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Friday's Mini-Report, 7.7.17

07/07/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Will we ever really know what was said? "President Donald Trump pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia's interference in the 2016 election when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Friday."

* A dozen plants were targeted: "Russia is suspected to be behind recent hacker intrusions at American power plants, including at least one nuclear facility, two U.S. officials told NBC News."

* He should be backing away from his absurd promise, not doubling down on it: "President Trump told reporters on Friday that he 'absolutely' still wants Mexico to pay for a border wall in the United States, ahead of a private meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the Group of 20 summit."

* The latest elections-have-consequences moment: "Texas' new voter identification law fully absolves the state from having discriminated against minority voters in 2011, and courts should not take further action in a battle over the state's old voter ID law, President Donald Trump's Department of Justice argued in a legal filing Wednesday."

* Scary thought: "Buried in a New York Times profile of CNN chief Jeff Zucker was a brief comment from an unnamed official that could make the Trump administration's already rough political road that much rockier. 'White House advisers have discussed a potential point of leverage over their adversary' CNN, the official told the Times’s Michael Grynbaum: 'a pending merger between CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, and AT&T.'"

* Here's hoping other sheriffs know better: " The sheriff of one opioid-ravaged Ohio county is refusing to equip his deputies with Narcan, the drug that has saved the lives of countless overdosing addicts."

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

The White House's volatile employment environment

07/07/17 04:11PM

Donald Trump's White House is unusual in a wide variety of ways, but one of its more bizarre traits is the competing factions that have taken root after just six months in office. Politico reported yesterday that in the West Wing, "top advisers have built up personal staffs to support their own agendas instead of using a traditional White House policy and messaging operation."

The article added that this dynamic includes staffers, such as Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, having their own press operations, separate from the White House's messaging apparatus. Even Republicans concede there is no precedent for anything like this.

The dynamic appears to be an outgrowth of the competing factions within Trump World, which includes a sizable Breitbart contingent, made up of several veterans of the right-wing website: Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Julia Hahn, and Tera Dahl.

This week, that faction got a little smaller.

As rival factions inside the White House continue to battle over urgent foreign policy decisions, a key ally of Donald Trump's chief strategist Stephen Bannon is leaving the National Security Council, BuzzFeed News has learned.

Tera Dahl, deputy chief of staff at the NSC and a former columnist for Breitbart, is being reassigned to a position outside of the White House, three people familiar with the decision told BuzzFeed News. The move frees up National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster to install another staffer of his choosing in his drive to reshape the NSC to his liking.

As for the growing list of Trump World departures, we can now update the overall tally. Note, some of the departures were voluntary, some weren't.

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Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, confer at the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 16, 2016. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The new GOP pitch: Millions will 'choose' health care insecurity

07/07/17 03:20PM

It's amazing how important semantics have become to Republicans engaged in the health care fight. It started in March with a strange fight over the nuanced meaning of the word "everybody."

More recently, GOP officials have been reduced to insisting that taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicaid shouldn't ever be described as a "cut."

All of which brings us to the spirited, ongoing dispute about whether the tens of millions of Americans who'd lose their health coverage as a result of the Republican plan would really be "choosing" to go without. From TPM's summary:

As Senate Republicans lurch towards repealing the Affordable Care Act, party leaders and the Trump administration are pushing a new line about the projection that their bill would strip 22 million people of their health insurance over the next decade: that many or most of those people would be exercising their freedoms and dropping coverage by choice.

"If you're not going to force people to buy something they don't want, then they won't buy it," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said on Fox News. "So it's not that people are getting pushed off a plan. It's that people will choose not to buy something they don't like or want."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) has been especially enthusiastic about pushing the "choice" argument. The Republican leader doesn't dispute the Congressional Budget Office's findings that the GOP bill would leave 22 million Americans uninsured; rather, Cornyn has tried to reframe this as some kind of positive.

Those tens of millions of Americans, as the Texas senator sees it, will simply "choose" not to have health security -- because Republicans are promoting "freedom."

Just so we're clear, Cornyn and Paul Ryan aren't kidding. This isn't some kind of strange attempt at dark humor or a satirical attempt to make Republicans appear cartoonishly cruel.

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Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touches a piece of hardware with a warning label "Do Not Touch" at Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Maybe Trump and Pence should steer clear of astronomy altogether

07/07/17 01:27PM

A week ago, in a strange White House ceremony, Donald Trump signed an executive order to bring back the National Space Council. The event was odd for a variety of reasons, including the remarks the president made to wrap up the official gathering.

"This is infinity here," Trump said. "It could be infinity. We don't really don't know. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right?"

I honestly have no idea what the president was even trying to say.

A week later, the administration kept its focus on astronomy, dispatching Mike Pence to the Kennedy Space Center, where he was photographed putting his hand on equipment that featured a prominent sign that read, "Critical Space Flight Hardware: Do Not Touch."

You were warned, Vice President Mike Pence. The sign is pretty clear: "Do Not Touch."

Like the Roswell UFO incident or the "Star Wars" prequels, this photo leaves us asking: What happened here? Maybe the vice president had express permission to touch the "Critical Space Flight Hardware" during his tour of NASA's Kennedy Space Flight Center. Maybe he wanted to recreate that time President Donald Trump put his hands on a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia.

Maybe he was looking for that infinity the president was so excited about.

