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A syringe used for intravenous drug use.

GOP plan would be 'a major retreat' in addressing addiction crisis

03/13/17 11:00AM

MSNBC's Chris Hayes hosted an event in McDowell County, West Virginia, yesterday -- the event will air tonight -- in which he asked attendees how many of them have lost someone due to opioid addiction. By some accounts, roughly three-fourths of the audience raised their hands.

It was a striking reminder about the toll the nation's addiction crisis can take on a community. It also raised anew concerns about Donald Trump's budget plans, which would make a horrible situation vastly worse. The Washington Post reported the other day:
The Republican proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act would strip away what advocates say is essential coverage for drug addiction treatment as the number of people dying from opiate overdoses is skyrocketing nationwide.

Beginning in 2020, the plan would eliminate an Affordable Care Act requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans.

The proposal would also roll back the Medicaid expansion under the act -- commonly known as Obamacare -- which would affect many states bearing the brunt of the opiate crisis, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.
Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Advocates, told the Post, "Taken as a whole, [the Republican health care plan] is a major retreat from the effort to save lives in the opiate epidemic."

The fact that Donald Trump spent months assuring voters that he'd take the exact opposite course adds to the severity of the betrayal.
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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)

Trump's budget chief thinks Obama admin 'manipulated' jobs data

03/13/17 10:30AM

A great video montage made the rounds over the weekend showing Donald Trump, before he was elected president, talking about the unemployment rate. It's a jarring video for a reason: the Republican not only dismissed the nation's unemployment rate as "phony," he acted as if only an idiot would believe the official data.

It was, to a very real extent, one of the core messages of his campaign: right-thinking people should listen to Trump and treat the unemployment rate as a ridiculous fiction. That is, until last week, when the GOP president and his team decided the phony number is now "real" -- because Trump says so.

Obviously, this is absurd, but as it turns out, the president isn't the only one saying nutty things about U.S. job data. Take the new director of Trump's Office of Management and Budget, for example.
Mick Mulvaney told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that he has long thought the previous administration framed data to make the unemployment rate "look smaller than it actually was."

"What you should really look at is the number of jobs created," Mulvaney said on "State of the Union." "We've thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers, in terms of the number of people in the workforce, to make the unemployment rate -- that percentage rate -- look smaller than it actually was."
Now, one might expect this kind of nonsense from Trump or some random conservative blowhard on Twitter, but Mulvaney is the nation's budget director -- and he really ought to steer clear of ridiculous conspiracy theories.

The way the unemployment rate is calculated hasn't changed much in generations, and at no point did anyone in the Obama administration "manipulate" anything. Mulvaney, a right-wing congressman before joining Team Trump, must have some rudimentary understanding of these details.

If the South Carolina Republican wants to make the case that the total number of jobs created is a more important metric, fine. In fact, I made the same argument many, many times throughout the Obama era, but to argue on national television that the previous administration "was manipulating the numbers" is bonkers, even by this White House's standards.
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Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence celebrate, during the final day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty)

Mike Pence's falsehoods start catching up with him

03/13/17 10:00AM

Donald Trump was supposed to travel to Kentucky on Saturday to defend the Republican health care plan, which some have begun calling "Trumpcare," but the president canceled without explanation. (Trump instead went golfing for the ninth time since Inauguration Day.)

Kentuckians were not, however, left empty-handed. As the conservative Washington Times noted, the vice president went instead.
Traveling to the home state of a Republican critic of the administration-backed health care bill, Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday that Obamacare is falling apart and must be replaced.

"Obamacare has failed the people of Kentucky," Mr. Pence told an audience in Louisville. "It's failed the people of America, and Obamacare must go." [...] Mr. Pence called Kentucky "a textbook example of Obamacare's failures."
Even by 2017 standards, this is bizarre. To the extent that reality still matters, Kentucky is actually a textbook example of the Affordable Care Act succeeding. As regular readers know, under Gov. Steve Beshear's (D) leadership, the state's success story has served as a national model, watching its uninsured rate drop from 20.4% to just 7.5%. In terms of state-by-state improvement, the Bluegrass State is tied for first as the greatest percentage improvement in the nation.

Pence pointed to increases in premiums, but (a) premium hikes were common before "Obamacare" became law; (b) the vast majority of consumers aren't seeing sharp spikes; and (c) the Republican plan Pence was in Kentucky to promote will very likely push premiums even higher.

