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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 12.12.17

12/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* NYC: "Prosecutors filed federal terrorism charges on Tuesday against a would-be suicide bomber who was accused of detonating a pipe bomb affixed to his torso inside a Manhattan subway corridor."

* Syria: "Declaring a success in Syria, Vladimir Putin on Monday visited a Russian military air base in the war-ravaged country and announced a partial pullout of his forces.... Russian television stations showed Putin walking off the plane, embracing and shaking hands with [Bashar al-Assad] at the air base."

* And then there were six: "A sixth senator on Tuesday called on President Donald Trump to resign amid renewed attention to past allegations of sexual harassment and assault. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) told NBC News that Trump is a 'misogynist,' 'admitted sexual predator' and 'liar' with a 'narcissistic need for attention.'"

* Alert the White House: "On Tuesday, NOAA released its latest annual Arctic Report Card, which analyzes the state of the frozen ocean at the top of our world. Overall, it's not good. 'The Arctic is going through the most unprecedented transition in human history,' Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA's Arctic research program, said at a press conference."

* This is not the congressman's first ethics controversy: "New York Rep. Chris Collins is pushing for the brother of his business partner to be nominated for the federal bench. Collins invested between $3.5 and $14 million in the business of Nick Sinatra, a developer in Buffalo, the Buffalo News reported. Nick Sinatra's brother is John Sinatra Jr., who Collins is pushing for a federal judgeship."

* As political sex scandals go, this one's brutal: "A Kentucky lawmaker accused of sexually abusing a teenager said Tuesday that he would not resign from office and that the allegations are false and politically motivated."

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP lawmakers prioritize tax cuts over children's health program

12/12/17 12:45PM

Congress was supposed to extend funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Oct. 1. For those counting at home, that was 11 weeks ago, and the Republican majority has largely ignored the issue since the deadline passed.

As expected, states are doing their best to move funds around to prevent children from losing coverage, but there's already evidence that they're running out of time. Officials in Colorado have already begun notifying families that the state's program will soon exhaust its available resources, and officials in Virginia started the same notification process yesterday.

Any chance the GOP-led Congress will tackle the issue soon? According to an Axios report from yesterday, the answer is, sort of.

Congress is unlikely to pass a multi-year funding solution for the Children's Health Insurance Program until January, according to House GOP leadership sources. But it will continue to pass temporary measures to make sure states get the funding they need until then.

Between the lines: Federal CHIP funding expired at the end of September. While there's a lot of bipartisan agreement on the general idea of funding CHIP, finding sources of revenue that can get across the finish line -- and then actually passing it -- just isn't Congress's top priority right now.

If this reporting is right, lawmakers won't actually let any kids lose their coverage, but the House and Senate also won't get around to passing a multi-year CHIP until after the winter holidays.

I'm glad, though, that Axios' piece used the word "priority," because that captures the broader political dynamic nicely.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.12.17

12/12/17 12:00PM

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

* In the unlikely event you haven't heard, it's Election Day in Alabama, where voters will choose a new U.S. senator who'll serve the remainder of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' term, which ends in three years. Even now, Roy Moore (R) remains the favorite over Doug Jones (D).

* After avoiding public appearances for nearly a week, Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla Moore, hosted a rally in Alabama last night. Responding to allegations that the candidate is anti-Semitic, Kayla Moore told supporters, "One of our attorneys is a Jew."

* Four years after his failed attempt at statewide office, E.W. Jackson, a right-wing Virginia preacher, kicked off a Republican U.S. Senate campaign yesterday. Almost immediately, Jackson targeted a GOP rival, Corey Stewart, claiming without evidence that Stewart has "had some dealings" with the Muslim Brotherhood.

* Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) didn't explicitly endorse Doug Jones by name yesterday, but the governor, who's up for re-election next year, was willing to say, "I certainly don't want to see Roy Moore win. That means, obviously, that I would be supporting the alternative."

* Those looking for good news for Democrats will probably want to check out this chart of the number of Democratic congressional candidates who've already launched -- and begun raising money in support of -- 2018 campaigns.

* Though the process isn't over, members of the Democratic Party's Unity Reform Commission agreed to several recommendations over the weekend, including a 60% reduction in the number of superdelegates, ahead of the 2020 cycle.

* Since the news broke about Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) using public funds to settle a sexual-harassment case, he's picked up five GOP primary challengers. Farenthold has since promised to pay taxpayers back for the settlement costs.

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A sign at an Affordable Care Act outreach event in Los Angeles, California, September 28, 2013.

Public support for 'Obamacare' reaches new heights

12/12/17 11:11AM

The latest national polling from the Pew Research Center found Donald Trump, nearing the end of the first year of his presidency, with a woeful approval rating of just 32%. By a significant margin, no modern president has been this unpopular at this stage of their presidency.

The polling for "Obamacare," however, looks vastly better. The Pew Research Center reported yesterday:

While the future of the Affordable Care Act is in question, the public increasingly thinks the law has had a positive impact on the country. Today, more Americans say the 2010 health care overhaul has had a mostly positive than mostly negative effect on the country (44% versus 35%), while 14% say it has not had much effect.

Overall support for the health care law also has grown since last year. Currently, 56% of the public approves of the law while 38% disapproves, according to a new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 4.

