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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)

Republicans play a deeply cynical game with children's health care

01/18/18 08:41AM

The basic contours of a bipartisan agreement on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) has been in place for months. Thanks to a favorable report from the Congressional Budget Office, financing was no longer a concern. All Congress had to do was pass the bill and protect millions of kids.

But that hasn't happened. Axios reported last week, "At this point, Congress' best excuse for not passing a bill to fund the Children's Health Insurance Program has nothing to do with CHIP itself. It's about keeping it around for leverage to help pass other, more controversial measures."

In other words, Republicans saw CHIP has a handy bargaining chip to be exploited for political gain -- which is precisely what they decided to do this week.

With time running out before a government shutdown, House GOP leaders added a six-year extension of the Children's Health Insurance Program to their stopgap spending bill, along with a series of tax breaks intended to undermine the Affordable Care Act. The House Republican leadership published this stunning tweet yesterday:

"Children's lives are at stake. It's time for our friends across the aisle to stop playing games with CHIP funding."

It followed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) telling reporters that it's "unconscionable" for Democrats to oppose CHIP funding. Several GOP lawmakers held a press conference accusing congressional Dems of failing to support "American children."

I've been following politics for quite a while. I'm not sure I've ever seen political tactics this cynical.

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Image: US President Donald J. Trump hosts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

In a failure of self-awareness, Trump picks a fight over 'trust'

01/18/18 08:00AM

With a government-shutdown deadline looming, and much of the fight focused on immigration policy, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly assured Democratic lawmakers yesterday that Donald Trump's posture has "evolved" since his 2016 presidential campaign.

The president, Kelly said, made promises that were not "fully informed" at the time. Trump no longer sees a 2,000-mile border wall as necessary, the chief of staff added, and he understands that Mexico won't finance the project.

It was around this time that Trump sat down with Reuters, complained bitterly about a "horrible" bipartisan immigration compromise pending in the Senate, and concluded, "It's the opposite of what I campaigned for." The president added this morning on Twitter that he still expects Mexico to pay for a wall.

Which of these competing visions is the actual White House policy? No one, including congressional Republicans, has any idea. The Washington Post  reported:

While talking about languishing discussions to attach a DACA compromise and border security to the government-funding bill that is due Friday, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] suggested that the White House had failed to even make its demands known.

"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign," McConnell said. "As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels."

Of course, this presumes the president has actual, coherent policy preferences that can help guide bicameral negotiations. And yet, at this point, Trump has made clear he wants lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution; he doesn't care what's in it; except when someone tells him that he does care, at which point he rejects it without explanation, shortly before contradicting his own chief of staff's assurances to lawmakers.

It's against this backdrop that Trump says he has concerns about "trust." From the Reuters report:

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 1.17.18

01/17/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* FBI agents "showed up at Steve Bannon’s Washington home last week intent on serving him with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury investigating possible ties between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, according to a source familiar with the proceedings."

* This won't end well: "The Trump administration on Tuesday cut tens of millions of dollars in money for Palestinian refugees, demanding that the U.N. agency responsible for the programs undertake a 'fundamental re-examination,' the State Department said."

* Trump's EPA: "The Environmental Protection Agency is shifting course under the Trump administration on how it assesses new chemicals for health and environmental hazards, streamlining a safety review process that industry leaders say is too slow and cumbersome."

* This is an unbelievable story: "A former CIA officer who was charged Tuesday with unlawful possession of secrets is suspected of a much worse crime: betraying U.S. informants in China, sources familiar with the case told NBC News."

* That was quite an interview Chris Hayes had last night: "Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) slammed Haiti on Tuesday, saying the country is covered with garbage and that conditions there are 'disgusting.'"

* It wasn't easy, but the Section 702 bill is going to pass: "The Senate narrowly voted Tuesday to advance a bill to extend a powerful government authority to conduct foreign surveillance on U.S. soil, after leading Democrats joined senators opposing the legislation for not providing better protections for Americans."

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., stops to speak with a reporter as he arrives for the Senate Republicans' policy luncheon, May 12, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP)

GOP's Flake: Trump 'uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin'

01/17/18 02:58PM

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has been more outspoken than most in his party when criticizing Donald Trump and the direction of the Republican Party under this president's leadership. As Trump prepares to give out "Fake News Awards," the retiring Arizona senator took the floor again today to condemn the president's attacks on the nation's free press.

"2017 was a year which saw the truth -- objective, empirical, evidence-based truth -- more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine 'alternative facts' into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted.

"'The enemy of the people,' was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

"Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader.

"This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president's party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward -- despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot's enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn't suit him 'fake news,' it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press."

That's very well said. Flake's punch may have been telegraphed -- the senator started sharing excerpts from his remarks days in advance -- but that doesn't detract from its potency. Trump's hostility for the First Amendment has been one of his presidency's most alarming developments, and it's heartening to see a high-profile senator from his own party call him out on it.

And yet, the praise for Flake must come with caveats.

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Image: US House of Representatives passes short-term measure to fund the government

With time running out, the shutdown threat is very real

01/17/18 12:57PM

There's never been a government shutdown when one party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. That may change in two days.

President Donald Trump is confident that Democrats will take the blame if the government shuts down this weekend or Congress fails to find a fix to prevent DACA recipients from being deported. But Republicans on Capitol Hill aren't so sure.

Many of them fear that voters will fault the GOP after looking at Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, his past flirtation with letting federal funding expire and the fact that Republicans are in control of the White House, the Senate and the House.

