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American businessman Donald Trump leaves the stage after addressing the American Conservative Union's 42nd Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 27, 2015. (Photo by Pete Marovich/EPA)

For Donald Trump at CPAC, it's still 2016

02/24/17 01:09PM

During Donald Trump's appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) today, it was tempting to check the calendar to make sure we weren't watching a speech from last year. This was one of the more memorable moments of the presidential appearance:
TRUMP: The forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no longer.... Hillary called them deplorable. They're not deplorable.

AUDIENCE: Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!
That's right, nearly four months after Election Day, over a month after Inauguration Day, and with Team Trump facing a multi-agency investigation, far-right activists still have the same old, Pavlovian reaction to even a passing reference to Hillary Clinton.

As the president made clear today, we remain stuck in 2016 -- a year Trump seems to long for now that his presidency is off to such a disastrous start. At CPAC, the Republican reflected on his primary rivals, which pre-election polls he liked best, and the budget sequester that he still doesn't know how to pronounce.

Trump even made multiple references to "super-delegates," and alleged a conspiracy against Bernie Sanders that never existed in reality.

Repeating a familiar line, the president also declared, "By the way, you folks are in here -- this place is packed, there are lines that go back six blocks and I tell you that because you won't read about it, OK. But there are lines that go back six blocks." Trump used to use nearly identical boasts on the campaign trail, but outside of CPAC this morning, these lines existed only in his imagination. You won't read about it because it's fantasy.

He's like the boy who doesn't want to grow up and face adult responsibilities, except in this case, it's the 70-year-old president who doesn't want to let go of the campaign and face governing responsibilities.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.24.17

02/24/17 12:00PM

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

* On MSNBC yesterday, Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, ended his bid to be the next chair of the DNC, and threw his support behind Tom Perez. The election is tomorrow in Atlanta.

* With control of the state Senate on the line, Delaware will host a special election tomorrow. Though television ads in state legislative races are unusual, former Vice President Joe Biden is the star of a new ad in support of the Democratic candidate, Stephanie Hansen.

* Senate Democratic leaders announced this morning that after Donald Trump's presidential address to Congress next week, the Dems' response will be delivered by former Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. Astrid Silva, a DREAMer and immigration activist, will deliver the party's Spanish-language response.

* Despite some chatter to the contrary, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has decided not to run for president in 2020.

* American Bridge, a Democratic super PAC, is launching a digital ad campaign targeting Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) -- both of whom are up next year -- urging them to support an independent investigation of Donald Trump's Russia scandal.

* Speaking of progressive advertising, the "Save My Care" campaign has launched new television ads in support of the Affordable Care Act, featuring a Trump voter who explains that the reform law saved his life. The spots are set to run in Tennessee and Ohio, in the hopes of putting pressure on Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Rob Portman.
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Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, questions David Friedman, the acting head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during his testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.

Key congressman: It's 'a good thing' if more Americans lose coverage

02/24/17 11:20AM

Rep. Mike Burgess (R-Texas) chairs the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee related to health care, which makes his perspective on the issue rather important. If Republicans ever present their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, for example, Burgess' panel would be among the first to tackle the policy.

It was therefore rather striking yesterday when the far-right congressman appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and shared an unusual insight. BuzzFeed reported:
Burgess was asked about concerns that repealing Obamacare will lead to a drop in the number of people with health insurance. He responded that it would be a good thing because it means fewer people are subject to the individual mandate.

"First off, we're not going to send an IRS agent out to chase you down and make you buy health insurance," said Burgess. "So if the numbers (of insured people) drop I would say that's a good thing because we restored personal liberty in this country."
It's a fascinating perspective. It doesn't matter if the ACA is helping bring health security to millions of Americans; what matters, in Burgess' mind, is conservative ideological principles.

U.S. News' Robert Schlesinger noted in response, "If you listened to Burgess, you'd think that all or most of [the 20 million people insured by the ACA] were dragged kicking and screaming into the system and that they yearn for liberation from the tyranny of being able to afford catastrophic illness."

Burgess, however, isn't the only one reading from this script. Vice President Mike Pence said this week he wants to gut "Obamacare" in order to bring back "freedom." House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) added that his anti-ACA plans is based on a single principle: "Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need. Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your needs."
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Gabrielle Giffords testifies before a Washington state House panel Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.

