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Thursday's Mini-Report, 6.1.17

06/01/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Manila: "A casino and hotel complex outside the Philippine capital, Manila, was placed on lockdown early Friday after shots were fired and casino tables were set afire in an apparent robbery, police said. The Philippine Red Cross said it had transported three people to hospitals."

* What an interesting concession: "Shifting from his previous blanket denials, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Thursday that 'patriotically minded' private Russian hackers could have been involved in cyberattacks last year to help the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump."

* Set your calendars: "Former FBI director James B. Comey is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next Thursday at 10 a.m., the committee announced Thursday."

* We have so far to go: "Visitors were removed from a section of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, on Wednesday after a noose was found on the floor of one of the rooms, Smithsonian officials said. It's the second time this week a noose has been discovered on the grounds of a Smithsonian museum."

* A case worth watching: "In one of the highest-profile cases to date against makers of prescription painkillers, Ohio filed suit against five drug companies, alleging they fueled the opioid addiction crisis by misrepresenting the addictive risks of their painkillers."

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Trump abandons U.S. commitment to Paris climate agreement

06/01/17 04:34PM

Just two years ago, representatives of 195 countries from around the world came together in Paris to reach a historic international agreement to combat the climate crisis. The only two countries on the planet to reject the accord were Syria and Nicaragua.

Today, they got a little company.

The United States will pull out of a landmark global coalition meant to curb emissions that cause climate change, President Donald Trump announced Thursday. [...]

He added that the U.S. will begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord or a new treaty on terms that are better for American businesses and tax payers.

This is, of course, patently absurd: 197 countries are not about to begin new negotiations on a new agreement to make Trump and other Republican climate deniers happy.

About a month ago, with the possibility of the United States abandoning its commitment under the agreement looming, Paul Bledsoe, who served as a White House climate adviser under Bill Clinton and is now a lecturer at American University's Center for Environmental Policy, said something interesting to the Washington Post.

"The Trump team seems oblivious to the fact that climate protection is now viewed by leading allies and nations around the world as a key measure of moral and diplomatic standing," Bledsoe said. "The U.S. would be risking pariah status on the international stage by withdrawing from Paris."

I think Trump World understands this. I also think they don't care.

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Image: President Donald Trump waves before delivering keynote address

Trump poised to take contraception fight in a dramatic new direction

06/01/17 12:51PM

The Affordable Care Act's approach to contraception shouldn't be especially controversial. Under "Obamacare," contraception is covered as standard preventive care that insurers are required to provide. Houses of worship are exempt, and thanks to the Supreme Court's 5-4 Hobby Lobby ruling, that exemption is quite broad.

But according to Donald Trump's administration, it's apparently not quite broad enough. Vox reported this week:

The Trump administration is apparently preparing to overhaul Obamacare's birth control mandate, purportedly allowing any employer to seek a moral or religious exemption from the requirement, according to a draft regulation obtained by Vox.

The Affordable Care Act requires nearly all employers to offer health insurance that covers access to a wide array of contraceptive methods. The draft proposal, if finalized, would significantly broaden the type of companies and organizations that can request an exemption. This could lead to many American women who currently receive no-cost contraception having to pay out of pocket for their medication.

According to the policy, as drafted, literally any American employer could claim a moral or religious objection to birth control and overrule the ACA's contraception guarantee.

All of this would be the result of administrative, not legislative, policymaking. When drafting the Affordable Care Act, Congress did not specify what would constitute women's preventive care benefits; it was up to Obama administration officials to come up with the list, which ended up including contraception, domestic-abuse screenings, breastfeeding equipment, etc.

With this in mind, changes are now in the Trump administration's hands -- with no new legislation necessary.

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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 6.1.17

06/01/17 12:00PM

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

* In Georgia's congressional special election, where early voting is underway, nearly 8,000 voters have been added to the district's voting rolls. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "The total includes two types of voter: the newly registered, plus so-called 'transfer' applications -- already registered Georgia voters who moved into the district after March 20, when the registration period originally closed."

* On a related note, the NRCC has launched a new attack ad against Jon Ossoff (D) in Georgia, blasting him for supporting the popular and successful Iran nuclear deal.

* In Alabama, appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R), running in a special election to keep his seat, launched a new ad this week that tells voters he has "the guts to take our conservative fight to Obama." The last time I checked, Barack Obama left office in January, the month before Strange reached Capitol Hill.

* On a related note, Strange, facing several Republican primary challengers, has picked up the NRA's endorsement.

* More than 200 days after last fall's presidential election, Donald Trump went after his former rival once again on Twitter last night, whining about "Crooked Hillary Clinton," whom he insisted was "a terrible candidate." It's been nearly two months since Trump declared, "The election is over!"

