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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.27.17

06/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Chicago: "Three current or former police officers in Chicago were indicted Tuesday on charges of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager killed by an officer in 2014."

* Syria: "American officials have seen chemical weapons activity at a Syrian air base that was used in the spring nerve gas attack on rebel-held territory, the Defense Department said on Tuesday, scrambling to explain what prompted a White House statement a day earlier that Syria would "pay a heavy price" if it carried out another one."

* Russia scandal: "FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation."

* As Rachel noted last night, Jared Kushner "has hired Abbe Lowell, one of the country's leading criminal defense lawyers, to represent him in the special counsel's probe of potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and his financial dealings, as well as in separate congressional inquiries."

* The Guardian reports that Jay Sekulow, making the transition from representing the religious right to representing Donald Trump, "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."

* A story worth keeping an eye on: "The House Ethics Committee said Monday it is reviewing charges lodged against two high-profile Democratic lawmakers and a senior Democratic aide."

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Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Short on votes, Senate Republicans scrap vote on health care bill

06/27/17 03:49PM

Over the weekend, Politico said that Senate Republican leaders were leaving the "door open to delaying" a vote on their health care bill. Yesterday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) responded to those reports by saying, "I am closing the door. We need to do it this week."

Cornyn, whose leadership responsibilities focus primarily on counting votes, reiterated this morning that the GOP bill was poised for success on the floor, with a procedural vote on track for tomorrow.

A few hours later, the plan changed.

Senate Republicans Tuesday postponed a planned vote on the GOP bill to replace Obamacare until after the July 4th recess. Senators were told of the delay at a Republican lunch by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to multiple sources.

At least five GOP senators had said they were not prepared to vote in favor of a procedural measure that was slated to take place as early as Tuesday evening. That vote was necessary to begin the process that would have allowed the senate to take a final vote by the end of the week.

There's no great mystery as to what happened here. When Senate GOP leaders announced last week that they would hold a vote by the end of this week, they assumed they'd have the votes. After yesterday's report from the Congressional Budget Office, and a wave of pressure from voters, it quickly became clear they weren't close.

Indeed, the number of Republican opponents of the proposal was growing, not shrinking, leading to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) retreat today.

There's no sugarcoating the developments: today was an embarrassing setback for GOP leaders -- and a comparable success for health care advocates and their allies. As recently as late last week, the conventional wisdom was that everything was on track for passage, and yet, there was the Senate Republican leadership on the Hill today, admitting they had no choice but to slink away, defeated (for now) by their own members.

But to see this as an end point would be a major mistake.

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An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.

Tax cuts in the Republican health care plan are the 'central' issue

06/27/17 12:58PM

Jesse Lee, a former official in the Obama White House, wrote on Twitter yesterday, "I say this in all honesty: you could easily write a bill with ideas from both parties that would fix issues in ACA & make Trump look great." This happens to be entirely true.

Indeed, it's the secret hiding in plain sight. If Republicans were serious about identifying and addressing the Affordable Care Act's real shortcomings, they could work out a deal with Democrats, stabilize the marketplaces, offer incentives to insurers, and make meaningful improvements to the system. This would be an incredibly popular move, and more importantly, it would help a lot of people.

But it wouldn't satisfy any of the Republicans' ideological goals, starting with the GOP's raison d'etre. The Washington Post's Matt O'Brien had a good piece yesterday on the central pillar of the party's health care plan.

The Senate health-care plan isn't a health-care plan. It's a tax cut.

That's clear enough from how little thought it puts into actually stabilizing insurance markets versus how much it does into showering the rich with as much money as possible. Indeed, it would go so far as to retroactively cut the capital gains tax -- something, remember, that's supposed to be about incentivizing future investment -- in an apparent bid to get people to create jobs six months ago.

That may sound like a joke, but it's quite real. The Senate health plan actually includes a provision that cuts taxes with an effective date of Dec. 31, 2016.

It's part of the broader plan to cut taxes, primarily on the wealthy, by hundreds of billions of dollars according to yesterday's report from the Congressional Budget Office.

I mention this in large part because it appears to be one of the parts of the legislation that the bill's architects prefer not to talk about. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has insisted the tax cuts in the GOP plan are "not central" to the policy debate. Why not? Because he says so.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.27.17

06/27/17 12:00PM

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

* In Nevada, a new Public Policy Polling survey shows incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (R) with the narrowest of leads over Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) in a hypothetical 2018 match-up, 42% to 41%.

