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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.17.17

03/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* I wish I understood why he says the things he says: "President Donald Trump used a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to deflect criticism about his unsubstantiated claim that the Obama administration spied on him, reviving a sensitive diplomatic incident in which the U.S. was revealed to have snooped on her cell phone."

* Making a bad bill worse: "President Trump signed on to a pair of changes to the House Republican health plan and declared '100 percent' backing for it Friday, moving to consolidate support among GOP lawmakers in hopes of moving it through the House next week."

* On a related note: "The latest group to oppose the GOP plan is Consumers Union, which scored the proposed plan. 'In the AHCA many millions of Americans, from children to seniors, will be left uninsured or with insurance that falls short of their needs,' the report card from Consumers Union says. 'The bill provides less coverage at a higher cost for consumers than the ACA.'"

* The inevitable appeal: "The Trump administration filed court papers Friday hoping to salvage its second version of a travel ban, after two judges in separate cases this week found it likely violated the Constitution."

* A story worth watching closely: "Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president's health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office."

* Russia ties: "A Reuters review found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida."
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The National Debt Clock, a billboard-size digital display showing the increasing US debt, on Sixth Avenue August 1, 2011 in New York.

Republicans' concerns about the deficit quietly disappear

03/17/17 12:51PM

About a year ago, Donald Trump made one of the more outlandish claims of his candidacy: he said he would eliminate the national debt in eight years.

Specifically, Trump told the Washington Post that he wants to see the United States "get rid of the $19 trillion in debt." Pressed for details, the GOP candidate said he "could do it fairly quickly," eliminating the debt "over a period of eight years."

This was, as we discussed at the time, nuts. He was effectively promising to deliver multi-trillion-dollar surpluses every year for eight years, which no one considers even remotely possible.

A year later, the White House doesn't even pretend to care about those priorities. Politico noted yesterday:
While steep cuts to departments like the EPA are expected under a Republican president, Trump's plan leaves out the key conservative priority of deficit reduction. [...]

[OMB Director Mick Mulvaney], once among Congress' toughest deficit hawks, also acknowledged the White House budget leaves the nation's $488 billion federal deficit untouched. The decision ignores what has become the fiscal gold standard within the GOP: a budget that balances within 10 years.
Mulvaney, the president's budget director, specifically told reporters yesterday, "[J]ust to clarify, it's not a balanced budget. There will still be roughly a $488 billion deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office, next year."

To be sure, this doesn't come as too big of a surprise, but that doesn't make it any easier for Republicans to defend.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP)

Trump supporter credits him with 'Obamacare' benefits

03/17/17 12:00PM

The Washington Post noted a health care anecdote out of Nashville that I read three times, just to make sure I wasn't getting it wrong.
Soon after Charla McComic's son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a "blessing from God" that she believes was made possible by President Trump.

"I think it was just because of the tax credit," said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump's Wednesday night rally in Nashville from Lexington, Tenn., with her daughter, mother, aunt and cousin.

The price change was actually thanks to a subsidy made possible by former president Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which is still in place, not by the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the health-care bill still being considered by Congress.
This is quite a moment. We've reached the point at which some conservatives decide they like Obamacare so much that they're inclined to give Trump credit for it.

It reinforces the idea, voiced by many in recent weeks, that Republicans could very easily write up some superficial changes to the Affordable Care Act, put it in the form of legislation, pass it, and wait for voters -- most of whom are increasingly fond of the ACA -- to thank them.

This could effectively be the health care version of George Aiken's famous paraphrase from the Vietnam era: Declare victory and go home.
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Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump walks behind former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson after receiving Carson's endorsement at a campaign event in Palm Beach, Fl., March 11, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Voters in urban areas discover what they 'have to lose' under Trump

03/17/17 11:20AM

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was in Detroit yesterday, visiting one of the cabinet agency's field offices, and visiting a local restaurant funded by the Motor City Match program, which as CNBC reported, "pairs businesses in Detroit with available real estate options" and "helps businesses locate and thrive in Detroit by providing competitive grants, loans and counseling to building owners and business owners."

Carson pointed to the program as "a wonderful example of community revitalization at work."

And while that may be true, Motor City Match receives federal funding through HUD's Community Development Block Grant program. As CNBC's report added, under Donald Trump's budget, the Community Development Block Grant program would be eliminated entirely.

In other words, this "wonderful example of community revitalization at work" probably would not exist if Carson's boss has his way.

