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Thursday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.21.16

04/21/16 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.
 
* Among the changes the revamped Donald Trump campaign is prepared to make? The Republican frontrunner will reportedly start "using teleprompters and a speechwriter."
 
* In Connecticut, which hosts its presidential primaries next week, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Bernie Sanders, 51% to 42%.
 
* The same poll shows Trump ahead among Connecticut Republicans with 48%, followed by John Kasich at 28% and Ted Cruz at 19%.
 
* In Pennsylvania, which also hosts presidential primaries on Tuesday, the latest Monmouth University poll shows Clinton leading Sanders, 52% to 39%, while a new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows Clinton ahead by an even larger margin, 58% to 31%.
 
* The Franklin & Marshall poll found Trump ahead among Pennsylvania Republicans with 40%, followed by Ted Cruz at 26% and John Kasich at 24%.
 
* In two new fundraising letters -- one sent yesterday, one sent today -- the Sanders campaign told donors that the senator still has "a path" to the Democratic nomination, so supporters should continue to send money.
Deadline Approaches To Signup For Health Insurance Under Affordable Care Act. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

ACA critics shouldn't cheer the UnitedHealth news too much

04/21/16 11:20AM

There's a dedicated team of officials and activists who are always on the lookout for bad news about the Affordable Care Act. This week, they seemed to find some.
 
UnitedHealth Group, the nation's largest private insurer, announced Tuesday that next year, it would scale back its participation in ACA exchange marketplaces. Starting in 2017, UnitedHealth will be "down to a handful of states."
 
"A ha!" anti-healthcare forces declared. "We knew it! The market is failing! Obamacare is a disaster! We were right all along!"
 
They should probably take a deep breath, because while the UnitedHealth announcement certainly isn't good news, it's not evidence of a crisis, either.
 
The Washington Post article on this highlighted a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found the impact on consumers is likely to be relatively modest: "Even if United exited all states, most marketplace enrollees would still have the ability to choose between three or more insurers. An average health plan used as a benchmark would be about 1 percent more expensive if United had not participated in 2016."
 
But what about what this says about the larger system? TPM's Tierney Sneed reported yesterday that this week's announcement is "not the sky-is-falling, death-spiral fever dream that conservatives are making it out to be."
For one, while UnitedHealth is indeed the nation's largest insurer, it is a relatively small player on the individual exchanges.... Furthermore, UnitedHealth decided to sit out the first year the marketplaces were in operation, meaning it has had one fewer year than its competitors to game out pricing according to its risk pools. [...]
 
In general, UnitedHealth was offering plans in many states more expensive than other companies, the Kaiser report noted, and what has become clear in the first few years of ACA implementation is that consumers are willing to shop around for the cheapest deal.
 
UnitedHealth pricing issues could be partly attributed to the fact that the insurer is more geared to broad-network plans, and the cheaper, narrow-network offerings have been more successful on the individual marketplaces.
These relevant details suggest the latest "Obamacare crisis" really isn't much of a crisis.
House Speaker Paul Ryan leaves after making a statement to the media on Capitol Hill in Washington ruling himself out as a potential 2016 presidential candidate April 12, 2016. (Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

Paul Ryan's halo starts to lose its luster

04/21/16 10:50AM

As a rule, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) only receives one kind of press: glowing. The political establishment long ago decided the far-right congressman is the Republican Party's Golden Boy, a status that propelled Ryan to his party's 2012 vice presidential nomination (a historical rarity for a young House member), a Speaker's gavel he said he didn't want, and even 2016 presidential scuttlebutt long after he removed himself from consideration.
 
Given all of this, it was striking to see Politico run a piece this week noting an inconvenient truth that undercuts the broader narrative: nearly six months into his powerful new post, Paul Ryan isn't actually accomplishing much of anything.
Almost six months into the job, Ryan and his top lieutenants face questions about whether the Wisconsin Republican's tenure atop the House is any more effective than that of his predecessor, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Ryan has flattered the House Freedom Caucus and pursued promises to empower rank-and-file Republicans with reforms to how the House operates -- yet it's yielded little in the way of actual results.
 
