, but Mulvaney's framing was incomplete. It's probably better to say, "The people who pretended to care no longer feel like maintaining the pretense."

Indeed, Mick Mulvaney is himself at the top of that list.

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