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President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill, Nov. 10, 2016, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Brandon/AP)

Republicans can't defend their health care bill on the merits

03/21/17 03:39PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a warning to his Republican colleagues today, arguing that GOP lawmakers must support the party's health care plan because Republicans made a "commitment" to voters to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

He didn't talk about the bill's merits, or what he believes it would do to help Americans, but rather, McConnell's focus was on the political calculus. It's a classic example of a logical fallacy:

1. We have to do something.
2. This bill is something.
3. We therefore have to pass this bill.

Similarly, Donald Trump was in Louisville last night, headlining a campaign-style rally, where he touted his party's health care bill, again without actually describing any of its effects or purported benefits. Politico reported that the president is "increasingly talking about health care like the vegetables of his agenda -- the thing he must begrudgingly finish in order to get to what he really wants: tax cuts, trade deals and infrastructure."

NBC News reported that Trump took a similar message to congressional Republicans this morning on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump told House Republicans Tuesday that they could lose re-election in the 2018 midterms if they vote against the GOP health care bill later this week that would undo much of Obamacare.

Trying to help wrangle enough votes for passage, Trump went to Capitol Hill to meet privately with Republican lawmakers and said they are putting the GOP majority at risk with opposition to the bill, pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan.
We can certainly have a credible debate about Trump's assessment. In his mind, if the American Health Care Act goes down, Republican incumbents will suffer at the ballot box next year. As I see it, the risk is far greater for GOP members who vote for a wildly unpopular bill that's likely to die in the Senate anyway.

But the point here is that the argument itself is detached from what really matters: whether this legislation is a worthwhile policy prescription.
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Image: Neil Gorsuch

Gorsuch nomination creates important test for Senate Democrats

03/21/17 12:55PM

When Judge Neil Gorsuch arrived in the Senate yesterday to begin his Supreme Court confirmation process, there was a little news before the nominee even sat down. Sen. Michael Bennet (D) of Gorsuch's home state of Colorado joined the nominee and graciously introduced him to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It's the sort of thing a senator ordinarily does when he or she supports a nomination, which meant Bennet was already undermining Democratic opposition to Donald Trump's high court nominee before the process had even begun in earnest. Roll Call reported:
...Bennet did not say if he would support Gorsuch for the high court, telling the committee, "I am keeping an open mind on this nomination."

His introduction did highlight what he saw as two clouds hanging over the proceedings, which the committee's Democrats also acknowledged. The first is the Republicans' refusal to hold a hearing or a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy, Judge Merrick Garland.

Bennet said it was tempting to deny Gorsuch a fair hearing, but, "Two wrongs never make a right."
That's an interesting principle, actually. Under normal circumstances, it's fairly compelling to think powerful policymakers should act in a mature and responsible fashion, steering clear of pettiness and needlessly cheap efforts to score partisan points. Many understandably grow weary of "tit-for-tat" schemes.

But I have a few straightforward follow-up questions for the Democratic senator: two wrongs may not make a right, but what does? Given the circumstances, what's just in this situation? How will rewarding Republican maximalist tactics move us any closer to what's "right"?
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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.21.17

03/21/17 12:00PM

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

* With many House Republicans worried about losing if they support an unpopular and regressive health care plan, Donald Trump reportedly told GOP lawmakers this morning, "I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don't get this done."

* At a campaign-style rally in Louisville last night, Trump also talked once again about his electoral-vote totals, and because he remains stuck in 2016, the president also talked about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem last fall.

* I can't vouch for the reliability of the survey, but Clout Research released a poll yesterday in Georgia's 6th congressional district showing Jon Ossoff (D) in a very strong position ahead of next month's congressional special election. The first round is scheduled for April 18.

* USA Today reports that organizers of January's Women's March on Washington and leaders of Indivisible "will make presentations later this week to the Democracy Alliance when the influential donor coalition holds its private spring meeting in Washington, the group's president Gara LaMarche said."

* Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D) surprised many in state politics when she announced on Friday that she won't run for governor in 2018.

* Joe Piscopo, a "Saturday Night Live" actor in the 1980s, has decided not to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination in New Jersey, but he's moving forward with plans to run as an independent. Piscopo, a former Democrat, backed Donald Trump's campaign last year.

* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $3.8 million in February, short of the $5.1 million raised by its Republican counterparts over the same period.
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Republicans hope the 'Buffalo Bribe' can make a difference

03/21/17 11:09AM

How concerned are congressional Republican leaders about dragging their health care bill across the finish line? Enough to start adding last-minute sweeteners intended to buy off specific on-the-fence members. The New York Times reported overnight:
House Republican leaders, trying to lock down the votes of wavering upstate New York Republicans, inserted a last-minute special provision in their health care bill that would shift Medicaid costs from New York's counties to its state government.

The move -- one of a number of late changes designed to gain more votes -- would affect New York State only. It could save county governments outside of New York City $2.3 billion a year. But it could shift costs to state taxpayers or deny New York that same total in matching federal aid if the state continues to require those counties to contribute to the cost of Medicaid.
Not surprisingly, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) isn't pleased, saying in a statement last night, "The more we learn about the repeal and replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the sicker New York gets." The Democratic governor is reportedly rushing to D.C. today to meet with the state's congressional delegation, explaining to them that this one new provision -- which some have labeled the "Buffalo Bribe," or the "Buffalo Buyout" -- would create a multi-billion-dollar hole in New York's state budget.

So why add it? Because many upstate Republicans believe New York's existing Medicaid policy adds a significant tax burden in their area. GOP leaders on Capitol Hill inserted language into the American Health Care Act last night that's likely to make Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), Claudia Tierney (R-N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), John Faso (R-N.Y.), and John Katko (R-N.Y.) happy -- or at least happier -- and given how narrow the margins are likely to be on Thursday, every vote counts.

But let's also take a moment to pause and appreciate just how breathtaking the hypocrisy is.
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Image: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Reince Priebus' FBI contacts suddenly look even worse

03/21/17 10:19AM

When there's a major development in an ongoing controversy, it's important to consider the news at face value, but it's also important to reconsider previous details in light of new evidence.

Take White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus' communications with the FBI, for example.

We learned about a month ago that Priebus spoke with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe about Team Trump's Russia scandal, and by some accounts, the White House chief of staff hoped to persuade FBI officials to reach out to journalists to downplay the significance of the controversy.

As we discussed at the time, there are rules in place that severely limit the communications between the FBI and the White House, though in this case, Reince Priebus either didn't know or didn't care about those restrictions. Politico had a report over the weekend -- before yesterday's testimony from FBI Director James Comey, obviously -- about the communications.
Reince Priebus's request that the FBI refute a report of Donald Trump associates' contacts with Russian intelligence appears to have violated the White House's policy restricting political interference in pending investigations, according to a copy of the policy obtained by POLITICO.

The policy says only the president, vice president and White House counsel can discuss specific investigations or cases with the attorney general, deputy attorney general, associate attorney general or solicitor general. Any other conversations require the approval of the White House counsel, according to the document.
In other words, Priebus' chats with the deputy director of the FBI -- communications that the White House has already acknowledged -- were problematic on their face.

But in light of yesterday's news, they seem quite a bit worse.
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President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a rally at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., Dec. 6, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trump picks the wrong slogan: 'Promises made, promises kept'

03/21/17 09:20AM

Donald Trump held the latest in a series of presidential rallies last night in Louisville, where he pretended the FBI director hadn't just told the world that Trump campaign operation is under investigation for its ties to Russia. The New York Times noted that the event included the unveiling of a new slogan.
For Mr. Trump, who is enduring one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency, the rally was a chance to bathe in the adulation of a campaign crowd, a sea of people waving placards that said: "Buy American. Hire American" and "Promises Made. Promises Kept."
Those placards weren't the result of organic, grassroots enthusiasm; they were part of a specific push from Team Trump, which apparently finds the phrase compelling.

And at a certain level, it's easy to understand the motivation. The more the White House struggles and Trump's approval rating sinks, the more the president and his aides stick to the idea that they're simply following through on the platform presented to voters during the 2016 campaign. Love Trump or hate him, the argument goes, he's simply keeping the promises he made before he was elected.

