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Iraqi forces deploy on Oct. 17, 2016 in the area of al-Shurah, some 45 kms south of Mosul, as they advance towards the city to retake it from the Islamic State group. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty)

Military progress in Mosul leaves Trump in an awkward position

03/15/17 11:22AM

Two years ago, when ISIS took control of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, it was a major development, reinforcing perceptions surrounding the terrorist group's potency. Last year, however, ISIS was pushed backwards, leaving Mosul as its last major territory in Iraq.

Though the conflict isn't over, USA Today reports that there's been real progress in forcing ISIS from Mosul.
Islamic State fighters are in disarray and struggling to fend off a rapid offensive by Iraqi forces to recapture Mosul and expel the militants from their last major stronghold in the country, a top U.S. military official said.

"They're lacking purpose motivation and direction," Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin said in a phone interview from Baghdad, referring to the Islamic State. "I've never seen them so disorganized."

The pace of the battle reflects dramatic improvements in Iraq's military and its ability to coordinate operations with a U.S.-led air campaign, which is pounding the militants at a record pace.

"You're watching ISIS be annihilated," Martin said of the militant group.
While that sounds encouraging, I'm curious to hear more from the White House about the president's reaction to these developments -- because other than ISIS members themselves, no one in the Western world was as publicly critical of the mission in Mosul as Donald Trump.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Ryan is eager to share credit (and blame) for GOP health care bill

03/15/17 10:50AM

You've probably heard the expression, "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." The point, obviously, is that when something goes right, many want to take credit, and when something goes wrong, many try to avoid blame. But what if failure can have many fathers, too?

The Republican health care plan is obviously struggling -- opposition from within the GOP is, by every available metric, growing -- and the discussion about who's responsible for this fiasco is getting louder. With that in mind, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who unveiled the American Health Care Act just last week, talked to Fox Business this morning, where the Republican leader seemed eager to share credit/blame for his bill.
"Obviously, the major components [of the existing legislation] are staying intact, because this is something we wrote with President Trump. This is something we wrote with the Senate committees. So just so you know, Maria, this is the plan we ran on all of last year. This is the plan we've been working -- House, Senate, White House -- together on."
In context, the Speaker was trying to argue against overhauling the legislation, emphasizing that the current bill is already the result of a joint effort between Republicans and other Republicans.

But let's not miss the forest for the trees: Ryan is acutely aware of the fact that if/when this bill fails, the fingers will be pointed directly at him. It's why the Wisconsin congressman is preemptively trying to spread the blame around -- as if this weren't the bill he and his team wrote in secret.
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Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe talks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol February 14, 2013 in Washington, DC.

On Team Trump, influence of the 'Inhofe brigade' matters

03/15/17 10:09AM

There are distinct spheres of influence inside Donald Trump's political operation. There's the Breitbart Wing, made up on several White House aides who worked for the right-wing website; the Goldman Sachs Wing, made up of a growing number of folks who joined the administration after stints at the Wall Street giant; and the Jeff Sessions Wing, which includes both the U.S. Attorney General and some of his former Senate aides who now hold key posts in the Trump administration.

But let's not forget that Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's highest profile climate deniers, seems to have a contingent of his own. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
At least half a dozen former aides to Inhofe -- and counting -- have been hired into top positions at the EPA and the White House. The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a fellow Oklahoman and longtime friend of Inhofe, spent years working for the senator. Pruitt's senior advisers on air, climate and legal issues are Inhofe alumni. In addition, two former Inhofe aides have become top domestic and international energy and environmental advisers to President Trump. [...]

Ryan Jackson, Inhofe's former chief of staff, helps account for part of why so many of the senator's aides are now helping guide the administration's policymaking. Jackson, who helped shepherd Pruitt's nomination, then became the administrator's chief of staff and started tapping his former colleagues for top agency posts.
Stephen Brown, vice president for government affairs at Tesoro, a major oil refiner, told the Post, "The Inhofe brigade has landed, secured the beach and is moving inland with precision as well as speed."

For those who agree with Oklahoma Republican, this metaphor may sound quite appealing: a militarized group of Inhofe aides are exerting influence in the executive branch, to the delight of their corporate allies in the oil and gas industry.