Democrats are openly mocking their GOP counterparts, and Republicans grumble -- in private so far -- that nothing is getting done under Ryan. Like Boehner, Ryan is finding out that becoming speaker is easier than being speaker, at least in the still badly divided House GOP Conference.
All of this has the added benefit of being true. Ryan wanted to pass a budget, but his efforts failed. He said he supports tackling voting rights, but his members rejected it. The Wisconsin Republican expressed an interest in moving forward on a variety of legislative measures -- tax reform, criminal-justice reform, responding to the opioid epidemic, an FAA overhaul, addressing Puerto Rico's fiscal problems, etc. -- all of which are either dead or in deep trouble.
 
The Politico piece tried to take note of some of Ryan's "wins" since becoming Speaker, and the article highlighted "a bill calling for Obamacare's repeal" -- which is a bill that (a) tried to take health care benefits away from millions of families; and (b) never stood any chance of becoming law.
 
If this is what counts as a Ryan "victory," it's no wonder people are starting to talk about his ineffectiveness.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Buffalo, New York, April 18, 2016. (Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Trump's most popular position isn't close to being true

04/21/16 10:06AM

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump appeared on NBC's "Today" this morning, participating in a town-hall-style event in front of a sizable group of voters. The candidate and the hosts covered quite a bit of ground, but there was one exchange in particular between Trump and Savannah Guthrie that struck me as especially important.
GUTHRIE: Do you believe in raising taxes on the wealthy?
 
TRUMP: I do. I do -- including myself. I do.
The audience, it's worth noting, applauded the answer. The one policy most Republicans would never consider under any circumstances happens to be quite popular -- a detail Trump seems to understand far better than his party does.
 
This morning was not, by the way, the first time Trump has stated this position. On the contrary, the New York Republican has been boasting since last summer about his willingness to break with GOP orthodoxy. Last August, he told Bloomberg Politics that multi-millionaires are currently "paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous.... I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it's ridiculous, OK?"
 
Asked if he's prepared to raise his own taxes, Trump said at the time, "That's right. That's right. I'm OK with it. You've seen my statements, I do very well, I don't mind paying some taxes."
 
Given how popular the underlying idea is, this populist rhetoric is exactly the kind of thing that helped fuel Trump's rise to the top of the Republican presidential race. It's why, when Trump reiterated his position this morning, the audience started clapping before he even finished his answer.
 
There's just one nagging problem: what Trump said isn't even close to being true.

Republican blockade failing to persuade American mainstream

04/21/16 09:29AM

The Washington Post observed this week that Democrats "are winning the Supreme Court fight over Merrick Garland. Big time." Dems aren't exactly succeeding in convincing Republicans to end their unprecedented Supreme Court blockade, but the party has apparently fared pretty well in the court of popular opinion.
 
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll started asking an important question soon after Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February:
"Recently, a Supreme Court Justice passed away leaving a vacancy on the court. President Obama has nominated a new person to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Would you prefer the U.S. Senate vote this year on the replacement nominated by President Obama or leave the position vacant and wait to vote next year on the replacement nominated by the new president or do you not have an opinion one way or the other?"
When the question went to the public just a few days after Scalia's death, Americans were closely divided: 43% said they'd like to see the Senate vote this year on the Supreme Court's vacancy, while 42% said they'd prefer to see the vacancy filled next year by a new president.
 
A month later, in March, the numbers shifted a bit in the Democrats' favor. This month, in a poll that was in the field last week, they shifted even more. Now, a 52% majority of Americans want a vote this year, while 30% want to leave the seat vacant until next year.
 
What was a one-point advantage for the White House's position in February is a 22-point advantage now. A closer look suggests even Republican voters are starting to shift away from their own party's position.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks with media and supporters during his visit to the Vatican, April 15, 2016. (Photo by Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

Team Sanders' delegate strategy under the microscope

04/21/16 08:57AM

Bernie Sanders has said many times that he'd much prefer to talk about his core issues than about the electoral process, but given the state of the race for the Democratic nomination, the importance of the process is hard to overlook.
 
