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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 7.26.17

07/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Amazing progress: "Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who was critically wounded after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in June, has made progress in his recovery and was discharged from a Washington, D.C., hospital on Tuesday."

* Did Donald Trump ban transgender troops in order to advance a spending bill with money for his border wall? It's an explanation that would answer some questions.

* Ugh: "President Trump lumped the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah among militants and terrorists he praised the government of Lebanon for fighting, saying during Rose Garden remarks Tuesday that the tiny Mideast nation was "on the front lines" of a shared battle against extremism. The only problem? Hezbollah is a political partner of the man standing next to Trump, visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri."

* Disheartening, but not surprising: "Republican Trey Gowdy acted behind closed doors like a lawyer for President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, during questioning Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee, said the top Democrat on the panel. 'Mr. Gowdy took the role as a second attorney for Mr. Kushner,' Adam Schiff of California told reporters."

* Brian Benczkowski: "President Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department's criminal division told senators Tuesday that he once represented a Russian bank that was alleged to have a Trump Organization connection, but he cast that representation as a routine part of his legal work and forcefully asserted that he would be an independent and fair-minded law enforcement official."

* But what are they prepared to do about it? "Republican senators have Attorney General Jeff Sessions' back. The GOP lawmakers are furious over President Donald Trump's escalating attacks on their former colleague and are letting the attorney general -- and the public -- know that they stand with Sessions in the face of the president's broadsides."

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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Strike Two: Senate Republicans fail again on ACA repeal vote

07/26/17 04:36PM

Senate Republicans voted last night on Mitch McConnell's latest health care proposal, which needed 60 votes to advance, but managed to receive just 43. This afternoon brought us Strike Two.

The Senate rejected a proposal Wednesday that would have repealed major parts of the Affordable Care Act and provided a two-year delay for lawmakers to develop a substitute, indicating that in the immediate future Republicans can only muster a majority for modest changes to the current law.

In two separate votes over the course of less than 24 hours, lawmakers have rejected different approaches to rewriting the landmark 2010 law known as Obamacare.

Today's measure, the "Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act," commonly known as "repeal and delay," needed 50 votes, but ended up with 45. In all, seven Senate Republicans -- Collins, Heller, Murkowski, Alexander, Capito, McCain, and Portman -- broke ranks and opposed the legislation, which garnered 55 "no" votes.

And as a matter of public policy and public health, that's an encouraging development. This bill, which passed the Senate in 2015 when Republicans knew their vote was largely for show, would have repealed the Affordable Care Act in the short term, and then set a two-year deadline for Congress to figure something out. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office recently found that this bill would push 32 million Americans into the ranks of the uninsured over the next decade, include 17 million Americans just within the next year.

In fact, before we move on, let's pause to note how amazing these circumstances are. We're talking about a bill that would take coverage from 32 million people, repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with nothing, and 45 Republican senators voluntarily said, "Yep, that sounds good to me."

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The Pentagon in Arlington, Va., outside Washington, DC is seen in this aerial photograph, April 23, 2015. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)

Trump announcement on transgender troops surprises Pentagon

07/26/17 12:51PM

Ordinarily, when pundits talk about the White House's communications problems, they're referring to Donald Trump and his team struggling to stick to an honest and consistent message. But this morning we were reminded of a different kind of White House communications problem.

The Pentagon seems to have been unaware that President Donald Trump has decided to bar transgender people from the military.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, refused to answer questions about what Trump's tweeted announcement means for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.

"Call the White House," he said.

It looks like the president just banned thousands of transgender troops without coordinating with the Defense Department. The White House also didn't offer the Senate Armed Services Committee a heads-up, either.

And I don't imagine anyone finds this is especially surprising. Trump picked a new FBI director without coordinating with the Justice Department. Trump makes foreign policy decisions without running them by the State Department. When Trump launched his Muslim ban, the Department of Homeland Security wasn't at all clear on how to implement the president's vision.

The president sees himself as a CEO, which is a flawed model for the head of a federal executive branch, but it's especially problematic given that Trump looks at his administration as a small business instead of a large one.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.26.17

07/26/17 12:00PM

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

* In keeping with a recent string of state legislative special-election wins, Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh won a state Senate seat in New Hampshire yesterday, winning in  a district Republicans expected to win. [Correction: A majority of district voters are Republicans, but Dems didn't flip the seat as I'd originally thought. This text has been corrected.]

