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The Pentagon in Arlington, Va., outside Washington, DC is seen in this aerial photograph, April 23, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Trump announcement on transgender troops surprises Pentagon

07/26/17 12:51PM

Ordinarily, when pundits talk about the White House's communications problems, they're referring to Donald Trump and his team struggling to stick to an honest and consistent message. But this morning we were reminded of a different kind of White House communications problem.

The Pentagon seems to have been unaware that President Donald Trump has decided to bar transgender people from the military.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, refused to answer questions about what Trump's tweeted announcement means for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.

"Call the White House," he said.

It looks like the president just banned thousands of transgender troops without coordinating with the Defense Department. The White House also didn't offer the Senate Armed Services Committee a heads-up, either.

And I don't imagine anyone finds this is especially surprising. Trump picked a new FBI director without coordinating with the Justice Department. Trump makes foreign policy decisions without running them by the State Department. When Trump launched his Muslim ban, the Department of Homeland Security wasn't at all clear on how to implement the president's vision.

The president sees himself as a CEO, which is a flawed model for the head of a federal executive branch, but it's especially problematic given that Trump looks at his administration as a small business instead of a large one.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.26.17

07/26/17 12:00PM

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

* In keeping with a recent string of state legislative special-election wins, Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh won a state Senate seat in New Hampshire yesterday, flipping a district that had been held by a Republican. This is, I believe, the fifth time this year a Dem has flipped a "red" seat in a state legislative special election.

* In Virginia, one of only two states hosting gubernatorial races this year, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R) tied at 44% each. Most other recent polling found Northam ahead.

* On a related note, the Democratic National Committee told NBC News yesterday that it's sending "$1.5 million and several top staffers" to the commonwealth to help give Northam, whose coffers are low after a long, tough primary, a boost in the race's final three months.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) has vowed to oppose Mitch McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader if he's elected to the chamber. Brooks called McConnell "the head of the swamp of the U.S. Senate." The special election primary is Aug. 15.

* Donald Trump headlined a rally in celebration of himself in Ohio last night, boasting that Democrats usually win Youngstown, but he won it. In reality, Trump lost Youngstown and the surrounding country.

* On a related note, while the president bragged about the crowd size, a BuzzFeed reporter noted that screens were set up outside the venue for people who couldn't get in to watch Trump's speech. There was, however, no one outside.

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) heads into a last-minute Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Captiol June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Cantor comes clean, admits he didn't believe his own ACA rhetoric

07/26/17 11:26AM

For several years, in his capacity as House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor helped lead the charge on repealing "Obamacare." Put Republicans in charge, the Virginian told voters, and they'd dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

It was Cantor who helped bring ACA repeal bills to the House floor dozens of times. It was Cantor who helped spearhead "defund Obamacare" campaigns. And it was Cantor, we now know, who didn't genuinely believe his own nonsense.

The former GOP leader in the House talked to the Washingtonian's Elaina Plott and conceded that his Republican Party is in a tough spot -- parts of the conservative base expect the party to repeal the ACA, because that's what they were promised -- in part because of promises he and his colleagues made that they never intended to keep.

Asked if he feels partly responsible for their current predicament, Cantor is unequivocal. "Oh," he says, "100 percent."

He goes further: "To give the impression that if Republicans were in control of the House and Senate, that we could do that when Obama was still in office...." His voice trails off and he shakes his head. "I never believed it."

He says he wasn't the only one aware of the charade: "We sort of all got what was going on, that there was this disconnect in terms of communication, because no one wanted to take the time out in the general public to even think about 'Wait a minute -- that can't happen.' " But, he adds, "if you've got that anger working for you, you're gonna let it be."

In context, when Cantor says he and his party felt the need to "let it be," he means that Republicans fed a bunch of nonsense to their own voters, then exploited their anger for electoral gain with no intention of following through.

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump raises corruption allegations against FBI's McCabe

07/26/17 11:05AM

Donald Trump first expressed his dissatisfaction with acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe last week in an interview with the New York Times. Yesterday, the president went considerably further, publishing a tweet suggesting McCabe is corrupt.

"Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!"

This morning, in a pair of tweets, Trump kept going.

"Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!"

I can appreciate how easy it is to grow inured to the bizarre circumstances we find ourselves in, but when a sitting president accuses the acting director of the FBI of corruption, without credible proof, that's pretty extraordinary.

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Trump bans transgender Americans from military service

07/26/17 10:14AM

The Obama era was a period of great social progress in the United States military. The Democratic administration ended the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly; the Pentagon made women eligible for combat roles; the Secretary of the Army was an openly gay man; and the administration ended the ban on transgender Americans serving in uniform.

