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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Trump agrees to let his health care hostage go (for now)

04/27/17 08:40AM

Exactly two weeks ago, Donald Trump publicly acknowledged a not-so-subtle hostage strategy he thought, at the time, would be a good idea. The Republican president said he was prepared to destroy American health care markets by withholding cost-sharing subsidies -- unless congressional Democrats took steps to make him happy.

Trump said on Twitter that he didn't "want people to get hurt," before suggesting he'd start hurting people.

Yesterday, the White House decided to let the hostage go -- at least for now.
White House officials notified lawmakers earlier in the day that President Trump abandoned a threat to end subsidy payments under the Affordable Care Act, a concession to Democrats that is expected to clear the way for a bipartisan budget agreement. Trump had threatened to cut off the subsidies in an attempt to force Democrats to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, a fight that became less serious after Republicans withdrew their border wall request this week.

"It is good that once again the president seems to be backing off his threat to hold health care and government funding hostage," Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "Like the withdrawal of money for the wall, this decision brings us closer to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government and is good news for the American people."
A White House official told Reuters, "While we agreed to go ahead and make the ... payments for now, we haven't made a final decision about future commitments."

It's apparently Team Trump's way of effectively saying, "Remember, we can re-take this hostage again at some point."

White House posturing notwithstanding, it's a major development. Now that the administration is going to make the ACA payments, the threat of a government shutdown is effectively over and private insurers can move forward with some sense of security about the stability of the markets.
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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept.22, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Republican health plan at the end of a trail of broken promises

04/27/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump was never specific about the substantive details of his health care plan, but he wasn't shy about telling Americans exactly what his policy would do and what the system would look like once it was in place.

"We're going to have insurance for everybody," he vowed. The Republican added that once the Affordable Care Act is replaced with his plan, we'd see lower premiums, "much lower" deductibles, and a system in which all Americans are "beautifully covered."

This wasn't just campaign palaver, ad-libbed during a rally, from a candidate pleading for support from unsuspecting voters. Rather, these were commitments Trump made after he'd won the presidential election.

The president then proceeded to break his word without explanation, throwing his support behind congressional Republicans' American Health Care Act, which would take coverage from tens of millions of people, raise premiums, and raise deductibles. How does Trump explain his failure to follow through on his commitments? So far, he hasn't even tried to justify the shift.

But on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the congressional Republicans find themselves in the exact same position. When House GOP leaders unveiled their health plan last month, they also created a website to answer the public's questions. As of this morning, it still says the Republican proposal "prohibits health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions," which is the opposite of what the latest iteration of their legislation does. The Q&A portion adds:
Are you repealing patient protections, including for people with pre-existing conditions?

No. Americans should never be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition. [...]

Won't millions of Americans lose their health insurance because of your plan?

No. We are working to give all Americans peace of mind about their health care.
This is the exact opposite of the truth. Under the latest version of the Republican plan, protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions would be gutted, and tens of millions of people would lose their health coverage.

This isn't even a point of contention anymore: what House GOP leaders promised and what they're offering are plainly at odds. These Republicans made commitments -- in writing -- that they're now choosing not to keep.
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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.26.17

04/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* An important hire: "The flagging U.S. probes into the Trump administration's ties to the Kremlin are about to get an injection of fresh blood. Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have tapped April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, to join the committee's investigation of Russia's intervention in the U.S. election."

* Don't assume that the House Freedom Caucus' support for new-and-not-improved Republican health care plan means it will pass. Some GOP lawmakers who were inclined to support their party's bill last month suddenly aren't so sure.

* Remember, Trump congratulated Erdogan on the demise of democracy in Turkey: "Turkey on Wednesday detained more than 1,000 people with suspected links to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and later temporarily suspended some 9,000 personnel from its police force in one of the largest operations in recent months against the movement that is blamed for last summer's failed military coup."

* The truth apparently needed a little touch-up: "President Donald Trump told aides to toughen a State Department letter last week that declared Iran in compliance with a landmark nuclear deal, senior U.S. officials involved in a policy review said."

* A stunning story out of Wisconsin: "Milwaukee County Jail staff cut off an inmate's access to water for seven days straight before he died of dehydration, and the man was too mentally unstable to ask for help as he slowly died, prosecutors said Monday at the beginning of an inquest."

* DOJ: "Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the second-ranking official at the Justice Department on Tuesday, giving him the reins of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after Attorney General Jeff Sessions' recusal last month."

Criminal justice: "Justice Sonia Sotomayor says the Supreme Court is letting police off the hook too easily. In a surprising dissent backed only by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sotomayor wrote in detail about one of the biases in the legal system that may let cops get away with excessive use of force -- by slanting the system in favor of the police officer."
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Image: White House news conference with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn

Donald Trump's proposed tax cuts are a joke, not a 'plan'

04/26/17 04:38PM

There's plenty of coverage this afternoon about Donald Trump's new tax "plan," but I'd caution against using that word. The White House has unveiled a document, and plenty of colorful words come to mind when describing that document, but it's awfully generous to describe the piece of paper as a "plan."
[Treasury Secretary Steve] Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn laid out a "broad brush overview" of the plan to reporters, cautioning that they are still negotiating many of the details with members of Congress. [...]

The broad outline of the plan resembles many of the promises Trump made as a candidate.
That's true, although in a bizarre turn of events, the tax-related promises Trump made as a candidate were arguably more substantive than the document the White House presented today. The Trump campaign produced a three-and-a-half-page document before Election Day, offering vague and unhelpful information about what the Republican would do on this issue if elected, but today's "plan" is even thinner.

In fact, the document the White House released to reporters today is literally one sheet of paper, with roughly 500 words of text, printed on one side. For comparison purposes, note that the blog post you're reading right now is longer than the president's approach to tax policy.

