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Image: Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan isn't quite done flubbing the health care fight

04/28/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump's White House desperately wanted the Republican-led House to vote today on the latest iteration of the GOP health care plan -- not for any substantive reasons, but because West Wing officials thought it'd be cool to pass a bill out of the chamber before the president's 100th day in office.

"Next Wednesday is OK," a senior administration official told the New York Times' Glenn Thrush, "but Friday is a lot better."

This is, of course, a rather ridiculous way to approach policymaking -- we are talking about the health security of tens of millions of American families, not some arbitrary, symbolic metric tied to a president's fragile ego -- and as it turns out, it's not going to work. House Republican leaders announced last night that there'd be no vote on their American Health Care Act today or tomorrow.

There are a handful of factors that contributed to this, but in the end, it was a matter of arithmetic: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) thought he might be able to pull together enough votes from his own caucus to get the bill through, only to discover that House Republicans still aren't on board with their own party's proposal.

The GOP leader, in other words, is managing to flub the health care fight for the second time in two months. Indeed, consider what the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) asserted Thursday that people with pre-existing conditions would be better off under Republicans' amended health care bill. [...]

"People will be better off with pre-existing conditions under our plan," Ryan said.
At the same press conference, Ryan defended a core provision of his plan by saying his home state of Wisconsin had a high-risk pool that "was pretty actually darned good."

As for the politics, the House Speaker added, "I think people's seats are at risk if we don't do what we said we would do.... We promised that we would do this. If you violate your promise, if you commit the sin of hypocrisy in politics, that's the greater risk, I think, to a person's seat."

Let's take these one at a time.
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Image: US President Donald J. Trump participates in a health care discussion with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady

Trump reflects on presidency: 'I thought it would be easier'

04/28/17 08:00AM

It's a point so obvious that it's often overlooked, but when Donald Trump sought the American presidency, he had no real sense of what the job entailed. The Republican is, after all, the first president to have literally no background in politics, government, or public service at any level.

And while enough Americans voted for him anyway, Trump continues to come to terms with the scope of the responsibilities he knew so little about. Reuters sat down with the president yesterday, and he conceded that he's "surprised how hard his new job is."
President Donald Trump on Thursday reflected on his first 100 days in office with a wistful look at his life before the White House.

"I loved my previous life. I had so many things going," Trump told Reuters in an interview. "This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier."
He said something similar a few days ago in an interview with the Associated Press. Asked if he believes the job has changed him, Trump said, "Well the one thing I would say -- and I say this to people -- I never realized how big it was.... Every decision is much harder than you'd normally make."

One of the broader lessons we've learned recently is that Donald Trump is still learning what most of us already knew -- and the presidency itself fits comfortably into this model. He believed leading the executive branch of the world's preeminent superpower "would be easier," while most Americans were probably aware of the fact that it's one of the most difficult jobs imaginable.

Regardless, his concessions help bring some core truths into focus.
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Thursday's Mini-Report, 4.27.17

04/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Afghanistan: "At least two U.S. military service members were killed and another wounded Wednesday night during a firefight with ISIS in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. military officials said."

* More on this on tonight's show: "Documents released Thursday reveal former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was specifically warned in 2014 not to take money from foreign governments without advance permission and is now under investigation by the Pentagon for possibly violating the law, lawmakers said."

* United: "Dr. David Dao, the subject of the now infamous video showing him being dragged from his seat and off a plane, has reached a settlement with United Airlines after a weeks-long public relations nightmare for the company, lawyers said Thursday."

* We're occasionally reminded that Sean Spicer isn't great at his job: "For a few brief moments Thursday afternoon, it appeared as though the White House might be targeting your 401(k)s."

* The process of counting votes on the House Republicans' American Health Care Act is very much underway again, and at least for now, I don't think GOP leaders are going to have the votes to pass this thing.

* Electing an administration of climate deniers may not have been wise: "A report by a leading research body monitoring the Arctic has found that previous projections of global sea level rise for the end of the century could be too low, thanks in part to the pace of ice loss of Arctic glaciers and the vast ice sheet of Greenland."
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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

Trump drives bipartisanship out of the political conversation

04/27/17 12:54PM

With Donald Trump and congressional Republicans moving forward on a variety of their highest-profile priorities -- including major initiatives on health care and tax cuts -- there's been a fair amount of discussion about a dry topic: procedures and the legislative process. What's possible using reconciliation? How will the Byrd Rule affect the GOP's plans?

