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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Trump's EPA takes aim at scientific review board

05/08/17 11:00AM

Late Friday, Michigan State University's Robert Richardson announced via Twitter that he'd been "Trumped," adding, "I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today."

As it turns out, he wasn't alone. The New York Times reported over the weekend:
The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency's regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast.
Let's back up for a minute to provide some context. The EPA has plenty of scientists who conduct research and publish their findings. The agency also has an 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, made up of scholars, which offers guidance on the quality the EPA scientists' research.

As the Times' report added, "Those studies are used by government regulators to draft rules and restrictions on everything from hazardous waste dumped in water to the emissions of carbon dioxide that contribute to climate change."

Scott Pruitt, who's made no secret of his opposition to the agency he now leads and its environmental mission, apparently has no use for these academicians' guidance. He's instead prepared to reach out to representatives of corporate polluters -- industries the EPA is ostensibly supposed to be regulating -- to serve on the Board of Scientific Counselors.
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Pastor Robert Jeffress

Right-wing pastor welcomed into Donald Trump's White House

05/08/17 10:32AM

Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, a far-right mega-church leader in Texas, first rose to national political prominence during the 2012 presidential campaign, when he partnered with then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's (R) candidacy and had some unkind words for rival Mitt Romney.

Specifically, Jeffress targeted Romney's faith, saying the Republican was "a member of a cult."

A controversy soon followed, and much of the country learned of Jeffress' record of over-the-top extremism on issues throughout the so-called "culture war," with the Texas pastor having lashed out at everyone from gays to Mormons to Catholics. As recently as two years ago, Jeffress insisted that Christians in the United States are persecuted in ways comparable to Germany's treatment of Jews before the Holocaust.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) once said to associate with Robert Jeffress was "beneath the office of president of the United States."

And yet, here we are.
On the eve of signing a controversial "religious freedom" executive order, President Donald Trump spent time with a right wing pastor who has vehemently opposed LGBTQ rights.

Trump's social media director Dan Scavino Jr. tweeted a photo of the president posing happily with Pastor Robert Jeffress in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
Jeffress also tweeted a picture of himself alongside Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. This wasn't just a grip-and-grin at some fundraiser; Jeffress was given access to the nation's most powerful leaders.

There was a time that leading U.S. officials wouldn't want to be seen in the same room as a fringe radical like Jeffress. In 2017, however, he's welcomed into the White House, where Donald Trump met with him in the Oval Office.

So, Chris Christie, is this still "beneath the office of president of the United States"?
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, talks to reporters following a closed-door meeting at the Capitol in Washington, March 15, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Mitch McConnell and his 12 angry men tackle health care

05/08/17 10:00AM

On Thursday afternoon, at a White House party celebrating House Republicans passing a far-right health care plan, Donald Trump declared, "We're going to get this passed through the Senate. I feel so confident."

Even at the time, that didn't make any sense. As House members knew in advance, Senate passage of the existing American Health Care Act was unrealistic, and it now appears the House bill, GOP celebrating notwithstanding, is already dead.

Here was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a critic of the House bill, on ABC's "This Week" yesterday:
"The House bill is not going to come before us. The Senate is starting from scratch. We're going to draft our own bill. And I'm convinced that we're going to take the time to do it right. Speaker Ryan today said that he hoped that the Senate would improve the House bill. I think we will do so and that we will come up with a whole new fresh approach...."
For health-care proponents, this may offer at least some temporary relief. For those concerned that the radical House bill would clear the Senate and be signed by the president, that threat now appears to be effectively off the table. There were reports last week that the upper chamber would ignore the AHCA and write its own legislation, and Collins confirmed that those reports were correct.

This also represents a departure of sorts from the plan that existed as recently as six weeks ago. In late March, when it appeared the House might pass an earlier version of its regressive proposal, GOP leaders intended to bring the bill very quickly to the Senate floor -- no hearings, no real scrutiny -- where it would die, and Congress could move on to other issues.

Now, however, Republican senators are actually moving forward with plans to try legislating. And while it's far too early to say what they'll come up with -- or whether the House GOP would support this "fresh" alternative -- we do know who'll be doing the work.
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Image: FILE PHOTO --  U.S. President Trump and German Chancellor Merkel give a joint news conference in Washington

Kushner family takes advantage of White House connections in China

05/08/17 09:30AM

About a month ago, ahead of Donald Trump's first meeting with China's Xi Jinping, the American president put his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in charge of White House negotiations with officials in Beijing. It was, by any fair measure, a problematic decision.

Kushner, who has no background in foreign policy, diplomacy, or U.S. relations with China, was woefully unqualified for such responsibilities. Complicating matters, as was widely reported at the time, Kushner's family was exploring business deals in China, creating possible ethical conflicts the White House should want to avoid.

A month later, this dynamic appears quite a bit worse than anyone realized. The Washington Post reported over the weekend:
The Kushner family came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big -- and if you invest in Kushner properties, so can you.

That was the message delivered Saturday by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner's sister Nicole Kushner Meyer to a ballroom full of wealthy Chinese investors in Beijing.

Over several hours of slide shows and presentations, representatives from the Kushner family business urged Chinese citizens gathered at a Ritz-Carlton hotel to consider investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a New Jersey luxury apartment complex that would help them secure what's known as an investor visa.
Controversies surrounding EB-5 visas aren't exactly new. The program, according to its many critics on both sides of the aisle, effectively sells immigration visas to foreigners willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. development projects. It's especially popular among wealthy Chinese families.

