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Thursday's Mini-Report, 3.9.17

03/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* This is not what grown-up legislating looks like: "Two key House committees have approved a Republican proposal to revise the Affordable Care Act, giving the bill its first victories amid a backlash that both Republican leaders and President Trump are trying to tamp down."

* Muslim ban: "Washington state will file for a restraining order against President Trump's revamped travel ban -- a move which could foreshadow a potential legal showdown between the administration and a wave of challenges to the controversial executive order."

* WikiLeaks "is considering releasing more CIA hacking tools if internet security professionals can first help make sure the cyber weapons can't be used any further, the group's founder, Julian Assange, said Thursday."

* Questions in need of answers: "Several members of the Senate panel investigating alleged Russian interference in the presidential election viewed documents at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters on Wednesday and left with more questions than answers, according to Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee."

* Fresh evidence that the process is not going well for the GOP: "A Republican House committee chair said he would like White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer to keep his nose out of Congress' business on Obamacare repeal, highlighting the tensions between the two branches as they try to come to an agreement on the best path forward."

* Welcome candor: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rarely a man of many words, but this quote may take the cake. When asked if he thinks Mexico will pay for President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico Thursday, McConnell summed it up in two syllables. 'Uh, no,' he said."
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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)

Trump's climate-denying EPA chief makes matters worse

03/09/17 04:24PM

Gina McCarthy, who led the EPA during President Obama's second term, reflected this week on her successor. "It's fine to have differing opinions on how to meet the mission of the agency. Many Republican administrators have had that," McCarthy told the New York Times. 'But [with Scott Pruitt], for the first time, I see someone who has no commitment to the mission of the agency.'"

We were reminded today that McCarthy's concerns about Donald Trump's far-right EPA chief are grounded in fact.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said Thursday he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.

"I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," he told CNBC's "Squawk Box."

"But we don't know that yet ... We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis," he added.
Or put another way, the Republican head of the EPA disagrees with practically every climate scientist on the planet. Pruitt, not yet a month into his tenure as EPA's administrator, also disagrees with the EPA.
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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cedar Rapids, Iowa April 11, 2014.

Paul Ryan flubs the basic idea behind insurance

03/09/17 02:51PM

In an apparent bid to drive me batty, CNN recently published a report that described House Speaker Paul Ryan as "a legendary wonk." In reality, for those who take a closer look the Republican congressman's record and rhetoric, it's painfully obvious that Ryan is neither legendary nor a wonk.

Take today, for example, when the GOP House Speaker did a little presentation on Capitol Hill for reporters in defense of his controversial American Health Care Act, which some have begun calling "Trumpcare." At one point during the slideshow -- complete with Ryan's sleeves rolled up -- the Wisconsin Republican tried to explain what he sees as the Affordable Care Act's fatal flaw:
"The fatal conceit of Obamacare is that we're just gonna make everybody buy our health insurance at the federal-government level, young and healthy people are going to go into the market and pay for the older, sicker people. So, the young healthy person is going to be made to buy health care, and they're going to pay for the person, you know, gets breast cancer in her 40s or who gets heart disease in his 50s. [...]

"The whole idea of Obamacare is ... the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick. It's not working, and that's why it's in a death spiral."
Let's take these two points one at a time, starting with the latter.

The first problem with Ryan's analysis is that he keeps using the phrase "death spiral" without fully understanding its meaning. As we discussed the last time the Speaker screwed this up, if the ACA were in "death spiral," we'd see declining enrollment numbers, with consumers withdrawing from the system because they can't afford the premiums and would rather pay the penalty than buy insurance they can't afford.

The real-world evidence, however, points in the opposite direction. As Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Huffington Post in January, "It seems to me that enrollment holding steady amidst tremendous uncertainty about the future of the law and big premium increases is a positive sign. There is no evidence of a market collapse or insurance death spiral."