In the wake of Hillary Clinton's easy primary victory in New York, the arithmetic doesn't appear to be working out for the Vermont senator. Facing a shrinking calendar, Sanders faces a deficit among pledged delegates -- the delegates earned through primaries and caucuses -- that will be extremely difficult to close by the time voting wraps up on June 14.
 
The question, however, is what happens then? Is Team Sanders prepared to ask Democratic superdelegates -- party officials and insiders -- to override the will of the voters? It now appears that depends on whom you ask.
 
For Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, the answer is yes. Weaver told MSNBC's Steve Kornacki on the air on Tuesday night that Team Sanders is moving forward with a plan in which the Democratic race is "determined by the superdelegates." Asked whether the Sanders campaign would urge superdelegates to give the senator the nomination, even if Sanders comes in second place in the fight for pledged delegates and popular votes, Weaver added, "At this point yes, absolutely."
 
Mark Longabaugh, a top aide to the senator, told the Huffington Post largely the same thing yesterday. Even if Clinton wins a majority of pledged delegates, Longabaugh said, the Sanders campaign intends to keep going, taking the fight to superdelegates who can overrule voters.
 
But consider the comments we heard last night from Tad Devine, a top Sanders strategist, who talked with Rachel about the campaign's strategy.
MADDOW: Is there a point of friction between the case that Senator Sanders has made for people power, basically, for this not being decided by the establishment, for the Democratic party insiders not doing this and it being the will of the voters and shouldn't be something that gets decided in back rooms, it gets decided in public. Is there a point of friction between that strategy that you're describing state by state, also the superdelegate strategy that you guys have talked about for the convention, and the way he's talked about how he wants to win?
 
DEVINE: I don't think there is. I mean, these are the rules. Unlike the Republicans --Trump in particular -- you know we're not going around saying you know everything's rigged and running against the rules. The rules are as they are. We may not like the way the rules are set up in some places but we've agreed to play by them. So, you know we'll work hard under the rules of caucus states, we'll work hard in other places. The superdelegates are there. We're gonna work hard to earn their support. I think we'll be able to do that if we succeed. Listen, the key test is succeeding with voters. In 2008 I wrote a piece that they published in the New York Times right after Super Tuesday. And I argued that superdelegates should wait, should look, and listen to what the voters do and follow the will of the voters. And I can tell you I got a lot of pushback from the Clinton campaign at the time, you know, when I published that piece. But I believe that today, that our superdelegates, that our party leaders should let the voters speak first. And I think if they do that all the way through the end of voting that will strengthen our party, and certainly strengthen our hand if we succeed with voters between now and June.
The question is whether or not Sanders' top aides are all on the same page.
Women hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

GOP's anti-Planned Parenthood panel descends into 'farce'

04/21/16 08:00AM

As ridiculous as the House Republicans' Benghazi committee has become, at least the GOP's investigation is scrutinizing a real event. Sure, by Republicans' own admission, the entire exercise is a partisan political stunt. And sure, the events in Benghazi in 2012 have already been investigated by seven other congressional committees. But at its root, four Americans died in a terrorist attack that actually happened.
 
The existence of the House Republicans' anti-Planned Parenthood committee is arguably tougher to defend.
 
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank highlighted the latest antics of the panel's far-right chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who "isn't one to worry about appearances."
The Tennessee Republican didn't make any pretense this week of being impartial with the committee she chairs, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, commonly known as the Planned Parenthood committee.
 
On the eve of her panel's Wednesday's hearing, Blackburn went over to Georgetown University to participate in a protest against Planned Parenthood, the very entity she is supposed to be investigating.... Then Blackburn showed up at her committee hearing the next morning and proclaimed, "My hope is that both parties can work together."
Of course, when Blackburn talks about the parties "working together," what she's referring to is a hope that Democrats will simply go along with a culture-war crusade as if the GOP's latest select committee were a legitimate exercise, probing a genuine controversy.
 
It is not. As we've discussed before, the "controversy" surrounding Planned Parenthood and fetal-tissue research effectively came to an end months ago. Despite the far-right uproar surrounding "undercover" videos targeting the health organization, a Texas grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing, and instead indicted the conservatives responsible for the "sting" operation against the group.
 
