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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.28.17

07/28/17 12:00PM

Today's much-earlier-than-usual edition of quick hits:

* The blowback: "Russia on Friday ordered the U.S. to cut the number of its diplomats posted to Russia and said it was seizing two properties used by American officials in retaliation for a new bill of sanctions that overwhelmingly passed both the House and the Senate this week."

* In the Senate, the final vote was 98 to 2: "The Senate approved new sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote Thursday, gaining tentative support from the White House before its passage."

* A considerable improvement in GDP over the first quarter: "The U.S. economy rebounded strongly between April and June, government data showed Friday morning, as businesses invested more and consumers shelled out for furniture, washing machines and other goods."

* This won't end well: "The House passed a $788 billion spending bill Thursday that combines a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump's controversial border wall with Mexico with a whopping budget increase for the Pentagon."

* Pakistan: "[P]rime minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted by the country's top court Friday amid a corruption investigation into his family wealth triggered by a data dump known as the Panama Papers. The third-term leader was ruled unfit for office by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision by five judges."

* An important angle: "Since Election Day, President Trump’s businesses have sold at least 30 luxury condos and oceanfront lots for about $33 million.... Now, details of some of those deals and other transactions by Trump's family business could be unmasked as special counsel Robert Mueller expands his inquiry into election-meddling by Russia and whether Trump's campaign colluded."

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally outside the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning on Nov. 7, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pa. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

House Republicans want a special counsel for Clinton, not Trump

07/28/17 11:16AM

Sometimes, the line between House Republicans and their caricature becomes blurred.

House Judiciary Committee Republicans on Thursday called for a new special counsel -- to investigate Hillary Clinton, James Comey and Loretta Lynch.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Republicans said they were writing to "request assistance in restoring public confidence in our nation's justice system and its investigators, specifically the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)."

In other words, if Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have their way, we'd have two parallel investigations: one special-counsel probe examining the Trump-Russia scandal, and another special-counsel probe going after Hillary Clinton.

There's no reason to believe the Justice Department will take such a request seriously, but we live in deeply strange times and it's probably best not to make any assumptions.

Also note, even if there is no second special counsel, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to move forward with a Clinton investigation of its own. The Washington Post reported this week that the GOP-led panel has begun requesting documents for a new round of Clinton-related scrutiny.

All of this, coincidentally, follows Donald Trump's recent insistence that Clinton's imagined "crimes" face an investigation.

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Image: White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci talks to the media

Scaramucci shows the kind of White House culture Trump has created

07/28/17 09:48AM

On his sixth day as the White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci had a rather interesting series of experiences.

He falsely accused the White House chief of staff of a "felony," insisting that Reince Priebus had leaked a public document that, by definition, cannot be leaked. Scaramucci then claimed he'd improperly spoken with the Justice Department

Yesterday afternoon, the White House communications director then got to read the comments he made to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza -- which were, shall we say, colorful.

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn't happy. Earlier in the night, I'd tweeted, citing a "senior White House official," that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question -- for me.

"Who leaked that to you?" he asked. I said I couldn't give him that information.

It went downhill from there. Scaramucci said, for example, "Reince is a f***ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac." He added, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own c**k."

Scaramucci went on to say, "What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers."

I think it's probably fair to say Americans have never before read an interview like this with a senior White House official. Indeed, in any previous administration, if an official were to make on-the-record comments like these to a reporter, that official would no longer be working in the White House.

In Donald Trump's White House, however, Scaramucci is likely to get a promotion.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell answers questions as members of the Republican leadership speak about the Defense Authorization Bill following caucus luncheons at the U.S. Capitol on June 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

In the wake of failure, McConnell looks for someone to blame

07/28/17 08:46AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saw an opportunity to take health care benefits from millions of American families, and it's hardly surprising that he'd feel bitter disappointment now that his efforts have failed. But this Politico piece suggests McConnell's not playing the blame game especially well.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed "regret" and "disappointment" immediately after the GOP failed to pass a minimalist Obamacare repeal bill early Friday, blaming congressional Democrats for not engaging "in a serious way" in the efforts to remedy the health care law. [...]

"Our friends on the other side decided early on they didn't want to engage with us in a serious way, a serious way to help those suffering under Obamacare," McConnell said.