On that last point, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June 2016 that transgender service members are "talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction."

Donald Trump apparently doesn't care.

President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender military service in a series of tweets Wednesday morning.

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming..... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you," Trump wrote in a trio of tweets Wednesday morning.

There was an odd point in last year's presidential campaign, shortly after the Orlando nightclub massacre, in which Trump insisted that LGBT voters, en masse, should move to the right and vote Republican. Trump, in apparent seriousness, said he, not Hillary Clinton, would be the "better friend" of the "LBGT" [sic] community. Just two days after the Orlando shooting, Trump added, "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you."

Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump advisor and surrogate who now serves as the White House's communications director, declared earlier this year that Trump "is most pro-LGBTQ rights [president] in history. Why's that story not written in mainstream media?"

That was before Trump decided to undermine the rights of transgender kids in public schools, which came before today's tweets banning transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why it's unwise for Trump to target Alaska's Lisa Murkowski

07/26/17 09:23AM

At a White House event yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump acknowledged that his party had cleared a procedural hurdle as part of its health care crusade. The president's Republican Party, however, was not unified in the endeavor.

"So we had two Republicans that went against us, which is very sad, I think," Trump said. "It's very, very sad -- for them."

This morning, the president kept it going, this time singling out Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R) of Alaska with an angry tweet:

"Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!"

First, the idea that Murkwoski let down the entire country by standing up for health care benefits is plainly bonkers.

Second, it's not at all clear why Trump is singling out the Alaska Republican for a very public rebuke. Murkowski wasn't the only GOP senator to vote against the procedural measure yesterday afternoon, and she was one of nine GOP senators to break ranks on a "repeal and replace" measure last night.

But even putting that aside, Trump's tweet was strategically unwise if he's serious about reaching his own goals.

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Image: Still image from video shows U.S. Senator McCain speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate after a vote on healthcare reform in Washington

It's not enough for John McCain to say the right things

07/26/17 08:52AM

It was a dramatic moment on Capitol Hill yesterday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, arrived on the Senate floor. Without the veteran lawmaker, Republicans would not have been able to advance their effort to take health care benefits from millions of Americans.

Soon after casting his vote with his party, McCain delivered prepared remarks on his concerns about contemporary politics and what's become of the legislative process, and much of the media, which has long gushed over the Arizona senator, could hardly contain its praise. Here, for example, was CNN's report:

In a Washington moment for the ages, Sen. John McCain claimed the role of an aging lion to try to save the Senate, composing a moving political aria for the chamber and the country that he loves.

With a deep-red scar etched from his eyebrow to his temple, the legacy of brain surgery less than two weeks ago, McCain beseeched his colleagues to forsake political tribalism and restore the chamber to a spirit of compromise that had helped forge national greatness.

Roll Call published a related piece, telling readers, "Years from now, when the history of the modern Congress is written, John McCain's address to the Senate on July 25, 2017, is likely to stand among the defining summations of the era."

I realize that the political media has its favorites, and for a variety of reasons, McCain has long been a media darling. I'm also aware of the unique circumstances: a man who's devoted much of his life to public service, including heroic military service, is facing a serious health crisis. Those who want to celebrate McCain's work feel an added incentive to do so quickly and vigorously.

But the adulation paints an incomplete -- and to a very real extent, misleading -- picture for the public. One can respect McCain's lifetime of sacrifices while still acknowledging the glaring gap between the senator's words and his actions.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

'Repeal and replace' plan's defeat spells trouble for Republicans

07/26/17 08:00AM

Yesterday's developments on the Senate floor offered plenty of drama, and the Republicans' procedural measure to begin the health care debate in earnest succeeded, but that simply opened the door to substantive work on the GOP's goal.

And last night, Republicans suffered an important defeat -- the first of several.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully opening debate on the issue. But just six hours later, Republicans faced their first defeat in that process, failing to pass a measure that they've been working on that would have partially repealed and replaced Obamacare.

At issue was the latest iteration of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) bill -- the Better Care Reconciliation Act (or BCRA) -- which has been in the works for over a month. The measure needed 60 votes, but failed to even get 50: as the roll call shows, the final tally was 43 to 57, with nine Republicans voting with Senate Democrats against the measure.

It wasn't, in other words, particularly close.

The Senate then broke for the night, with plans to vote this afternoon on an even-more-radical "repeal and delay" plan that would gut the Affordable Care Act and figure out what to do about it two years later. That will need 50 votes, and by all accounts, the measure will fall short.

