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Friday's Mini-Report, 1.6.17

01/06/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The latest mass shooting: "A lone shooter opened fire Friday afternoon at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, killing five people and wounding eight others before he was taken into custody, the Broward County sheriff said."

* Certifying the vote: "Congress made the election of Donald Trump official Friday, certifying the votes of the Electoral College in a formal joint session of Congress. Some Democratic House members attempted to object to some states Electoral College votes to protest the election results. But their objections went nowhere because they were unable to gain the support of a senator, per the rules."

* It's going to get worse: "An iceberg the size of Delaware is poised to break away from Antarctica, an event which may lead to the collapse of a massive ice shelf on the continent, according to researchers."

* Speaking of environmental news: "For the second time in less than a month, the Obama administration on Friday took an action that all but shuts the door on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, denying six permits to companies seeking to use seismic cannons to search for oil under the ocean floor."

* With different election results, we could do this, too: "China intends to spend more than $360 billion through 2020 on renewable power sources like solar and wind, the government's energy agency said on Thursday."

* President Obama returns to the pages of the New England Journal of Medicine with a new piece: "Repealing the ACA without a Replacement -- The Risks to American Health Care."

* A story that helps capture congressional dysfunction: "The 114th Congress ended this week, and with it went the confirmation chances of more than 80 qualified men and women nominated to government positions at all levels. On this Going Nowhere List are Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland and many others whose names had been put forward for less-exalted positions. I was one of them."
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump gets the Russian intel briefing he's been waiting for

01/06/17 04:55PM

Earlier this week, Donald Trump tweeted, "The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!" Just about every assertion in the message was wrong.

There's no need to put information from U.S. intelligence agencies in scare quotes; the briefing wasn't delayed because it had always been scheduled for Friday; intelligence professionals didn't need more time to build a case; and the only thing that's "very strange" is the president-elect publicly taunting the intelligence officials who'll soon work for him.

Nevertheless, today is Friday, and Trump was willing to actually participate in today's briefing. Soon after, his transition office released a statement that was clearly written by someone other than the president-elect.
"I had a constructive meeting and conversation with the leaders of the Intelligence Community this afternoon. I have tremendous respect for the work and service done by the men and women of this community to our great nation.

"While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines. There were attempts to hack the Republican National Committee, but the RNC had strong hacking defenses and the hackers were unsuccessful.

"Whether it is our government, organizations, associations or businesses we need to aggressively combat and stop cyberattacks. I will appoint a team to give me a plan within 90 days of taking office. The methods, tools and tactics we use to keep America safe should not be a public discussion that will benefit those who seek to do us harm. Two weeks from today I will take the oath of office and America's safety and security will be my number one priority."
This is, by the way, the statement in its entirety, not an excerpt.

Note, this nearly 200-word statement says very little of substance. Trump has insisted for months that he believes Vladimir Putin's denials and the president-elect refuses to consider the possibility that the evidence against Russia is correct. Nothing in today's statement suggests he's changed his mind.

Indeed, Trump's statement doesn't even acknowledge the intelligence agencies' findings. In other words, intelligence professionals told the president-elect today that Russia was responsible, but Trump doesn't want to mention this core truth.
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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)

The Republican 'Obamacare' crusade is off to a very shaky start

01/06/17 04:04PM

Since Election Day, Republicans have coalesced around a health care idea called "repeal and delay." Roughly speaking, the strategy involves GOP lawmakers using their majority status to quickly pass legislation that repeals the Affordable Care Act, while also leaving the law -- or at least most of it -- intact for years while Republicans work on their alternative.

The original GOP idea, of course, was "repeal and replace," but that fell out of favor when it dawned on Republicans that replacing an effective reform system is extremely difficult, and they had no idea how to achieve their goals.

But as the new Congress gets underway, even "repeal and delay" is running into trouble. Bloomberg Politics reported today:
A fourth Republican senator has voiced strong doubts about the party's current strategy to repeal Obamacare without detailing a replacement, more than enough to scuttle efforts to deliver swiftly on a central promise from President-elect Donald Trump.

Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Friday morning that he wanted a different approach.

"Repeal and replacement should take place simultaneously," he said.
I suspect for most people, this sounds like common sense. If you're a public official opposed to one policy, and you'd prefer a different approach, you try to replace one with the other.

Most Republican leaders, however, reject that model -- because they have political goals in mind, not policy goals. GOP officials want to pass an "Obamacare" repeal bill so that they can say, "Hey look, we repealed 'Obamacare.'" They do not, however, want to deal with the sweeping, potentially life-or-death consequences of such an approach, so Republicans insist on pushing legislation that looks like repeal, while buying the party some time to come up with an ACA alternative -- which they've been working on since June 2009.

