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Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 9.12.17

09/12/17 12:00PM

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

* For the third time in seven days, a House Republican from a competitive district announced his retirement. Yesterday, it was Rep. Dave Trott (R) of Michigan who said he's stepping down after just two terms.

* Politico reports that Steve Bannon is leading an effort to run primary challenges against some Republican senators next year, and is coordinating the initiative with conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, "who is prepared to pour millions of dollars into attacks on GOP incumbents."

* On a related note, Senate Republicans have taken note of Bannon's plans and they're not at all pleased.

* In Arizona's closely watched U.S. Senate race, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) hasn't officially launched a statewide campaign, but The Hill reports that if she does, Sinema will have Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's (D-N.Y.) support. The move is likely intended to discourage potential primary rivals.

* The Republicans' Senate primary runoff is two weeks from today, and NBC News' First Read makes the case that former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is likely to prevail over appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

* The Washington Post reported yesterday on some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who are pushing the senator to create a far-left rival to the Democratic Party. Sanders has always rejected such talk, saying it would help Republicans dominate.

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Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Republicans are writing tax reform behind closed doors, too

09/12/17 11:20AM

The Fox affiliate in Milwaukee yesterday ran a report over the weekend criticizing union ironworker Randy Bryce, House Speaker Paul Ryan's likely Democratic opponent next year, for not knowing much of anything about the Republican tax plan.

"I would have to look to see how those brackets are made up," Bryce told the station. "To be honest, I've been really busy campaigning."

And while I'm all for candidates having detailed understandings of major issues, it's pretty easy in this case to cut the Wisconsin Democrat some slack -- because the GOP tax plan he's unfamiliar with doesn't yet exist.

Politico reported this morning that many congressional Republicans returned from their summer break "ready and eager to work on tax reform," only to discover their party still doesn't have a plan. The piece added that members are feeling anxious since they've "seen no details and worry they'll be backed into a corner on legislation they haven't even seen, much like they were with the failed Obamacare repeal earlier this summer."

That analogy appears to be on everyone's mind. GOP leaders knew they wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but when it came time to actually write a bill, a small group of Republicans clustered behind closed doors to craft a dreadful and unpopular proposal that ultimately failed in the face of intra-party divisions.

Learning little from the experience, GOP leaders again set out to write a tax plan in secret, and as Roll Call reported late last week, it's not going especially well.

The closed-door process under which Republican congressional leaders and the Trump administration are crafting an overhaul of the United States tax code could impede the Senate's timeline for the effort.

Lawmakers say they have yet to receive key details, making it difficult to craft a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that will ultimately serve as the vehicle to advance the tax bill.

Asked when he expected to hear about the details of his party's plan, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Roll Call, "Damned if I know."

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) added, "It's hard to prepare without details."

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On single-payer, the Democratic floodgates have opened

09/12/17 10:41AM

For those who followed the debate over the Affordable Care Act's creation closely, Max Baucus is an important figure. The former Democratic senator from Montana was always on board with reforming the system, and he played an important role in getting the bill done, but Baucus prided himself on being moderate and pragmatic, resisting calls for some of the more progressive ideas on the table at the time.

With this in mind, it raised more than a few eyebrows last week when Baucus -- whom Bernie Sanders once said wouldn't support single-payer "in a million years" -- announced his belief that "the time has come" for a single-payer system.

This wasn't an isolated fluke. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, the "dam is breaking when it comes to the Democratic Party embracing government-funded health care."

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) became the fourth co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) "Medicare for all" health-care bill Monday. In doing so, he joined Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.).

What do those four senators have in common? Well, they just happen to constitute four of the eight most likely 2020 Democratic presidential nominees, according to the handy list I put out Friday.

Soon after the story was published, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who's also rumored to be interested in the 2020 presidential race, announced her support for the legislation, as did Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict the list of co-sponsors for Bernie Sanders' bill, which is due to be released this week, isn't done growing.

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Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Going Dark with FBI Director

Trump World isn't done going after James Comey

09/12/17 10:06AM

There's ample evidence to suggest Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are taking a close look at Donald Trump's firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in May. The president desperately wanted Comey to say he wasn't under investigation, which ironically led to a series of events that prompted an investigation into the president.

And with that in mind, Trump World has an incentive to trash Comey -- or at least try to -- since it's the former director's version of events that help paint a picture that looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice. Two weeks ago, for example, we learned Trump's lawyers have met with Mueller and made the case that Comey is not to be believed, "calling him prone to exaggeration, unreliable in congressional testimony and the source of leaks to the news media."

