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EPA sidelining science under Trump, Pruitt

EPA sidelining science under Trump, Pruitt

06/28/17 09:43PM

Rachel Maddow looks at the dubious job Donald Trump's EPA is doing as a steward of the environment and tells the story of Deborah Swackhamer, chair of the E.P.A.’s Board of Scientific Counselors, who was pressured by an EPA official to change her testimony to Congress. watch

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 6.28.17

06/28/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* It's not over: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to send a revised version of his health-care bill to the Congressional Budget Office as soon as Friday, according to Capitol Hill aides and lobbyists."

* Sen. John McCain was asked today whether a deal on health care is possible by Friday. He replied, "Pigs could fly!" As it turns out, McCain used nearly the exact same words in January when asked about whether he could vote for Rex Tillerson's nomination. The senator voted to confirm him soon after.

* I hope you saw last night's segments on this: "A firm owned by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort disclosed more than $17 million in payments for its work in Ukraine in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing late Tuesday. The payments all occurred well before Manafort joined the Trump campaign."

* Indefensible: "Some Texas children with special needs ... have lost critical services since the state implemented $350 million in Medicaid cuts to speech, occupational and physical therapy in December. In Texas, reimbursement offered to providers fell up to 50 percent for certain therapy procedures, said Rachel Hammon, president of Texas Association of Homecare and Hospice. Clinics closed and therapists quit. The Texas cuts are separate from Republican proposals now before Congress, which academics say could cut federal Medicaid spending as part of a law to replace the Affordable Care Act."

* This is quite a story: "Representative Chris Collins suffered a paper loss of [$16.7 million] after Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. said a mid-stage trial of its experimental treatment for multiple sclerosis showed no effect in helping patients. The New York congressman is the biggest shareholder, with 17 percent of the Australian drugmaker. After the data was reported Tuesday, the shares fell 92 percent in Sydney to less than 5 Australian cents."

* Remember when Trump said the Ex-Im Bank shouldn't exist? "Financier Anthony Scaramucci, a prominent surrogate and fundraiser during President Donald Trump's campaign for the White House, has joined the embattled Export-Import Bank in a top position. Scaramucci became a senior vice president and chief strategy officer at the agency on June 19."

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Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Public support for Republican health care plan reaches new depths

06/28/17 01:12PM

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been publishing regular reports on the Affordable Care Act's public support for several years, and last week, it found something new. For the first time, a narrow majority of the country -- 51%, to be exact -- expressed a favorable view of the health care reform law. This is roughly in line with other polling showing "Obamacare" reaching new heights in popularity in recent months.

It's against this backdrop that Republicans are trying to replace an increasingly popular law with a strikingly unpopular alternative.

Just 12% of Americans support the Senate Republican health care plan, a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds, amid a roiling debate over whether the GOP will deliver on its signature promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In the survey, taken Saturday through Tuesday, a 53% majority say Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact.

The USA Today report added that while the vast majority of self-identified Republicans said they support repealing the ACA, only 26% of them expressed support for their own party's health care legislation.

The results are roughly in line with a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, also released today, which found only 17% of Americans support the Republican bill. [Update: A Quinnipiac poll, also released this afternoon, shows the GOP plan with 16% support. Fox News' new poll puts the number at 17%]

It's difficult to think of another major legislative initiative, attempted by either party in recent years, that's faced this kind of reception.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.28.17

06/28/17 12:15PM

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

* Donald Trump's re-election campaign will host a fundraiser tonight at D.C. hotel the president still owns and profits from.

* The pro-Trump group that planned to run negative ads against Sen. Dean Heller (R) in Nevada over his health care vote has changed course, pulling back from scheduled commercials.

* On a related note, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) communicated to Team Trump that he saw the ads against Heller, a vulnerable Republican incumbent in a swing state, as "beyond stupid." That said, the New York Times reported that the move against Heller "had the blessing of the White House."

* The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House Republican leadership's super PAC, is making known "its plans to spend millions tying Democratic House candidates to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in 2018."

* In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) appears well positioned in a new WBUR/MassINC poll, leading each of his likely Democratic challengers ahead of his 2018 re-election bid. Of the leading Dem contenders, state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) was the only one to keep the incumbent governor below 50%, but she still trails by 12 points.

* In a sign of the times, Virginia's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Ed Gillespie, was asked this week for his take on his party's health care overhaul pending on Congress. Gillespie was reluctant to talk about it.