This followed word from 12 states, which had launched official investigations into Planned Parenthood's work, and each of which reached the same conclusion: the organization did not illegally sell fetal tissue.
 
These facts prompted the editorial board of the Washington Post to argue that it's time for the GOP to "give up its crusade" against Planned Parenthood. As yesterday's hearing reminded us, congressional Republicans have instead decided to ramp up the witch hunt.

Wednesday's Mini-Report, 4.20.16

04/20/16 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Flint: "Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday described the filing of criminal charges against three government workers connected with Flint's water issues as taking the crisis to a 'whole new level.'"
 
* Off Libya's coast: "Up to 500 migrants trying to reach Europe may have drowned off north Africa last week, the United Nations' refugee agency and an aid organization said Wednesday, although exact details of the tragedy remained unclear."
 
* In Riyadh: "President Obama and King Salman of Saudi Arabia met in Riyadh on Wednesday amid deepening tensions between their two governments over Iran, the fight against terrorism and the potential release of long-delayed documents said to implicate Saudi officials in the Sept. 11 attacks."
 
* Supreme Court: "Arizona's use of an independent commission for drawing state legislative boundaries survived another attack in a decision Wednesday by US Supreme Court. In a unanimous vote, the justices said the commission did not violate the principle of one person, one vote when it drew a new map for the state's 30 legislative districts after the 2010 census."
 
* Climate crisis: "The conclusions from a series of scientific surveys of the Great Barrier Reef bleaching event -- an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth -- are in, and scientists aren't holding back about how devastating they find them."
 
* North Carolina's problem isn't going away: "Target is joining the chorus of corporate entities taking issue with North Carolina's controversial Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which critics have argued sanctions prejudice against members of the LGBT community."
 
* Onto the House: "The U.S. Senate acted in a bipartisan fashion to pass a sweeping energy bill, touching on everything from cybersecurity for power plants to the future of the grid. The bill resulted from collaboration between Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell."
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Philadelphia, Penn. on April 6, 2016. (Photo by Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters)

On tax deductions, Sanders is no hypocrite

04/20/16 04:04PM

When Bernie Sanders said his tax returns would turn out to be pretty boring, he wasn't kidding. After a bit of a delay, the senator's campaign released his 2014 returns last Friday night, and as expected, there wasn't much in there of interest.
 
At least, that's what I thought. National Review published a piece this week making hay of the senator's deductions.
Sanders released his 2014 tax return this weekend, revealing that he and his wife took $60,208 in deductions from their taxable income. These deductions are all perfectly legal and permitted under the U.S. tax code, but they present a morally inconvenient, if delicious, irony: The Democratic socialist from Vermont, a man who rages against high earners paying a lower effective tax rate than blue-collar workers, saved himself thousands using many of the tricks that would be banned under his own tax plan. [...]
 
What Sanders did, using every option and advantage available under a Byzantine tax code to minimize his tax payment, is a normal practice for many Americans. But it's also exactly what the targets of his anger do. You can argue about whether or not that's greed, but it's impossible to argue that it isn't hypocrisy. The paragon of liberal purity is not as pure as he'd like the world to believe.
Actually, it's quite possible to argue that this isn't hypocrisy, because, well, that's not what hypocrisy means.
 
Current tax laws allow Americans to take a variety of deductions, and Sanders followed the laws as they're written. Does Sanders hope to change the laws related to deductions? He absolutely does, even if that means he and his family have to pay more. But those changes haven't yet happened, so the senator continues to do what he's permitted to do.
 
As Mother Jones' Kevin Drum put it, "If you don't like the designated hitter rule in baseball, does that mean you should send your pitcher to the plate just to prove how sincere you are? Of course not. You play by the rules, whatever those rules are."
 
All of which leads me to an ongoing point of concern. When I argue that many conservatives don't seem to understand what hypocrisy means, I'm not being coy or snarky. I mean it quite literally: some on the right throw around accusations about various figures on the left being hypocrites in a way that suggests they're genuinely confused about how hypocrisy works on a conceptual level.

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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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