For those concerned about the environment, the news is less encouraging.
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

'Mortally wounded' Republican health plan starts moving backwards

03/15/17 09:20AM

The Republican health care bill isn't just struggling; in the wake of a brutal Congressional Budget Office report, "Trumpcare" is actually losing ground when its proponents expected to be making progress.
As White House officials attempt to discredit the conclusions of a Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP-backed health care plan, Republican lawmakers already skeptical of the bill are using the report to further bolster their concerns and, in some cases, opposition.

A number of influential Republican lawmakers on Tuesday pointed to the CBO's projected spike in Americans without health coverage and an initial rise in premiums as evidence the plan is untenable, further complicating the chances the measure will get a vote in Congress.
The CBO score was released last Monday afternoon, and yesterday, three House Republicans announced their position on their party's bill: they're now all opposed. The trio included Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), an influential moderate from Miami.

The picture in the Senate, where it only takes three GOP senators to vote with Democrats to kill important legislation, is almost certainly worse for the party's leaders. Vox counted 12 Republicans senators who've publicly denounced and/or expressed serious concerns about the House bill, and that total doesn't include Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who also criticized it yesterday. (Even South Dakota's John Thune, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, suggested he'd like to see key changes to his party's existing proposal.)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who isn't yet included in the group of intra-party skeptics, told NBC News' Matt Lauer this morning that the existing House plan is "mortally wounded."
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A trader works at the Goldman Sachs stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 16, 2012.

Despite campaign promises, Trump adds another Goldman Sachs vet

03/15/17 08:40AM

The pipeline between Goldman Sachs and the Trump administration continues to flow unabated. The New York Times reported overnight:
James Donovan, a longtime Goldman banking and investment management executive, has been named to be the deputy to the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

Mr. Donovan, 50, would be responsible for helping Mr. Mnuchin, also a Goldman alumnus, in running a government agency that handles a wide range of economic matters, from producing physical currency to enforcing economic sanctions against nations.
Donovan has worked at the Wall Street giant for nearly a quarter of a century. As of today, he's the seventh Goldman Sachs vet to join Donald Trump's team.

Steven Mnuchin, Trump's Treasury Secretary, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Steve Bannon, Trump's chief White House strategist, is a Goldman Sachs veteran. Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economics advisor, is the former president of Goldman Sachs. Jay Clayton, Trump's nominee to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, is a Goldman Sachs attorney.

Dina Powell, who recently joined the administration's economic team, was a Goldman Sachs partner, while Anthony Scaramucci, also Goldman Sachs, was announced as a White House "confidant" to the president, though Scaramucci later withdrew from the post.

As we discussed in January, none of this would be especially noteworthy were it not for the way in which Trump used the finance giant as a combination wedge/punching bag.
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Obtained tax documents shed new light on Donald Trump's finances

03/15/17 08:01AM

Up until last night, no one from the public or the media had ever seen any details from any of Donald Trump's federal tax returns. As you may have noticed, that's no longer the case.

If you missed last night's show, I thought it'd be helpful to have all of the information in one place.

Here's Rachel report contextualizing the significance of tax returns and the president's secrecy.

Here's the segment highlighting the newly available details from Trump's 2005 returns.

Here's Rachel's discussion with DCReport's David Cay Johnston and MSNBC's Chris Hayes on what we've learned from the obtained documents.

Here's the pdf of Trump's 2005 1040 tax form.

Here's David Cay Johnston story on DCReport.

Here's Rachel's conversation with presidential historian Michael Beschloss about the disclosure.

And here's Rachel talking to Hallie Jackson, NBC News' White House correspondent, about Trump's record on the issue.
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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 3.14.17

03/14/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Following up on last night's show: "A New York real estate company owned by the family of President Donald J. Trump's son-in-law is negotiating to sell a $400 million stake in its Fifth Avenue flagship skyscraper to a Chinese insurance company with ties to leading families of the Communist Party."

* Quite a scandal: "The Justice Department unsealed a fresh indictment Tuesday charging eight current and former Navy officials -- including an admiral -- with corruption and other crimes in the 'Fat Leonard' bribery case, escalating an epic scandal that has dogged the Navy for the past four years."

