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Image: Ryan Speaks on Trump's Leaking of Classified Information to Russians, James Comey

The problem with Paul Ryan's focus on mental health and guns

10/04/17 08:40AM

Following every high-profile mass shooting, much of the public naturally turns to policymakers to ask what, if anything, they're prepared to do to help save lives. Yesterday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) had an answer in mind.

In the wake of one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history, which happened in Las Vegas Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked what Congress could do to prevent these tragedies in the future. Ryan answered with what Congress has already done.

"One of the things we have learned from these things, we have learned from these shootings, is often a diagnosis of mental illness," Ryan told reporters at his weekly press conference Tuesday.

The Wisconsin congressman went on to talk about various mental-health reforms lawmakers have pursued in recent years, which he's supported.

And at first blush, this may have sounded like a sensible response to the question. If we assume at the outset that Ryan will never consider measures to limit access to firearms, focusing on helping those with mental illness at least appears to be a constructive approach to the situation.

The trouble, however, comes when we look a little closer at the details. We could start, for example, by noting that the House Speaker has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits, which includes mental-health treatments. We could also note that Ryan has pushed aggressively for deep cuts to Medicaid, which provides mental health treatments to many low-income Americans. If the Republican leader is serious about this piece of the puzzle, he should probably reconsider some of his budget priorities.

But let's put that aside and focus on the bill Ryan helped pass in February that expanded gun access to the mentally impaired.

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Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., take a photo of the 21st Century Cures Act prior to a signing ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016.

Anti-abortion rep reportedly asked mistress to get an abortion

10/04/17 08:00AM

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has long been a far-right culture warrior, especially on matters related to reproductive rights, but he's also been kind of odd about it. Evidently, it's worse than we realized.

About a month ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette prevailed in a court motion to unseal a divorce action and uncovered evidence that the Pennsylvania Republican had an extramarital affair with a personal friend. Confronted with the proof, Murphy admitted that he'd cheated on his wife.

Yesterday, the Post-Gazette published a related report, noting that after Murphy published an anti-abortion statement to his Facebook account, his former mistress sent him a text message calling him out for hypocrisy.

"And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options," Shannon Edwards, a forensic psychologist in Pittsburgh with whom the congressman admitted last month to having a relationship, wrote to Mr. Murphy on Jan. 25, in the midst of an unfounded pregnancy scare.

A text from Mr. Murphy's cell phone number that same day in response says, "I get what you say about my March for life messages. I've never written them. Staff does them. I read them and winced. I told staff don't write any more. I will."

The congressman has been lauded by the Family Research Council, for his stance on abortion, as well as for family values, generally. He also has been endorsed by LifePAC, which opposes abortion rights, and is a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus, an affiliation that is often cited by his office.

The Washington Post added that just days after he talked to his then-mistress about having an abortion, Murphy issued multiple public statement condemning abortion.

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Tuesday's Mini-Report, 10.3.17

10/03/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* So many questions need answers: "Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock wired $100,000 to an account in his live-in girlfriend's home country of the Philippines in the week before he unleashed the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, according to multiple senior law enforcement officials."

* Really? "The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans."

* On a related note: "Millions more people were affected by Equifax's data breach than the credit bureau initially estimated, Equifax said on Monday. The company increased its estimate on the number of Americans whose personal information was potentially exposed to 145.5 million, some 2.5 million more than it had previously disclosed."

* Cuba: "The Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the embassy in Washington in an escalating response to mysterious illnesses afflicting American embassy personnel in Havana."

* A story to watch: "A Democratic group led by the former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. has accused the State of Georgia of flouting the Voting Rights Act, claiming that Georgia Republicans reshaped two state legislative districts to minimize the electoral influence of African-American voters."

* This seemed like a pretty bad idea, even at the time: "The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) on Tuesday reprimanded United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley for violating the Hatch Act by retweeting President Donald Trump's endorsement of a Republican candidate for Congress."

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Image: President Trump Departs White House En Route To Puerto Rico

Away from his teleprompter, Trump causes more trouble for himself

10/03/17 12:53PM

Yesterday morning, Donald Trump addressed the nation on the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and managed to stick to the carefully written script on his teleprompter. There were no asides, no tangents, no tantrums, and none of the staples of this president's approach to communicating with the public.

Many observers exhaled deeply when it was over, relieved that Trump didn't use mass murder to say something offensive. Some in the media were a bit too effusive in their praise of the remarks, probably because they were pleasantly surprised the president resisted his usual impulses.

The trouble, of course, was that Trump's speech didn't sound anything like Trump. The Atlantic's David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, explained, "Speeches are watched as well as heard, and the viewer saw a president who wished he were somewhere else because he had been compelled to pretend something so radically false to his own nature."

This morning Trump briefly spoke to reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Puerto Rico, and without the benefit of his teleprompter, the president was free to say what he was thinking. Reflecting on the Las Vegas slayings and the first-responders at the scene, Trump said today, "Look, we have a tragedy. What happened is, in many ways, a miracle."

