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Friday's Mini-Report, 3.10.17

03/10/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* More on this on tonight's show: "The Justice Department announced Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked all 46 remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to resign."

* The refundable tax credits in the GOP plan aren't going anywhere: "The White House and House Republican leaders on Friday forcefully defended their plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that has drawn criticism from conservatives who are pressing for a more aggressive attack on the law."

South Korea: "A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation's history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time. Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government."

* Why this matters: "After the historic ouster of President Park Geun-hye on Friday, scandal-weary South Koreans began turning their attention to a new election due within 60 days -- and to the prospect that her successor could try to reset relations with neighboring North Korea and its powerful patron, China."

* FDA: "President Trump is expected to pick Scott Gottlieb, a conservative physician and businessman with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, a person familiar with the nomination said Friday."

* It's kind of amusing to think some voted for Trump because they saw him as the more dovish candidate on foreign policy: "The weeklong blitz in Yemen eclipsed the annual bombing total for any year during Obama's presidency. Under the previous administration, approval for strikes came only after slow-moving policy discussions, with senior officials required to sign off on any action. The Trump administration has proven much quicker at green-lighting attacks."
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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.

White House: Job totals were 'phony,' but they're 'very real now'

03/10/17 04:16PM

The job numbers for February were released this morning, and the data was very encouraging: the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs in February, with an unemployment rate of 4.7%. The White House, not surprisingly, is thrilled that the job market Donald Trump inherited from his predecessor is this strong as the new administration gets underway.

That is, if the president actually believes the data. Trump spent months telling Americans not to believe official jobs reports, so it was hardly a surprise when a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about whether Team Trump accepts the latest job figures or not. Spicer replied, with an unusually broad smile:
"Yeah, I talked to the president prior to this [briefing] and he said to quote him very clearly: 'They may have been phony in the past, but it's very real now.'"
Everyone chuckled and moved on. That's a shame.

Look, I realize it was a lighthearted moment, and my point is not to sound like a killjoy, but we can't really have a credible political discussion if the president -- and the president alone -- is supposed to tell us when the jobs numbers are real and when they're not, as if it's our job to simply accept Donald Trump's strange declarations as fact.

As the Washington Post's Greg Sargent added, "It's key that Trump explicitly told Spicer to recite this line to the press corps. He's telling them who gets to say what's true."

Remember, at different points in the campaign, Trump publicly argued that the unemployment rate was 20% – or possibly 42% – even as reality pointed to a rate below 5%. After the election, at a pre-inaugural press conference, the Republican declared there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get” -- a claim he inexplicably repeated in his address to Congress two weeks -- which was nonsensical, even for him.

The unemployment rate, Trump declared as recently December, is “totally fiction.”

Now, evidently, we're supposed to believe his bonkers conspiracy theory involving job numbers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the one Trump told everyone to accept as fact -- is no longer in effect, because he says so.
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DeMint touts emergency rooms over insurance

Freedom Caucus member points to emergency rooms for uninsured

03/10/17 03:35PM

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, talked to CNN's Erin Burnett this week about health care, and his intention to kill the Affordable Care Act. The host pointed to a Republican voter, featured on an earlier segment, who'd be dead if it weren't for "Obamacare." She asked for his reaction.

DeSantis proceeded to complain about the reform law anyway, before turning to a familiar GOP refrain:
"I would say though ... there really is no lack of health care. If people really need it, if they show up to the emergency room, they do get care, it just gets passed on to other folks."
The host pointed to the fact that woman in question had $1 million in cancer treatments, adding, "You're not going to get that by showing up in an emergency room."

DeSantis then changed the subject.

And while that was probably a good political decision, the fact that Republicans are still, even now, turning to the refuge of the "show up at the emergency room" argument is just stunning.
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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is followed by members of the media as he leaves after a meeting with Republican Study Committee, Oct. 20, 2015 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty)

Putting an end to the debate about the GOP as a 'governing party'

03/10/17 01:06PM

MSNBC's Chris Hayes talked with Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) last night about the Republican health care plan, which Lance voted for in committee yesterday. Chris asked a simple question early on, which ordinarily wouldn't even come up after a committee vote: "How many hearings -- open hearings with witness testimony and the like -- have you had on this bill?"

