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Friday's Mini-Report, 10.6.17

10/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Gulf Coast: "Tropical Storm Nate is winding up to wallop the Gulf Coast this weekend. The latest NBC News forecast has the storm making landfall somewhere on the Mississippi or Alabama coasts sometime around 1 a.m. Sunday, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane."

* The suspect was arrested before obtaining any weapons. "Federal authorities arrested a Canadian man this summer accused of an ISIS-inspired plot to attack music concerts, landmarks and crowded subway in New York City, according to multiple officials familiar with the case."

* I assume I'm not the only one who found this unsettling: "President Trump said late Thursday that a meeting with his military leaders was 'the calm before the storm,' but what he meant by his ominous comment remained unclear, both to the press assembled in the room and to members of his own staff."

* Donald Trump trying to say "Puerto Rico" in an affected Spanish accent, more than once, was unwise.

* Clearing a hurdle: "House Republicans passed crucial budget legislation Thursday, setting aside months of intraparty squabbles to set the stage for an ambitious tax-overhaul bill they are planning to pass without Democratic help."

* There's a reason Republicans are desperate to radicalize the courts: "The rapid-fire push by the Trump administration to wipe out significant chunks of the Obama environmental legacy is running into a not-so-minor complication: Judges keep ruling that the Trump team is violating federal law."

* I guess the use of the word "moron" touched a nerve: "John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, abruptly scrapped plans to travel with President Donald Trump on Wednesday so he could try to contain his boss's fury and manage the fallout from new revelations about tensions between the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to six senior administration officials."

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Congressional Steel Caucus Chairman Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 26, 2015, during a hearing of the caucus to discuss the state of the U.S. steel industry.

Sex scandal costs House Republican his job

10/06/17 02:11PM

Rep. Tim Murphy's (R-Pa.) sex scandal evolved slowly, but ended abruptly. We learned about a month ago that the Pennsylvania Republican, who's taken a far-right stance on social issues, had an extra-marital affair. The story grew more serious this week when evidence emerged that Murphy, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, reportedly pressed his mistress to have an abortion.

Within a day of the details coming to light, the GOP lawmaker announced he wouldn't seek re-election. Yesterday, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, Murphy went one step further.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy decided to resign from Congress Thursday — one day after the beleaguered Congressman said he would serve out his term, and just two days after the Post-Gazette reported claims that he mistreated staff and urged a woman to have an abortion despite his anti-abortion politics.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he received a letter of resignation, effective Oct. 21, from the Upper St. Clair Republican. "It was Dr. Murphy's decision to move on to the next chapter of his life, and I support it," Mr. Ryan said in a statement.

Murphy is the first member to resign in disgrace so far in this Congress, which is actually a step up: at this point in the last Congress, we'd already seen two Republicans resign in disgrace.

One of the lingering questions, though, is why this controversy ended Murphy's career. Some congressional Republicans, such as Indiana's Mark Souder, have been forced to quit in the aftermath of a sex scandal, while others, such as Tennessee's Scott DesJarlais and Louisiana's David Vitter, stuck around and won re-election despite personal controversies along these lines.

So what is it that made Murphy feel the need to quit?

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Image: US-POLITICS-RELIGION-TRUMP

Trump rolls back the clock on women's access to birth control

10/06/17 12:40PM

The Affordable Care Act's approach to birth control is straightforward, and at least at first blush, noncontroversial. As regular readers know, under "Obamacare," contraception is covered as standard preventive care that insurers are required to provide. Houses of worship are exempt, and thanks to the Supreme Court's 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, that exemption is quite broad.

Donald Trump -- or more accurately, the people responsible for making policy decisions in his administration -- are of the opinion that the exemption isn't nearly broad enough. Today, the president's team dramatically altered the ACA's policy, opening a dangerous door in the process.

The Trump administration loosened Obama-era birth control requirements Friday, saying just about any provider of health insurance could refuse to pay for an employee's birth control if they show "sincerely held" religious or moral objections.

The new regulations protect groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor from litigation if they refuse to provide contraceptive coverage, but widen the pool of those shielded to include non-profits, for-profit companies, other non-governmental employers, and schools and universities.

The practical effects of the change are obvious: some American women who receive contraception at no cost will, as a result of the Trump administration's new policy, have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for birth control -- because their employer says so.

