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Thursday's Mini-Report, 11.30.17

11/30/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* John Conyers: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other top House Democrats on Thursday increased the pressure on Rep. John Conyers, who is facing multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and a House Ethics Committee probe, by calling on him to resign from office."

* Al Franken: "An Army veteran is the latest woman to publicly accuse Sen. Al Franken of touching her Inappropriately, saying the Minnesota Democrat groped her during a USO tour nearly 14 years ago."

* This report is worth your time: "Warning that the Trump administration seems to be claiming 'unchecked power that is, quite frankly, frightening,' a judge ordered the government on Thursday to say by 5 p.m. whether an American citizen held in military custody for 11 weeks has been warned of his Miranda rights and has sought access to a lawyer."

* The cost of self-sabotage: "The proposition that Britain could have its cake and eat it during Brexit, as the foreign secretary Boris Johnson once said, was always dismissed as a fiction by opponents. On Wednesday, it was quietly interred by the government as it capitulated on the amount it will have to pay for a divorce settlement. And this was not Britain's first capitulation over Brexit, nor -- almost certainly -- will it be the last, analysts said."

* Trump-Russia: "President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, met this month with investigators working for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, and answered questions about a meeting with a Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, according to a person briefed on the investigation."

* Randy Credico: "A longtime outsider in New York State politics has been identified as the link between WikiLeaks and Roger J. Stone Jr., an adviser to Donald J. Trump who appears to have had advance knowledge about hacked emails related to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign."

* Have I mentioned that the agency is having financial problems? "The Secret Service spent nearly $7,500 on golf cart rentals while President Trump was at his private golf club Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving."

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

Official new report: Republican tax cuts won't pay for themselves

11/30/17 04:25PM

When selling their tax plan, Republicans have long argued that they don't need to offset the costs of their plan because -- let's all say it together -- tax cuts pay for themselves.

Today, Congress' official scorekeepers told GOP lawmakers in no uncertain terms that they're wrong.

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said Wednesday afternoon that the Senate tax bill would add $1 trillion to federal budget deficits over the next decade, even after accounting for additional economic growth, a major blow to Republicans' contention that the $1.5 trillion tax cuts in the bill will pay for themselves through growth. [...]

The committee said economic growth generated by the tax cut will offset losses by about $458 billion over the next decade. Over that same period, an additional $51 billion will be needed to pay interest on the additional debt the government will borrow to pay for the tax cuts.

"Overall, the budgetary effects of changes in economic growth are projected to reduce the deficit by $407 billion during the budget window," the committee said.

Some of that may sound a little wonky, so let's make it plain: Senate Republicans intend to cut taxes by about $1.4 trillion, and once their plan is fully implemented, they'll leave a $1 trillion hole in the federal budget.

Ordinarily, GOP officials respond to reports such as these by insisting that the numbers are misleading because they failed to take "dynamic scoring" into account. In other words, Republicans believe that to get an accurate assessment of tax plans, one must account for the fact that tax cuts super-charge the economy, which means more growth, which means more revenue, which means a lower overall price tag.

But that argument doesn't work today: the Joint Committee on Taxation, which is the official congressional scorekeeper on tax bills, relied on dynamic scoring in its analysis.

The JCT played the game by Republican rules, and the regressive tax plan is still $1 trillion short. The claims Republicans are making to justify their tax breaks are, according to Congress' official accounting, wrong.

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In this Oct. 20, 2015 photo Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks to reporters near the subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

On taxes, John McCain puts his principles aside

11/30/17 12:44PM

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), only recently having been diagnosed with brain cancer, delivered dramatic remarks on the Senate floor in July, lamenting what has become of contemporary politics and the legislative process. CNN called it "a Washington moment for the ages."

The same day, Roll Call told readers, "Years from now, when the history of the modern Congress is written, John McCain's address to the Senate on July 25, 2017, is likely to stand among the defining summations of the era."

As we discussed at the time, the Arizona Republican's remarks were certainly compelling. He made a powerful case for a more constructive and more deliberative legislative process. McCain extolled the virtues of "regular order," substantive hearings, and bipartisan deliberations.

