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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens to a question during a press conference following the weekly policy meeting at the U.S. Capitol Dec. 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

McConnell caught fibbing while trying to admonish Democrats

11/28/17 05:05PM

Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were scheduled to meet with Donald Trump at the White House this morning, but after the president published a ridiculous tweet lying about them, they decided there wasn't any point in having an Oval Office chat.

One of their Republican counterparts saw an opportunity for criticism.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not appear happy with Democratic leaders' decision to not attend a meeting with President Donald Trump after the President criticized the Democratic lawmakers ahead of the gathering.

"I never refused to go to a meeting that President Obama called, a bipartisan meeting," McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It never occurred to me that I could just say to President Obama 'I'm not showing up.' That strikes me as a lack of seriousness about the matter before us, which is the funding of the federal government of the United States for the rest of this fiscal year."

OK, a few things. First, I've been watching Republican governance for quite a while, and McConnell should probably avoid conversations about demonstrations of "seriousness." He is, after all, trying to ram through tax breaks for the wealthy, financed by tax increases on everyone else, without so much as a substantive hearing.

Second, if President Obama ever published tweets about GOP leaders like the kind of missives we routinely see from his successor, it's safe to say congressional Republicans wouldn't accept invitations for chats, either.

And third, when McConnell says he "never refused to go to a meeting that President Obama called," that's not quite true [Update: see below].

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answers questions during her weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 8, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Following insolent Trump tweet, Dem leaders blow off White House

11/28/17 02:53PM

It's one of those deadlines that the political world knows is coming, but no one is eager to think about: current funding for the federal government expires on Dec. 8. That's a week from Friday.

By all accounts, Congress is likely to pass a brief extension next week to prevent a shutdown, but policymakers are going to need to work out some kind of compromise package to fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year.

And with that in mind, Donald Trump scheduled a meeting at the White House with congressional leaders this morning, though before lawmakers arrived, the president thought it'd be a good idea to publish a tweet on the subject. "Meeting with 'Chuck and Nancy' today about keeping government open and working," the Republican wrote. "Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don't see a deal!"

As is usually the case, Trump's missive was ridiculously inaccurate (and filled with odd examples of the president capitalizing words he finds interesting). But more important was how Democratic leaders responded to his message.

"Given that the President doesn't see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead," read a joint statement from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. [...]

Instead of a get-together with Trump, the Democratic leaders asked their Republican congressional counterparts -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin -- to meet Tuesday afternoon.

The Schumer-Pelosi statement said: "We don't have any time to waste in addressing the issues that confront us, so we're going to continue to negotiate with Republican leaders who may be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement."

In case this isn't obvious, Republicans may control the levers of federal power, but they'll need Democratic votes to pass a spending package. That, in turn, gives "Chuck and Nancy" some leverage.

If Trump is going to insult them, lie about them publicly, and make the case that he doesn't "see a deal," Pelosi and Schumer rightly assumed there wasn't much to talk to the president about.

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Image:  Bob Corker Donlad Trump ill tempered exchanges

GOP leaders scramble to find votes for controversial tax plan

11/28/17 12:58PM

Throughout 2017, ahead of contentious votes on the Senate floor, much of the political world focused its attention on the handful of Republicans who aren't always comfortable with their party's far-right orthodoxy. The GOP's health care gambit, for example, was derailed by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and John McCain (R-Ariz.).

And so, as the party turned to tax cuts, it was tempting to once again assume that the plan's fate rested in the hands of the so-called "moderates" in the Senate Republican conference. To derail a bill, it takes at least three GOP senators to break ranks, and so there's been considerable interest in recent weeks in what Collins, Murkowski, and McCain were thinking.

But in this case, such an approach offers an incomplete view. Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), for example, are demanding bigger tax breaks for pass-through businesses. Collins has concerns about the health care provisions. McCain still supports lawmaking through "regular order," which GOP leaders have so far ignored in their zeal to give tax breaks to the wealthy.

And then there are a handful of Senate Republicans -- including Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.) -- who are hesitant to put trillions of dollars in tax cuts on the nation's credit card. As TPM reported, they even have a gimmick in mind.

Skeptical of the wild economic growth GOP leadership promises will make up for all the revenue lost in the legislation, the change they're seeking would create a "backstop" or "trigger" mechanism to undo some of the deepest tax cuts in the bill after several years if that magic economic growth doesn't materialize.

"That way you're in a situation where you're not creating deficits, should the projections laid out not be real," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) explained to reporters Monday night. "We've been working throughout the entire Thanksgiving break on it, working closely with the administration, and some members of the Finance Committee to design a trigger or a backstop -- in the event the revenues are not there, there's a way to recoup them."

There are all kinds of questions about the practicality of such a provision -- we don't yet have any idea when such "triggers" would be pulled or which tax breaks would be affected -- but Corker is working on it and Lankford appears sympathetic to the idea.

