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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 5.24.17

05/24/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Manchester: "The suicide bomber who killed 22 people after an Ariana Grande concert was part of a network that included his brother, who was arrested Wednesday as he was allegedly plotting a terrorist attack on the Libyan capital of Tripoli."

* Low expectations: "President Trump arrived in Belgium on Wednesday for an audience with the nation's king, a day ahead of meetings   with leaders of alliances he once derided as irrelevant — and many top officials here say they will count it a success if there are no blowups during the visit."

* Nice one, Pope Francis: "During an initially awkward meeting in Vatican City, Francis presented President Trump with a signed copy of 'Laudato Si' -- the pontiff's 192-page work calling for a new partnership between science and religion to combat human-driven climate change. In doing so, the pope seemed to make a clear statement to a president who once called climate change a Chinese plot and is on the cusp of deciding whether to honor the Paris agreement on addressing global warming."

* We may need to talk about this: "White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Wednesday said that tax receipts were coming in 'slower than expected' and that the federal government could run out of cash sooner than it had thought."

* What will I do with my unpublished item on why this would've been a ridiculous idea? "Former U.S. senator Joe Lieberman, who had risen to the top of President Trump's list of candidates to serve as the next FBI director, has fallen from the top tier amid concerns about bipartisan pushback to his nomination."

* The debate on this is overdue: "Forty Republican representatives who voted for the American Health Care Act held shares in health-care companies valued at $23 million and earned more than $2 million off those investments, a Daily Beast review of the most-recent financial records found."
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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

CBO: Republican plan would take health coverage from 23 million

05/24/17 05:15PM

The good news for House Republicans is that they won't have to vote again on their far-right health care plan. The bad news for GOP lawmakers is that the Congressional Budget Office's final report on the American Health Care Act shows that the party's plan would be disastrous for much of the country.

Here's the key paragraph in the CBO's newly published report:
CBO and [the Joint Committee on Taxation] estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under [the House Republican health plan] than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026.
Or put another way, if the House GOP plan became law, the ranks of the American uninsured would jump next year by 14 million Americans. Over the course of the decade, that number would grow to 23 million.

Keep in mind, if Congress simply took a sledgehammer to the Affordable Care Act, and replaced it with nothing, the CBO has found that 23 million Americans would lose their health coverage -- suggesting the Republican plan is comparable to doing nothing except destroying without legislating.

It gets worse. The new report that because the Republican proposal guts protections for essential-health benefits, people living in effected states "would experience substantial increases in out-of-pocket spending on health care or would choose to forgo the services." This would have a particular impact on those who rely on "maternity care, mental health and substance abuse benefits, rehabilitative and habilitative services, and pediatric dental benefits," who would be forced to pay "thousands of dollars" more than under the ACA.
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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

At what point does the Russia scandal become too hot for the GOP?

05/24/17 01:03PM

The investigation into Donald Trump's Russia scandal is ongoing, but what we already know is rather breathtaking.

A foreign adversary attacked our election and helped elect its favored candidate. The president's claims that no one from his team was in contact with Russia during its attack have been discredited. The president fired the director of the FBI because of his dissatisfaction with the ongoing investigation. Before the firing, the president reportedly urged the FBI director to go easy on his disgraced former national security advisor, who remains at the center of the controversy, and who's already pleaded the Fifth.

This week, we learned Trump also reportedly urged the director of national intelligence and the director the National Security Administration to publicly comment on the ongoing federal investigation, while White House officials "sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly" with the then-FBI director in order to "encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn." Yesterday, the former director of the CIA pointed to "contacts and interactions" between Russia and the Trump campaign that he found alarming, despite Trump's assurances that no such communications occurred.

To borrow a cliché, we've worked our way through the smoke and arrived at some fire. Standing above the flame is a sitting president who seems eager to boast, "Look at this yuge fire I set. Isn't it tremendous?"

Under the circumstances, the question isn't whether Trump has put his presidency in jeopardy; it's what more congressional Republicans need to see before they agree it's time for Trump's term to meet a premature end. As of yesterday, GOP lawmakers, who are well aware of each of the aforementioned details, effectively said they're not yet close to the threshold. Mother Jones' David Corn reported:
The Republicans still are not serious about investigating the Trump-Russia scandal. That message came through resoundingly when the House Intelligence Committee held a public hearing on Tuesday morning with former CIA chief John Brennan. [...]

Yet once again Republicans did not focus on the main elements of the story. When the Republicans on the committee had the chance to question Brennan, they did not press him for more details on Russia's information warfare against the United States. Instead, they fixated on protecting Trump.
At the hearing, one House Republican, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), sincerely tried to push the line that Russia actually used President Obama, not Trump, as a tool.
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.24.17

05/24/17 12:00PM

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

* For the first time this year, Democrats flipped a Republican seat in a legislative special election, narrowly winning a GOP seat yesterday in New Hampshire's state House.

