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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 9.12.17

09/12/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida: "Weary residents in the Florida Keys, eager to assess their hurricane-ravaged homes, may not see electricity return for at least another week -- and those are the lucky ones. About 25 percent of homes in the chain of islands were completely destroyed and another 65 percent sustained major damage, federal officials estimated Tuesday."

* Mexico: "As Hurricane Harvey was still pummeling Houston, Mexico reached out with an offer of help.... But now, Mexico says that it is withdrawing its offer of aid. It needs those resources, the government says, to clean up after its own hurricane and a massive earthquake."

* U.N.: "The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions against North Korea on Monday after U.S. officials eased their demands to convince China and Russia to approve the measure."

* Trump-Russia: "Some of President Donald Trump's lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said."

* Derek Harvey's new job: "A former National Security Council official, forced out by National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster in July, is set to join the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, according to two sources familiar with his move."

* Trump World: "Hope Hicks, the longtime aide to President Donald Trump who'd been serving as the interim White House communications director, will now lead the communications team on a permanent basis. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told NBC News of the move Tuesday."

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Republican presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party, at the Iowa State Fair Oct. 31, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Steve Pope/Getty)

The final fight of the Republican health care crusade has arrived

09/12/17 12:58PM

By all appearances, the Republican health care crusade has already run its course, but tomorrow morning, four GOP senators will make one last-ditch effort to get it back on track.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) will formally unveil the only remaining Republican plan to overhaul the nation's health care system. For reasons that aren't altogether clear, they'll be joined by former Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost his re-election bid in a landslide over a decade ago.

NBC News obtained an advanced draft of the proposal, which has been percolating for a couple of months.

The 23-page summary draft and an explanation of funding, which Graham's office confirmed is authentic, attempts to achieve parity in federal funding between states that expanded Medicaid and those that did not by 2026. That division was one that helped to kill the Senate's efforts because senators from expansion states tended to oppose the legislation in its previous versions due to the roll-back of the Medicaid expansion.

The bill also provides federal money to states to implement their own health care plan as opposed to one system for all 50 states that exists under Obamacare.

We've discussed many of the profound flaws in this plan before, and we can go into more detail once the legislation is available for scrutiny. For now, however, let's consider whether the Graham-Cassidy plan has a credible chance at success.

After its unveiling tomorrow, the bill will have to receive a score from the Congressional Budget Office, receive committee scrutiny, pass the committee, be subjected to Byrd Rule scrutiny, receive a floor debate, face a series of votes on amendments, and pass the Senate with 50 votes. At that point, the House would have to pass the same bill as-is, or make changes that the Senate would again approve with 50 votes.

In order for the plan to become law, all of this has to happen by Sept. 30 at midnight. In other words, proponents of Graham-Cassidy will have 17 days to get all of this done.

This isn't to say it's impossible, but even the most ambitious Republicans should concede this is a steep cliff to climb.

As the process moves forward, there are a few key angles to keep in mind.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.12.17

09/12/17 12:00PM

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

* For the third time in seven days, a House Republican from a competitive district announced his retirement. Yesterday, it was Rep. Dave Trott (R) of Michigan who said he's stepping down after just two terms.

* Politico reports that Steve Bannon is leading an effort to run primary challenges against some Republican senators next year, and is coordinating the initiative with conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, "who is prepared to pour millions of dollars into attacks on GOP incumbents."

* On a related note, Senate Republicans have taken note of Bannon's plans and they're not at all pleased.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) hasn't officially launched a statewide campaign, but The Hill reports that if she does, Sinema will have Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) support. The move is likely intended to discourage potential primary rivals.

* The Republicans' Senate primary runoff is two weeks from today, and NBC News' First Read makes the case that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is likely to prevail over appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

* The Washington Post reported yesterday on some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who are pushing the senator to create a far-left rival to the Democratic Party. Sanders has always rejected such talk, saying it would help Republicans dominate.

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Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Republicans are writing tax reform behind closed doors, too

09/12/17 11:20AM

The Fox affiliate in Milwaukee yesterday ran a report over the weekend criticizing union ironworker Randy Bryce, House Speaker Paul Ryan's likely Democratic opponent next year, for not knowing much of anything about the Republican tax plan.