Giffords offers advice to lawmakers afraid of their constituents

02/24/17 10:40AM

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) isn't a politician who generally has to worry about pushback from the left. The far-right congressman won re-election in the fall by more than 49 points, and the district he represents -- Texas' 1st -- is among the reddest in the country.

But Gohmert still doesn't want to hold a town-hall events for his constituents, and as the Washington Post noted, the Texas Republican pointed to a specific excuse for his decision.
As Republican lawmakers across the country have faced raucous, chaotic town halls in recent days, a number have refused to have these events. Some cited safety as a reason, while others said they didn't want their events "hijacked" by the confrontations seen elsewhere.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), in a statement released this week, blamed his decision not to hold these events in person on "the threat of violence at town hall meetings." He also pointed to a specific violent event to bolster his case, invoking the 2011 shooting that severely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others.
"Threats are nothing new to me and I have gotten my share as a felony judge," he said in a written statement. "However, the House Sergeant at Arms advised us after former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot at a public appearance, that civilian attendees at Congressional public events stand the most chance of being harmed or killed -- just as happened there."

By this reasoning, of course, members of Congress, six years after the Giffords shooting, shouldn't hold any public appearances.

This prompted Giffords herself to speak up and push back.
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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Trump administration's infrastructure plans start to unravel

02/24/17 10:13AM

Of all of Donald Trump's grand ideas, the Republican's dream of a massive infrastructure package seemed almost plausible. "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals," Trump vowed the night he won the election. "We're going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

Democrats thought that sounded pretty good, and they even unveiled their own proposal to mirror Trump's goals and demonstrate that the minority party was serious about tackling the issue.

But as president, Trump's focus has shifted away from areas of bipartisan consensus. Axios reported yesterday that the Capitol Hill calendar is already "way overstuffed," so Republicans are moving forward with a different infrastructure strategy in mind.
[The plan is to] push off until next year any consideration of the massive infrastructure plan Trump wants to push for roads, airports and other big projects, giving Republican lawmakers more breathing room amid a crowd of issues that'll require massive effort, time and political capital. [...]

Republican strategists say that Democrats, who'll be reluctant to give Trump a win, will be in a jam as midterm elections close in: They'll be under huge pressure to support big projects that'll bring money and improvements to their districts. And blue-collar unions, including construction and building trades, can be expected to favor of the package, driving a wedge into the Democratic base.
As political strategies go, this is ... odd. Trump could pursue this popular goal now -- instead of, say, fighting to take Americans' health care benefits away -- but according to these Republican sources, the White House prefers to use the plan as an election-year prop in 2018.

And that wouldn't necessarily be absurd -- interesting things can happen when election-year pressures rise -- were it not for the fact that the entire plan appears based on faulty assumptions.
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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

As support for 'Obamacare' goes up, Trump's backing goes down

02/24/17 09:20AM

Mike Pence spoke to the far-right CPAC audience yesterday, and the vice president spoke with pride about his party's intentions to destroy the Affordable Care Act. "America's Obamacare nightmare is about to end," he declared. "Despite the best efforts of liberal activists around the country, the American people know better."

Pence, who's often confused about key aspects of the health care debate, may want to take a closer look at what the American people know.
With congressional Republicans discussing proposals to replace the Affordable Care Act, public support for the 2010 health care law has reached its highest level on record.

Currently, 54% approve of the health care law passed seven years ago by Barack Obama and Congress, while 43% disapprove, according to a national Pew Research Center survey.... The new survey finds that when those who disapprove of the law are asked about what should happen to it now, more want GOP congressional leaders to focus their efforts on modifying the law than on getting rid of it.
This data from the Pew Research Center coincides with new results from a Quinnipiac poll, which found a sharp shift in Americans' attitudes against repealing the ACA. Shortly before the president's inauguration, Quinnipiac found 48% of Americans supported Trump's efforts to repeal the reform law, while 47% opposed. Now, those numbers are largely reversed: 54% oppose repeal, while 43% support it.

A brand new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation also shows the reform law with its strongest support since 2010.