As recently as 12 days ago, the president himself was still going after Comey by name.

All of which led to yesterday's White House press briefing, in which Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued to focus on the former FBI chief.

"[O]n the Comey firing, I think that we've been pretty clear what our position is. And certainly, I think that that has been shown in the days that followed, that the president was right in firing Director Comey. Since the director's firing, we've learned new information about his conduct that only provided further justification for that firing, including giving false testimony, leaking privileged information to journalists, he went outside of the chain of command, and politicized an investigation into a presidential candidate."

In response to follow-up questions, Sanders would not elaborate on the details of these allegations.

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Trump's preoccupation with airplanes seems a little weird

09/12/17 09:20AM

There's just something about airplanes that captures Donald Trump's attention in unhealthy ways.

Politico reported the other day on a White House meeting the president hosted with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations, which at face value, only seemed notable because it included another private chat between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But at the end of the article, we learned that the otherwise-pleased president had one odd concern on his mind during the Oval Office discussion.

The president, though, had one gripe, after his visit from the emir of Kuwait on Thursday afternoon. He was very impressed by the emir’s plane but noted that it was longer than his -- maybe even by 100 feet.

Now, for the record, I have no idea whether the Kuwaiti emir's plane is bigger than the American president's plane. I also don't care. Donald Trump, however, apparently focuses his attention on such things.

And while that's a little weird, let's also pause to appreciate the apparent fact that the president also felt compelled to complain about this during a meeting with lawmakers. In other words, Trump wasn't bothered by the size of some other guy's plane; he also wanted people to know he was bothered by the size of some other guy's plane.

What's more, if you're thinking this isn't the first time the president's preoccupation with airplanes has led in a weird direction, you're right.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law in his Topeka, Kan., office May 12, 2016. (Photo by Dave Kaup/Reuters)

Trump's voting commission heads to NH amid ongoing controversies

09/12/17 08:41AM

Members of Donald Trump's scandal-plagued voting commission will host a public event in New Hampshire today, and those expecting a serious examination of the issue are likely to be disappointed. Mother Jones reported that the panel will welcome "a controversial pack of witnesses that includes tarnished academics and political allies" of voter-suppression pioneer Kris Kobach, who co-chairs the commission.

What's more, despite the fact that GOP-imposed voting restrictions tend to adversely affect minority communities, 12 of the 12 announced witnesses are white men. Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, responded, "By stacking the deck with an all-white and male cast of panelists, the Commission has created an echo chamber to support Kris Kobach's baseless claims of voter fraud."

But ahead of today's event, it's also worth appreciating why Trump's ridiculous panel chose the Granite State for today's hearing.

The state was one of the first targets of Donald Trump's claims of illegal voting during the 2016 election — he lost the state by a razor-thin margin (fewer than 2,800 votes). Weeks after he defeated Hillary Clinton, Trump claimed without evidence that the state had "serious voter fraud" and charged that "thousands" of people from Massachusetts were bused into in the Granite State to vote.

Trump's vote fraud panel is coming to New Hampshire on Tuesday for its second public meeting, only days after the commission's vice chairman amplified in an op-ed the president's baseless claims that illegal voting had possibly swayed the election in the state.

The idea that there was rampant voter fraud in New Hampshire was already discredited in February, when Trump first started pushing this nonsense, but Kansas' Kris Kobach renewed the push with a piece last week for the right-wing Breitbart website.

Not surprisingly, it wasn't long before the Republican's argument was thoroughly and completely debunked. Kobach's case, put simply, was demonstrably absurd.

All of which leads to three straightforward questions: (1) is Kobach lying; (2) if so, why; and (3) what should the consequences be for his deliberate attempt to mislead the American people about the right to vote.

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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)

EPA chief: It's 'insensitive' to mention climate change right now

09/12/17 08:00AM

It's fair to say all is not well at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief who's long opposed the EPA's work, is at the center of multiple controversies. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the EPA violated ethics rules in its hiring practices. The EPA's press office recently went after a reporter as if it were a Republican campaign operation.

Making matters considerably worse, the Washington Post reported last week that the EPA has put a political operative with little environmental policy experience, John Konkus, in charge of "vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants the EPA distributes annually." The report explained that Konkus "reviews every award the agency gives out, along with every grant solicitation before it is issued." As part of his reviews, he looks out for "the double C-word" -- climate change -- and according to the Post, he's repeatedly "instructed grant officers to eliminate references to the subject in solicitations."