* In Virginia, one of only two states hosting gubernatorial races this year, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R) tied at 44% each. Most other recent polling found Northam ahead.

* On a related note, the Democratic National Committee told NBC News yesterday that it's sending "$1.5 million and several top staffers" to the commonwealth to help give Northam, whose coffers are low after a long, tough primary, a boost in the race's final three months.

* In Alabama's U.S. Senate special election, Rep. Mo Brooks (R) has vowed to oppose Mitch McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader if he's elected to the chamber. Brooks called McConnell "the head of the swamp of the U.S. Senate." The special election primary is Aug. 15.

* Donald Trump headlined a rally in celebration of himself in Ohio last night, boasting that Democrats usually win Youngstown, but he won it. In reality, Trump lost Youngstown and the surrounding country.

* The House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, launched a new digital ad campaign this week intended to undermine support for the Democrats' new "Better Deal" blueprint. The Republicans' ad focuses on, among other things, "Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco values."

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) heads into a last-minute Republican caucus meeting at the U.S. Captiol June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Cantor comes clean, admits he didn't believe his own ACA rhetoric

07/26/17 11:26AM

For several years, in his capacity as House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor helped lead the charge on repealing "Obamacare." Put Republicans in charge, the Virginian told voters, and they'd dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

It was Cantor who helped bring ACA repeal bills to the House floor dozens of times. It was Cantor who helped spearhead "defund Obamacare" campaigns. And it was Cantor, we now know, who didn't genuinely believe his own nonsense.

The former GOP leader in the House talked to the Washingtonian's Elaina Plott and conceded that his Republican Party is in a tough spot -- parts of the conservative base expect the party to repeal the ACA, because that's what they were promised -- in part because of promises he and his colleagues made that they never intended to keep.

Asked if he feels partly responsible for their current predicament, Cantor is unequivocal. "Oh," he says, "100 percent."

He goes further: "To give the impression that if Republicans were in control of the House and Senate, that we could do that when Obama was still in office...." His voice trails off and he shakes his head. "I never believed it."

He says he wasn't the only one aware of the charade: "We sort of all got what was going on, that there was this disconnect in terms of communication, because no one wanted to take the time out in the general public to even think about 'Wait a minute -- that can't happen.' " But, he adds, "if you've got that anger working for you, you're gonna let it be."

In context, when Cantor says he and his party felt the need to "let it be," he means that Republicans fed a bunch of nonsense to their own voters, then exploited their anger for electoral gain with no intention of following through.

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The J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) building stands in Washington, D.C., Aug. 8, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Trump raises corruption allegations against FBI's McCabe

07/26/17 11:05AM

Donald Trump first expressed his dissatisfaction with acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe last week in an interview with the New York Times. Yesterday, the president went considerably further, publishing a tweet suggesting McCabe is corrupt.

"Problem is that the acting head of the FBI & the person in charge of the Hillary investigation, Andrew McCabe, got $700,000 from H for wife!"

This morning, in a pair of tweets, Trump kept going.

"Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!"

I can appreciate how easy it is to grow inured to the bizarre circumstances we find ourselves in, but when a sitting president accuses the acting director of the FBI of corruption, without credible proof, that's pretty extraordinary.

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US military soldiers march during the Veterans Day Parade in New York on Nov. 11, 2014. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty)

Trump bans transgender Americans from military service

07/26/17 10:14AM

The Obama era was a period of great social progress in the United States military. The Democratic administration ended the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly; the Pentagon made women eligible for combat roles; the Secretary of the Army was an openly gay man; and the administration ended the ban on transgender Americans serving in uniform.

On that last point, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June 2016 that transgender service members are "talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction."

Donald Trump apparently doesn't care.

President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender military service in a series of tweets Wednesday morning.

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming..... victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you," Trump wrote in a trio of tweets Wednesday morning.

There was an odd point in last year's presidential campaign, shortly after the Orlando nightclub massacre, in which Trump insisted that LGBT voters, en masse, should move to the right and vote Republican. Trump, in apparent seriousness, said he, not Hillary Clinton, would be the "better friend" of the "LBGT" [sic] community. Just two days after the Orlando shooting, Trump added, "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you."

