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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 9.20.17

09/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Puerto Rico: "Hurricane Maria knocked out power to every electricity customer in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, the governor's office said, as the monster storm lashed the economically strained U.S. territory, ripping roofs off buildings and flooding homes."

* Related news: "Dominica's main hospital 'took a beating' from Hurricane Maria while buildings serving as shelters had their roofs ripped off, an official said as the first images showing the devastation unleashed by the storm emerged Wednesday."

* Mexico: "The hunt for dozens of missing children at a Mexico City school partially flattened by a powerful earthquake became a race against time on Wednesday as the death toll rose to at least 225."

* Trump-Russia, Part I: "The document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller's investigation, and show that several aspects of his inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump's behavior in the White House."

* Trump-Russia, Part II: "The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering everything from the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director to his White House's handling of a warning that President Trump's then-national security adviser was under investigation, according to two people briefed on the requests."

* Predictable: "Senate Republicans, abandoning a key fiscal doctrine, agreed on Tuesday to move forward on a budget that would add to the federal deficit in order to pave the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years."

* Louisiana: "A white man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was arrested Tuesday and accused of shooting and killing two black men in separate incidents that may have been racially motivated."

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

On health care, the GOP literally doesn't know what it's doing

09/20/17 12:57PM

A Bloomberg News report noted in passing yesterday that Senate Republicans are gearing up to pass a sweeping health care overhaul, but they're also "still trying to figure out what it's in the bill." It was practically the basis for an awkward joke: the GOP lawmakers who are ready to cast one of the most important votes of their careers are the same Republicans who have no idea what they're voting on.

And I mean that quite literally. Vox asked nine GOP senators yesterday to explain why Graham-Cassidy is a worthwhile proposal, and not one of them could come up with a good answer. Asked how the health care system would be better under this proposal, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) replied, "Look, we're in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we're headed toward the canyon.... So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is."

Axios reported this morning that Republicans have adopted a "Repeal first, ask questions later" posture.

Senate Republicans are on the verge of passing a sweeping health care bill not only without knowing what's in it, but without particularly caring. The political abstraction of "Obamacare" -- and the seven years of promises to "repeal Obamacare" -- have almost totally overshadowed even the broad strokes of policy, much less the details. [...]

"I am just in shock how no one actually cares about the policy any more," one GOP lobbyist told [Axios' Caitlin Owens].

A senior GOP aide added, "If there was an oral exam on the contents of the proposal, graded on a generous curve, only two Republicans could pass it. And one of them isn't Lindsey Graham."

Graham, of course, is one of the ostensible co-authors of the Graham-Cassidy plan that's likely to get a vote next week. (At his bill's unveiling, Bill Cassidy referenced actuarial values. Graham, demonstrating his interest in policy details, told reporters, "I've had to listen to this crap for two months.")

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.20.17

09/20/17 12:00PM

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

* Donald Trump reiterated his support for appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Alabama) this morning, not because the Republican is doing a great job, but because he's been "loyal and helpful" to Trump.

* Speaking of the Strange campaign, the appointed incumbent and his allies are "dramatically outspending" Roy Moore and his allies on Alabama's airwaves. The Republican primary runoff is now just six days away.

* And speaking of Roy Moore's campaign, the far-right candidate's website listed Phyllis Schlafly as one of his notable endorsements, despite the fact that Schlafly, the former Eagle Forum president, died over a year ago. By yesterday afternoon, her name was removed from Moore's list.

* In Virginia, which will hold its gubernatorial election in just eight weeks, the latest Quinnipiac poll found Ralph Northam (D) with a double-digit advantage over Ed Gillespie (R), 51% to 41%. Most recent statewide polling shows a more competitive contest.

* In Colorado, former Rep. Tom Tancredo -- remember him? -- has decided to rejoin the Republican Party and told the NBC affiliate in Denver this week he's thinking about running for governor next year.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Health care stakeholders to Republicans: Please stop

09/20/17 11:20AM

The circumstances are oddly familiar. For months, Republicans were desperate to take a sledgehammer to the American health care system; Jimmy Kimmel was making emotional pleas on the public's behalf; governors and patient advocates urged GOP lawmakers to change direction; and much of the political world scrutinized every syllable from Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, and a handful of others, wondering whether they'd put country over party.