In theory, one might expect lawmakers to prevent a shutdown by simply approving another stopgap spending measure -- Congress' fourth in as many months -- to keep the government's lights on for a few weeks while work continues on a broader agreement.

In practice, it's not that easy. After Trump created an immigration mess by taking steps to end DACA, Dreamers are facing deadlines that require swift action by Congress. With that in mind, congressional Democrats expect DACA protections to be part of the bill that prevents a shutdown.

Indeed, Dems are so committed to that goal that they struck a bipartisan deal with Senate Republicans that gives the White House much of what it wants -- to my mind, perhaps too much -- in order to clean up the DACA mess that Trump created. Nevertheless, the president who said he'd back any bipartisan agreement, no matter what's in it, has been persuaded by the far-right to reject the deal, making a shutdown more likely.

But this is a machine with a lot of moving parts, and the fight isn't limited to immigration.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.17.18

01/17/18 12:00PM

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

* Republicans suffered another Senate recruiting setback yesterday when former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) announced he will not run in this year's Senate special election.

* While yesterday's state legislative special election in Wisconsin clearly didn't go the GOP's way, Republican candidates fared better in special elections in Iowa and South Carolina, holding onto "red" seats.

* I'm not sure why a Democratic candidate would announce his gubernatorial plans on "Fox and Friends," but that's what former Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) did this morning.

* In related news, Republicans reportedly hoped to persuade Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel, a former football coach, to run for governor. In a tweet this week, Tressel seemed uninterested.

* DNC Chairman Tom Perez conceded to Politico, "I knew it was a turnaround job when I ran, but I undeniably underestimated the depth of the turnaround job. We had to rebuild almost every facet of the organization, and equally importantly, we had to rebuild trust."

* Republicans have struggled to find a top-tier candidate willing to take on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) this year, and the two-term incumbent governor's financial advantage won't make the GOP's job any easier: Cuomo "has now amassed a $30.5 million campaign chest."

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as "A Vision for American Energy Dominance" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Trump's Interior secretary can't seem to stay out of trouble

01/17/18 11:20AM

As 2017 came to a close, the Interior Department published a "comprehensive list of accomplishments" in its first year under Secretary Ryan Zinke's leadership, which according to the cabinet agency, demonstrated "a conservation stewardship legacy" that's "second only to Teddy Roosevelt."

The Huffington Post took a closer look at the list and found that Zinke and his team were taking credit for developments they had little, if anything, to do with.

Yesterday, the Interior secretary faced more bad news, as NBC News reported.

Nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board have resigned, saying the Interior Department has ignored it since President Donald Trump took office a year ago, the board's chairman said Tuesday.

In an interview with Alaska Public Radio, the board's chairman since 2010, Tony Knowles, a former Democratic governor of Alaska, confirmed a report in The Washington Post that he and eight other members of the advisory panel quit on Monday out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hadn't met with them even once.

"The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science" when it comes to "the effect of climate change, protection of the ecosystems, education," Knowles told Alaska Public Radio.

This, of course, comes on the heels of an unrelated controversy in which Zinke agreed to a special, arbitrary exemption for Florida from the administration's coastal-drilling plan -- all while gushing about Gov. Rick Scott (R), the White House's preferred Senate candidate in the Sunshine State this year.

That followed a separate story about Zinke's mistakenly using wildfire preparedness funds to pay for one of the secretary's unrelated helicopter tours. (There’s already an investigation underway into Zinke’s dubious use of public money for his official travel, and this won’t help.)

But as regular readers know, there's no reason to stop there.

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Adult-movie star Stormy Daniels stops at Rooster's Country Bar in Delhi, La. on Friday, July 3, 2009

New details emerge surrounding Trump's Stormy Daniels controversy

01/17/18 10:41AM

It's been nearly a week since the Wall Street Journal first reported that Donald Trump's lawyer "arranged a $130,000 payment to a former adult-film star a month before the 2016 election as part of an agreement that precluded her from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump." The story, which was met with a series of denials that I detailed on Friday, is still producing new details.

The New York Times  reported, for example, that Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was in talks with ABC's "Good Morning America" before the election about sharing her story. CNN reported yesterday, meanwhile, that Fox News had the story, including an on-the-record statement from Clifford's manager, confirming a sexual relationship, "but the story never saw the light of the day."

Slate's Jacob Weisberg, meanwhile, published a detailed account yesterday about his own work on the story, including a series of phone conversations and text exchanges he had with Daniels between August and October of 2016.

Daniels told me she'd gone to Trump's hotel room after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in Nevada in 2006. There they'd begun a sexual relationship, which continued for nearly a year. [...]

In our conversations, Daniels said she was holding back on the juiciest details, such as her ability to describe things about Trump that only someone who had seen him naked would know.... Daniels said she had some corroborating evidence, including the phone numbers of Trump's longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff and his bodyguard Keith Schiller, with whom she said she would arrange rendezvous. While she did not share those numbers with me, I did speak to three of Daniels' friends, all of whom said they knew about the affair at the time, and all of whom confirmed the outlines of her story.

As for why she was willing to share this with Weisberg, Daniels was reportedly concerned that Trump would betray her. The Slate piece added that Trump "had negotiated to buy her silence," but Daniels began having conversations with the media in case the Republican failed to follow through on the alleged financial commitment. The more Trump stalled, the story went, the more Daniels shared. 

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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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