NBC News' Jane C. Timm did a great job yesterday noting just how far the Trump White House intends to go targeting programs like these intended to benefit urban communities.
Released Thursday, the budget calls for $6.2 billion of cuts to the nation's Housing and Urban Development agency, putting the already strapped federal housing authority under even bigger strain. [...]

To slash an additional 1.1 billion from the HUD budget, Trump's proposal eliminates the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Choice Neighborhoods program, and the Self-help Homeownership Opportunity program, SHOP. The administration calls these "lower priority programs."
Mary Cunningham, co-director of the Urban Institute's Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center, told NBC News, "The impact of this budget is there's going to be more people who are homeless, who are living in substandard housing, or struggling to pay rent. This budget does not outline a plan to fix the inner cities -- it does the opposite. It cuts money that cities rely on."
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A pedestrian walks past the corporate headquarters of health insurer Anthem, formerly known as Wellpoint, on Dec. 3, 2014 in Indianapolis. (Photo by Darron Cummings/AP)

A rare ally of the GOP health care plan has its own motivations

03/17/17 10:51AM

The Republican health care plan is noticeably short on allies. Not long after the GOP's American Health Care Act was unveiled, it was denounced by the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Psychiatric Association, a wide variety of governors, and consumer advocates.

With this in mind, the White House was understandably delighted last week when Anthem, one of the nation's largest private health insurers, expressed vague support for key elements of the bill, saying the Republican plan "addresses the challenges immediately facing the individual market."

And while any private company is obviously free to support or oppose any legislation it wishes, Anthem's announcement stood out, largely because it was so out of step with every other major stakeholder in the health care system. With so many stepping up to criticize the bill some have labeled "Trumpcare," why exactly did Anthem go where others didn't?

The New York Times' David Leonhardt shed some useful light on a possible answer to that question.
It turns out that one of the bill's few high-profile fans may not even support it on the merits. Instead, Anthem appears to be providing political cover to the administration at the same time that company officials are lobbying the administration for a favorable decision on another matter. It's pretty brazen.

Here are the details: Anthem, which is based in Indiana, is already the largest insurer in California, Kentucky, Virginia and elsewhere. Two years ago, its chief executive, Joseph Swedish, made a big bet. He decided to put public pressure on Cigna, another major insurer, to accept a merger. Eventually, Swedish succeeded, and Anthem agreed to pay $48 billion to buy its rival.

But the Obama administration's Justice Department filed suit against the merger, arguing that it would force consumers to pay higher prices. Last month, a federal judge agreed and blocked the merger. Cigna isn't happy with the deal anymore either and has filed a $14 billion lawsuit against Anthem. None of it makes Swedish look good.
Anthem, in other words, wants something from the Trump administration: clearing the way for a lucrative merger. To that end, the insurer has an incentive to tell the administration what it wants to hear, which has started to pay dividends: Anthem executives were invited to a private meeting with Donald Trump and HHS Secretary Tom Price this week, where the company was able to make the case for possible changes that would benefit itself.

In other words, by expressing mild support for the GOP legislation, Anthem was rewarded with key access others haven't received.
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ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Beleaguered Secretary of State raises stakes with North Korean warning

03/17/17 10:18AM

All is not well at the State Department, which in the Donald Trump era, has found itself marginalized and ignored. This week, the White House announced plans to slash the State Department's budget -- a move that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson inexplicably embraced, further demoralizing the department.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Tillerson told reporters yesterday that the administration believes it can afford to dramatically cut the State Department's funding because "there will be fewer military conflicts that the U.S. will be directly engaged in."

It's an odd response. For one thing, investing in diplomacy helps reduce the chances of military engagement. For another, the Trump administration is pushing for vastly larger spending at the Pentagon, apparently in anticipation of new military operations.

And finally, the day after Tillerson said he expects fewer conflicts, he said something very different about U.S. policy towards North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Friday that military action against North Korea was "on the table" if the country continued to develop its weapons program.

"If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action then that option is on the table," he told a press conference in South Korea.

"Certainly we do not want for things to get to a military conflict," he added. "But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that would be met with an appropriate response."
One might expect quite a bit of follow up with Tillerson from the American journalists who routinely travel with a Secretary of State during overseas visits, but in this case, Tillerson left most reporters at home. (White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the decision was intended to save money -- an explanation no one seriously believes.)
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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)

Trump's budget director develops the wrong kind of reputation

03/17/17 09:20AM

When Mick Mulvaney was a member of Congress, the South Carolina Republican, a founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, developed a reputation for almost comical radicalism. Now he's Donald Trump's budget director, where he's proving his critics right.

