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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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The Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, Arlington County, Virginia.

In another embarrassment, Trump's Army Secretary nominee quits

05/05/17 04:36PM

During his presidential transition process, Donald Trump chose New York financier Vincent Viola to serve as his Secretary of the Army. That wasn't a good idea.

Team Trump didn't thoroughly scrutinize Viola's record in advance of nominating him, and officials weren't fully aware of some conflict-of-interest controversies, so on a Friday afternoon in February, the president's choice quietly withdrew from consideration.

Two months later, it's happened once again. Trump second choice to serve as Secretary of the Army was Mark Green, a Republican state senator from Tennessee, who was running for governor, but who instead decided to join the administration.

At least, that was the idea. Green issued a written statement this afternoon -- yes, another Friday afternoon announcement -- withdrawing his nomination.
"I am honored that President Trump nominated me for this position. I appreciate his support and confidence in me, as well as that of Secretary Mattis and many others, and their desire to Make America Great Again by preparing our military to face the many challenges in the world for the safety and security of our nation.

"But to meet these challenges, there should be no distractions. And unfortunately due to false and misleading attacks against me, this nomination has become a distraction."
And what exactly are the nature of those "misleading attacks"? That would be the truth about Green's record.
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Rep. Paul Ryan speaks to media while flanked by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Chairman of the House Republican Conference Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers after being nominated for Speaker of the House, Oct. 28, 2015. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty)

Republican leaders struggle with the definition of insurance

05/05/17 02:30PM

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the chair of the House Republican Conference, has an op-ed in the Washington Post today defending her party's health care bill. Not surprisingly, it's an unpersuasive piece, but it included an interesting criticism of the status quo.

The core of McMorris Rodgers' argument is that she wouldn't support a bill that hurts people with pre-existing conditions because she has a special-needs child. Her op-ed argues that the Republican protects the "most vulnerable" by "empowering states to innovate with new models for better patient outcomes."

That's an interesting way of saying, "allowing people with pre-existing conditions to be charged vastly more for care," but House GOP leaders are going to do what House GOP leaders do.

This, however, was the part that struck me as important:
With Obamacare, our health-insurance system relies on younger, healthier people subsidizing the costs of the older and sicker.
Well, yes, it does. It's something popularly known as "health insurance."

Two months ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as part of a slide-show presentation, complained to reporters, "The whole idea of Obamacare is ... the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick."

This is the same argument as McMorris Rodgers' complaint about the Affordable Care Act, and they're both mistaken -- not about the law, but about how insurance is supposed to work.
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Image: U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the Rose Garden as he returns from a day trip to Atlanta on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S.

Trump's boldest move of all is pretending he has a mandate

05/05/17 12:56PM

White House Press Secretary Reince Priebus appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" a couple of weeks ago and told Chuck Todd about Team Trump's expectations for the spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown:
"We expect the priorities of the president to be reflected in the [spending bill[. So, we expect a massive increase in military spending. We expect money for border security in this bill. And it ought to be -- because the president won overwhelmingly, and everyone understands the border wall was part of it."
As it turns out, Democrats and Republicans in Congress decided to ignore Donald Trump's "priorities," giving the White House effectively nothing from the president's wish list, and Trump endorsed the bill anyway. But Priebus' reference to the president's "overwhelming" victory stood out for me, and not just because it's ridiculously untrue.

When Trump and his aides lie about the scale of his 2016 win -- the president has a map he'd apparently love to show you -- it's easy to assume that it's part of a pathetic exercise to boost the president's fragile ego, hoping to make him feel better about himself after receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton.

And while that's almost certainly part of Team Trump's motivations, Priebus' subtle point is also important: the president wants us to believe he won "overwhelmingly," which in turn should give him a mandate to pursue a regressive agenda, which in turn means Trump feels comfortable barking orders he expects Congress and others to follow.

Yesterday was clearly an extension of this mindset. House Republicans, who saw their majority shrink in 2016, passed a depraved health care bill that most of the country doesn't want. They then celebrated at the White House with a president who, when Americans were given a choice, came in second.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 5.5.17

05/05/17 12:00PM

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

* This is exactly the shift GOP leaders should've seen coming: "Cook Political Report on Friday morning changed its ratings for 20 House seats, predicting that Democrats' odds of winning those districts has increased now that House Republicans passed a bill to repeal Obamacare."

* On a related note, the GOP plan is so controversial that in Montana's congressional special election, Republican Greg Gianforte -- running in a state Donald Trump won by 20 points -- is awfully reluctant to endorse it.

* This is the outcome Democrats were hoping for: "A federal court on Thursday ordered Georgia officials to extend the voter registration deadline through at least May 21 to be eligible to vote in the special election runoff in Georgia's sixth congressional district between Republican Karen Handel and Democrat Jon Ossoff."

