After seven years of waiting for a Republican alternative to the Affordable Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) at least claims to be moving closer to a resolution. The GOP leader appeared on MSNBC yesterday and said his party's plan might even be ready in time for the Republican National Convention, which begins in July.
There's ample reason for skepticism, but who knows, maybe Ryan will manage to pull something together. But while we wait, it's worth appreciating the fact that even if an "Obamacare" alternative emerges -- it's unlikely, let's imagine it for the sake of conversation -- Americans probably aren't going to care for it. Consider this new Reuters report:
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan called on Wednesday for an end to Obamacare's financial protections for people with serious medical conditions, saying these consumers should be placed in state high-risk pools.
In election-year remarks that could shed light on an expected Republican healthcare alternative, Ryan said existing federal policy that prevents insurers from charging sick people higher rates for health coverage has raised costs for healthy consumers while undermining choice and competition.
"Less than 10 percent of people under 65 are what we call people with pre-existing conditions, who are really kind of uninsurable," Ryan told a Georgetown University audience yesterday. "Let's fund risk pools at the state level to subsidize their coverage, so that they can get affordable coverage. You dramatically lower the price for everybody else."
Ryan doesn't talk about health policy details often, so these comments were a welcome contribution. They were also an important hint of what's to come.
Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) occasionally dropped his guard during his tenure, and offered some candid, often pointed, barbs towards his Republican colleagues. But now that he's no longer in office, the former GOP leader has even less of an incentive to be guarded.
The Stanford Daily, the university's student paper, reported today on Boehner's on-campus appearance last night, during which the former Speaker shared some thoughts on the 2016 presidential race.
Much of the discussion -- and laughs -- focused on Boehner's views on the current presidential candidates. Segueing into the topic, Kennedy asked Boehner to be frank given that the event was not being broadcasted, and the former Speaker responded in kind. When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.
"Lucifer in the flesh," the former speaker said. "I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life."
All right, but why don't you tell us how you really feel, Mr. Speaker.
I should note that the Boehner quote hasn't been independently verified and there doesn't appear to be a video of his Stanford appearance. But it's also incredibly easy to believe that the reporting is accurate given the former Speaker's longtime hatred of Ted Cruz, even before the senator launched a presidential campaign.
Note the pride in which Boehner described Cruz as a "jackass" last year.
As for why, exactly, the former Speaker hates the Texan quite so much, there's no great mystery here: Cruz has never had much influence with the Senate Republicans he ostensibly works with every day, but he's enjoyed considerable influence over House Republicans, who he repeatedly urged to ignore their own Speaker during Boehner's tenure.
During his brief tenure in Congress, Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-Ark.) most notable contribution has been an ignominious one. During the international nuclear negotiations with Iran, the right-wing Arkansan wrote a letter to Iranian officials, telling them not to trust the United States. It wasn't subtle: Cotton and his Republican allies tried to sabotage their own country's foreign policy during delicate diplomatic negotiations.
Cotton's gambit, we now know, failed, but yesterday we were reminded that the policy remains very much on the senator's mind. The New York Timesreported:
The first appropriations bill taken up this year by the Senate -- in what was supposed to a be a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation on financing the government -- crashed and burned on Wednesday because of a dispute over an amendment that Democrats and White House officials said would undermine President Obama's nuclear accord with Iran.
The amendment, offered by Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, would bar the United States from purchasing heavy water -- which is used in producing nuclear energy and nuclear weapons -- from Iran. Under Mr. Obama's nuclear accord, Iran must reduce its supplies of heavy water.
The spending bill was supposed to pass with relative ease, but Cotton decided he wanted to add his amendment first. The problem, of course, is if the bill includes a measure preventing the United States from purchasing heavy water from Iran, the White House will veto it.
And why does the United States want to buy heavy water created through Iran's nuclear program? Because the alternative is allowing the water to go onto the open market, which the administration sees as a potential security threat.
But even more interesting still was the nature of the argument that followed between the White House and Cotton.
After Donald Trump's big speech yesterday on foreign policy, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Twitter, "Washington elites mock Trump for mispronouncing Tanzania. They don't get it. He said the most important word correctly: America. He gets it."
I suppose this is true in a literal sense. It is "important" for an American presidential candidate to pronounce the name of their own country correctly, and if this is the new standard for success, I'm pleased to report that Gingrich is correct: Trump cleared this absurdly low bar.
