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Monday's Mini-Report, 2.12.18

02/12/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* What volatility looks like: "U.S. stocks surged Monday recovering from some of the wreckage left by two weeks of brutal trading that wiped out trillions of dollars in market value."

* Following up on Friday night's news: "The Justice Department's No. 3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months before the department announced her departure on Friday, according to multiple sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand."

* Harvey Rishikof: "Before his sudden firing last week, the Pentagon official who oversaw military commission trials at Guantánamo Bay was exploring potential plea deals to end the long-delayed prosecution of five suspects in the Sept. 11 attacks, a move that would foreclose the possibility of execution, according to several people familiar with the matter."

* This is one of those behind-the-scenes stories that will have a real impact: "The Trump administration has adopted new limits on the use of 'guidance documents' that federal agencies have issued on almost every conceivable subject, an action that could have sweeping implications for the government's ability to sue companies accused of violations."

* I remember when Candidate Trump said his administration would champion the interests of the LGBT community: "The Education Department has told BuzzFeed News it won't investigate or take action on any complaints filed by transgender students who are banned from restrooms that match their gender identity, charting new ground in the Trump administration's year-long broadside against LGBT rights."

* Sinclair Broadcast Group "is asking its executives -- including the news directors at its many stations -- to contribute to its political action committee, a move that journalism ethics experts say is highly unusual and troubling."

* Remember, Trump has expressed support for this guy: "Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told soldiers last week to shoot female rebels in their genitals, the latest of several violent, misogynistic remarks."

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Traffic moves north along Interstate 270, Nov. 24, 2010, in Clarksburg, Md., the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday. (Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The problem with Trump's infrastructure plan: It's not much of a plan

02/12/18 03:01PM

Donald Trump, both before his election and after, at least said marginally compelling things about infrastructure. The Republican has long seemed to recognize that the nation's infrastructure is in desperate need of investment -- a point Barack Obama made countless times over eight years in the White House -- and this looked like an area where Trump could expect some bipartisan cooperation.

But then the delays occurred, to the point of actual comedy. In Trump World, it was always "Infrastructure Week" and the president's infrastructure plan was always poised to be unveiled "soon."

The good news is, the long-awaited, much-delayed plan now exists. The bad news is, it's not really a plan in any meaningful sense.

The White House unveiled its long-awaited infrastructure plan on Monday, proposing $200 billion in federal spending that it says will ultimately spur a $1.5 trillion investment over the next 10 years. [...]

The plan includes $100 billion in "incentives" that would require local and state governments to pony up big bucks or partner with private companies to unlock federal dollars. While the government will judge several criteria when considering whether or not to give out infrastructure dollars, the biggest will be outside funding.

So, right off the bat, those headlines you may have seen about Trump's "$1.5 trillion plan" painted a misleading picture. What the White House has in mind is roughly $200 billion in federal investment, half of which is intended to entice state and local officials to somehow spend hundreds of billions of dollars they don't have on their infrastructure needs -- probably through regressive privatization schemes.

And what about the other half? According to the blueprint, Trump wants $50 billion for a rural block-grant program, $20 billion for federal loan programs, $10 billion for a capital financing program to build government buildings, and $20 billion for "transformative programs," though the definition of the phrase seems a little murky.

Are state and local governments prepared to fill in the gaps? Of course not. As Vox explained, "Right now, federally funded highways (that's interstates and other routes) are financed on the basis of an 80-20 federal-state split, and federally funded mass transit projects usually get a 50-50 split. Trump's proposal is to flip the 80-20 formula on its head and require that states and cities kick in at least $4 for every $1 in federal money they receive."

Wait, it gets worse.

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Donald Trump

When Trump's anti-immigrant fear-mongering crosses a line

02/12/18 02:04PM

That Donald Trump and his operation want to create public fear of immigrants is not in dispute. What needs to be considered is how far the president and his team are prepared to go in pursuit of this goal.

We know, for example, about the Trump administration's Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) office, which includes a hotline Americans can call if they're a victim of a specific kind of crime: those perpetrated by undocumented immigrants. We also know how dangerously ridiculous the VOICE initiative has been.

Last week, as the Washington Post  noted, these efforts took an additional step when the Director of Surrogate & Coalitions Outreach for the Office of Communications at the White House sent an email to reporters. The message described itself as an "Immigration Crime Stories Round Up," purporting to show evidence of immigrants committing crimes.

One of the crimes listed in the "round-up" was an incident in Maryland "that is not clearly connected to immigrants."