* On a related note, Ossoff's new ad appears designed to reach local voters beyond the Democratic base, which makes sense given the Republican advantage in the district. Ossoff stresses deficit reduction as a priority, for example, which is rarely a progressive goal.

* Hillary Clinton is reportedly planning to create a political action committee, which would "look to fund and invest in groups that have impressed her since her 2016 election loss."

* Donald Trump's former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is leaving the D.C. lobbying firm he created after the 2016 election.

* National Democrats believe Sen. Jeff Flake (R) may be vulnerable in Arizona next year, but the challenge is finding a top-tier contender to take him on. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) announced this week she's passing on the Senate race and running for re-election to the House instead.
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Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

Republicans put their careers on the line for the wrong bill

05/05/17 11:20AM

In upstate New York this morning, Buffalo News readers learned quite a bit about the perspective of a local Republican congressman who, for some reason, thought it'd be a good idea to vote for his party's regressive health care plan. The headline read, "Chris Collins admits he didn't read health care bill."
Rep. Chris Collins told CNN that he didn't read the entire Republican health care bill that the House passed Thursday.

And then he told The Buffalo News that he was unaware of a key provision in the bill that decimates a health plan that serves 635,000 New Yorkers.
The New York Republican, one of Donald Trump's most consistent allies in Congress, said his staff read the legislation, the text of which was made available less than a day before the vote.

The article added, "Told by a Buffalo News reporter that the state's largest loss of federal funds under the bill would be $3 billion annually that goes to the state's Essential Health Plan, Collins said: 'Explain that to me.'" Asked specifically if he was aware his party's American Health Care Act cuts funding to his home state's Essential Plan, the two-term congressman said he was not.

Sometimes, you can anticipate the basis for an attack ad before the campaign even begins. (Collins' office later said the New York lawmaker was "intimately involved in the creation of this legislation from its inception." Given the effects of the bill, that may not be a boast worth making.)

Democrats believe yesterday's vote -- on an unpopular bill, filled with unpopular ideas, which will take health benefits from tens of millions of Americans -- will boost the party's chances of taking back the House in next year's midterms, and Chris Collins will certainly be among those on the DCCC's target list.
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A man carries an umbrella in the rain as he passes the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 16, 2014.

House Republicans push bill to scrap Wall Street safeguards

05/05/17 10:40AM

For Capitol Hill watchers, there was one big story to watch yesterday: a dramatic floor vote in which the Republican majority narrowly passed a regressive and needlessly punitive health care bill. But just away from the spotlight, a smaller group of GOP officials were advancing another top priority for the party, which is likely to be as controversial.

The House Financial Services Committee voted along party lines to approve something called the Financial Choice Act, the point of which 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.

Vox's report explained what the legislation intends to do.
Spearheaded by House Finance Chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the Choice Act begins by throwing out much of the banking oversight passed under President Obama's administration, mostly through the Dodd-Frank act signed in 2010. But it goes further than that, rolling back oversight in a way that could dramatically exacerbate the likelihood of another financial crisis, according to experts in financial regulation. [...]

[The bill also] looks to some like a wish list of what advocates and lobbyists for the banking industry have demanded. Among the provisions that have most alarmed progressives on the Hill is its proposed elimination of the "Volcker Rule," which prevents commercial banks from making certain kinds of speculative and risky trades. The Choice Act would also gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the brainchild of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
Marcus Stanley, policy director for Americans for Financial Reform, 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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A tie decorated with elephant mascots at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Daniel Acker/Bloomberg/Getty)

Falling short of the bare minimum standards for public service

05/05/17 10:13AM

Slate ran an interesting headline with Jamelle Bouie's piece on the American Health Care Act yesterday, describing the House Republicans' "passage of Trumpcare" as "one of the most callous things the party has ever done."

In terms of scope and scale, that's hardly an outrageous assessment. The bare minimum standard for public service -- literally, the very least a public official can do in the United States -- is not hurting Americans on purpose. Indeed, it probably seems like common sense: those who serve the public, especially those in elected office, should at least try to shield the public from unnecessary and easily avoidable harm.

By passing the GOP's obscene health care bill yesterday, Republicans fell short of his basic standard.

If Donald Trump were to sign this legislation into law -- a step the president said he's eager, if not desperate, to do -- tens of millions of Americans would suffer. Some might even die. With this in mind, characterizing this as "one of the most callous things the party has ever done" seems quite fair.

But this also got me thinking about politics on a global scale. Isn't this one of the most callous things we've seen from any major party in any advanced democracy in recent memory?
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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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