And therein lies the point: for all of yesterday's excitement, Republicans still don't have a realistic plan to achieve their goals. GOP senators climbed to the top of the diving platform, jumped off, and hope to figure out what they're doing before they reach the water.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.25.17

07/25/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* There's no link available just yet, but the House approved new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea this afternoon, following a 419-to-3 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate.

* The latest on Manafort: "Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was subpoenaed to testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the panel's top members said."

* The Boy Scouts are on the defensive after Donald Trump turned one of their national events into a partisan political rally.

* Some House drama: "House Democrats sank two key bills on the House floor Monday, embarrassing Republican leaders who were banking on the noncontroversial legislation sailing through -- in a new sign of the opposition party's frustration with the majority's approach. Kicking off a busy week in the House, most Democrats and a handful of Republicans joined forces to deny GOP leaders big-enough majorities to pass an annual intelligence policy bill and legislation to restore funding for a key veterans health care program."

* It sounds like he's steadily making progress: "A group of House Republicans got a surprise pep talk Monday from their missing man: Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who continues to recover from a gunshot wound suffered in last month's baseball-practice shooting."

* Shouldn't Priebus be playing some role in this? "Anthony Scaramucci spent his third day as White House communications director telling reporters he will 'fire everyone' in the press office if leaks from the administration don't stop.... Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short seemed to be the first part of Scaramucci's overhaul -- he resigned on Tuesday."

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks from the chamber as Republicans pushed legislation toward Senate approval to defund Planned Parenthood and the ACA, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 3, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Senate Republicans overcome hurdle, advance ACA repeal crusade

07/25/17 04:16PM

It wasn't easy, and it took quite a bit more drama than anyone expected to see, but Senate Republicans took their first meaningful step this afternoon toward taking health care benefits from millions of Americans.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully passed a key motion to proceed to debate on repealing and possibly replacing Obamacare.

Momentum built over the course of the day as several previously skeptical members announced they would support Senate GOP leaders after they began detailing plans for more votes over the next days to shape the details of the legislation.

It's important to understand what did and did not happen today. Senate Republicans did not, for example, repeal the Affordable Care Act, in whole or in part. Today's 51-50 vote was a procedural step, not a vote on the substance of any health care legislation.

If even one additional GOP senator either missed the vote or voted "no," the Republicans' repeal crusade would have effectively ended today. But with two GOP senators -- Maine's Susan Collins and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski -- voting "no" instead of three, it means the process can and will move forward.

Perhaps the most striking vote was cast by West Virginia's Shelley Moore Capito‏ (R), who assured voters just last week, "I will only vote to proceed to repeal legislation if I am confident there is a replacement plan that addresses my concerns." She appears to have broken her word: there is no replacement plan that addresses her concerns, but Capito voted the way her party told her to on the motion to proceed anyway.

Indeed, Capito, like every other senator, still has no idea what health care reform policy they're moving towards. There is no bill; there is no Congressional Budget Office analysis; there have been no legislative hearings; there has been no scrutiny of the final plan because the plan does not currently exist.

And yet, 50 Republican senators and the far-right vice president voted to move forward toward their amorphous finish line anyway.

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Senators still don't know what health care bill they're voting on

07/25/17 12:11PM

Last week, when Senate Republican leaders announced plans to begin a series of health care votes today, their schedule immediately became the subject of ridicule. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) knew he wanted the legislative fight to begin in earnest on the chamber floor, but just days ahead of the showdown, no one -- including McConnell and his members -- had any idea what they'd be voting on.

As of today, with just hours remaining before the floor process gets under way, that mockery has led to genuine and widespread bafflement. As Dylan Scott explained, senators still don't know.

Senate leaders are bent on holding a vote. But after the plan was drafted in secret, it now needs substantial revisions under the Senate budget rules. And yet the White House and GOP leadership insist on forcing members to vote on Tuesday.

It is an unprecedentedly opaque process to try to pass legislation that overhauls an industry worth more than $3 trillion, which would undercut a law that has extended health coverage to more than 20 million middle-class and low-income Americans in the past seven years.... [As] the vote approaches, there is no final text, no Congressional Budget Office score.

The scale of this absurdity has no precedent in the American tradition. The Huffington Post, noting that the United States Senate used to describe itself as "the world’s greatest deliberative body," explained quite accurately that the institution "gives more care and consideration to bills renaming post offices than it has to legislation with staggering consequences for the health care system."

Making matters worse, some members not only don't know what they'll be voting on; they also don't care. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), asked about not know the specifics of his own party's plan, said yesterday, "It doesn't concern me. As I said, I'll vote for anything"

An inspiring approach to modern governing in a global superpower, to be sure.

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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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