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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.23.17

06/23/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* A great report: "In political terms, Russia's interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin's involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences."

* Middle Eastern demands: "Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries that recently cut diplomatic ties with Qatar issued a harsh list of demands on Friday, insisting that the wealthy but tiny Persian Gulf nation shut down the news network Al Jazeera, abandon ties with Islamist organizations and provide detailed information about its funding for political dissidents."

* Rachel mentioned this one briefly on the show last night: "CBS News has confirmed that congressional investigators are interested in whether Trump campaign associates obtained information from hacked voter databases."

* Nice FOIA work: "Former US Attorney Preet Bharara sent an email to Justice Department officials in New York to express concern about a voicemail he received in March from President Donald Trump's secretary, Madeleine Westerhout, according to emails BuzzFeed News obtained on Thursday from the Department of Justice under the Freedom of Information Act."

* The outrage remains elusive: "Al Baldasaro, a former President Trump campaign adviser who called for Hillary Clinton to be 'shot for treason' over her handling of the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attacks, visited the White House for a bill signing on Friday."

* Sadly predictable: "Newly-elected House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Trey Gowdy does not plan to investigate Russia's meddling in the 2016 election or questions of whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice."

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Key Senate Republican balks at far-right health plan

06/23/17 04:59PM

Of every Republican senator up for re-election next year, only one represents a state that Hillary Clinton won last year: Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

He's the same GOP senator who this afternoon announced his opposition to his party's far-right health care plan.

"This bill that's currently in front of the United States Senate ... is simply not the answer, and I'm announcing today that in this form I will not support it," Heller said at a news conference in Las Vegas with Gov. Brian Sandoval Friday morning, pointing to the bill's dramatic reductions in Medicaid. [...]

More than 600,000 people in Nevada are on Medicaid, including disabled and low-income children.

Heller added that it will be "very difficult" to get him to change his mind about the legislation.

Now, I know what you're thinking, and I don't blame you. We talked just yesterday about Republicans who publicly raise concerns about a bill they ultimately intend to support, hoping to get some concessions from party leaders before ending the charade and rejoining the party fold. It's the "squeaky wheel" approach to the legislative process, and it's been around for years.

Heller's comments, however, are qualitatively different. Anything's possible with this crowd, but his objections are based on the Medicaid cuts that are at the heart of the broader Republican effort. The Nevadan made quite a spectacle of his decision today, and unless Mitch McConnell intends to completely overhaul the entire legislation -- an unlikely scenario -- it's difficult to imagine Heller going back on his word now.

Indeed, it's entirely possible Heller made this decision with McConnell's blessing: had the Nevada Republican supported this health care monstrosity, his odds of getting re-elected, which are already suspect, would get quite a bit worse.

And so, unless Heller is prepared to make a very public betrayal, he is the first credible "no" vote from the Senate Republican conference on the GOP health care bill. For health care advocates, this is an important breakthrough, but it's not enough.

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Bill Cassidy

GOP senator on health care: "It depends on how you define 'better'"

06/23/17 12:46PM

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) told reporters that his party's health care plan is "much better than Obamacare." Asked why, the Georgia Republican wasn't sure. "I've got to read it first," Perdue replied*.

Oh. So the senator hadn't read the GOP plan, but he's nevertheless certain that it's not only an improvement on the status quo, but it's "much better" than the Affordable Care Act.

This almost certainly captures the attitude most Senate Republican will adopt, probably without a whole lot of effort. They know they're supposed to hate the ACA; they know their party has a far-right alternative; and so they know how they're going to have to vote next week.

But when it comes to the between the Affordable Care Act and the GOP alternative, I think this is a better answer.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed his support for the Senate Republicans' Obamacare repeal bill Friday, although he told the hosts of "Fox & Friends" that he had yet to commit to voting for it.

Asked if the bill bettered the state of health care, Cassidy replied: "It depends on how you define 'better.'"

Well, yes, I suppose it does.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.23.17

06/23/17 12:00PM

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

* With a little over four months remaining in Virginia's gubernatorial race, the latest Quinnipiac poll offers some good news for Democrats: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) leads former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, 47% to 39%. Northam's lead was slightly larger before the recent party primaries.

* On a related note, Barack Obama has agreed to campaign in support of Northam, despite having supported his primary rival.

* The latest national NBC News poll found Democrats leading Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 50% to 42%. That's a pretty healthy advantage, but it's also very early. (Dems had a similar advantage in 2013 after Republicans shut down the government, but it didn't much help in 2014.)

* In Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller (R) has to decide whether to vote for a regressive far-right health care bill ahead of his re-election bid next year, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) has now confirmed her intention to take on the incumbent senator next year.

* At his campaign rally in Iowa this week, Donald Trump again boasted, "We're 5-0 in special elections." That's still wrong: Republicans have won four congressional special elections by closer-than-expected margins, and a Democrat easily prevailed in a California special election earlier this month.

