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House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 23, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Paul Ryan accidentally tells the truth, rejects bipartisanship

03/30/17 10:00AM

The Republicans' recent health care effort ended in ignominious failure late last week, prompting a variety of GOP leaders to say they're eager to move on to other issues, most notably tax reform. And yet, many in the party continue to say the health care fight isn't in their rear-view mirror just yet.

There's been quite a bit of chatter this week about Republicans quietly renewing negotiations over health care, looking to salvage the GOP initiative. Indeed, Wall Street watchers noticed yesterday that hospital stocks saw a sharp decline, late in the afternoon, following a report that House Republicans might vote on a new bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, possibly as early as next week.

I'm skeptical anything will come of this -- the intra-party divisions that existed last week haven't gone away -- but House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) offered some insights as to why he and his members are still trying to push this boulder uphill.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said he does not want President Donald Trump to work with Democrats on new legislation for revamping the country's health insurance system, commonly called Obamacare.

In an interview with "CBS This Morning" that will air on Thursday, Ryan said he fears the Republican Party, which failed last week to come together and agree on a healthcare overhaul, is pushing the president to the other side of the aisle so he can make good on campaign promises to redo Obamacare.
Referring to Trump's newfound willingness to talk to Democrats about possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, Ryan told CBS, "I don't want that to happen." The Speaker added that if the White House were to pursue bipartisan policymaking, "that's hardly a conservative thing."

This has all the makings of a Michael Kinsley Moment: a politician making a mistake by accidentally telling the truth.
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View of the U.S. - Mexico border wall on November 19, 2014 in Calexico, California.

When it comes to Trump's vow to build a wall, read the fine print

03/30/17 09:20AM

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke raised a few eyebrows this week, conceding that Donald Trump's dream building a "big, beautiful wall" along the U.S./Mexico border may face some physical challenges that make the task impossible. The Associated Press reported yesterday:
"The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall," [Zinke] said in comments first reported by E&E News. "The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall? We're not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we're probably not going to put it in the middle of the river."
Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in some areas, Zinke said, while areas with imposing natural features may not require additional reinforcements.

I saw some commentary that suggested Zinke was referring to possible plans to build the wall on Mexican soil, since he said we're not going to put it in the middle of the river, and we're "not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico." That leaves the third option of building on the Mexican side, right?

Wrong. What the Interior Secretary was saying was in areas such as these, building a wall simply isn't a realistic option.

But while these details debunk some of yesterday's chatter, let's not brush past Zinke's assessment too quickly. Donald Trump continues to insist that he really is -- no kidding, he really means it -- committed to putting a giant, 2,000-mile border wall between American soil and Mexican soil. His administration has even begun inviting bids for the construction, and the White House expects Congress to appropriate some preliminary funding for the project before April 28.
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North Carolina

In North Carolina, the end of an error?

03/30/17 08:40AM

It was just last year that city officials in Charlotte approved a broad anti-discrimination measure, which included protections that allowed people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity. With remarkable speed and efficiency, then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and the Republican-led state legislature swiftly approved an LGBT state law, HB 2, to undo what Charlotte had done.

GOP officials were woefully unprepared for the culture-war backlash, which by some estimates, ended up costing the state dearly. It also contributed to Pat McCrory losing his job -- the Tar Heel State Republican was the only incumbent governor in either party to lose in 2016.

The current effort in North Carolina is cleaning up the mess. NBC News confirmed that state policymakers have reached an agreement to repeal the so-called "bathroom bill," but the solution is not without controversy.
The proposed reversal -- which will be debated and voted on Thursday -- has incensed gay-rights activists, who want nothing short of an unconditional repeal of the divisive House Bill 2.

This is because the new plan would not cancel out the legislation entirely but replace it with a new law. The new framework would give the state final say over multi-stall restrooms and ensure "women and girls should not have to share bathrooms with men," according to its backers.

Unimpressed, activists alleged the proposal was "simply another version" of the old law, and was merely an attempt by officials to stop the financial hemorrhage sparked by its passing.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D), an HB 2 opponent from the outset, told reporters last night, "It's not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation."
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Image: President Trump Departs White House To Honor NAVY Seal Killed in Yemen Raid

Trump prefers to keep power (literally) inside the family

03/30/17 08:00AM

Just a few days after the election, CBS News' Lesley Stahl interviewed members of Donald Trump's family and asked Ivanka Trump whether she'd be part of her father's administration. "No," she replied. "I'm going to be a daughter." Pressed further, the president's daughter said she'd fight for issues important to her, "but not in a formal administrative capacity."

Last week, that changed, with news that Ivanka Trump would get an office in the West Wing, but she wouldn't have an actual job on her father's team.

Yesterday, that changed again.
Ivanka Trump is now officially an employee of the U.S. government.

The White House announced Wednesday that she will take no pay and serve as an assistant to the president. The role comes after NBC News confirmed earlier this week that the first daughter would have an office in the West Wing.
I've seen some competing reports on her official title, with some accounts saying she'll be an "assistant to the president," while others say she'll be a "special assistant to the president." The distinction matters -- the former enjoys a higher rank than the latter -- but in either case, Ivanka Trump is poised to become an influential figure in the White House.

Indeed, it's not just the West Wing office. The president's adult daughter is already participating in meetings with foreign leaders – literally sitting next to Canada's Justin Trudeau and Germany's Angela Merkel during recent White House discussions – and building a policy portfolio, despite having about as much relevant experience in these areas as her father (which is to say, none).

There are all kinds of related questions that need answers, including potential controversies surrounding nepotism laws and ethical conflicts. Bloomberg Politics reported that Ivanka Trump "doesn't plan to divest from her brand of clothing and accessories as part of her compliance with ethics standards."

