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Senate Finance Committee Holds Hearing Recent IRS Screening Scandal

To protect gerrymandering, Pennsylvania GOP eyes impeachment push

02/22/18 10:00AM

Several years ago, Pennsylvania Republicans engaged in the kind of congressional gerrymandering that's tough to defend. The GOP-led state legislature took an evenly divided state, drew up 18 congressional districts, and put 13 of them in safely Republican hands.

It created a dynamic in which Democratic candidates won 51% of the vote in Pennsylvania, but received only 28% of the power.

The state Supreme Court rejected that map -- calling it "clearly, plainly, and palpably" unconstitutional -- and unveiled a new one last week when state policymakers couldn't come up with a compromise on their own. Republicans still have an advantage under the new district lines, but it's not nearly as outrageous as the GOP's previous version.

Not surprisingly, Republicans aren't pleased, but it's important to understand what GOP officials intend to do with their dissatisfaction.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) said Wednesday during a press conference that the state's legislature should have a "conversation" about potentially impeaching the state's Supreme Court justices over a newly redrawn map. [...]

"I think state House members and state senators are going to be speaking amongst themselves and their constituents, and the fundamental question is does this blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process, does that rise to the level of impeachment?" Toomey continued.

Just so we're clear, the "blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process," in Toomey's mind, wasn't the corrupt gerrymandered map created by his GOP allies. Rather, he was referring to the court ruling that sought to rectify the blatant, unconstitutional, partisan power grab that undermines our electoral process.

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Image: Donald Trump

Donald Trump is reminded of his empathy gap

02/22/18 09:22AM

Donald Trump held a narrow card during yesterday's listening session at the White House on gun violence in schools, which I initially thought might include a series of policy proposals the president intended to talk about. That would hardly have been outrageous: it's sometimes difficult to remember specific points of an agenda, especially for a political amateur, so I assumed Trump brought a cheat-sheet with him.

But that wasn't the point of the card. Rather, the president brought with him a five-point guide on how best to interact with the event's attendees. The Washington Post  noted:

[R]ight there at No. 5 is a talking point about telling those present that he was actually listening to them. After what appear to be four questions he planned to ask those assembled, No. 5 is an apparent reminder for Trump to tell people, "I hear you."

Even No. 1 is basically a reminder that Trump should empathize. "What would you most want me to know about your experience?" the card reads. So two-fifths of this card is dedicated to making sure the president of the United States assured those assembled that he was interested in what they had to say and their vantage points.

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton may have faced years of mockery for having declared, "I feel your pain," but no one ever accused the Democratic president of lacking empathy.

A generation later, White House aides effectively have to remind the current president to at least try to appear as if he's interested in others' pain.

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Claudia Tenney, R-New Hartford, speaks during a news conference in Albany, NY on Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

GOP's Tenney: Many mass murderers 'end up being Democrats'

02/22/18 08:40AM

For quite a while, the public could see a headline that read something like, "GOP lawmaker says something nutty," and make certain assumptions about who the Republican was. More often than not, the quotes in question seemed to come from Michele Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, or Paul Broun.

But the torch has now been passed to a ridiculous new generation. Now, "GOP lawmaker says something nutty" can refer to any number of newer members of Congress. Take Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), for example.

Many mass murders are perpetrated by Democrats, New York Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney said Wednesday in a radio discussion on gun control following the recent mass shooting at a Florida high school.

"Obviously, there's a lot of politics in it," the congresswoman told the "Focus on the State Capitol" podcast hosted by Fred Dicker. "And it's interesting that so many of these people that commit the mass murders end up being Democrats, but we don't want to, the media doesn't talk about that either."

Now, Claudia Tenney's name may not sound familiar to a national audience -- she's only been on Capitol Hill for a year -- but the New York Republican is slowly earning an unfortunate reputation. She argued two weeks ago, for example, that Democratic reactions to Donald Trump's State of the Union address were "un-American," adding, "And they don't love our country."

Last week, Tenney offered a strange defense of former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who's faced allegations of violence against women.