True to form, several other Senate Republicans are balking at this, saying they're comfortable believing that tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations will simply pay for themselves, and triggers create unnecessary risks. Their allies, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose the idea, too.

How will GOP leaders resolve this? No one has any idea, but with a scheduled vote on track for this week, Republicans have picked an odd time to consider a rewrite.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.28.17

11/28/17 12:00PM

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

* Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of Congress' strongest immigration advocates, has reportedly decided to retire at the end of his term. His Chicago-area congressional district is one of the "bluest" in the nation, and will almost certainly stay in Democratic hands.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, which is two weeks from today, Roy Moore (R) has a new ad claiming that the sexual misconduct allegations he's facing were cooked up "by liberal elites and the Republican establishment." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is featured on screen alongside Democratic leaders.

* On a related note, Doug Jones (D) also has a new ad that focuses on education policy and Roy Moore's radicalism on the issue.

* Alabama's senior senator, Republican Richard Shelby, said yesterday that he's already voted by way of an absentee ballot. Though he won't say exactly whom he voted for, Shelby said he wrote in a Republican's name, rather than backing Moore.

* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee yesterday launched a new television ad criticizing the Republican tax plan. The spot is reportedly part of a "six-figure" ad buy.

* In still more news about ads, the progressive Not One Penny campaign launched a new television commercial this morning on the GOP tax plan, focusing on the benefits Donald Trump and his family will enjoy. In an interesting twist, Not One Penny announced in its press statement that the spot "will mostly be running on Fox News, including "Fox and Friends."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's ethics lawyer exits the White House

11/28/17 11:20AM

I'll concede it's an obvious joke: upon learning that the chief ethics lawyer in Donald Trump's White House is resigning, everyone asked, "Donald Trump had a chief ethics lawyer?"

As it turns out, yes, though his office is apparently now empty. Politico reported yesterday:

After almost a year in the White House counsel's office tackling a raft of ethics and financial disclosure issues, James Schultz resigned last week and is returning to private practice at the Philadelphia-based law firm where he previously worked, Cozen O'Connor.

Schultz insists his exit is unrelated to any of those myriad controversies, but simply triggered by a desire to get back to private law work and back to Philadelphia, where his family has remained.

I'm not in a position to know whether or not the official line on his resignation is true. Schultz told Politico these are "typically year-to-about-18-months-type positions," and for whatever reason, he didn't make it a year.

Regardless, while this may sound like another joke, I honestly would love to learn more about what Schultz did all day. Because no matter what one thinks of this president, Donald J. Trump has been at the center of enough ethics controversies to choke a special counsel.

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

GOP indifference to policy details makes tax debate impossible

11/28/17 10:47AM

The Congressional Budget Office won't have time to complete a full macroeconomic analysis of the Republican tax plan before senators vote this week, but some of the preliminary findings are brutal. We learned late Sunday, for example, that the GOP proposal would punish the poor fairly quickly, and leave much of the American middle class worse off by the time the Republican plan is fully implemented.

Reporters yesterday asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the key architects of his party's package, for his reaction to the CBO officials' findings. "I don't think they're right," the Utah Republican said.

At this point, it's tempting to think the chair of the Finance Committee would present the press with a competing analysis or an explanation of where, from his perspective, the CBO went wrong. But Hatch didn't bother: he saw the Congressional Budget Office's report and simply decided not to believe it.

With this in mind, the New York Times' Binyamin Appelbaum raised an under-appreciated point yesterday.

"Republicans and Democrats have long touted opposing analyses of the economics of taxation. People could look and judge the difference. It cannot be overstated how radical it is for Republicans to simply refuse to present an analysis."

Quite right. This isn't necessarily a dispute between partisans relying on competing facts and figures. Rather, what we're watching is an argument in which one side has decided facts and figures aren't especially important.

Indeed, they're annoyances that only get in the way.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

The Republican tax plan is many things, but it's not 'tax reform'

11/28/17 10:00AM

For months, Donald Trump has  used "tax cuts" and "tax reform" interchangeably, because he apparently believes they mean the same thing. As far as the president is concerned, if Republicans create massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, they've necessarily "reformed" the federal tax code.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a refresher.

Traditionally, policymakers create various tax breaks, incentives, loopholes, credits, and giveaways, for a variety of purposes, which end up creating a cluttered and consequently complex system. The point of tax reform, in a conceptual sense, is to simplify: by closing loopholes and eliminating various politically motivated tax treats, the overall system, in theory, should be fairer and ultimately better.

Which is precisely why it's ridiculous to describe the current Republican scheme as "reform." Bloomberg Politics had an interesting piece last week:

Lawmakers who sped a bill through the U.S. House last week may have handed a few more goodies to Wall Street's wealthiest than they realize.