Note, Pew has been doing surveys on the ACA since 2010. The health care reform law's popularity is now at its highest point to date.

The fact that Obamacare's approval rating is 23 points higher than the president's approval rating probably isn't welcome news at the White House.

What's more, these measurements aren't happening in a vacuum. The open-enrollment period is currently underway, and despite Trump administration efforts to undermine the process, consumers are signing up for health care coverage at levels that have exceeded practically everyone's expectations.

The open-enrollment period ends this week -- Friday, Dec. 15 -- and if opponents of the law were counting on weak demand to bolster the case for repeal, they may be disappointed.

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]Sen. Kristen Gillibrand listens to testimony in the Russell Senate Office Building May 13, 2014 in Washington, DC.

After calling for Trump's resignation, Gillibrand becomes a target

12/12/17 10:09AM

Late last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), pointing to the women who've accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, wrote, "We have a president who acknowledged on tape that he assaulted women. I would hope that he pays attention to what's going on and think about resigning." A day later, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told MSNBC, "The president should resign because he certainly has a track record, with more than 17 women, of horrific conduct."

A day after that, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) added, "I just watched Sen. Al Franken do the honorable thing and resign from his office. My question is, why isn't Donald Trump doing the same thing -- who has more serious allegations against him, with more women who have come forward?"

Oddly enough, the president didn't respond to any of these Democratic senators. Yesterday, however, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrote, "President Trump should resign. But, of course, he won't hold himself accountable. Therefore, Congress should investigate the multiple sexual harassment and assault allegations against him."

And that's when Trump lashed out.

"Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office 'begging' for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!"

As presidential responses go, this one seemed nastier than most of Trump's usual retorts. The connotations surrounding "would do anything," for example, struck me as especially ugly rhetoric.

For that matter, it's not clear why the president said nothing when Sanders, Merkley, and Booker suggested he resign, but Trump quickly went low when Gillibrand said the same thing.

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

Trump's legal team wants appointment of another special counsel

12/12/17 09:22AM

As part of Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) dramatic shift in posture -- from Donald Trump critic to Donald Trump flatterer -- the senator issued a curious call late last week.

As Graham sees it, the Justice Department should appoint another special counsel, presumably to run an investigation that runs parallel to Robert Mueller's probe, to investigate Hillary Clinton's email server protocols. And Uranium One. And Fusion GPS. And "bias" among officials at the FBI and the Justice Department.

This all seemed a bit bizarre, even by 2017 standards, but it now appears Graham isn't the only prominent Republican thinking along these lines. Axios reported this morning that members of Donald Trump's legal team "want an additional special counsel named to investigate the investigators."

Jay Sekulow, a member of the President's legal team, tells me: "The Department of Justice and FBI cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate."

Ari Melber, MSNBC's chief legal correspondent, added this morning that Sekulow has confirmed to NBC News that he's calling for a new special counsel to investigate the Justice Department.

The point of this political strategy is hardly subtle. For Trump World and its allies, the Russia scandal is an existential threat to this presidency, so it's become necessary to undermine public confidence in the investigation and muddy the waters with unrelated, trumped up controversies.

Republicans may be doing this in a clumsy and ham-handed way, and the whole ploy may reek of desperation, but that doesn't appear to be much of a deterrence.

But the nonsense won't actually amount to anything, will it?

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Trump claims he 'never met' women who accused him of misconduct

12/12/17 08:40AM

The Washington Post  reported this morning that Republicans close to Donald Trump are increasingly uneasy about his ability to withstand a revived spotlight on his behavior toward women amid the dramatic attitude shift happening nationwide in response to accusations of sexual misconduct against men from Hollywood to Capitol Hill."

The piece added that the president's allies are "also wary of the potential political costs if the president goes on a sustained attack against his accusers."

It's against this backdrop Trump decided to publish a new tweet this morning.

"Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia - so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don't know and/or have never met. FAKE NEWS!"

Let's start by getting the easy part out of the way: the evidence of collusion between Donald Trump's political operation and Russian operatives is pretty obvious at this point. As House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained over the weekend, "The Russians offered help. The campaign accepted help. The Russians gave help. And the president made full use of that help. And that's pretty damming."

Yes, it is.

But then there's the fascinating notion that the president never even met the many women who've accused him of sexual misconduct. I have a hunch he's going to regret having published this.

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

Did Team Trump direct Michael Flynn to lie?

12/12/17 08:00AM

For months, there have been a variety of questions about whether Donald Trump obstructed justice as part of the broader Russia scandal. As Rachel noted on last night's show, new reporting from NBC News raises the volume on those questions quite a bit.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to piece together what happened inside the White House over a critical 18-day period that began when senior officials were told that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail by Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

The questions about what happened between Jan. 26 and Flynn's firing on Feb. 13 appear to relate to possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

This is no small story. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned the White House that Flynn may have been compromised by the Russians, but that didn't stop Trump and his team from keeping Flynn around for 18 days. Mueller apparently wants to know why.

More to the point, according to NBC News' report, the special counsel "appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why."

The piece added, "If Trump knew his national security adviser lied to the FBI in the early days of his administration it would raise serious questions about why Flynn was not fired until Feb. 13, and whether Trump was attempting to obstruct justice when FBI Director James Comey says the president pressured him to drop his investigation into Flynn."

So, why is this important? A couple of reasons.

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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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