Just this week, Mulvaney said he believed that the Obama administration "was manipulating the numbers" on unemployment, which is bonkers. Soon after, the OMB chief was caught brazenly lying -- twice -- about basic details surrounding the health care debate.

Yesterday, Mulvaney extremism came into even sharper focus.
Before the Thursday's press briefing got fully underway, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended cuts to community programs, like Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to homebound, often elderly, individuals.

"We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good and great," Mulvaney said. "Meals on Wheels sounds great. Again that's a state decision to fund that particular portion to it. To take the federal money and give it to the states and say look we want to give you money for programs that don't work. I can't defend that anymore."
Trump's budget director added that cutting assistance to struggling seniors is "one of the most compassionate things we can do," telling skeptical reporters, "You're focusing on recipients of the money. We're trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place." He pointed to programs such as Meals on Wheels as initiatives that are "just not showing any results."

The point of Meals on Wheels is to provide food to the low-income elderly. I'm honestly not sure what kind of "results" Mulvaney is looking for -- if the struggling seniors eat the food, and the evidence suggests the meals have a positive impact on their well-being, then the return on Americans' investment is high.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Questions surrounding Trump's wiretap conspiracy theory grow louder

03/17/17 08:45AM

There are two broad angles to Donald Trump's allegations that Barack Obama illegally wiretapped Trump Tower before the election. Let's take them one at a time.

The first is that pretty much everyone has concluded that the Republican president was lying. The top two members of the House Intelligence Committee looked into the allegations and said there's no evidence to support Trump's claims, and yesterday, top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they too looked into the allegations and reached the same conclusion. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) conceded this week, "No such wiretap existed."

The Trump White House, true to form, remains defiant.
President Donald Trump stands by tweeted claims that President Barack Obama authorized surveillance of his campaign headquarters before the November election, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday, despite a Senate congressional intelligence committee statement that seemed to counter those accusations. [...]

Spicer, in the press briefing on Thursday, which was delayed in starting by nearly an hour, also blamed the media for cherry-picking reports to discredit the president's claims. He aggressively pushed back on journalists' questions about the apparent disconnect and read from a long list of news articles -- reporting he said was further verification of the president's claims and "merit looking into."
Spicer added, "There's a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on." In reality, however, literally none of the media reports substantiate Trump's allegations.

At one point, the White House press secretary literally read a lengthy excerpt from a Fox News report, which alleged that Obama used GCHQ, the British intelligence spying agency, to conduct surveillance on Trump before the election.

When British officials insisted this was both untrue and ridiculous, the White House, according to two reports from the British press, issued a formal apology to our allies in the U.K. overnight.
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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump arrive to the "Make America Great Again Welcome Concert" at the Lincoln Memorial, Jan. 19, 2017, in Washington. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

A painful lesson as Donald Trump's words are put into action

03/17/17 08:00AM

The New York Times' David Brooks suggested today he's a little surprised by Donald Trump's White House agenda. "The Trump health care and budget plans will be harsh on the poor, which we expected," the center-right columnist wrote. "But they'll also be harsh on the working class, which we didn't."

Let's not be too cavalier about using the word "we." Some of us predicted precisely what we're seeing from the Republican president.

One of the great challenges of the burgeoning Trump era is deciphering the real-world meaning of the president's rhetoric. Two months ago, in Trump's inaugural address, for example, he spoke about his vision for taking power and "giving it back to you, the American people." Describing the recent past, he said, "Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.... Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation's Capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land. That all changes, starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.... The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer."

For those who took Trump's rhetoric at face value, and believed that he sincerely intended to be a populist champion of working people, I imagine the reality of the president's agenda must be quite jarring. The "forgotten men and women" of the United States -- the struggling people who have not "shared" in the nation's wealth -- would be punished severely by this White House agenda.

The Washington Post reported yesterday:
Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters. [...]

The White House budget cuts will fall hardest on the rural and small town communities that Trump won, where 1 in 3 people are living paycheck to paycheck -- a rate that is 24 percent higher than in urban counties, according to a new analysis by the center.
A New York Times report added, "The approach is a risky gamble for Mr. Trump, whose victory in November came in part by assembling a coalition that included low-income workers who rely on many of the programs that he now proposes to slash." (The budget would be especially brutal towards struggling families in Appalachia, where Trump won by overwhelming margins.)

hose who believed the president when he said, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer" may have missed the fine print: under Trump, you're on your own.
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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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