Lance dodged, saying Republicans had held hearings about their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, so Chris asked again, "In this Congress, though. How many hearings in this Congress on this bill?" Lance dodged again, referring to 2016 campaign rhetoric. Chris stuck with it, asking, "I get that, but there`s legislative language now. I'm just curious, how many hearings has your committee had on this bill?"

Lance dodged again, and Chris asked again. The two went back and forth multiple times, with the Republican congressman refusing to acknowledge that his committee hasn't held any hearings on the American Health Care Act, which some have labeled "Trumpcare." Lance eventually said he thinks maybe the Senate will hold some "discussion" about the legislation.

Let's pause for a moment to note the purpose of a congressional hearing. Members of Congress, even those who've made up their minds, participate in legislative hearings to explore an issue in detail, hear from subject-matter experts, ask questions of authorities, dig into substantive nuances, and ideally use the information gleaned from the Q&A to shape legislative language.

This week, however, House Republicans took up legislation that will affect tens of millions of people, and have a direct impact on a fifth of the world's largest economy, but instead of holding committee hearings, they held votes. They could've discussed policy implications with experts in the field; they could've waited for the Congressional Budget Office to tell them how much the bill will cost; they could've found out how many Americans will lose coverage if their plan is implemented; they could've talked to medical professionals, hospital administers, and governors.

But they skipped this step. House Republicans proceeded with self-imposed blinders, effectively legislating in the dark, for one painfully obvious reason: they don't care about substantive policy details. (This unfolded around the time the White House press secretary said his party's plan is superior to the Affordable Care Act because the former fits on fewer pieces of paper.)

I wish this were a case in which GOP lawmakers disagreed with stakeholders - doctors, nurses, hospitals, scorekeepers, et al -- because Republicans believed the experts were wrong on the merits. That, at least, could be the basis for a credible debate. Instead, GOP members of Congress have declared that the merits simply don't matter to them. They're annoying trivialities that simply get in the way.

And therein lies the broader point: Republicans are offering striking evidence that they are a post-policy party. They've abandoned the pretense that substance guides their work in any meaningful way.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 3.10.17

03/10/17 12:00PM

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

* We talked yesterday about the American Action Network, a group backed by the House Republican leadership, running ads in support of Paul Ryan's health care bill in Freedom Caucus members' districts. There's now a list of the specific lawmakers who are being targeted.

* Though Donald Trump was scheduled to make an official presidential visit to Kentucky tomorrow, we learned yesterday that Vice President Mike Pence is going instead. Pence will reportedly appear in Louisville alongside Gov. Matt Bevin (R).

* The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee believes the new Republican health care plan is a political loser for the GOP, which Dems can exploit next year. "Regardless of how far this plan makes it through Congress, every Republican Senate candidate will have to answer for a dangerous proposal that puts millions of Americans at risk," a DSCC memo to reporters said yesterday.

* In separate appearances yesterday, both of Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello, lent their support to National Airport workers "trying to unionize and achieve a $15 minimum wage."

* It's unclear if Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D) next year, but if he does, the Republican governor will probably start off as an underdog. A Mason-Dixon poll released this week showed Nelson with a five-point lead over Scott in a hypothetical match-up, 46% to 41%.

* Though Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) initially said publicly that he'd retire at the end of his current term, the longtime senator said yesterday he's now planning to seek re-election, though he hasn't officially decided. Hatch, who'll turn 83 this month, was first elected in 1976. At the time, he ran on a platform saying his predecessor, Frank Moss (D), had been in Washington too long -- because Moss had served 18 years.
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Image: Sergey Kislyak

In the Russia scandal, many key players have bad memories

03/10/17 11:26AM

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he did not meet with any Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, despite two meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Asked about the purpose of the meetings, Sessions said last week he didn't fully remember.

Michael Flynn talked to Ambassador Kislyak during the transition period, and after insisting that U.S. sanctions against Russia didn't come up during their conversations, Flynn later said he didn't remember whether sanctions were part of the discussions or not.