But to fully appreciate the depravity behind Trump World's ugly campaign, it's worth reflecting Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez, who died in November in what appeared to be an accident. As Dana Milbank explained, Trump and his allies saw Martinez's death as "an opportunity to whip up anti-immigrant fervor."

The public-relations push started at a November cabinet meeting, when Trump argued for the cameras that "we lost a Border Patrol officer just yesterday, and another one was brutally beaten and badly, badly hurt.... We're going to have the wall." A tweet soon followed.

Other Republicans joined in. Fox News told its viewers that the border patrol agent was "brutally murdered," "ambushed by illegal immigrants," and attacked "in the most gruesome possible way."

We now know the evidence doesn't support these claims. From Milbank's piece:

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Image: 58th U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Democrats gamble by putting policy priorities first

02/12/18 01:01PM

"Republicans want to fix DACA far more than the Democrats do," Donald Trump falsely claimed over the weekend, unaware of the irony of such a sentiment coming from a president who rescinded DACA. The Republican added that Democrats simply want to use protections for Dreamers "as a campaign issue."

Trump has pushed this line before, and it continues to be demonstrably ridiculous. But the president is inadvertently raising an important point about partisan asymmetry, about which he's making faulty assumptions.

In Trump's mind, Democrats are effectively sticking to the script Mitch McConnell and congressional Republicans wrote in the Obama era: Just say no. To work constructively or in a bipartisan fashion might give voters the impression that the White House is governing well. It's therefore better, the GOP decided, to block everything possible as part of a maximalist attempt at obstruction. When the exasperated public expresses frustration, just blame the White House for failing to lead effectively.

Trump apparently assumes this is what Dems are doing. They're not. In fact, the president has this exactly backwards: Democrats keep offering bipartisan deals on immigration -- I believe we're up to four, at last count -- precisely because they'd rather have DACA protections for Dreamers in the short term than have a political wedge later on.

If Dems wanted to use DACA "as a campaign issue," they wouldn't keep putting credible solutions on the table. They'd do the opposite, trying to scuttle bipartisan deals.

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U.S.  President Obama meets with President-elect Trump in the White House Oval Office in Washington

Trump keeps taking credit for Obama-era successes

02/12/18 12:30PM

About a month ago, the Associated Press reported that the Environmental Protection Agency had an important new boast: the number of Superfund sites had shrunk thanks to completed cleanup efforts. It was, officials claimed, a major Trump administration accomplishment.

Except it wasn't, really. The cleanup work on the Superfund sites in question was completed during the Obama administration. Trump World just wanted to take credit. (In fact, the AP found that work on Superfund sites slowed in 2017 to a level lower than any year of the Obama or Bush eras.)

Last week, as the New York Times  reported, something similar happened.

The Trump administration has released data showing a large increase in penalties against polluters, as well $20 billion in commitments from companies to correct problems that have caused environmental damage. [...]

The data from the E.P.A. represented activity during the government's 2017 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, meaning the totals included the final three and half months of the Obama administration, when some of the E.P.A.'s biggest cases were settled. The data also reflected cases that were resolved during the Trump administration but had been initiated and largely handled under President Obama.

Cynthia Giles, who was the assistant administrator for the agency's enforcement office during the Obama administration, explained to the Times, "Nearly all of the large cases included in E.P.A.'s annual enforcement report were essentially over before the new administration arrived at E.P.A. Without an unprecedented disavowal of an already negotiated and public agreement, there is nothing Administrator [Scott] Pruitt's team could have done to change the outcome. In no sense do these cases reflect the intentions or actions of the new administration."

In fact, not only did the Trump administration take credit for work it had nothing to do with, but the New York Times conducted an analysis and found that Trump's EPA sought significantly fewer civil penalties against alleged polluters than the preceding two administrations.

It's not just the EPA, either. Ryan Zinke's Interior Department published a "comprehensive list of accomplishments" in December, which included the Trump administration taking credit for a legal victory over mining near the Grand Canyon -- "a legal fight that had already been argued in federal court a month before the Trump administration took office."

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.12.18

02/12/18 12:00PM

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

* In Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate race, Rep. Lou Barletta (R) still has primary rivals, but Donald Trump has nevertheless decided to effectively endorse the immigration hardliner.

* Michael Roman used to lead an "intelligence-gathering unit" for the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners. Now he's director of special projects and research at the White House, though as Politico  noted, "Few people in or close to the White House have any idea what Michael Roman does all day."

