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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 10.27.17

10/27/17 12:01PM

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

* With 11 days remaining before Virginia's gubernatorial race, a new Wason Center poll shows Ralph Northam (D) with a modest lead over Ed Gillespie (R), 50% to 43%.

* On a related note, the Washington Post's editorial board today took aim at Gillespie's racially inflammatory message, describing the Republican candidate's tactics as "a poisonous strategy for the nation and for Virginia."

* For reasons that don't make a lot of sense, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to draw more attention to Tom Steyer's efforts to cultivate support for the president's impeachment. Trump called Steyer "totally unhinged," which is probably a label Steyer would use to describe Trump.

* Though Democrats are optimistic about the New Jersey elections in two weeks, the Democratic National Committee announced overnight a new "six-figure investment" in the Garden State. The party said the money is intended to help Dems "running up and down the ticket in New Jersey with GOTV organizing efforts, digital, data, and tech infrastructure."

* Speaking of Democrats, the party extended its success in state legislative special elections this week, winning another state House race in New Hampshire. The seat was previously held by a different Dem, so the results don't change the makeup of the chamber.

* Despite some rumors to the contrary, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said yesterday he isn't going to run for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) Senate seat.

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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)

Senate GOP support for Roy Moore is no longer unanimous

10/27/17 11:20AM

Ahead of the recent Republican Senate runoff in Alabama, Karl Rove was worried about his party's likely nominee.

"Roy Moore would be the Todd Akin of 2017 and 2018 for every Republican on the ballot," Rove predicted. "Republicans will be asked, 'Do you agree homosexuality should be punished by death, do you believe 9/11 was a result of God's anger?' He'll say outrageous things, the media will play it up, and every Republican will be asked, 'Do you agree with that?'"

As it turns out, most GOP senators have decided they simply don't care about Moore's extremism and they're endorsing the right-wing Alabaman anyway. As the Washington Post reported, there are, however, some limited exceptions.

Two days after announcing his retirement and denouncing Trumpism from the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) set a different trend -- he became the sole Republican senator opposed to Roy Moore's Senate bid in Alabama.

Collared in the Dirksen Building by NBC's Frank Thorp, Flake, who does not do many hallway interviews, said that Moore represented exactly the politics that had ruined his party.

"A guy who says that a Muslim member of Congress shouldn't be able to serve?" Flake said. "That's not right."

According to The Hill, Flake isn't entirely alone. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) appeared on a podcast this week and also blasted Moore's contention that religious minorities he doesn't like should be barred from serving in Congress.

"You can't have people running for office -- I don't know the particulars of what Moore has said -- but as it's been reported, you can't have people running for office saying that being a Muslim would be a disqualification for being in Congress," Sasse said. "The Constitution is pretty dang clear about not having a religious litmus test."

I suppose it's unrealistic to think current Republican officeholders would publicly endorse a Democratic Senate nominee, so this week's comments from Flake and Sasse are about as far as GOP senators are going to go. In theory, though, the next step should be added pressure on other Senate Republicans who no doubt realize that concerns about Moore's fitness for office are grounded in fact.

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Despite hurricanes, economic growth held steady over the summer

10/27/17 10:40AM

There were some concerns among economists that the hurricanes over the summer would undermine the nation's recent economic growth, but there's fresh evidence that the recovery that began in 2010 is still percolating along.

The U.S. grew at a solid 3% annual pace in third quarter despite damage from two hurricanes, according to Commerce Department data. That's above economist expectations of a 2.7% growth rate, according to a MarketWatch survey, and only slightly below the 3.1% growth rate in the second quarter.

The last time the economy had two consecutive quarters of above-3% growth was in 2014.

Today's GDP report covers economic activity from July, August, and September. The 3% figure, which is quite good, will be revised twice more in the coming months.

As a political matter, it'll be interesting to see Donald Trump use this fresh data as part of the fight over proposed Republican tax cuts. From the president's perspective, current tax rates are stifling economic growth, which is a curious pitch given that economic growth looks quite healthy.

What's more, it's a near certainty that Trump will say that "many people thought it would be years before" we saw a 3% GDP report, but that's only because he refuses to understand the difference between quarterly and annual growth rates. (According to Trump, under Barack Obama's presidency, the economy never reached quarterly growth of 3.1%. And that's true, just so long as we overlook what happened in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015.)

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Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas.

On judicial picks, Nevada's Heller competes for a Chutzpah Award

10/27/17 10:13AM

"The judge story is an untold story; nobody wants to talk about it," Donald Trump recently said alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge -- but 40 years out."