"I would have to look to see how those brackets are made up," Bryce told the station. "To be honest, I've been really busy campaigning."

And while I'm all for candidates having detailed understandings of major issues, it's pretty easy in this case to cut the Wisconsin Democrat some slack -- because the GOP tax plan he's unfamiliar with doesn't yet exist.

Politico reported this morning that many congressional Republicans returned from their summer break "ready and eager to work on tax reform," only to discover their party still doesn't have a plan. The piece added that members are feeling anxious since they've "seen no details and worry they'll be backed into a corner on legislation they haven't even seen, much like they were with the failed Obamacare repeal earlier this summer."

That analogy appears to be on everyone's mind. GOP leaders knew they wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but when it came time to actually write a bill, a small group of Republicans clustered behind closed doors to craft a dreadful and unpopular proposal that ultimately failed in the face of intra-party divisions.

Learning little from the experience, GOP leaders again set out to write a tax plan in secret, and as Roll Call reported late last week, it's not going especially well.

The closed-door process under which Republican congressional leaders and the Trump administration are crafting an overhaul of the United States tax code could impede the Senate's timeline for the effort.

Lawmakers say they have yet to receive key details, making it difficult to craft a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that will ultimately serve as the vehicle to advance the tax bill.

Asked when he expected to hear about the details of his party's plan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Roll Call, "Damned if I know."

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) added, "It's hard to prepare without details."

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On single-payer, the Democratic floodgates have opened

09/12/17 10:41AM

For those who followed the debate over the Affordable Care Act's creation closely, Max Baucus is an important figure. The former Democratic senator from Montana was always on board with reforming the system, and he played an important role in getting the bill done, but Baucus prided himself on being moderate and pragmatic, resisting calls for some of the more progressive ideas on the table at the time.

With this in mind, it raised more than a few eyebrows last week when Baucus -- whom Bernie Sanders once said wouldn't support single-payer "in a million years" -- announced his belief that "the time has come" for a single-payer system.

This wasn't an isolated fluke. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the "dam is breaking when it comes to the Democratic Party embracing government-funded health care."

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) became the fourth co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) "Medicare for all" health-care bill Monday. In doing so, he joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).

What do those four senators have in common? Well, they just happen to constitute four of the eight most likely 2020 Democratic presidential nominees, according to the handy list I put out Friday.

Soon after the story was published, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who's also rumored to be interested in the 2020 presidential race, announced her support for the legislation, as did Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict the list of co-sponsors for Bernie Sanders' bill, which is due to be released this week, isn't done growing.

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Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark with FBI Director

Trump World isn't done going after James Comey

09/12/17 10:06AM

There's ample evidence to suggest Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are taking a close look at Donald Trump's firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in May. The president desperately wanted Comey to say he wasn't under investigation, which ironically led to a series of events that prompted an investigation into the president.

And with that in mind, Trump World has an incentive to trash Comey -- or at least try to -- since it's the former director's version of events that help paint a picture that looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Two weeks ago, for example, we learned Trump's lawyers have met with Mueller and made the case that Comey is not to be believed, "calling him prone to exaggeration, unreliable in congressional testimony and the source of leaks to the news media."

As recently as 12 days ago, the president himself was still going after Comey by name.

All of which led to yesterday's White House press briefing, in which Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued to focus on the former FBI chief.

"[O]n the Comey firing, I think that we've been pretty clear what our position is. And certainly, I think that that has been shown in the days that followed, that the president was right in firing Director Comey. Since the director's firing, we've learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing, including giving false testimony, leaking privileged information to journalists, he went outside of the chain of command, and politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate."

In response to follow-up questions, Sanders would not elaborate on the details of these allegations.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-DEPARTS

Trump's preoccupation with airplanes seems a little weird

09/12/17 09:20AM

There's just something about airplanes that captures Donald Trump's attention in unhealthy ways.

