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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Rob Porter controversy is 'going to be hard to explain away'

02/08/18 10:04AM

At first blush, yesterday's developments at the White House may have seemed relatively straightforward. Staff secretary Rob Porter, facing allegations that he was physically abusive toward both of his ex-wives, announced his resignation, even while insisting the claims are untrue.

But if you watched last night's show, you know there's more to this one. Indeed, Rachel explained that this is a story that's "going to be hard to explain away."

In his capacity as the staff secretary in the West Wing, Porter was an Oval Office gatekeeper, responsible for, among thing, screening every document that reached the president's desk. That meant Porter needed a security clearance, which required an FBI background check.

The Washington Post  reported that the FBI spoke to both of his ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennie Willoughby, who relayed their alleged experiences with Porter.

Willoughby and Holderness said they talked to the FBI about Porter twice last year, once in late January and then again months later. Willoughby provided the contact information for the FBI agent she spoke with, who declined to comment when reached Wednesday. Holderness said that when the FBI asked her whether Porter was vulnerable to blackmail, she answered affirmatively, because of the number of people aware of his abusive behavior.

"I thought by sharing my story with the FBI he wouldn't be put in that post," Holderness said.

But he was given the job anyway, despite apparent delays in his security clearance. Whether Porter had direct access to sensitive Oval Office materials is not yet clear and is one of the unanswered questions surrounding the controversy.

But it's not the only one.

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In this March 10, 2016 photo, Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, gestures as he speaks during an interview in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Trump's EPA chief talks up benefits of climate crisis

02/08/18 09:20AM

In October 2007, Dr. Julie Gerberding, the then-director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was poised to testify before a Senate panel on the impact of climate change on public health. The Bush/Cheney White House, however, intervened, "eviscerating" Gerberding's draft testimony before lawmakers could see it.

When reporters asked then-White House Press Secretary Dana Perino for an explanation, she said, in her best passive voice, "[T]he decision was made on behalf of CDC to focus that testimony on public health benefits" associated with global warming. Perino added at the time, "There are public health benefits to climate change."

More than a decade later, Republicans are still trying to make the case that we should try to focus on the silver linings of a planetary disaster. E&E News reported yesterday:

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt questioned yesterday if rising global temperatures are harmful to humans, a claim that adds new insight to his alternative views on climate change.

In an interview with KSNV television in Nevada, Pruitt suggested that global warming could be seen as a good thing for people. He said civilizations tend to flourish when it's warm.

"I think there's assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing," Pruitt said.

"Is it an existential threat, is it something that is unsustainable, or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have?" Donald Trump's EPA chief added. "We know that humans have most flourished during times of, what, warming trends?"

Jon Chait was understandably unimpressed: "This is an old and not very well-reasoned talking point by people who want to continue unregulated carbon pollution.... Drastic, severe changes in the temperature of the oceans and air will lead to extinctions, famines, and disease, not to mention the abandonment of coastal cities, of which many humans have grown rather fond."

And while that's certainly true, I wonder if Pruitt's absurd posture might offer hints of possible hope.

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Image: President Trump Signs Executive Order To Promote Healthcare Choice

Republican sabotage efforts fail to derail 'Obamacare' enrollment

02/08/18 08:40AM

As regular readers know, Donald Trump’s efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period were hardly subtle. The administration cut the enrollment window for consumers in half, curtailed outreach programs, and dramatically scaled back advertising campaigns.

Making matters worse, the president himself kept telling the public that the law is “dead,” while taking policy steps that forced premiums higher. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently published a list tracking each of the actions Trump World has taken to “sabotage the ACA by destabilizing private insurance markets or reversing the law’s historic gains in health coverage” – and the list wasn’t short.

But if the Republican White House hoped this year's ACA enrollment period would kill off "Obamacare," it's going to be disappointed.

About 11.8 million people signed up for an insurance plan through Obamacare in the 2018 enrollment period, according to a new report, a small 3.7 percent drop from the 12.2 million who enrolled in 2017.

The new data was released Wednesday by the nonpartisan National Academy for State Health Policy, which researches health care issues.

When we last covered this issue, we only had access to data on consumers who signed up by way of the healthcare.gov website, which doesn't include the third of the country that has their own state-based marketplaces. This new total reflects the more comprehensive national picture.

The president spent months insisting that the entirety of the Affordable Care Act is "dead" and "gone." Forgive the obvious cliché, but the reports of the Obamacare's death have been greatly exaggerated.

And what about the legislative efforts to repeal the health care law, as some prominent Republicans are still eager to do?

