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Image: Senate Republicans Address The Press After Their Weekly Policy Luncheon

The GOP's political incentives on health care are a mess

06/22/17 11:26AM

The Senate Republicans' secret health care bill is, as of this morning, no longer a secret. Though the website GOP senators created for the proposal doesn't appear to working perfectly, the bill is now available for public scrutiny -- with only a week to go before a scheduled floor vote.

But as we start digging in on the blueprint, and await a report from the Congressional Budget Office on its impact, it's worth taking a moment to think about the strange political incentives surrounding the entire initiative.

Because, frankly, I find them baffling.

Senate Republicans have kept the bill-writing process secret, in large part because they recognize how deeply controversial and unpopular their efforts are. GOP leaders have been reluctant to even talk about their own policy ideas, effectively telling their own members, "We better pass this now before anyone realizes how horrible the plan is."

But then what? What exactly do Republicans expect to happen once their regressive ideas are imposed on the nation?

In 2009 and 2010, Democrats wanted the public to know as much about their health care proposal as possible. Dems were desperate for Americans to learn the details, in part because Democratic officials believed people would like what they saw, but also because Dems wanted the facts to counteract the nonsensical rumors and brazen lies touted by the ACA's opponents. What's more, once "Obamacare" was law, Dems were confident that the law's popularity would eventually grow -- which is largely what's happened.

In 2017, however, all of this is reversed. Republicans plainly don't want Americans to get too close a look at their unpopular legislation, and have no real confidence that the public will actually like what GOP officials came up with behind closed doors.

All of which leads to a question that isn't asked often enough: why in the world are they doing this? Or more to the point, why aren't they concerned about a political backlash? As Vox's Ezra Klein put it the other day, "If their plan is so unpopular they can't defend it in theory, how will they defend it in practice? Each day this goes on, it seems less like a legislative process and more like a form of madness."

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North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a photo session with the participants of a meeting of Korean People's Army (KPA) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on Nov. 5, 2014. (KCNA KCNA/Reuters)

Trump says his original North Korea policy 'has not worked out'

06/22/17 10:46AM

For reasons that still aren't altogether clear, Donald Trump published a curious tweet about U.S. foreign policy this week that raised a few eyebrows:

"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!"

The American president, you'll recall, was originally convinced that he should blame Beijing for North Korea's provocations, and that China could easily get Kim Jong-un and his regime under control if it wanted to. In April, however, Trump said he had a conversation with China's Xi Jinping about the geopolitical challenge.

"After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy," Trump conceded. "I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power" over North Korea, he said. "But it's not what you would think."

The result was a clumsy sort of policy in which Trump, relying largely on his perceived bond with the Chinese president, would wait for Beijing to rein North Korea in. That never happened. In fact, by all appearances, Xi Jinping briefly humored Trump, before largely ignoring the American president's appeals and continuing with the same policy China has maintained for years.

Trump may feel inclined to declare, "At least I know China tried!" but in reality, that didn't happen. Whether Trump knows and/or understands any of this is unclear. (In China, Trump has already been the target of mockery and ridicule following a series of embarrassing reversals.)

But what I'm concerned about is what happens now.

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2011 Ford Motor Co. Flex sport utility vehicles (SUV) sit on display at the Capital Ford dealership in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Jim R. Bounds/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ford's production decision causes a political headache for Trump

06/22/17 10:03AM

In early February, just a couple of weeks into his presidency, Donald Trump appeared on Fox News and boasted about Ford Motor Company's decision not to expand production at a new plant in Mexico.

"We're losing our jobs to Mexico," Trump argued, adding, "And I have to tell you I've turned it around, already I've turned it around, you see that. Ford has been phenomenal. They canceled the plan."

What the president neglected to mention is Ford's new plan. The New York Times reported that the American auto giant will "build its next-generation small car in China rather than in the United States or Mexico."

Last year, the company said it planned to shift Focus production to a plant under construction in Mexico, primarily because of lower labor costs. But Ford canceled the project in January after it met stiff opposition from President Trump, who had repeatedly criticized the company for investing in Mexican jobs at the expense of American ones.

Now Ford, the nation's second-largest automaker, after General Motors, is centralizing much of its small-car production in China, where it has available capacity.

This appears to have been a straightforward business decision, unrelated to political pressures. A Wall Street Journal report noted that Ford expects to save $500 million by building its next-generation Focus in China, as compared to the original Mexican plan.

And while it wouldn't be fair to blame the White House for the auto maker's latest move, it does create a political headache for the president who was a little too eager to boast about Ford scrapping its plans south of the border.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Trump vows to pursue new immigration law that already exists

06/22/17 09:20AM

At his campaign rally in Iowa last night, Donald Trump received a very warm welcome from his audience, but one of the president's ideas received an especially rapturous standing ovation.