Politico reported the other day on a White House meeting the president hosted with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations, which at face value, only seemed notable because it included another private chat between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But at the end of the article, we learned that the otherwise-pleased president had one odd concern on his mind during the Oval Office discussion.

The president, though, had one gripe, after his visit from the emir of Kuwait on Thursday afternoon. He was very impressed by the emir’s plane but noted that it was longer than his -- maybe even by 100 feet.

Now, for the record, I have no idea whether the Kuwaiti emir's plane is bigger than the American president's plane. I also don't care. Donald Trump, however, apparently focuses his attention on such things.

And while that's a little weird, let's also pause to appreciate the apparent fact that the president also felt compelled to complain about this during a meeting with lawmakers. In other words, Trump wasn't bothered by the size of some other guy's plane; he also wanted people to know he was bothered by the size of some other guy's plane.

What's more, if you're thinking this isn't the first time the president's preoccupation with airplanes has led in a weird direction, you're right.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

Trump's voting commission heads to NH amid ongoing controversies

09/12/17 08:41AM

Members of Donald Trump's scandal-plagued voting commission will host a public event in New Hampshire today, and those expecting a serious examination of the issue are likely to be disappointed. Mother Jones reported that the panel will welcome "a controversial pack of witnesses that includes tarnished academics and political allies" of voter-suppression pioneer Kris Kobach, who co-chairs the commission.

What's more, despite the fact that GOP-imposed voting restrictions tend to adversely affect minority communities, 12 of the 12 announced witnesses are white men. Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, responded, "By stacking the deck with an all-white and male cast of panelists, the Commission has created an echo chamber to support Kris Kobach's baseless claims of voter fraud."

But ahead of today's event, it's also worth appreciating why Trump's ridiculous panel chose the Granite State for today's hearing.

The state was one of the first targets of Donald Trump's claims of illegal voting during the 2016 election — he lost the state by a razor-thin margin (fewer than 2,800 votes). Weeks after he defeated Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed without evidence that the state had "serious voter fraud" and charged that "thousands" of people from Massachusetts were bused into in the Granite State to vote.

Trump's vote fraud panel is coming to New Hampshire on Tuesday for its second public meeting, only days after the commission's vice chairman amplified in an op-ed the president's baseless claims that illegal voting had possibly swayed the election in the state.

The idea that there was rampant voter fraud in New Hampshire was already discredited in February, when Trump first started pushing this nonsense, but Kansas' Kris Kobach renewed the push with a piece last week for the right-wing Breitbart website.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the Republican's argument was thoroughly and completely debunked. Kobach's case, put simply, was demonstrably absurd.

All of which leads to three straightforward questions: (1) is Kobach lying; (2) if so, why; and (3) what should the consequences be for his deliberate attempt to mislead the American people about the right to vote.

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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)

EPA chief: It's 'insensitive' to mention climate change right now

09/12/17 08:00AM

It's fair to say all is not well at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief who's long opposed the EPA's work, is at the center of multiple controversies. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the EPA violated ethics rules in its hiring practices. The EPA's press office recently went after a reporter as if it were a Republican campaign operation.

Making matters considerably worse, the Washington Post reported last week that the EPA has put a political operative with little environmental policy experience, John Konkus, in charge of "vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually." The report explained that Konkus "reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued." As part of his reviews, he looks out for "the double C-word" -- climate change -- and according to the Post, he's repeatedly "instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

Christie Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor who ran the EPA in George W. Bush's first term, wrote a New York Times op-ed last week explaining that all of this helps show "how not to run" the Environmental Protection Agency.

It's against this backdrop that the administrator of the EPA has discovered a new justification for ignoring the climate crisis.

For scientists, drawing links between warming global temperatures and the ferocity of hurricanes is about as controversial as talking about geology after an earthquake. But in Washington, where science is increasingly political, the fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting.

"To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced," Mr. Pruitt said to CNN in an interview ahead of Hurricane Irma, echoing similar sentiments he made when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas two weeks earlier. "To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida," he added.

He didn't appear to be kidding. The head of the EPA believes addressing climate change in the wake of deadly hurricanes might hurt Floridians' feelings.

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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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