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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 11.15.17

11/15/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Zimbabwe: "The decadeslong rule of President Robert Mugabe appeared to be at an end Wednesday after Zimbabwe's military took over state television to announce that he was in custody. Army chiefs told viewers that the 93-year-old Mugabe -- the world's oldest head of state -- and his family were "safe and sound" as tanks were seen on the streets of the capital, Harare."

* The ACA news continues to impress: "Enrollments on the federal Obamacare marketplace were 46 percent higher in the first two weeks of November from the same period last year, officials said Wednesday."

* Senate Republicans voted together once again today to confirm "the former leader of a coal company with a record of serious safety violations to become the country's top regulator of miner health and safety."

* AUMF: "In a rare exercise of its war-making role, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly passed a resolution explicitly stating that U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen is not authorized under legislation passed by Congress to fight terrorism or invade Iraq."

* The final vote was 50 to 47: "The Senate on Tuesday narrowly confirmed Steven Bradbury to join the Department of Transportation, with two Republicans voting with Democrats in opposition over Bradbury's authorship of so-called torture memos during the George W. Bush administration."

* DACA: "Dozens of young immigrants mailed renewal forms weeks before they were due. But their paperwork was delayed in the mail and then denied for being late."

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Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, testifies at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on March 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick...

Why Richard Cordray's retirement from the CFPB matters

11/15/17 12:44PM

A few months ago, a Wall Street Journal piece described it as "the greatest mystery in Washington." Nearly a year into Donald Trump's term, Richard Cordray, a fierce public advocate appointed by Barack Obama, hasn't yet been removed as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

As it turns out, the Republican president won't have to fire the Democratic CFPB chief, because as the Washington Post reported, Cordray is stepping down.

Richard Cordray, a target of the banking industry and Republicans in Congress, announced on Wednesday that he planned to step down as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by the end of the month.

Cordray's resignation gives President Trump an opportunity to reshape an agency that oversees a significant portion of the financial industry.

The policy consequences are likely to be significant. With Cordray's departure, the Republican White House is all but certain to move the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in a far-right direction, to the delight of banking lobbyists. Indeed, Trump has already made his perspective on these issues clear -- such as his decision to quietly roll back consumer banking safeguards two weeks ago.

But there's also the politics to consider, because all things being equal, Cordray probably would've preferred to have been fired.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 11.15.17

11/15/17 12:00PM

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

* In a big surprise, a young, largely unknown Democratic candidate narrowly won a state Senate special election in Oklahoma yesterday, flipping a seat that had been held by a Republican. (Donald Trump won this district by 40 points last year.) According to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Dems have now flipped 32 state legislative seats this year from "red" to "blue," including four in Oklahoma.

* In Alabama, a local Fox affiliate conducted a statewide poll and found Roy Moore (R) leading Doug Jones (D) by six, 49% to 43%. The same polls showed Moore with an 11-point advantage a couple of weeks ago.

* In Massachusetts, the latest WBUR poll shows incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) and incumbent Gov. Charlie Baker (R) with significant advantages over their likely 2018 challengers.

* The latest national Marist poll found Democrats with an impressive lead on the generic congressional ballot, 51% to 36%. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver added yesterday that if Dems can maintain that kind of support, they'll take the House majority with relative ease.

* On a related note, a national Quinnipiac poll released yesterday pointed in a similar direction, showing Democrats ahead on the generic House ballot, 51% to 38%, and leading the generic Senate ballot, 52% to 39%.

* The same Quinnipiac poll showed Donald Trump's approval rating down to 35%. The results also found that only 40% of Americans believe Trump is fit for office -- a new low for this president.

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A stethoscope sits on an examination table in an exam room at a Community Clinic Inc. health center in Takoma Park, Maryland, April 8, 2015. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

CBO: Republican tax plan would trigger big cuts to Medicare

11/15/17 11:00AM

The federal budget deficit, which Republicans used to pretend to care about, is poised to get vastly larger if the GOP tax plan passes. There's reason to believe, however, that Republicans will renew their interest in balancing the budget -- just as soon as they're done slashing tax rates on the wealthy and corporations.

Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council at Donald Trump's White House, hinted as much last week, as did House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) yesterday.

The scope of this vision is pretty extraordinary: GOP officials have a vision of overhauling the federal tax code, redistributing wealth to the top, scrapping health care benefits for millions, and then targeting social-insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare.

And before you ask, "Didn't Donald Trump give his word to Americans that he wouldn't cut entitlements?" it's important to remember the president's rhetoric has very little to do with his actions, and he's already endorsed some entitlement cuts, despite his commitments.

But in practical terms, we don't really need to wait that long to see Republicans undermine popular social-insurance programs. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the GOP tax plan may very well bring about some sharp cuts sooner rather than later.

The Republican tax bill would force $25 billion in immediate cuts to Medicare, according to the Congressional Budget Office, a move that could be stopped only with a bipartisan vote.

Those are the consequences under the pay-as-you-go law that Congress passed in 2010. That law requires tax cuts and certain spending increases to be paired with offsetting provisions. If not, the law forces automatic spending cuts.... Congress could prevent the cuts, but that couldn't be done under the fast-track procedures they're using for the tax bill.

The full CBO report is online here.

Now, if you read the Republican tax plans, you won't find explicit provisions that cut Medicare, because it isn't one of the intended goals. Rather, we're talking about the unintended consequences.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Republicans keep uniting disparate health care stakeholders

11/15/17 10:04AM

As of yesterday afternoon, Senate Republicans decided the best way to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations is to also repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate. As the Congressional Budget Office has already told lawmakers, this would destabilize the market, raise premiums, and lead 13 million Americans to lose their coverage.