The second problem is that Ryan doesn't seem to understand what "insurance" means.
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Image: Jeff Sessions

Sessions considers special counsel, but not for Trump

03/09/17 12:55PM

One of the oddities of 2017 is how much time Republicans have spent looking backwards. Donald Trump, for example, has invested an enormous amount of energy focusing on his predecessor, the 2016 election, and voter fraud that exists only in the president's mind. House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), meanwhile, remains focused on Hillary Clinton's email server from eight years ago.

And at the Justice Department, as Politico reports, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is apparently amenable to the idea of appointing a special counsel, not to investigate Trump's scandals, but to look over the work done by Sessions' predecessors.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he would be open to bringing in an outside counselor to investigate the practices of his Department of Justice predecessors under former President Barack Obama.

Sessions was asked about such an arrangement during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who suggested that Sessions might ask outside counsel to look into the department under Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
According to the published transcript, Hewitt argued that the Obama era was "a bad eight years" for the Justice Department, specifically pointing to "the IRS case, the Fast and Furious case, Secretary Clinton's server." Hewitt, who didn't appear to be kidding, asked, "How about an outside counsel, not connected to politics, to review the DOJ's actions in those matters with authority to bring charges if underlying crimes are uncovered in the course of the investigation, and just generally to look at how the Department of Justice operated in the highly-politicized Holder-Lynch years?"

Sessions said he's eager to "restore the independence and professionalism of the Department of Justice," adding that he and his team would "consider" outside special counsel.

Hewitt argued that the IRS matter was a particular point of concern, to which the A.G. added that the story remains "a matter of real concern to me."

Even by 2017 standards, this is remarkably misguided.
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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.9.17

03/09/17 12:00PM

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

* If there are any lingering tensions between Tom Perez and Keith Ellison, they're hiding it very well. The DNC's chair and deputy chair are reportedly launching a road trip, which they're calling a "Democratic Turnaround Tour." The first event is in two weeks in Michigan.

* After months of airing ads touting a Republican health care plan that didn't exist, the American Action Network is now poised to air new commercials in support of the GOP's American Health Care Act. The ads will air in the districts of 30 House Freedom Caucus members. The American Action Network is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan's leadership team.

* In Georgia's congressional special election, Jon Ossoff (D) launched a new ad this week, telling local voters, "When President Trump embarrasses our country or acts recklessly, I'll hold him accountable." Trump narrowly won this traditionally Republican district in the fall.

* Hillary Clinton has kept a relatively low profile this year, but the former Secretary of State appeared at the annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards yesterday, and urged attendees to keep up the "resistance."

* During a contentious conference call with Bernie Sanders supporters, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the Senate's most conservative Democrat, effectively dared his progressive critics to try to defeat him. "What you ought to do is vote me out," the West Virginian said. "Vote me out! I'm not changing. Find somebody else who can beat me and vote me out."

* Missouri Republicans would love to defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) next year, but they haven't yet recruited a top-tier challenger. State Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) this week waved off those encouraging him to run, saying, "I'd like to be left alone to do my job that I got elected to do."
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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., heads to the Senate subway following a vote in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Conservative senator to House GOP: 'Start over' on health care

03/09/17 11:26AM

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is in a fairly unusual position. On the one hand, he's an ambitious, far-right Republican, a loyal partisan, and a fierce red-state critic of anything related to Barack Obama's presidency. When looking for GOP senators who'd be inclined to support the House Republicans' American Health Care Act -- what some are calling "Trumpcare" -- one might assume the Arkansan would stick with his party.

But on the other hand, Cotton recently hosted a contentious town-hall forum with his constituents, where he was reminded that Arkansas has benefited more from the Affordable Care Act than almost any other state. The senator may hate "Obamacare," but he also isn't eager to strip away health security for hundreds of thousands of people in his home state.

And with that in mind, when Cotton this morning called on House Republicans to "start over" on a new reform bill, it jolted GOP politics quite a bit.
[Cotton] drew swift attention Thursday morning when he tweeted that the House should "start over" in its process. "House health-care bill can't pass Senate [without] major changes. To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don't get it fast," Cotton wrote from his political account.

"GOP shouldn't act like Dems did in O'care. No excuse to release bill Mon night, start voting Wed. With no budget estimate!" he continued. "What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, NOT House leaders' arbitrary legislative calendar."
Let's note for the record that Cotton is mistaken about how the Affordable Care Act was passed.

