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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

Donald Trump is already a legend in his own mind

07/14/17 10:07AM

About a month ago, at his first full cabinet meeting, Donald Trump spoke very highly of himself. "Never has there been a president, with few exceptions -- case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle -- who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we've done," the Republican said.

It was an odd boast for a president who has no meaningful accomplishments and has signed no major bills.

This week, during an interview with Reuters, Trump was a little more specific in explaining why he's so impressed with himself. From the excerpted transcript:

"We have done more in five months than practically any president in history."

"If you look at Iraq and if you look at Syria and you see the progress we've made with ISIS, it's been almost complete."

"The White House is functioning beautifully. The stock market has hit a new high. Job numbers are the best they've been in 16 years. We have a Supreme Court judge already confirmed. Energy is doing levels that we've never done before. Our military is doing well. We're knocking the hell out of ISIS, which Obama wasn't. There's not a thing that we're not doing well in."

Trump hasn't demonstrated any meaningful interest in, or knowledge of, presidential history, so it's possible he actually believes he's already accomplished more "than practically any president in history," but reality points in a very different direction.

Indeed, let's go through Trump's list of purported successes:

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U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) listens during a news conference on the terror attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi Feb. 14, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Don't count on John McCain to follow through on his posturing

07/14/17 09:20AM

Now that the latest iteration of the Senate Republicans' health care plan is available, health care advocates are keeping a close eye on the head-count. Two GOP senators have announced their opposition, but to kill the bill, critics of the far-right bill will need a third.

According to the Washington Post, however, there's already a third. In addition to Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose opposition is unambiguous, the Post's head-count, as of this morning, showed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as another "no" vote.

And while I think that's a mistake, I can understand why the newspaper reached such a conclusion. McCain issued a written statement yesterday that sounded a very critical note about his party's bill and the process that created it.

"The revised Senate health care bill released today does not include the measures I have been advocating for on behalf of the people of Arizona. That's why if the Senate takes up this legislation, I intend to file amendments that would address the concerns raised by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and other leaders across our state about the bill's impact on Arizona's Medicaid system. Arizona has been nationally recognized for running one of the most efficient and cost-effective Medicaid programs in the country.

"This legislation should reward states like Arizona that are responsibly managing their health care services and controlling costs -- not penalize them."

The statement added that if the GOP plan falls short again, McCain wants the Senate to "hold hearings and receive input from senators of both parties, and produce a bill that finally provides Americans with access to affordable and quality health care."

Taken at face value, this certainly sounds like a senator who doesn't like his party's legislation and is fully prepared to vote against it, laying the groundwork for a different approach he prefers more.

There is, however, no reason to accept the statement at face value -- because John McCain has a track record.

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A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)

Are Republicans prepared to help prevent the next Russian attack?

07/14/17 08:42AM

As the Trump-Russia scandal continues to unfold, there are political and policy decisions for U.S. officials to consider, including how best to hold Vladimir Putin's government accountable for the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11. At this point, Donald Trump's White House is prepared to do effectively nothing -- a posture that encourages additional attacks, because it signals to U.S. adversaries that there will be no consequences for their actions.

But let's pull further on that thread. If Trump's complacency and appeasement have the effect of encouraging foreign intervention in American campaigns, what are policymakers prepared to do to help protect the United States going forward? The president has already floated the idea of creating a cyber-security partnership with the people who attacked us -- an idea no sane person could support.

But Team Trump isn't the only game in town. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent had a very interesting scoop yesterday morning.

With President Trump continuing to claim the Russia scandal is a "hoax," this question deserves more attention: What will Trump and Republicans do about the likelihood that Russia will attempt to undermine our elections again next time?

Democrats are now taking new steps to increase the pressure on Republicans to take this prospect a lot more seriously.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which oversees House races, has issued a formal request to its Republican counterpart, asking it to join in showing a "united front" and creating a "joint plan" against any Russian efforts to undermine the 2018 elections, I've learned.

It's an approach that makes a lot of sense. U.S. intelligence officials have already said they expect Russia to try again -- Putin's first attack was wildly successful, and he has every incentive to return to the scene of the crime -- and now is the time to prepare a proper American defense against the next foreign intervention.

The DCCC's letter to the National Republican Congressional Committee is based on the idea that partisans are Americans first, and there are steps the parties can take now to help protect the process for everyone.

All Republican officials have to do is agree to a bipartisan partnership before the next attack. As of yesterday, however, that appears unlikely.