But the CBO isn't the only player in the game warning Republicans about the dangers of their scheme.

In a joint letter, the top industry groups representing insurers, hospitals and doctors came out strongly against repealing the mandate, arguing it was necessary to attract enough healthy patients to offset the cost of insuring Americans with pre-existing conditions.

"There will be serious consequences if Congress simply repeals the mandate while leaving the insurance reforms in place: millions more will be uninsured or face higher premiums, challenging their ability to access the care they need," the letter read, which was signed by America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Federation of American Hospitals.

At face value, the question here is whether GOP policymakers are prepared to ignore the nation's most prominent organizations representing doctors, hospitals, and private health insurers.

And while the answer obviously matters a great deal, I don't think the political world fully appreciates how amazing it is to see these groups join forces in opposition to Republican proposal -- something that keeps happening.

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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

CEOs undermine the rationale behind the Republican tax-cut push

11/15/17 09:20AM

America's business leaders have been on Trump administration officials' minds lately. On Sunday, for example, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defended the Republican tax plan by boasting, "Lots of people, lots of CEOs, have had input into this."

A few days earlier, Gary Cohn, Donald Trump's top economic adviser, told CNBC's John Harwood, "The most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan."

Part of the problem with this is that, according to the plan's Republican architects, the target audience for the plan are middle-class families, not "big CEOs."

But the other part of the problem is that the claim may not even be accurate. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

President Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, looked out from the stage at a sea of CEOs and top executives in the audience Tuesday for the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting. As Cohn sat comfortably onstage, a Journal editor asked the crowd to raise their hands if their company plans to invest more if the tax reform bill passes.

Very few hands went up.

Cohn looked surprised. "Why aren't the other hands up?" he said.

If you watch a clip of the exchange, you'll see when Cohn laughed a bit while asking the rhetorical question, perhaps because he was slightly embarrassed. The whole point behind Republicans slashing the corporate tax rate is the GOP's assumption that it would spur massive capital investments, which would in turn boost the economy and create jobs.

But yesterday, a room full of business leaders at CEO Council meeting send a pretty clear signal: the Republican assumptions aren't true. GOP policymakers are wrong, not just in general, but also about the key rationale behind their corporate tax policy.

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Controversial Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore at a Texas Capitol rally on March 24, 2015. (Photo by Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/Getty)

Roy Moore's survival strategy comes into focus

11/15/17 08:40AM

Roy Moore's Republican Senate candidacy in Alabama is facing a precarious future. GOP senators have abandoned him in droves; the National Republican Senatorial Committee has ended its relationship with Moore's campaign; and yesterday, the Republican National Committee scrapped its field operation in Alabama in advance of the Dec. 12 special election.

Moore and his allies, however, have a survival strategy, and it came into focus last night at the Walker Springs Road Baptist Church in Jackson, where the right-wing candidate, accused of sexual misconduct towards teenagers, delivered extemporaneous remarks.

Describing a nation in spiritual decline -- Moore lamented the end of government-sponsored prayer in public schools -- the GOP candidate complained, for example, that the government "started creating new rights in 1965."

Moore didn't elaborate, but it's worth noting for context that Congress approved the Voting Rights Act in 1965, a year after passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Neither law was popular in Alabama. [Update: 1965 was also the year the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, which said women had a right to access contraception through a right to privacy.]

In case that was too subtle, this was less understated.

Also Tuesday, it was revealed that at least one person in Alabama received a robocall from someone claiming to be a reporter for the Washington Post seeking to pay money for claims against Moore -- a fake call that was condemned by the newspaper. The call was first reported by CBS station WKRG of Mobile, who spoke to a pastor who got the call.

The newspaper denied making the call.

"The Post has just learned that at least one person in Alabama has received a call from someone falsely claiming to be from The Washington Post. The call's description of our reporting methods bears no relationship to reality," Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said in a statement.

And what made-up name did the fake reporter use? Bernie Bernstein.

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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.

To pay for tax cuts, Republicans eye radical health care changes

11/15/17 08:00AM

Republicans know they want to cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but they don't know how to pay for their plan. As we discussed in some detail on Monday, that poses a major procedural challenge for GOP policymakers, leaving them with limited options.

Yesterday in the Senate, Republicans apparently made a decision.

To help pay for the GOP tax bill, Republican Senate leaders announced Tuesday that they plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act's requirement that Americans maintain health coverage. [...]

"We're optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal (into the tax bill) would be helpful," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters after a caucus meeting.

Helpful for whom? In this case, the answer is obvious: the real beneficiaries are Republicans desperate to pass tax cuts for people who don't need them.

There's no great mystery as to what's driving the GOP's motivations on this. The party has long opposed the individual mandate in "Obamacare," and by scrapping the policy, Republicans will have an additional $338 billion over the next decade to pay for more tax breaks. For Donald Trump and his allies, it's the best of both worlds: the GOP is gutting the health care law they love to hate, and using the money to cut taxes on millionaires, billionaires, and corporations.

But the details matter: the Congressional Budget Office has already told Congress that repealing the ACA's individual mandate will destabilize the insurance market, force many consumers to pay higher premiums, and end coverage for 13 million Americans over the next 10 years.

Indeed, the reason this move would save $338 billion is because the federal government would be paying less to provide coverage for millions of families.

What we're left with is practically a caricature of Republican policymaking: under the Republican tax plan, the rich would pay less, many in the middle class would pay more, millions would lose their health care benefits in order to help finance tax breaks for the wealthy, and many who keep their coverage would end up facing higher costs.

And it's likely to pass anyway -- because Republicans have convinced themselves that this will make the party more popular with voters.

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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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