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New anti-Obama 'bombshell' becomes latest Republican dud

02/08/18 08:00AM

If you have a weird uncle who watches Fox News all day, I have a hunch I know what story he was eager to tell you about yesterday.

A new report released Wednesday by a prominent Republican senator suggests texts between an FBI lawyer and an agent who was once part of Robert Mueller's special counsel team show that then-President Barack Obama was keeping tabs on the agency's investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

The report, by the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., focuses on the FBI's investigation into the scandal and includes 384 pages of texts between Peter Strzok, one of the top FBI agents who was assigned to the Mueller investigation, and Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer.

Johnson suggests in the report that one particular set of texts between Strzok and Page -- who were romantically involved -- revealed that the two had been tasked with preparing talking points for then-FBI Director James Comey because Obama apparently wanted to be kept abreast of the case.

The Republican's report pointed to a text exchange from Sept. 2, 2016 -- which probably should've been the first hint that the case wasn't related to Clinton's emails, since the FBI's examination was already over at that point.

But the right pounced anyway, excited by the prospect that there might be new proof of Obama personally intervening in the Clinton case. Donald Trump, once again unwilling to get his facts straight, published a tweet yesterday that read, "NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!"

No, they're not. The Wall Street Journal quoted sources who explained that the text exchange "referred to the president's wanting information on Russia election meddling, which the FBI was heavily involved in over that period."

In other words, the latest "bombshell" is that the Democratic president wanted information about the Russian attack while it was happening, which is neither new nor surprising. Indeed, Obama apparently requested the information just a few days before he spoke with Vladimir Putin at a G20 summit, where he confronted the Russian leader about his interference in the American election.

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Wednesday's Mini-Report, 2.7.18

02/07/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The longest-continuous speech in the history of the chamber: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took the rare step Wednesday of giving a marathon speech supporting Democrats' attempts to legalize the status of young immigrant 'dreamers,' in a bid to pressure Republicans to act."

* Syria: "At least 80 people were killed on Tuesday in Syrian government air and artillery strikes on besieged suburbs of the capital, Damascus, one of the last rebel-held strongholds. It was the bloodiest day so far in a weekslong escalation that prompted United Nations officials to issue an unusual call for an immediate cease-fire."

* Puerto Rico: "The mission for the Federal Emergency Management Agency was clear: Hurricane Maria had torn through Puerto Rico, and hungry people needed food. Thirty million meals needed to be delivered as soon as possible.... By the time 18.5 million meals were due, [FEMA contractor] had delivered only 50,000."

* Will the RNC give back his money? "Billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn stepped down as CEO of Wynn Resorts, the company said Tuesday."

* I could've sworn Trump said he'd produce the opposite result: "The United States trade deficit with China climbed to its highest level on record in 2017, a trend that could prompt the Trump administration toward tougher trade actions in the coming months."

* The CBO's latest findings: "Americans enrolling in college over the next decade would receive about $15 billion less in subsidies than under current law if House Republicans pass their education bill, according to an official estimate Tuesday."

* Leandro Rizzuto Jr: "President Donald Trump's nominee to be the ambassador to Barbados and several other Caribbean countries spread fringe conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks about Trump's political opponents on Twitter, including ones about Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, during the 2016 presidential election."

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The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty)

Abuse allegations lead to White House aide's resignation

02/07/18 03:47PM

The revolving door for the staff at Donald Trump's White House is spinning again, with another top aide announcing his resignation. The circumstances surrounding today's departure, however, are more awful than most.

White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday, a day after a British newspaper reported allegations from two ex-wives of physical and verbal abuse, the White House said. [...]

Porter's two ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, told DailyMail.com in a report published Tuesday that Porter was physically and verbally abusive to them during their marriages. Willoughby said the abuse started on their honeymoon and that she filed a restraining order against Porter in June 2010 after he punched the glass on a door to their home and refused to leave, violating a separation agreement. NBC News has reached out to the women, but has not yet spoken with them, nor investigated their stories.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the staff secretary's departure, telling reporters this was "a personal decision Rob made."

Porter continues to deny any wrongdoing, saying in a statement the allegations are "outrageous" and "simply false."

As NBC News' report added, Porter was an influential senior aide who, among other things, "played a key role in writing the president's State of the Union address last month."

There are still some questions surrounding White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's role in the story, with Politico  reporting that a senior administration official said Kelly "was previously aware" of a 2010 protective order against Porter, which prevented the staff secretary from getting a full security clearance.

Axios added, meanwhile, that Kelly also reportedly urged Porter to remain at his White House post, despite the abuse allegations.