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The Republican health care gambit reaches a crossroads

07/14/17 08:00AM

While the details of health care policymaking may be complex, the arithmetic of health care legislating is not. There are 52 Senate Republicans, and to pass the GOP's regressive health care overhaul, the party will need 50 votes (plus Vice President Mike Pence to break the tie).

If two Republican senators break party ranks and oppose the bill, it passes. If three or more do so, it dies.

In June, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the original iteration of his blueprint, it was a full day before any GOP senator spoke out against the plan. As Slate's Jim Newell explained, the developments yesterday, with the release of McConnell's amended package, unfolded much faster.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins did not take very long, after seeing the new version of the Republican health care bill in a meeting on Thursday morning, to announce that she would not support it. She listed the many, many problems she still had with the bill, such as the cuts to traditional Medicaid -- which remain just as they were in the first version of the bill. She would also vote no on the motion to proceed, the procedural vote that sets up debate on the bill. She is gone.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also wasted no time after the meeting to declare that he, too, would vote no on the motion to proceed, from the opposite end of the spectrum.... He will not vote to proceed. He is gone.

A funny thing happened, though, after Collins and Paul immediately announced that they would not vote to advance the bill: No one else did.

This left health care advocates with a sense of uncertainty. On the one hand, opponents of the far-right approach were encouraged by the fact that the Republican plan was already struggling, just hours after its unveiling. On the other hand, two "no" votes won't be enough to stop the bill. One more is needed.

What's unclear is whether some GOP senators who balked at the plan in June will find a way out of the box they've put themselves in.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.13.17

07/13/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* That's quite a bust: "The Department of Justice on Thursday announced charges against more than 400 people in connection with a major crackdown on medical fraud aimed at combating the nation's opioid epidemic."

* Speaking of the DOJ: "A day late, the Justice Department complied this morning with a federal court order and released part of a security clearance form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions' contacts with foreign governments."

* Look for more on this one on tonight's show: "Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal attorney on the Russia case, threatened a stranger in a string of profanity-laden emails Wednesday night."

* Candice Jackson: "The Department of Education's civil rights chief apologized for comments she made regarding campus sexual assaults."

* This was a very odd thing to say: "President Donald Trump was overheard complimenting the French first lady, saying she was 'in such good shape,' during a live video in Paris on Thursday."

* I'm glad the clip is getting attention: "Video of Florida's only black state attorney being pulled over by two police officers prompted criticism after it was published to the Orlando Police Department's YouTube page on Wednesday."

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Trump's magic words: 'A lot of people don't know that'

07/13/17 04:17PM

The presidential learning curve has been steep at times for Donald Trump, America's first amateur leader. We've all been witness to the president learning things that many of us have known for quite a while.

This awkward process of discovery has, however, produced a phrase of underappreciated beauty: "A lot of people don't know that." These seven words are Trump's way of saying, "I just learned something new, and I'm going to assume others are as ignorant as I am."

Today, for example, Trump held a joint press conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, where the U.S. president declared, "France is America's first and oldest ally. A lot of people don't know that." If you watch the brief clip, you'll note that the first sentence was part of the prepared text, but the second sentence was ad libbed.

Trump probably wouldn't admit this out loud, but I'm reasonably sure he said this because he considers this rather obvious historical detail -- already familiar to much of the country -- to be an interesting bit of trivia that only recently came to his attention.

It's reminiscent of remarks Trump delivered in March when he said, in reference to Abraham Lincoln, "Most people don't even know he was a Republican. Right? Does anyone know? A lot of people don't know that."

Referring to the president as "Captain Obvious," the Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted soon after just how frequently Trump reflects on what he assumes others don't know.

That Bill Clinton signed NAFTA: "A lot of people don't know that."

What a value-added tax is: "A lot of people don't know what that means."

That we have a trade deficit with Mexico: "People don't know that."

That Iraq has large oil reserves: "People don't know this about Iraq."

That war is expensive: "People don't realize it is a very, very expensive process."

Whether he thinks "people" are incredibly uninformed, or whether he's simply oblivious himself, will remain a subject of some debate.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

McConnell unveils regressive new health care plan

07/13/17 02:57PM

About a month ago, when the Senate Republican leadership unveiled its initial health care proposal, it was widely assumed that the less conservative GOP senators wouldn't like the plan. Party leaders, however, were confident that the so-called "moderates" would succumb to pressure and toe the party line.