The problem, of course, is that this isn't even close to being true.
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Image: House Speaker Paul Ryan Holds Weekly Briefing

Republicans scramble to rescue flailing health care bill

03/21/17 08:45AM

The quote may be apocryphal, but when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House, she came to be associated with a simple phrase: "First you get the votes, then you take the vote."

It seems like a strategy so obvious that it's hardly worth articulating -- along the lines of, "First you put on the shoes, then you tie the laces." And yet, the Pelosi Principle of passing bills is routinely overlooked by her Republican successors.

Take, for example, the ongoing GOP plan to pass the Republican health care legislation. Instead of "First you get the votes, then you take the vote," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is moving forward with a different tack: "First you schedule the vote, then you search for votes, then you significantly change the bill two days before the vote, and then you take the vote without any certainty about the outcome or the CBO score."

Politico reported last night on the latest developments.
House Republican leaders are making a last-ditch attempt to win enough support to pass their Obamacare repeal, revealing an expansive series of changes to the bill on Monday night designed to woo wary GOP lawmakers.

Requested by President Donald Trump, the amendment includes perks for restive conservatives who wanted optional work requirements and block granting in Medicaid, as well as a potential olive branch to wary centrists who demanded more help for older Americans to buy insurance, POLITICO has learned.
There are quite a few tweaks: more tax breaks for the wealthy, more punishments for the poor, some regional provisions targeted at specific GOP lawmakers, and a weird anti-abortion provision. Vox's Ezra Klein explained that none of the new provisions "meaningfully change the underlying legislation," nor do they "fix the old bill's problems."

But for Republican leaders, improving the legislation isn't the point; passing the legislation is.
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Image: US-INTELLIGENCE-POLITICS-RUSSIA

Russia scandal leaves a 'big, gray cloud' over Trump, Republicans

03/21/17 08:00AM

Yesterday was not a good day for Donald Trump and his team. FBI Director James Comey confirmed that there's an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation underway, not only into Russia's attack on our democracy, but also into whether people close to Trump cooperated with the crime.

But as stunning as the developments were, and as awful as they made the president look, congressional Republicans were cast in a light that was nearly as unflattering. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank's summary rings true:
Comey's testimony confirmed what was widely suspected: The FBI is investigating whether the president's campaign colluded with a powerful American adversary in an attempt to swing the election. But instead of being shaken from complacency and uniting to make sure this never happens again, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee mounted a reflexive defense of Trump.

The partisan response made it plain that there will be no serious congressional investigation of the Russia election outrage, nor any major repercussions for Russia. We were attacked by Russia — about this there is no doubt — and we're too paralyzed by politics to respond.
Confronted with evidence that Russia launched an illegal espionage operation to subvert an American presidential election, and the president's campaign team may have cooperated with our adversary's scheme, nearly every GOP member of the House Intelligence Committee linked arms and effectively declared in unison: "We don't care."

Republicans wanted to talk about leaks. And Hillary Clinton. And answers to vote-rigging questions that no one has asked. With very limited exceptions, as Milbank added, GOP members "slavishly echoed [Trump's] excuses."

In the closing moments of the hearing, Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes (R-Calif.), a Trump loyalist who served on the president's executive transition team, told the FBI director, "[T]here is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country. And so the faster you can get to the bottom of this, it's going to be better for all Americans."
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Hearing probes Trump Russia 2016 coordination

Hearing probes Trump Russia 2016 coordination

03/20/17 09:25PM

Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about today's historic hearing in which the FBI confirmed that there is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Donald Trump campaign and its potential coordination with Russia. watch

Monday's Mini-Report, 3.20.17

03/20/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* As if the Comey hearing weren't enough to keep things busy on Capitol Hill: "Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch presented himself as a mainstream jurist who has spent his career seeking agreement as his highly anticipated confirmation hearing kicked off Monday."

* At least someone's pleased: "China's state-run media cheered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's weekend visit to Beijing as a diplomatic win for the home team."

* Michael Flynn: "Former national security adviser Mike Flynn interacted with a graduate student with dual Russian and British nationalities at a 2014 U.K. security conference, a contact that came to the notice of U.S. intelligence but that Mr. Flynn, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, didn't disclose, according to people familiar with the matter."

