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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, May 17, 2016. (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Senate Republicans inch closer to far-right health care overhaul

06/12/17 08:30AM

About a week ago, health care advocates had reason to feel optimism. Senate Republicans publicly conceded that their efforts to craft their own health care blueprint weren't going especially well.

Asked if there will be a Senate-passed version of the GOP health care plan by the end of the year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) conceded, "I don't think there will be. I just don't think we can put it together among ourselves." Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) added that he believed it's "unlikely" a Republican bill would pass.

But while those comments offered hope to health care proponents, as the week progressed, the winds began to shift direction. Vox's report on Friday afternoon is consistent with everything I've heard about the state of the debate.

Behind closed doors, the Senate is drawing closer to passing a health care bill that looks a lot like the widely disliked version that cleared the House.

Any agreement currently on the table would almost certainly result in millions fewer Americans having health coverage, including low-income workers on Medicaid. It could roll back some Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.

This is a big story with a lot of moving parts, so it'll probably be easier to go through this in a Q&A.

I feel like I haven't heard much about health care lately.

That's because you haven't, and part of that is by design. Certainly, Donald Trump's Russia scandal is dominating the headlines, and for good reason, but Senate Republicans have created a "working group" that's writing their bill in secret, entirely behind closed doors. They've been quite effective in keeping details out of the public eye, knowing that the more Americans learned of their ideas, the more controversial their plan would become.

Is there a Senate GOP bill?

Not yet, but by all accounts, the Senate's legislation is coming together, and it's a safe bet they'll have a final version fairly soon.

Assuming there's legislation, is it true GOP leaders will simply skip over committee hearings and bring the secret bill directly to the floor for a vote?

Yes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week invoked Rule XIV, which allows him to expedite the legislative process and bypass every relevant committee. This is, of course, the opposite of how Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010.

But if they skip past committee hearings, how will anyone have a chance to scrutinize the bill?

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump is greeted by his family after the third and final debate with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Reuters)

Trump's Comey claims contradicted by president's own son

06/12/17 08:00AM

At a White House press conference last month, a reporter asked Donald Trump, "Did you at any time urge former FBI Director James Comey in any way, shape, or form to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?" Trump replied, "No. No. Next question."

Comey, we now know, testified under oath that the president did talk to the then-FBI director about the Flynn case, encouraged him to back off the former White House National Security Advisor, and in the process, added weight to the allegations that the president may have obstructed justice.

By all accounts, there were two people in the Oval Office at the time, creating a "he said, he said" dynamic -- at least at first blush. We obviously have Comey's version of events, bolstered by a contemporaneous memo he prepared at the time. He also shared the details of his interactions with the president with FBI leaders at the time.

But about Trump's denials? According to one of the president's adult sons, who helps run Trump's business and who plays a prominent role in promoting Trump's political interests, Comey's version of events may be the accurate one. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:

Soon after former FBI director James B. Comey testified that President Trump told him that he "hoped" the FBI would drop its investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the president's personal lawyer flatly denied that accusation and said Trump "never, in form or substance, directed or suggested that Mr. Comey stop investigating anyone."

But Donald Trump Jr. -- the president's eldest son -- seemed to confirm Comey's version of events in a Saturday interview on Fox News as he tried to emphasize the fact that his father did not directly order Comey to stop investigating Flynn.

Trump Jr. specifically said on the air, "When he tells you to do something, guess what? There's no ambiguity in it, there's no, 'Hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends: Hey, I hope this happens, but you've got to do your job.' That's what he told Comey."

It is?

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Friday's Mini-Report, 6.9.17

06/09/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Anarchy in the U.K.: "Political turmoil gripped Britain on Friday after an election in which no party won enough seats to form a government -- forcing Prime Minister Theresa May to cozy up to ultra-conservative lawmakers to retain power. The shock result plunged the country into uncertainty just 10 days before complex and high-stakes talks with Europe over Brexit are due to begin."

