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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. to the chamber to vote at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 10, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

McConnell prepares for the 'conclusion' of the health care fight

03/22/17 11:23AM

A couple of weeks ago, MSNBC's Chris Hayes had a fascinating chat with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), who was pressed on a single point: how many hearings did House Republicans hold on their health care plan before passing out of committee?

Lance, reluctant to acknowledge that the number was zero, dodged the question repeatedly, before the congressman eventually said he thought the Senate might hold some "discussion" about the legislation.

As it turns out, that's not going to happen. The House vote is still scheduled for tomorrow -- though that may be delayed if GOP leaders find themselves far short of the votes they'll need -- but in the upper chamber, Republican leaders are moving forward with a plan to make this mess go away as quickly as possible. Politico reported:
Senate Republicans are unlikely to hold any committee hearings, and many of them haven't even read what the House is about to pass. It's unclear, to put it mildly, how proponents can placate enough moderates or conservatives to get the bill across the finish line.

But GOP leaders are showing no signs of applying the brakes.

"We're not slowing down," [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell said on Tuesday. "We will reach a conclusion on health care next week."
The Kentucky Republican didn't literally say, "Let's just get this over with," but he probably should've, since that sentiment appears to be guiding his plans.
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(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

Mattis is proving to be far too responsible for some in the GOP

03/22/17 10:41AM

The headline on the Politico piece overnight was unexpected: "Hill Republicans say they're growing frustrated with Mattis." OK, I'll bite. What seems to be the trouble with Defense Secretary James Mattis from the perspective of congressional Republicans?
Defense Secretary James Mattis' unconventional choices for top Pentagon posts and his reluctance to aggressively push for dramatic increases in the defense budget have rankled Republicans on Capitol Hill who say he's burning through political capital he needs as he begins reshaping the Pentagon. [...]

Republican lawmakers and senior congressional aides said in recent interviews they're running out of patience with the former four-star general's staffing decisions, which have disappointed Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee members hoping to see their ideological allies elevated to senior levels in the Defense Department. Others are grumbling about Mattis's refusal to advocate for a bigger increase in the defense budget, which defense hawks believe was gutted disastrously under President Barack Obama.
One top Republican staffer on Capitol Hill told Politico that Republicans have waited for years to fill key Pentagon posts "with Republicans," a desire the Pentagon chief isn't taking seriously. Another GOP aide says Mattis seems to forget "that we won the election."

Oh. So Republicans are "growing frustrated" with the former four-star general because he's trying to govern in a mature, non-partisan, and responsible fashion, making decisions based more on merit and less on politics.

The nerve of that guy.
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Despite White House claims, our 'military superiority' is clear

03/22/17 10:01AM

Gary Cohn, the chief White House economics advisor, recently talked to Fox News' Chris Wallace about Donald Trump's budget priorities. The host asked about why the administration believes it's necessary to increase defense spending by $54 billion.

"Unfortunately," Cohn said, "we have no alternative but to reinvest in our military and make ourselves a military power once again."

It was a bizarre answer predicated on the idea that the United States is not already the preeminent global military power.

The evidence, meanwhile, couldn't be much clearer. The New York Times published a helpful piece today providing necessary context to international defense spending, noting that after the United States, the seven countries that invest the most in every year in their armed forces -- China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Great Britain, France, India, and Japan -- combined spend about $514 billion. The United States, meanwhile, spends $596 billion.

Using the New York Times' data, I put together the above chart to help drive the point home.
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Image: Paul Ryan

The Republican health care plan is actually worse than nothing

03/22/17 09:21AM

It dawned on congressional Republicans quite a while ago that they couldn't simply repeal the Affordable Care Act, roll back the clock as if "Obamacare" never existed, and walk away. GOP policymakers conceded they'd have to "repeal and replace" the health care law with their own policy blueprint.

That, of course, has become a fiasco of historic proportions. Last week, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that highlighted the profound impact the Republican bill would have on the American system: the ranks of the uninsured would grow by 14 million by next year, and that number would expand to 24 million by 2026.

And as dreadful as those results sound, the New York Times' Margot Sanger-Katz's highlighted an even more striking detail yesterday:
The Republican bill would actually result in more people being uninsured than if Obamacare were simply repealed. Getting rid of the major coverage provisions and regulations of Obamacare would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance, according to another recent C.B.O. report.