Anthony Scaramucci, a Trump advisor and surrogate who now serves as the White House's communications director, declared earlier this year that Trump "is most pro-LGBTQ rights [president] in history. Why's that story not written in mainstream media?"

That was before Trump decided to undermine the rights of transgender kids in public schools, which came before today's tweets banning transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. military.

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Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why it's unwise for Trump to target Alaska's Lisa Murkowski

07/26/17 09:23AM

At a White House event yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump acknowledged that his party had cleared a procedural hurdle as part of its health care crusade. The president's Republican Party, however, was not unified in the endeavor.

"So we had two Republicans that went against us, which is very sad, I think," Trump said. "It's very, very sad -- for them."

This morning, the president kept it going, this time singling out Sen. Lisa Murkowksi (R) of Alaska with an angry tweet:

"Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!"

First, the idea that Murkwoski let down the entire country by standing up for health care benefits is plainly bonkers.

Second, it's not at all clear why Trump is singling out the Alaska Republican for a very public rebuke. Murkowski wasn't the only GOP senator to vote against the procedural measure yesterday afternoon, and she was one of nine GOP senators to break ranks on a "repeal and replace" measure last night.

But even putting that aside, Trump's tweet was strategically unwise if he's serious about reaching his own goals.

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Image: Still image from video shows U.S. Senator McCain speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate after a vote on healthcare reform in Washington

It's not enough for John McCain to say the right things

07/26/17 08:52AM

It was a dramatic moment on Capitol Hill yesterday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, arrived on the Senate floor. Without the veteran lawmaker, Republicans would not have been able to advance their effort to take health care benefits from millions of Americans.

Soon after casting his vote with his party, McCain delivered prepared remarks on his concerns about contemporary politics and what's become of the legislative process, and much of the media, which has long gushed over the Arizona senator, could hardly contain its praise. Here, for example, was CNN's report:

In a Washington moment for the ages, Sen. John McCain claimed the role of an aging lion to try to save the Senate, composing a moving political aria for the chamber and the country that he loves.

With a deep-red scar etched from his eyebrow to his temple, the legacy of brain surgery less than two weeks ago, McCain beseeched his colleagues to forsake political tribalism and restore the chamber to a spirit of compromise that had helped forge national greatness.

Roll Call published a related piece, telling readers, "Years from now, when the history of the modern Congress is written, John McCain's address to the Senate on July 25, 2017, is likely to stand among the defining summations of the era."

I realize that the political media has its favorites, and for a variety of reasons, McCain has long been a media darling. I'm also aware of the unique circumstances: a man who's devoted much of his life to public service, including heroic military service, is facing a serious health crisis. Those who want to celebrate McCain's work feel an added incentive to do so quickly and vigorously.

But the adulation paints an incomplete -- and to a very real extent, misleading -- picture for the public. One can respect McCain's lifetime of sacrifices while still acknowledging the glaring gap between the senator's words and his actions.

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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)

'Repeal and replace' plan's defeat spells trouble for Republicans

07/26/17 08:00AM

Yesterday's developments on the Senate floor offered plenty of drama, and the Republicans' procedural measure to begin the health care debate in earnest succeeded, but that simply opened the door to substantive work on the GOP's goal.

And last night, Republicans suffered an important defeat -- the first of several.

With Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote, Republicans moved forward on health care reform Tuesday as the Senate successfully opening debate on the issue. But just six hours later, Republicans faced their first defeat in that process, failing to pass a measure that they've been working on that would have partially repealed and replaced Obamacare.

At issue was the latest iteration of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) bill -- the Better Care Reconciliation Act (or BCRA) -- which has been in the works for over a month. The measure needed 60 votes, but failed to even get 50: as the roll call shows, the final tally was 43 to 57, with nine Republicans voting with Senate Democrats against the measure.

It wasn't, in other words, particularly close.

The Senate then broke for the night, with plans to vote this afternoon on an even-more-radical "repeal and delay" plan that would gut the Affordable Care Act and figure out what to do about it two years later. That will need 50 votes, and by all accounts, the measure will fall short.

And therein lies the point: for all of yesterday's excitement, Republicans still don't have a realistic plan to achieve their goals. GOP senators climbed to the top of the diving platform, jumped off, and hope to figure out what they're doing before they reach the water.

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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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