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

A Trump lawyer's fundraising efforts generate new scrutiny

06/28/17 11:22AM

Jay Sekulow has long been a familiar name for those who understand the religious right movement, but the far-right attorney has a new public profile thanks to his latest position. Sekulow, who was the chief counsel for TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, now has a leadership role on Donald Trump's legal team in response to the Russia scandal.

With increased visibility, however, comes increased scrutiny. In Sekulow's case, that's not necessarily good news. The Guardian had this report yesterday;

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow [in June 2009] approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60 million to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Telemarketers for the nonprofit, Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case), were instructed in contracts signed by Sekulow to urge people who pleaded poverty or said they were out of work to dig deep for a "sacrificial gift".

And while that sounds bad, it's not the end of the story. The same report added that the collected donations helped "pay Sekulow, his wife, his sons, his brother, his sister-in-law, his niece and nephew and their firms."

And that's just one of the conservative lawyer's organizations. The Washington Post published a related report today that said the American Center for Law and Justice also received millions from Sekulow's Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism. That money, in turn, provided generous salaries to Sekulow's brother and nephew -- on top of the salaries they received from CASE.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

How the debate over pesticides unfolds in Donald Trump's 'swamp'

06/28/17 10:47AM

In his inaugural address, Donald Trump declared that, effective immediately, he was transferring power to "you, the people." The new president added, "For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.... That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you."

Trump didn't go into any detail about whom he was referring to, but there's ample evidence to suggest "the people" who were acquiring power were powerful corporate interests. Consider this Associated Press report, for example.

The Trump administration's top environmental official met privately with the chief executive of Dow Chemical shortly before reversing his agency's push to ban a widely used pesticide after health studies showed it can harm children's brains, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's schedule shows he met with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris on March 9 for about a half hour at a Houston hotel.

About three weeks later, Pruitt ignored the findings of his own agency's chemical safety experts to allow the use of Dow's chlorpyrifos pesticide on food. The AP's report added that EPA scientists concluded "ingesting even minuscule amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants."

A spokesperson for Pruitt's agency said that when he spoke to Dow Chemical's CEO, the two did not discuss the pending decision on the pesticide. The timing, apparently, is supposed to be seen as a coincidence.

A separate AP report noted in April, "Dow Chemical chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris is a close adviser to President Donald Trump. The company wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump's inaugural festivities.... When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow's chief executive was at Trump's side."

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Image: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump talks to members of the media at Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

Trump's embrace of 'fake news' takes an embarrassing turn

06/28/17 10:21AM

Donald Trump boasted a few months ago that "nobody" has been on the cover of Time magazine more than him. He made a similar claim, for reasons that still aren't clear, at CIA headquarters two months earlier. The assertion isn't even close to being true -- Richard Nixon holds the record -- but the president just keeps repeating it anyway.

It's possible, however, that Trump actually believes he set the record because he counts fictional Time magazine covers that feature his face. The latest gem from the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold ran yesterday:

The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least five of President Trump's clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

"Donald Trump: The 'Apprentice' is a television smash!" the big headline said. Above the Time nameplate, there was another headline in all caps: "TRUMP IS HITTING ON ALL FRONTS ... EVEN TV!"

This cover -- dated March 1, 2009 -- looks like an impressive memento from Trump's pre-presidential career. To club members eating lunch, or golfers waiting for a pro-shop purchase, it seemed to be a signal that Trump had always been a man who mattered. Even when he was just a reality TV star, Trump was the kind of star who got a cover story in Time.

It is, however, a fake. It's not clear who made the bogus cover, or whether Trump realized it's a fake or not, but a spokesperson for the company that publishes the magazine confirmed it's not real. That cover didn't exist on that or any other date.

I vaguely recall going to a bar mitzvah many years ago in which something very similar to this was a party attraction: kids, aged 12 to 14, could take turns having their picture taken, and the image would be superimposed onto a magazine cover with some kind of headline. It made for a cute little keepsake kids could take home after the event.

It never occurred to me that a grown man would frame such a picture, present it as real, and hang it in multiple public venues.

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Former Gov. Rick Perry prepares to address the National Press Club's Newsmaker Luncheon on his economic plan on July 2, 2015. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

The 'intellectual' debate Rick Perry says he wants is already over

06/28/17 09:20AM

Last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CNBC he considers his skepticism towards climate data to be a sign of a "wise, intellectually engaged person." Yesterday, at a press briefing at the White House -- it's apparently supposed to be "Energy Week" -- Perry used similar phrasing, calling for "an intellectual conversation" on global warming.