Reading from his trusted teleprompter, Trump declared, "The time has come for new immigration rules which say that those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years."

Recognizing the popularity of what he'd just said, the president added, "We'll be putting in legislation to that effect very shortly."

As it turns out, that won't be necessary. The Hill reported that this idea already exists in a law created 20 years ago.

Known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), the legislation was passed during the administration of former President Bill Clinton and said that an immigrant is "not eligible for any Federal means-tested public benefit" for 5 years, which starts on the date the immigrant enters the country.

There are exceptions under the law as to what qualifies as a federal-means tested public benefit. Some exceptions include certain medical assistance, "in-kind emergency disaster relief," and public health assistance for some vaccines.

I suppose it's possible Trump intends to "put in legislation" to change the restrictions that already exist, but it seems more likely that the president is simply unaware of current federal policy.

And those Iowans who stood to cheer the proposal, many of whom have been conditioned to believe the worst in response to the words "welfare" and "immigrants," probably didn't know about the existing restrictions, either.

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Trump's efforts to 'monetize the presidency' grow more audacious

06/22/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump's bid to win a second term as president was well underway before his first term even began. Ahead of his Inauguration Day, Trump's 2020 campaign already had a campaign office, campaign staff, and even an official slogan. The campaign apparatus has hosted a series of campaign rallies -- three-and-a-half years early -- including one last night in Iowa.

And like every modern campaign, Trump's re-election effort is eager to fill its campaign coffers. The New York Times reported a couple of months ago that the Republican "is raising money toward a bid for a second term earlier than any incumbent president in recent history, pulling in tens of millions of dollars in the months after his election and through his inauguration."

But what's amazing about this isn't just the fact that Trump is scrambling for campaign cash; it's also where he's choosing to do so. The Associated Press reported late yesterday on the president headlining a D.C.-fundraiser at his own hotel.

Trump can see the Trump International Hotel from the White House lawn, making it a premier and convenient location for the June 28 major-donor event, his campaign director Michael Glassner said.

But the choice also raises ethics questions, according to conflict of interest attorneys who have been critical of Trump's decision not to cut financial ties with his global business empire.

Norm Eisen, the Obama White House's chief ethics attorney, told the AP that Trump is "becoming more and more brazen in his efforts to monetize the presidency."

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Image: President Donald Trump waves before delivering keynote address

Trump defends economic team: 'I just don't want a poor person'

06/22/17 08:00AM

After last fall's presidential election, as Donald Trump's team took shape, it was hard not to notice that the new administration would be led in part by several Wall Street billionaires. Last night, the Trump campaign hosted a rally in Iowa, where the president shed some light on his perspective.

"So somebody said, 'Why did you appoint a rich person to be in charge of the economy," Trump said to a group of his supporters at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. "I said, 'Because that's the kind of thinking we want ... because they're representing the country. They don't want the money."

"And I love all people -- rich or poor -- but in those particular positions, I just don't want a poor person," Trump continued.

As the Washington Post's report added, in context, "those particular positions" referred to Trump's secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross, whom he called a "the legendary Wall Street genius," and Gary Cohn, his economic council director who was the president of Goldman Sachs -- a title that Trump repeated four times.

It's quite a change in perspective in light of what Trump told voters before the election. As regular readers may recall, during the Republican presidential primaries, one of Trump's most common attacks against Sen. Ted Cruz was blasting the Republican senator’s ties to – you guessed it – Goldman Sachs. “Is Cruz honest?” Trump asked in January. “He is in bed w/ Wall St. & is funded by Goldman Sachs.” Trump added,  "Goldman Sachs owns [Cruz], he will do anything they demand. Not much of a reformer!"

In the general election, the fact that Hillary Clinton once gave a speech to Goldman Sachs was also a central line of attack, with Trump claiming the investment giant has “total control” over her.

Now, however, the president has surrounded himself with a half-dozen Goldman Sachs alum -- a point Trump believes is worth bragging about. The swamp, I'm afraid, isn't being drained.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.21.17

06/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Iraq: "The Islamic State on Wednesday night destroyed Mosul's centuries-old Al Nuri Grand Mosque and its distinctive leaning minaret, one of Iraq's most famous landmarks, according to an Iraqi military statement."

* Perhaps the White House should care: "People connected to the Russian government tried to hack election-related computer systems in 21 states, a Department of Homeland Security official testified Wednesday."

* This seems like a good question: "The Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are questioning why the White House didn't suspend the security clearances of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and presidential adviser Jared Kushner, after questions arose about their contacts with Russian officials."

* A story we've been watching: "Vice President Mike Pence has chosen not to use an allied political committee to pay for the private attorney he retained last week to represent him in the special counsel probe of Trump associates' ties to Russia, two people close to Mr. Pence said Wednesday."

