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In this March 23, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama is applauded after signing the Affordable Care Act into law in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP)

'Obamacare' successes undermine Republicans' repeal crusade

07/18/17 10:16AM

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued last week that the Affordable Care Act was "designed to fail," as part of an elaborate Democratic ruse., As Graham sees it, those Democrats knew all along that "Obamacare" would collapse, at which point those rascally Dems would open the door to a single-payer system.

This is obviously ridiculous for all sorts of reasons, but let's focus for now on the most pressing truth: the Affordable Care Act is actually doing pretty well. Vox's Ezra Klein explained this morning that the ACA, despite facing real challenges, is both popular and effective, "and that makes it damn hard to replace."

[In the Republicans' telling, the ACA] is always “imploding,” “failing,” “dying,” “disastrous.” How can a law in such crisis command such healthy public support? The answer is that the law is, for the most part, not in crisis. There are areas of the country where the exchanges have struggled to attract insurers, and there are markets in which premiums have increased rapidly. These problems are real and, if the party in power were interested in improving the law, solvable.

But even without improvements, the reality is that for most people, in most places, the Affordable Care Act is working.

This isn't just true in the broad sense -- the ACA has, for example, pushed the uninsured rate to record lows -- it's also true when we consider the latest details.

NBC News reported last week, for example, that private insurers participating in ACA exchange marketplaces are seeing increased profits, "a sign that the market is stabilizing and that Republican claims of collapse have not come to pass."

The same report added, "The analysis by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation examined first-quarter earnings in 2017 and found insurance companies are paying a lower share of premiums out in medical claims than in any comparable period since the law went into effect. The current mix of enrollees do not appear to be less healthy than in the past, an important factor in whether companies can turn a profit."

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Image: US-POLITICS-TRUMP-ORDER

Trump wonders 'why legislators don't seem to listen to him'

07/18/17 09:24AM

The timing could've been better. Donald Trump hosted a strategy meeting on health care last night with a group of Republican senators -- each of whom already agrees with the White House. Politico reported:

President Trump convened a strategy session over steak and succotash at the White House with senators Monday night, trying to plot an uphill path to repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a GOP alternative.

He made an impassioned pitch on why Republicans needed to do it now – and the political peril they could face if they didn't "repeal and replace" after promising to do it for years. He also vented about Democrats and the legislative process. "He basically said, if we don't do this, we're in trouble," said one person briefed on the meeting. "That we have the Senate, House and White House and we have to do it or we're going to look terrible."

What neither the president nor anyone on his team realized was that during Trump's pitch, Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), were coordinating their announced opposition to their party's plan, effectively killing the plan the president expected to sign.

At a White House event yesterday, Trump boasted, in reference to health care, "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people." Five hours later, it was the president who was caught off guard.

The Politico piece added this sentence, however, that stood out for me: "Trump has privately wondered why legislators don't seem to listen to him, and the blow from Moran and Lee illustrated the limits of the president's capacity to master the art of the Washington deal."

And while the unraveling of the GOP's health care legislation matters a great deal -- this is, after all, a life-or-death issue for much of the country -- it's Trump's failures that will continue to reverberate.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office

Trump grudgingly admits Obama's Iran nuclear deal is working

07/18/17 08:40AM

The New York Times reports that Donald Trump had an hour-long meeting with his top national security advisers last week, including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the White House National Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They all told the president the same thing: he needs to preserve the international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Trump, however, reportedly spent 55 minutes of the 60-minute meeting "telling them he did not want to."

He did it anyway.

President Donald Trump's administration on Monday declared that Iran was complying with its nuclear agreement with world powers, but warned that Tehran was in default of the spirit of the accord and that Washington would look for ways to strengthen it.

It was the second time Trump certified Iranian compliance with the agreement since he took office in January, despite criticizing it during the 2016 campaign as "the worst deal ever."

Circling back to our previous coverage, it's worth emphasizing that there's no reason to believe Donald Trump has any idea what the Iran deal is or what it does, but the president is nevertheless sure he doesn't like it. The Republican has called the deal “terrible” and “horrible.” As a candidate, Trump declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”

Just one month into his candidacy, he said the Iran deal “poses a direct national security threat.” Two weeks later, Trump added that the international agreement “will go down as one of the dumbest [and] most dangerous misjudgments ever entered into in [the] history of our country.” After wrapping up the GOP nomination, he went so far as to say the deal is likely to “lead to nuclear holocaust.”

And yet, here we are.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) bows his head in prayer during an event on Capitol Hill, Feb. 24, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty)

The Republican health care gambit falls apart

07/18/17 08:00AM

Just 24 hours ago, Republicans were cautiously optimistic about their health care gambit. Two GOP senators -- Maine's Susan Collins and Kentucky's Rand Paul -- had announced their opposition to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's latest proposal, but other Republican skeptics were still holding their fire, leading some in the party to believe the bill still had a chance.

That didn't last. About 12 hours ago, two more GOP senators -- Kansas' Jerry Moran and Utah's Mike Lee -- said they'd vote against their party's legislation, bringing the total number of "no" votes to 52. Soon after, McConnell pulled the plug.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Monday night that he lacked the votes to pass the Senate health care bill after two more Republican senators came out against it, leaving the party short of a majority.

Instead, he said the Senate would vote on a full repeal of Obamacare, with two years before the repeal goes into effect to allow time to create a new system. The new plan may appear to fulfill a seven-year GOP promise, but it faces extremely difficult odds after many moderate Republican senators have already come out against repeal without an immediate replacement.