Christie Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor who ran the EPA in George W. Bush's first term, wrote a New York Times op-ed last week explaining that all of this helps show "how not to run" the Environmental Protection Agency.

It's against this backdrop that the administrator of the EPA has discovered a new justification for ignoring the climate crisis.

For scientists, drawing links between warming global temperatures and the ferocity of hurricanes is about as controversial as talking about geology after an earthquake. But in Washington, where science is increasingly political, the fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting.

"To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced," Mr. Pruitt said to CNN in an interview ahead of Hurricane Irma, echoing similar sentiments he made when Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas two weeks earlier. "To use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to this people in Florida," he added.

He didn't appear to be kidding. The head of the EPA believes addressing climate change in the wake of deadly hurricanes might hurt Floridians' feelings.

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Monday's Mini-Report, 9.11.17

09/11/17 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Florida: "On the day after Hurricane Irma roared through their state, many Floridians emerged blinking from boarded-up homes and shelters on Monday to survey the damage -- and were surprised it wasn't a whole lot worse."

* Don't forget Houston: "Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters have left this sprawling metropolis partially ruined and eager to return to something like normalcy. But the storm has also forced many thousands of people out of their homes. As a result, the city is engaged in one giant collective improvisation. Its defining creative endeavor is where to find a place to sleep."

* The U.S. Supreme Court "agreed Monday to maintain President Trump's temporary ban on travel to America by refugees. The court acted after the Trump administration urged the court to act quickly to keep the refugee ban in place. But the government gave up fighting over whether grandmothers and other relatives should also be subject to the ban."

* This probably won't be well received: "Pope Francis is urging President Donald Trump to rethink his decision to end a program protecting young immigrants from deportation, saying anyone who calls himself 'pro-life' should keep families together."

* United Nations: "The Trump administration has backed away from some of the most stringent penalties it had sought to impose on North Korea, in an apparent effort to draw Russian and Chinese backing for a new raft of sanctions over the country's nuclear weapons advances."

* A story worth watching: "The congressional campaign of Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, has twice purchased Costco memberships. The 'membership dues' -- $50 and $150 -- were paid in November 2009 and December 2012, respectively. U-T Watchdog identified the payments in reviewing some of Hunter's older expenses -- an exercise federal investigators are also going through, as they review his personal spending of campaign funds."

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Image: White House Senior Advisor Bannon attends a roundtable discussion held by U.S. President Trump with auto industry leaders at the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township

Steve Bannon is ready for his ideological war

09/11/17 12:47PM

Breitbart's Steve Bannon, four weeks removed from his role as chief strategist in Donald Trump's White House, covered quite a bit of ground on CBS's "60 Minutes" last night. Bannon apparently sees himself in some kind of protracted ideological battle with the congressional Republican leadership; he has "contempt" for George W. Bush and his team; and he considers the president's decision to fire then-FBI Director James Comey as possibly the biggest mistake "in modern political history."

And while all of this was interesting, it wasn't the part of the interview that stuck with me once the show aired. Rather, it was this exchange between Bannon and Charlie Rose that I found myself mulling over afterwards.

ROSE: Everybody listening to you talks about one of the great issues in American life today, which is the plight of the middle class. But they also believe that there is -- on your part and the president's part -- not enough appreciation for some of the values also that made America great. And you don't appreciate that. You don't appreciate the diversity, you don't appreciate the respect for civil rights...

BANNON: I was raised in a desegregated neighborhood. It-- it-- the north side of Richmond is predominantly black, OK? I went to -- I went to an integrated school, a Catholic school. I served in the military. I don't need to be -- I don't need to be lectured by a bunch of -- by a bunch of limousine liberals, OK, from the Upper East Side of New York and from the Hamptons, OK, about any of this. My lived experience is that.

We're all familiar with the old cliché: a person accused of racism will say, "Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank with the relevant minority group)." But that's not quite where Bannon went in the interview.

Instead, his answer was slightly worse. Bannon could've made the case that he respects racial and ethnic diversity, and explained why it's a core element of American strength, but his defensiveness took him in a different direction. In Bannon's case, "Some of my best friends are minorities" has effectively been replaced with, "Some of the people I've been exposed to are minorities."

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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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