Investors in billion-dollar hedge funds might be able to take advantage of a new, lower tax rate touted as a break for small businesses. Private equity fund managers might be able to sidestep a new tax on their earnings. And a combination of proposed changes might allow the children and grandchildren of the very wealthy to avoid income taxes in perpetuity.

These are some of the quirks that tax experts have spotted in the bill passed by the House on Nov. 16, just two weeks after it was introduced.

Ordinarily, one might expect a genuine attempt at tax reform to identify these "quirks" and eliminate them. Republicans, on the other hand, are moving forward on legislation that creates new "quirks."

Vox's Ezra Klein had a related piece this morning, explaining that the Senate Republicans' tax plan "is thick with obvious loopholes that will do little for the economy but will act as a full-employment program for tax lawyers."

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Image: Embattled GOP Senate Candidate In Alabama Judge Roy Moore Continues Campaigning Throughout The State

Why Roy Moore won't debate Doug Jones in Alabama

11/28/17 09:20AM

Alabama's U.S. Senate special election is two weeks from today, and with polls pointing to a competitive contest, the red-state race has taken on national significance. This would ordinarily be the point at which local voters could expect to see the major party candidates debate one another on the campaign's major issues.

Except in Alabama, that's not happening. Doug Jones (D) has accepted debate invitations, but Roy Moore (R) has refused. It's worth pausing to appreciate why.

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore said Friday that he is refusing to debate his Democratic opponent Doug Jones because of Jones's stance on transgender rights.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on iHeartRadio, Moore said that Jones's "very liberal" stance on transgender issues was behind the decision to skip a debate.

"We've refused to debate them because of their very liberal stance on transgenderism and transgenderism in the military and in bathrooms. They are desperate," Moore told Hannity.

Take a moment to appreciate just how extraordinary this position is. Voters could benefit from hearing two U.S. Senate candidates discuss the issues, but Moore disagrees with Jones on civil rights, so therefore, there can be no debate.

In other words, Moore will only share a stage with candidates he agrees with, which suggests he may be a little confused about the whole point of debates.

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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Mulvaney still opposes agency Trump asked him to lead

11/28/17 08:40AM

There's a great deal of legal uncertainty surrounding who, exactly, is the legitimate acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Usually, at least in this country, these kinds of questions simply don't arise, but as of this morning, the CFPB still has a bit of a "two popes" problem.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump's choice to lead the agency, at least for now, is his right-wing budget director, Mick Mulvaney. That's notable for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Mulvaney opposes the existence of the consumer protection agency he now claims to be leading.

With that in mind, the OMB chief declared yesterday morning, on his first day as the supposed leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Rumors that I'm going to set the place on fire, or blow it up or lock the doors, are completely false."

As Rachel joked on the show last night, the fact that he felt the need to say this at all on his first day wasn't exactly a good sign.

But at the same introductory event, Mulvaney was asked about his record of condemning the CFPB, including the fact that he called the agency "a sad, sick joke." Does Mulvaney stand by his positions? Here's what he told reporters:

"I don't know how to answer that question. I'll talk about my previous statements about the bureau. How about that? Yeah, my opinion of the structure of the CFPB has not changed. I still think it's an awful example of a bureaucracy that has gone wrong."

Oh. So it appears that Mulvaney is running an agency whose existence he's long opposed -- and he hasn't changed his mind.

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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.

Children's health program imperiled by Republican tactics

11/28/17 08:00AM

The Republican-led Congress was supposed to extend the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Oct. 1. As regular readers know, that was the day current funding for the program, which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, expired. The deadline passed, however, because GOP lawmakers were focused on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Health care advocates initially hoped lawmakers would act soon after, and the missed deadline would be inconsequential. That was 59 days ago, and as of now, there is no solution and Republicans don't appear to be working on one.

As Slate noted, the real-world consequences are starting to emerge.

Colorado has notified residents that the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program will shut down in early 2018 if Congress doesn't act to renew funding that expired on Sept. 30; the state appears to be the first to formally make such an announcement. A state press release says its program has enough money to continue operating until Jan. 31 of next year.

Since the CHIP program is administered at the state level, the funding shortfall has different effects in different places, but estimates indicate that as many as four million children nationwide could lose coverage if it's not renewed.

There's long been a buffer built into the system, which is why no one panicked on Oct. 1. Everyone involved in the debate understood that states would move some money around until lawmakers got their act together. In fact, this wasn't the first time federal policymakers missed a CHIP deadline.

The point now, however, is that the GOP Congress' indifference has gone on so long that buffer is starting to disappear. Colorado is warning affected families now, and the Washington Post reported last week that "nearly a dozen" states are preparing to do the same thing.

The article added that five states may exhaust existing CHIP funding "in late December if lawmakers do not act."

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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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