* Last year, Trump became the first Republican to carry Michigan since the '80s, but an EPIC-MRA poll released this week showed Trump's favorability rating in the state dropping to just 37%.

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U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., speaks at the Freedom Summit, Saturday, May 9, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/AP)

Trump's budget director takes aim at inconvenient, independent data

06/01/17 11:23AM

Over the weekend, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted via Twitter some of the Congressional Budget Office's findings about the Republican health care plan: millions would lose coverage, severe consequences for Americans with pre-existing conditions, and crushing premium spikes for the elderly. Schiff's tweet was an accurate reflection of what the CBO's independent analysis said.

And yet, there was Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), responding to Schiff's message with a two-word reply: "Fake news."

National Journal's Ron Brownstein, one of the most measured of all Beltway media voices, noted that it's "embarrassing for a Senate leader to describe" the Congressional Budget Office in those terms, which is more than fair. The intellectual laziness of Cornyn's response was amazing, even by 2017 standards. That Cornyn is a member of the Senate Republicans' health care "working group" -- writing the Senate GOP's legislation in secret -- only added insult to injury.

But the Texas Republican's flippant rejection of an independent analysis underscored a broader problem. The New Republic's Brian Beutler, after noting Cornyn's knee-jerk rejection of CBO data, explained this week, "In attempting to swindle Trumpcare into law, Republicans have relied on more than just false pretenses. They have sought to corrupt and discredit arms of government that were established to fight false pretenses with truth."

Cornyn is hardly alone. The Washington Examiner had this report yesterday:

White House Office of Management Director Mick Mulvaney on Wednesday opened fire on the Congressional Budget Office.... Mulvaney, speaking in his office in the Old Executive Office Building, described the CBO's scoring of the House Republican healthcare bill as "absurd," arguing that it was a perfect example of why Congress should stop being so deferential to the group.

"At some point, you've got to ask yourself, has the day of the CBO come and gone?" Mulvaney said.... He said, "The days of relying on some nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to do that work for us has probably come and gone."

That's not a throwaway line. What we have here is the White House's budget director suggesting it may be time to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office from existence.

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Image: US President Donald Trump (L) and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after delivering press statements

On Israeli embassy, Trump adds to his list of broken promises

06/01/17 10:50AM

A week before his presidential inauguration, Donald Trump sat down with the Times of London, which asked, "Is it true you're going to move the American embassy [in Israel] from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?" The Republican responded, "Well, I don't want to comment on that ... but we'll see what happens."

Yes, evidently, we will.

President Trump signed an order keeping the American Embassy in Tel Aviv rather than move it to Jerusalem as he promised during last year's campaign, aides said Thursday, disappointing many Israel supporters in hopes of preserving his chances of negotiating a peace settlement.

Mr. Trump made no mention of his pending decision during a visit to Jerusalem just last week and waited to announce it until almost the last minute he could under law, underscoring the deep political sensitivity of the matter. The order he will sign waives for six months a congressional edict requiring the embassy be located in Jerusalem, after which he will have to consider the matter again.

As regular readers may recall, in 1995, Congress passed a law that would move the United States' Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, but the legislation came with a catch: U.S. presidents could delay the move for security reasons.

And that's precisely what every president has done since. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each signed waivers, keeping the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. There's no great mystery as to why: because of Jerusalem's unique significance -- politically, historically, religiously -- putting the U.S. embassy in the city would signal that the United States sees Jerusalem as Israel's official capital. That would touch off a series of repercussions that would risk destabilizing the region.

None of this is new for those familiar with the basics of the debate, but Donald Trump nevertheless publicly vowed last year that he would do what other recent presidents would not do. Vote for him, Trump said, and he'd move that embassy.

Those who trusted him to follow through on that commitment have learned a valuable lesson.

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People receive free groceries at a food pantry run by the Food Bank For New York City, Dec. 11, 2013. (Photo by John Moore/Getty)

Do Americans have a right to eat? Republican rep won't say

06/01/17 10:20AM

When we hear condemnations of North Korea's dictatorship, we routinely consider the country's heartbreaking treatment of its own people, including allowing North Koreans to starve while its regime devotes resources to its weapons programs.

There's an underlying assumption behind the condemnations: people should have food and responsible governments should take steps to ensure that their population can eat.

There's some question, however, about the degree to which U.S. officials fully embrace this principle. Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), a prominent voice in Congress on agriculture policy, spoke to NPR's Scott Simon about Donald Trump's plans to slash investments in food stamps. It led to an interesting exchange:

SIMON: Well, let me ask you this bluntly - is every American entitled to eat?