* The Trump administration has a personnel problem: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has withdrawn retired senior diplomat Anne W. Patterson as his choice for undersecretary for policy after the White House indicated unwillingness to fight what it said would be a battle for Senate confirmation."

* And speaking of personnel: "A massage therapist and former Donald Trump campaign operative with a history of making disparaging remarks about Muslims on Twitter is no longer employed with the Department of Energy, following a BuzzFeed News inquiry, and a story from Greentech Media, about his tweets and status."

* Those Trump guys and their email controversies: "U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp, used an alias email address while at the oil company to send and receive information related to climate change and other matters, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman."

* McCrory: "Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) is struggling to find a new job due to widespread public disapproval of HB 2, a state law he signed last March that targets transgender people."
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Image: Sean Spicer

Republicans consider the subtle nuances of the word 'everybody'

03/14/17 04:33PM

Two months ago, Donald Trump made a seemingly unambiguous commitment on the issue of health care: "We're going to have insurance for everybody." Soon after, BuzzFeed reported that congressional Republicans were working under the assumption that the president didn't actually mean what he said, and were working on a plan that did not, in fact, cover all Americans.

And as it turns out, GOP lawmakers were correct; Trump didn't mean a word of it. But this creates a political challenge for the White House: if the president guaranteed "insurance for everybody," and the Republican plan Trump supports would increase the ranks of the uninsured by tens of millions of Americans, how in the world is the president's team supposed to spin the obvious contradiction?

The answer is, by pointing to the invisible fine print. Today, for example, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration supports coverage for "everybody who wants to get it."

See the difference?

This came up a bit yesterday, when the Congressional Budget Office's report on "Trumpcare" was first unveiled, and news accounts noted that 14 million Americans would lose their coverage next year, and that number would expand to 24 million by 2026.

Not so, Republicans said. Sure, an additional 14 million Americans may no longer have health security next year, and that total may grow to 24 million in a decade, but it's wrong to say they've "lost" their coverage. Rather, Republicans argue, it's correct to say these millions of people simply won't buy it.

Consider a real-world example. The CBO score pointed to a hypothetical, single individual with an annual income of $26,500. If that individual is young, say 21, he or she would fare quite well in terms of cheaper premiums under the American Health Care Act. But....
But if that person is 64 years old, he would be hurt by the Republican bill. Under Obamacare, he would also pay $1,700 in premiums for insurance. But under the Republican bill, he would pay $14,600 -- more than half his annual income. That amounts to more than a 750 percent increase in premiums from Obamacare to the Republican bill.
According to Republican rhetoric, that person would almost certainly not buy insurance, which seems like a safe bet. But by the same GOP rules, we shouldn't say the 64-year-old consumer "lost" his/her health insurance; we should instead say he/he chose to go without coverage.
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Paul Ryan won't escape blame for failing on health care

03/14/17 12:56PM

About a week ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a harsh critic of the House Republicans' health care plan, said something interesting about the state of play within his party.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Wednesday accused House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) of trying to deceive President Trump in an effort to win his support for House Republicans' measure repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

"I don't think it makes any sense and I think he's trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the president," Paul said in an interview with Breitbart News.
I didn't think much of this at the time, but Rand Paul may have raised a legitimate point.

It's not unreasonable to conclude that Donald Trump is an easy mark. Love the president or hate him, the amateur politician has no working understanding of public policy in any area, especially health care, and as recently as late October, Trump made clear that he hates the Affordable Care Act despite not understanding the basics of how it works.

Along comes the Speaker of the House, who convinced the president of his credibility -- a trick Paul Ryan has pulled on a few too many journalists -- and persuaded Trump to follow the House GOP's lead on scrapping "Obamacare." Ryan no doubt assured the White House, not only in the merits of the party's American Health Care Act, but also in the Republican leadership's ability to get the bill through Congress.

Trump, unprepared, impatient, and indifferent towards the details of a debate he knows nothing about, trusted Ryan to get it right -- unaware of just how badly Ryan would screw this up.

Why does this matter? A couple of reasons.
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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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