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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump's ethics lawyer exits the White House

11/28/17 11:20AM

I'll concede it's an obvious joke: upon learning that the chief ethics lawyer in Donald Trump's White House is resigning, everyone asked, "Donald Trump had a chief ethics lawyer?"

As it turns out, yes, though his office is apparently now empty. Politico reported yesterday:

After almost a year in the White House counsel's office tackling a raft of ethics and financial disclosure issues, James Schultz resigned last week and is returning to private practice at the Philadelphia-based law firm where he previously worked, Cozen O'Connor.

Schultz insists his exit is unrelated to any of those myriad controversies, but simply triggered by a desire to get back to private law work and back to Philadelphia, where his family has remained.

I'm not in a position to know whether or not the official line on his resignation is true. Schultz told Politico these are "typically year-to-about-18-months-type positions," and for whatever reason, he didn't make it a year.

Regardless, while this may sound like another joke, I honestly would love to learn more about what Schultz did all day. Because no matter what one thinks of this president, Donald J. Trump has been at the center of enough ethics controversies to choke a special counsel.

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

GOP indifference to policy details makes tax debate impossible

11/28/17 10:47AM

The Congressional Budget Office won't have time to complete a full macroeconomic analysis of the Republican tax plan before senators vote this week, but some of the preliminary findings are brutal. We learned late Sunday, for example, that the GOP proposal would punish the poor fairly quickly, and leave much of the American middle class worse off by the time the Republican plan is fully implemented.

Reporters yesterday asked Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), one of the key architects of his party's package, for his reaction to the CBO officials' findings. "I don't think they're right," the Utah Republican said.

At this point, it's tempting to think the chair of the Finance Committee would present the press with a competing analysis or an explanation of where, from his perspective, the CBO went wrong. But Hatch didn't bother: he saw the Congressional Budget Office's report and simply decided not to believe it.

With this in mind, the New York Times' Binyamin Appelbaum raised an under-appreciated point yesterday.

"Republicans and Democrats have long touted opposing analyses of the economics of taxation. People could look and judge the difference. It cannot be overstated how radical it is for Republicans to simply refuse to present an analysis."

Quite right. This isn't necessarily a dispute between partisans relying on competing facts and figures. Rather, what we're watching is an argument in which one side has decided facts and figures aren't especially important.

Indeed, they're annoyances that only get in the way.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

The Republican tax plan is many things, but it's not 'tax reform'

11/28/17 10:00AM

For months, Donald Trump has  used "tax cuts" and "tax reform" interchangeably, because he apparently believes they mean the same thing. As far as the president is concerned, if Republicans create massive tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations, they've necessarily "reformed" the federal tax code.

Perhaps now would be a good time for a refresher.

Traditionally, policymakers create various tax breaks, incentives, loopholes, credits, and giveaways, for a variety of purposes, which end up creating a cluttered and consequently complex system. The point of tax reform, in a conceptual sense, is to simplify: by closing loopholes and eliminating various politically motivated tax treats, the overall system, in theory, should be fairer and ultimately better.

Which is precisely why it's ridiculous to describe the current Republican scheme as "reform." Bloomberg Politics had an interesting piece last week:

Lawmakers who sped a bill through the U.S. House last week may have handed a few more goodies to Wall Street's wealthiest than they realize.

Investors in billion-dollar hedge funds might be able to take advantage of a new, lower tax rate touted as a break for small businesses. Private equity fund managers might be able to sidestep a new tax on their earnings. And a combination of proposed changes might allow the children and grandchildren of the very wealthy to avoid income taxes in perpetuity.

These are some of the quirks that tax experts have spotted in the bill passed by the House on Nov. 16, just two weeks after it was introduced.

Ordinarily, one might expect a genuine attempt at tax reform to identify these "quirks" and eliminate them. Republicans, on the other hand, are moving forward on legislation that creates new "quirks."

Vox's Ezra Klein had a related piece this morning, explaining that the Senate Republicans' tax plan "is thick with obvious loopholes that will do little for the economy but will act as a full-employment program for tax lawyers."

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Image: Embattled GOP Senate Candidate In Alabama Judge Roy Moore Continues Campaigning Throughout The State

Why Roy Moore won't debate Doug Jones in Alabama

11/28/17 09:20AM

Alabama's U.S. Senate special election is two weeks from today, and with polls pointing to a competitive contest, the red-state race has taken on national significance. This would ordinarily be the point at which local voters could expect to see the major party candidates debate one another on the campaign's major issues.

Except in Alabama, that's not happening. Doug Jones (D) has accepted debate invitations, but Roy Moore (R) has refused. It's worth pausing to appreciate why.

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore said Friday that he is refusing to debate his Democratic opponent Doug Jones because of Jones's stance on transgender rights.

In an interview with Sean Hannity on iHeartRadio, Moore said that Jones's "very liberal" stance on transgender issues was behind the decision to skip a debate.

"We've refused to debate them because of their very liberal stance on transgenderism and transgenderism in the military and in bathrooms. They are desperate," Moore told Hannity.

Take a moment to appreciate just how extraordinary this position is. Voters could benefit from hearing two U.S. Senate candidates discuss the issues, but Moore disagrees with Jones on civil rights, so therefore, there can be no debate.

