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Smoke rises after an U.S.-led air strike in the Syrian town of Kobani on Oct. 8, 2014.

Trump's ISIS plan looks awfully similar to Obama's ISIS plan

06/29/17 10:11AM

It was just a couple of years ago that Donald Trump said he had a secret plan to defeat ISIS. "Unfortunately, I'll probably have to tell at some point [what the plan is], but there is a method of defeating them quickly and effectively and having total victory," Trump said. He added at the time, "All I can tell you it is a foolproof way of winning."

Soon after, Trump said he'd like to share his secret plan, but if he did, other presidential candidates would steal his amazing national security solution. He told the Des Moines Register in June 2015, "The problem with politics is if I tell you right now, everyone else is going to say, 'Wow, what a great idea.' You're going to have 10 candidates go and use it, and they're going to forget where it came from, which is me. But no, I have an absolute way of defeating ISIS."

As regular readers know, Trump was lying. The president effectively admitted as much in January, when he signed an executive directive on the matter, asking his national security team to come up with some kind of anti-ISIS plan for him.

There have been hints in recent months that Trump's plan would mirror the Obama administration's plan -- which is to say, the plan Trump said was a failure -- and the New York Times reported in March that, with limited exceptions, Trump administration officials showed little interest in abandoning Obama's strategy.

With the "new" plan nearly complete, the Washington Post reports today that the coming policy looks an awful lot like the old policy.

The Pentagon is putting the final touches on a promised new counter-Islamic State strategy for Syria and Iraq, and it looks very much like the one the Obama administration pursued, according to senior defense officials.

As Retired Admiral James Stavridis, an NBC News analyst, put it a few months ago, "The current plan to defeat the Islamic State is just like that old saying: Plan B is just, 'Try harder at Plan A.'"

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Sen. Bob Corker

Some Senate Republicans think twice about health plan's tax cuts

06/29/17 09:21AM

The basic description of the Senate Republicans' health care plan fits nicely into a 30-second campaign ad: the plan intends to cut taxes on the wealthy, and pay for them with cuts to Medicaid, forcing millions into the ranks of the uninsured.

There's a reason this thing is polling at 12%.

It's so tough to defend that Bloomberg Politics reported yesterday that "several" Senate Republicans have begun publicly questioning the value of including big tax breaks in the GOP plan.

[Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee], who faces re-election in 2018, voiced hesitation with tax cuts for the highest earners.... "I want to make sure that we're not in a situation where we're cutting taxes for the wealthy and at the same time, basically, for lower income citizens, passing a larger burden on to them," Corker said.

Told that what he described is what the CBO projects would happen, he responded, "So that needs to be overcome then, doesn't it?"

The same report added that Maine's Susan Collins and South Dakota's Mike Rounds "both criticized the draft bill released by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for repealing a surtax on net investment income imposed under Obamacare."

In the face of these complains, the Washington Examiner added that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "is said to be considering a change to the tax cuts."

We'll know soon enough what, if anything, will come of this -- GOP leaders intend to have a revamped bill finished by tomorrow -- but this element of the fight creates a difficult challenge. If the tax breaks are dramatically scaled back, it would free up additional money for benefits and make it easier for Republicans to impose fewer burdens on the public.

On the other hand, Republicans love tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. It is, to a very real extent, the point of this entire endeavor.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Donald Trump picks a fight over Medicaid he cannot win

06/29/17 08:41AM

At a White House event yesterday, a reporter asked Donald Trump to comment on the Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care bill. "It's going to great," the president replied. "This will be great for everybody."

As a rule, "everybody" is a word Trump should probably avoid. He did, after all, promise Americans, "We're going to have insurance for everybody" -- which is a commitment he abandoned soon after taking office.

Nevertheless, Trump's clumsy comments yesterday about the underlying issue is part of a broader area of concern for Republicans. Their plan intends to gut Medicaid -- a popular program that covers more Americans than any other program -- by hundreds of billions of dollars. The GOP response so far has been to insist that Medicaid cuts aren't actually Medicaid cuts. As USA Today noted, Trump joined the chorus last night.

President Trump accused Democrats of lying about the projected Medicaid cuts in the Republican health care plan, but they didn't. They're just counting different things.

As Senate leadership struggles to find on a way forward for the controversial health care plan after coming up short of the votes it needed to pass before July 4 recess, Trump defended the proposal, tweeting that "Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill - actually goes up."

Yes, this is the line Republicans have decided to stick to: it only looks like they're cutting Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars, but that's a ruse concocted by those rascally Democrats.

In reality, of course, it's not just Dems who've raised concerns about the Medicaid cuts; plenty of prominent Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), have echoed the point.

But more importantly, a semantics debate about the meaning of the word "cut" is ridiculous, even by 2017 standards.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Republican senators grow weary of Trump's health care illiteracy

06/29/17 08:00AM

After meeting with Donald Trump this week, a Republican senator told the New York Times the president "did not have a grasp of some basic elements" of the GOP's health care plan. This followed a Weekly Standard report, which said "several" Senate Republicans who've spoken to Trump found he had "little apparent understanding of the basic principles of the reforms and virtually no understanding of the details."

The Washington Post reported today that "seasoned senators," after speaking with Trump, "saw a president unable to grasp policy details or the obstacles ahead."

Trump's illiteracy on the substance of governing may not be new, but his ostensible allies appear to be increasingly weary of the amateur president's ignorance -- enough to share concerns with multiple media outlets -- and it's starting to matter more.

Consider this anecdote from a Politico piece published last night.

Rand Paul and Susan Collins are on opposite ends of the Republican Party when it comes to health care, yet somehow the two senators both left this week's Obamacare repeal meetings with President Donald Trump thinking he's on their side.