And on that note, this seems like a good time to update the list of prominent Trump World departures:

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Congress Struggles With Funding Repairs To U.S. Capitol Dome

Senate budget deal abandons Republican orthodoxy

02/07/18 02:26PM

The deadline for the next government shutdown is tomorrow night, but Senate leaders from both parties have reached an agreement on a spending package that will take the threat off the table for a while.

The measure, negotiated between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, increases domestic spending by $63 billion and military spending by $80 billion for 2018 with larger increases in 2019. The spending levels completely eliminate the mandatory spending caps, otherwise known as sequestration, that have been imposed on both military and domestic spending since 2011. [...]

In addition to determining spending levels, it would provide additional funds for disaster relief for wildfires and hurricanes. It would also extend the low-income children's health program for ten years instead of six, which was passed just last month. It would provide $6 billion for opioid treatment and $20 billion for infrastructure.

When all is said and done, it looks like this agreement will increase spending by about $400 billion.

At face value, the agreement is a reminder that in order to strike bipartisan deals in the Trump era, it's important to ignore Donald Trump. In this case, the president yesterday threatened a shutdown, which had no apparent impact on the Senate talks because McConnell and Schumer acted as if Trump were irrelevant.

But what's truly amazing about the Senate deal is its total abandonment of Republican orthodoxy. Throughout the Obama era, GOP officials had one overarching priority in every budget fight: austerity.

Between 2009 and 2016, Republicans said they wanted a balanced budget. They said the national debt was an existential threat to the United States. They said any additional government spending had to be offset by cuts elsewhere. They said, in John Boehner's famous phrasing, that our country "is broke" and therefore incapable of making any new investments, regardless of public needs.

This approach not only caused routine GOP-imposed crises throughout Barack Obama's presidency, it also held back the nation's economy -- deliberately, since that's largely the point of austerity.

The rot of bad faith from those arguments has been exposed.

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The headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stands in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

The 'swamp' in action: GOP advances coal lobbyist for EPA job

02/07/18 12:47PM

Americans who voted for Donald Trump because they liked his rhetoric about "draining the swamp" should probably avert their eyes -- because today's news is about as swampy as it gets.

Republican senators used their majority to advance President Donald Trump's nomination of a former coal-industry lobbyist to serve as the second-highest ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Environment and Public Works Committee voted along party lines 11-10 on Wednesday to send the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to the full Senate for a vote.

Let's back up for a minute to provide some important context. For the last several years, Wheeler was a lobbyist for, among others, Murray Energy, one of the nation's largest coal companies and fierce opponent of environmental safeguards. (Murray Energy's CEO, Bob Murray, has also been a generous Donald Trump donor.)

In addition to his background as a lobbyist for polluters, Wheeler also served as chief counsel for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of the nation's preeminent climate deniers.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to put Wheeler in a position to help lead the Environmental Protection Agency -- a decision literally every Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed this morning.

The New Republic's Emily Atkin recently explained, "Wheeler is not just the figurative embodiment of the swamp, but the literal embodiment of it. The coal industry is responsible for 72 percent of toxic water contamination in the United States, making it the nation's largest water polluter. That's according to the agency where Wheeler is about to be second in command -- the agency that is charged with protecting clean water. There's no better person to represent how polluted Trump's swamp has become."

Wait, it gets a little worse.

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Wednesday's Campaign Round-Up, 2.7.18

02/07/18 12:00PM

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

* In Florida's closely watched U.S. Senate race, a pair of new statewide polls show incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) with narrow-to-modest leads over Gov. Rick Scott (R). The Republican governor hasn't yet formally launched a campaign, but it's widely assumed Scott will run.

* Diane Neal, an actress on NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," launched a "progressive" independent congressional bid in New York's 19th congressional district this week. The seat is currently held by Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.), who's considered vulnerable, but if Neal and a Democrat split the center-left, Faso is far more likely to prevail.

* In Michigan, state Democratic officials appear to have some concerns about whether gubernatorial hopeful Abdul El-Sayed (D) meets the state's residency requirements. While teaching at Columbia University, El-Sayed was a registered New York voter as recently as 2015.

* Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) launched an initiative yesterday, urging all senators to sign a pledge, agreeing not to campaign against other sitting senators. (I know his idea sounds quaint, but I'd note for context that for most of American history, sitting senators wouldn't even endorse candidates running against their colleagues, much less campaign against them.)

* In a refreshing change of pace, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro (D) was candid with NBC News this week about his presidential ambitions, acknowledging, "I have every interest in running." He'll be in New Hampshire next week.

* Remember when I mentioned last summer that former Attorney General Eric Holder might run for president in 2020? This morning he said, "I think I'll make a decision by the end of the year about whether or not there's another chapter in my government service."

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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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