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Monday's Mini-Report, 3.13.17

03/13/17 05:31PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this tomorrow: "The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance by 2026 than under current law, according to an analysis Monday from the Congressional Budget Office."

* White House: "Following MSNBC's report over questions about whether President Donald Trump has donated his paycheck, Press Secretary Sean Spicer asserted during a White House briefing Monday, 'the president's intention right now is to donate his salary at the end of the year.'"

* Afghanistan: "The State Department is running out of visas for Afghans who are in danger because they worked with the U.S. government in Afghanistan."

* Breach: "A man carrying a backpack jumped over a fence and got within several steps of the White House before being arrested late Friday, the Secret Service said. The intrusion, the first reported since President Trump took office, came as the president was inside the residence."

* Congress: "A U.S. congressman broke down in tears Friday. After not missing a single one of the 4,289 votes the House has cast since he was sworn in in 2011, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) missed his first one."

* Maybe someday, the political world will consider the severity of the conflicts of interest: "President Trump plans to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the gold-plated Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next month for a lowering-the-temperature summit with vast economic and security implications, Axios has learned."

* In related news: "A company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, stands to receive more than $400 million from a prominent Chinese company that is investing in the Kushners' marquee Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Ave."
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Donald Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway speaks to the media while entering Trump Tower on Nov. 14, 2016 in New York, N.Y. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty)

White House's Conway: 'I'm not in the job of having evidence'

03/13/17 04:32PM

After two months on the job in the White House, Kellyanne Conway has already come up with some memorable phrases -- some of which she likely regrets -- including "alternative facts" and "Bowling Green Massacre." Today, she added to her greatest-hits collection with another unfortunate gem.

The trouble started for Conway over weekend. A week after Donald Trump claimed without evidence that Barack Obama illegally tapped his phone, the Bergen Record asked Conway to substantiate the president's provocative claims. The White House counselor responded by arguing that "there are many ways to surveil," including monitoring people "through their television sets" and "microwaves that turn into cameras."

This didn't exactly help Team Trump's case. If the question was about Trump's allegations against Obama, and Conway's answer pointed to microwaves and TVs, the response doesn't inspire confidence in the White House that's already been accused of having some nutty ideas.

This morning, Conway tried to walk this back, saying she may have been asked about the campaign, but her comments about microwaves and TVs related to surveillance possibilities in general. (Why she'd answer specific questions this way is unclear.)

But as the Washington Post noted, Conway didn't stop there.
On CNN, though, her phrasing was a bit more fraught. "I'm not Inspector Gadget," she said. "I don't believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign."

"However," she continued, "I'm not in the job of having evidence. That's what investigations are for. I have said many, many times throughout the week that the president is pleased that the House and Senate intelligence committees have agreed that this should be part of the investigation that already exists about Russia and the campaign, an investigation that apparently has gone nowhere so far."
Oh my.
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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks with reporters as he leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the basement of the Capitol on Oct. 4, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Steve King's racially charged comments put Republicans on the spot

03/13/17 12:30PM

A couple of months ago, in a brief item, I referred to Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) as an "anti-immigration congressman." I'd used that phrase in relation to King before, as have others describing the far-right Iowan, and it didn't occur to me that anyone would even bat an eye.

A few days later, however, King's office contacted MaddowBlog to complain. The Republican lawmaker, his aides insisted, is not "anti-immigration," but rather, he simply opposes illegal immigration. For a congressman who's literally compared immigrants to dogs, it seemed like an odd thing to make a fuss over.

All of this came to mind yesterday afternoon, when King, touting right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders, said via Twitter, "Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."

Today, responding to the controversy he created, King was eager to talk about how correct he thinks he is.
In an interview on CNN on Monday, King said he "meant exactly what I said."

"You cannot rebuild your civilization with somebody else's babies. You've got to keep your birth rate up and that you need to teach your children your values" and in doing so, then you can grow your population and you can strengthen your culture, you can strengthen your way of life," King said.

King called Western Civilization a "superior culture" and said some cultures contribute more to American society than others.

"If you go down the road a few generations or maybe centuries with the intermarriage, I'd like to see an America that's just so homogenous that we look a lot the same," King added.
Note, King's comments have drawn enthusiastic praise from former KKK grand wizard David Duke, while several Republicans, including the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, have criticized the congressman's latest nonsense.
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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.13.17

03/13/17 12:00PM

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

* There was an important ruling out of Texas issued late on Friday: "Some of Texas' 36 congressional districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday. In a long-delayed ruling, the judges ruled 2-1 that the Texas Legislature must redraw the political maps it most recently used for the 2016 elections."

* Fresh off his very narrow re-election victory, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) hosted a pair of town-hall events in his district on Saturday, where he was confronted by quite a few progressive activists. The California Republican spent a fair amount of time distancing himself from Donald Trump during the forums. (Issa has, however, voted with Trump so far in this Congress.)

* While it looked a couple of months ago as if Virginia Democrats were struggling to recruit candidates for state offices, the Richmond Times reports that those troubles are over: There's been "an unprecedented rush of candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates this year fueled largely by opposition to Trump."

* Recognizing the importance of the 2020 elections when it comes to drawing district lines, former Attorney General Eric Holder, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have begun raising money for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

* Despite chatter last week about Republican recruiting former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to run for the Senate, the actor-turned-politician-turned-reality-show-host suggested over the weekend he's not interested, at least not now.

* In a bit of a surprise, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that "state prosecutors in Miami have an active investigation" into Steve Bannon's voter registration in Florida.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters during a campaign rally on June 18, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty)

Republicans declare 'war on their own voters' with health care plan

03/13/17 11:30AM

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, the New York Times' David Brooks said the Republican health care plan is effectively "declaring war on their own voters." The language may seem a little over the top, but the truth of the matter is, Brooks has a point.
The people who stand to lose the most in tax credits under the House Republican health plan tended to support Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, according to a new Upshot analysis. [...]

The voters hit the hardest -- eligible for at least $5,000 less in tax credits under the Republican plan -- supported Mr. Trump by a margin of 59 percent to 36 percent.
Older Americans and rural voters -- which is to say, Donald Trump's most enthusiastic supporters -- tend to fare the worst under the Republican plan some are calling "Trumpcare."

Center for Budget and Policy Priorities published a related analysis last week, noting which states' residents would stand to lose the most. Of the 10 states that would fare the worst, literally all 10 were "red" states that Trump won last fall. This comports with a new Wall Street Journal report that noted this morning, "The House Republican effort to overhaul the Affordable Care Act could hit many rural areas particularly hard, according to a new analysis, sharply increasing the cost for some residents buying their own insurance."

CNBC's John Harwood's analysis added last week, "'To the victor belong the spoils,' candidate Donald Trump reminded 2016 voters. But the House Republican health bill turns that old maxim on its head."

There is, however, the question of whether Trump voters would balk at getting screwed over by the candidate they trusted and supported.
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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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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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