* He keeps contradicting his Secretary of State: "President Donald Trump on Friday accused Qatar of being a 'funder of terrorism at a very high level,' issuing a warning that the country must 'do more' to combat terror."

* A high-profile Hatch Act violation: "White House social media director Dan Scavino violated a federal law that prohibits government officials from using their authority to influence elections, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel said in a letter to a government watchdog group."

* A little "Infrastructure Week" show: "During a press briefing, Trump flipped through thick binders of what he said were unnecessary and burdensome environmental reviews holding up a highway project. He flopped them around the table until microphones picked up an audible 'thunk' and then dropped them to the ground."

* Maybe our nation's leaders should take the climate crisis seriously: "A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica's fourth-largest ice shelf is getting close to a full break, according to scientists. It has accelerated this year in an area already threatened by warming temperatures, and is now only about eight miles from the edge of the ice shelf."

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Trump accuses Comey of lying, offers to talk to Special Counsel

06/09/17 05:10PM

Donald Trump and his team already seemed prepared to move towards a contest of credibility with former FBI Director James Comey, but at a White House press conference this afternoon, the president took the dispute to a whole new level.

A reporter asked Trump why he feels "vindicated" by Comey's Senate testimony, and asked about whether the president has tapes of his interactions, as Trump has previously suggested. On the issue of recordings, the president said, cryptically, "Well I'll tell you about that sometime in the very near future," before adding:

"But in the meantime, no collusion, no obstruction, he's a leaker, but we want to get back to running out great country.... Yesterday showed no collusion, no obstruction. We are doing really well. That was an excuse by the Democrats, who lost an election they shouldn't have lost. [He then talked about the electoral college for a while.] So it was just an excuse. But we were very, very happy and, frankly, James Comey confirmed a lot of what I said. And some of the things that he said just weren't true."

Oh. So, according to the president -- who seemed to be glancing down at some notes while speaking -- we should believe the parts of Comey's testimony that Trump liked, but we should believe the former FBI director perjured himself on the parts that Trump didn't like.

Later in the press conference, the president again insisted that Comey's claims -- specifically on whether Trump pressed Comey on letting up on Michael Flynn and the question of whether Trump demanded loyalty -- weren't true, and it led to an awkward exchange:

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-KASOWITZ

Trump's outside counsel gets a little desperate targeting Comey

06/09/17 12:57PM

Given the seriousness of the Russia scandal, Donald Trump had little choice but to hire outside legal representation, but that wasn't exactly an easy task. Yahoo News reported this week that top attorneys with "at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures" to represent the president -- some because Trump has a habit of not paying his bills, while others feared their client would ignore their legal advice.

The result left Trump with Marc Kasowitz, a civil litigator with no background in constitutional cases, who represented the president in a variety of lawsuits, including the fraud allegations surrounding Trump University.

Is Kasowitz the best person for the job? Perhaps not. Rachel noted on the show last night that the president's outside counsel had a difficult day -- he made a specific claim about the timeline surrounding FBI Director James Comey's memos, which turned out to be completely wrong -- and today doesn't appear to be going any better.

President Donald Trump's outside counsel will file a leak complaint regarding former FBI Director James Comey's leaked memos with the Department of Justice, a source close to the outside legal team tells NBC News.

Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz will file the complaint with the DOJ's Inspector General and the Senate Judiciary Committee after Comey testified Thursday that he allowed a personal friend to leak an unclassified memo of his conversations with the president to news outlets in hopes it would trigger the appointment of a special counsel.

Kasowitz's intentions come against a backdrop in which the president himself said via Twitter this morning, "WOW, Comey is a leaker!"

This is all a bit silly.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.9.17

06/09/17 12:00PM

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

* Just hours after James Comey wrapped up his public testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Republican National Committee used the Senate hearing as the basis for a new fundraising appeal.

