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E.g., 12/18/2017
E.g., 12/18/2017
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan shares a laugh with Republican members of Congress after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Why Republicans are ignoring public attitudes on the tax plan

12/18/17 11:20AM

At this point, the debate over whether the American mainstream supports the Republicans' regressive tax plan is over. Surveys have been consistent for months: the public just isn't buying what the GOP is selling.

Donald Trump boasted the other day that the more Americans learn about the plan, "the more popular it becomes." That's wrong to the point of delusion, as evidenced by every  recent  independent  survey. The latest report on the USA Today/Suffolk University poll noted that the GOP tax plan has the lowest level of public support of "any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades."

With this in mind, we can safely look past the question of whether the plan enjoys public support -- it obviously doesn't -- and consider two related points: (1) why the plan is so unpopular; and (2) why Republicans don't care,

On the first point, despite some recent GOP claims to the contrary, tax cuts tend to be well liked. So why isn't this one? I suspect it's partly the result of Republicans misreading the political landscape: as the debate got underway, the public said it didn't want massive tax breaks for big corporations and the very wealthy. GOP policymakers, rejecting the faux populism behind Trump's pitch, did the opposite of what most Americans requested (and what the party promised).

It didn't help that Republicans wrote a hyper-partisan bill, lied about it, and pushed their plan at a ridiculous pace without any real scrutiny -- making this look more like a heist than a serious attempt at overhauling the federal tax code.

Common sense suggests that, in a democracy, politicians wouldn't rush to vote for a dramatic and highly consequential proposal that the American mainstream hates. And yet, here we are. At last count, literally every Senate Republican backs the plan, and when the House votes tomorrow, the number of GOP dissenters is expected to be modest, at best. So why is it, exactly, that the Republican majority is so indifferent toward Americans' attitudes?

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's EPA partners with Republican media researchers

12/18/17 10:47AM

When I'd first heard that the Environmental Protection Agency has hired a media research firm, it didn't immediately sound alarming. Plenty of federal agencies, under Democratic and Republican administrations, have hired media research firms to better understand how departments are reaching the public, collect media clips, identify which media outlets are most closely covering their issues, etc.

But the closer one looks, the more it appears Donald Trump's EPA has a very different goal in mind.

The New York Times  reported over the weekend, for example, that a few EPA employees -- one in D.C., one in Seattle, and one in Philadelphia -- at different times raised concerns with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about the agency's direction and priorities. Soon after, "requests were submitted for copies of emails written by them that mentioned either Mr. Pruitt or President Trump, or any communication with Democrats in Congress that might have been critical of the agency."

The requests came from a Virginia-based lawyer working with America Rising, a Republican campaign research group that specializes in helping party candidates and conservative groups find damaging information on political rivals, and which, in this case, was looking for information that could undermine employees who had criticized the E.P.A.

Now a company affiliated with America Rising, named Definers Public Affairs, has been hired by the E.P.A. to provide "media monitoring," in a move the agency said was intended to keep better track of newspaper and video stories about E.P.A. operations nationwide.

Mother Jones  reported last week that Pruitt's office signed a no-bid contract with Definers, which was co-founded by Matt Rhodes, a Republican operative who managed Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.

The EPA insists the taxpayer money is simply funding a media clipping service. And yet, the developments have reportedly "created a wave of fear" among EPA employees, and it's easy to understand why. The New York Times also reported over the weekend:

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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.

By the GOP's own terms, the Republican tax plan is a failure

12/18/17 10:06AM

It was almost exactly a year ago when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) published an item in which he complained that the federal tax code is "too complicated" because it has seven tax brackets. He and his fellow Republicans would create a "better way."

On a substantive level, the Speaker's argument didn't really make any sense, but even putting that aside, a year later, Ryan's tax plan is ready to pass. It features seven tax brackets -- eight if you include the 0% bracket.

Just last month, the Wisconsin congressman boasted, "Republicans are unrigging the system, making it so simple and fair you will be able to do your taxes on a form the size of a postcard." Again, as a matter of policy, Ryan's pitch was rather  foolish, and as a matter of delivering on promises, this is another area in which the GOP plan falls short.

The Republican tax bill does not pass the postcard test.