Two days later, he killed his party's far-right health care overhaul, urging Republicans to do better.

With this in mind, many hoped McCain, with his legacy very much on his mind, would stick to those same principles as his GOP brethren took steps to ram through a regressive tax plan -- without the benefits of regular order, substantive hearings, and bipartisan deliberations. Those observers were disappointed to discover today that McCain's commitment to those principles was fleeting. His statement this morning read in part:

"After careful thought and consideration, I have decided to support the Senate tax reform bill. I believe this legislation, though far from perfect, would enhance American competitiveness, boost the economy, and provide long overdue tax relief for middle class families.

"For too long, hardworking people in Arizona and around the country have not seen a raise in their paychecks. This bill would directly benefit all Americans, allowing them to keep a higher percentage of what they earn."

Substantively, the senator's position is plainly bizarre. To describe a bill that would raise taxes on millions of middle-class families as "tax relief" for the middle class is to willfully ignore what we already know about the legislation.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.30.17

11/30/17 12:00PM

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

* Alabama's Roy Moore, who was twice removed from the bench for ignoring court orders he disagreed with, told voters at an event last night, "Judges who put themselves above the Constitution should be impeached."

* Following up on an item from earlier in the week, the progressive Not One Penny campaign intended to run an ad critical of the Republican tax plan on Fox News, but the network has reportedly decided not to air it.

* Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), worried about his re-election bid next year, was supposed to benefit from a fundraiser headlined by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). After Zeldin opposed the GOP tax plan, however, Ryan canceled the event, reportedly to "punish" the New York lawmaker.

* Politico has a bizarre story about staffers from the National Republican Senatorial Committee "seizing information on more than 200,000 donors" from the National Republican Congressional Committee's computer system earlier this year. It's led, not surprisingly, to a "rift."

* Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), who's apparently getting ready for another re-election campaign in Utah next year, was asked yesterday about Donald Trump tweeting anti-Muslim videos. The senator said he doesn't pay much attention to tweets and added that Trump is "one of the best presidents I've served under." Hatch has been in Congress since 1977.

* Rep. Mo Brooks (R), who ran against Roy Moore for the Republican Party's Senate nomination this year, is scrambling to defend Moore against sexual assault allegations. The far-right congressman specially said this week that one of Moore's accusers is "clearly a liar."

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Snow begins to gather on a statue outside the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, Dec. 10, 2013.

Republican tax plan remains 'historically unpopular'

11/30/17 11:20AM

Perhaps Republicans thought the polling on their tax plan would improve as the debate continued to unfold. If so, GOP officials are probably disappointed right now.

FiveThirtyEight ran an interesting report yesterday describing the Republican scheme as "historically unpopular."

Senate Republicans' effort to pass tax reform is at a crucial juncture. As some senators waffle on whether to support the bill, they may want to spare a glance toward public opinion: Poll after poll shows that more voters than not are opposed to their efforts. In fact, the GOP bill is one of the least popular tax plans since Ronald Reagan's day.

About a third of voters currently support the Republican tax reform package, according to an average of five surveys released this month. In a Quinnipiac University survey, just 25 percent of voters approved of the plan. Surveys from ABC News/Washington Post, CNN, Morning Consult and YouGov put approval of the plan slightly higher, but all are still at 36 percent or lower. Meanwhile, an average of the five polls puts opposition at 46 percent.

There's no great mystery here: Americans generally believe the GOP plan will direct the bulk of the benefits to the rich, which happens to be true. There's also ample polling that shows the public supporting higher taxes on big corporations, which is the polar opposite of what Republicans have in mind.

But what I found especially interesting in the FiveThirtyEight analysis was the comparison between support for the Republican tax plan this year and the polling on the most recent major plans to raise taxes.

The piece explained, for example, that only 41% of Americans endorsed the George H.W. Bush's plan for tax hikes in 1990. A few years later, support for Bill Clinton's plan to raise taxes in 1993 was even lower. (Both plans ended up passing anyway.)

But this year, the tax plan backed by Donald Trump and congressional Republicans is even less popular than those recent efforts. In other words, we're looking at the first modern example of a package of tax cuts enjoying less support than proposed tax increases.