But even putting this aside, the Arkansas senator's online comments carried considerable weight and reinforce perceptions that "Trumpcare" is in serious trouble.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump appoints a colorful bunch to fill official 'beachhead teams'

03/09/17 10:42AM

Donald Trump clearly has some personnel troubles. Most of the president's cabinet is in place, but the vast majority of Senate-confirmed positions throughout the Trump administration remain empty -- because the president hasn't bothered to nominate anyone. Trump last week insisted he wants those offices to remain empty on purpose, for reasons that still don't make any sense.

But those refer specifically to Trump administration jobs that require the consent of senators. In a vast federal executive branch, there are scores of positions that a president can fill through simple appointments -- no confirmation votes necessary -- and ProPublica published a fascinating report yesterday taking a closer look at the crew Team Trump is pulling together.
A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed "ethnic cleansing" in a plot to "liquidate" the white working class. A former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool. A pair of healthcare industry lobbyists. A lobbyist for defense contractors. An "evangelist" and lobbyist for Palantir, the Silicon Valley company with close ties to intelligence agencies. And a New Hampshire Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

These are some of the people the Trump administration has hired for positions across the federal government, according to documents received by ProPublica through public-records requests.
The list of officials, members of the White House's so-called "beachhead teams" throughout the executive branch, isn't short. There are, as ProPublica noted, more than 400 people in these positions.

But ProPublica's diligence has uncovered quite a colorful crew. One new Labor Department staffer, for example, was appointed by Trump after he graduated in 2015 -- from high school.

Perhaps the most substantively interesting takeaway, however, is the role lobbyists are playing.
Image: Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In St. Augustine, Florida

White House isn't on board with the 'Trumpcare' label

03/09/17 10:08AM

Kellyanne Conway, one of Donald Trump's top White House advisers, appeared on Fox News yesterday and touted the new Republican health care plan, which, she said, enjoys the president's full support. There was, however, some quibbling about what to call the GOP proposal.

Conway says the Republican plan enjoys "presidential leadership," explaining that Trump has personally taken it upon himself to push the bill through. She added that the president is "really husbanding" the legislation through the process.

But when the discussion turned to the bill's name, TPM reported that Conway insisted this is"serious business" and "isn't about branding according to someone's name." She added, "I'll call it Trumpcare if you want to, but I didn't hear President Trump say to any of us, 'Hey, I want my name on that.'"

A White House spokesperson struck a more emphatic note with Politico, arguing "It's not 'Trumpcare.' ... We will be calling it by its official name," the American Health Care Act.

If only it were that simple.
He built his career in large part by plastering his name on skyscrapers, hotels, casinos, books, wines and steaks, but there appears to be one place President Donald Trump does not want his favorite five-letter word -- the Republican health care bill.

Before Obamacare, there was Romneycare. Back in the 1990s, there was Hillarycare. For a brief moment in the 2012 GOP primary, there was even Obamneycare (Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty quickly abandoned the phrase and, in August 2011, his campaign for the nomination). But the White House, for all its messaging woes and infighting, has settled on the fact that -- for the time being -- it's steering clear of Trumpcare.
I can think of a thousand important angles to the health care fight, and I'll gladly concede that legislative nicknames don't deserve a high ranking on the list. That said, dismissing rhetoric, names, and labels as trivia isn't quite right, either -- because what something is called affects public perceptions.
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Image: Sam Brownback

Kansas' Brownback poised to jump to Team Trump

03/09/17 09:20AM

Kansans hoping to see their beleaguered governor, Republican Sam Brownback, clean up the mess he's made may soon be disappointed. The Kansas City Star reported:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is in talks with President Donald Trump's administration about taking an ambassadorship position, according to sources close to the governor.

No offer has been extended yet, according to The Star's sources, but the governor has discussed the possibility of taking a position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for food and agriculture, a position that would move the Midwestern governor to Rome.... The ambassador serves as the U.S. government's conduit to three Rome-based international organizations dedicated to combating global hunger — the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
There's some ambiguity about where the process stands. Kansas Public Radio said Brownback's departure to the Trump administration was a "done deal," but the Kansas City Star, citing sources close to the governor, "framed the situation as more tentative than that."