"Moderates always cave," one senior GOP aide said at the time.

This was certainly true in the House, where more centrist lawmakers proved to be useless, and it appears that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hopes that it's true in the upper chamber next week. The Huffington Post explained that the new GOP is "basically the same as the old one."

[T]he revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act ― which McConnell pulled two weeks ago because too few Republican senators planned to vote for it ― remains a vehicle for massive cuts to Medicaid, less financial assistance for people who buy private health insurance, and the return of skimpy junk insurance policies and discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. Taxes on the rich would remain, but health care companies would enjoy a major tax cut.

The Senate Republican leadership, in other words, is still counting on the so-called "moderates" to cave. Today's proposal is effectively a dare to the Collins/Murkowski wing of the GOP conference.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2016. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

McConnell sells his health plan in the most cynical way possible

07/13/17 12:30PM

As the political fight over health care continues, congressional Republicans are divided along several lines, but one of the more contentious issues is the GOP's deep proposed cuts to Medicaid. In the Senate, several Republicans have pushed back against their leadership, insisting that the plan simply goes too far -- doing too much damage to too many people.

The Washington Post reports today, however, that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has an argument intended to reassure his members concerned about Medicaid's future.

Here's what McConnell has told several hesitant senators (including Portman and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.): The bill's deepest Medicaid cuts are far into the future, and they'll never go into effect anyway.

"He's trying to sell the pragmatists like Portman, like Capito on 'the CPI-U will never happen,'" a GOP lobbyist and former Hill staffer told me.

In other words, the current iteration of the Republican health care legislation will include brutal cuts to Medicaid, but the GOP's less conservative senators can vote for it anyway, confident in the idea that, in the future, policymakers will intervene to make sure this policy isn't actually implemented.

Take a moment to consider just how cynical this is. Senators are supposed to vote, on purpose, for legislation they know would do real harm to their constituents, based on assurances from Mitch McConnell that someone, at some point, in some way, will clean up the mess they voted for.

This isn't how responsible legislating in a mature democracy is supposed to work.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.13.17

07/13/17 12:00PM

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

* Fresh off his better-than-expected showing in a GOP gubernatorial primary, Virginia's Corey Stewart (R) is launching a 2018 U.S. Senate campaign in the commonwealth, hoping to take on incumbent Sen. Tim Kaine (D). "I'm going to run, as I always do, a very vicious, ruthless campaign," Stewart told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

* In New Jersey, one of only two states hosting gubernatorial races this year, the latest Monmouth University poll shows former Ambassador Phil Murphy (D) leading Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) by a two-to-one margin, 53% to 26%.

* In Colorado, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) isn't just scrapping the gubernatorial campaign he launched in April; he's also decided not to run for re-election to the House, choosing not to be on the ballot at all next year.

* The Louisiana Democratic Party became the latest state to change the name of its annual "Jefferson-Jackson" dinner. Going forward, it'll be the "True Blue Gala" in Louisiana.

* House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) continues to lead an impressive fundraising operation, with his political organization bringing in nearly $33 million in the first six months of the year -- which is amazing given that this isn't an election year.

* Helping guarantee that he remains in the national spotlight, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), asked about whether he'll run for president again in 2020, said yesterday it's "much too early" to decide, but he's "not taking it off the table."

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Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)

Kellyanne Conway: collusion with Russia not proven 'yet'

07/13/17 11:24AM

This was the week the Trump-Russia scandal fundamentally changed. Americans were confronted with documented evidence of Vladimir Putin's government not only offering assistance to members of Donald Trump's inner circle during the campaign, but top members of Trump's team welcoming the foreign support.

Nevertheless, Kellyanne Conway, a top White House aide, appeared on Fox News last night -- with some props -- to argue that these revelations do not "yet" prove collusion.

"I just want to review in case you run out of time. This is how we see it so far. This is to help all the people at home. What's the conclusion? 'Collusion'? No. We don't have that yet.

"I see 'illusion' and 'delusion.' So just so we're clear everyone, four words: conclusion, collusion? No. Illusion, delusion, yes."

The visuals of this were a bit bizarre. Conway, who has an unfortunate track record of saying things in interviews that are completely untrue, held up pieces of paper during the Fox appearance -- as if she were trying to emulate Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" -- which lent itself to some easy (and amusing) online mockery.

But it's also worth pausing to consider Conway's specific phrasing: "We don't have that yet." Um "yet"?

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