* Though I'm skeptical anything will come of this, America First Policies, a pro-Trump group led by the president's former top campaign advisers, is threatening to run attack ads against Heller because of his opposition to the Republican health care plan.

* It's not just GOP lawmakers who've been put on the spot by difficult questions about the party's unpopular health care bill. In Ohio, the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked Republican Senate and gubernatorial candidates for their opinions on the GOP plan. They didn't want to talk about it.

* A new Associated Press report on the effects of gerrymandering at the congressional level, and found that House Republicans gained 22 seats through district lines drawn in their partisan favor. That's not enough to explain all of the GOP's House majority, but it's close.

* In a bit of a surprise, Ted Kennedy Jr. has decided not to run for governor in Connecticut next year. It's a wide-open race, with incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) stepping down at the end of his second term.

* Republican leaders are hoping to get Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year, which makes it notable that Scott will be on Capitol Hill today, meeting with Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), ostensibly to talk about health care.

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.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)(R) watches as John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks to the press on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 14, 2012. Republicans in the U.S. Senate voted Cornyn as the new minority whip on Wednesday.   REUTERS/Jason...

Republican rhetoric on the uninsured descends into incoherence

06/27/17 11:05AM

Republicans have plenty of criticisms for the Affordable Care Act, and some of their points are more credible than others, but of all the arguments GOP officials are pushing aggressively, I think we've identified the worst.

Yesterday afternoon, for example, Donald Trump's White House published a curious tweet:

FACT: when #Obamacare was signed, CBO estimated that 23M would be covered in 2017. They were off by 100%. Only 10.3M people are covered.

I realize the White House's communications office is struggling right now -- the communications director recently quit after a few months on the job, and no one wants to replace him -- but someone over there probably should've read this before publishing it. If the Congressional Budget Office projected that the ACA would cover 23 million Americans, and the CBO was "off by 100%," that means it would've been off by 23 million -- because 100% of 23 million is 23 million. According to the White House's own message, that's not what happened.

Worse, by claiming that "only" 10.3 million Americans have gained coverage through the ACA, Trump World has cut the actual number roughly in half (though it is a nice change of pace for Republicans to acknowledge that the ACA has brought coverage to millions, even if the White House's numbers are all wrong). The figure only includes consumers who've bought insurance through exchange marketplaces, and ignores others who've gained coverage through the law.

But the underlying point of the tweet is that coverage levels matter. If you want to evaluate a health care blueprint, the argument goes, then take seriously how many Americans are insured under that system.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), in a message apparently intended to serve as criticism of the ACA, added yesterday, "28 million uninsured under Obamacare." The White House has been pushing this data point, too.

It's baffling to see Republicans push this argument because it makes their own side look so much worse.

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The White House's international credibility collapses in Trump era

06/27/17 10:03AM

During Barack Obama's presidency, Republicans chose a strange line of attack. As regular readers know, Obama's GOP detractors seemed absolutely convinced that the Democratic president had done real damage to the United States' international standing. The opposite was true, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world -- and it was Obama's fault.

During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Donald Trump had a chat about “how poorly” the United States is now “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office."

All of this was bizarre and sharply at odds with the evidence. But perhaps more importantly, it's also terribly inconvenient for the GOP now that those same criticisms actually apply to a Republican president.

Although he has only been in office a few months, Donald Trump's presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. Trump and many of his key policies are broadly unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey spanning 37 nations, a median of just 22% has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama's presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump's predecessor to direct America's role in the world.

The sharp decline in how much global public trusts the U.S. president on the world stage is especially pronounced among some of America's closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada. Across the 37 nations polled, Trump gets higher marks than Obama in only two countries: Russia and Israel.

The Pew Research Center's report included several helpful charts to help illustrate the data, but I made the above image to help drive the point home.

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Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Daily Press Briefing

With support for the ACA growing, Republicans go after single payer

06/27/17 09:22AM

For the last several years, Republicans have defined themselves by their hatred for the Affordable Care Act. That, however, is quickly becoming a greater challenge: "Obamacare" is not only a successful policy, it's also the most popular it's ever been. Public support for the ACA is quite a bit stronger than public support for Donald Trump, congressional Republicans, or their regressive health care alternative.