There are a few ways to look at whining like this. The first is to just see it was pathetic: as became obvious last night, McConnell couldn't convince his own members to follow his lead. For him to blame the minority party for refusing to help him undermine Americans' interests is impossible to take seriously.

The second is that McConnell is plainly wrong about what Democrats were willing to do. As we discussed weeks ago, Democrats practically begged to work with Republicans on health care. They put their appeals in writing for months. GOP leaders ignored every appeal.

McConnell considered a bipartisanship approach, in a rather literal sense, the worst-case scenario. In March, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) characterized bipartisanship as the one course of action he simply did not want to even consider.

But even putting these details aside, let's not overlook the fact that McConnell is perhaps the last person in the country who should be talking about engaging in health care policymaking "in a serious way."

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Image: Still image from video shows U.S. Senator McCain speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate after a vote on healthcare reform in Washington

Strike Three: Republicans' health care crusade collapses in Senate

07/28/17 08:00AM

Health care advocates have reason to be relieved this morning.

Senate Republicans failed to pass a pared-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday on a vote of 49-51 that saw three of their own dramatically break ranks.

Three Republican senators -- John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski -- and all Democrats voted against the bill, dealing a stinging defeat to President Donald Trump who made repeal of Obamacare a cornerstone of his presidential campaign.

It was McCain who ultimately cast the deciding vote in a moment of high drama on the Senate floor in the early hours of the morning.

And with that, let's have another Q&A.

What now?

Well, Senate Republicans have now run out of bills. "Repeal and replace" was voted down on Tuesday; "repeal and delay" was voted down on Wednesday; and then "skinny repeal" came up one vote short last night. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared last night, "It's time to move on."

Right, but what does that mean in practical terms?

No one, including Senate Republicans, can answer that with any confidence. At least in theory, senators can now begin work on some bipartisan measures intended to strengthen the current system and shore up areas in which the Affordable Care Act is struggling.

How likely is that?

It's very likely there will be at least some efforts in this direction, and a couple of Senate committees have even agreed to hold hearings (something they should have done before holding votes on legislation). There are plenty of straightforward policies that both parties should be able to accept, but whether that will happen or not is anybody's guess.

But haven't we been at this point before? In March, a House Republican plan died, we all exhaled, and then it came back to life. What's to stop that from happening again?

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 7.27.17

07/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Elections have consequences: "The Department of Justice has filed court papers arguing that a major federal civil rights law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, taking a stand against a decision reached under former President Barack Obama."

* That's probably not a good sign: "Incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not say on Thursday if the president still has confidence in his chief of staff, Reince Priebus."

* I guess the tweets didn't speak for themselves: "The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told subordinates on Thursday that the U.S. military will not make any changes to its transgender policy until President Donald Trump clarifies what he meant in a series of surprise tweets."

* On a related note: "A report for the Pentagon last year found that transition-related care would cost between about $2.4 and $8.4 million per year -- less than 0.14% of the military's medical budget. That's roughly the cost of four of Trump's trips to Mar-A-Lago, GQ noted, even using a conservative estimate of $2 million per trip."

* This would be politically unwise: "President Trump's spokesman suggested Thursday that Trump may veto a massively popular bill designed to restrain his ability to roll back sanctions against Russia, despite the very strong likelihood that lawmakers will have the votes to override it."

* Secretary of State Rex Tillerson "flashed a grin Wednesday and insisted that he is 'not going anywhere,' comments that came amid tussles with the White House over policy and staffing as well as questions about his future as the nation's chief diplomat."

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Image: File photo of the Cushman Watt Scout Center, headquarters of the Boy Scouts of America for the Los Angeles Area Council, in Los Angeles

Boy Scouts chief issues apology for Trump's political antics

07/27/17 04:23PM

Donald Trump addressed the Boy Scouts of America National Scout Jamboree this week, and in the absence of any impulse control, the president treated the children's gathering like a campaign rally in support of himself.

As we discussed the other day, Trump's speech included bitter criticism of journalists, pollsters, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Affordable Care Act. He used his platform to, among other things, celebrate the 2016 electoral-college map, and threaten to fire his HHS secretary if the Republican health care plan didn't pass Congress.

At one point, Trump even told a long, meandering story about a cocktail party he attended on a yacht with a bunch of "hot" people.

Today, the Boy Scouts organization expressed public regret for the way the president conducted himself at this week's event.