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Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, speaks during the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" legislative luncheon in Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

GOP leaders aren't taking Ron Johnson's threats seriously

11/30/17 10:40AM

This is a bit of an over-simplification, but there are basically two key factions of Senate Republicans with "concerns" about the GOP tax plan. The first, led in large part by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is focused on the effects of the bill on the nation's deficit and debt. Republicans have scrambled to make Corker happy, including negotiations over a trigger mechanism intended to address future budget shortfalls.

The other contingent, led in large part by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), want expanded tax breaks for pass-through businesses. The trouble is, as the Washington Examiner reported this morning, Senate Republicans "aren't taking seriously" Johnson's threats to withhold his support.

The Wisconsin Republican is holding out for changes that would put the tax treatment of small businesses on a more equal footing with major corporations. Negotiations with Senate GOP leaders and President Trump on adjustments to assuage Johnson's concerns have made progress, and Johnson did vote for the motion to begin debate on the package Wednesday evening. The senator, however, said his concerns remain, and they're not frivolous.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his lieutenants, accustomed to Johnson's bluster, aren't that worried. The senator often fumes about key aspects of major legislation and complains about being excluded from the drafting process, only to vote "yes" upon final passage.

And those assumptions are well grounded. Johnson made quite a fuss in June during the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and said he was fully prepared to break ranks with his GOP brethren. But when push came to shove, the conservative Wisconsinite folded and voted the way Republicans wanted him to.

With this in mind, Johnson also caused a bit of a stir two weeks ago when he told the Wall Street Journal, "If they can pass it without me, let them.... I'm not going to vote for this tax package."

To which GOP leaders effectively said to one another, "Don't sweat it; he'll change his mind soon enough."

This week, Johnson voted with his party in committee and on a key procedural vote on the Senate floor, reinforcing suspicions that his recent bluster was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

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Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, and press secretary Hope Hicks watch during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump taps mendacious pollster to oversee response to opioid crisis

11/30/17 10:06AM

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump vowed to only hire "the best people" for his team. As a president, this isn't working out especially well.

Part of the problem is that Trump has tapped a variety of officials to lead government agencies whose work they fundamentally oppose. Officials like Rick Perry, Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, Mick Mulvaney, and others are overseeing departments that, in their minds, shouldn't even exist.

But the other part of the problem is this White House has put a variety of people in positions of authority despite backgrounds that suggest they're woefully unqualified for the posts. Ben Carson, a retired brain surgeon, is in charge of Housing and Urban Development, for example, and he hired Eric Trump's wedding planner to run federal HUD operations in New York and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Politico recently reported that the president's appointees to jobs at Agriculture Department headquarters "include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company."

And don't even get me started on Don Benton overseeing the Selective Service System.

Yesterday, as BuzzFeed reported, the trend continued.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday announced that pollster Kellyanne Conway, 50, counselor to President Donald Trump, would oversee White House efforts to combat the opioid overdose epidemic.

More than 64,000 people died in the US of drug overdoses in 2016, largely from opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers. Trump declared a national public health emergency over the crisis in October, and calls have emerged for an opioids "czar" to lead crisis response efforts in the last year.

Looks like Conway has the job. Trump has asked her "to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House," Sessions said at a news conference in remarks that went beyond prepared ones from the event.

"She is exceedingly talented," the attorney general added about Conway.

Just so we're clear, this isn't a joke.

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Former US President George W. Bush speaks during "Investing in Our Future" at the US-Africa Leaders Summit at the Kennedy Center on Aug. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)

Republicans like to pretend Bush's tax cuts never happened

11/30/17 09:20AM

While making the case for the regressive Republican tax plan, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) argued two weeks ago, "Every time we've cut taxes you've seen the economy take off." The GOP leader encouraged Americans to "just look at history."

To make his case, Scalise conveniently overlooked George W. Bush's entire presidency. Yesterday, Donald Trump did the same thing, selling his party's plan at a rally in Missouri.

"You know, for years they have not been able to get tax cuts, many, many years since Reagan."