But aside from pronouncing "America" correctly, the rest of Trump's remarks were an unnerving mess. MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin reported:
Looking to soothe fears that he lacked the experience and gravitas necessary to manage the most powerful military in the world, Donald Trump delivered a rare pre-written speech Wednesday in Washington outlining his foreign policy vision.
In many ways it raised more questions than it answered, bouncing between typical anti-Obama talking points, jarring threats to America's friends and rivals, and soothing talk of peaceful global cooperation.
"Jarring" is the ideal adjective in this case. At one point, Trump said the United States must be prepared to tell our old allies that they should "defend themselves" and not look to us for support. In the next breath, Trump expressed dismay that so many U.S. allies feel abandoned by President Obama.
How did the Republican frontrunner reconcile the contradiction? He didn't -- Trump simply transitioned to new contradictions before anyone could fully come to terms with the last one.
Americans were told, for example, that a Trump administration would replace "randomness with purpose" through "a disciplined, deliberate and consistent foreign policy." He then insisted, "We must as, a nation, be more unpredictable."
Trump opposes the idea of a foreign policy based on "ideology," rejecting the idea of exporting Western-style democracy abroad. He then emphasized the importance of "promoting Western civilization" around the globe.
Trump lamented the way in which our "resources are overextended." He also believes the United States must "continually play the role of peacemaker" and "help to save lives and, indeed, humanity itself."
Trump boasted about all of the leverage we have over China, around the same time as he complained about how we no longer have leverage over China.
So, what does Donald Trump believe about foreign policy? He believes in nothing and everything, all at once. As president, he would do more and less, wage war and peace, reach out and push away, all while being unflinchingly consistent and wildly unpredictable.
After this week's primary results, the unyielding arithmetic left Bernie Sanders and his team with few options. They could launch some kind of scorched-earth campaign, or they could grudgingly concede that they're likely to finish a competitive second in the race for the Democratic nomination.
A day after Bernie Sanders won only one of five northeastern primary contests against rival Hillary Clinton, his campaign will lay off more than two hundred staffers in the effort to concentrate its remaining resources on upcoming contests, particularly the June 7 California primary.
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told NBC News that the layoffs are part of a "right-sizing" in light of the dwindling number of remaining primary contests. "It's a posture of reality," Briggs said.
A total of 225 staffers were apparently let go yesterday during a brief conference call led by Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver. Joy Reid noted on the show last night that many of these paid aides were disappointed, not just by the loss of their job and the wind down in a campaign they believe in, but also because of the surprise: these staffers assumed they'd remain on the team through June, and they'd hoped to hear the bad news from Sanders himself.
Regardless, the senator told the New York Times that he would "refocus his efforts chiefly on the June 7 primary in California," even while competing in the other remaining states.
"If we can win the largest state in this country, that will send a real message to the American people," Sanders said, "and to the delegates that this is a campaign that is moving in the direction it should."
It's worth pausing to appreciate what, specifically, he means when he talks about "sending a message."
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz tries to shake up the race by announcing Carly Fiorina as his pick for vice president. Rachel Maddow points out it’s a trick that’s been tried before, unsuccessfully. watch
Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss speaks to Rachel Maddow about the historical significance of “America First” which was invoked by Charles Lindbergh in 1941 to urge the U.S. to stay out of World War II and refrain from helping allies defeat Adolf Hitler. watch
MSNBC National Correspondent Joy Reid tells Rachel Maddow the Sanders campaign cut staffers to marshal resources for big, upcoming contests in California and New Jersey. The Sanders campaign, she says, is in it for the long haul and could use their influence to make structural changes to the party. watch
* Flint: "President Barack Obama is planning to visit Flint on May 4 to spotlight the city's lead-contaminated water that has deprived the city's 100,000 residents of reliable access to drinking and bathing water."
* Related news: "A key figure in the Flint water crisis has been killed -- a young mom who was one of the first to sue after her baby boy came down with lead poisoning."
* A case we've been following: "Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed highly skeptical of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell's 2014 corruption conviction for actions he took on behalf of a businessman who provided his family with more than $175,000 in benefits."
* It's a changing military: "When Capt. Kristen M. Griest made history last summer by becoming one of the first two women to graduate the Army's legendarily difficult Ranger School, she made her intentions clear: She was considering joining a Special Operations unit. Now, she has accomplished another first with some similar demands: becoming the U.S. military's first female infantry officer."
* Rio's Olympics start in 100 days. Consider the local turmoil: "Brazil's president is facing impeachment. The country's economy is in sharp decline. Bodies of water that will be used for Olympic competitions are polluted, and global public health officials are trying to tamp down the Zika virus epidemic."