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President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence wave as they visit to Carrier factory, Dec. 1, 2016, in Indianapolis, Ind. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump's Carrier boasts become an unexpected political headache

06/23/17 11:35AM

Following up on a story I've been keeping an eye on, during the presidential transition period, Donald Trump claimed one notable achievement. The Republican, following through on a promise he made on the campaign trail, announced in late November that he’d reached an agreement with Carrier that would keep hundreds of jobs in Indiana.

It sounded great, but even at the time, the boasts came with fine print. Trump exaggerated the number of jobs saved, rewarded a company with taxpayer money that was closing a plant and shipping jobs to Mexico, and fudged the facts about how many of the saved jobs will be eliminated anyway.

CNBC reported yesterday that the story looks even worse now.

More than 600 employees at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis are bracing for layoffs beginning next month, despite being told by President Trump that nearly all the jobs at the plant had been saved. [...]

In fact, after the layoffs are complete later this year, a few hundred union jobs will remain at the plant. But that is far different from what then-President-elect Trump said just three weeks after the election.

Indeed, as the Washington Post recently reported, Trump said there was a "100 percent chance" he would save the jobs at the plant. "Carrier stepped it up, and now they're keeping over 1,100 people," Trump said in December. Trump added, "And by the way, that number is going to go up substantially as they expand this area, this plant. The 1,100 is going to be a minimum number."

And while this looked at the time like a public-relations coup for the president, we now know the boasts weren't true. Trump was counting hundreds of engineering and technical jobs that were never scheduled to be cut, and he ended up misleading plant workers whose jobs are now being outsourced.

Soon after, Trump traveled to a Boeing factory in South Carolina, his first outside-the-Beltway visit to a business after his inauguration. "We're here to day to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing," he said at the time. "We're also here today to celebrate jobs. Jobs!"

This factory is now laying off workers, too.

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Image: TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMP

Trump insists his boneheaded move with Comey 'wasn't very stupid'

06/23/17 10:58AM

Donald Trump, after weeks of games, finally conceded yesterday what many had long suspected: when he raised the prospect of secret "tapes" of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, the president was bluffing. If Trump's new claims are to be believed, the president did not record his discussions with Comey.

This morning, Fox News aired a new interview with Trump, asking about his bogus tweet, and after whining about the Obama administration for a while, the president argued that he was simply trying to intimidate the former FBI chief in advance of his sworn testimony in the investigation into Trump's Russia scandal.

"But when [Comey] found out that there may be tapes out there, whether it be governmental tapes or anything else, I think his story may have changed ... my story didn't change, my story was never a fake story."

When the Fox News host gushed that Trump's tweet "was a smart way" to make sure Comey "stayed honest in those hearings," the president, pleased with himself, replied, "Well, it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that."

I'm afraid Trump doesn't fully understand what he's saying, his confidence notwithstanding.

As of two weeks ago, the president's argument was that Comey lied under oath, effectively committing perjury by repeating falsehoods about the scandal. Trump's new argument is that Comey told the truth under oath, but only because the president -- the strategic mastermind that he is -- tricked him by publishing a deceptive tweet about tapes that don't exist.

In other words, Trump, while boasting about not changing his story, changed his story.

Making matters just a little worse, the president also seems to believe he was fiendishly clever to publish a tweet that helped lead to the appointment of a special counsel, who's reportedly made Trump the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.

All of this, of course, also raises possible legal questions about witness tampering.

But don't worry, "it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that."

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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)

Republicans describe health care secrecy as 'transparent and open'

06/23/17 10:09AM

Now that the Senate Republicans' health care plan has been released, the debate is now shifting away from process and towards the merits of the bill and its legislative process. But before the political world moves on, several GOP senators see one last opportunity for some gaslighting.

One of the most striking -- and historically unusual -- aspects of the Senate Republicans' approach to health care has been their willingness to operate in total secrecy. GOP leaders appointed members to a "working group," which negotiated behind doors, and kept every detail hidden -- from the public, from stakeholders in the health care industry, from much of the Senate -- until yesterday.

As Rachel noted on the show the other day, even a Republican member of the "working group" conceded earlier this week that he hadn't seen the legislation he was ostensibly helping write.

Compounding the secrecy, GOP senators have refused to hold legislative hearings in any committee, preferring to keep the health care overhaul in total darkness and away from scrutiny.

And yet, consider these quotes from Senate Republicans yesterday:

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.): "There's no lack of transparency.... You shouldn't even ask that question."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas): "I can't imagine a more transparent and open process."

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), asked by Fox Business why his party relied on a secretive process: "There hasn't been any secrecy."

None of these members was kidding. They may have been shamelessly lying, but they actually expect people to believe the rhetoric.