* In Georgia's congressional special election, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released this morning found Jon Ossoff (D) leading Karen Handel (R), 51% to 44%. The election is June 20, which is a week from Tuesday.

* A separate poll from WSB in Atlanta, also released yesterday, showed Ossoff with a narrower, two-point advantage over Handel. Both surveys were conducted after the candidates' debate earlier this week.

* In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who's gained national notoriety as a fierce opponent of voting rights and undocumented immigrants, announced yesterday he hopes to succeed Sam Brownback as the state's next governor.

* With time running out in Virginia's competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary, the editorial board of the Washington Post published an endorsement this week for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Primary Day is Tuesday, June 13.

* In New Hampshire, New England's most competitive electoral battleground, Republican control of the state government has led to new voting restrictions.

* Alabama's John Archibald, an AL.com columnist who's been a TRMS guest several times, suggested yesterday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is having so many troubles, he should consider stepping down and running for the Senate seat he just vacated. I think Archibald was only half-kidding.

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

New polling shows Trump's standing slipping to new lows

06/09/17 11:20AM

Given some of the fundamentals of domestic current events -- most notably the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade -- it's tempting to assume a new president would enjoy reasonably strong public support right now.

That's clearly not the case with this new president.

President Donald Trump did something illegal in his relationship with Russia, 31 percent of American voters say, while another 29 percent say he did something unethical, but not illegal, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today. The president did nothing wrong, 32 percent of voters say.

President Trump's campaign advisors did something illegal in dealing with Russia, 40 percent of voters say, as 25 percent say they did something unethical but not illegal and 24 percent say they did nothing wrong.

The president's job approval rating dips to a new low, a negative 34 - 57 percent, compared to a negative 37 - 55 percent in a May 24 survey by [from Quinnipiac].

Quinnipiac's Tim Malloy said in the report, "There is zero good news for President Donald Trump in this survey, just a continual slide into a chasm of doubt about his policies and his very fitness to serve."

And while this is obviously just one poll, it's not out of step with several other recent surveys that also show the president's approval rating below the 40 percent threshold. FiveThirtyEight's polling aggregator, which creates averages based on publicly available data, puts Trump's current standing at 38.3 percent -- the lowest point to date in his brief tenure.

At a certain level, all of this may seem routine. After all, Trump's unpopularity isn't exactly a new phenomenon. But the president finds himself in circumstances that are starting to resemble a crisis.

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Republican members of the House and House Select Committee on Benghazi Chairman Trey Gowdy react after the election for the Speaker of the House was thrown into chaos on Capitol Hill, Oct. 8, 2015. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Despite last year's embarrassing missteps, Gowdy gets a promotion

06/09/17 10:41AM

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) intended to use his chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee to great effect in this Congress, right up until he decided to walk away from his job a year and a half early. The reasons for the Utah Republican's dramatic change of heart have never been fully explained.

Nevertheless, Chaffetz's departure -- his last day is June 30 -- created a new opportunity for another House Republican to become the chair of a powerful and high-profile committee. Yesterday, as the Washington Post reported, GOP leaders officially announced Chaffetz's successor.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is set to take over as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, a post that carries broad authority to investigate President Trump and the executive branch.

The House Republican Steering Committee voted Thursday to hand the gavel to Gowdy, according to statements issued by Gowdy and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

If Gowdy's name sounds familiar, it may be because Donald Trump recently considered him to serve as the new director of the FBI -- before the South Carolina congressman withdrew from consideration.

Or maybe you know Gowdy for that other thing he's famous for.

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks during a news conference, May 23, 2013, in Washington.

McCaskill uses facts to slam Senate Republicans' health care process

06/09/17 10:22AM

Many of us tuned in to watch yesterday's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with former FBI Director James Comey's sworn testimony, but around the same time, there were a few fireworks in a lower-profile hearing in the same building.