But it's also worth pausing to consider why, exactly, Trump is intent on keeping so much power literally within his family.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 3.29.17

03/29/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Bridgegate: "Former allies of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were sentenced to prison Wednesday for engineering lane closures at the George Washington Bridge as alleged retaliation against a Democratic mayor who didn't endorse the governor."

* For now, a model of professionalism: "The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the White House has not contacted them about the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election and vowed to conduct an independent probe as their counterparts in the House come under increased scrutiny."

* The ethics mess continues: "President Trump's company is actively seeking to open a second Washington hotel as part of a planned nationwide expansion, potentially creating another venue where he stands to benefit financially from customers doing business in the nation's capital."

* What a terrible shame: "In one of the most consequential diplomatic events in Britain since World War II, Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sent formal notice of the country's intention to withdraw from the European Union, starting a tortuous two-year divorce littered with pitfalls for both sides."

* On a related note: "Scottish lawmakers voted 69-59 in favor of an independence referendum Tuesday, setting Edinburgh on a collision course with the UK government."

* HHS Secretary Tom Price was asked today whether he's divested himself from all health care-related holdings. "The answer is yes," he responded. I wish I knew whether to believe that.

* NATO: "With the support of the Trump administration, the Senate took a swipe at Russia on Tuesday by voting to let one of Europe's smallest countries into NATO. The Senate approved Montenegro's bid to become a full-fledged member of the security alliance by an overwhelming vote of 97 to 2."

* White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer "offered sunny salutations and the first question of Wednesday's briefing to veteran correspondent April Ryan, an acknowledgement of sorts that yesterday's exchange, which some critics saw as sexist and patronizing, may have gone too far."
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History mandates presidential candidates release tax returns, but not how many

Republicans take new steps to keep Trump's tax returns secret

03/29/17 04:24PM

At a White House press briefing last week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer briefly flubbed a line before correcting himself. "I think there's a huge appetite," he said, "for tax returns, tax reform."

He meant to say the latter, not the former, but in a way, Spicer accidentally told the truth: the public appetite for Donald Trump's tax returns is real, and despite the ongoing efforts to keep the materials secret, calls for the president to be transparent, as all of his modern predecessors have been, aren't going away.

Neither are efforts to force Trump to disclose the materials he doesn't want the public to see. The Huffington Post reported:
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted down a measure offered by Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) to force President Donald Trump to release his tax returns to the committee.

In a party-line vote on Tuesday, 24 committee Republicans voted against the measure and 16 Democrats voted for it.
In case you're wondering why the GOP-led committee brought up the issue at all, Roll Call reported that it wasn't by choice: Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) had to bring up Bill Pascrell's bill, which would've directed the Treasury Department to provide lawmakers with the tax returns, because Dems forced the issue "under a procedural tool known as a resolution of inquiry."

But forcing a vote obviously doesn't produce a favorable outcome.

For those keeping score at home, this is the third time Republicans have been forced to vote on the issue, and in each instance, they've voted to help shield Trump from scrutiny. That's not terribly surprising, of course, but some of these GOP lawmakers have told their constituents they actually want Trump to release his returns.
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Red velvet drapes hang at the back of the courtroom at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Supreme Court fight stands at a crossroads

03/29/17 12:53PM

Despite various rumors to the contrary, Senate Democrats appear poised to subject Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination to a 60-vote standard. Politico reports that it's a threshold Donald Trump's choice for the high court isn't likely to reach.
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's path to 60 votes is rapidly closing -- setting the stage for a nuclear showdown in the Senate as soon as next week.

Senior Democratic sources are now increasingly confident that Gorsuch can't clear a filibuster, saying his ceiling is likely mid- to upper-50s on the key procedural vote.
To be sure, some Senate Dems are likely to vote with Republicans, at least on the cloture vote that would, in theory, end a filibuster and clear Gorsuch for an up-or-down floor vote. But Republicans would need more than eight of the 48 Senate Democrats to break ranks, and by all appearances, those votes appear unlikely to materialize.

The question then becomes what the Senate Republican majority intends to do about it. The probable outcome -- the GOP execute its own "nuclear option" -- would eliminate Supreme Court filibusters permanently, for both parties. The may be some reluctance among a few Republicans to do this, but to date, zero GOP senators are on record opposing the move.

In the meantime, Republicans are preparing for the showdown with a series of very bad arguments.

* Double standards: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said earlier this week, "We're not going to be treated by a double standard." Given that Cornyn and other Republicans refused to even give a hearing to Merrick Garland, a moderate, compromise nominee, here's a tip for the GOP: if you don't want to be laughed at, avoid references to "double standards."
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.29.17

03/29/17 12:00PM

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

* Making America Great, a group backed by Rebekah Mercer, a prominent Republican megadonor and Donald Trump supporter, is reportedly launching a new ad campaign targeting Democratic senators from states Trump won in 2016. Here's the ad, launched as part of a $1.3 million effort.

* In Georgia's congressional special election, Club for Growth Action is launching ads targeting the top Republican contender, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, for not being conservative enough.

* A new CBS News poll shows Trump with a 40% approval rating. The same results found House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) faring even worse with a 33% approval rating.

* Corey Stewart, who served as the Trump campaign's chairman in Virginia last year, is running an explicitly pro-Confederate gubernatorial campaign this year, including unfurling a Confederate battle flag at a recent event. "Folks, this is a symbol of heritage. It is not a symbol of racism. It is not a symbol of slavery," Stewart declared. "I'm proud to be here with this flag."

* On a related note, in Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial primary, former Rep. Tom Perriello has made his opposition to Trump a central message of his campaign. Asked about this, his primary rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, told Slate, "Donald Trump is a narcissistic maniac, and I will do all I can to keep his hate out of Virginia."
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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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