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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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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 6.27.17

06/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Chicago: "Three current or former police officers in Chicago were indicted Tuesday on charges of conspiring to cover up the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager killed by an officer in 2014."

* Syria: "American officials have seen chemical weapons activity at a Syrian air base that was used in the spring nerve gas attack on rebel-held territory, the Defense Department said on Tuesday, scrambling to explain what prompted a White House statement a day earlier that Syria would "pay a heavy price" if it carried out another one."

* Russia scandal: "FBI agents have repeatedly questioned former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page about his contacts with Russians and his interactions with the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the investigation."

* As Rachel noted last night, Jared Kushner "has hired Abbe Lowell, one of the country's leading criminal defense lawyers, to represent him in the special counsel's probe of potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and his financial dealings, as well as in separate congressional inquiries."

* The Guardian reports that Jay Sekulow, making the transition from representing the religious right to representing Donald Trump, "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."

* A story worth keeping an eye on: "The House Ethics Committee said Monday it is reviewing charges lodged against two high-profile Democratic lawmakers and a senior Democratic aide."

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Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., denounced Trump's recent remarks about restricting Muslim travel during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 8, 2015. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Short on votes, Senate Republicans scrap vote on health care bill

06/27/17 03:49PM

Over the weekend, Politico said that Senate Republican leaders were leaving the "door open to delaying" a vote on their health care bill. Yesterday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) responded to those reports by saying, "I am closing the door. We need to do it this week."

Cornyn, whose leadership responsibilities focus primarily on counting votes, reiterated this morning that the GOP bill was poised for success on the floor, with a procedural vote on track for tomorrow.

A few hours later, the plan changed.

Senate Republicans Tuesday postponed a planned vote on the GOP bill to replace Obamacare until after the July 4th recess. Senators were told of the delay at a Republican lunch by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to multiple sources.

At least five GOP senators had said they were not prepared to vote in favor of a procedural measure that was slated to take place as early as Tuesday evening. That vote was necessary to begin the process that would have allowed the senate to take a final vote by the end of the week.

There's no great mystery as to what happened here. When Senate GOP leaders announced last week that they would hold a vote by the end of this week, they assumed they'd have the votes. After yesterday's report from the Congressional Budget Office, and a wave of pressure from voters, it quickly became clear they weren't close.

Indeed, the number of Republican opponents of the proposal was growing, not shrinking, leading to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) retreat today.

There's no sugarcoating the developments: today was an embarrassing setback for GOP leaders -- and a comparable success for health care advocates and their allies. As recently as late last week, the conventional wisdom was that everything was on track for passage, and yet, there was the Senate Republican leadership on the Hill today, admitting they had no choice but to slink away, defeated (for now) by their own members.

But to see this as an end point would be a major mistake.

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An employee at a money changer counts $100 bills.

Tax cuts in the Republican health care plan are the 'central' issue

06/27/17 12:58PM

Jesse Lee, a former official in the Obama White House, wrote on Twitter yesterday, "I say this in all honesty: you could easily write a bill with ideas from both parties that would fix issues in ACA & make Trump look great." This happens to be entirely true.

Indeed, it's the secret hiding in plain sight. If Republicans were serious about identifying and addressing the Affordable Care Act's real shortcomings, they could work out a deal with Democrats, stabilize the marketplaces, offer incentives to insurers, and make meaningful improvements to the system. This would be an incredibly popular move, and more importantly, it would help a lot of people.

But it wouldn't satisfy any of the Republicans' ideological goals, starting with the GOP's raison d'etre. The Washington Post's Matt O'Brien had a good piece yesterday on the central pillar of the party's health care plan.

The Senate health-care plan isn't a health-care plan. It's a tax cut.

That's clear enough from how little thought it puts into actually stabilizing insurance markets versus how much it does into showering the rich with as much money as possible. Indeed, it would go so far as to retroactively cut the capital gains tax -- something, remember, that's supposed to be about incentivizing future investment -- in an apparent bid to get people to create jobs six months ago.

That may sound like a joke, but it's quite real. The Senate health plan actually includes a provision that cuts taxes with an effective date of Dec. 31, 2016.

It's part of the broader plan to cut taxes, primarily on the wealthy, by hundreds of billions of dollars according to yesterday's report from the Congressional Budget Office.

I mention this in large part because it appears to be one of the parts of the legislation that the bill's architects prefer not to talk about. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has insisted the tax cuts in the GOP plan are "not central" to the policy debate. Why not? Because he says so.

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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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