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The dome of the U.S. Capitol Building is reflected in a puddle on a rainy morning in Washington.

Reality-based governing keeps getting in Republicans' way

12/05/17 10:44AM

The Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress' official scorekeeper on tax proposals, reviewed the Senate Republicans' tax plan and told GOP lawmakers what they didn't want to hear. According to the data, the Republican proposal wouldn't pay for itself, wouldn't create enormous economic growth, but would add over a $1 trillion to deficits over the next decade.

In theory, it was the kind of analysis that could've derailed the entire legislative initiative. That didn't happen, at least in part because Republicans "went on the offensive to discredit the agency performing the analysis." The New York Times reported late yesterday that GOP lawmakers "opened an assault" on Congress' own office so lawmakers would be more inclined to ignore the Joint Committee on Taxation's findings.

Public statements and messaging documents obtained by The New York Times show a concerted push by Republican lawmakers to discredit a nonpartisan agency they had long praised. Party leaders circulated two pages of "response points" that declared "the substance, timing and growth assumptions of J.C.T.'s 'dynamic' score are suspect." Among their arguments was that the joint committee was using "consistently wrong" growth models to assess the effect the tax cuts would have on hiring, wages and investment.

The Republican response points go after revenue analyses by the committee and by the Congressional Budget Office, which scores other legislation, saying their findings "can be off to the tune of more than $1.5 trillion over ten years."

The swift backlash helped defuse concerns about the deficit impact long enough for the bill to pass by a vote of 51 to 49..

It's worth emphasizing that Republicans didn't identify any specific flaws or mistakes in the Joint Committee on Taxation's analysis. GOP lawmakers simply decided to believe that the findings weren't reliable and understated the growth rates that Republicans expect to materialize, based on little more than their own hopes and evidence-free assumptions.

Making matters worse is the degree to which this is part of a larger pattern.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Seeing the Republican tax plan as a tool to punish Democrats

12/05/17 10:01AM

As the Republican tax plan took shape, and its "winners" and "losers" came into focus, a pattern started to emerge. As a Bloomberg Politics report explained today, some of those who stand to fare the worst under the GOP tax overhaul are graduate students, government workers, school teachers, and blue-state residents.

It's easy to get the impression that Republican policymakers aren't just trying to cut taxes for the wealthy and big corporations; they're also doing so in a way to punish Democratic voters.

President Donald Trump and GOP leaders have promised that the two main goals of a tax code revamp are to benefit middle-class families and to slash the corporate tax rate. But paying for those changes has come in large part at the expense of breaks that are important to residents of high-tax states, which tend to be Democratic.

Benefits used by universities and graduate students are also on the chopping block. And the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate to buy insurance -- a centerpiece of Democrats' biggest achievement in a generation -- is estimated to generate some $300 billion to pay for tax cuts.

The Heritage Foundation's Stephen Moore, a conservative economist who worked with the Trump campaign last year, told Bloomberg Politics the GOP tax policy is "death to Democrats."

"They go after state and local taxes, which weakens public employee unions," Moore said. "They go after university endowments, and universities have become play pens of the left. And getting rid of the mandate is to eventually dismantle Obamacare."

I suppose Moore is to be thanked for his unusual level of candor. Ordinarily, one might expect proponents of the regressive Republican plan to at least pretend it's the result of serious and deliberate policymaking from elected officials motivated by nothing but the public's best interests.

Moore isn't bothering with the pretense. He describes the GOP proposal as a political weapon to be wielded against Democrats and their allies -- which Moore sees as a feature of the Republican plan, not a bug.

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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 Admin makes an odd argument while giving away federal land

12/05/17 09:20AM

Presidents have quite a bit of federal authority when it comes to creating national monuments, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama put that power to use in Utah, creating federal protections for millions of acres of public land.

Donald Trump announced yesterday he's undoing some of those protections, shrinking the Bears Ears monument in Utah from 1.3 million acres to about 220,000 acres of federally protected land, and reducing Grand Staircase-Escalante from 1.9 million acres to a little over 1 million acres.

That's nearly 2 million acres of protected public land that the Republican president decided to give away yesterday. One of Trump's cabinet secretaries defended the move with a curious talking point.