Maybe memory loss is contagious? CNN had an interesting report late yesterday:
In an October speech to the Detroit Economic Club, Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, denied meeting with Donald Trump or campaign officials during the course of 2016 presidential election, but acknowledged that he met with members of Congress and others who approached him at events.

Kislyak spoke to the Detroit Economic Club on Oct. 27th of last year.
I'd need to see a full transcript of the ambassador's comments -- the CNN report was a little short on exact quotes -- because the details are important. But if the reporting is accurate, it's a curious development.
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U.S. Representatives Shimkus and Coble arrive for a late night closed-door meeting of the House Republican caucus during a rare Saturday session at the U.S. Capitol

Republicans take aim at men paying for prenatal care

03/10/17 10:44AM

One of my favorite moments of the legislative debate on the Affordable Care Act came in September 2009, during an otherwise unremarkable committee hearing. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), at the time the Senate Minority Whip, was complaining bitterly about proposed benefits to be included in a standard benefit package.

To drive home his point, the Arizona Republican said, "I don't need maternity care."

"I think your mom probably did," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) replied.

While that should've effectively ended the argument forever, four years later, this came up again during a House hearing, when Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) also complained about standard benefits covering maternity care. "To the best of your knowledge has a man ever delivered a baby?" the Republican congresswoman asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This week, as the Washington Post reported, it happened once more, as yet another GOP lawmaker took aim the "Obamacare" provision that requires health plans to cover pregnancy and childbirth.
At the start, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle (Pa.) was talking with Republican Rep. John Shimkus (Ill.) about Shimkus's objections to the Affordable Care Act's requirements for health-insurance plans.... "What mandate in the Obamacare bill does he take issue with?" Doyle asked Shimkus, using the formal parlance of congressional committees.

"What about men having to purchase prenatal care?" Shimkus said.

At that point, one could hear the room start to stir. "I'm just ... is that not correct?" Shimkus said. "And should they?"
Apparently, the point of this preoccupation with the issue is the Republican belief that the ACA isn't fair to men because it forces them to pay for a benefit they'll never, physiologically, be able to use. Scrapping the guarantee, the argument goes, will make coverage cheaper.
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Image: US President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress in Washington

To get what they want, Republicans learn to play Trump against Ryan

03/10/17 10:14AM

It's a trick many children learn at a young age: if one parent won't give you what you want, quietly ask the other parent, who might offer a more satisfying answer.

A similar dynamic is unfolding in Washington right now. The Huffington Post reported yesterday:
Leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, unhappy with the Republican health care legislation being rushed through the House by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), are taking their concerns directly to President Donald Trump.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and former Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) spent Thursday afternoon at the White House, meeting with budget staffers, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, and Trump himself.... Freedom Caucus members are demanding changes to the health care bill that Republican House leaders refuse to make.
Paul Ryan has told his members that he's simply not prepared to make major changes to his health care reform bill, the American Health Care Act, which some have begun calling "Trumpcare." The White House, however, is far more flexible, with the president telling everyone he's ready to negotiate.

The result is hardly surprising. When the Huffington Post asked House Freedom Caucus member Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) if he and his allies who are critical of Ryan's bill are deliberately circumventing the Speaker's office to negotiate with the White House, the congressman didn't exactly deny it.

"We're appealing to a president who likes to negotiate, who likes to win, and who likes to keep his promises," Labrador said.

At a certain level, this may lead some to believe that the bill's odds of passage are improving. After all, if Freedom Caucus members are positioned to possibly kill the legislation in the House, and Trump is prepared to make concessions that makes these far-right members happy, perhaps the White House is taking steps to ensure the bill's success in the lower chamber.

Except, it's not quite working out that way.
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Night falls over the U.S. Capitol.

Republicans take aim at Congress' nonpartisan scorekeepers

03/10/17 09:23AM

As the debate over health care heats up, Republicans are fighting battles on multiple fronts. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his allies have to worry about, among other things, intra-party divisions, Democratic criticisms, denunciations from industry stakeholders, spirted progressive activism, and opposition from most of the nation's most prominent conservative organizations.

