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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.19.17

09/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Mexico: "A powerful earthquake rocked Mexico on Tuesday, killing dozens of people and toppling buildings -- less than two weeks after a deadly 8.1-magnitude quake hit the country."

* Hurricane Maria: "The Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were facing the wrath of Hurricane Maria after the powerful Category 5 storm wrecked the Caribbean island of Dominica on Tuesday and lashed the island of Guadaloupe with 160 mph winds."

* Trump-Russia: "Senate investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election canceled an interview on Tuesday with longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen because they believe Cohen broke an agreement by speaking with the media. The committee will now subpoena Cohen, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News."

* On a related note, in case you missed last night's show: "The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told [former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort] they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation."

* I don't believe this: "White House and GOP leaders are considering major changes to upcoming tax legislation, including scaling back plans for large-scale tax cuts for the wealthy, as Republicans seek to win support from Democrats in Congress, three people briefed on the discussions said."

* The latest in Trump World staffing: "Vice President Pence has hired Alyssa Farah, the spokeswoman for the House Freedom Caucus, as his new press secretary, his office confirmed."

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North Koreans gather at Kim Il Sung Square, following their leader Kim Jong Un's new year address in Pyongyang, North Korea, Jan. 5, 2016. (Photo by Jon Chol Jin/AP)

Trump points to 'long gas lines' in North Korea that don't exist

09/19/17 04:15PM

Over the weekend, Donald Trump's latest attempt at mocking North Korea's Kim Jong-un caused a bit of stir -- the American president referred to the dictator as "Rocket Man," which Kim Jong-un might very well like -- but there was something else in that same tweet that seemed odd, even for Trump.

"Long gas lines forming in North Korea," the Republican wrote. "Too bad!"

To be sure, Trump has access to voluminous amounts of intelligence reports, and the presidential daily briefing no doubt includes up-to-date details on developments in Pyongyang. But most North Koreans don't have cars, and the Washington Post reported that the "long gas lines" the president referred to don't appear to exist.

So what in the world is Trump talking about? It's possible he received some information about economic sanctions related to North Korea and got confused. From the Post's piece:

In its effort to punish Kim Jong Un for his continued defiance -- repeated missile launches, a huge nuclear test -- the United States has been leading a push to cut off oil to the isolated state. Its efforts to impose a complete oil embargo on North Korea failed, with China and Russia threatening to use their Security Council veto powers to block such a resolution.

Instead, the new sanctions measures passed last week cap North Korea's imports of crude oil at the level they have been over the past year and limit refined petroleum imports -- including gasoline, diesel and heavy fuel oil -- to 2 million barrels a year.

Trump, perhaps unaware that private ownership of cars is severely limited in North Korea, probably thought the new sanctions would cause "long gas lines" in the country, and then made the leap from what he expects to be true to what he assumes must be true.

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during the Sunshine Summit conference being held at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Nov. 13, 2015 in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

The purpose of the Republican health care plan remains elusive

09/19/17 02:11PM

When Democrats originally tackled health care reform in 2009, there was no great mystery surrounding their motivations. As we discussed several months ago, Dems in Congress and the White House identified some key systemic problems -- too many Americans lacked basic health coverage, and even those with insurance faced costly risks -- and then worked on a solution.

Maybe you liked what they came up, maybe you didn't, but either way, there's no question as to why Democrats created the Affordable Care Act. They had specific goals, and by and large, they've achieved them.

Eight years later, Republicans are obviously determined to overhaul the nation's health care system, but the purpose of their crusade is far less clear.

At the surface, we know GOP lawmakers are scrambling to pass their latest proposal because they hate "Obamacare," and because they made a public commitment to destroy it. But putting aside displays of raw partisan power, we can circle back to a point Peter Suderman raised in March and ask a more fundamental question: what is the substantive purpose of this endeavor? What is the policy problem Republicans are attempting to solve?