And though many Americans probably thought the fight was over, here we are in mid-September, facing identical circumstances. The Washington Post reported:

Senate Republicans and the White House pressed ahead Tuesday with their suddenly resurgent effort to undo former president Barack Obama's signature health-care law, even as their attempt was dealt a setback when a bipartisan group of governors and several influential interest groups came out against the proposal.

Powerful health-care groups continued to rail against the bill, including AARP and the American Hospital Association, both of which urged a no vote. But it was unclear whether the opposition would ultimately derail the attempt, as key Republican senators including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they had yet to make up their minds.

Part of the challenge is knowing who, if anyone, congressional Republicans might listen to on the subject.

Do they care what governors think? Because if they do, a bipartisan group of governors yesterday urged GOP lawmakers to reject Graham-Cassidy. In all, at least six Republican governors -- representing Ohio, Nevada, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire -- have announced their opposition to the regressive plan.

Do GOP lawmakers care what doctors think? Because the American Medical Association has formally denounced the Graham-Cassidy legislation.

Do Republicans care what hospital administrators think? Because the American Hospital Association has announced its opposition, too.

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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

One of Trump World's worst habits: burying inconvenient facts

09/20/17 10:40AM

No one likes to receive discouraging information that challenges his or her assumptions. It's a test of a person's intellectual integrity: confronted with evidence that conflicts with our preconceived ideas, do you ignore the evidence or think anew about your ideas?

When it comes to Donald Trump and his administration's approach to governing, the answer couldn't be much clearer.

It wasn't long after the president took office that the pattern first began. Rachel had an exclusive report in February, for example, on a leaked DHS Intelligence report with a striking finding: the basis for the president's Muslim ban was an unreliable way of preventing terrorism. Trump took that information, ignored it, and pursued his policy anyway.

This was not an isolated incident. The evidence shows ACA advertising is effective in getting Americans covered, but Trump World doesn't care. The evidence shows the Iran nuclear deal is working, but Trump World doesn't care. The evidence from the National Academy of Sciences, among others, shows the climate crisis is real, but Trump World doesn't care. And as the New York Times reported this week, the evidence shows welcoming refugees into the United States brings real benefits to the country, but Trump World doesn't care.

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number.... Advocates of the program inside and outside the administration say refugees are a major benefit to the United States, paying more in taxes than they consume in public benefits, and filling jobs in service industries that others will not. But research documenting their fiscal upside -- prepared for a report mandated by Mr. Trump in a March presidential memorandum implementing his travel ban -- never made its way to the White House. Some of those proponents believe the report was suppressed.

Imagine that.

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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) speaks to members of the media at the Capitol, Oct. 11, 2013.

Senate Republicans derail bipartisan health care compromise

09/20/17 10:00AM

The effort hasn't generated much attention, but in recent weeks, there have been meaningful bipartisan negotiations in the Senate on a compromise health care measure. As of late yesterday, however, that measure is now dead -- and it's important to understand why.

The top two members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) -- Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) -- have quietly been moving forward on an important bill, acting like you'd expect real senators to act. They've held real hearings, listened to real testimony, and have tried to find a real solution that both parties could live with. The emerging agreement was fairly narrow, but senators like John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the work and urged his colleagues to support it.

That won't happen. Yesterday, as TPM reported, the compromise measure was taken off the table.

Senators who have been working for months on a bipartisan bill to stabilize Obamacare's individual market and take away one of President Trump's ways to sabotage it are throwing in the towel, saying the GOP's last-minute effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act has ruined their chance of passage. [...]

The news broke a few hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the White House told Senate leaders on Tuesday that they oppose the stabilization bill and want all efforts focused on repeal.

Alexander told reporters, "I know how to get bipartisan results, but I'm not a magician. To get a bipartisan result on this before the end of September would mean I'd have to persuade 10 or 15 of my Republican colleagues, persuade Senator McConnell to put it on the floor, the House to pass it and the president to sign it."

With Republicans opposing the compromise, that window quickly closed. Patty Murray left no doubt that the GOP's repeal crusade was responsible for killing the bipartisan deal.

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Image: Tom Price

Tom Price's private-jet travel raises eyebrows

09/20/17 09:20AM

In September 2009, Tom Price, at the time a far-right congressional Republican, appeared on CNBC and railed against government use of private jets. Now, in September 2017, Politico has a report on that same Tom Price, the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, taking full advantage of private jets.