In other words, one million more Americans would have health insurance with a clean repeal than with the Republican replacement plan, according to C.B.O. estimates.
Let that sink for a moment. If Republicans simply took a sledge hammer to the ACA, 23 million Americans would lose their health coverage. If Republicans pass their own legislation, 24 million Americans would lose their health coverage.
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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

When a president simply lies too much

03/22/17 08:46AM

The funny thing about Donald Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory is that, from the outset, everyone knew he was lying. The sitting president accused his predecessor of ordering an illegal surveillance operation, as part of a Watergate-like scheme, and nearly the entire political world quickly reached a consensus: these claims are clearly not rooted in reality.

As Trump's falsehoods go, these were hardly the most dramatic -- indeed, they're not even the most shocking lie he's told about Barack Obama -- and it didn't take long before the claims were discredited in bipartisan fashion. But there was something about this lie that gained traction in ways most of Trump's other lies don't. Apparently, when a sitting president makes demonstrably false claims about his predecessor committing a felony, many are inclined to believe there should be some kind of consequences for dishonesty at this level.

Making matters much worse, when FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, confirming an investigation into the Trump campaign and further debunking Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory, the president used his official White House Twitter account to make a variety of related claims, each of which was plainly untrue.

The same day, the White House tried to tell the public that Trump's former campaign chairman and National Security Advisor were unimportant, peripheral figures.

And as a result, the bough is breaking. Discussions of the president's uncontrollable dishonesty are becoming more open, more explicit, less guarded, and more widespread. Take, for example, this new editorial from the Wall Street Journal, which argued that Trump's falsehoods "are eroding public trust, at home and abroad."
If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We're not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. [...]

Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump's approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn't show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he's a fake President.
In case this isn't widely known, let's note for the record that the Wall Street Journal's editorial page is one of the most Republican-friendly pieces of real estate in all of national print media. When it calls out a GOP president's mendacity in such a direct way, it's emblematic of a change in perceptions about Trump's presidency.
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Image: Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump announces his nomination of Gorsuch to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington

FBI probe into Team Trump casts cloud over Supreme Court process

03/22/17 08:00AM

On Monday, FBI Director James Comey publicly confirmed that there's a counter-espionage investigation underway, examining not only Russia's illegal efforts to help put Donald Trump in the White House, but also whether Team Trump cooperated with Moscow's scheme. On Tuesday, the confirmation hearing for Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, began in earnest.

Much of the political world is treating these two developments as distinct and unrelated. It was heartening to see Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) take the obvious step of connecting then. The Washington Post reported:
"I'd like to point out that it is the height of irony that Republicans held this Supreme Court seat open for nearly a calendar year while President Obama was in office, but are now rushing to fill the seat for a president whose campaign is under investigation by the FBI," Schumer said, according to remarks sent out by his office.

Schumer said that, to him, it appeared "unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court Justice with a lifetime appointment" due to the looming FBI investigation, which could potentially last for months or years.
The Democratic leader added, "You can bet that if the shoe was on the other foot -- and a Democratic president was under investigation by the FBI -- that Republicans would be howling at the moon about filling a Supreme Court seat in such circumstances. After all, they stopped a president who wasn't under investigation from filling a seat with nearly a year left in his presidency."

I don't imagine any fair-minded observer would disagree with this assessment. Donald Trump not only received far fewer votes than his opponent, making it difficult for him to claim that he has a mandate to push a far-right conservative onto the high court, his campaign also may have colluded with a foreign adversary during an attack on our presidential election -- an attack that elevated Trump into the Oval Office.

If the partisan dynamic were flipped, we can say with some certainty that Republicans would demand that the FBI investigation be resolved before the president's Supreme Court nominee is considered for a lifetime appointment. Given the unprecedented GOP abuses surrounding the Merrick Garland nomination, the high court vacancy is itself of dubious legitimacy, but the FBI's probe raises questions anew about the legitimacy of the president trying to fill that vacancy.

So why not wait until the questions have answers?
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.21.17

03/21/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Confirmation hearings begin in earnest: "Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch began the second day of his confirmation hearing by stating that the Roe v. Wade precedent 'has been reaffirmed many times,' and telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that the question of whether he could rule against Trump was a 'softball.'"

* National security: "The new electronic device cabin restrictions on certain flights inbound to the United States from 10 overseas airports in the Muslim world were not prompted by a specific, newly-discovered threat, multiple U.S. officials told NBC News."

* I don't imagine the president will be tweeting this one: "For the first time since the election, markets are doubting they will get the pro-growth policies of tax reform and stimulus promised by President Donald Trump and the Republican Congress."

* Following up on Rachel's report from last night: "Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a semiannual meeting of NATO foreign ministers this spring and will instead travel to a Group of 7 meeting of top diplomats in Italy and then to Russia."