No, seriously. The officials responsible for running the executive branch of a global superpower have had plenty of time to craft a half-way credible proposal, and they instead presented some bullet points that read like a wish-list from a president who can't be bothered to think about policy details.
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Image: Paul Ryan

Republicans move forward on far-right health care overhaul

04/26/17 12:55PM

After the Republicans' American Health Care Act died last month, unable to garner enough support from within the GOP, there have been frequent reports about efforts to breathe new life into the far-right plan. By and large, the scuttlebutt was easy to overlook.

The latest developments, however, seem different and deserve to be taken seriously.

There's new legislative language that amends the original Republican proposal, and the House Freedom Caucus is now on board with this new version -- after having opposed their party's bill in March. Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which also balked at the AHCA during the fight last month, have said the new changes are sufficiently right-wing to earn the organizations' support.

All of which leads us to two broad areas of interest: how bad is this bill and can it pass.

On the former, the core of the original legislation -- taking coverage from tens of millions of Americans, slashing Medicaid, cutting taxes for the wealthy, directing subsidies away from those who need them most -- remains intact. What's new is an amendment, negotiated in part by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), which moves the bill even further to the right. Vox's report noted that the changes "would likely cause even more Americans to lose coverage than the last version."
In particular, this amendment would allow some states to charge higher premiums to Americans with pre-existing conditions. States would also have the choice to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's essential health benefits requirement, as well as the possibility of charging older Americans significantly higher premiums. [...]

But this amendment doesn't do much at all to assuage concerns about the older proposals. While it meets many of the demands of the party's far-right wing -- namely, the deregulation of the individual insurance market -- it does nothing to address concerns about massive coverage loss. Instead, it likely makes those problems worse.
Vox also reported on language in the amendment that would exempt members of Congress from changes Republicans intend to impose on the public at large. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, initially denied such language was in the bill, though by late this morning, he said he's confident the exemption will be removed from the bill.

So, the new Republican plan is pretty much a disaster for everyone other than those who are healthy and wealthy. Will House Republicans actually pass this thing?
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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.26.17

04/26/17 12:00PM

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

* The House Republican leadership's super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, is reportedly "set to spend another $3.5 million" in Georgia's congressional special election. Karen Handel (R) will face off against Jon Ossoff (D) in a runoff schedule for June 20.

* Speaking of special elections, there's a lower-profile race in California's 34th district -- two Democrats are facing off in a race to replace Xavier Becerra -- and yesterday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi threw her support behind Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, who's widely seen as the favorite.

* Also in California yesterday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R) picked up his first challenger, with Andrew Janz (D), a young violent-crimes prosecutor, kicking off his first-ever campaign for elected office.

* Despite rumored pressure from GOP officials, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) said yesterday he won't run for state attorney general in his home state of New York next year.

* Though Colorado's gubernatorial race is still coming together, on the Republican side, there's a very real possibility that Mitt Romney's nephew and George W. Bush's cousin may vie for the GOP nomination.
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Image: President Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Price and Vice President Pence, in Washington

Team Trump puts on a clinic on how not to negotiate

04/26/17 11:20AM

In just two days, funding for the federal government will expire, at which point we'd see the first-ever shutdown in which one party controls Congress and the White House.

As things stand, however, this outcome appears highly unlikely. Congressional leaders unveiled a spending measure late yesterday that ignored Donald Trump's demands for taxpayer money for a border wall, and as TPM noted, the White House is now prepared to accept it.
Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday night said that President Donald Trump was willing to sign a temporary funding measure that did not include money to build a border wall.

During an interview on CNN, host Jake Tapper noted to Mulvaney that Republicans have proposed a funding measure without money for the wall and asked if Trump would be willing to sign that. Mulvaney replied that he was.
Remember, just five days ago, Mulvaney was saying the opposite. Speaking on behalf of Trump's White House, the far-right budget director insisted that "elections have consequences" and "we want wall funding" as part of the spending bill.

Democrats said no and Team Trump surrendered.

And while that's good news for those who hoped to see the government's lights stay on, let's not brush past the fact that we've learned something important about the president: Donald J. Trump is extraordinarily bad at negotiations.
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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Trump has 99 problems, but Democratic obstruction isn't one of them

04/26/17 10:47AM

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" the other day and complained bitterly about congressional Democrats standing in the way of Donald Trump's qualified nominees for administrative posts.

"We're behind," Priebus said about filling key executive-branch posts, "but because of historical unbelievable obstruction from U.S. senators that are acting inappropriately."

That's certainly how Donald Trump sees this dynamic. After initially saying he was leaving many key offices empty on purpose, Trump recently reversed course, saying he wants those posts filled but can't because of "obstructionists."

Reality tells a different story. The Senate, which is responsible for confirming nominees, is run by Trump's Republican Party, and under existing rules, Democrats can't use filibusters to block any executive-branch nominee.

So if Dems aren't to blame, who is? The Washington Post makes clear that Team Trump should be looking in the mirror.
President Trump's Cabinet secretaries are growing exasperated at how slowly the White House is moving to fill hundreds of top-tier posts, warning that the vacancies are hobbling efforts to oversee agency operations and promote the president's agenda, according to administration officials, lawmakers and lobbyists.

The Senate has confirmed 26 of Trump's picks for his Cabinet and other top posts. But for 530 other vacant senior-level jobs requiring Senate confirmation, the president has advanced just 37 nominees, according to data tracked by The Washington Post and the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service's Center for Presidential Transition. These posts include the deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, chief financial officers, ambassadors, general counsels, and heads of smaller agencies who run the government day-to-day.
The Post's piece added that prospective nominees are often slowed because they "must win approval from competing camps inside the White House," and president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, sometimes has a say "when a hiring decision piques her interest."
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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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