He then turned his attention to Puerto Rico's crisis, and the "great job" he believes he and his team have done. The Washington Post reported:

Trump's mixed reviews, however, did not stop him from lavishing praise on himself and his administration. On Tuesday, as the president, clad in a black windbreaker and khakis, departed the White House, he said [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz] has "come back a long way," before returning to one his favorite topics -- himself and his own performance.

"I think it's now acknowledged what a great job we've done, and people are looking at that," he said. "And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I'll tell you what, I think we've done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it's actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks."

According to a variety of media accounts, Trump went on to say that Puerto Ricans "have to give us more help."

Wait, it gets worse.

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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.3.17

10/03/17 12:00PM

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

* The NRA's Political Victory Fund was poised to begin an ad campaign yesterday in Virginia's gubernatorial campaign on Ed Gillespie's (R) behalf. Following the news out of Las Vegas, the group reportedly postponed the investment by a week.

* Over the weekend, Donald Trump's political operation sent out two rather provocative fundraising appeals to donors: one on football players who protest and another that referenced disaster relief.

* Now that former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) has been released from a federal penitentiary, he's officially launched another congressional campaign, hoping to reclaim his old seat.

* On a related note, Michael Caputo, a longtime Donald Trump ally, has agreed to join Grimm's campaign team.

* Over the weekend, the president said the media should give him credit for boosting Luther Strange's failed Senate bid in Alabama. Strange lost to Roy Moore by nearly 10 points, and Trump's endorsement appears to have had no meaningful effect on the race.

* Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), with an eye toward 2020, told CNN's Jake Tapper over the weekend, "If the party can't be fixed, Jake, then I'm not going to be able to support the party. Period. That's the end of it."

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Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore speaks to the congregation of Kimberly Church of God, June 28, 2015, in Kimberley, Ala. (Photo by Butch Dill/AP)

Polls point to a competitive Senate race in Alabama

10/03/17 11:20AM

Roy Moore, the Republican Party's U.S. Senate nominee in Alabama, has argued that pre-school is a Nazi-like institution for brainwashing children into being liberal. Hearing that, one might be tempted to think such a person would struggle to win a Senate campaign in this country.

And with that in mind, consider the latest polling from the Yellowhammer State. BuzzFeed noted late last week:

The Senate race in deep-red Alabama might be within reach for Democrats, after the Republican nomination of Roy Moore.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Savvy and commissioned by Decision Desk HQ, finds that Moore leads Democratic opponent Doug Jones 50.2% to 44.5%. While still not a close-close race, that's definitely closer than a normal Senate race in Alabama for an off year.

These results are roughly in line with a new statewide poll, released this morning, that found Moore up by eight, 48% to 40%.

To be sure, when we look at Senate polls and see a candidate up by six to eight points, we generally assume he or she is fairly well positioned to prevail. And given everything we know about Alabama, Moore should be seen as the favorite.

But context matters. A Democrat hasn't seriously competed in a Senate race in Alabama in decades, and Moore is quite possibly the most radical major-party nominee in any statewide race Americans have seen in a generation.

Karl Rove recently warned that Moore is such an extremist, many Alabama voters would consider Doug Jones (D), a former federal prosecutor, as a plausible alternative. Donald Trump himself echoed this point, arguing two weeks ago that if Moore is nominated, the general election would be "a very tough race."

What if they're right?

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the White House, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017.

White House gets selective about its post-violence standards

10/03/17 10:42AM

During her press briefing yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders twice used the word "premature" in very specific contexts.

The first came when a reporter, referencing the mass shooting in Las Vegas, asked, "Has this particular massacre made the President think anything more about pursuing tighter gun laws, such as background checks, to prevent massacres like this from happening again?" Sanders replied:

"Look, this is an unspeakable tragedy. Today is a day for consoling the survivors and mourning those we lost. Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with all of those individuals. There's a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country. There is currently an open and ongoing law enforcement investigation. A motive is yet to be determined, and it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don't fully know all the facts or what took place last night."

A few minutes later, a reporter asked if Sunday night's mass murders amounted to an act of domestic terrorism. The press secretary returned to the "premature" talking point:

"Again, we're still in a fact-finding mission. This is an ongoing investigation and it would be premature to weigh in on something like that before we have any more facts."

At face value, these aren't necessarily bad answers. It's hardly outrageous to think a White House, in the immediate aftermath of a horrific mass shooting, would choose to delay comment on provocative aspects of the larger issues.

The trouble is, this White House doesn't exactly apply these standards evenly.

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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Controversy over Team Trump's private email accounts intensifies

10/03/17 10:07AM

Officials in Donald Trump's White House were told they couldn't use private email accounts to conduct official business. The National Security Agency also warned White House officials that use of private email accounts created a security threat. What's more, Trump's entire political operation had just spent two years telling the public that Hillary Clinton should be incarcerated for having used a private email account.