SMITH: Well, they - nutrition, obviously, we know is very important. And I would hope that we can look to...

SIMON: Well, not just important, it's essential for life. Is every American entitled to eat?

The Nebraska Republican wouldn't answer directly, saying only that it's "essential" that Americans get nutrition -- which is true as a matter of biology, but not an answer to the question.

Which is unsatisfying for a reason. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank noted the fact today that in the United States in 2017, "a powerful member of Congress refuses to grant that Americans should be able to count on eating food."

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A pedestrian uses a smartphone as he walks along Market Street on June 5, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

Republicans take a stand in support of 'ringless voicemail'

06/01/17 09:20AM

There are already some regulations in place intended to help protect consumers from an onslaught of unwanted phone calls. Those safeguards are routinely inadequate, to the consternation of many households, but they exist.

Those policies, however, refer specifically to calls. What about relatively new technology that empowers those same entities eager to reach you -- telemarketers, donation solicitors, et al -- by leaving you a voicemail message without your phone ever ringing?

The Boston Globe reported the other day on the emergence of "ringless voicemail."

Because the technology is relatively new to the market, there has not yet been a specific ruling about whether it is considered acceptable under the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act], leaving the companies that sell and use the services in legal limbo. All About the Message, a ringless voicemail company, has asked the FCC to declare that the existing regulations do not apply to the service.

Consumer advocacy groups, legal aid organizations, and many private citizens argue that these messages constitute the same kind of unwanted intrusion as traditional spam calls and could fill mailboxes, blocking people from receiving messages they actually want to receive.... Ringless voicemail providers, business groups, student loan servicers, and political groups maintain that the messages should be permitted because technically they are not "calls" and incur no charge for the recipient.

What does this have to do with politics? Quite a bit, actually. Slate noted that the Republican National Committee is among the larger entities pushing the FCC to allow companies to send voicemails directly into phone. To block such messages, the RNC has argued, may interfere with political organizations' right to free speech.

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Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a rally with Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at Riverfront Sports athletic facility on Aug. 15, 2016 in Scranton, Pa. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty)

A tale of two Vice Presidents: Biden, Pence start making moves

06/01/17 08:40AM

Former Vice President Joe Biden is currently out of public office for the first time since 1972, but he's keeping awfully busy for a guy in retirement. Biden frequently makes public appearances; he's increasingly involved with ongoing elections; he's making stops in early primary states; and as the New York Times reported yesterday, the Delaware Democrat is now forming a new political action committee.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is planning to create a political action committee, the most concrete sign yet that he intends to remain active in the Democratic Party and is considering a presidential bid in 2020.

The PAC, which Mr. Biden intends to unveil on Thursday, will offer the former vice president a platform he can use to nurture relationships with donors, travel on behalf of the party and contribute to candidates in the two governor's races in November and in next year's midterm elections.

He has tapped a former aide in his vice-presidential office and a veteran of President Barack Obama's White House campaigns, Greg Schultz, to help lead it.

The name of the PAC will be "American Possibilities."

For the record, I'm skeptical that Biden, who's already run two unsuccessful presidential campaigns, will throw his hat in the 2020 ring. He is, after all, 74, which means by the next Inauguration Day, Biden will be 78 -- which means he'd be nearly a decade older than the oldest American president ever elected (who happens to be Donald Trump). There's also the fact that the former VP told reporters, just last month, "Guys, I'm not running."

So why form a PAC? Perhaps for the most traditional of reasons: because he has a donor base and wants to help elect like-minded candidates.

What strikes me as every bit as interesting, if not more so, is what Biden's successor is up to.

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Tim Walberg

Republican congressman: God can 'take care of' the climate crisis

06/01/17 08:01AM

Donald Trump will announce later today whether the United States will honor the international climate agreement reached in Paris two years ago, but in the meantime, his party's rhetoric on global warming offers little reason for hope.

The HuffPost reported yesterday on Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), a former church pastor, who told constituents the other day that he doesn't accept the scientific evidence, and even if the evidence turns out to be real, he's content to let supernatural forces address the problem.

"I believe there's climate change," Walberg said, according to a video of the exchange obtained by HuffPost. "I believe there's been climate change since the beginning of time. I believe there are cycles. Do I think man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No."

"Why do I believe that?" he went on. "Well, as a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us. And I'm confident that, if there's a real problem, he can take care of it."

Much of this is tiresome palaver. The "there's been climate change since the beginning of time" talking point, for example, is a favorite of climate deniers. Also note that the Michigan Republican is equating reducing carbon emissions with humans "changing the entire universe."

But it's Walberg's expectation of divine intervention that's especially problematic.

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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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