* On a related note, about an hour later, we learned that Democrats also flipped a Republican seat in a New York special election, unexpectedly winning a state legislative seat on Long Island that voted heavily for Donald Trump in November.

* Montana's congressional special election is tomorrow, and Vice President Mike Pence has recorded a robo-call for Republicans in support of Greg Gianforte.

* Reflecting on the special election races, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján told reporters yesterday that the party faces "a tough road in Montana," though Rob Quist "continues to run a strong, Montana-focused campaign." Moments later, Lujan announced a $2 million investment in support of Jon Ossoff's campaign in Georgia.

* Despite the popularity of Maine's ranked-choice voting system -- better known as instant-runoff balloting -- the state Supreme Court yesterday unanimously struck down the voter-approved policy.

* Undeterred by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's (R) approval ratings, Newton Mayor Setti Warren (D), an Iraq War veteran, launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign the other day.
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Image: Trump Hosts Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi At The White House

Team Trump struggles to explain its 'egregious' math error

05/24/17 11:20AM

One of the most glaring problems with Donald Trump's new budget plan is that its architects are bad at arithmetic. Politico's Michael Grunwald explained:
Budget proposals always involve some guesswork into the unknowable, and administrations routinely massage numbers to their political advantage. But this proposal is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math, and in its accounting discrepancies amounting to trillions-with-a-t rather than mere millions or billions. [...]

Trump critics in the budget-wonk world are pointing to another $2 trillion of red ink as a blatant math error -- or, less charitably, as an Enron-style accounting fraud.
Budget fights can admittedly get a little wonky, but this one's pretty straightforward: Trump's White House unveiled a budget plan that double-counts $2 trillion. The president and his right-wing budget director, House Freedom Caucus co-founder Mick Mulvaney, specifically counts on $2 trillion in revenue to eliminate the deficit that the administration also devotes to paying for Trump's tax cuts.

Harvard economist Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary and National Economic Council director in the previous two Democratic administrations, wrote in the Washington Post that this represents "the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them." Summers added that the mistake is "a logical error of the kind that would justify failing a student in an introductory economics course."

And while this is certainly a discouraging development for those hoping the White House is capable of rudimentary governmental competence -- $2 trillion isn't exactly a rounding error -- what makes this especially fascinating to me is what Trump World is saying now that "the mystery money" problem has been exposed.
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Image: FILES-US-POLITICS-BUDGET

House Republican 'moderates' fracture in the wake of health care dispute

05/24/17 10:51AM

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), as much as any individual in D.C., rescued the Republican Party's radical health care plan from legislative failure. Now he's facing the consequences.

The backlash in MacArthur's home state of New Jersey has already been harsh -- the American Health Care Act's impact on the Garden State is especially brutal -- and yesterday, the GOP lawmaker parted ways with the Capitol Hill caucus he'd been tasked with leading. Politico was the first to report on MacArthur's departure from the Tuesday Group.
Rep. Tom MacArthur resigned Tuesday as co-chairman of the caucus of GOP moderates known as the Tuesday Group in the wake of deep divisions among its members over the House Obamacare replacement bill he helped craft.

"You can't lead people where they don't want to go," MacArthur said Tuesday morning in an interview with POLITICO New Jersey. "I think some people in the group just have a different view of what governing is."
MacArthur, who announced his resignation during the group's regular gathering yesterday after just five months at the helm, conceded that the Tuesday Group "is divided."

The argument that the health care fight is bringing Republicans together with a sense of common purpose is looking a little shaky. Indeed, the opposite appears to be true.

And while it's not yet clear who'll take the reins at the Tuesday Group, MacArthur's resignation offers its members an opportunity to ask themselves an important question: what exactly is the role of an ostensible "centrist" in a Congress where radicalized Republicans are in charge?
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Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines' president, speaks during the Philippine Economic Forum in Tokyo, Japan, on Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump's chat with Philippine President Duterte raises alarms

05/24/17 10:03AM

We learned in late April that Donald Trump had a pleasant chat with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and invited the murderous autocrat to visit the White House. The Washington Post reports on a new transcript of the conversation, which makes matters worse.
[Duterte's] administration has overseen a brutal extrajudicial campaign that has resulted in the killings of thousands of suspected drug dealers. Trump has not spoken out against that strategy, and in their call he praised Duterte for doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem."

"Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that," Trump said, according to the transcript.
In fact, the transcript shows the American president brought this up unprompted. Trump simply thought it'd be a good idea to get the ball rolling with praise for Duterte's most indefensible policy.

In case anyone needs a refresher, the authoritarian Filipino president has been accused of a series of extrajudicial killings, and just last week, a lawyer in the Philippines asked the International Criminal Court in The Hague to charge Duterte and officials in his government “with mass murder and crimes against humanity.”