It certainly doesn't have anything to do with their criticisms of "Obamacare." Going into the debate, the ACA's Republican critics said the current system didn't cover enough people and imposed costs on consumers that were too high. Their "solution," such as it is, will cover far fewer people and likely force premiums higher.

It also doesn't have anything to do with "repeal and replace," since the bill doesn't actually create a replacement system. It's more "repeal and hope states don't hurt too many people."

And it definitely doesn't have anything to do with keeping promises. Everything Donald Trump and GOP leaders said about insuring "everybody" and protecting those with pre-existing conditions has been cast aside without explanation.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.19.17

09/19/17 12:00PM

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

* With time running out in Virginia's gubernatorial race, a University of Mary Washington poll, released yesterday, shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest lead over Ed Gillespie (R), 44% to 39%. A new Suffolk poll, however, shows the two candidates tied at 42% each.

* Roy Moore, the leading candidate in Alabama's Republican Senate primary, made some racially controversial comments yesterday, telling voters, "Now we have blacks and whites fighting, reds and yellows fighting, Democrats and Republicans fighting, men and women fighting. What's going to unite us? What's going to bring us back together? A President? A Congress? No. It's going to be God."

* Speaking of Moore, the former state Supreme Court chief justice will welcome former White House aide Sebastian Gorka and former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Alabama this week for a rally in support of the Moore campaign. Donald Trump, meanwhile, still supports Moore's rival, appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

* TPM got an advance look yesterday at a new ad from Save My Care, a progressive health care advocacy organization, targeting Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) for his role in the regressive Republican health care crusade. The 30-second spot will reportedly target "independent voters in Nevada on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms."

* The Trump campaign's latest fundraising pitch tells supporters, "We will BUILD A WALL (not a FENCE) along the southern border of the United States of America to help stop illegal immigration. Liberals in Congress and the Fake News media need one more reminder that building the wall is non-negotiable."

* In Michigan, the GOP's field of Senate candidates shrunk a bit yesterday when Lena Epstein announced she's dropping her statewide bid and instead running for retiring Rep. Dave Trott's (R) U.S. House seat.

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Senate candidate, Rep. Bill Cassidy, left, talks to the media in Shreveport, La. on Oct. 14, 2014.

Republicans take aim at their own constituents' health care

09/19/17 11:21AM

Yesterday morning, many involved in the health care debate were keeping an eye on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). The thinking was, if the Republican governor balked at the Graham-Cassidy health care plan pending in the Senate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would use Ducey's opposition as reason to reject the bill, which would likely kill it.

Some health care advocates were cautiously optimistic: independent analyses showed that Arizona would be punished more than most states by the Republican health care overhaul, so it stood to reason that Ducey would announce his opposition to the legislation -- if for no other reason, because it would hurt the interests of his own constituents.

As it turned out, however, it didn't matter. The Arizona governor formally endorsed the plan anyway, making it a bit more likely that McCain will do the same.

It's all quite counter-intuitive. Ordinarily, explaining to policymakers that their own states would suffer as a result of a proposal is usually a powerful argument, since elected officials are supposed to be reluctant to undermine the interests of the voters who put them in office. But when it comes to health care, and the Graham-Cassidy bill in particular, this doesn't seem to matter as much as it should.

The latest Senate Obamacare repeal bill would "uniquely" and "disproportionately" hurt a key sponsor's home state, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee wrote a letter Monday to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to share her "deep concerns" with the repeal and replace bill that he's helped to craft.... As Senate Republicans jockey to get 50 votes to support the bill, Gee warned Cassidy that his plan to cut Medicaid expansion would jeopardize coverage for 433,000 Louisiana residents, a move that would be a "detrimental step backwards for Louisiana."

What's more, Cassidy isn't alone on this front.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

On health care, Republicans may regret opening this door

09/19/17 10:41AM

Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican freshman from Louisiana, said yesterday that he likes the idea of turning health care over to the states -- the core rationale behind the pending Graham-Cassidy proposal -- but he's not entirely comfortable with the direction some blue states might take,

"If you give California and New York a big chunk of money, they're gonna set up a single-payer system," the GOP senator said. "And I wanna prevent that."