* A surprising story about Jay Solomon: "The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday fired its highly regarded chief foreign affairs correspondent after evidence emerged of his involvement in prospective commercial deals -- including one involving arms sales to foreign governments — with an international businessman who was one of his key sources."

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

The underappreciated detail about Nancy Pelosi's public standing

06/21/17 04:03PM

About a month ago, when Republicans were quite concerned about losing special elections in Montana and Georgia, the GOP leaders made no secret about their plan to prevail: they'd just keep complaining about Nancy Pelosi and count on conservative voters to have the conditioned, knee-jerk response.

"I think we'll see if it works," NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said. "I believe it still works."

And despite four congressional special elections in which Dems easily outpaced last year's Democratic performance in red districts in red states, there's apparently a growing consensus that the House Minority Leader has become a political problem for her party. NBC News wrote this morning, "Democrats have to admit they have a Pelosi problem."

Politico reports today some on Capitol Hill are drawing the same conclusion.

There is no challenge to Pelosi's leadership, and none is going to happen at this point, said numerous Democrats. But it's clear frustration is growing with the longtime Democratic leader following the extensive losses Democrats have suffered over the past half-decade.

And the fact that Republicans spent millions of dollars on TV ads tying Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff to Pelosi -- and the brand of progressive policies she represents -- shows that she will once again be an issue for Democratic challengers in the very districts that the party needs to win to make her speaker again.

Some Democrats want to replace Pelosi atop their caucus, as they have since last November's poor showing at the polls; they say there is no way to get back in the majority with her as their leader. And others who backed her in last year's leadership challenge have now flipped their stance.

"Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost," Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) added. "But she certainly is one of the reasons."

While I don't know the degree to which that's true, it's plainly obvious that for much of the right, the House Democratic leader is effectively a culture-war totem. We don't see multi-million-dollar ad campaigns attempting to tie various candidates to Chuck Schumer; we never really saw comparable attacks featuring Harry Reid; and we're long past the point at which connecting Dems to Barack Obama would be effective; but Nancy Pelosi, for reasons that deserve quite a bit more scrutiny, remains the villain of choice for Republicans and their allies to bash with glee.

There's just one salient detail that gets overlooked amid this discussion.

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Image: US President Trump leads listening session on human trafficking

After tough talk, Trump is poised to deliver for the drug industry

06/21/17 12:51PM

One of the few key areas on which Donald Trump broke with Republican Party orthodoxy was lowering prices on prescription drugs. In fact, shortly before taking office, he complained bitterly about the pharmaceutical industry's powerful lobbyists, and said drug companies are "getting away with murder."

For some on the left, this offered at least some hope that the Trump administration would be progressive on the issue, though those hopes faded soon after the president took office. In late January, Trump reversed course, saying he no longer wanted to use the government's buying power to lower costs, denouncing such a policy as "price fixing."

Vox explained at the time that the White House's approach appeared to amount to little more than "lowering taxes" and "getting rid of regulations."

That turned out to be exactly right. Five months later, the New York Times reports on a draft of an executive order the president intends to sign on drug prices that "appears to give the pharmaceutical industry much of what it has asked for."

The draft, which The New York Times obtained on Tuesday, is light on specifics but clear on philosophy: Easing regulatory hurdles for the drug industry is the best way to get prices down.

The proposals identify some issues that have stoked public outrage -- such as the high out-of-pocket costs for medicines -- but it largely leaves the drug industry unscathed. In fact, the four-page document contains several proposals that have long been championed by the industry, including strengthening drugmakers' monopoly power overseas and scaling back a federal program that requires pharmaceutical companies to give discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve low-income patients.

This is entirely in line with a Politico report from last week, which said Trump's approach to drug prices would be "industry friendly," and the White House does not intend to push the idea of using federal leverage to negotiate lower prices -- which is what the president vowed to do before he was elected.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.21.17

06/21/17 12:00PM

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

* The Cook Political Report noted today that in this year's congressional special elections in Republican districts, Democrats have "outperformed the partisan lean of their districts by an average of eight points." The 2018 midterms are still far off, but if Dems can keep this up, they'll be well positioned to compete for the House majority.

* Donald Trump boasted last night that the special-election season is over and his allies went "5 and 0." His arithmetic is wrong: one of the five races was in California's 34th district, and a progressive Democrat won easily.

* The president is reportedly "returning to campaign mode," which includes headlining an "old-fashioned political rally" in Iowa today.

* There's been an enormous amount of buzz this week about a new campaign kick-off video from Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin ironworker, who's running as a Democrat against House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) next year. The chatter is understandable; the clip is well done.

* A new national poll from the Pew Research Center shows Trump's approval rating at 39%, which is roughly where it was in April.

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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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