The questions matter, of course, and will help determine what does and doesn't happen, but the entire line of inquiry tends to skip right past an underlying truth: if the White House and Republican leaders were committed to at least trying bipartisan policymaking, we'd be having a very different kind of conversation.

HuffPost's Jason Linkins had a piece several weeks ago that's been on my mind lately about how the chorus of calls for bipartisanship has "fallen silent" now that Trump's in the Oval Office.
It's worth pointing out because during the Obama era, the demand that he remain true to bipartisanship was constant. The entire notion of presidential “leadership,” during Obama's tenure, was entirely contingent upon his willingness to break with those that had voted him into office and deliver policies that they would almost certainly despise, like deep and immiserating cuts to earned benefit programs like Social Security and Medicare.

If Obama wasn't trying to reach some sort of across-the-aisle grand bargain, then he was failing, in the eyes of pundits. And whenever Obama managed to deliver on middle-of-the-road policies, well ― those same pundits moved the goalposts. Journalist and political commentator Greg Sargent called it “the centrist dodge,”  and it, too, was a constant feature of the Obama era.

During the long and tortuous legislative process that eventually brought us the Affordable Care Act, the bipartisanship police pulled double-shifts on their beat, raising a hue and cry whenever it looked like developments weren’t going to yield the optimal center-right health care package. The media practically fulminated against the so-called “public option,” dismissing the strong and consistent public support for it out of hand. Whenever it seemed like the Democrats might have to take a parliamentary short-cut ― like the brief flirtation with “deem and pass,” the Beltway press erupted in a chorus of disapproval.
All of this disappeared on Jan. 20, 2017. On practically every issue, Trump and Republicans haven't even paused to consider reaching across the aisle. The idea of reaching bipartisan compromises might be difficult, but while Obama practically begged GOP lawmakers to work with him toward compromise -- on practically any issue -- this president and his congressional allies don't even bother.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.27.17

04/27/17 12:00PM

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

* In the wake of a controversy stemming from EPA chief Scott Pruitt headlining a Republican fundraiser in Oklahoma, EPA officials intend to correct the Oklahoma GOP's "error" about the nature of the event.

* The DCCC, DSCC, and the Priorities USA Action super PAC each launched digital ads yesterday, targeting Republicans over their renewed health care push. The focus of the message was on Republicans' undermining protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. (Here's the DSCC's ad.)

* In Alabama, former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, twice removed from the bench for ethics violations, announced yesterday that he's running for the U.S. Senate, joining a Republican primary field that's likely to be quite crowded.

* And speaking of Alabama, Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn football coach, was gearing up for a gubernatorial campaign in his home state, but he announced this week that he's passing on the race.

* After Donald Trump speaks at the NRA's upcoming conference in Atlanta, he'll also headline a fundraiser for Karen Handel, the Republican candidate in Georgia's congressional special election.

* RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel argued yesterday that the Republican Party's base is less likely to turn out in 2018 if there's no progress on building a wall along the U.S./Mexico border. I'm not at all sure that's true, but I guess her comments were intended to push GOP lawmakers on the issue.
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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump turns away from the cameras as he speaks at a town hall event in Appleton, Wis., March 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

Reversing course on NAFTA, Trump's threats again appear hollow

04/27/17 11:20AM

The political world was jolted yesterday when Donald Trump said he was considering withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA. It was difficult to know how seriously to take this, but Trump's threat was poised to have considerable economic, political and foreign policy implications.

Soon after, the president had a different message: never mind.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday told the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he will not pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, just hours after administration officials said he was considering a draft executive order to do just that.

The White House made the surprise announcement in a read-out of calls between Trump, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The White House said in a written statement, "President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries."

For those who care about the substantive details of this, it's worth noting that the Obama administration significantly renegotiated elements of NAFTA during the process in which the Trans-Pacific Partnership came together. Many have suggested the Trump administration could now use that framework, picking up where the TPP left off, but Canada and Mexico agreed to those changes because they thought they'd have greater trade opportunities with Asian nations once the TPP was implemented.

With Trump having killed the TPP, he has a lot less to offer Canada and Mexico now.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees. What we have here is yet another example of Trump making a public threat, thumping his chest about some radical move he's prepared to make, only to surrender soon after, in exchange for nothing, without any meaningful explanation for the presidential retreat.
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Immigrants prepare to be unshackled at a detention facility on Nov., 15, 2013 in California. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Team Trump launches a misguided anti-immigrant effort

04/27/17 10:42AM

The Trump administration, as promised, launched a new Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office yesterday, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants.