"Can we agree we ought to have a conversation as a people?" the Republican cabinet secretary asked. "Intellectually engaged, not screaming at each other, and not standing up in the middle of my speeches and saying you're a climate denier, when the fact is, I just want to have a conversation about this."

At face value, this may sound perfectly defensible. All Perry says he wants is a free exchange of ideas, with people of good faith sharing evidence as part of an open, deliberative process. Who's prepared to take a stand against reasoned discourse and polite discussions? If Perry wants a conversation, why not engage in one?

The answer, as The New Republic's Emily Atkin explained very well, is that Perry's posture is a sham.

Make no mistake: When Perry says he just wants an "intellectual conversation" about how much carbon dioxide impacts the climate, that is a lie. Or, in the most generous interpretation, it's a misunderstanding of what an "intellectual conversation" really is. Any intellectual person accepts that the scientific method is among society's most reliable tools for determining facts. And climatologists have overwhelmingly determined, by use of the scientific method, that carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of current climate change. Perry is unwilling to accept the scientific method. Therefore, an intellectual conversation is not what he wants.

What Perry does seem to want is further delay any actual intellectual conversation about climate change: a conversation that focuses on how best to solve it.

Quite right. Wise, intellectually engaged people have already wrapped up the conversation Rick Perry says he's eager to have. They've now moved on to different conversations about solutions, stop-gaps, consequences, and points of no return.

If Rick Perry wants to get up to speed and participate in those discussions, I'm sure he could find some scientists who'd donate their time and help him understand the issues about which he's still confused.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Dec. 12, 2016. (Photo by Susan Walsh/AP)

Republicans see bipartisan policymaking as the worst-case scenario

06/28/17 08:47AM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reportedly called Donald Trump on Monday to deliver what Politico described as "a reality check."

[F]ailing to repeal the law would mean the GOP would lose its opportunity to do a partisan rewrite of the law that could scale back Medicaid spending, cut Obamacare’s taxes and repeal a host of industry mandates.

Instead, Republicans would be forced to enter into bipartisan negotiations with Democrats to save failing insurance markets.

To hear GOP leaders tell it, the ongoing effort to approve a far-right health care overhaul is a strictly partisan enterprise, not because Republicans want to jam their bill down the nation's throat, but because those rascally Democrats just aren't interested in playing a constructive role.

At a Capitol Hill press conference yesterday, at which McConnell announced he'd scrapped plans for a vote this week, a reporter asked if the ongoing discussions about the future of the bill might involve Democratic senators. "They're not interested in participating in this," the Republican leader replied.

In that sentence, the word "this" is doing a lot of work.

If the point is that Senate Democrats won't help Republicans take health coverage from 22 million Americans, and force much of the country to pay more for worse insurance, then sure, Dems aren't interested in "participating in this." But to say there's no room for bipartisan talks is plainly wrong.

Democrats have practically been begging to work with Republicans on health care. They've put their appeals in writing for months. GOP leaders have thus far ignored every appeal.

And yet, the president and his allies continue to whine on a nearly daily basis that congressional Dems aren't "helping" on the issue. The question Republicans seem reluctant to answer is simple: do they want a cooperative, bipartisan effort or not?

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Image: First Lady Melania Trump Hosts A Celebration Of MilitaryMothers Event

Trump's ignorance about health care carries real consequences

06/28/17 08:00AM

A few months ago, when the House was trying to pass its far-right health care plan, Donald Trump thought some presidential pressure could help seal the deal. The president's ignorance about the basics of the debate, however, kept getting in the way.

Politico reported in March that when the president tried to lean on the far-right House Freedom Caucus, its members found Trump charming, but it became clear "that no serious changes were going to be made" during the conversations, because "the president didn't have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate."

Trump has had ample time to get up to speed in recent months, but by all appearances, he doesn't feel like it. The president hosted a meeting yesterday with Senate Republicans -- after GOP leaders scrapped a scheduled vote on the party's far-right plan -- and some came away with the impression that Trump still doesn't know what he's talking about. The New York Times reports today:

A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan -- and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.

Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later, ignoring the repeal's tax implications, the staff member added.

This isn't a point-and-laugh-at-the-amateur-president moment. There are practical consequences to Trump's ignorance.

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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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