In other words, Moore will only share a stage with candidates he agrees with, which suggests he may be a little confused about the whole point of debates.

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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)

Mulvaney still opposes agency Trump asked him to lead

11/28/17 08:40AM

There's a great deal of legal uncertainty surrounding who, exactly, is the legitimate acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Usually, at least in this country, these kinds of questions simply don't arise, but as of this morning, the CFPB still has a bit of a "two popes" problem.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump's choice to lead the agency, at least for now, is his right-wing budget director, Mick Mulvaney. That's notable for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Mulvaney opposes the existence of the consumer protection agency he now claims to be leading.

With that in mind, the OMB chief declared yesterday morning, on his first day as the supposed leader of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "Rumors that I'm going to set the place on fire, or blow it up or lock the doors, are completely false."

As Rachel joked on the show last night, the fact that he felt the need to say this at all on his first day wasn't exactly a good sign.

But at the same introductory event, Mulvaney was asked about his record of condemning the CFPB, including the fact that he called the agency "a sad, sick joke." Does Mulvaney stand by his positions? Here's what he told reporters:

"I don't know how to answer that question. I'll talk about my previous statements about the bureau. How about that? Yeah, my opinion of the structure of the CFPB has not changed. I still think it's an awful example of a bureaucracy that has gone wrong."

Oh. So it appears that Mulvaney is running an agency whose existence he's long opposed -- and he hasn't changed his mind.

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Two men stand on the plaza of the U.S. Capitol Building as storm clouds fill the sky, June 13, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Children's health program imperiled by Republican tactics

11/28/17 08:00AM

The Republican-led Congress was supposed to extend the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by Oct. 1. As regular readers know, that was the day current funding for the program, which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, expired. The deadline passed, however, because GOP lawmakers were focused on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Health care advocates initially hoped lawmakers would act soon after, and the missed deadline would be inconsequential. That was 59 days ago, and as of now, there is no solution and Republicans don't appear to be working on one.

As Slate noted, the real-world consequences are starting to emerge.

Colorado has notified residents that the federally funded Children's Health Insurance Program will shut down in early 2018 if Congress doesn't act to renew funding that expired on Sept. 30; the state appears to be the first to formally make such an announcement. A state press release says its program has enough money to continue operating until Jan. 31 of next year.

Since the CHIP program is administered at the state level, the funding shortfall has different effects in different places, but estimates indicate that as many as four million children nationwide could lose coverage if it's not renewed.

There's long been a buffer built into the system, which is why no one panicked on Oct. 1. Everyone involved in the debate understood that states would move some money around until lawmakers got their act together. In fact, this wasn't the first time federal policymakers missed a CHIP deadline.

The point now, however, is that the GOP Congress' indifference has gone on so long that buffer is starting to disappear. Colorado is warning affected families now, and the Washington Post reported last week that "nearly a dozen" states are preparing to do the same thing.

The article added that five states may exhaust existing CHIP funding "in late December if lawmakers do not act."

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Monday's Mini-Report, 11.27.17

11/27/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What a mess: "Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is 'already hard at work' as acting director of the nation's top consumer protection agency, his spokesman said Monday morning. Mulvaney's first move? An email telling staff to ignore all communication from the other acting director."

* Iran's hard-liners lost influence in the Obama era, but are thriving now: "Thanks to Trump's dishonest, cheating and crazy remarks, he has proved what we have said for a long time: America cannot be trusted," said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. "Many didn't believe us, but now they do."

* The FBI "failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts despite having evidence for at least a year that the targets were in the Kremlin's crosshairs,"

* The inevitable walkback: "The Trump administration has backtracked on its decision to order the Palestinians' office in Washington to close, instead saying it would merely impose limitations on the office that it expected would be lifted after 90 days."

* There's been some interesting research on Texas earthquakes and the work conducted by the oil and gas industry.

* The school's position has become confusing: "The University of Notre Dame fought in court for five years to limit the government's ability to push religiously affiliated employers to offer contraception benefits. Now, the university is voluntarily allowing birth-control benefits, exposing a divide among Catholic institutions."

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Orders Regarding Trade

At event honoring Native American vets, Trump can't help himself

11/27/17 04:06PM

Donald Trump's history with Native Americans has long been troubled. The Washington Post had a lengthy report last year documenting how the Republican has accused Indian reservations of being under the control of organized crime; he suggested dark-skinned Native Americans in Connecticut had faked their ancestry; and he "secretly paid for more than $1 million in ads that portrayed members of a tribe in Upstate New York as cocaine traffickers and career criminals."

Today, the president found a new way to make that relationship vastly worse.

President Donald Trump revived his derogatory nickname for Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren Monday, referring to her as "Pocahontas" during an event honoring Native American veterans at the White House.

Trump told the veterans "you were here long before any of us were here. Although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas."

After making the crack, Trump turned to one of the Navajo code talkers and said, "But you know what? I like you...."

If you watch the clip, note the silence in the room after Trump made his quip targeting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The senator appeared on MSNBC soon after, responding, "It is deeply unfortunate that the president of the United States cannot even make it through a ceremony honoring these heroes without having to throw out a racial slur."

Let's review some of the more obvious reasons Trump's comments were so offensive:

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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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