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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.20.17

10/20/17 12:00PM

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

* In a campaign rally in Virginia last night in support of Ralph Northam, former President Barack Obama told a crowd in Richmond, "We need you to take this seriously. Our democracy is at stake. Elections matter. Voting matters. You can't take anything for granted. You can't sit this one out."

* As some Republican incumbents fret over possible even-further-to-the-right primary rivals, Donald Trump has reportedly assured three Republican senators -- Nebraska's Deb Fischer, Mississippi's Roger Wicker, and Wyoming's John Barrasso -- that he'll back support their re-election bids.

* On a related note, though Deb Fischer is not seen as a vulnerable incumbent, Steve Bannon has reportedly been in contact with former state Treasurer Shane Osborn about a possible GOP primary.

* In the wake of Trump repeatedly disparaging U.S. intelligence professionals, a variety of former CIA officials have decided to run for Congress as Democrats.

* Following up on an item from the other day, Tom Steyer, a progressive California billionaire, has launched a new television ad, pressing Democratic candidate to "take a stand" on Donald Trump's impeachment. The size of the ad buy in support of the commercial is not yet clear, but the Washington Post reports the TV spot "will be supplemented by a seven-figure social media buy."

* Speaking of new ads, the far-right Club for Growth launched its new ad campaign this week in support of a Republican tax plan that, at least for now, doesn't exist.

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

As uninsured rate starts to climb, Trump won't avoid blame

10/20/17 11:20AM

In recent years, health care advocates had a trump card to play when asked if the Affordable Care Act was working: the uninsured rate had dropped to the lowest point on record.

There were all kinds of reasons to tackle health care reform, but at the core of the ACA was the goal of bringing health security to Americans who lacked it. And on this aspect of the debate, progressives have enjoyed the better hand: once "Obamacare" became law, the number of insured Americans improved, and kept improving throughout Barack Obama's second term.

Gallup's new report on the uninsured rate suggests we've started to replace progress with regress.

The percentage of U.S. adults lacking health insurance rose in the third quarter of 2017 to 12.3%, up 0.6 percentage points from the previous quarter and 1.4 points since the end of 2016. The uninsured rate is now the highest recorded since the last quarter of 2014 when it was 12.9%.

To be sure, this may look like a modest uptick, affecting a relatively small percentage of the population. But (a) that doesn't make bad news good; (b) if your family is part of that increase, you probably don't care how small the percentage is; and (c) there is widespread concern throughout the health care sector that the uninsured rate will continue to move in the wrong direction as a direct result of Donald Trump's aggressive antics, each of which appear designed to deliberately make the U.S. system worse.

The politics of this may seem bizarre, since political leaders generally don't take an issue, make it one of the centerpieces of their governing agenda, and then leave the nation worse off on purpose. But Trump World doesn't seem to think this will be a problem -- because they'll just blame the deterioration of the health care system on the Affordable Care Act itself.

It's like watching arsonists set fire to a sound structure and then blaming the building for being flammable.

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Image: North Korea

Haley contradicts Trump on Russian election interference (again)

10/20/17 10:40AM

On July 7, Donald Trump said "nobody really knows" whether Russia meddled in the American elections. On July 9, Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the United Nations, said "everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections."

Everybody, apparently, except her boss.

Soon after, Haley reflected on Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said the American president wanted to look Putin in the eye in order to "let him know that, 'Yes, we know you meddled in our elections. Yes, we know you did it, and cut it out.'" Trump then pointed in the opposite direction, suggesting he was satisfied with Putin's "vehement" denial of wrongdoing.

All of this came to mind again yesterday, when Haley contradicted her boss on the issue once more. Politico reported:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday that interference in U.S. elections by another nation "is warfare," telling an audience in New York that such meddling has become Russia's go-to tactic. [...]

"I find it fascinating because the Russians, God bless 'em, they're saying, 'Why are Americans anti-Russian?' And why have we done the sanctions? Well, don't interfere in our elections and we won't be anti-Russian," Haley said Thursday. "And I think we have to be so hard on this and we have to hold them accountable and we have to get the private sector to understand they are responsible for this, too. We all have to step up from this event."