Before the ceremony, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told The Salt Lake Tribune "The president is delivering on his campaign promise to give the state and local communities a voice, which I think is absolutely important. Public lands are for public use and not for special interests."

It seemed possible that Zinke misspoke, but he used identical language yesterday in a separate interview: "Public land is for public use and not special interests."

I realize when it comes to the Trump administration, some up-is-down rhetoric is to be expected, but even by 2017 standards, this is disorienting.

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In this Oct. 24, 2012 file photo, former Chief Justice Roy Moore poses for a photo in his Montgomery, Ala., office. (Photo by Dave Martin/AP)

As Roy Moore faces new accuser, he receives new GOP support

12/05/17 08:40AM

The number of Roy Moore's accusers in Alabama went up yesterday, when the Washington Post published a new report on Debbie Wesson Gibson, who dated the right-wing Republican when she was 17 and he was 34. The article highlighted a written note she received from Moore upon her high-school graduation, and the handwriting appears to be quite similar to the inscription in one of his other accuser's yearbooks.

The new report not only reinforces allegations that Moore pursued teenagers while he was an adult, it also undermines the Senate candidate's denials about his conduct.

It's against this backdrop that Republicans have decided to give Roy Moore's Senate candidacy a new round of support.

The Republican National Committee resumed supporting Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Monday after President Donald Trump earlier endorsed Moore, a Republican official said.

The RNC dropped out of a joint fundraising agreement with Moore three weeks ago as Moore was hit with multiple accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls decades ago. NBC News reported at the time that it had also ended its field operations in the state, where it deployed 11 operatives.

Now, however, the Republican establishment has reversed course, deciding Moore deserves the party's support after all.

What changed? By all appearances, now that Donald Trump officially supports the accused child molester, Trump's party has decided to support him, too.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)

Trump lawyers not done suggesting the president is above the law

12/05/17 08:00AM

Donald Trump's legal defense team have responded to the Russia scandal in recent months by arguing, repeatedly and in public, that the president and his campaign didn't collude with Putin's government during last year's attack, and that the president didn't obstruct justice as the investigation has unfolded.

The new line from Trump World is that collusion isn't a big deal and the president is, as a matter of law, incapable of obstructing justice.

On the first point, Jay Sekulow, one of the president's prominent private attorneys, told the New Yorker that collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, if it happened, would be legally permissible. "For something to be a crime, there has to be a statute that you claim is being violated," Sekulow said. "There is not a statute that refers to criminal collusion. There is no crime of collusion."

On the show last night, former White House Counsel Bob Bauer described this argument as a "fantasy," adding, "There certainly is a statute that prohibits an American political campaign from essentially establishing a political alliance with a foreign government to win a presidential election, and the suggestion that that's not a crime I think is simply, flatly wrong."

As for obstruction-of-justice allegations, John Dowd, who's helping lead Trump's legal defense, told Axios that a president "cannot obstruct justice" by virtue of the fact that he's the nation's chief law-enforcement official. I thought Dowd might try to walk that back, but in an interview with USA Today, he doubled down.

Trump has denied that he asked Comey to drop the investigation. But his chief lawyer, John Dowd, suggested Monday it wouldn't even matter if he had -- because a president cannot obstruct justice by telling the FBI how he hopes a criminal investigation will be resolved.

"He is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States," Dowd said in an email to USA TODAY. "He has more power and discretion on that matter that DOJ and FBI put together. He cannot obstruct himself!"

There are three angles to this that are worth keeping in mind.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 12.4.17

12/04/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* The Supreme Court this afternoon "allowed the third version of the Trump administration's travel ban to go into effect while legal challenges against it continue. The decision was a victory for the administration after its mixed success before the court over the summer, when justices considered and eventually dismissed disputes over the second version."

* I'll have more on this tomorrow: "President Donald Trump announced the reduction of two national monuments in Utah Monday, lambasting past administrations for overreach in a decision likely to touch off a battle with conservation groups and Native American tribes."

* Korean peninsula: "Two dozen U.S. stealth jets were among hundreds of aircraft involved in war games in South Korea on Monday intended as a show of strength to neighboring North Korea.... North Korea described the exercises as a 'grave provocation,' claiming in its state-run media Monday that they could escalate the situation 'to the brink of nuclear war.'"

