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John Cornyn, R-Texas, leaves Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office in the Capitol on Oct. 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Cornyn says process 'is about as open and transparent as it gets'

07/27/17 10:46AM

Much of what Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has said during the health care fight is better left ignored, but he made one observation yesterday that stood out for me.

"People keep talking about a secret process. Well, this is about as open and transparent as it gets, and everybody will have an opportunity to offer an amendment, to discuss what's in the amendment, and to vote on it."

I suppose it's possible that Cornyn literally doesn't know the meaning of the words "open" and "transparent," but it's far more likely that the Senate Majority Whip is trying to gaslight the public.

It's a dynamic that requires no exaggeration or hyperbole. Senate Republicans this week began a floor fight on a health care proposal they had not yet written. While amendments are usually offered as a way to improve legislation, GOP leaders invited senators to introduce amendments on a bill they haven't read -- not because they're lazy, but because it's impossible to read a bill that does not exist.

At this point, the Senate Republican leadership continues to craft a secret measure, behind closed doors, making changes along the way following secret deals.

A vote on the GOP plan is imminent, despite the fact that no one, including senators themselves, knows anything about the bill's contents. Indeed, even now, no one can say with confidence if the bill has even been written.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House GOP rep uses colorful language to blast Senate's Murkowski

07/27/17 10:11AM

Earlier this week, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) expressed his frustration with "some female senators from the Northeast" who've refused to vote to take health care benefits from millions of Americans. "If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style," Farenthold added.

The Texas Republican later apologized, but we nevertheless saw Rep, Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) on MSNBC yesterday, expressing a related sentiment. The Georgia congressman reflected on Donald Trump's criticism of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), over her skepticism of the party's regressive health care plan. It led Carter to say this on the air:

"I think it's perfectly fair. Let me tell you, somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass."

First, there's a problem when House Republican men use violent rhetoric in reference to Senate Republican women.

Second, before yesterday afternoon, I'd literally never heard the phrase "snatch a knot in their ass," and I have absolutely no idea what it means.

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Image: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Anthony Scaramucci

White House struggles to defend Trump's ban on transgender troops

07/27/17 09:20AM

By some accounts, White House officials actually thought Donald Trump's new ban on transgender troops would be a political winner for them.

That, of course, was before the policy was denounced by members of Congress from both parties. And before the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs said they hadn't been notified of the change. And before veterans' organizations denounced the pointless discrimination against active-duty soldiers.

But perhaps the most amazing moment in the rollout of Trump's ridiculous new rules came during Sarah Huckabee Sanders' press briefing yesterday, when the president's principal spokesperson struggled to explain what the policy was and how it would work -- because she simply did not know.

A reporter asked whether transgender Americans already in uniform would be kicked out of the military. Sanders didn't know. Another asked, "How does it maintain or improve unit cohesion to leave thousands of servicemembers, some who may be overseas, serving in units overseas, in the dark about their status within the military?" Sanders couldn't answer that, either.

As the questions continued, the White House press secretary threatened to simply walk away from the podium unless reporters changed the subject.

"Guys, I really don't have anything else to add on that topic. As I do, I'll keep you posted. But if those are the only questions we have, I'm going to call it a day."

Ordinarily, when a White House unveils a new policy, affecting thousands of Americans, there are more than just a few tweets on the subject. There's supposed to be a briefing on the details of the policy, along with some background materials, and often an opportunity to hear from relevant officials within the executive branch.

But in Trump World, everything is ... different.

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Image: Sam Brownback

Kansas' Brownback abandons his mess, prepares to join Trump admin

07/27/17 08:40AM

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), having made a dreadful mess of his home state, isn't sticking around to clean it up. The Kansas City Star reported:

Gov. Sam Brownback will give up the governor's mansion in Topeka to take a relatively obscure ambassadorship after seeing his power and popularity severely diminished in the last year.

The Kansas Legislature overrode Brownback's veto to repeal his signature tax cuts a little more than a month before President Donald Trump selected him to serve as the next ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, a position based in Washington, D.C., where Brownback spent 16 years as a member of the U.S. House and Senate.

The far-right governor's departure marks the end of an error. After taking office, Brownback launched a radical economic "experiment" after taking office seven years ago, and it failed spectacularly. As regular readers know, the far-right Kansan, working with a GOP-led legislature, cut taxes far beyond what the state could afford, slashed public investments, and waited for prosperity to flourish across every corner of the state.