Paul wants to gut as much of Obamacare as possible and recalled after his one-on-one meeting that the president "realizes that moderates have gotten everything so far" on the health care talks. The centrist Collins, on the other hand, left a larger Tuesday gathering with the president sure that he still wants to make the bill's health care offerings more robust, explaining that "he did leave me with that impression."

There's no reason to believe the senators are giving false accounts of their conversations with the president. On the contrary, it's very easy to believe their versions of events.

What's more, Trump probably wasn't misleading them, either, at least not deliberately. He very likely heard them out, and said their position sounded like the sort of thing he could support.

But therein lies the rub: the president has no idea what he's talking about and doesn't want to make an effort to get up to speed.

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EPA sidelining science under Trump, Pruitt

EPA sidelining science under Trump, Pruitt

06/28/17 09:43PM

Rachel Maddow looks at the dubious job Donald Trump's EPA is doing as a steward of the environment and tells the story of Deborah Swackhamer, chair of the E.P.A.’s Board of Scientific Counselors, who was pressured by an EPA official to change her testimony to Congress. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.28.17

06/28/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's not over: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office as soon as Friday, according to Capitol Hill aides and lobbyists."

* Sen. John McCain was asked today whether a deal on health care is possible by Friday. He replied, "Pigs could fly!" As it turns out, McCain used nearly the exact same words in January when asked about whether he could vote for Rex Tillerson's nomination. The senator voted to confirm him soon after.

* I hope you saw last night's segments on this: "A firm owned by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort disclosed more than $17 million in payments for its work in Ukraine in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing late Tuesday. The payments all occurred well before Manafort joined the Trump campaign."

* Indefensible: "Some Texas children with special needs ... have lost critical services since the state implemented $350 million in Medicaid cuts to speech, occupational and physical therapy in December. In Texas, reimbursement offered to providers fell up to 50 percent for certain therapy procedures, said Rachel Hammon, president of Texas Association of Homecare and Hospice. Clinics closed and therapists quit. The Texas cuts are separate from Republican proposals now before Congress, which academics say could cut federal Medicaid spending as part of a law to replace the Affordable Care Act."

* This is quite a story: "Representative Chris Collins suffered a paper loss of [$16.7 million] after Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. said a mid-stage trial of its experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis showed no effect in helping patients. The New York congressman is the biggest shareholder, with 17 percent of the Australian drugmaker. After the data was reported Tuesday, the shares fell 92 percent in Sydney to less than 5 Australian cents."

* Remember when Trump said the Ex-Im Bank shouldn't exist? "Financier Anthony Scaramucci, a prominent surrogate and fundraiser during President Donald Trump's campaign for the White House, has joined the embattled Export-Import Bank in a top position. Scaramucci became a senior vice president and chief strategy officer at the agency on June 19."

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

Public support for Republican health care plan reaches new depths

06/28/17 01:12PM

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been publishing regular reports on the Affordable Care Act's public support for several years, and last week, it found something new. For the first time, a narrow majority of the country -- 51%, to be exact -- expressed a favorable view of the health care reform law. This is roughly in line with other polling showing "Obamacare" reaching new heights in popularity in recent months.

It's against this backdrop that Republicans are trying to replace an increasingly popular law with a strikingly unpopular alternative.

Just 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid a roiling debate over whether the GOP will deliver on its signature promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, a 53% majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.

The USA Today report added that while the vast majority of self-identified Republicans said they support repealing the ACA, only 26% of them expressed support for their own party's health care legislation.

The results are roughly in line with a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, also released today, which found only 17% of Americans support the Republican bill. [Update: A Quinnipiac poll, also released this afternoon, shows the GOP plan with 16% support. Fox News' new poll puts the number at 17%]

It's difficult to think of another major legislative initiative, attempted by either party in recent years, that's faced this kind of reception.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.28.17

06/28/17 12:15PM

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

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign will host a fundraiser tonight at D.C. hotel the president still owns and profits from.

* The pro-Trump group that planned to run negative ads against Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada over his health care vote has changed course, pulling back from scheduled commercials.

* On a related note, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) communicated to Team Trump that he saw the ads against Heller, a vulnerable Republican incumbent in a swing state, as "beyond stupid." That said, the New York Times reported that the move against Heller "had the blessing of the White House."

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, is making known "its plans to spend millions tying Democratic House candidates to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2018."

* In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) appears well positioned in a new WBUR/MassINC poll, leading each of his likely Democratic challengers ahead of his 2018 re-election bid. Of the leading Dem contenders, state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) was the only one to keep the incumbent governor below 50%, but she still trails by 12 points.

* In a sign of the times, Virginia's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, was asked this week for his take on his party's health care overhaul pending on Congress. Gillespie was reluctant to talk about it.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

A Trump lawyer's fundraising efforts generate new scrutiny

06/28/17 11:22AM

Jay Sekulow has long been a familiar name for those who understand the religious right movement, but the far-right attorney has a new public profile thanks to his latest position. Sekulow, who was the chief counsel for TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, now has a leadership role on Donald Trump's legal team in response to the Russia scandal.

With increased visibility, however, comes increased scrutiny. In Sekulow's case, that's not necessarily good news. The Guardian had this report yesterday;

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow [in June 2009] approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60 million to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a "sacrificial gift".

And while that sounds bad, it's not the end of the story. The same report added that the collected donations helped "pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms."

And that's just one of the conservative lawyer's organizations. The Washington Post published a related report today that said the American Center for Law and Justice also received millions from Sekulow's Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism. That money, in turn, provided generous salaries to Sekulow's brother and nephew -- on top of the salaries they received from CASE.

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