* Paul Manafort remains in the news: "A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan."
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Ivanka Trump, right, listens as her father Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a policy speech on child care, Sept. 13, 2016, in Aston, Pa. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Ivanka Trump gains unprecedented new powers in the White House

03/21/17 04:52PM

Shortly after the election, there were multiple reports about Donald Trump seeking security clearance for his adult children. Soon after, the president quickly knocked those reports down, saying via Twitter, "I am not trying to get 'top level security clearance' for my children. This was a typically false news story."

Four months later, however, the story has apparently changed for at least one of the Trump kids. Politico reported:
Ivanka Trump, who moved to Washington saying she would play no formal role in her father's administration, is now officially setting up shop in the White House.

The powerful first daughter has secured her own office on the West Wing's second floor -- a space next to senior adviser Dina Powell, who was recently promoted to a position on the National Security Council. She is also in the process of obtaining a security clearance and is set to receive government-issued communications devices this week.
Even by Trump standards, it's hard to know what to make of a story like this. Ivanka Trump won't get a paycheck, but she will get classified information. She won't have a White House position, but she will have an office in the West Wing.

As is often the case with this administration, there's no real precedent for this. Americans have seen the president's adult kids adopting ceremonial roles, but Ivanka Trump is participating in meetings with foreign leaders -- literally sitting next to Canada's Justin Trudeau and Germany's Angela Merkel during recent White House discussions -- and tackling a policy portfolio.

She'll answer to no one but her father, and will get around nepotism laws by not having an official paid position.

I've long assumed that Ivanka Trump would have special access to the president, but this job-that-isn't-exactly-a-job is something else. It's ... odd.
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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Republicans can't defend their health care bill on the merits

03/21/17 03:39PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a warning to his Republican colleagues today, arguing that GOP lawmakers must support the party's health care plan because Republicans made a "commitment" to voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

He didn't talk about the bill's merits, or what he believes it would do to help Americans, but rather, McConnell's focus was on the political calculus. It's a classic example of a logical fallacy:

1. We have to do something.
2. This bill is something.
3. We therefore have to pass this bill.

Similarly, Donald Trump was in Louisville last night, headlining a campaign-style rally, where he touted his party's health care bill, again without actually describing any of its effects or purported benefits. Politico reported that the president is "increasingly talking about health care like the vegetables of his agenda -- the thing he must begrudgingly finish in order to get to what he really wants: tax cuts, trade deals and infrastructure."

NBC News reported that Trump took a similar message to congressional Republicans this morning on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump told House Republicans Tuesday that they could lose re-election in the 2018 midterms if they vote against the GOP health care bill later this week that would undo much of Obamacare.

Trying to help wrangle enough votes for passage, Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet privately with Republican lawmakers and said they are putting the GOP majority at risk with opposition to the bill, pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan.
We can certainly have a credible debate about Trump's assessment. In his mind, if the American Health Care Act goes down, Republican incumbents will suffer at the ballot box next year. As I see it, the risk is far greater for GOP members who vote for a wildly unpopular bill that's likely to die in the Senate anyway.

But the point here is that the argument itself is detached from what really matters: whether this legislation is a worthwhile policy prescription.
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Image: Neil Gorsuch

Gorsuch nomination creates important test for Senate Democrats

03/21/17 12:55PM

When Judge Neil Gorsuch arrived in the Senate yesterday to begin his Supreme Court confirmation process, there was a little news before the nominee even sat down. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Gorsuch's home state of Colorado joined the nominee and graciously introduced him to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It's the sort of thing a senator ordinarily does when he or she supports a nomination, which meant Bennet was already undermining Democratic opposition to Donald Trump's high court nominee before the process had even begun in earnest. Roll Call reported:
...Bennet did not say if he would support Gorsuch for the high court, telling the committee, "I am keeping an open mind on this nomination."

His introduction did highlight what he saw as two clouds hanging over the proceedings, which the committee's Democrats also acknowledged. The first is the Republicans' refusal to hold a hearing or a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy, Judge Merrick Garland.

Bennet said it was tempting to deny Gorsuch a fair hearing, but, "Two wrongs never make a right."
That's an interesting principle, actually. Under normal circumstances, it's fairly compelling to think powerful policymakers should act in a mature and responsible fashion, steering clear of pettiness and needlessly cheap efforts to score partisan points. Many understandably grow weary of "tit-for-tat" schemes.

But I have a few straightforward follow-up questions for the Democratic senator: two wrongs may not make a right, but what does? Given the circumstances, what's just in this situation? How will rewarding Republican maximalist tactics move us any closer to what's "right"?
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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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