But if Brownback takes the gig, it would be a fitting end to a jaw-dropping tenure. The Kansas Republican launched a radical economic "experiment" after taking office six years ago, and Brownback's plan failed spectacularly. As regular readers know, the far-right Kansan, working with a GOP-led legislature, cut taxes far beyond what the state could afford, slashed public investments, and waited for prosperity to flourish across every corner of the state.

None of that has happened. Not only have Kansas' job growth and economic growth rates lagged behind neighboring states, but the state's budget is in shambles, and Kansas' debt rating has been downgraded multiple times.
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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Republicans' health care plan has already run out of friends

03/09/17 08:40AM

Yesterday afternoon, the American Nurses Association condemned the House Republicans' health care plan, explaining that the American Health Care Act "threatens health care affordability, access, and delivery for individuals across the nation."

The ANA, representing over 3.6 million nurses, is hardly the only major stakeholder drawing this conclusion. The list of organizations that have come out against the Republican plan has grown quite quickly, and includes the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, AARP, the American Cancer Society, and the American Psychiatric Association, among others.

Even America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the powerhouse trade association for private insurers, isn't happy.

At least some on Capitol Hill, however, have embraced an amazing new phrase to dismiss critics of their ridiculous plan from throughout the system.
Opposition to the GOP bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act continued to emerge on Wednesday -- the bill's second day in the public eye -- with statements condemning the bill from groups representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, and the elderly.

Mobbed by reporters as he emerged from casting an afternoon vote, the bill's author Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) brushed off the latest round of criticism, saying the thousands of hospitals and hundreds of thousands of doctors are part of a "medical industrial complex" that opposes major reforms to Medicaid.
If this is the best line Republicans can come up with, they're in big trouble.
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New details put the spotlight back on Trump's Russia scandal

03/09/17 08:00AM

The first real sign of trouble came last summer, when Republican officials were putting together the party platform at their national convention in Cleveland. As regular readers know, when Republican officials were putting together the party platform, Donald Trump and his campaign team were completely indifferent towards the document and the process – with one notable exception.

The only thing Team Trump quietly pushed was a subtle change to make the Republican platform more in line with Russia’s foreign policy preferences. One GOP congressman was quoted saying soon after that the “most under-covered story” of the Republican convention” was Team Trump’s efforts to change the party platform to be more pro-Putin.

About a month later, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked the then-candidate about this. “I wasn’t involved in that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I was not involved.” Told that members of his team were responsible for pushing the platform in a direction Russia wanted, Trump added, “Yeah. I was not involved in that.”

Left unresolved is why Team Trump found it necessary to change the platform, and who on the Republican's team pushed for the change. As Rachel noted on last night's show, this report from Politico brings the story into sharper focus.
U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have expressed interest in the activities of a Kiev-based operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence who consulted regularly with Paul Manafort last year while Manafort was running Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

The operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, came under scrutiny from officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department partly because of at least two trips he took to the U.S. during the presidential campaign, according to three international political operatives familiar with the agencies' interest in Kilimnik.

Kilimnik, a joint Russian-Ukrainian citizen who trained in the Russian army as a linguist, told operatives in Kiev and Washington that he met with Manafort during an April trip to the United States. And, after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia, according to a Kiev operative.
I'm not in a position to say whether Kilimnik's claims are true, but it would at least make sense of a story that, to date, has been very difficult to understand.

It also dovetails with a CNN report from last week in which J.D. Gordon, the Trump campaign's national security policy representative at the Republican convention, said he helped push for the platform change that "Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for." Gordon later told TPM he spoke with RNC officials about the platform language, but denied having "pushed" for the change.

Shortly after learning about the platform change, practically everyone on Team Trump shrugged their shoulders and proceeded to spend months denying any involvement. Now, however, we're learning that those denials, like so many claims about the Russia scandal, weren't entirely true.
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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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