Of the 10 most surveys gauging public attitudes about the ACA, all 10 have shown a net favorable rating for "Obamacare."

But to appreciate the shift in an even broader context, consider how much more popular the Affordable Care Act is than the president who's eager to tear it down.
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House abandons consistency when applying alleged principles

02/24/17 08:40AM

At yesterday's White House press briefing, Sean Spicer was asked about the Trump administration's shift away from protections for transgender kids. The president's spokesperson had a talking point he repeated over and over again.

"It's a states' rights issue," Spicer said. "And that's entirely what [Donald Trump] believes -- that if a state wants to pass a law or rule, or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state rule, that's their right. But it shouldn't be the federal government getting in the way of this." He added, "We are a states' rights party. The president on a lot of issues believes in these various issues being states' rights."

In all, the press secretary referred to "states' rights" eight times yesterday.

Spicer, however, did not use the phrase when the discussion turned to marijuana use.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said he expects the Justice Department to increase enforcement of laws prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana, a departure from the Obama administration's less aggressive stance as states began legalizing recreational as well as medical use of the drug.

"There are two distinct issues here: medical marijuana and recreational marijuana," Spicer told reporters Thursday. "There's still a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature."
Asked if the Trump administration intends to take action in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the press secretary said, "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement" of existing federal law.

In other words, the Trump White House is absolutely committed to states' rights, except when it isn't.
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Image: FILE PHOTO: Trump speaking by phone with Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington

White House contacts with FBI take Russia scandal in new direction

02/24/17 08:00AM

Last week, multiple news organizations reported that members of Donald Trump's campaign team had been in contact with Russian officials before Election Day, despite claims to the contrary. Those communications, if true, would mean the Republican officials were speaking with Vladimir Putin's government even as it was illegally subverting the American election.

Almost immediately, the White House denounced the coverage, but according to a CNN report, that's not all the White House did: Team Trump also reached out to the FBI, even as the bureau's investigation was ongoing.
The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a US law enforcement official.

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.

The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories.
Overnight, the West Wing didn't exactly deny the outreach to the FBI, but rather, tried to put as benign a spin on the developments as possible. "We didn't try to knock the story down," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "We asked them to tell the truth."

We now know, of course, that the FBI rebuffed the White House's requests and officials at the bureau said nothing about the underlying allegations. The trouble, however, is that the White House reaching out to the FBI at all has the potential to be a scandal unto itself.

To borrow Watergate framing, it shifts the focus to the "cover-up" instead of the "crime."
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 2.23.17

02/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump on Thursday again expressed a desire for America to be an unparalleled military power, saying he wants to build up the U.S. nuclear arsenal to make it 'top of the pack.'"

* North Dakota: "The protest site for the Dakota Access pipeline has been cleared after some demonstrators refused to leave Wednesday, when a deadline for evacuation passed. The Oceti Sakowin camp was cleared as of 2:09 p.m. local time, a spokesperson for the North Dakota Joint Information Center told ABC News."

* Counting heads, the Senate would struggle to pass a Republican repeal law: "[Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski], in her annual address to the Alaska Legislature, told lawmakers that she would not vote to repeal the expanded Medicaid health care program -- a key component of the health law -- as long as the Legislature wants to keep it."

* Perhaps the president could comment on this: "A 51-year-old Olathe man was charged Thursday in a Wednesday night shooting at a [Kansas] bar that left one man dead and two others wounded.... At least one witness reportedly heard the suspect yell 'get out of my country' shortly before shooting men he thought were Middle Eastern. Both men, engineers at Garmin, appear to be originally from India."

* Pakistan: "For the first time, after years of appeasing certain Islamist militant groups for political and religious reasons, the government has reluctantly agreed to allow the armed forces to enter Punjab province, authorized with special powers to hunt down, arrest and shoot suspected militants."

* I think we can guess what will happen next: "Two lobbying groups representing auto manufacturers have written letters urging the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, to reverse a decision last month by the Obama administration to move forward with tougher fuel-economy standards that carmakers are supposed to meet by 2025."

* A powerful piece from Rumana Ahmed: "When President Obama left, I stayed on at the National Security Council in order to serve my country. I lasted eight days."
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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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