All of which led to the very interesting presentation from Jared Kushner's sister, and the ethical questions that come with it.
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Image: Donald Trump, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy

Trump takes aim at support for historically black colleges

05/08/17 09:00AM

In late February, Donald Trump signed an executive order intended to signal support for historically black colleges and universities. The Republican president, who hosted a widely seen photo-op in the Oval Office with HBCU officials, said at the time that these institutions of higher learning would be "an absolute priority for this White House."

Trump added at the time, "I am thrilled to be signing an executive order to recognize the importance of historically black colleges and universities -- very important. They have played such an important role in achieving progress for African Americans in our nation's march for justice."

As it turns out, the White House is saying something quite different now. Politico reported over the weekend:
President Donald Trump signaled Friday that he may not implement a 25-year-old federal program that helps historically black colleges finance construction projects on their campuses, suggesting that it may run afoul of the Constitution.

In a signing statement on the $1.1 trillion omnibus government spending bill, Trump singled out the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program as an example of provisions in the funding bill "that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender."
A Washington Post report added, "People in higher education circles worried that the statement meant that the president was planning to get rid of a capital financing program that helps historically black colleges repair, renovate and build new facilities."

The Post's report added that Trump intends to treat the financing program "in a manner consistent with the (constitutional) requirement to afford equal protection of the laws."

In fairness, no one knows exactly what that's intended to mean.
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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

On health care, Republican shares a secret sentiment with DC donors

05/08/17 08:30AM

The day the Republican health care bill reached the House floor last week, Republican Greg Gianforte, the GOP's nominee in Montana's congressional special election, seemed eager to avoid the controversy. Asked for the candidate's opinion on the legislation, Gianforte's spokesperson said the Republican didn't yet have all the facts on the bill and its impact.

Voters were told, however, that Gianforte supports lowering premiums and protecting those with pre-existing conditions -- and his party's proposal does the opposite.

It was initially seen as evidence of just how politically toxic the Republican legislation had become: in a red state that Donald Trump won by 20 points, a GOP candidate was reluctant to be associated with the bill Republicans were ramming through. But as the New York Times reported, the story turned out to be even worse: on the same day Gianforte was steering clear of the GOP bill in public, he was doing something very different in private.
[On Thursday], during a private conference call with Republican-leaning lobbyists in Washington, Mr. Gianforte offered a more supportive view of the health bill. Making the case for the "national significance" of the Montana election on May 25, Mr. Gianforte said: "The votes in the House are going to determine whether we get tax reform done, sounds like we just passed a health care thing, which I'm thankful for, sounds like we're starting to repeal and replace."
Imagine that. A GOP candidate saying one thing to voters in Montana, and then saying something else to donors in D.C.

Coming soon to a commercial near you.
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Raul Labrador

GOP rep says 'nobody dies' from lacking access to health care

05/08/17 08:00AM

On Thursday, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) was one of 217 House Republicans who voted for their party's far-right health care plan. On Friday, the GOP congressman hosted a town hall meeting at Lewis-Clark State College, where Labrador tried to defend what he'd done.

As the Washington Post's report noted, one of the Idaho Republican's constituents reminded Labrador that many Medicaid recipients would lose their coverage, and possibly even their lives, as a result of the proposal. The GOP lawmaker was unimpressed.
"That line is so indefensible," said Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, a member of the influential House Freedom Caucus. "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care."

The boos instantly drowned him out.
Whether Labrador knew he was being recorded or not, the exchange was captured on video.

He later conceded in a statement that his comment "wasn't very elegant," which is true, though it's a realization he made a day too late.

To the extent that reality still has any bearing in this debate, the Republican proposal would end coverage for tens of millions of Americans, and while it's impossible to know exactly how many of those people would die, the Huffington Post noted, "[P]rior to passage of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark law commonly known as Obamacare, some 45,000 Americans died annually due to their lack of health insurance, according to a 2009 Harvard study."

The Post's report added, "According to another 2009 study by the Institute of Medicine, people without health care are more likely to die if diagnosed with illnesses, such as cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes and heart attack, among others."
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Friday's Mini-Report, 5.5.17

05/05/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Somalia: "A Navy SEAL was killed during a gunfight in Somalia with the terrorist group al-Shabab that also injured two other U.S. service members late Thursday, U.S. defense officials told NBC News."

* Russia scandal: "The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked former Trump adviser Carter Page to provide a list of his contacts with Russian officials and turn over any emails or other communications with Russians, according to a letter Page provided to NBC News."

* On a related note: "Among those who said they had received [requests from the Senate Intelligence Committee] were Roger J. Stone, an informal adviser to President Trump, and Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, and Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, were also sent letters, said the officials with knowledge of the investigation. Representatives for both men declined to comment."

* Venezuela: "A video from Venezuela that has gone viral shows a David and Goliath-like clash between protesters and the police in the Caracas neighborhood of Altamira."

* Donald Trump was scheduled to return to New York this weekend, but he said he'll save the country money by staying in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he owns a private golf club. Asked to explain why this would save Americans money, the White House struggled to think of an explanation.

* I wonder what the story behind the story is on this one: "The White House has parted ways with its chief usher, Angella Reid, the White House confirmed Friday. Reid was the first woman and second African American to hold the position, hired under President Barack Obama in October 2011."

* Rand Paul loves conspiracy theories about as much as Trump: "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says he has asked the intelligence community and White House for any evidence that he was surveilled by former President Barack Obama."

* DC can be a strange place: "Cindy McCain, the wife of Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, is expected to be offered a prominent role in the Trump administration's State Department, two individuals familiar with the discussions said Thursday."
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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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