Bob Corker said this morning that this approach doesn't work for him, and in a development that should matter a great deal to his party's leadership, he's not the only one.
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President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Orlando Amphitheater at the Central Florida Fairgrounds, Dec. 16, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Photo by Evan Vucci/AP)

Trump discovers he doesn't like leaks after all

01/06/17 02:57PM

NBC News reported last night that a senior U.S. intelligence official confirmed an important detail: intelligence professionals "picked up senior Russian officials celebrating Donald Trump's win." The official added, "Highly classified intercepts illustrate Russian government planning and direction of a multifaceted campaign by Moscow to undermine the integrity of the American political system."

The president-elect, who's spent months denying the U.S. intelligence community's findings, initially complained via Twitter, "How did NBC get 'an exclusive look into the top secret report he (Obama) was presented?' Who gave them this report and why? Politics!"

This morning, Trump went even further:
"I am asking the chairs of the House and Senate committees to investigate top secret intelligence shared with NBC prior to me seeing it."
It's a curious posture. Trump doesn't want Congress to investigate a foreign adversary subverting American democracy on his behalf, but he does want Congress to investigate a news organization -- in this case, NBC News -- reporting details he doesn't like.

Of course, during his time as a presidential candidate, Trump thought leaks were great ... just so long as they benefited his campaign. At one point, the Republican literally encouraged Russia to leak stolen Hillary Clinton emails to news organizations, reminding Russian officials they would "probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

It appears he has a new perspective.
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People photograph Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump with their smart phones as he speaks to guests during a campaign rally at the Gerald W. Kirn Middle School on Jan. 31, 2016 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty)

The scariness of Donald Trump's Twitter feed

01/06/17 12:53PM

It's a big day for Donald Trump. Not only is the president-elect's inauguration just two weeks away, but today is the day the Republican will receive a classified briefing on the intelligence community's findings about Russia's alleged espionage operation into the U.S. presidential election.

And it's against this backdrop that Trump woke up this morning and started sharing his thoughts via Twitter. The first thing on his mind? Mocking Democrats for losing the presidential election two months ago. The second thing on his mind? Mocking "The Apprentice" reality show -- which he used to host, and which he's still an executive producer for -- over its ratings.

At one point, the incoming leader of the free world referred to himself in the third person as "the ratings machine." No, really, this grown man actually published that for all the world to see.

Tweets like these raise all kinds of questions about the president-elect's breathtaking insecurities, but they also serve as a reminder about a different kind of insecurity involving Trump and his favorite social-media tool. BuzzFeed had a striking report yesterday:
[The insecurity of Trump's hackable Twitter account] was acceptable when @realDonaldTrump concerned itself with Kristen Stewart cheating on Robert Pattinson and how thin people don't drink Diet Coke. And yet Trump's newfound influence -- combined with the unpredictability of his tweets — makes the president-elect's account a particularly tempting target for hackers.

That's especially true because there is a large fortune that could be made in a single 140-character message. If someone were able to gain access to Trump's Twitter, they could tweet approvingly or disapprovingly about a company (as Trump has done) and play the stock market accordingly — or cause others to do so.... If the hacker were geopolitically motivated, they could tweet favorably or unfavorably about a country or a leader (as Trump has done) and alter foreign affairs.
The New Republic's Jeet Heer recently made the case that Trump's tweets represent a national-security threat. Heer was referring to the Republican's chest-thumping belligerence towards other countries, and the piece didn't even get to the possibility of someone hacking the account, which obviously complicates the threat.

What's more, as a friend of mine joked yesterday, Trump's communications tend to be, shall we say, unorthodox anyway, so if someone hacked his Twitter account and published problematic messages, it might even take a while before someone on Team Trump realized it wasn't him.
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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 1.6.17

01/06/17 12:00PM

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

* Just when it seemed the race for the DNC chairmanship couldn't get any bigger, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, widely seen as a rising star in the party, threw his hat in the ring yesterday.

* Vice President Biden offered some advice to Donald Trump yesterday, telling the president-elect by way of a PBS interview, "Grow up, Donald. Grow up. Time to be an adult. You're president."

* As Rachel highlighted on the show last night, Senate Republicans have scheduled at least six cabinet-nominee confirmations hearings for Wednesday, Jan. 11, hoping to deny too much attention to any one person.

* After CNN reported that Trump will still try to build his border wall, but he intends to have American taxpayers pick up the tab, the president-elect said on Twitter this morning he'll get Mexico to pay for the wall "later."

* Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) said yesterday he's "very likely" to take on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in next year's Senate race in the Lone Star State.