* As Republicans worry about their control of Congress, GOP officials traveled to Las Vegas over the weekend to heap praise onto billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a key party mega-donor.

* The RNC said it would keep former Finance Committee Chairman Steve Wynn's money until Wynn's company completed its independent investigation into his alleged misconduct. Late last week, the company's board ended that investigation before it was complete.

* With a month to go before the congressional special election in Pennsylvania's 18th district, Conor Lamb (D) launched an ad last week tying his opponent, Rick Saccone (R), to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) and the GOP campaign against Social Security and Medicare.

* Lissa Lucas, a Democratic state legislative candidate in West Virginia, tried to deliver testimony last week on a bill to expand companies' drilling rights for oil and gas. When she began to read a list of industry donations to state lawmakers, Lucas' microphone was cut off and she was eventually dragged away.

* Though I haven't seen this elsewhere, CNN is reporting that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is reconsidering his decision to retire at the end of the year.

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

Dems ask the right questions about White House security clearances

02/12/18 11:30AM

Before Rob Porter resigned last week as the White House staff secretary, he was responsible for, among things, screening every document that reached the president's desk. In other words, Porter had access to highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis.

We now know that was a problematic dynamic. As Rachel explained on the show, Porter didn't have, and apparently couldn't get, a permanent security clearance. In fact, while he was handling highly sensitive, classified materials on a daily basis, Porter's ex-wife was telling the FBI that he was a potential target for blackmail.

So, how is it, exactly, that Porter was cleared to handle secret information as part of his duties? It's unlikely we'll see any congressional hearings on this, but as Politico reported, Democratic lawmakers appear to be asking the right questions.

Democratic senators on Thursday requested an intelligence community investigation into security clearance procedures under President Donald Trump, after a White House aide who had not gotten full clearance announced he would resign over domestic abuse allegations.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) sent a letter to Wayne Stone, the acting inspector general for the intelligence community, asking for information about how the administration determines who can access classified information.

In their letter, the senators noted, "Members of the Senate have sent several requests for information to the administration seeking clarification on the security clearance review process." After noting that those requests have gone unmet, they added, "We are concerned over the apparent low and inconsistent threshold the Trump White House uses for obtaining an interim security clearance."

They're not alone. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Committee, insisted last week that the Porter controversy is the latest reminder that the White House's security clearance process needs "credible oversight."

On Friday, a separate group of 12 senators from the Democratic conference wrote to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and White House Counsel Don McGahn, asking why Porter was hired to handle classified documents "despite the fact he could not get a security clearance."

The controversy surrounding Porter has certainly helped elevate the questions, but it'd be a mistake to think Trump World's problems with security clearances are limited to one aide.

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Steve Scalise

GOP leader flunks test on separation of church and state

02/12/18 11:00AM

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) delivered the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast in D.C. last week, and devoted much of his remarks to his recovery from last year's shooting that nearly killed him. It was his faith, the Republican said, that helped him persevere.

But Scalise ran into a little trouble when he decided to share some thoughts on American history.

"This was a nation founded with a deep belief in God. Our founding fathers talked about it when they were preparing to draft the Constitution. In fact, Thomas Jefferson -- who was the author of the Constitution -- if you go to the Jefferson Memorial right now, go read this inscription from Thomas Jefferson: 'God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?'

"You can't separate church from state.... People would say, you know, when you're voting on issues, how do you separate your faith from the way you vote? Faith is part of who you are."

OK, there's a lot to unpack here, so let's take this one step at a time.

We know that despite Scalise's claim, Thomas Jefferson didn't write the Constitution. He was actually in France at the time the Constitution was crafted. Jefferson did write the Declaration of Independence a decade earlier, but that isn't the same thing. (That's not to say Jefferson was irrelevant -- his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom likely helped influence the drafting of the First Amendment -- but to say Jefferson was the Constitution's "author" is plainly wrong. That title largely belongs to James Madison, who, incidentally, also championed the separation of church and state.)

We also know that while Jefferson's approach to religion was complex -- see the Jefferson Bible, for example -- his approach to religious liberty was straightforward: he was an ardent champion of church-state separation. It's what makes Scalise's reliance on Jefferson to argue against the principle so spectacularly wrong.

