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Image: Trump, flanked by Kushner, Pence and Porter, welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington

Trump giving broad new powers to his inexperienced son-in-law

03/27/17 10:40AM

Jared Kushner has long been a curious choice to serve as a senior adviser to the president, but his apparent promotion within the White House is even tougher to explain.

Donald Trump relied on his son-in-law as a confidant during last year's campaign, so it stood to reason that Kushner would have a role in the White House, but he's a 36-year-old lawyer with a background in real estate. Kushner's background in government and/or politics is effectively non-existent, and there have long been questions about whether his job is at odds with existing anti-nepotism laws.

But in a striking new piece, the Washington Post reports that Kushner's power and portfolio are poised to expand.
President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises -- such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction -- by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions.

The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump. Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.
There was a point, early on in the Obama presidency, in which Republicans feigned apoplexy about so-called "czars." The Democratic president appointed a series of officials to tackle issue-specific challenges, which GOP lawmakers considered outrageous. As the Republican line went, these people were accountable only to Obama, not the public or their representatives, and the nature of their responsibilities were deemed an abuse of policymaking process.

Now, however, Donald Trump wants his inexperienced son-in-law to oversee "a SWAT team of strategic consultants" to start making policy outside the existing legislative and regulatory framework, answering only to Trump.

I'm starting to think Republican whining about Obama-era "czars" and "tyranny" wasn't wholly on the level.
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U.S. President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump keeps demanding credit for Obama's successes

03/27/17 10:00AM

Desperate for a little good news, Donald Trump seemed eager to boast on Friday about a company called Charter Communications moving forward with plans to add 20,000 jobs in the United States. Soon after, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer bragged about the news from the briefing room podium, and the White House's communications office sent out a press release, pointing to the news as proof of a president who's "delivering on jobs for the American people."

Just on the surface, this entire approach makes Trump appear more like a mayor than a president. It's a massive country with the world's largest economy, and individual companies are going to sometimes hire and fire people. Trump seems to think he can claim credit for every piece of positive economic news, which is plainly silly.

But in the case of Charter Communications, it's actually worse, because as the Washington Post noted, these jobs were actually announced in the Obama era, and had nothing to do with Trump.
[P]arts of that pledge by Charter chief executive Tom Rutledge had already been made months ago.... [T]here is little evidence to suggest the Trump administration played a major role in securing those commitments.

Charter had announced those intended hires as far back as October, and the jobs -- which will largely be filled by customer service workers -- are "new" only in the sense that they have yet to be filled.
Oh. So the jobs Trump is pretending to create were actually announced before the election, when Obama was in office. Trump is trumpeting the hires now, hoping to take credit for jobs he had nothing to do with, while simultaneously hoping the public won't know the difference.

Worse, this keeps happening.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Following failure, Paul Ryan's reputation may never be the same

03/27/17 09:20AM

A month ago today, CNN ran a report on House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) efforts to prepare his party to advance an ambitious far-right agenda. The piece described the Wisconsin congressman as a "legendary wonk."

Not just a wonk, mind you, but a legendary wonk.

The phrasing was a striking reminder of Ryan's most impressive skill as a politician: convincing much of the Beltway establishment that he's a knowledgeable policy expert with few, if any rivals on Capitol Hill. Ask some of Ryan's admirers to point to any specific examples of the Speaker actually earning such a reputation, however, and they'll generally hem and haw -- because for those who care about the details, the fact that the GOP lawmaker speaks in complete sentences, and occasionally uses jargon that makes him appear knowledgeable, is not enough to mask the fact that Ryan isn't a wonk, a legend, or even an especially capable Speaker of the House.

If there's any justice, the failure of the ridiculous health care bill that Ryan wrote behind closed doors, and then failed to persuade his own members to support, should do permanent damage to the Speaker's standing. The New Republic's Jeet Heer noted last week that the demise of the American Health Care Act "should strike at the real root cause of the mess: The powerful, persistent Washington myth that Ryan is a policy genius."
Paul Krugman called him a "flimflam man," pointing out that the numbers Ryan touted in his imaginary budget didn't add up, with the proposed tax cuts creating much bigger deficits than Ryan acknowledges. The AHCA fiasco vindicates Krugman's harsh judgment. The "reform" was hated not just by Democrats but by actual Republican policy wonks -- people who were critical of Obamacare, but saw the AHCA as doing nothing to make it better. [...]

Ryan has been a scammer all along. He's not a more serious Republican who offers a welcome relief from the frothing of the Tea Party. He's an Ayn Rand acolyte who fully shares the agenda of the hard right on economic matters. And his long con is now obvious for all the world to see. "Never give a sucker an even break," W.C. Fields used to say. Anyone who continues to think of Paul Ryan as a legislative wizard or a serious policy thinker richly deserves to be called "sucker."
We are, after all, talking about a Speaker who put together a presentation a couple of weeks ago at which he seemed baffled by the literal definition of "insurance."

The Guardian added that Ryan's bill was such "a horrendous concoction" that it should "disabuse fawning congressional reporters of the notion that the speaker is a man of deep intellect and self-reflection."
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Image: President Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Price and Vice President Pence, in Washington

On public policy, Trump combines ignorance and indifference

03/27/17 08:42AM

The day before the Republican health care plan collapsed, Donald Trump met at the White House with some of the bill's House critics. As Politico noted, the president knew that the members had substantive concerns, but he didn't care.
Donald Trump had heard enough about policy and process. It was Thursday afternoon and members of the House Freedom Caucus were peppering the president with wonkish concerns about the American Health Care Act -- the language that would leave Obamacare's "essential health benefits" in place, the community rating provision that limited what insurers could charge certain patients, and whether the next two steps of Speaker Paul Ryan's master plan were even feasible -- when Trump decided to cut them off.