* Complicating matters, Matthew Dowd, an ABC News pundit and former George W. Bush strategist, conceded he's also eyeing the race, telling the Texas Tribune, "I am giving it some thought, and I appreciate the interest of folks."

* In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic legislative leader, launched her gubernatorial campaign this week, in what will likely be a crowded party primary. Term limits will prevent incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder (R) from seeking a third term.
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Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Some Republicans forget their passion for deficit reduction

01/06/17 11:29AM

For decades, Republicans have had an on-again, off-again interest in balancing the budget. In the Reagan/Bush era, when deficits skyrocketed, GOP policymakers didn't much care about "'fiscal responsibility." In the Clinton era, Republicans reversed course, insisting that deficit reduction become Washington's principal focus.

In the Bush/Cheney era, Republicans switched back, declared that "deficits don't matter," and put two wars, two tax-cut packages, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout on the national charge card. In the Obama era, Republicans reversed course once again, declaring a balanced budget to be their top priority.

So, what's it going to be in the Trump era? Take a wild guess.
Some of the most conservative members of Congress say they are ready to vote for a budget that would -- at least on paper -- balloon the deficit to more than $1 trillion by the end of the decade, all for the sake of eventually repealing the Affordable Care Act.

In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.
As the Washington Post's report makes clear, far-right congressional Republicans, as recently as a year ago, were prepared to "torpedo the entire budget process" rather than vote for a blueprint "that increased spending without balancing the budget."

But that was under a Democratic White House. Now that Republicans will control all of the levers of power, GOP priorities have, right on cue, reverted to their traditional norm.

At its core, this is a fiscal fight, but it's also a process that tests priorities: conservative lawmakers in the Republican Congress think deficit reduction is nice, but they think gutting the Affordable Care Act is much nicer.
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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

GOP responds to questions about Trump's legitimacy the wrong way

01/06/17 10:52AM

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is obviously aware of the alleged Russian hacking scandal, but responding to it is tricky for someone in his position.

The Wisconsin congressman has traditionally defended the U.S.  intelligence community, but he's serving with an incoming president who routinely mocks and taunts American intelligence agencies. Ryan has criticized WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but the Speaker also wants to remain on good terms with Donald Trump, who considers Assange credible and trustworthy.

So, what's a House Speaker to say about allegations that Russia subverted our democracy because Vladimir Putin wanted to see Trump in the White House? The Associated Press reported yesterday on Ryan's latest line.
[E]ven while criticizing Assange, Ryan defended Trump, saying that what the president-elect is "rightfully concerned about is partisans are trying to use the Russian hacking incident to ... call into question the legitimacy of his victory."
This comes up quite a bit. The RNC's Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, told reporters two weeks ago, "I think you have a lot of folks on the left who continue to undermine the legitimacy of [Trump's] win." Two weeks earlier, Jason Miller, a Trump transition spokesperson, added that bipartisan calls for an investigation are "an attempt to delegitimize President-elect Trump's win."

This is a problematic argument, which may ultimately become self-defeating.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens to his mobile phone during a lunch stop, Feb. 18, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Matt Rourke/AP)

Trump, easily distracted, picks proxy fight with Ohio's Kasich

01/06/17 10:01AM

When it comes to Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), Donald Trump hasn't been shy about his feelings. When Kasich skipped the Republican National Convention -- held in his own home state -- and refused to back his party's national ticket, Trump fumed, vowing to create a super PAC to undermine the governor's future career.

Maybe Trump would shift his focus to more important matters after winning the election? Apparently not.

During his self-congratulatory tour, Trump took shots at Kasich, and this week, the Cincinnati Inquirer reports that the president-elect has even taken an interest in the Ohio governor's preferred candidates in the race for the state party leadership.
On Friday, Donald Trump and Gov. John Kasich will face off in their latest proxy battle for the hearts and minds of Ohio Republicans -- and the president-elect himself on Thursday entered the fray.

Trump supporter Jane Timken, a Cincinnati native and Walnut Hills High School graduate, is challenging Kasich-backed incumbent Matt Borges for the Ohio Republican Party's top spot.

On Thursday, Trump himself called several Southwest Ohioans who have a vote in the race for chairperson, pushing for Timken's election. [emphasis added]
A local Republican activist told the newspaper, "This is the leader-of-the-free-world-to-be, and you would think of all the appointments that he's doing and all the people he's filling his cabinet with and getting ready for the inauguration, why would he take the time out to call me?"

That's actually an excellent question -- which need not be rhetorical. Why is the president-elect interrupting his transition schedule to call local GOP activists in Ohio in advance of state party leadership races?
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Candidate for U.S. Senate Thom Tillis at an early voting location in Cornelius, N.C. on Nov. 1, 2014.