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Image: Rep. Devin Nunes Briefs Press On House Intelligence Cmte Russia Investigation

Already flailing, Devin Nunes gets into the propaganda game

02/12/18 10:00AM

Last year, a new website called The Free Telegraph launched, offering visitors Republican-friendly online news. What visitors probably didn't realize was the online venture didn't just look like partisan propaganda; it was quite literally partisan propaganda: the site was the creation of the Republican Governors Association.

When the Associated Press inquired about this, the RGA added a disclosure notice about who was paying for the content -- the notice was put in a small, gray font, at the bottom of the page, against a gray background -- though the Republicans responsible for the site have since removed that language. Those who visit the outlet, designed to look like an online news website, have no way of knowing that the stories are paid Republican content.

There's a lot of this going around. For example, the Maine Examiner looks like a state-based news website, and purports to be a project of "a small group of Mainers who simply publish Maine news, trends, and interesting pieces about you, the people of Maine." Its critics have made a compelling case, however, that the site appears to be "working in conjunction with the state Republican Party."

According to a report in Politico, a leading House Republican appears to be playing the same game.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a relentless critic of the media, has found a way around the often unflattering coverage of his role in the Trump-Russia investigation -- by operating his own partisan news outlet.

Resembling a local, conservative news site, "The California Republican" is classified on Facebook as a "media/news company" and claims to deliver "the best of US, California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis."

One recent item from the California Republican's Twitter feed featured a photograph of Nunes beneath text that read, "This is what a hero looks like." How subtle.

Though the website now appears to be off-line, there was an easy-to-miss disclosure notice at the bottom of the home page -- in a small, gray font against a black background -- letting eagle-eyed visitors know that the site is "paid for by the Devin Nunes Campaign Committee."

Why should you care? Because when politicians and their campaign operations get into the propaganda business, no one benefits.

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Pennsylvania State Senate

Pennsylvania GOP takes gerrymandering in an unfortunate direction

02/12/18 09:30AM

It's not easy to choose the nation's most outrageous example of congressional gerrymandering, but Pennsylvania has to be among the most ridiculous.

After the 2010 census, the state legislature's Republican majority took an evenly divided state, drew up 18 congressional districts, and put 13 of them in safely GOP hands. The result was tough to defend: in 2012, for example, Democratic congressional candidates received 51% of the vote in Pennsylvania, but only 28% of the power.

The state Supreme Court rejected the current map last month, saying it "clearly, plainly, and palpably" violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. The ruling added that the Republicans' gerrymandering has had "corrosive effects on our entire democratic process through the deliberate dilution of our citizenry's individual votes."

GOP state legislators didn't take this well -- they tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, and when that failed, they threatened to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who ruled against their gerrymandered map -- but the process is moving forward.

It's just not moving forward in an especially constructive direction.

On Friday, Republican leaders in the legislature submitted their new map for the governor's approval.... Unfortunately for Pennsylvania voters, the new districts show just as much partisan bias as the old ones. [...]

From a partisan standpoint, in other words, the new map is almost exactly like the old one.

The Washington Post's analysis noted that Donald Trump out-performed Hillary Clinton in 12 out of Pennsylvania's 18 districts. Under the newly submitted Republican alternative, Trump would also receive more votes in 12 districts -- by "virtually identical" margins.

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'Dysfunction' starts to overcome Kelly's White House

02/12/18 09:00AM

The early months of Donald Trump's presidency featured constant turmoil in the White House. On a near-daily basis, Americans were confronted with reports of chaos, in-fighting, distrust, and behind-the-scenes leaks intended to boost one faction over another.

More than a few observers started comparing Trump's out-of-control West Wing to "Game of Thrones." When the president held a press conference one year ago this week and described his team as a "fine-tuned machine," nearly everyone immediately found it hilarious because the assessment was so badly at odds with reality.

When John Kelly made the transition from four-star general to Homeland Security secretary to White House chief of staff, the mayhem was supposed to end. Instead, Trump World now appears to have come full circle. The Washington Post put it this way:

Aides described a resulting level of dysfunction not experienced behind the scenes at the White House since the early months of Trump’s presidency. Dormant ­rivalries have come alive, with suspicions swirling about some of the most senior officials and the roles they apparently played in protecting [former White House Staff Secretary Rob] Porter.

Two prominent White House staffers were forced to resign last week following allegations of violent domestic abuse -- part of a recent trend in which the administration has begun hemorrhaging staff. Aides have started to tell reporters that Kelly's version of events surrounding Porter's exit wasn't true. Communications Director Hope Hicks is under  fire in ways she's not accustomed to. Kelly has reportedly made clear that he's willing to resign.