It's as if Haley is working in an entirely different administration -- because as far her boss is concerned, there's no reason to believe Russia did anything wrong at all.

Indeed, Haley referenced the importance of economic sanctions on Russia, neglecting to mention the fact that the administration in which she serves was supposed to implement that policy weeks ago, but hasn't.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

On opioids, Trump World's plans have become 'such a mess'

10/20/17 10:04AM

Ten weeks ago, speaking from one of his golf resorts, Donald Trump declared, "The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency." His use of the word "officially" led many to assume a White House declaration would soon follow, initiating a series of policy measures.

But Trump followed up with nothing. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), the man the president appointed to lead a White House opioid commission, conceded recently that Trump's inaction is "not good."

Asked on Monday when we might see a declaration, the president gave himself a deadline. "We are going to be doing that next week," Trump said, adding, "That is a very, very big statement. It's a very important step. And to get to that step, a lot of work has to be done and it's time-consuming work. We're going to be doing in next week, okay?"

According to a new Politico report, the answer from Trump administration officials was no, it's not okay.

Blindsided officials are now scrambling to develop such a plan, but it is unclear when it will be announced, how or if it will be done, and whether the administration has the permanent leadership to execute it, said two administration officials.

"They are not ready for this," a public health advocate said of an emergency declaration after talking to Health and Human Services officials enlisted in the effort. Trump's off-script statement stunned top agency officials, who said there is no consensus on how to implement an emergency declaration for the drug epidemic.

Top members of the Trump administration don't even agree on whether there should be a declaration, and Politico's report noted that leaders from relevant federal agencies haven't yet been asked "to draw up strategies and tactics."

A senior FDA official added that the entire endeavor is "such a mess."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

Unwilling to move on, Trump takes aim at 'wacky' House Democrat

10/20/17 09:20AM

Following White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's dramatic remarks to the press yesterday, it was tempting to think Donald Trump would move on from this week's cringe-worthy controversy over the president's interactions with fallen soldiers' loved ones.

But Trump can't seem to leave this alone. Last night on Twitter, he took aim at Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) once again.

"The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson (D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!"

Look, there's no real value in belaboring this, but Trump seems to think he deserves the last word on the subject, and he wants the public to believe Wilson wasn't telling the truth.

Reality points in the opposite direction. In fact, Kelly yesterday effectively confirmed Frederica Wilson's version of events, saying he advised the president to tell Sgt. La David T. Johnson's loved ones he "knew what he was getting into."

Now, it's easy to make the argument that Trump tried to be comforting to the grieving family, and though Johnson's loved ones took offense, that wasn't the president's intention. But based on the White House's own account, nothing Wilson said has been discredited.

Trump's smart move would be to stop digging. The president claimed this week Wilson "totally fabricated" what he said, and that turned out to be untrue. Trump claimed there was "proof" to bolster his version of events, and that turned out to be untrue. He said the congresswoman had changed her story, and that turned out to be untrue.

Making matters worse, the Miami Herald and the Washington Post scrutinized John Kelly's remarks yesterday, and both found that the White House chief of staff got several of his facts wrong.

So why in the world does Trump want to keep the argument going over who told "a total lie"?

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The dome of the US Capitol is seen in Washington, D.C., September 20, 2008.

With the GOP tax plan looming, the Senate budget vote matters

10/20/17 08:41AM

Congressional and White House Republicans are clearly focused on passing massive tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, but in order to make that happen, GOP lawmakers had to pass a budget plan. As the Washington Post reported, the Senate barely cleared this hurdle overnight.

The Senate approved the Republican-backed budget Thursday night, a major step forward for the GOP effort to enact tax cuts.

The budget's passage will allow the GOP to use a procedural maneuver to pass tax legislation through the Senate with 50 or more votes, removing the need for support from Democratic senators.... The budget opens the door to expanding the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

The final vote was 51 to 49, with every Democratic senator opposed to the GOP plan, and every Republican senator except Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voting for it. (Paul complained that the plan doesn't balance the budget, which is why he broke ranks.)