The "judge story" refers to the Republican campaign to approve as many far-right jurists to lifetime positions on the federal bench as they can, as quickly as they can hold votes. On this, the president happens to be correct: the public probably doesn't appreciate the fact that the GOP is shifting the judiciary in a radical direction, which has the potential to shape the American landscape for several decades.

And since filibusters are no longer an option on judicial nominees, there are limited tools at Democrats' disposal to prevent this from happening.

But Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), arguably the most vulnerable Republican seeking re-election next year, argued yesterday that his party should move even faster to confirm Trump's nominees, working "day and night" to approve judges "every day, for as long as we need."

"Now many of you here know that the first piece of legislation I've introduced for the past two Congresses is my No Budget No Pay Act. The concept is simple, if Congress can't pass a budget and all of its spending bills on time then it shouldn't be paid.

"Well, Mr. President, the Senate should apply the same concept, in my opinion, to confirming judges."

So, from the Nevada Republican's perspective, lawmakers' salaries should be conditioned on their ability to vote on judicial nominees.

That's probably not a realistic pitch, but it got me thinking: where was Dean Heller a year ago?

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Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington

Ryan finds new ways to downplay concerns about Trump's fitness

10/27/17 09:22AM

Earlier this month, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) made the case that Donald Trump's stability is in doubt and may set the nation "on the path to World War III." The president responded by saying he believes Corker is short and cowardly.

Asked for his reaction, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) suggested the two men should "sit down and just talk through their issues." That would be quite a conversation.

Yesterday, as the Associated Press reported, the Republican leader offered a slightly different response.

Remember the extraordinary public clash this week between two Republican senators and President Donald Trump? House Speaker Paul Ryan said Thursday that people aren't interested.

Ryan waded into -- and quickly out of -- that dispute on Thursday, when a reporter asked whether he shares Sen. Jeff Flake's criticisms of Trump. "I don't think the American people care about that," the Wisconsin Republican responded.

Just so we're clear, this week, two prominent U.S. senators from the president's own party have publicly suggested that Donald Trump isn't fit to serve, leaving the nation to confront, to use Flake's phrasing, an "alarming and dangerous state of affairs."

Presented with this information, the Speaker of the House didn't dismiss the concerns about Trump's ability to be president, so much as he suggested that the public dismisses the concerns.

I won't claim to be an expert on public attitudes, but if GOP senators have questions about the stability of a GOP president, shouldn't the American people care quite a bit?

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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

Trump's dubious claim that a border wall will help with opioids

10/27/17 08:40AM

Donald Trump's announcement yesterday declaring the opioid crisis a public-health emergency was disappointing for a variety of reasons. Not only did it fall short of what the president vowed in August, but the White House's plan, at least at this point, doesn't include additional resources to combat the epidemic.

Making matters slightly worse, Trump seems to think he can address the problem with a bogus solution. From his speech yesterday:

"We must stop the flow of all types of illegal drugs into our communities. For too long, dangerous criminal cartels have been allowed to infiltrate and spread throughout our nation. An astonishing 90 percent of the heroin in America comes from south of the border, where we will be building a wall which will greatly help in this problem. It will have a great impact."

No, actually, it won't.

The president has dabbled in this area before, arguing in July, for example, that he wants his wall to have literal "transparency" so that people can protect themselves from 60-pound bags of drugs that Mexicans will somehow catapult over Trump's beloved wall.

But yesterday's argument was more direct: he believes the wall will serve as a physical barrier, helping keep heroin out of the United States. We already know -- as Trump should already know -- that this isn't true.

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Empty hospital emergency room. (Stock photo by  DreamPictures/Getty Images)

Republican tactics put children's health program in jeopardy

10/27/17 08:00AM

Congress had a deadline of Oct. 1. That was the day current funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, expired.

Health care advocates initially hoped lawmakers would act soon after, and the missed deadline would be inconsequential, but nearly four weeks later, there is no solution.

Why not? Vox's Dylan Scott explained:

The problem is offsets -- spending cuts to pay for CHIP's funding for the next five years. Congress needs to find about $8 billion in savings.

House Republicans proposed cutting Obamacare's public health fund, cutting the grace period for Obamacare enrollees who fail to make premium payments, repealing the law's Independent Payment Advisory Board, and making some smaller cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as their plan for offsets.

In other words, House Republicans effectively said, "We'll make sure those 9 million children are covered, but Democrats have to agree to pay for it by undermining the Affordable Care Act."

When it's $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, Republicans aren't especially concerned with figuring out how to pay for their priority. When it's $8 billion in health care funding for kids, it's a very different story.

Not surprisingly, Democrats aren't impressed with the GOP's offer. By all accounts, House Republican leaders don't care, and are moving forward with their far-right CHIP bill.