For his part, Trump has not only vented his frustrations about Kelly's performance, he's also begun "speculating about potential replacements," and a short list of possible successors has apparently emerged.

By one account, Trump last week privately confided in, of all people, Reince Priebus -- the man he ousted as chief of staff to install Kelly.

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Image: Devin Nunes, Eric Swalwell, Jim Himes

Trump clears bogus Republican memo, but blocks Dems' rebuttal

02/12/18 08:30AM

Around 1 p.m. (ET) on Friday, a reporter asked Donald Trump if he'd release the Democratic response to the Republicans' discredited "Nunes memo." The president didn't hesitate. "Yes," he replied. "It's going to be released soon."

By Friday evening, that was no longer true.

Citing national security concerns, the White House on Friday formally notified the House intelligence committee that President Donald Trump is "unable" to declassify a memo drafted by Democrats that counters GOP allegations about abuse of government surveillance powers in the FBI's Russia probe.

White House counsel Don McGahn said in a letter to the committee that the memo contains "numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages" and asked the intelligence panel to revise the memo with the help of the Justice Department. He said Trump is still "inclined" to release the memo in the interest of transparency if revisions are made.

Trump himself weighed in via Twitter, complaining that the Democratic document was "political and long" -- remember, he's not much of a reader -- and designed specifically to be rejected.

In a missive the president almost certainly didn't write himself, the tweet added that the memo's Democratic authors knew it "would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency."

Raise your hand if you believe Donald Trump personally wrote a tweet featuring the word "whereupon."

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Image: Donald Trump

Trump apparently has no use for the #MeToo movement

02/12/18 08:00AM

As the national conversation about sexual misconduct continues to unfold, and the backlash against those facing abuse allegations intensifies, Donald Trump now seems eager to take a side.

On Friday, for example, the president was asked about former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who resigned following reports of his alleged abuse toward both of his ex-wives. Instead of denouncing domestic abuse, Trump highlighted what he saw as the most important elements of the Porter scandal: the former aide "worked very hard," did "a very good job," and is "very sad."

Hours later, another White House staffer, speechwriter David Sorensen, also resigned following claims from his ex-wife that he was violent and emotionally abusive. Sorensen denies the allegations.

It's against this backdrop that the president decided over the weekend to shed additional light on his views on recent developments, effectively offering a rejoinder to the #MeToo movement:

"Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused -- life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?"

There are some important problems with the president's perspective. Trump may believe, for example, that those accused of misconduct can never recover, but he appears to be living proof to the contrary: despite the fact that he personally has faced allegations from a wide variety of women, Trump was nevertheless elected president.

For that matter, do you know what else often "shatters and destroys" people's lives? Being the target of sexual misconduct and abuse. It's the part of the equation about which Trump has very little to say.

But perhaps the most striking part of the president's message was his sudden interest in "due process."

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A nurse prepares a flu shot at the Salvation Army in Atlanta, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018.

This Week in God, 2.10.18

02/10/18 08:00AM

First up from the God Machine this week is a stunning comment from an evangelical minister who apparently believes Christianity immunizes people from the flu. Politico reported this week:

Texas minister Gloria Copeland, who sat on the Trump campaign's evangelical executive advisory board, denied the country is in the midst of a severe flu outbreak in a Facebook video that went viral because, "Jesus himself is our flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of the flu."

"We have a duck season, a deer season, but we don't have a flu season and don't receive it when someone threatens you with 'everybody is getting the flu,'" Copeland added. "We've already had our shot: He bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases. That's what we stand on. And by his stripes we are healed."

Right off the bat, let's note that public-health officials would probably discourage people from relying on supernatural treatments in response to virus outbreaks, and that Copeland's comments during an especially brutal flu season were irresponsible.

Making matters slightly worse, Right Wing Watch explained that Copeland's Texas megachurch was at the center of a measles outbreak in 2013 "that was attributed to the church’s belief that congregants can forego vaccines because Jesus will protect them from illness." In other words, Copeland probably ought to know better.

But perhaps most striking from a political perspective is that Copeland isn't just some fringe figure with no influence among those in power. On the contrary, Copeland and her husband, Kenneth Copeland, both served as members of Donald Trump's evangelical advisory panel in 2016, alongside the likes of Michele Bachmann, Ralph Reed, James Dobson, Robert Jeffress, and Jerry Falwell, Jr.

For the record, it's not too late to get a flu shot if you haven't already had one.

Also from the God Machine this week:

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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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