"Forget about the little s**t," Trump said, according to multiple sources in the room. "Let's focus on the big picture here."
This posture, not surprisingly, failed spectacularly. The "little s**t," as the president called it, referred to the substantive details of the health care debate that stood between success and failure. But Trump was dismissive, in part because he knew effectively nothing about the policy he was trying to pass, and in part because he didn't care to find out.

And it was the president's indifference that ultimately contributed to the outcome. The Politico piece added that while Freedom Caucus members found Trump charming, "it became clear ... that no serious changes were going to be made, because the president didn't have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate."

It's hard to overstate how frequently this assessment has served as a foundation that explains the failure of the GOP plan. We'll talk a little later about the broader blame game, but as the dust settles on the Republicans' health care collapse, perhaps the most important takeaway is that the party is proving itself completely incapable of governing, led by a post-policy president whose ignorance is standing in the way of his own agenda.

The New York Times' David Brooks, noting Trump's "lifelong indifference toward the mechanics of governance," spoke to one House Republican who conceded the president "did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure." The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza spoke to a GOP lawmaker who was less subtle: Republicans were generally astonished how "over his head" Trump was, understanding neither "the politics nor the policy" of the debate.
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In the wake of failure, Republicans eager to push tax cuts

03/27/17 08:00AM

The Republican effort to tackle health care reform was one of the more dramatic legislative fiascoes in recent memory, but GOP officials apparently don't intend to spend much too time licking their wounds. On the contrary, Republicans want to quickly make the transition to tax reform.

Politico had an interesting piece over the weekend, which quoted House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) on his party's plans.
Positing that health care was about to die, I asked Brady if re-writing the tax code would be any easier. "Tax reform is the hardest lift in a generation," he told me, shaking his head. "So that would be a big challenge."

"If you couldn't get health care done," I ask him, "how can you get tax reform done?"

Brady thought for a moment. "Every Republican is all-in on tax reform. We still have a lot of work. But it's just a natural issue for us in a very positive way."
And while on the surface that may sound compelling -- GOP lawmakers intend to move from one effort that cut taxes for the wealthy (health care reform) to a different effort to cut taxes for the wealthy (tax reform) -- Republicans also seemed united in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. As recent developments made clear, like-minded ambitions do not a legislative victory make.

So why would tax reform be "the hardest lift in a generation"? In part because of the scope and scale of the task: Republicans aren't just talking about tax cuts; they want to pass tax reform -- the first time since 1986 that federal policymakers have effectively tried to re-write the nation's tax code.

To be sure, the U.S. health care system, which affects one-fifth of the American economy, is incredibly difficult to overhaul. But the U.S. tax code affects nearly all of the economy, making it that much more challenging.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.24.17

03/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It really wasn't that close: "In the aftermath of his first major legislative defeat on healthcare, President Donald Trump is standing by his team, preaching confidence in House Speaker Paul Ryan and is still convinced of Obamacare's downfall. 'We were very close,' he told reporters Friday afternoon after the health care bill was pulled."

* Devin Nunes should probably find a different kind of job: "The chairman of the House intelligence committee has backed down from his dramatic assertion that Donald Trump and his aides were 'monitored,' by U.S. spies -- a claim the Republicans have cited this week in emails to loyalists."

* On a related note: "The two leaders of the House Intelligence Committee continued their back-and-forth Friday as tension mounts over the panel's inquiry into whether there were ties between Russia and Trump campaign officials as well as the Kremlin's potential meddling in the 2016 elections."

* The day's most jaw-dropping scoop: "Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, while serving as an adviser to the Trump campaign, met with top Turkish government ministers and discussed removing a Muslim cleric from the U.S. and taking him to Turkey, according to former Central Intelligence Agency Director James Woolsey, who attended, and others who were briefed on the meeting."

* Today wasn't a total loss for the White House: "Calling it a 'historic moment for North America,' President Donald Trump announced the federal government's approval Friday of the Keystone XL oil pipeline -- setting in motion a controversial project opposed by environmental groups, landowners and some Native American tribes."

* It's such a shame that it's come to this: "The largest school board in Canada said it won't be booking future trips to the United States, citing 'uncertainty' surrounding President Donald Trump's latest travel restrictions."
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Donald 'The Closer' Trump didn't know how to close the deal

03/24/17 04:58PM

Not long before launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump identified what he saw as his greatest strength. "Deals are my art form," the Republican boasted. "Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."

Many voters actually believed this. There was never any evidence that Trump actually excelled in negotiations or deal-making, but he kept talking about his expertise in a way that managed to persuade quite a few people.

The White House has only fed the hype. Sean Spicer bragged this week, in reference to the president, "He is the closer." Kellyanne Conway added that the GOP's health care plan would pass because it enjoys Trump's "presidential leadership." She added, "Some people suggested that he be the closer. Some people suggested that he be the lead-off batter."

It was, however, all nonsense. He started with an unrealistic promise to the nation that Trump would never be able to keep -- insurance for "everybody," which would be far better than the status quo, at a lower cost -- and he proceeded to break his commitments left and right. As the pressure mounted, the president further abandoned his own stated principles and effectively offered recalcitrant Republican all kinds of enticements, in exchange for nothing, which they discarded as pathetic.

Business Insider's Josh Barro, writing before the formal collapse of the American Health Care Act, explained quite well that the GOP bill struggled "because Trump is a bad dealmaker."
You don't walk into a negotiation and tell your counterparty that you're desperate to make a deal fast and on any terms. But Trump did just that, which is why Freedom Caucus members knew the White House was bluffing when it claimed the bill was closed and wouldn't be amended further.

Trump invited the Freedom Caucus to squeeze him dry. Weak! Bad!
To understand the costs of having a clueless, amateur president, look no further than today's developments.
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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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