None of that has happened. Not only have Kansas' job growth and economic growth rates lagged behind neighboring states, but the state's budget is in shambles, and Kansas' debt rating has been downgraded multiple times.

The Kansas City Star spoke to Joy Koesten, a Republican state representative, who said it will likely take a very long time to undo the effects of Brownback's tenure.

"I don't think we truly know what that is yet," Koesten said. "I think we've seen the surface damage, but I don't know that we've seen the depth of the damage. And I think it's going to take us a decade or more to figure that out and to fix it. So if that's a legacy, I'm not sure that it's a positive one."

Ouch.

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A view of Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, on Sept. 1, 2015 in Denali National Park, Alaska. (Photo by Lance King/Getty)

Is the Trump admin threatening Alaska over health care politics?

07/27/17 08:00AM

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been one of the more consistent skeptics of her party's health care crusade, and Donald Trump has made no secret of his frustrations with her principles. The question, however, is just how far the president is prepared to go in expressing his dissatisfaction.

The Alaska Dispatch News, the state's largest newspaper, published a striking report overnight on the Trump administration's Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, reportedly calling both of Alaska's Republican senators yesterday, alerting them to the fact that Murkowski's position on health care "had put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy."

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the call from Zinke heralded a "troubling message."

"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan said.

"I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans.... We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear," Sullivan said. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.

Note, we're not talking about an anonymous source raising serious allegations. This is a sitting Republican senator, describing a conversation he had yesterday with a Republican cabinet secretary in a Republican administration. And according to Dan Sullivan's account, Trump's Interior secretary was "pretty clear" that the White House is prepared to play a dangerous game of hardball with Alaska's future.

It's a nice state you have there; it'd be a shame if something bad happened to it.

In effect, the Alaska Dispatch News has described a scenario in which Trump wants Murkowski to punish Alaskans (by voting for a radical health care plan) or he'll punish Alaskans (by using the Department of the Interior).

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.26.17

07/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Amazing progress: "Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who was critically wounded after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in June, has made progress in his recovery and was discharged from a Washington, D.C., hospital on Tuesday."

* Did Donald Trump ban transgender troops in order to advance a spending bill with money for his border wall? It's an explanation that would answer some questions.

* Ugh: "President Trump lumped the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah among militants and terrorists he praised the government of Lebanon for fighting, saying during Rose Garden remarks Tuesday that the tiny Mideast nation was "on the front lines" of a shared battle against extremism. The only problem? Hezbollah is a political partner of the man standing next to Trump, visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri."

* Disheartening, but not surprising: "Republican Trey Gowdy acted behind closed doors like a lawyer for President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, during questioning Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, said the top Democrat on the panel. 'Mr. Gowdy took the role as a second attorney for Mr. Kushner,' Adam Schiff of California told reporters."

* Brian Benczkowski: "President Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department's criminal division told senators Tuesday that he once represented a Russian bank that was alleged to have a Trump Organization connection, but he cast that representation as a routine part of his legal work and forcefully asserted that he would be an independent and fair-minded law enforcement official."

* But what are they prepared to do about it? "Republican senators have Attorney General Jeff Sessions' back. The GOP lawmakers are furious over President Donald Trump's escalating attacks on their former colleague and are letting the attorney general -- and the public -- know that they stand with Sessions in the face of the president's broadsides."

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Strike Two: Senate Republicans fail again on ACA repeal vote

07/26/17 04:36PM

Senate Republicans voted last night on Mitch McConnell's latest health care proposal, which needed 60 votes to advance, but managed to receive just 43. This afternoon brought us Strike Two.

The Senate rejected a proposal Wednesday that would have repealed major parts of the Affordable Care Act and provided a two-year delay for lawmakers to develop a substitute, indicating that in the immediate future Republicans can only muster a majority for modest changes to the current law.

In two separate votes over the course of less than 24 hours, lawmakers have rejected different approaches to rewriting the landmark 2010 law known as Obamacare.

Today's measure, the "Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act," commonly known as "repeal and delay," needed 50 votes, but ended up with 45. In all, seven Senate Republicans -- Collins, Heller, Murkowski, Alexander, Capito, McCain, and Portman -- broke ranks and opposed the legislation, which garnered 55 "no" votes.