* This should never have been so difficult: "The United States is finally about to get an ambassador to Mexico. Senate Republicans who have been negotiating a way to confirm Roberta Jacobson as the nation's top diplomat to Mexico have reached the contours of an agreement that would allow Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) -- Jacobson's chief obstacle -- to secure renewed sanctions against Venezuela in exchange for lifting his objections."
* Cotton's antics do not go unnoticed: "The White House blasted Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton for how the Republican lawmaker used his opposition to the nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. and other world powers in an appropriations bill Wednesday."
When Ted Cruz's campaign announced this morning that it would make a "major" announcement today, it was easy to assume that the far-right senator was pulling the plug on his campaign. After all, the Texan has already been mathematically eliminated from winning a majority of pledged delegates, and Cruz's third-place finishes in several recent primaries -- including four of yesterday's five contests -- suggest his entire operation is steadily moving closer to failure.
Ted Cruz will tap Carly Fiorina to be his running mate if he is the Republican Party's nominee for president, NBC News confirms.
Fiorina, a former HP CEO who highlighted her business background during her own 2016 run, dropped her unsuccessful White House bid in February. She endorsed Cruz one month later and has been a frequent surrogate for him on the campaign trail.
I'm not generally in the habit of agreeing with Newt Gingrich, but he said on Fox News last night, "The idea that the guy who's losing is now gonna announce his vice presidential nominee doesn't make any sense at all to me because it makes it look like the person's out of touch with reality. Aren't they aware of the fact that they're not winning?"
It's a fairly compelling point. Ordinarily, the presidential candidates who introduce their running mates are the candidates who are actually going to win their party's nomination.
The only modern exception is Ronald Reagan's 1976 campaign -- he named Sen. Richard Schweiker as his running mate ahead of the convention in the hopes of satisfying the GOP's centrist wing, which existed at the time -- but that year, Reagan was on his way to competing in a contested convention he had a credible chance of winning.
Cruz, on the other hand, has about 560 delegates -- far short of half of his 1,237 goal -- which makes this entire gambit appear extraordinarily audacious. While the senator may be looking to change the subject after his recent failures at the ballot box, and may also hope that a VP announcement represents a display of strength, given the circumstances it's actually a move that reeks of desperation.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been accused of sexually abusing four teenaged boys during his tenure as a high school coach many years ago, but the statute of limitations has expired and he cannot face charges for these misdeeds. The Illinois Republican was, however, arrested for lying to the FBI about covering up his sex crimes.
And this afternoon, it was this misconduct that will put Hastert behind bars.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for illegal cash withdrawals he made for payoffs to cover up sex-abuse allegations after the judge called him a "serial child molester."
Before issuing his sentence, Judge Thomas M. Durkin pressed the former House Speaker on the details of his misconduct, asking Hastert directly if he sexually abused his victims. "Yes," Hastert said, publicly acknowledging this for the first time. He added, "What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked to me and I took advantage of them."
In an additional gut-wrenching detail, one of these victims, Scott Cross, testified today that Hastert molested him when Cross was a teenager. Cross is the younger brother of former Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross, who looked up to Hastert as a political mentor.
Hastert actually asked Tom Cross for a letter of support as part of his criminal case, despite the fact that Hastert molested his younger brother.
As part of this morning's proceedings, the judge in the case explained, in reference to Hastert's political career, "Sometimes actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works." The judge referred to Hastert three times as a "serial child molester."
In a breathtaking letter to the judge, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) recently wrote, "We all have our flaws, but Dennis Hastert has very few." DeLay added that Hastert "doesn't deserve what he is going through."
Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
* Ted Cruz is scheduled to make a major announcement this afternoon at 4 p.m. (ET). As of now, no one outside his campaign's inner circle seems to know what the announcement might be.
* In yesterday's closely watched U.S. Senate primaries, Chris Van Hollen won the Democratic nod in Maryland with relative ease, while Katie McGinty did nearly as well in the Democratic race in Pennsylvania.
* In the latter case, McGinty has already been welcomed to the general election with a new attack ad from the far-right Club for Growth. The incumbent senator, Republican Pat Toomey, was the head of the Club for Growth before getting elected to the Senate.
* Oregon's official voting pamphlet, featuring the presidential contenders in both primaries, will not include John Kasich -- because his campaign "missed a key deadline to submit information to the state." Oregon is supposed to be one of the governor's stronger states.