* It wasn't long ago when the United States tried to lead: "President Donald Trump has decided to boycott a global conference on migration scheduled to begin Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, sending a blunt signal that the United States is no longer interested in forging a concerted response to the world's burgeoning migration crises."

* Tax debate: "Before Senate Republicans passed their tax bill early Saturday, GOP leaders boasted that it would be a huge boon for the US economy. Goldman Sachs does not agree."

* I'm eager to hear more about how this is going to work: "Federal authorities sought to take back guns from thousands of people the background check system should have blocked from buying weapons because they had criminal records, mental health issues or other problems that would disqualify them."

* Something to keep an eye on tomorrow: "The defamation suit filed in January in the New York State Supreme Court by [Summer] Zervos, a short-lived contestant on 'The Apprentice,' has reached a critical point, with oral arguments over Trump's motion to dismiss scheduled for Tuesday, after which the judge is expected to rule on whether the case may move forward."

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks off the stage as Republican nominee Donald Trump remains at his podium after their third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 19, 2016. (Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Even now, Trump's focus drifts toward prosecuting Hillary Clinton

12/04/17 01:00PM

Donald Trump was an unusual presidential candidate in a wide variety of ways, but one of the things that made the Republican truly special was his stated desire to investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate his opponent.

Indeed, as the GOP nominee, Trump wasn't especially subtle on this point. In the second presidential debate, he declared his intention to order the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton after the election -- with the hopes of putting her "in jail." As we discussed last fall, it was the first time in American history a major-party presidential candidate vowed to a national audience he'd lock up his opponent if elected.

As we now know, Trump won anyway, and his former Democratic rival is not behind bars. But it's hard not to notice that the president can't stop himself from returning to the subject, over and over again.

On Saturday, for example, Trump turned to Twitter to write, "Many people in our Country are asking what the 'Justice' Department is going to do" about the email account of "totally Crooked Hillary."

At face value, it certainly looked like a statement in which the president was lobbying the Justice Department to investigate one of his political critics.

This morning, asked about last week's indictment of his former White House National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, Trump's mind once again went to his former opponent.

"Well, I feel badly for General Flynn. I feel very badly. He's led a very strong life, and I feel very badly, John.

"I will say this: Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI and nothing happened to her. Flynn lied and they destroyed his life. I think it's a shame. Hillary Clinton, on the Fourth of July weekend, went to the FBI, not under oath -- it was the most incredible thing anyone has ever seen. She lied many times. Nothing happened to her. Flynn lied, and it's like they ruined his life. It's very unfair."

To the extent that reality still has any meaning, Hillary Clinton didn't lie to the FBI. The FBI has already acknowledged as much. The president's comments this morning were the latest example of Trump just making stuff up.

But it's the underlying message that should make the country nervous.

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Image: Embattled GOP Senate Candidate In Alabama Judge Roy Moore Continues Campaigning Throughout The State

Trump, McConnell take dramatic new postures on Roy Moore

12/04/17 12:31PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been a rather vocal critic of Roy Moore's radical Senate candidacy in Alabama. It was just a couple of weeks ago that the GOP leader said the Alabama Republican, accused of, among other things, child molestation, is "obviously not fit to be in the United States Senate."

McConnell acknowledged at the time that he and his colleagues were exploring way "to prevent" Moore from joining the chamber.

And with this in mind, it was a little jarring to see McConnell on ABC News yesterday, saying in reference to Moore, "I'm going to let the people of Alabama make the call."

Evidently, he's not the only prominent Republican who's changing his posture.

President Donald Trump on Monday offered his strongest support yet to embattled Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore.

"Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama. We need his vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment and more. No to Jones, a Pelosi/Schumer Puppet," Trump tweeted in the first of two posts.

At face value, Trump described a less-than-ideal posture for his party: tax cuts for the wealthy are great, so elect the alleged child molester.

It's also problematic for the president to make the case that "stopping crime" is a priority, which is why he wants voters to support a candidate accused of sexual assault over a former federal prosecutor.

But it's also worth pausing to appreciate the evolution of Trump World's thinking on the scandal.

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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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