The head of the Boy Scouts apologized Thursday for President Donald Trump's remarks this week at a gathering of thousands of scouts, saying "political rhetoric" should never have been inserted into the event.

In a letter posted online, Chief Scout Executive for the Boy Scouts of America Michael Surbaugh apologized to those "offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent."

Surbaugh, in a statement that emphasized the organization's non-partisan traditions, added, "We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks to reporters following a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Washington, March 15, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate Republicans plan to write health care bill over lunch

07/27/17 12:43PM

As things stand, Senate Republicans are eager to pass a health care plan that doesn't exist, but Reuters reports that GOP lawmakers intend to finalize a proposal this afternoon.

Republicans leaders hope a so-called skinny bill, which repeals a few key provisions of Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law without being a far-reaching overhaul, can draw enough votes to pass despite unified Democratic opposition. [...]

Republican senators were expected to hammer out provisions of the measure during a policy lunch on Thursday, giving lawmakers scant hours to digest its provisions before voting. Republican leaders have been sending pieces of the legislation to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to assess its impact and determine whether it complies with Senate rules.

There's no word as to whether senators will literally use the backs of envelopes and handy cocktail napkins while writing their legislation.

It's tempting at this point to start delving into the details of what we think we know about the "skinny repeal" bill, but I'm afraid it's folly. Every few minutes, new scuttlebutt points in new directions. We should have a better sense of the legislative specifics fairly soon.

But it's worth pausing to appreciate how truly ridiculous the circumstances are. Congressional Republicans have been working on their alternative to the Affordable Care Act for seven years. And yet, in true post-policy fashion, GOP senators intend to scribble some ideas down over lunch on a Thursday afternoon, and then pass it on a Thursday night or Friday.

This is not how policymaking is supposed to work in the United States. Contemporary Republicans simply don't care.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.27.17

07/27/17 12:00PM

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

* If Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to quit his current job, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said he'd stand down and let the former senator have his old job back. Alabama's special-election primary to fill Sessions' old Senate seat is in three weeks.

* Eric Trump, who's supposed to be helping run his father's business and steering clear of politics, wrote a new fundraising letter this week on behalf of Trump's 2020 re-election campaign.

* To the surprise of no one, Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.) announced yesterday he's running for the U.S. Senate next year, hoping to take on incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). Messer will likely be part of a crowded GOP primary.

* As Rachel noted on the show last night, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, hoping to prove his value in Trump World, has reportedly begun touting "his ability to raise money from wealthy donors, suggesting he could bring in funds to a legal-defense fund." When Priebus was the RNC chair, he was a successful fundraiser.

* Entertainer Kid Rock published an online message yesterday, reflecting on a potential U.S. Senate campaign in Michigan next year, saying he "will be scheduling a press conference in the next 6 weeks or so to address this issue amongst others, and if I decide to throw my hat in the ring for US Senate, believe me ... it's game on." The entertainer, who supported Trump's campaign, would almost certainly run as a Republican.

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

Donald Trump's 'fine-tuned machine' descends into chaos

07/27/17 11:25AM

I generally don't care about warring factions and personalities in the West Wing. I do care, however, when a White House slips into chaos, due entirely to officials' own incompetence and ignorance.

Take this morning, for example.

An escalating White House war between two top advisers to President Donald Trump entered a new stage Thursday after Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci lobbed a grenade of leak accusations that were seen as an attack against chief of staff Reince Priebus.

The fracas began Wednesday night after Politico published Scaramucci's financial disclosure forms from his employment at the Export-Import Bank, where the former financier had a post before being tapped last week as Trump’s new communications director last week.

Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, insisted that "the leak" of his financial disclosure forms was "a felony," and he intended to pursue the matter with the FBI and Justice Department.

He also called into a live CNN broadcast this morning to suggest Reince Priebus was responsible. "So if Reince wants to explain he's not a leaker, let him do that," Scaramucci said.

There was, however, no leak. The financial-disclosure materials, first noted by Politico, are public documents, obtained through a simple records request.

In other words, this strange drama was sparked by Scaramucci -- who enjoys telling people he went to Harvard Law School -- not knowing what he was talking about.

The larger point, however, has less to do with who in the White House is feuding with whom, and more to do with the fact that the White House itself, after just six months, is slipping deeper and deeper into chaos.

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About The Rachel Maddow Show

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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