How many employers? No one really knows for sure. HHS says only about 200 entities are likely to scrap their workers' birth-control coverage, but that's based on the number of employers that filed lawsuits against the Obama administration's policy. The trouble is, now that Team Trump has opened the door to every employer, it's hard to predict just how many will take advantage.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.6.17

10/06/17 12:00PM

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

* In a sign of the times, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), poised to kick off a U.S. Senate campaign, "quietly reached out" to Steve Bannon last week, apparently hoping to curry favor with the influential far-right figure.

* The 2018 midterms are still a year away, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched its first media campaign of the cycle, making a six-figure ad buy in support of this spot. Note that the focus is on Paul Ryan and health care, not Donald Trump.

* On a related note, the DCCC is launching this minute-long radio ad in 11 congressional districts, also focusing on health care.

* In Maryland, the latest Mason-Dixon poll shows Gov. Larry Hogan with a strong 61% approval rating, but in hypothetical match-ups against likely Democratic challengers, the same poll shows the incumbent with relatively modest leads, including a seven-point advantage over Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker (D).

* Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) announced yesterday she'd like to see House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) step down and make way for "a new generation of leaders."

* Remember Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green, Donald Trump's failed far-right Army Secretary? Green is now running for Congress, and he picked up an endorsement yesterday from the Club for Growth.

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Marsha Blackburn

Disappointing GOP leaders, Blackburn launches Senate campaign

10/06/17 11:20AM

Last Wednesday morning, Senate Republican leaders received two pieces of bad news. The first came by way of Alabama, where the GOP's preferred candidate, Luther Strange, lost a Senate primary to Roy Moore, a fringe radical who believes he isn't bound by the American legal system.

The second was a retirement announcement from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). Not only are Senate Republican leaders sorry to see him leave -- Corker is a popular figure on Capitol Hill -- but GOP officials realized his departure would open the door to him being replaced by someone from the party's crackpot wing.

Almost immediately, several Republican senators reached out directly to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who's wrapping up his second and final term, urging him to run. Yesterday, he officially declined.

Soon after, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), while attacking her party's Senate leadership, announced she's running for the open Senate seat. The Tennessean reported:

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is entering the 2018 U.S. Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker, ending a week's worth of speculation and immediately catapulting her to front-runner status as others consider launching their own bids. [...]

"I know the left calls me a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative. And you know what, I say that's alright, bring it on," Blackburn says in the nearly three-minute video.

And why would anyone call the congresswoman "a wingnut or a knuckle-dragging conservative"? Because Blackburn has gone out of her way to position herself as something of a far-right extremist.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally on Dec. 5, 2015, in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo by Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Even red states feel the brunt of Trump's ACA sabotage campaign

10/06/17 10:43AM

Donald Trump won Iowa by nearly 10 points in the presidential election. The state has a Republican governor, two Republican U.S. senators, a Republican-led state House, and a Republican-led state Senate. It's therefore tempting to believe whatever Iowa wants from the White House, this president is likely to say yes.

But there's fresh evidence that Trump hates the Affordable Care Act more than he loves the Hawkeye State. The Washington Post reported late yesterday:

For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application.

Trump’s message was clear, according to individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations: Tell Iowa no.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act see the president’s opposition even to changes sought by conservative states as part of a broader campaign by his administration to undermine the 2010 health-care law. In addition to trying to cut funding for the ACA, the Trump administration also is hampering state efforts to control premiums. In the case of Iowa, that involved a highly unusual intervention by the president himself.

Some background is probably in order. Over the course of several months, GOP officials in Iowa crafted an ambitious series of reforms to help stabilize its state insurance market, taking advantage of a provision in the ACA -- known among health care wonks as Section 1332 waivers -- that allows states to come up with state-specific modifications to the law.

The catch is, federal officials have to sign off on the changes. Iowa Republicans probably thought their ally in the White House would side with them, but they thought wrong.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-PENCE

Trump declared an opioid emergency, but then did nothing

10/06/17 10:00AM

Speaking from one of his golf resorts in early August, Donald Trump used the words many in the public-health community wanted to hear.

"The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency," the president said from Bedminster. "It's a national emergency. We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis."

As we discussed over the summer, Trump's use of the word "officially" stood out because of its procedural significance: when a president makes an official emergency declaration, a series of steps are supposed to kick into action. NBC News reported at the time, "Experts said that the national emergency declaration would allow the executive branch to direct funds towards expanding treatment facilities and supplying police officers with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone."