But yesterday was yet another step away from decency for the GOP lawmaker. After the interview, Tenney added in a statement, "I am fed up with the media and liberals attempting to politicize tragedies and demonize law-abiding gun owners and conservative Americans every time there is a horrible tragedy."

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump

To prevent shootings, Trump eyes more guns in schools

02/22/18 08:00AM

In recent years, much of the right has embraced the idea that the only credible solution to gun violence is more guns. It gave rise to the NRA's "good guy with a gun" mantra.

And in the aftermath of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., last week, it appears Donald Trump is prepared to address school shootings by bringing more guns into schools.

Trump spoke about potential solutions to address the violence, expressing support for arming school officials and teachers and backing ending gun-free zones, which he said are a sign to shooters that says, "Let's go in and let's attack because bullets aren't coming back at us."

The president conceded that concealed carry "only works" with people who are "very adept at using firearms" but said that if one of the "brave" coaches in Parkland who tried to stop the shooter had had a gun, he could have shot the shooter instead of running at him.

In May 2016, after Hillary Clinton suggested Trump intended to bring guns into school classrooms, the Republican insisted she was wrong. Nearly two years later, it appears he may have changed his mind.

Trump added yesterday that he'd also consider a plan to bring armed retired veterans -- who are "very adept" at handling firearms -- who could be "spread evenly throughout" a school to prepare for a possible shooter.

Indeed, the president told his White House audience yesterday that having more people with guns in schools -- teachers, coaches, principles, veterans -- "could very well solve your problem."

Of course, this isn't just their problem. In the United States, it's our problem.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.21.18

02/21/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Quite an event: "'We want change! We want change! We want change!' That was the chant roaring from the crowd gathered in front of the Old Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, for the #NeverAgain Rally on Wednesday -- one week after the worst mass shooting at a high school in U.S. history."

* An unexpected new angle: "Federal investigators are probing whether former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort promised a Chicago banker a job in the Trump White House in return for $16 million in home loans, two people with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News."

* Republican governance in Wisconsin: "The state Assembly voted Tuesday on party lines to reject a proposal to require universal background checks for gun purchases in Wisconsin, opting instead to offer funds for armed guards in schools and crack down on 'straw purchasing.'"

* The right move: "President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Indian Health Service, an insurance broker named Robert Weaver, withdrew from consideration for the job, a top agency official told tribal leaders Wednesday, according to a person present at the gathering."

* VA drama: "The White House has given Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin the green light to quash an internal rebellion among conservative foes of his leadership, he told Politico late Tuesday."

* I hope you caught Rachel's segment on this: "The White House said on Tuesday that the work status of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, would not change because of upcoming changes to the security clearance process."

* A missed opportunity: "Vice President Pence departed for a five-day, two-country swing through Asia earlier this month having agreed to a secret meeting with North Korean officials while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. But on Feb. 10 ... the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting, according to Pence's office."

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Trump's former bodyguard paid handsomely by RNC 'slush fund'

02/21/18 04:11PM

We learned last fall that the Republican National Committee, for reasons that have never been altogether clear, paid the legal bills for Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. -- but not the other members of the president's team who've been caught up in the Russia scandal.

CNBC reports today that the RNC also appears to be paying Trump's former bodyguard an unusually generous sum.

When President Donald Trump's longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller decided to leave his White House job last fall, many in the West Wing wondered how the president would manage without his personal security chief-turned-confidant, who had been working for Trump nearly 20 years.

As it turns out, Schiller didn't go very far. Within weeks of leaving his job as director of Oval Office operations, Schiller's private security firm, KS Global Group, began collecting $15,000 a month for "security services" from the Republican National Committee.

According to an RNC official, Schiller is being paid for security consulting on the site selection process for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Schiller's fee comes out of the RNC's convention fund, not its campaign fund, the official noted.

That's quite a generous payment for consulting on a choosing a location for a convention that's three years away. Indeed, at this rate, by the time of the next Republican convention, the RNC will have paid Schiller's firm $500,000.

Let's also note that $15,000 a month -- for "security services" -- is more than Schiller made as a White House employee.