This is a story with a lot of moving parts, so let's unpack the developments with some Q&A.

So, the Republican crusade is dead?

Sort of. The legislation Mitch McConnell unveiled last week clearly doesn't have the votes to pass and GOP leaders don't believe they're in a position to twist a few arms and change a few minds. That legislation, at least for now, is dead.

Now what?

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.17.17

07/17/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* At the start of "Made in America" week, this was an odd announcement: "The Trump administration acted Monday to allow 15,000 more visas for temporary seasonal workers this year."

* Something to look forward to: "President Donald Trump must release certain records of visitors to his Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida by early September, a federal judge ruled late Friday in a suit filed by a prominent government watchdog group."

* Asset forfeiture: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said he'd be issuing a new directive this week aimed at increasing police seizures of cash and property."

* Middle East: "The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials."

* Trump's former campaign chairman remains in the news: "Paul J. Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, recently filed financial reports with the Justice Department showing that his lobbying firm earned nearly $17 million for two years of work for a Ukrainian political party with links to the Kremlin. Curiously, that was more than the party itself reported spending in the same period for its entire operation -- the national political organization's expenses, salaries, printing outlays and other incidentals."

* This guy isn't getting any better: "In his latest repugnant remarks about sexual assault, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly quipped that he might congratulate rapists for 'having the balls' to commit a crime that's potentially punishable by execution."

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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.

Spicer sticks to discredited 'adoption' story on Russia meeting

07/17/17 04:36PM

During his confirmation hearing last week on Capitol Hill, Christopher Wray, Donald Trump's choice to lead the FBI, said if any campaign is contacted by a foreign government, it'd "wise" to contact federal law enforcement officials.

"[A]ny threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any nonstate actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know," Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And yet, just this morning, the president took a very different posture. Donald Trump declared via Twitter that when top members of his campaign's inner circle met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer to obtain information about his opponent, it was a meeting "most politicians" would have gone along with. "That's politics!" Trump declared.

So, which is it? Is Chris Wray right that campaigns should contact the FBI, or is the president right that campaigns should just see outreach from foreign adversaries as routine politics? A reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about the contradiction today.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday appeared to be confused about Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, claiming it was about adoptions — contradicting both Donald Trump Jr. and the president, who have both confirmed the true reason for the meeting.

During an off-camera briefing with reporters, Spicer claimed that "the president has made it clear through his tweet, and there was nothing as far as we know that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for a discussion about adoption," referring to the original reason Trump Jr. gave for meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Really, "nothing"? Because we've all seen the email chain from Donald Trump Jr. -- the subject line quite literally read, "Russia - Clinton - private and confidential " -- which made it clear that this discussion wasn't about adoption policy. It was, as the publicly available documents have made perfectly clear, a meeting intended to allow the Russian government to provide information to the Trump campaign, which Moscow wanted to help.

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Image: Donald Trump, Andrzej Duda

On infamous Russia meeting, Trump's story keeps evolving

07/17/17 12:35PM

In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had a private meeting with, among others, a Kremlin-liked Russian attorney and a former Soviet counterintelligence officer. The controversy surrounding the meeting has taken the president's Russia scandal to a new level, and Donald Trump Sr. has done his best to downplay the significance of the campaign discussion.

This morning, for example, the president argued via Twitter:

"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!"

At a certain level, this is a continuation of the argument the president started pushing last week, insisting that opposition research is a routine part of any national political campaign, so there's no need to make a fuss about the June 2016 meeting. If you have an opportunity to quietly obtain damaging information about your opponent, the argument goes, you take advantage of it.

According to actual "oppo" professionals, this argument is completely wrong, at least in the context of the Russia scandal. It's one thing for campaign officials to pursue a possible lead; it's something else entirely to meet with representatives of a foreign adversary that's launched an espionage operation against the United States.

What's more, the "anyone would have done the same thing" line is belied by recent history: in 2000, someone leaked the Bush campaign's debate-prep materials to the Gore campaign. Gore's aides promptly called the FBI -- which is what Trump's inner circle should've done, but didn't.

But what stands out as especially notable about Trump's latest pitch is the degree to which it contradicts the old pitches.

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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.17.17

07/17/17 12:00PM

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

* Please stop doing this: "Nearly 3,400 Coloradans canceled their voter registrations in the wake of the Trump administration's request for voter info, the Secretary of State's Office confirmed Thursday, providing the first statewide glimpse at the extent of the withdrawals."

* In Iowa, where Donald Trump won with relative ease in 2016, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows the president's approval rating dropping to 43%, while 52% disapprove. (Random tidbit: Trump won Iowa by a larger margin than he won Texas. His deteriorating support in the Hawkeye State was not entirely predictable.)

* White House officials let Politico know that they've "met with at least three actual or prospective primary challengers" who may take on Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) ahead of his re-election campaign next year. Trump, you'll recall, has disliked the Arizona senator for quite a while.

* Now that Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, has served his time in a federal penitentiary, he's weighing a U.S. Senate campaign in West Virginia. Whether Blankenship would run as a Republican or an independent is unclear.

* Ahead of his re-election bid next year, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has reportedly been replacing longtime allies with members of a far-right think tank called the Illinois Policy Institute. The shake-up led the governor's chief campaign strategist, Mike Zolnierowicz, to quit on Friday.

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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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