It's curious. Republicans only seem to like turning over authority to states and local governments when they're confident states and local governments will govern in a conservative way.

But in this case, Kennedy's concerns probably aren't quite broad enough.

Whether congressional Republicans recognize this or not, they're in the process of creating a new governing standard. GOP leaders are telling everyone -- the public, the health care industry, even the future -- that Congress can radically overhaul the nation's health care system, ignoring the wishes of the public and stakeholders throughout the industry, without any real debate, scrutiny, or even a full Congressional Budget Office analysis. According to Republicans, this is an entirely legitimate exercise and an appropriate use of legislative power.

The funny thing about legislative power, though, is that eventually it changes hands.

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Reporters take notes during a panel discussion at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 19, 2012.

Republican propaganda efforts reach a new, alarming level

09/19/17 10:00AM

Americans who pay attention to political news can probably think of plenty of conservative outlets that seem like extensions of the Republican Party. But what if there were a far-right news source that was literally an extension of the Republican Party?

The Associated Press today introduced the public to The Free Telegraph, which isn't a news outlet, but does its very best to pretend to be.

Republican governors are getting into the "news" business.

The Republican Governors Association has quietly launched an online publication that looks like a media outlet and is branded as such on social media. The Free Telegraph blares headlines about the virtues of GOP governors, while framing Democrats negatively. It asks readers to sign up for breaking news alerts. It launched in the summer bearing no acknowledgement that it was a product of an official party committee whose sole purpose is to get more Republicans elected.

If you swing by The Free Telegraph's site right now, there is a disclosure notice at the very bottom that notes the outlet is "paid for by [the] Republican Governors Association." But before anyone finds that impressive, it's worth remembering that (a) the disclosure is in a small, gray font, against a gray background; and (b) that disclosure was only added to the site after the Associated Press started asking about it.

The Free Telegraph -- not to be confused with the Daily Telegraph, which is an actual newspaper published in the U.K. -- has a Twitter feed that tells readers it's "bringing you the political news that matters outside of Washington," without mentioning its Republican ownership. The same is true of its Facebook account, which labels The Free Telegraph a "Media/News Company."

Except, of course, it's not. It's only pretending to be, and it's important to understand why that's a problem.

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On health care, Republicans are prepared to govern in the dark

09/19/17 09:20AM

The series of events is familiar to anyone who cares about health care: Republicans unveil a plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act; partisans on the right get excited; health care advocates start to panic; the media notes that the bill has momentum; and then the Congressional Budget Office pours a bucket of reality on the whole endeavor.

This time, however, will be a little different. GOP senators are moving forward with Graham-Cassidy -- arguably their worst repeal proposal to date -- but data from the Congressional Budget Office won't save the day this time. The Washington Post reported:

Congress's nonpartisan budget analyst said it is working to provide a "preliminary assessment" of the latest Republican health-care bill by early next week but will not estimate how the measure would affect health insurance premiums or the number of people with medical coverage until later.

The notice Monday from the Congressional Budget Office angered Democrats, who planned to use the complete figures to hammer the Graham-Cassidy legislation, which is picking up steam in the Senate ahead of a possible vote within two weeks.

As the New York Times added, under the budget reconciliation process -- the process that allows Republicans to advance their bill with 50 votes instead of 60 -- the legislation will need some kind of cost estimate from the CBO. The budget office intends to comply "early next week," just days before the Senate's health care deadline, with some kind of data.

But unlike the other recent health care fights, this CBO "score" won't say how many Americans will lose coverage under Graham-Cassidy or how much the bill will hurt consumers trying to buy coverage.

To be sure, the CBO could provide senators with those figures, but the data won't be available before the Senate's Sept. 30 deadline. And that leaves Republican leaders with a choice between governing responsibly, with a full understanding of their bill's consequences, or legislating in the dark.

Take a wild guess which approach the GOP is prepared to embrace.

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