GOP senator on Russia scandal: 'We live in a big glass house'

01/06/17 09:20AM

About a year ago, Donald Trump appeared on MSNBC and was asked about accusations that Vladimir Putin has ordered the murder of journalists. "Well," Trump replied, "I think our country does plenty of killing also."

In July, Trump was asked if he'd urge foreign nations, accused of human rights abuses, to improve their approach to civil rights and civil liberties. "I don't think we have a right to lecture," he said, dismissing the United States' moral authority. Trump added, "When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don't think we're a very good messenger,"

The public isn't accustomed to hearing American leaders run down America's moral standing -- "how bad the United States is" -- and such talk used to be seen as unpatriotic. Trump did it anyway, and many voters didn't much care.

Oddly enough, this approach appears to be spreading. TPM reported yesterday:
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyberthreats to the United States, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) argued that America had often meddled in other countries' elections and warned against overreacting to interference in our own.

Referencing research from Carnegie Mellon University that found that the United States had been involved in 81 different foreign elections since World War II, Tillis emphasized that Russia's interference in the 2016 election was not unique on the world stage.
The North Carolina Republican specifically said, in reference to Russia's alleged interference in our presidential election, "[W]e in a big glass house and there are a lot of rocks to throw."

To be sure, Tillis isn't wrong about the history; there's credible evidence that the United States, especially during the Cold War, intervened in foreign elections on multiple occasions.

But what's surprising is the same thing that stood out in Trump's criticism of America during the campaign: the right never used to question the moral authority of the United States, and now it's becoming almost routine.
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Obama era ends with steady job growth

01/06/17 08:47AM

President Obama won't leave office for another two weeks, but this morning brought the final jobs report of his second term. It offered the latest in a series of reminders that the president is handing off a healthy economy to his successor (who spent 2016 telling voters the economy is terrible).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 156,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, remains low, inching higher from 4.6% to 4.7%. It's the 15th consecutive month the rate has been at 5% or lower. (Remember when Mitt Romney said he might be able to get the jobless rate down to 6% by the end of his first term? I do.)

As for the revisions, October's and November's job totals were both revised up, adding a net gain of 19,000.

Also of interest, this report showed a larger-than-expected hike in average hourly earnings, suggesting not only that job growth is steady, but American wages are improving, too.

Though the latest data still faces some revisions, the preliminary estimates now show the overall economy added 2.15 million new jobs in 2016, which is a pretty healthy number. What's more, December was the 75th consecutive month of positive job growth, which is the longest on record.

Remember, as we discussed last month, as far as Republicans are concerned, results like these were completely impossible. For the right, the combination of the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes, and assorted regulations would stifle job growth and push the economy into a recession, but the exact opposite happened. Nevertheless, Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers believe they'll "get the economy moving" by undoing the policies that brought us to this point.

We'll see how that works out.
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James Clapper, Keith Alexander

Following Trump's taunts, intelligence community returns fire

01/06/17 08:00AM

It started in earnest in August. Donald Trump, after accepting the Republican presidential nomination, was asked in advance of his first intelligence briefing whether he would trust the information. "Not so much from the people that have been doing it for our country," the Republican replied.

Intelligence agencies, of course, said nothing in response, but the antagonism only intensified. In the months that followed, as intelligence professionals uncovered evidence of a Russian espionage operation, intended in part to help put Trump in the White House, Trump's mockery and taunts of U.S. agencies grew more frequent, though in each instance, officials remained publicly silent.

Yesterday, that changed. Leaders from intelligence agencies had a platform from which they could start to return fire against the president-elect that holds them in such low regard.
The nation's top intelligence official on Thursday defended his colleagues' findings that Russian agents interfered in the U.S. election -- and dismissed the credibility of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a day after the president-elect appeared to back him over the intelligence community.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also took a swipe at the president-elect for "disparaging" the intelligence community.
Remember, congressional Republican leaders have refused to create a special select committee to examine the Russian hacking scandal, but individual committee chairs can conduct their own scrutiny. In yesterday's case, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who's been quite animated on this issue, convened a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the matter.

The hearing ended up serving two related purposes: intelligence officials explained their findings on Russia's intervention in the American election -- they appear to have little doubt about what transpired, and the role of Vladimir Putin's government in ordering the cyber-attack -- while they also took more subtle steps to defend the integrity of the intelligence community against Donald Trump's attacks.

"I think there is a difference between skepticism and disparagement," Clapper said at one point.

Admiral Mike Rogers, commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, added, "What we do is in no small part driven in part by the confidence of our leaders in what we do -- and without that confidence, I just don't want a situation where our workforce decides to walk."

They didn't explicitly use the president-elect's name, but in context, they didn't have to.
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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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