* Trump World Tower: "On the 78th floor: a Russian who once was accused of mob ties and extortion by an oligarch. On the 79th, an Uzbek jeweler investigated for money laundering who was eventually executed on the street in Manhattan. And four floors higher, a pro-Moscow Ukrainian politician whose party hired a Donald Trump adviser."

* Roger Stone, "an informal adviser to President Trump, has been asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee to preserve any records he may have in connection to a broader inquiry into Russian attempts to interfere with United States elections."

* It sure does look like he gave false information about his emails: "Senate Democrats are asking Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt to fix what they say were incorrect answers he gave during his confirmation process."
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers his first statement in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 21, 2017.

Spicer tries to distance Trump from top members of his campaign team

03/20/17 04:16PM

The week before Inauguration Day, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had the unpleasant task of trying to dismiss the seriousness of Donald Trump's Russia scandal. In practice, that meant dismissing some of the figures from the Trump campaign who were implicated in the broader controversy.

In the face of reports about Trump associates with controversial ties to Moscow, Spicer told reporters, for example, "Carter Page is an individual whom the president-elect does not know."

It was a curious response. During the campaign, Trump personally singled out Page as one of only a handful of people who were advising him on matters of foreign policy, but as the controversy surrounding the campaign's ties to Russia intensified, Spicer nevertheless made it sound as if Trump couldn't pick his own adviser out of a lineup.

Today, as Politico reported, it happened again in an even more dramatic fashion.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer tried to downplay scrutiny into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia on Monday by describing Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, as someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the effort.

Asked at Monday's press briefing if President Donald Trump stands by his earlier comments that he is not aware of any contacts between his campaign associates and Russia, Spicer acknowledged former national security adviser Michael Flynn's previous relationship with the country, but described him as a "volunteer of the campaign."
This is amazing for a couple of reasons. The first is that the claims are plainly ridiculous. Manafort was hired last year to help oversee Team Trump's delegate-count operation, and soon after, Trump promoted him to the role of campaign chairman, the perch from which he effectively ran the entire campaign. (Manafort also reportedly helped out with personnel decisions during the transition.) To say the campaign chairman "played a very limited role" on the campaign is laughable.

The same is true of Flynn, who was obviously far more than just a campaign "volunteer." The former general was a member of Trump's inner circle; he played a prominent role at the Republican convention; and soon after the election, he was named White House National Security Advisor, which isn't a role that goes to some random guy who had an unpaid gig on the campaign.
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FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27, 2016 before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on on terror threats. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

FBI's Comey confirms investigation into Team Trump's Russia ties

03/20/17 12:23PM

There's been some debate about whether Donald Trump's campaign operation is under a federal investigation or not. This morning, FBI Director James Comey ended that debate.
The FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with a covert Russian campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election, FBI Director James Comey told Congress Monday, an explosive disclosure that could shadow the Trump presidency.

In his opening statement at a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said the investigation was being undertaken "as part of our counterintelligence mission," and that he could not disclose any details about it. Normally, he said, the FBI doesn't confirm or deny investigations, but it can make exceptions in cases of major public interest.
Specifically, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, during its open hearing, that he's been authorized by the Justice Department to confirm that "the FBI, as part of our counter-intelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. As with any counter-intelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment or whether any crimes were committed."

At a certain level, I can appreciate why this news is consistent with expectations -- because the political world has been discussing for months reports of precisely this kind of counter-intelligence investigation. Political observers have invested considerable energy into exploring the allegations -- and the implications of the allegations -- surrounding Russia's espionage operation to help elect Trump, and the possibility of people close to Trump playing some cooperative role in Moscow's efforts.

But before this morning, there were limits on what we knew for certain about the nature of the probe. It's what makes Comey's acknowledgement so extraordinary: a president's campaign is under an FBI investigation. In a development so stunning, it's strange to even put in writing, federal investigators are exploring whether members of the president's campaign team cooperated with a foreign adversary's illegal scheme to influence the outcome of an American election.

This is not, in other words, just another day in American politics.
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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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