Schiller's role in Trump World has long been a little hard to explain. Schiller used to serve as the head of Trump's private security detail, until last year, when he became the president's "full-time physical gatekeeper" at the White House.

In May 2016, it was Schiller who personally went to FBI headquarters to deliver the paperwork firing then-director James Comey, who was in California at the time.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

Trump finds new way to undermine the health care market

02/21/18 03:20PM

During Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's confirmation hearings a few months ago, Donald Trump's cabinet choice told senators he hadn't seen "any effort to sabotage" the Affordable Care Act.

Given just how far the Trump administration has been willing  to go to undermine the existing health care system, I can only assume Azar hasn't been looking very hard. The trouble is, the efforts are still very much underway.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it is moving to expand the use of low-budget temporary insurance, which could offer customers a cut-rate alternative to plans on the Affordable Care Act's exchange, but undermine more comprehensive insurance for others.

The proposed rule, which stems from an executive order by President Donald Trump, would allow people to buy short-term plans for up to a year instead of just the three months previously allowed. Unlike the ACA's plans, they are not required to cover pre-existing conditions, cover specific treatments, or provide unlimited benefits.

At face value, this may seem unimportant. If some consumers want to buy cheap, bad insurance for their primary coverage for a year, that shouldn't have much of an effect on everyone else, right?

Wrong. Anything that encourages younger and healthier people to move toward lower-cost, lower-coverage plans -- largely because they're less concerned about their health -- creates an alternative market, leaving everyone else with the better-but-more-expensive coverage offered through ACA-approved plans. (As Jonathan Cohn reminds us, short-term plans "are generally not available to people with pre-existing conditions.")

And once more young and healthy consumers exit the marketplace for these other plans, it raises costs because insurers have to pay more for older and less-healthy consumers. This isn't speculative: insurers have already told federal officials this will happen.

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks to media outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2016. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Marco Rubio becomes 'the face of congressional inaction' on guns

02/21/18 12:59PM

Without giving too much away, the main character in the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," rents three billboards in order to pressure a local sheriff to solve her daughter's murder. It became the basis for real-life activism in Miami last week, with three new signs in Miami that collectively read, "Slaughtered in school ... and still no gun control? How come, Marco Rubio?"

To be sure, the Florida Republican is hardly the only policymaker who's done no meaningful policymaking on gun violence, but as the Washington Post  reported, Rubio has become "the face of congressional inaction" on the issue.

He called it "heartbreaking" and said he was devastated. Dozens killed or injured in a shooting rampage that shook Florida and the nation — and "deeply impacted" him as he considered his political future.

Twenty months passed. Then, it happened again. Another mass killing.

Now, Marco Rubio has become the face of congressional inaction on tougher gun restrictions, especially to the students who survived the deadly Valentine's Day shooting at a Florida high school.

As the article referred to, part of the problem likely stems from the senator's political tactics in 2016. After his presidential campaign failed rather spectacularly, Rubio categorically ruled out another Senate campaign. The Floridian changed his mind, however, after the mass shooting in Orlando that summer.

Indeed, the day after the murders, Rubio said, "I think when it visits your home state, when it impacts a community you know well, it really gives you pause to think a little bit about your service to your country and where you can be most useful to your country."

Though it seems like an awfully convenient excuse for a politician to extend his career, voters tolerated the dramatic flip-flop and Rubio won fairly easily. His service to his country nevertheless included no meaningful efforts to stem the tide of gun violence.

The frustrations grew last week when the senator, just one day after the massacre in Parkland, delivered remarks on Capitol Hill that dismissed the efficacy many proposed gun reforms.

That said, Rubio, who has an "A+" rating from the National Rifle Association, seems reluctant to be seen doing literally nothing, and Politico  reported yesterday on the GOP senator's latest idea:

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.21.18

02/21/18 12:00PM

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

* Though some recent polling suggests Democrats have lost much of their lead on the generic congressional ballot, the new Quinnipiac poll shows Dems leading Republicans by 15 points, 53% to 38%. Two weeks ago, Quinnipiac found Dems ahead by nine points.