The Department of Homeland Security recently asserted, "Criminal aliens routinely victimize Americans and other legal residents," and the Trump administration intends to take action.

Apparently, however, some took Team Trump's rhetoric quite literally and reportedly started calling the hotline to report crimes committed by aliens -- as in, extra-terrestrials.

And while that's kind of hilarious, the White House's initiative isn't funny at all. If Donald Trump and his team are committed to take new steps to offer support to crime victims, that's a worthwhile goal. But as a USA Today editorial noted the other day, that's not quite what the president is doing with this initiative.
Never mind that immigrants on the whole -- undocumented or in the U.S. legally -- are less prone to crime than native Americans.... Even if the facts showed otherwise, there are good reasons this country doesn't create separate programs for victims of crimes by Jews or Catholics or African Americans or Asians or juveniles or short people. Categorizing criminals in this way is not going to provide any special comfort to victims. And, by underscoring and overpublicizing the acts of some members, such efforts are the first step toward assigning guilt to a group.

This runs contrary to the core American value that people deserve to be judged as individuals, based on their own behavior. To do otherwise is the very definition of prejudice.
The piece added, "Blaming an already unpopular minority group for the actions of a few has no place in America."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Looking past governance, Team Trump places a high value on theatrics

04/27/17 10:13AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked a couple of weeks ago about Donald Trump's 100th day in office, and what the president will have to show for his efforts. "I think what you've seen out of this White House," Spicer replied, "is a very robust agenda of activity."

I found myself thinking about that phrase quite a bit. The president's press secretary didn't focus much on actual substantive gains, but rather, the robust amount of "activity" in and around the White House. Trump and his team may not have accomplishments to speak of, but we're apparently supposed to marvel at how busy they appear doing ... stuff.

Yesterday offered an amazing peek into the Trump administration's approach to pseudo governance.

* Tax reform: The White House unveiled a one-page tax "plan" that didn't actually say much of anything. It looked like a table of contents without any contents. Team Trump assured the public that officials are "working on" producing "lots" of details that aren't yet ready. Why not wait and unveil a proper plan once it's complete? Because that's not theatrical -- and with the 100-day standard approaching, we apparently need to be reminded of the president's "robust agenda of activity."

* North Korea: Trump asked all 100 members of the U.S. Senate to attend a special briefing on North Korea yesterday, held at the White House, which apparently didn't really include much of anything in the way of new information. Why couldn't administration officials simply drive a mile and a half to Capitol Hill and brief senators in rooms that are already designated for this purpose? Because that's not exciting -- and Team Trump wanted to put on a little show.

* Education executive order: The president made quite a fuss about signing a new education order on federal education policy. During a briefing with reporters, however, an administration official conceded that Trump's new directive gives the Department of Education powers it already has.

Yesterday, in other words, was intended to appear exciting. Look, the president is threatening the 9th Circuit! Look, he's talking about tearing up NAFTA! Trump is focused on education, taxes, national security, and health care -- all at the same time!
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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

Trump does himself no favors with attacks on the federal judiciary

04/27/17 09:20AM

In his 2010 State of the Union address, then-President Barack Obama expressed his dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling.

"With all due deference to separation of powers," Obama said, "last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems."

Conservatives, the media, and many prominent figures in the legal community responded with a spirited freak-out -- not to defend the Citizens United rulings, but to balk at the president's public concerns. Americans were told that the remarks, delivered in front of several justices who were on hand for the address, represented an assault on the federal judiciary. A debate ensued about whether Obama had gone too far.

Seven years later, with Donald Trump continuing to rant and rave about federal courts that refuse to do what he wants them to do, the complaints from 2010 seem almost quaint.
President Trump said Wednesday that he has "absolutely" considered proposals that would split up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where judges have blocked two of his executive actions.

"Absolutely, I have," Trump said of considering 9th Circuit breakup proposals during a far-ranging interview with the Washington Examiner at the White House. "There are many people that want to break up the 9th Circuit. It's outrageous."
In his comments to the Washington Examiner, the president added that his opponents "immediately" run to the 9th Circuit, expecting a favorable outcome from the nation's most progressive bench. The interview followed a Trump Twitter tantrum yesterday morning about the 9th Circuit.

In reality, much of Trump's rhetoric was plainly wrong, and the idea that plaintiffs in San Francisco were court-shopping when they filed suit in San Francisco is pretty silly.
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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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