In addition to accusations about relying on death squads in his native country, Duterte has threatened to assassinate Filipino journalists, boasted about personally executing people without so much as a hint of due process, and before taking office, spoke openly about his willingness to commit rape. Let’s also not overlook the time Duterte compared himself to Adolf Hitler.

Just as alarming, the point of the Trump-Duterte chat was apparently to discuss North Korea, and the American president bragged during the call that there are "two nuclear submarines" off the coast of the Korean peninsula.
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Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) arrives in the Capitol for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon on June 28, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Senator: GOP is writing health care bill in secret, without experts

05/24/17 09:20AM

Later today, the Congressional Budget Office will release its report on the final House Republican health care plan, which passed the lower chamber a few weeks ago. That CBO "score" will initiate a new round of policymaking in the Senate, where the chamber's health care working group -- 13 conservative white guys -- have been quietly crafting their own legislation.

In fact, "quietly" is a polite way of describing the Senate process. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted on as much secrecy as he can muster, and he's made a deliberate decision to exclude all Senate Democrats -- 48% of the chamber, representing more than 50% of the country -- from the deliberations. (There is some irony to the fact that Donald Trump is looking for ways to force Democrats to the negotiating table, while GOP leaders block Dems from reaching that table.)

Making matters quite a bit worse, one Republican senator shed new light on just how ridiculous his party's process has become. The HuffPost reported:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday unexpectedly torched his party's process for crafting an Obamacare repeal bill behind closed doors.

"It's a very awkward process, at best," he told reporters. "There are no experts. There's no actuarials.... Typically, in a hearing, you'd have people coming in and you'd also have the media opining about if a hearing took place, and X came in and made comments."
The Tennessee Republican reportedly added that a public process generally helps "shape policy."

Imagine that.
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Image: Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In St. Augustine, Florida

On entitlements, Trump arrives at his 'Read My Lips' moment

05/24/17 08:40AM

In 1988, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush was seen by some in his party as too moderate, and he sought to assuage those concerns by vowing not to raise taxes. It became a central pillar of Bush's national campaign: "Read my lips," he said. "No new taxes."

It was a promise Bush decided not to keep. The Republican, needing to cut a budget deal with a Democratic Congress, eventually agreed to some tax increases, reluctantly abandoning his pledge because, as Bush saw it, Democratic lawmakers didn't leave him with much of a choice.

Nearly three decades later, Donald Trump is in the White House, and with the unveiling of his new budget, another Republican president has arrived at a "read-my-lips" moment of his own.

As a candidate, Trump took care to separate himself from the GOP field and his party's orthodoxy by making a promise other Republicans wouldn't consider and didn't believe:
"I'm not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I'm not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican's going to cut, and even if they wouldn't, they don't know what to do because they don't know where the money is. I do. I do."
In his campaign kick-off speech, Trump said he'd make no cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. He bragged about the vow via Twitter, over and over and over again.

These promises helped Trump enormously -- the social-insurance programs are broadly popular, even among Republican voters -- and played a key role in the inexperienced television personality's bid to win the GOP nomination and ultimately the presidency.

And now Trump is throwing his vow aside, not as part of some tough negotiations with political rivals, but because he feels like it.
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Russia scandal reaches new level: Donald Trump lawyers up

05/24/17 08:00AM

When a political scandal grows more serious, and powerful officials grow anxious about the direction of an ongoing investigation, we tend to reach the "lawyer up" phase: the point at which the powerful hire outside counsel to represent their interests.

In the Russia scandal, Donald Trump has now reached this stage.
President Donald Trump is expected to retain Marc Kasowitz as private attorney on matters related to the Russia investigation, sources familiar with the decision told NBC News Tuesday.

Kasowitz has represented Trump in the past. Fox Business and ABC News earlier reported that Trump was expected to retain Kasowitz in relation to the Russia investigation.
Note, Kasowitz will represent Trump as an individual. This is separate from the White House's counsel's office, currently led by Don McGahn, which oversees legal matters related to the presidency.

Kasowitz is a curious choice. The New York attorney does not, for example, have a background in constitutional or defense cases -- whether the president will face specific legal allegations remains unclear -- though he has represented Trump in a variety of civil cases, "including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University."

When Trump sued a New York Times reporter who wrote a book claiming Trump isn't actually a billionaire, it was Kasowitz who oversaw the doomed case. (Trump sued for $5 billion, but his case went nowhere) When Trump was furious with the New York Times for publishing a piece about women who accused him of sexual misconduct, it was Kasowitz who sent an angry letter demanding a retraction. (There was no retraction.)

What's more, as Rachel noted on last night's show, the big high-profile case that Kasowitz has been involved with since Trump became president was representing ... wait for it ... Russia's largest state-controlled bank, which is called Sperbank.
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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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