All of which suggests Pence was trying to deceive his audience with rhetoric he should've recognized as false. Have you noticed how common this is becoming with the vice president?
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U.S. President Barack Obama walks the Colonnade toward the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on election day, Nov. 8, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

GOP congressman sees 'shadow government' conspiracy involving Obama

03/13/17 09:30AM

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) has a habit of saying some pretty silly things. After the Obama administration decided to treat contraception access as preventive health care, the Pennsylvania Republican said the move was comparable to 9/11 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Last weekend, Kelly spoke at a local GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in his home state, where the congressman found a new way to complain about the former Democratic president.
"President Obama himself said he was going to stay in Washington until his daughter graduated. I think we ought to pitch in to let him go someplace else, because he is only there for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to run a shadow government that is going to totally upset the new agenda. It just doesn't make sense.

"And people sit back and they say to me, 'My gosh, why can't you guys get this done?' I say, 'We've got a new CEO, we've got some new heads in the different departments, but the same people are there, and they don't believe that the new owners or the new managers should be running the ship.'"
As Republican conspiracy theories go, this is quite odd, but the story became even stranger when Kelly tried to explain what he meant.
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Image: Paul Ryan

GOP can't keep its story straight on taking people's insurance away

03/13/17 09:00AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) talked to conservative host Hugh Hewitt on Friday about the Republicans' health care plan, and the GOP leader conceded that his party is "never going to win a coverage beauty contest" with Democrats. He added that Republicans' goal is "not to win some coverage beauty contest."

It was a curious choice of words. We are, after all, talking about American families having health security, not some meaningless pageant. What's more, the GOP congressman seemed to be implicitly conceding that his derided plan will be inferior to the Affordable Care Act when it comes to the most basic goal of health reform: ensuring that Americans have coverage.

And that's ultimately where Republicans are likely to run into the most trouble. Love "Obamacare" or hate it, the ACA has succeeded in its principal goal: bringing consumers health insurance. It's not an accident that the nation's uninsured rate is now the lowest it's ever been. The Republican plan, meanwhile, is projected to take coverage away from between 6 million and 15 million Americans. The Congressional Budget Office's tally will shed additional light on the subject, and it may come as early as today.

What do GOP officials have to say about this? As the Huffington Post noted, that depends a great deal on whom you ask.
Republicans can't seem to figure out if their health care plan will lead to the same number of people with health insurance as have it today, or more people, or less people, or if it doesn't matter.
We can break the factions down into odd, contradictory factions:

How many Americans will lose their health coverage under the Republican plan? It doesn't matter! Gary Cohn, the chief White House economics advisor, said yesterday, "The numbers of who's covered and who is not covered, that's interesting, and I know that may make some headlines, but what we care about is people's ability to get health care." How people are supposed to "get health care" without coverage is unclear.

How many Americans will lose their health coverage under the Republican plan? Who knows? Paul Ryan was asked the question yesterday and said, "I can't answer that question. It's up to people." Under the Speaker's vision, people who want coverage should just buy it. If they can't afford it, then we're apparently supposed to believe it's just the free market working its will.
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

White House's claims about Flynn are falling apart under scrutiny

03/13/17 08:30AM

The fact that Donald Trump relied on a foreign agent as a top campaign adviser -- and a trusted member of his inner circle -- during the presidential campaign looks bad. Not necessarily stop-the-presses bad, but the fact that the Republican was paying Michael Flynn while Flynn was also paid by Turkey is a tough controversy to simply explain away.

What's becoming a far more serious story is Team Trump lying about all of this now.

The Flynn controversy has long been bizarre. Trump and his aides have never been able to explain why they brought on someone with close ties to Putin's Russia to advise the GOP candidate ahead of the election. They also haven't explained why it took a few weeks for Trump to fire Flynn after the Justice Department told the White House Flynn was lying about his communications with a Russian official.

The story got worse last week when Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent, which sparked a series of questions. Trump asked a foreign agent to be White House National Security Advisor? Did the president not consider why this might be a bad idea?

As if this weren't quite enough, the story keeps getting worse. The Washington Post reported late Friday:
Attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, informed the incoming White House legal counsel during the transition that Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent -- a phone call that raised no alarms within Trump's team, despite the unusual circumstance of having a top national security post filled by someone whose work may have benefited a foreign government.
The Associated Press reported that Flynn's attorneys twice alerted Team Trump to Flynn's paid work on behalf of Turkish interests.

All of which makes it alarming that the White House is saying it had no idea what Flynn was up to.
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U.S. President Donald Trump looks at Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump sparks new controversy with U.S. Attorney dismissals

03/13/17 08:00AM

On the surface, the idea that a president would replace an existing slate of U.S. Attorneys with his own federal prosecutors doesn't seem controversial. U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of a president, and there's ample recent precedent for new administrations nominating new prosecutors soon after Inauguration Day.

But as is often the case with Donald Trump, there's nothing routine about developments that unfolded late Friday and over the weekend.

Let's start with the basics. On Friday afternoon, 46 Obama-era federal prosecutors were told to submit their resignations -- and clean out their offices before close of business. These federal prosecutors weren't given advance notice or any kind of explanation. To be sure, they knew this was a possible outcome, but they've been working under the Trump administration for nearly two months, overseeing a series of ongoing federal cases.