For a president who claims to have "one of the great memories of all time," it's curious that he's forgotten the tax cuts approved since the 1980s.

Clinton, for example, approved some tax cuts in 1997. Obama's Recovery Act -- sometimes known as "the stimulus" -- which helped rescue the country from the Great Recession, included one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in modern American history.

And then, of course, there's the Bush/Cheney era, which matters in ways Trump and his GOP allies obviously don't want to talk about.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

On taxes, Republicans are effectively legislating while blindfolded

11/30/17 08:40AM

Yesterday afternoon, Senate Republicans voted on a procedural measure to bring their tax plan to the floor, setting the stage for a final vote that will likely come tomorrow. At the time, GOP senators advanced the legislation without a score from the Joint Committee on Taxation, without legislative text on the "trigger" provisions, without understanding the details of changes to state-and-local-tax deductions, without Byrd Rule scrutiny, and without the benefit of a single substantive policy hearing.

In other words, with Congress poised to overhaul the federal tax code of the world's most dominant economic superpower, Republican lawmakers are effectively winging it, legislating while blindfolded, hoping it'll all work out in the end.

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne joked yesterday, "Most Americans take far more care in filling out their tax returns than Republicans are taking with this bill."

What's more, while Republicans are confronted with brutal analyses of their plan from official and independent economists, GOP policymakers can't pushback against them -- because Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his team haven't prepared an official Trump administration analysis.

Mr. Mnuchin has promised that Treasury will release its analysis in full. Yet, just one day before the full Senate prepares to vote on a sweeping tax rewrite, the administration has yet to produce the type of economic analysis that it is citing as a reason to pass the tax cut.

Those inside Treasury's Office of Tax Policy, which Mr. Mnuchin has credited with running the models, say they have been largely shut out of the process and are not working on the type of detailed analysis that he has mentioned. An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job, said Treasury had not released a "dynamic" analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because one did not exist.

There is no defense for trying to craft major national policy this way. When the Trump administration's own Office of Tax Policy gets "largely shut out of the process" of scrutinizing the Trump administration's preferred tax plan, we're witnessing policy madness.

The New York Times' article quoted a Treasury official saying the cabinet department won't have time to produce a full analysis of the final bill before Republicans vote on it.

Common sense suggests Congress could simply wait for detailed information before voting to overhaul the nation's tax code, but that would undermine the two pillars of the GOP leadership's strategy: stealth and speed.

After all, trying to legislate with more information might lead more Americans to learn what Congress is up to -- and Republicans have decided that simply isn't an option.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland joint news conference

If Trump's tax plan had merit, he wouldn't have to lie about it

11/30/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump argued via Twitter last night, "The only people who don't like the Tax Cut Bill are the people that don't understand it." The irony, of course, is that the president himself isn't exactly an expert in the Republican tax plan he's so eager to sign into law.

Trump traveled to Missouri yesterday, ostensibly to help sell his party's unpopular proposal, and in the process made clear he either has no idea what the plan entails or he's willing to brazenly lie to the public about its supposed virtues.

The president insisted, for example, "This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me. This is not good for me.... I think my accountants are going crazy right now."

As Rachel noted on the show last night, it's possible Trump believes he can get away with claims such as these because he keeps his tax returns hidden from the public. But NBC News' recent report nevertheless made the facts plain:

In fact, Trump and his heirs potentially could save more than $1 billion overall under the GOP tax proposal that the House of Representatives passed Thursday, with most of that amount coming from a repeal of the estate tax, according to an analysis NBC News commissioned of Trump's one known 2005 tax return and his estimated net worth.

The Washington Post ran a related item this morning, adding that the available information "shows his claim of losing a fortune on the tax bill is poppycock."

What's more, the White House is helping negotiate additional changes to the Senate legislation that would further boost the president's personal finances.

It's worth emphasizing that Trump has made this claim before, probably because it seems like a politically persuasive talking point: if our wealthy president is going to be worse off under the GOP proposal, it may be more in line with public attitudes that show broad support for higher taxes on the richest Americans. It's precisely why it matters that Trump's claims are the opposite of the truth.

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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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