But one foe looms larger than any other. The New York Times reports:
President Trump showed an affinity for “working the referees” in his race to the White House, criticizing a federal judge as biased, panning polls as rigged and even questioning the aptitude of the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Now, with Mr. Trump’s administration aggressively pitching the House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper — the Congressional Budget Office — is coming under intense fire. As it prepares to render its judgment on the cost and impact of the bill, the nonpartisan agency of economists and statisticians has become a political piñata — and the latest example of Mr. Trump’s team casting doubt on benchmarks accepted as trustworthy for decades.
At some point very soon, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is going to issue a non-partisan report on the impact of the Republicans' American Health Care Act, which some are calling "Trumpcare." The analysis will provide all kinds of important data, including the cost of the GOP bill and how many Americans are likely to have health insurance if the Republican proposal is implemented.

The CBO's conclusions are not likely to be flattering -- which is why Republican leaders are scrambling to push their bill now, before lawmakers and the public have all the facts, since reality is likely to cast "Trumpcare" in a very unflattering light.

But GOP officials can only rush so much, and the CBO score will be available long before the American Health Care Act comes to the floor for a vote. That, in turn, leads Republicans to believe it's time to go after the Congressional Budget Office's credibility now, so when the report is released, assorted partisans and pugilists will dismiss the findings.

On the surface, this is plainly ridiculous. No one's ever suggested the CBO is perfect, but to preemptively attack Congress' scorekeepers, with a series of claims that aren't true, in order to mask a bad bill's flaws, adds insult to legislative injury.
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New jobs data shows 2017 is off to a strong start

03/10/17 08:44AM

It's increasingly difficult to believe Donald Trump inherited an economic "mess."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 235,000 jobs in February, down just a little from January's total. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, remains low at 4.7%, returning to where it was in December. Last month was the 17th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower.

As for the revisions, December's job totals were revised down a little, while January's totals were revised up a little, and combined they show a net gain of 9,000 previously unreported jobs.

If recent political developments are any guide, Trump and his supporters will tout the encouraging jobs data as evidence of his economic prowess. And while everyone should always be glad to see good news, it's worth noting that these boasts continue to be misplaced. Trump didn't actually implement any meaningful economic policies in February, and the president's repeated claims about his accomplishments fall apart under scrutiny.

Indeed, the question for the White House and congressional Republicans remains difficult to answer: how can the job market remain so healthy with all of those nasty Obama-era policies -- the Affordable Care Act, environmental protections, Wall Street safeguards, et al -- in place? Why are the February 2017 numbers nearly identical to the February 2016 and February 2015 numbers?
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Image: President Trump and Prime Minister Abe Press Conference at White House

Why did Trump put a former foreign agent in a key security post?

03/10/17 08:00AM

It's been nearly a month since Michael Flynn was forced to resign as White House National Security Advisor, following revelations that he lied about his communications with Russia. Flynn's controversies, however, are not yet over. The Associated Press reported:
President Donald Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired from his prominent White House job last month, has registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day that may have aided the Turkish government.

Paperwork filed Tuesday with the Justice Department's Foreign Agent Registration Unit said Flynn and his firm were voluntarily registering for lobbying from August through November that "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey."
As the AP report explained, federal law requires Americans who lobby on behalf of foreign government or political entities to "disclose their work to the Justice Department." Flynn had not, which left him open to possible criminal charges, so in his filings this week, he retroactively disclosed the work he did last year.

Or more specifically, from August through November of last year -- when Flynn was also a trusted member of Donald Trump's inner circle at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign. Soon after the election, the Republican tapped Flynn to oversee matters of national security at the White House, at which point Flynn stopped lobbying.

And that, in turn, creates an awkward dynamic: the Trump campaign and Turkey were paying Flynn at the same time? Trump asked a former foreign agent to be White House National Security Advisor? Did the president not consider why this might be a bad idea?

This came up, not surprisingly, during yesterday's briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when a reporter asked if Trump was aware of the fact that Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when the president appointed him to serve as NSA. "I don't believe that that was known," Spicer replied, leaning heavily on passive voice.

It's hard to say with confidence whether Spicer is telling the truth or not, but under the circumstances, even if we accept the answer at face value, it's not unreasonable to wonder how and why the president didn't know.
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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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