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Trump and health care: Promises made, promises broken

06/23/17 09:22AM

At a campaign rally in Iowa this week, Donald Trump boasted, "One by one we are keeping the promises we made to the people of Iowa and the people all over our country." That's hopelessly bonkers on a wide variety of fronts, but it's especially striking when it comes to health care.

The president promised the American public, "We're going to have insurance for everybody.... Everybody's going to be taken care of." He vowed his health care policy would offer "lower premiums" with "much lower deductibles." And perhaps most importantly, Trump swore, over and over again, in writing and in public remarks, that he would never cut Medicaid.

And yet, there was the Republican president yesterday, throwing his support behind a Senate GOP bill that won't cover everybody, would increase consumer costs, and cuts Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. As NBC News' Benjy Sarlin explained:

The Affordable Care Act gave states federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to people whose incomes were between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line.... But [the Senate Republicans' plan] would go a lot further than repealing Obamacare's changes. It would also cap the amount of funding states can get on a per-recipient basis rather than continue the current system, in which states decide how much to spend and then have the federal government match their contribution.

Starting in 2025, the plan would then grow those per-recipient caps at a rate that's unlikely to keep pace with increasing medical costs. A similar change in the House bill was projected to reduce Medicaid spending by $839 billion over a decade and cover 14 million fewer people. The Senate bill kicks in later, but its cuts would be even deeper than the House plan.

This is a profound betrayal to those Americans who actually believed Trump's assurances, and voted for him because they expected the Republican to honor his word.

What's the White House's explanation for the presidential perfidy? Trump's budget director recently questioned the importance of the Medicaid promise, which probably won't offer much comfort to families poised to suffer.

What's more, it's not just Trump.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

The window of opportunity to stop the GOP health plan is closing

06/23/17 08:44AM

When the Republican's far-right health care plan passed the House last month, several lawmakers who voted in the majority conceded they did so grudgingly. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) gave an especially memorable quote to the Washington Post.

"Is this bill good? No, I don't like it," Diaz-Balart said. But he suggested that voting for the bill would allow him to be part of future negotiations: "So my decision was, how do I stay involved?"

Even at the time, this seemed more like wishful thinking than a credible legislative strategy. Diaz-Balart voted for a bill he admittedly didn't like, and in the weeks that have followed, there's no evidence that he's been "involved" in shaping his party's approach in any meaningful way.

That said, the Miami Republican probably wasn't the only one thinking along these lines. Policymakers, the argument goes, should just keep the process moving forward, incrementally making changes along the way, giving various players an opportunity to tweak, change, and hopefully improve the legislation before it's too late.

For opponents of the GOP plan, this offers related opportunities: at every choke point, health care advocates have a chance to stop the far-right package from advancing.

What became clear yesterday, however, is that everyone's window of opportunity is closing in ways that aren't fully appreciated.

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GOP health plan is like trying to put out a fire with a flamethrower

06/23/17 08:00AM

It's not exactly a secret that Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act with every fiber of being -- or at least they claim to. It's never been altogether clear why GOP officials are so disgusted with the reform law, but when asked, Republicans tend to have some key complaints at the ready.

"Obamacare," they argue, doesn't cover enough people and it costs consumers too much. With this in mind, Republican officeholders and candidates have spent years pleading with the American electorate: give the GOP power and they'll make the health care system better. How? They've been reluctant to say for the last seven years.

It's now painfully clear why. The new proposal from Senate Republicans is stunning in a wide variety of ways, but perhaps the most striking takeaway is the degree to which it's a substantive non-sequitur. The Republicans' purported goals and their proposed legislation have almost nothing in common. Vox's Ezra Klein explained yesterday:

The Senate GOP's health care bill is a strange document. It doesn't fix what conservatives dislike most about Obamacare. But it takes what everyone else hates about Obamacare and makes it much, much worse. [...]

The new world created by the Senate health care bill will be based around higher-deductible plans that cover fewer health benefits and cost people more. The plan degrades Obamacare's insurance regulations, and cuts insurance subsidies so that Americans won't be able to afford plans as generous as the ones they purchase now. If the Medicaid expansion really does die out in 2024, then the poorest of the poor will be pushed from comprehensive, low-cost health insurance to extremely high-deductible plans.

Obviously, the scope and scale of the damage this legislation would impose on the nation is what matters most, but it's also worth pausing to appreciate the pernicious dishonesty that serves as the bill's foundation.

There's no meaningful connection between what Republicans say is wrong with the health care system and what they're proposing. GOP officials said the Affordable Care Act doesn't cover enough people, so they're pushing a plan that covers fewer people. Republicans said the costs for consumers under "Obamacare" are too high, so they're advocating a new system that would force consumers to pay more.

In other words, their questions and their answers don't match. Republicans, concerned about a simmering fire, are trying to put it out with a flamethrower.

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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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