And that's led some Republicans to shift their posture a bit. Unable to win a debate over the Affordable Care Act, GOP officials have turned their attention toward a single-payer system.

Last week, for example, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, "If we don't get this done and we end up with Democratic majorities in '18, we'll have single payer. That's what we'll be dealing with." Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) added that Congress has to pass an unpopular far-right bill, no matter what, because the alternative is single payer, "and that's socialized medicine."

At yesterday's untelevised White House briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed quite animated on the subject.

"But make no mistake about it that Obamacare is dying. And the reality, as I mentioned last week, is that, when you look at the majority of House Democrats, they support a single-payer, $32 trillion bill backed by Bernie Sanders. That's what the alternative is.

"It's not a question of Obamacare versus the American Health Care Act. It's a question between we need to accept that Obamacare is dead, we need to understand that the reality is that what the choice is is between putting in a system that is affordable and accessible, or a single-payer $32 trillion healthcare plan that the majority of House Democrats support."

It's a shame that White House officials struggle this badly to keep up with the basics of the debate. We know, for example, that the Affordable Care Act is neither "dying" nor "dead." It may make Trump World feel better to believe this, but for those who still take reality seriously, the claim just isn't true.

It's also a shame that Republicans no longer see the fight against the ACA as one they can win, so they find it necessary to change the subject.

But perhaps most important is the fact that Republicans, whether they realize it or not, may be inviting the one policy they hate the most.

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

White House's Syria threat raises awkward questions about credibility

06/27/17 08:40AM

Just before 10 p.m. (ET) last night, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer issued a rather striking statement about developments in Syria, which raised the prospect of further U.S. military intervention. The entire statement, which Rachel highlighted at the end of last night's show, read as follows:

"The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

"As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

Taken at face value, this suggests the Trump administration received intelligence pointing to a possible chemical-weapons attack, being considered by Syria's Assad government, and the statement was intended to serve as a warning.

The trouble is, it's become increasingly difficult to take what Team Trump says at face value. BuzzFeed reported last night, for example, that several Pentagon sources didn't know what the White House was referring to, and one U.S. Central Command official said he/she had "no idea" what Spicer's statement was about. The same report said statements like these are usually "coordinated across the national security agencies and departments before they are released," but this one was not.

NBC News had a similar report, citing defense, military, and intelligence officials who were "caught off guard by the White House statement." One responded, "I don't know what the [White House] statement is."

Often these kinds of statements are accompanied by some kind of press briefing, in which supporting information is presented to reporters, but there was no such effort last night.

At least so far this morning, Donald Trump published a variety of tweets, nearly all of which promoted Fox News, and none of which referenced his White House's warning to Syria about chemical weapons.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

As their health plan falters, Republican leaders reach a crossroads

06/27/17 08:00AM

The Congressional Budget Office's report on the Senate Republicans' health care plan was simply brutal. The GOP blueprint, Congress' non-partisan scorekeepers found, would take coverage from 22 million Americans, increase consumer costs, and make insurance worse.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), asked about the CBO's findings, told reporters on Capitol Hill late yesterday, "Well, obviously that's not good news."

The question now becomes what Senate Republicans intend to do about it. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) announced his opposition to the GOP legislation on Friday, and as of last night, as others joined him, GOP opposition appeared to reach a critical mass.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced via Twitter that the CBO report reaffirmed her fears about deep cuts to Medicaid in the Better Care Reconciliation Act and said she would vote against the "motion to proceed," a procedural vote that allows the Senate to bring up a piece of legislation to be debated and eventually voted on. [...]

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also said he wouldn't vote for the motion to proceed, a vote expected to take place either Tuesday or Wednesday of this week.... Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., is a third senator who said that he could vote against the procedural motion this week, saying he "would highly doubt" that he would support it.

Asked whether she would vote for her party's plan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) added last night that she's not in a position where she could "vote in the affirmative"

To pass the regressive bill, Senate Republican leaders can lose no more than two of their own members. At least for now, the tally appears to be well above two -- and the number of GOP opponents is growing, not shrinking.

And that leaves Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) with a limited number of options.

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Launched in 2008, “The Rachel Maddow Show” follows the machinations of policy making in America, from local political activism to international diplomacy. Rachel Maddow looks past the distractions of political theater and stunts and focuses on the legislative proposals and policies that shape American life - as well as the people making and influencing those policies and their ultimate outcome, intended or otherwise.



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