And as a matter of public policy and public health, that's an encouraging development. This bill, which passed the Senate in 2015 when Republicans knew their vote was largely for show, would have repealed the Affordable Care Act in the short term, and then set a two-year deadline for Congress to figure something out. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently found that this bill would push 32 million Americans into the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade, include 17 million Americans just within the next year.

In fact, before we move on, let's pause to note how amazing these circumstances are. We're talking about a bill that would take coverage from 32 million people, repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with nothing, and 45 Republican senators voluntarily said, "Yep, that sounds good to me."

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The Pentagon in Arlington, Va., outside Washington, DC is seen in this aerial photograph, April 23, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Trump announcement on transgender troops surprises Pentagon

07/26/17 12:51PM

Ordinarily, when pundits talk about the White House's communications problems, they're referring to Donald Trump and his team struggling to stick to an honest and consistent message. But this morning we were reminded of a different kind of White House communications problem.

The Pentagon seems to have been unaware that President Donald Trump has decided to bar transgender people from the military.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, refused to answer questions about what Trump's tweeted announcement means for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.

"Call the White House," he said.

It looks like the president just banned thousands of transgender troops without coordinating with the Defense Department. The White House also didn't offer the Senate Armed Services Committee a heads-up, either.

And I don't imagine anyone finds this is especially surprising. Trump picked a new FBI director without coordinating with the Justice Department. Trump makes foreign policy decisions without running them by the State Department. When Trump launched his Muslim ban, the Department of Homeland Security wasn't at all clear on how to implement the president's vision.

The president sees himself as a CEO, which is a flawed model for the head of a federal executive branch, but it's especially problematic given that Trump looks at his administration as a small business instead of a large one.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.26.17

07/26/17 12:00PM

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

* In keeping with a recent string of state legislative special-election wins, Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh won a state Senate seat in New Hampshire yesterday, winning in  a district Republicans expected to win. [Correction: A majority of district voters are Republicans, but Dems didn't flip the seat as I'd originally thought. This text has been corrected.]

* In Virginia, one of only two states hosting gubernatorial races this year, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R) tied at 44% each. Most other recent polling found Northam ahead.

* On a related note, the Democratic National Committee told NBC News yesterday that it's sending "$1.5 million and several top staffers" to the commonwealth to help give Northam, whose coffers are low after a long, tough primary, a boost in the race's final three months.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) has vowed to oppose Mitch McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader if he's elected to the chamber. Brooks called McConnell "the head of the swamp of the U.S. Senate." The special election primary is Aug. 15.

* Donald Trump headlined a rally in celebration of himself in Ohio last night, boasting that Democrats usually win Youngstown, but he won it. In reality, Trump lost Youngstown and the surrounding country.

* The House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, launched a new digital ad campaign this week intended to undermine support for the Democrats' new "Better Deal" blueprint. The Republicans' ad focuses on, among other things, "Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco values."

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) heads into a last-minute Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Captiol June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Cantor comes clean, admits he didn't believe his own ACA rhetoric

07/26/17 11:26AM

For several years, in his capacity as House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor helped lead the charge on repealing "Obamacare." Put Republicans in charge, the Virginian told voters, and they'd dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

It was Cantor who helped bring ACA repeal bills to the House floor dozens of times. It was Cantor who helped spearhead "defund Obamacare" campaigns. And it was Cantor, we now know, who didn't genuinely believe his own nonsense.

The former GOP leader in the House talked to the Washingtonian's Elaina Plott and conceded that his Republican Party is in a tough spot -- parts of the conservative base expect the party to repeal the ACA, because that's what they were promised -- in part because of promises he and his colleagues made that they never intended to keep.

Asked if he feels partly responsible for their current predicament, Cantor is unequivocal. "Oh," he says, "100 percent."

He goes further: "To give the impression that if Republicans were in control of the House and Senate, that we could do that when Obama was still in office...." His voice trails off and he shakes his head. "I never believed it."

He says he wasn't the only one aware of the charade: "We sort of all got what was going on, that there was this disconnect in terms of communication, because no one wanted to take the time out in the general public to even think about 'Wait a minute -- that can't happen.' " But, he adds, "if you've got that anger working for you, you're gonna let it be."

In context, when Cantor says he and his party felt the need to "let it be," he means that Republicans fed a bunch of nonsense to their own voters, then exploited their anger for electoral gain with no intention of following through.

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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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