Instead of a conference committee, which would reconcile the differences between the two chambers' budgets, the Senate-approved blueprint will now head to the House, which is likely to approve it, as is, fairly soon.

And why should you care about any of this? Because of what will happen next.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo listens during the House Select Committee on the Events Surrounding the 2012 Terrorist Attack in Benghazi hearing, Sep. 17, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Trump's CIA chief repeats discredited claim about Russia scandal

10/20/17 08:00AM

The New York Times reported in early August that Donald Trump's CIA chief, former Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, is "perhaps the most openly political spy chief in a generation." Soon after, the Washington Post added that some CIA officials aren't sure they can fully trust their own CIA director because of his apparent loyalties to his ally in the Oval Office.

Those concerns seemed relevant anew yesterday.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo incorrectly asserted Thursday that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's interference campaign did not affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

"We conducted an election that had integrity," Pompeo, a former Republican member of Congress from Kansas, said during a public event in response to a question from NBC News. "And yes, the intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election."

As Rachel explained on the show last night, this is demonstrably wrong. We know this with certainty because the intelligence community's assessment has been publicly available for months, and it specifically said, "We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion."

After reporters began asking the CIA why its director publicly made a claim that was plainly false, the agency tried to walk Pompeo's comments back. "The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed," a CIA spokesperson said, "and the director did not intend to suggest that it had."

In other words, Pompeo did not intend to say what he said -- which happens to be in line with what Trump partisans have falsely claimed for months.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.19.17

10/19/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I'm not sure Spain is making things better: "The standoff over Catalonia intensified significantly on Thursday as the Spanish government said it would take emergency measures to halt a secessionist drive in the economically vital and politically restive northeastern region."

* At least someone's impressed: "President Trump on Thursday said the federal response to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico deserves a grade of 10 out of 10 as he met at the White House with Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of the U.S. territory. 'I would say it's a 10,' Trump said."

* What a strange story: "Chad is a top U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism in Africa, so it seemed odd to many experts when the country was added to the list of nations affected by President Donald Trump's third travel ban, issued in September. Apparently, a shortage of passport paper is partly to blame."

* Worth watching: "Sen. John McCain has become the first Republican to sign on to a draft bill from Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner that would increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media platforms like Facebook. The move, announced Wednesday, marks a win for the bill's Democratic authors, who have been working for weeks to secure GOP support."

* NPR's "Embedded" podcast team examined "charitable giving by Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles. It found the organization appears to have fallen short of its bold claims of philanthropic giving."

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Image: President Trump Speaks On Infrastructure Meeting Held At Trump Tower

The disconnect between the White House's John Kelly and his boss

10/19/17 04:46PM

Two weeks after four American soldiers were killed in Niger, Donald Trump called the families of the fallen on Tuesday. In the case of Sgt. La David T. Johnson's family, the presidential call apparently did not go well.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who is personally close with the family, was with Johnson's widow when Trump called, and heard the president's message, which she said was not well received. The fallen soldier's mother, who was also there, added that she felt that the president showed "disrespect" to the family.

Today, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star general and himself a Gold Star parent, appeared in the press briefing room and criticized the Democratic congresswoman's handling of the matter.

In heartfelt remarks about his own tragedy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former general whose Marine son was killed in Afghanistan, said Thursday that he was "stunned" by a Florida lawmaker's criticism of President Donald Trump's condolence call to a fallen soldier's wife.

Kelly described himself as "broken-hearted" coming to work at the White House on Wednesday as he saw Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., on news networks disclosing the private details of Trump's call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was among four soldiers killed earlier this month in Niger.

Kelly covered a fair amount of ground at the podium this afternoon, describing in detail how the Defense Department notifies families on the loss of a loved one, and his own experience after the loss of his son, who was killed in Afghanistan.

The president's chief of staff also explained how he counseled Trump once the president decided he'd call these Gold Star families, advising him on what he might say. Kelly explained that Trump "expressed his condolences in the best way he could."

It seemed that the intended message was that Trump had made a good-faith effort, and he should get the benefit of the doubt. At least as of yesterday, David Johnson's family felt very differently.

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