And while Trump's authority to make this decision is not in doubt, there are all kinds of questions about why the president made this call at this time. As Rachel noted on Friday's show, and NBC News reported over the weekend, there's one U.S. Attorney in particular that's drawing more attention for good reason.
Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara said Saturday he did not resign — and was swiftly fired — after the Department of Justice demanded that he and 45 other U.S. attorneys abruptly step down.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for those chief prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration to voluntarily resign Friday. They included Bharara, who in November said Trump had asked him to stay on as U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York during a meeting in Trump Tower.
And this is where the story gets a little weird. Preet Bharara has earned a reputation as one of the most important legal figures in the United States, overseeing a U.S. Attorney's office that's tackled critically important cases -- on matters ranging from terrorism to Wall Street to government corruption.

Bharara was appointed by President Obama, but he wanted to stay on at his post, and during the presidential transition period, Donald Trump specifically told Bharara that he could keep his job. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the same commitment to the New York prosecutor.

On Friday afternoon, however, Trump reversed course and asked for Bharara's resignation. Bharara refused, prompting the president to fire him on Saturday.
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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.10.17

03/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this on tonight's show: "The Justice Department announced Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked all 46 remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to resign."

* The refundable tax credits in the GOP plan aren't going anywhere: "The White House and House Republican leaders on Friday forcefully defended their plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that has drawn criticism from conservatives who are pressing for a more aggressive attack on the law."

South Korea: "A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation's history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time. Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government."

* Why this matters: "After the historic ouster of President Park Geun-hye on Friday, scandal-weary South Koreans began turning their attention to a new election due within 60 days -- and to the prospect that her successor could try to reset relations with neighboring North Korea and its powerful patron, China."

* FDA: "President Trump is expected to pick Scott Gottlieb, a conservative physician and businessman with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, a person familiar with the nomination said Friday."

* It's kind of amusing to think some voted for Trump because they saw him as the more dovish candidate on foreign policy: "The weeklong blitz in Yemen eclipsed the annual bombing total for any year during Obama's presidency. Under the previous administration, approval for strikes came only after slow-moving policy discussions, with senior officials required to sign off on any action. The Trump administration has proven much quicker at green-lighting attacks."
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

White House: Job totals were 'phony,' but they're 'very real now'

03/10/17 04:16PM

The job numbers for February were released this morning, and the data was very encouraging: the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs in February, with an unemployment rate of 4.7%. The White House, not surprisingly, is thrilled that the job market Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor is this strong as the new administration gets underway.

That is, if the president actually believes the data. Trump spent months telling Americans not to believe official jobs reports, so it was hardly a surprise when a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about whether Team Trump accepts the latest job figures or not. Spicer replied, with an unusually broad smile:
"Yeah, I talked to the president prior to this [briefing] and he said to quote him very clearly: 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.'"
Everyone chuckled and moved on. That's a shame.

Look, I realize it was a lighthearted moment, and my point is not to sound like a killjoy, but we can't really have a credible political discussion if the president -- and the president alone -- is supposed to tell us when the jobs numbers are real and when they're not, as if it's our job to simply accept Donald Trump's strange declarations as fact.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent added, "It's key that Trump explicitly told Spicer to recite this line to the press corps. He's telling them who gets to say what's true."

Remember, at different points in the campaign, Trump publicly argued that the unemployment rate was 20% – or possibly 42% – even as reality pointed to a rate below 5%. After the election, at a pre-inaugural press conference, the Republican declared there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get” -- a claim he inexplicably repeated in his address to Congress two weeks -- which was nonsensical, even for him.

The unemployment rate, Trump declared as recently December, is “totally fiction.”

Now, evidently, we're supposed to believe his bonkers conspiracy theory involving job numbers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the one Trump told everyone to accept as fact -- is no longer in effect, because he says so.
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DeMint touts emergency rooms over insurance

Freedom Caucus member points to emergency rooms for uninsured

03/10/17 03:35PM

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, talked to CNN's Erin Burnett this week about health care, and his intention to kill the Affordable Care Act. The host pointed to a Republican voter, featured on an earlier segment, who'd be dead if it weren't for "Obamacare." She asked for his reaction.

DeSantis proceeded to complain about the reform law anyway, before turning to a familiar GOP refrain:
"I would say though ... there really is no lack of health care. If people really need it, if they show up to the emergency room, they do get care, it just gets passed on to other folks."
The host pointed to the fact that woman in question had $1 million in cancer treatments, adding, "You're not going to get that by showing up in an emergency room."

DeSantis then changed the subject.

And while that was probably a good political decision, the fact that Republicans are still, even now, turning to the refuge of the "show up at the emergency room" argument is just stunning.
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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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