It leaves nearly every large tax break in place. It creates as many new preferences for special interests as it gets rid of. It will keep corporate accountants busy for years to come. And no taxpayer will ever see the postcard-size tax return that President Trump laid a kiss on in November as Republican leaders launched their tax overhaul effort.

As the debate over the GOP proposal has unfolded, it quickly became clear that the Republican tax plan fails by progressive standards: it's stacked to benefit the wealthy; it raises taxes on millions of middle-class households; it will leave millions without health care benefits; and it exacerbates wealth inequality.

What's less appreciated is the fact that the Republican plan is also a failure by Republican standards. If we play by the rules the GOP set for itself, the party is falling far short of its own priorities.

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A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 30, 2014. (Photo by Tami Chappell/Reuters)

With lists of 'forbidden' words, Trump World goes Full Orwell

12/18/17 09:20AM

Within a few days of Donald Trump's inauguration, then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer upbraided reporters with demonstrably silly claims about crowd sizes, followed soon after by Kellyanne Conway's embrace of "alternative facts."

It led the Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan to make the case that "we've gone full Orwell."

The observation was more than fair at the time, but with due respect to Sullivan, I think the case that we've "gone full Orwell" is even stronger now. The Post reported over the weekend on the administration's lists of "forbidden" words:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation's top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases -- including "fetus" and "transgender" -- in official documents being prepared for next year's budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden terms at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden terms are "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."

We've come a long way since George Carlin introduced us to his "seven dirty words" 45 years ago.

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Image:  Bob Corker Donlad Trump ill tempered exchanges

Corker's controversial flip on tax plan raises awkward questions

12/18/17 08:42AM

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) had been consistent throughout the debate over the Republican tax plan: if the GOP proposal added to the deficit, he couldn't vote for it. Two weeks ago, in a close vote on the Senate floor, Corker stuck to his guns, and was the only Republican in the chamber to oppose the regressive and unpopular bill.

As recently as Thursday, the Tennessee lawmaker complained, "The deficit concerns certainly have not been addressed." And yet, literally one day later, after his GOP colleagues ignored his concerns, Corker announced he'd changed his mind and would vote for the plan anyway.

The question, of course, is why he abandoned his principles and broke his word. Over the weekend, the controversy over Corker's strange reversal intensified.

The International Business Times reported that congressional Republicans added a special tax provision to the final GOP package -- which didn't appear in either the original House or Senate plans -- to benefit Americans with large commercial real estate holdings. Corker has large commercial real estate holdings, which means he stands to benefit personally from the plan he opposed up until Friday.

The controversy intensified further when Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) appeared on ABC News' "This Week" yesterday and George Stephanopoulos asked about the specific provision benefiting those with real estate income through LLCs. When the host asked if Republicans are prepared to undo this, Cornyn dodged. It led to this exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: [This provision] apparently was added at the last minute. Why was that done? Why was it necessary to include that provision?

CORNYN: Well, we were working very hard. It was a very intense process. As I said, the Democrats refused to participate. And what we've tried to do is cobble together the votes we needed to get this bill passed.

When the host asked if this provision was used to win Corker over, Cornyn dodged again, sticking to vague talking points.

Instead of addressing questions of possible corruption, the #2 Republican in the Senate raised the volume on those questions.

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Then FBI Director Robert Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 16, 2012, to testify during a hearing.

Trump World doesn't respond well to Mueller obtaining emails

12/18/17 08:00AM

As the investigation into the Russia scandal has unfolded, there have been more than a few questions about Donald Trump's legal team and some of the idiosyncratic arguments pushed by the president's attorneys.

Indeed, it was just two weeks ago when one of Trump's top lawyers argued -- twice -- that it's impossible for a sitting president to obstruct justice. The contention was soon after rejected by, among others, one of Trump's other lawyers.

It's likely that questions about the president's legal representation will grow a little after the dust-up over the weekend. NBC News reported:

A top lawyer for President Donald Trump's transition team has accused a government agency of unlawfully turning over thousands of emails to special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into Russia's election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

Kory Langhofer, general counsel to the transition team known as Trump for America (TFA), wrote a letter to the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Saturday detailing claims that Mueller's team had improperly received emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration.