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Image: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer Holds Press Briefing At White House

Trump administration steps on Trump's 'death spiral' talking point

07/07/17 01:00PM

The nation's top Republican officials, including Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, routinely insist that the Affordable Care Act is beyond repair because it's entered a "death spiral." I've long believed they use this phrase because it sounds terrifying -- they like any sentence that includes the words "Obamacare," "death," and "spiral."

But the phrase is actually a term of art for those who take the policy debate seriously. At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, if the ACA were in "death spiral," we'd see declining enrollment numbers, with consumers withdrawing from the system because they can't afford the premiums and would rather pay the penalty than buy insurance they can't afford. This, in turn, pushes healthier people out of the market, leaving behind sicker people in need of more care, increasing prices in a cyclical and self-defeating way.

As regular readers know, the real-world evidence says this isn't happening. As Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Huffington Post in January, "It seems to me that enrollment holding steady amidst tremendous uncertainty about the future of the law and big premium increases is a positive sign. There is no evidence of a market collapse or insurance death spiral."

Complicating matters, it's not just experts reaching this conclusion. Even the Trump administration agrees that Trump's rhetoric is wrong. FiveThirtyEight explained this morning:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, last week released a report about a wonky aspect of the Affordable Care Act related to insurance payments. Tucked away in the report, however, was evidence that the health insurance marketplaces set up by Obamacare were relatively stable in 2016.

Contrary to the "death-spiral" narrative, the CMS report found that the mix of healthy and sick people buying insurance on the Obamacare marketplaces in 2016 was surprisingly similar to those who enrolled in 2015.

Remember, before the ACA's critics start shouting, "Fake news!" this data came directly from the Trump administration itself.

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In this Oct. 2015 file photo, Republican Gov. Paul LePage speaks at a town hall meeting in Auburn, Maine. (Photo by Robert F. Bukaty/AP)

Maine's LePage suggests he likes to 'make up' news stories

07/07/17 12:00PM

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has a striking track record for inflammatory and offensive rhetoric, much of it directed at the media. A few years ago, for example, the Republican governor climbed into the cockpit of a fighter-jet simulator and declared, "I want to find the [Portland] Press Herald building and blow it up."

Yesterday, LePage added to his greatest-hits package with a new curious claim.

Gov. Paul LePage lashed out at the media for reporting he planned to leave the state during a budget impasse, and he suggested he sometimes concocts stories to mislead reporters. The Republican governor also characterized the state media as "vile," "inaccurate" and "useless."

"I just love to sit in my office and make up ways so they'll write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it's awful," he told WGAN-AM on Thursday.

LePage added, "The sooner the print press goes away the better society will be."

Note the phrasing: in the governor's mind, it's a foregone conclusion that the print press will die. He just hopes it happens sooner rather than later.

We've come a long way from Thomas Jefferson writing in 1787, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

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Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place in Billings, Mont., Nov. 6, 2012.

Trump's voting commission relies on evidence that doesn't exist

07/07/17 11:19AM

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R), a member of Donald Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission, appeared on MSNBC yesterday and had a rather unpleasant exchange with Katy Tur. After he eventually let Tur ask her first question about the absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, Blackwell turned to a familiar talking point.

"Let me say that the Pew Foundation found that we have corrupted voter registration files, which means that we have folks who have either registered to vote in two states or we have folks who are still registered to vote who happen to be dead and you create vulnerabilities for the integrity of the system."

If you watch the clip, Katy Tur reminded viewers of the relevant detail that Blackwell chose not to mention: the Pew study didn't point to any evidence of voter fraud. He was asked about fraud, but Blackwell's "proof" was unrelated to the question.

For voter-suppression advocates, this Pew Center report has become a life-preserver of sorts. Whenever Donald Trump has been asked to substantiate some of his more outlandish voter-fraud claims, he insists that Pew provided iron-clad evidence that backs him up. Kris Kobach has also repeatedly cited the Pew research as proof.

Perhaps they didn't understand what they read -- because the report plainly doesn't say what they think it says.

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Job growth picks up steam as spring turns to summer

07/07/17 10:42AM

Monthly job growth was a little underwhelming as 2017 got underway, leading to questions about when we might see more robust numbers. Apparently, we now have an answer.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this morning that the U.S. economy added 222,000 jobs in June, which is a very healthy total. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, inched higher to 4.4%.

As for the revisions, the totals for April and May were both revised up, and combined they show a net gain of about 47,000 jobs.

Above you’ll find the chart I run every month, showing monthly job losses since the start of the Great Recession. The image makes a distinction: red columns point to monthly job totals under the Bush and Trump administrations, while blue columns point to job totals under the Obama administration.

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Former Gov. Rick Perry addresses the National Press Club's Newsmaker Luncheon on his economic plan on July 2, 2015. (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty)

Rick Perry's economics 'lesson' goes horribly awry

07/07/17 10:19AM

One of my favorite moments from Rick Perry's second ill-fated presidential campaign came in September 2015, when the Texas Republican responded to criticism from Donald Trump. "A broken clock is right once a day," Perry said at the time, unaware of his mistake.

Two years later, Perry leads the Department of Energy, where's he's still confused about things he thinks he understands. The Washington Post reported:

Speaking at a coal-fired power plant in Maidsville, W.Va., on Thursday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry made a strange argument about supply and demand, seeming to confuse the relationship between two of the essential forces in the economy.

"Here's a little economics lesson: supply and demand," Perry said, according to Taylor Kuykendall of Standard & Poor's. "You put the supply out there, and demand will follow."

Call it the "Field of Dreams" approach to economics: if you build it, they will come.

What Rick Perry apparently doesn't appreciate is that this isn't how capitalism works.

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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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