HHS Secretary Tom Price testified yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee on his department's budget, and not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of discussion of the Republican plans on health care policy. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked the committee's chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), whether the panel would hold any hearings on the GOP's proposal.

The Utah Republican, apparently unsure how to respond, had an aide whisper a talking point in his ear. Hatch eventually told McCaskill that he doesn't know if the committee would hold a hearing on the still-secret legislation, but Democrats had been invited to "give your ideas" about the issue.

McCaskill wasn't having it.

"No, that's not true, Mr. Chairman. Let me just say, I watched carefully all of the hearings that went on [when the Affordable Care Act was crafted]. I was not a member of this committee at the time, although I would have liked to be. [Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa] was the ranking member. Dozens of Republican amendments were offered and accepted in that hearing process.

"And when you say that you're inviting us -- and we heard you, Mr. Secretary, just say, 'We'd love your support' -- for what? We don't even know. We have no idea what's being proposed. There's a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions. There were no hearings in the House.

"I mean, listen, this is hard to take. Because I know we made mistakes [when the ACA came together], Mr. Secretary. And one of the criticisms we got over and over again that the vote was partisan. Well you couldn't have a more partisan exercise than what you're engaged in right now. We're not even going to have a hearing on a bill that impacts one-sixth of our economy. We're not going to have an opportunity to offer a single amendment. It is all being done with an eye to try to get it by with 50 votes and the vice president.

"I am stunned that that's what [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] would call regular order, which he sanctimoniously said would be the order of the day when the Republicans took the Senate over. We are now so far from regular order that the newer members don't even know what it looks like."

The Missouri Democrat pleaded with Hatch to be given the same opportunities Republicans had during the process in which the ACA was written.

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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

Away from the national spotlight, GOP guts Wall Street safeguards

06/09/17 09:20AM

As much of the country probably noticed, it was a rather dramatic day on Capitol Hill yesterday. The former director of the FBI gave sworn testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggesting the president of the United States may have obstructed justice. The hearing generated quite a bit of attention, and for good reason: Donald Trump's presidency is facing a genuine crisis.

But on the other side of Capitol Hill, House Republicans were only too pleased to take advantage of the fact that their latest moves unfolded far from the national spotlight.

The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would roll back key parts of the Dodd-Frank act aimed at Wall Street and financial industry regulatory reform which was passed in the wake of the mortgage meltdown.

The House voted 233-186 to approve the Financial CHOICE Act.

There was discussion in some circles last year that both parties are more or less the same when it comes to doing Wall Street's bidding, but pay close attention to the roll call on yesterday's vote: of the 234 House Republicans who voted on the bill, 233 (99.6%) of the GOP members voted for it. In contrast, of the 185 House Democrats who voted yesterday, literally all of them opposed the bill.

And what a bill it is. As regular readers may recall from our coverage a month ago, the point of this legislation is to gut most of the Wall Street reforms created in the wake of the 2008 crash. The Dodd-Frank law, which established a series of safeguards and layers of accountability, has drawn fierce opposition from Republicans and their allied lobbyists from the financial industry, and this bill is the vehicle GOP officials have embraced to roll back the clock. As the New York Times explained:

The Choice Act would exempt some financial institutions that meet capital and liquidity requirements from many of Dodd-Frank's restrictions that limit risk taking. It would also replace Dodd-Frank's method of dealing with large and failing financial institutions, known as the orderly liquidation authority — which critics say reinforces the idea that some banks are too big to fail — with a new bankruptcy code provision.

In addition, the legislation would weaken the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Under the proposed law, the president could fire the agency's director at will and its oversight powers would be curbed.

The bill would also eliminate the Labor Department's fiduciary rule, which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement. The first parts of the rule are scheduled to go into effect on Friday.

Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, recently told Vox, "It's a little hard to get your mind around everything this bill does, because there's almost no area of financial regulation it doesn't touch. There's a bunch of very radical stuff in this bill, and it goes way beyond repealing Dodd-Frank."

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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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