Four weeks later, the New York Times reported that the White House hadn't actually followed up on this in any way.

When President Trump announced in early August, following a presidential commission's recommendations, that the opioid crisis was a "national emergency," he called it "a serious problem the likes of which we have never had."

A month has now passed, and that urgent talk has yet to translate into urgent action. While the president's aides say they are pursuing an expedited process, it remains to be seen how and by what mechanism Mr. Trump plans to direct government resources.

That was in September. As of yesterday, eight weeks have passed since Trump "officially" declared this an emergency, and he and his team still haven't followed through.

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Image: U.S. President Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan

Team Trump makes a habit of hiding inconvenient truths

10/06/17 09:26AM

Americans who visited FEMA's website yesterday, looking for information about the federal response to Hurricane Maria, could learn some important details. They'd see, for example, how many federal workers are in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They'd also learn about the number of ports, post offices, and grocery stores that have re-opened, along with how many roads have been cleared.

As the Washington Post reported, however, what visitors to FEMA's site wouldn't find is the news the Trump administration considers unpleasant.

As of Wednesday, half of Puerto Ricans had access to drinking water and 5 percent of the island had electricity, according to statistics published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on its Web page documenting the federal response to Hurricane Maria.

By Thursday morning, both of those key metrics were no longer on the Web page.

In other words, there are statistics available to the public, just not the ones Team Trump dislikes. The data that points to progress in Puerto Rico has been deemed worthy of promotion, while the data on access to water and electricity has suddenly disappeared.

When the Post asked FEMA about the removal of the data, an agency spokesperson pointed to other ways to find that information. As for why these statistics were removed from FEMA page, the spokesperson "didn't elaborate."

This would be less outrageous if it weren't an increasingly common way this administration does business. [Update: see below.]

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U.S. lost jobs last month for the first time in 7 years

10/06/17 08:50AM

Every sitting president gets a sneak peek at U.S. job numbers the day before the official report is released. It's just a perk of the job. So when Donald Trump started tweeting yesterday about how impressed he was with the stock market, he seemed to be sending a subtle signal: the job numbers probably weren't great.

As it turns out, they were worse than anyone expected. While projections showed the U.S. economy adding about 80,000 jobs in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the economy actually lost 33,000 jobs in September.

It's important to emphasize that these totals were heavily affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which depressed hiring. That said, the new job numbers still fell short of low expectations. What's more, the combined job totals from July and August were revised down, and that can't be attributed to hurricanes.

This is the first time the U.S. economy has lost jobs since September 2010 -- seven years ago. It interrupts the longest streak on record of consecutive months in which the economy added jobs.

Providing some additional context, the U.S. added 2.14 million over the first nine months of 2014, 1.89 million over the first nine months of 2015, 1.79 million over the first nine months of 2016, and 1.33 million over the first nine months of 2017.

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Image: FILE PHOTO: US Treasury Secretary nominee Mnuchin and  Linton arrive for the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump at the US Capitol

Trump administration travel abuses start to look even worse

10/06/17 08:00AM

There was a point shortly after Donald Trump's election victory in which Republicans came up with an amazing new argument in support of the new president: his wealth, and that of his cabinet picks, was effectively an immunization against corruption.

As regular readers may recall, CNBC's Larry Kudlow, an adviser to Donald Trump's team for months, wrote a piece celebrating the Republican's presidential transition, and touting the wealthy people who would serve in top administration posts. "Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" Kudlow wrote. "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."

After the inauguration, then-House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made the same argument to defend his indifference to White House controversies. Asked about the president cashing in on his office, the Utah Republican replied, "He's already rich. He's very rich. I don't think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more."

The arguments were laughable at the time, but they seem quite a bit worse now.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has flown on military aircraft seven times since March at a cost of more than $800,000, including a $15,000 round-trip flight to New York to meet with President Trump at Trump Tower, according to the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General.

The inquiry into Mr. Mnuchin's air travel, prompted by an Instagram posting by his wife, found he broke no laws in his use of military aircraft but lamented the loose justification provided for such costly flights.

The New York Times' report noted one flight Mnuchin took to Miami in June to meet with a Mexican official, at a cost of $43,725.50. The Treasury Department apparently sent a note to the cabinet secretary's assistant, explaining that there was "a round-trip commercial flight would cost just $688."

I think it was the agency's way of saying, "Hint, hint."

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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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