As a rule, Mueller and his investigators say very little in response to assorted criticisms, but in this case, Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the special counsel's office, told NBC News in a statement, "When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process."

So what's the story all about? Let's unpack this a bit.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.15.17

12/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* If true, this should be interesting: "President Donald Trump's private lawyers are slated to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team as soon as next week for what the President's team considers an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of the next steps in Mueller's probe, according to sources familiar with the matter."

* Worth keeping an eye on: "The top U.S. Senate Democrat said on Friday he would force a vote on the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal the 2015 landmark net neutrality rules."

* And then there were seven: "Kamala Harris on Thursday called for President Donald Trump to resign over accusations of sexual harassment and assault, becoming the seventh senator to publicly call for Trump's resignation."

* Puerto Rico: "Two Democratic members of Congress are pushing for a federal investigation of hurricane-related deaths in Puerto Rico in light of mounting evidence suggesting that the official figure of 64 deaths has been 'artificially suppressed.'"

* The ACA works: "Fewer Americans are putting off doctor visits or struggling with medical bills, according to a new report examining the effect of the Affordable Care Act."

* DHS: "A White House senior adviser at the Department of Homeland Security previously promoted conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama's birthplace, lamented the 'Zimbabwe-fication of America,' and mocked the LGBT community."

* The House Ethics Committee "announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Ruben Kihuen. Two women have accused the Nevada Democrat of sexual harassment."

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Sen. Bob Corker

GOP senator abandons his principles, flips to 'yes' on tax plan

12/15/17 04:38PM

It was just two months ago that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) made a bold declaration about the Republican tax plan on "Meet the Press." The retiring Republican senator told NBC's Chuck Todd, "If it looks like to me, Chuck, we're adding one penny to the deficit, I am not going to be for it, okay? I'm sorry. It is the greatest threat to our nation."

Despite heavy partisan pressure, the Tennessean stuck to his guns. When it came time for a floor vote on the Senate GOP's proposal, literally every Republican fell in line and did what they were told do -- except Corker. Faced with independent estimates that the Republican tax plan would add at least $1 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, Corker honored his pledge, kept his word, and opposed the plan.

With one more vote on the way -- Congress still has to vote on the final tax package -- the GOP senator suggested yesterday that his principles remain intact. "The deficit concerns certainly have not been addressed," Corker explained. "My guess is it'll be very difficult to resolve that component."

Indeed, Republicans never even tried to "resolve" his concerns -- but today he threw his principles out the window anyway.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. -- who had been the sole vote against the initial Senate bill, citing deficit concerns -- also announced his support for the GOP plan on Friday.

Corker's announcement followed word that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who announced yesterday that he wouldn't vote for the plan unless his demands for an expanded child tax credit were met, also flipped from "no" to "yes" today after GOP leaders made some modest concessions in his direction.

And so, as things stand, how many of the 52 Republican senators are prepared to break ranks on a regressive and unpopular tax plan? Literally none.

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump escalates his FBI feud, laments the bureau's 'sad' state

12/15/17 03:47PM

Earlier this month, Donald Trump kept his feud against the Federal Bureau of Investigation going, complaining that the FBI's reputation is "in Tatters" and is now the "worst in History." (The president isn't great with capitalization.)

A few days later, Trump headlined a campaign rally in Florida, in which he characterized the FBI as being part of a "rigged system" because it didn't prosecute Hillary Clinton.

Frank Montoya, Jr., a former FBI special agent who served as the Director of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, soon after told Business Insider, "There is a lot of anger in the FBI ... over how this president will say nary a negative word about the Russians, but will insult us every chance he gets."

Keep that quote in mind when reading about how Trump escalated his feud with the bureau this morning.

"[I]t's a shame what's happened with the FBI. But we're going to rebuild the FBI. It will be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents. And how they've done that is really, really disgraceful, and you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it. It's a very sad thing to watch, I will tell you that."

He added there's a "level of anger" among "everybody" about "what they've been witnessing with respect to the FBI." The president went on to say, "When you look at what's gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."

And by "people," he appears to mean congressional Republicans and consumers of conservative media, who are worked up in the latest attempt to undermine the investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal.

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