* The American Conservative Union has released its annual rankings for the most and least conservative members of Congress. The new list says Ted Cruz is the Senate's most far-right member, scoring a perfect 100% rating.
* At a rally in Indiana yesterday, Ted Cruz talked about "Hoosiers" in the same gym where the movie was shot. But in an unfortunate slip-up, while trying to recite a line from the film, the senator referred to the hoop as a "basketball ring." Maybe he meant "rim"?
The White House continues to raise the volume on its alarm regarding the Zika virus. Administration officials urged Congress more than two months ago to approve a $1.9 billion emergency response package, and so far, the Republican-led House and Senate haven't agreed to spend a dime.
Indeed, as we discussed two weeks ago, Republican lawmakers have instead urged the administration to use $600 million that had been allocated to combat Ebola. The trouble, of course, is that this money (a) is far short of the $1.9 billion needed, and (b) is still being used to address Ebola in West Africa.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee, told NBC News yesterday he's working on a deal with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and some of those involved are optimistic a bill will come together before the week ends.
But even if that comes to fruition, there's still the far-right House majority to deal with. The New York Timesreported yesterday that the stakeholders face "a challenge in figuring out how to package the deal so that it can win passage in the House, where hard-line conservatives have repeatedly balked at new government spending."
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, a Republican and the majority leader, maintained on Tuesday that the best way to address the Zika virus was through the regular appropriations process. But he said Republicans needed to know more about the Obama administration's plans before they could move.
"We have a number of questions that the appropriators have asked for, like what would the money be spent on this year, what is the money you need for next year, where are we on the vaccine?" he told reporters on Tuesday. "None of these have been answered."
In response, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, said, "There's no excuse for them having those unanswered questions when you consider that we've already put forward a detailed legislative proposal more than two months ago now. We've already participated in 48 hearings in which questions about Zika have been raised. There have been briefings that have been convened by senior administration officials for both the House and the Senate to discuss this issue.
"So, I guess what I would say to members of Congress who say that they have questions about the administration's Zika strategy: That ignorance is not an excuse."
In case anyone's wondering if Earnest is correct, the full, 25-page spending request is available online -- where it's been for months while Congress has largely ignored the issue -- and it's a pretty detailed document.
Usually, Republican governors are content to oppose minimum-wage increases in their own state, but this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) talked up his opposition to a wage hike in a state he has nothing to do with. The NBC affiliate in Miami reported:
Scott on Wednesday announced he's going on a trade mission to California to try to woo businesses away from the Golden State. The Republican governor visited several states last year run by Democrats where he denounced their taxes and business climate.
In his release, Scott contended companies would want to leave California because of a "crippling'' increase in the minimum wage. Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month signed into law a measure that will lift the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.
As it turns out, Scott is doing more than just criticizing. The Huffington Postreported that the Florida governor's economic development organization has "launched a new radio ad on the other side of the country."
"Ready to leave California?" the ad's narrator asks. "Go to Florida instead -- no state income tax, and Gov. Scott has cut regulations. Now Florida is adding one million jobs, not losing them." The spot goes on to say California's minimum wage increase "hurts the same people it was supposed to help."
For months, the political world has been abuzz with talk of the "angry" electorate. Voters are fed up and eager to give the political establishment and its ineffectual insiders the one-finger salute. It's this exasperation, the argument goes, that's helped fuel Donald Trump's rise in Republican politics and the progressive enthusiasm surrounding Bernie Sanders.
But the thesis has a noticeable flaw: furious voters, desperate for radical and revolutionary changes, would probably start kicking out congressional incumbents in primaries, too. After all, if the electorate believes a rotten establishment needs to be overturned, it stands to reason sitting members of Congress would be among the first to go.
Except the opposite has happened. Plenty of congressional incumbents have faced primary challengers in states across the country, but going into last night, these lawmakers' success rate was literally 100%. Every single challenger in 2016 has lost in every single congressional primary.
As the Philadelphia Inquirerreported, that changed yesterday in Pennsylvania, though this is a classic case of the exception proving the rule.
Chaka Fattah, a fixture in Philadelphia politics for three decades, was ousted from the Second Congressional District seat by State Rep. Dwight Evans in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
Fattah's fall came 20 days before the start of his federal criminal trial, an impending peril he tried to downplay as he campaigned for a 12th term.
So, with one congressional incumbent going down in a primary, do we need to re-evaluate the thesis about furious voters rebelling against the political establishment? In this case, not even a little -- Fattah's loss actually helps prove the opposite.