* Republican officials in the state of Washington had scheduled a fundraiser with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) in which they'd auction off an AR-15 rifle. The party has since changed its mind.

* For reasons I don't fully understand, Our Revolution, the progressive activist group that grew out of Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign, endorsed Dennis Kucinich yesterday in Ohio's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

* Rep. Steven Fincher (R) ended his Senate campaign in Tennessee the other day, and instead urged incumbent Sen. Bob Corker (R) to un-retire in order to seek another term. Corker is reportedly weighing his options, and will announce a final decision this week.

* Donald Trump yesterday lashed out at Rachel Crooks, a Democratic state House candidate in Ohio, who's accused the president of sexual misconduct. Crooks responded via Twitter, "Please, by all means, share the footage from the hallway [in Trump Tower] outside the 24th floor residential elevator bank on the morning of January 11, 2006. Let's clear this up for everyone."

* The progressive Save My Care campaign launched a new television ad yesterday slamming Republicans over health care. The commercial is part of a "six-figure" ad buy.

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

Top official in Trump's HHS exposed as fringe conspiracy theorist

02/21/18 11:20AM

Donald Trump has a deeply unfortunate habit of appointing strange and unqualified people to important governmental positions. CNN reported yesterday on one of them running into some career-threatening trouble.

A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services has been placed on administrative leave after a CNN KFile inquiry while the agency investigates social media postings in which he pushed unfounded smears on social media.

Jon Cordova serves as the principal deputy assistant secretary for administration at HHS. A KFile review of Cordova's social media accounts found that he pushed stories filled with baseless claims and conspiracy theories, including stories that claimed Gold Star father Khizr Khan is a "Muslim Brotherhood agent" and made baseless claims about Sen. Ted Cruz's personal life.

This guy isn't just some intern with limited policy influence. After a year at HHS, Cordova reportedly oversees day-to-day operations for the Office of Human Relations, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Office of Security and Strategic Information, Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance and Operations Office and the Program Support Center.

And yet, based on CNN's piece, Cordova has also peddled some pretty ugly nonsense about African Americans, Democrats, Muslims, and assorted conspiracy theories about various companies, including, oddly enough, Budweiser, which he accused of supporting "jihadis" over white immigration.

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Man holds a gun in the exhibit hall of the George R. Brown Convention Center, the site for the NRA's annual meeting in Houston, Texas

Support for new gun laws reaches new heights

02/21/18 10:51AM

I've been reading polls for quite a while, and I don't recall ever seeing an issue on which 97% of Americans agree. We're a big, diverse country, with all kinds of competing ideas, which lead to contentious fights, so the idea that 97% of us can agree on a controversial issue simply seems unrealistic.

It's one of the reasons the latest national Quinnipiac University poll stood out.

American voters support stricter gun laws 66 - 31 percent, the highest level of support ever measured by the independent Quinnipiac University National Poll.... Today's result is up from a negative 47 - 50 percent measure of support in a December 23, 2015, survey by the independent Quinnipiac University Poll.

Support for universal background checks is itself almost universal, 97 - 2 percent, including 97 - 3 percent among gun owners.

The same poll went on to note that two-thirds of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons; two-thirds of Americans believe it's too easy to buy a gun in this country; and 83% support a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.

Meanwhile, 75% of Americans believe Congress "needs to do more to reduce gun violence."

And yet, one need not be a cynic to be skeptical about the legislative prospects of meaningful reforms to our gun laws. At least for now, Republicans control the levers of federal power -- which means the odds of modest changes are poor, and the odds of dramatic changes are significantly worse.

We talked a bit yesterday about the structural considerations that lead Republicans to frequently ignore the wishes of the American mainstream, but the Quinnipiac results bring the issue into sharper focus: we're not just talking about an issue with broad popularity; issues like universal background checks have the backing of nearly the entire country.

So why aren't political leaders rushing to deliver results on the only issue on the landscape that has the backing of 97% of the public? It's probably because they believe polls like these only offer part of the story.

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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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