And yet, there's now ample evidence that top members of the president's West Wing team conducted official business through private emails, and as Politico reported last night, the problem continues to grow, particularly as it relates to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Hundreds of emails have been sent since January from White House addresses to accounts on the Kushner family domain, these people said. Many of those emails went not to Kushner's or Ivanka Trump's personal addresses but to an account they both had access to and shared with their personal household staff for family scheduling.

The emails -- which include nonpublic travel documents, internal schedules and some official White House materials -- were in many cases sent from Ivanka Trump, her assistant Bridges Lamar and others who work with the couple in the White House. The emails to the third account were largely sent from White House accounts but occasionally came from other private accounts, one of these people said.

Politico's report added that messages, which included work-related "data," were sent on a daily basis, which points not only to a potentially widespread problem in the White House, but also "concerns about the security of potentially sensitive government documents, which have been forwarded to private accounts."

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke addresses criticism of his travel practices before delivering a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance." at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Another Trump cabinet secretary under investigation

10/03/17 09:20AM

HHS Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign from Donald Trump's cabinet late last week following revelations that he relied on taxpayer-financed private flights to a ridiculous degree. The question now is whether Price will soon have some company.

Among the other Trump cabinet members with an odd aversion to commercial air travel is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently gave a motivational speech to a Republican donor's hockey team, before taking a $12,000 flight home. It didn't help when we learned the private plane belongs to "the executives of a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration firm."

As Rachel noted on Friday's show, Zinke has also taken private jet flights to a GOP fundraiser and to the U.S. Virgin Islands -- long before the islands faced any hurricane damage. As the Washington Post reported, the spring trip "included an official snorkeling tour."

Confronted with this last week, the Republican cabinet secretary called the controversy "a little b.s." As Politico  reported yesterday, Zinke has nevertheless found himself under investigation.

The Interior Department's inspector general's office has opened an investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke's use of taxpayer-funded charter planes, a spokeswoman said Monday.

The watchdog has "received numerous complaints" and launched its investigation late last week, said Nancy K. DiPaolo, spokeswoman for Interior's Office of the Inspector General.

Perhaps we should've seen this controversy coming?

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Evangelist Pat Robertson acknowledges the audience before he takes a seat before Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Virginia Beach, Va., on Sept. 8, 2012.

Pat Roberson blames Las Vegas massacre on 'disrespect' for Trump

10/03/17 08:40AM

In the wake of American mass shootings, of which there are many, some on the right are quick to look for politically convenient scapegoats. We should blame Hollywood. And video games. And the mental-health system. And so on.

As Right Wing Watch noted yesterday, however, TV preacher Pat Robertson told his "700 Club" audience yesterday that he has his own explanation for the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

"Violence in the streets, ladies and gentlemen. Why is it happening?" he asked. "The fact that we have disrespect for authority; there is profound disrespect for our president, all across this nation they say terrible things about him. It's in the news, it's in other places. There is disrespect now for our national anthem, disrespect for our veterans, disrespect for the institutions of our government, disrespect for the court system. All the way up and down the line, disrespect."

"Until there is biblical authority," Robertson continued, "there has to be some controlling authority in our society and there is none. And when there is no vision of God, the people run amok ... and we have taken from the American people the vision of God, the whole idea of reward and punishment, an ultimate judge of all our actions, we've taken that away. When there is no vision of God, the people run amok."

There's obviously no point in trying to make sense of such an argument, and it's certainly tempting not to care what an outrageous televangelist has to say about major national tragedies. (Immediately after 9/11, you'll recall, Robertson endorsed the idea that Americans were to blame for the attacks.)

But Donald Trump's associations with Robertson complicate matters a bit.

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File Photo: Rhino 500 handguns are on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images, File)

Congressional Republicans still back looser gun restrictions

10/03/17 08:00AM

In the wake of the devastating mass shooting in Las Vegas, several Democratic policymakers are renewing their push for measures intended to reduce gun violence. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), for example, said yesterday he's moving forward with a proposal to strengthen background checks -- an idea that's long enjoyed broad national support.

Also yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reached out to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), requesting that Congress create a bipartisan select committee on gun violence to examine which policies are most effective in saving lives.

In all likelihood, Republicans will ignore these requests. In fact, as the Washington Post reported, GOP lawmakers are eyeing new proposals to weaken gun restrictions, not strengthen them.

Last month, a House committee advanced a bill, the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, that would make it easier to buy firearm silencers, which are treated akin to machine guns and explosives by federal authorities. Advocates of the measure, including the National Rifle Association, have cast it as a safety enhancement. [...]

The legislation also includes provisions that would loosen restrictions on transporting firearms across state lines and prevent certain types of ammunition from being designated as "armor-piercing" and thus subject to tighter federal oversight.

The bill, which we've been keeping an eye on in recent months, was poised to come up for a vote this week, but in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, GOP leaders have delayed consideration of the legislation.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because this isn't the first time: Republicans initially delayed the bill on silencers because of the mass shooting that nearly killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.). In other words, a mass shooting delayed a Republican gun bill, which made a comeback, only to be delayed by another mass shooting.

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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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