The trouble is, if it passes, the measure would then go to the Senate, where it'll need 60 votes. Senate Democrats are almost certain to balk, which means Congress, having already missed its deadline, is wasting time on a pointless partisan endeavor.

It also means Republicans are playing games that put children's health care in jeopardy for no reason.

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Thursday's Mini-Report, 10.26.17

10/26/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Before even getting to the hard part, 20 Republicans voted no on this: "The House on Thursday gave a significant boost to President Donald Trump's promise to cut taxes, narrowly passing a GOP budget that shelves longstanding concerns over federal deficits in favor of a rewrite of the tax code that Republicans promise will jump-start the economy." (Here's the roll call.)

* Rosa Maria Hernandez's case: "A 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who entered the United States from Mexico without permission a decade ago is potentially facing deportation after having to go through a Border Patrol checkpoint in South Texas for emergency gallbladder surgery, a family lawyer said Thursday."

* Get to know Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement: "A Trump administration appointee who blocked an undocumented, pregnant teenager from obtaining an abortion before the courts weighed in in her favor, has a history of controversial statements about contraception and abortion."

* The goal, apparently, is eventual privatization: "U.S. officials supervising Puerto Rico's finances are installing an emergency manager at the island's public electricity utility, in an attempt to course-correct a disaster response that has come under congressional scrutiny."

* Why Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) hasn't been on Capitol Hill: "A source close to Wilson confirmed that the Miami Democrat was not in Washington this week due to ongoing threats against her."

* Wasteful: "Just one week into office, the Trump administration cost taxpayers more than $1 million in a botched attempt to curtail advertising efforts for Obamacare, a government watchdog has found."

* The fact that Donald Trump inquired about reversing the Mount McKinley/Denali name change in Alaska isn't necessarily surprising, but it is amazing.

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Image: US-HEALTH-DRUGS-TRUMP

Dem dismisses Trump's opioid declaration as 'a dog-and-pony show'

10/26/17 04:41PM

It started in earnest 11 weeks ago. Speaking from one of his golf resorts, Donald Trump declared, "The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially, right now, it is an emergency. It's a national emergency."

As regular readers may recall, Trump's use of the word "officially" stood out because of its procedural significance: when a president makes an official emergency declaration, a detailed federal process is supposed to unfold in response. Except, in this case, nothing happened for more than two months.

Last week, Trump vowed to make "a very, very big statement" this week -- which came as a surprise to his own White House staff -- and today, we learned what he meant.

"This epidemic is a national health emergency," Trump said during an address at the White House. "Nobody has seen anything like what is going on now. As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction." [...]

Trump said he directed federal agencies to use all their resources to fight the drug crisis, including focusing on providing improved treatment for addicts. [...] The declaration alone provides no additional money to combat the problem but allows existing grants to be redirected to better deal with the crisis.

That's not meaningless, but today's announcement falls short of what Trump seemed to declare 11 weeks ago.

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Image:  Bob Corker Donlad Trump ill tempered exchanges

Congress seeks answers as Trump drags his feet on Russian sanctions

10/26/17 12:53PM

In July, Congress voted overwhelmingly to impose new economic sanctions on Russia in retaliation for Vladimir Putin's government attacking U.S. elections last year. In August, Donald Trump, whose opinion on the bill was ignored by both parties grudgingly signed the measure into law.

The expectation was that the administration would honor the provisions of the law and implement the sanctions on schedule by Oct. 1. That hasn't happened: Trump World still hasn't implemented the policy.

Politico reports that one of the president's fiercest intra-party critics, who happens to be the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is running out of patience.

The chief GOP architect of a Russia sanctions package that Congress overwhelmingly approved earlier this year vowed Wednesday to find out why the Trump administration has delayed using its new powers to punish Moscow.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) -- an author of the massive sanctions bill that President Donald Trump signed in August -- told reporters that "I'm going to get on the phone with someone" within 24 hours to get details on why the administration missed the law's Oct. 1 deadline to hit certain Russian entities with new penalties.

The GOP senator didn't specify who, exactly, he intends to call within 24 hours, though in context, I think he meant the officials in the Treasury and State Departments responsible for implementing economic sanctions.

It's also not altogether clear what Corker intends to do after he finishes that call.

That said, congressional interest in this is at least a step in the right direction. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a reporter yesterday that the Trump administration's foot-dragging on this is "not acceptable" and "against the law."

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) added yesterday, "The real question is, is this bureaucratic delay or has there been some conscious decision to lay off these sanctions, for example, until the president meets with Mr. Putin later this fall? I don't know the answer to that. If the president and the White House are consciously and deliberately delaying an action that's been mandated by Congress on something this important, that's pretty disturbing."

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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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