In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel.

The secretary's five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.

Price apparently didn't want to answer Politico's questions about this, but the magazine spoke to the organizations that hosted the HHS secretary and none of them paid for his travel -- raising the possibility that American taxpayers picked up the tab, though this detail hasn't yet been confirmed.

To be sure, the events Price attended clearly related to health care -- this isn't a "John Sununu took a government limo to a stamp auction" kind of story -- but it's not at all clear why the cabinet secretary couldn't use commercial travel like his predecessors did.

In fact, Politico found that for one of Price's trips -- from D.C. to Philadelphia -- there was "a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time," at a fraction of the cost. For that matter, as people from that area probably know, there are plenty of trains between D.C. and Philly. It's a quick trip, and it costs even less than the cheapest flight.

HHS didn't answer Politico's questions about just how many private charter flights Price has taken since taking over the cabinet agency, but the article added, "Current and former staffers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say Price has been taking private jets to travel domestically for months."

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Image: Jimmy Kimmel

Jimmy Kimmel: GOP's Cassidy 'lied right to my face' on healthcare

09/20/17 08:40AM

Several months ago, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel took on an unexpected role in the national health care debate, talking to his audience about his young son's heart surgery, and his belief that all Americans should have access to affordable, potentially life-saving, care.

Soon after, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) began referencing the "Jimmy Kimmel Test": for a health care proposal to have merit, the Louisiana Republican said, it should ensure families are covered regardless of income. Cassidy even appeared on Kimmel's show, vowing to protect Americans who need protecting.

That was then; this is now. Cassidy is currently pushing his own right-wing Graham-Cassidy legislation, which does largely the opposite of what he publicly vowed to do, and which clearly fails the "Jimmy Kimmel Test." Last night, the ABC host let the country know just how outrageous this is.

[I]n his monologue on Tuesday, Kimmel said that Cassidy "wasn't very honest," pointing to the legislation that Cassidy co-authored with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

"I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy," Kimmel said. "But when he was on this publicity tour, he listed his demands for a health-care bill very clearly. These were his words. He said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle-class families and no lifetime caps. Guess what? The new bill does none of those things."

The host added that "this new bill actually does pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, but a different Jimmy Kimmel test. With this one, your child with a preexisting condition will get the care he needs if, and only if, his father is Jimmy Kimmel. Otherwise, you might be screwed."

Before pleading with his audience to call Capitol Hill and urge lawmakers to defeat the bill, Kimmel went on to note that Cassidy "just lied right to my face."

It was a powerful monologue that's well worth your time, and if the public responds to it, the host may even help shape the direction of the debate. But stepping back, there was a line Kimmel used that got me thinking: "I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy."

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Trump uses RNC donor money to pay his Russia scandal legal bills

09/20/17 08:00AM

As the Russia scandal has intensified in recent months, Donald Trump has been forced to assemble an outside legal team, featuring a curious mix of attorneys who keep making embarrassing mistakes. What we didn't know until yesterday, however, is who's paying their bills.

Many assumed the president himself was footing the bill for his own legal team -- as a self-professed billionaire, he can afford it -- but as Reuters was first to report, it looks like Trump prefers to have Republican donors pick up at least some of the tab.

U.S. President Donald Trump is using money donated to his re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee to pay for his lawyers in the probe of alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Following Reuters exclusive report on Tuesday, CNN reported that the Republican National Committee paid in August more than $230,000 to cover some of Trump’s legal fees related to the probe.

RNC spokesperson Cassie Smedile confirmed to Reuters that Trump’s lead lawyer, John Dowd, received $100,000 from the RNC and that the RNC also paid $131,250 to the Constitutional Litigation and Advocacy Group, the law firm where Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s lawyers, is a partner.

As Rachel noted on last night's show, no other American president has ever used donor money this way -- a decision made all the more curious given Trump's vast independent wealth.

Making matters slightly worse, the Wall Street Journal reported overnight that the Republican National Committee has also helped pay for the legal defense of Donald Trump Jr.

Putting aside whether Republican donors will be comfortable with their contributions being used this way, is it legal for Trump to divert campaign money to his lawyers?

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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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