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Warren: GOP Health Care Plan Designed to “Help the Rich Get Richer”

Here’s one of the good ones… Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on the Senate floor this afternoon, going after Republicans for their cruel, destructive health care proposal:

“Who comes up with a plan like this? What kind of health care bill has as its central feature ripping away health insurance from tens of millions of American citizens? What kind of politician thinks that they were sent to Congress to destroy the financial stability of millions of middle-class families and give wealthy donors a tax break that they certainly don’t need?

“Who thinks that the central problem in America is that middle-class families have too much health care coverage and that the richest people in America need government to hand them more money?

“There is no other way to say it:  This bill is just part of a Republican plan to help the rich get richer and kick dirt in everyone else’s face.”

Senator Whitehouse Rejects Comey Offer of Private Briefing on Trump Wiretapping Claims

When Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey on March 8 demanding answers on “… possible wiretapping of President Trump, the Trump campaign, or Trump Tower” they were promised a response by today.

At the opening of a Judiciary Subcommittee meeting this afternoon, Graham announced that Comey had responded to his office today and that the FBI Director committed to providing an answer — but only via a classified, private briefing in the near future.

While Graham did not comment on Comey’s offer of only private information, Whitehouse, the committee’s ranking Democrat, was quick to say it is unacceptable under the circumstances.

“I think one of the things we have tried to do here is to proceed outside of a classified setting,” said Whitehouse. “The Intelligence committees are working in a classified setting and I think the added value this subcommittee provides is to be able to have a public discussion.”

“We are entitled to investigate under the Constitution. They have Executive responsibilities and if we are only connecting with one another in a classified fashion, I don’t think that serves the public interest. So we will pursue this further.”

While not addressing Whitehouse’s belief that Comey should provide answers in a non-classified setting, Graham has been working closely with Whitehouse and has stuck with the Rhode Island Democrat in trying to get answers.

“A lot of Americans are wondering what is going on here,” said Graham. “What I’m trying to do is get answers to the questions raised by President Trump. He’s asked us to investigate and we will.”

“And to me it’s very reasonable to ask the FBI and the Department of Justice, did you ever seek a warrant, was a warrant obtained from any court anywhere about the Trump campaign? And if the answer is no, we’ll know it didn’t happen. If the answer is yes, that would be pretty stunning to me because they would have to have probable cause. I don’t know what the answer is but I know it’s the right question to ask.”

Here’s more of Whitehouse in the committee meeting today:

Congress Passes Law to Drug-Test More Unemployment Recipients

Well, at least the GOP isn’t only trying to mess with women’s bodies on this one.

In yet another action that should scare the hell out of Americans, the Republican-controlled Senate yesterday passed H.J. Res. 42, which abolishes a Labor Department regulation from the Obama administration which severely restricted a state’s authority to require drug testing on recipients of unemployment benefits.

It was passed by a 51-48 party line vote, with no members of the Democratic caucus voting in favor. It passed the House on February 15 and is expectedly to go swiftly to Trump’s desk for his signature.

The repealed 2012 law restricted who could be compelled to take a drug test to people who had been terminated from previous employment for drug use or those at high-risk occupations where the testing requirement could be argued on safety grounds. As they so often do, Republicans argued that this was federal overreach and said the decision on who to drug test should be left to the states.

“Congress specifically intended to provide states the ability to determine which applicants for unemployment insurance should be drug-tested,” said Ted Cruz (R-TX) “The Obama Department of Labor substantially narrowed the law to circumstances where testing is legally required, not merely allowed.”

Democrats contend that such testing is a clear Fourth Amendment violation and that it would allow states to order drug tests arbitrarily and with uneven standards.

“This measure before us is simply bizarre,” said Ron Wyden (D-OR), debating the bill on the Senate floor. “If, like me, you believe that drug testing can in instances be ineffective and mean spirited, you ought to oppose this measure because it simply vilifies unemployed workers who are actually less likely to use drugs than the general population.”

“The fact is the courts have ruled that suspicionless drug testing violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Wyden also made the case that drug-testing programs do not yield results commensurate with their costs and that this money might be better used helping Americans addicted to opioids or other harder drugs.

“For states that have implemented drug testing policies, there’s evidence that the costs dwarf the potential savings.  The costs of operating drug testing programs are charged to state health and human services accounts and I think we all understand those have been squeezed mightily by the effort to treat opioid addiction.

“Instead of wasting money by drug testing Americans who are looking for jobs, the states ought to be putting those very same dollars towards substance abuse treatment given the fact that opioid addiction has hit our country like a wrecking ball.”

Finally, Wyden argued that allowing this testing is especially unfair given that Americans pay for unemployment insurance out of every paycheck and said that benefit ought to be there when needed with no rights-violating strings attached.

“Just like social security, unemployment insurance is an earned benefit. It is an earned benefit that ought to be there for workers who fall on the hard times.”

Spicer: Investigation Will “Vindicate” Trump on Obama Wiretapping Charges

Whether it’s Sean Spicer or Kellyanne Conway, they always start dissembling with unqualified discussions on surveillance techniques whenever they are asked a direct question about their boss’s ridiculous wiretapping allegations against former President Obama. Spicer never goes as far as Conway — who has now famously suggested even common kitchen appliances could have been used to bug Trump — but he always finds a way to weasel out of a direct answer.

He did so again in today’s White House press briefing but elaborated a bit saying that there is “significant reporting” to back up Trump’s wild claim and that he believes President Mini-Mitts will ultimately be “vindicated.”

“I think he’s extremely confident. There’s been, I mean, I’ve mentioned this before… I’ll let them do their jobs,” said Spicer, when asked if Trump is confident that any evidence will surface to support his claim. “I’ll let the House, the Senate and I’ll let the DOJ report this. But as I’ve commented in the past, I think there’s significant reporting about surveillance techniques that have existed throughout the 2016 election.”

“I’ll leave it to them to issue their report. But I think he feels very confident that we’ll ultimately, come of this [sic], will vindicate him.”

The reporter then followed up and simply asked if Trump will make a statement when evidence — any evidence, of any kind — comes out. Which should be an easy question to answer unless your name is Sean Spicer. He responded by blathering on about letting the investigations run their course, saying “I don’t want to get ahead of what the president may or may not do.”

The really funny part, given that Conway was in the briefing room, was when Spicer was also asked if Trump believes “… he was surveilled through microwaves and televisions.”

“I’ll just say the president has tweeted about this, he’s pretty clear that he believes there was surveillance conducted during the 2016 election,” said the diminutive mouthpiece. “I think there’s pretty sound evidence that the microwave is not a sound way of surveilling someone and I think that has been cleaned up. It was made in jest, so I think we can put that to rest.”

Why, oh why, wasn’t there a camera on Conway as Spicer answered that question?

Here’s the clip of Spicer saying he believes Trump will be vindicated.

Text and Video of Schumer, Pelosi Slamming TrumpCare

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) gave a short news conference yesterday to discuss the damning report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which revealed that the new GOP  health-care bill would leave 24 million Americans with no health insurance whatsoever.

Republicans have wasted no time trashing the CBO over this report and the Democratic leaders gave their talk to explain exactly what the numbers mean and the impact on so many Americans. It was really chock-full of good information that will give you what you need to know about this disastrous Republican proposal.

Here’s some key statements made by both Pelosi and Schumer along with video of the first seven minutes of the news conference below.

Nancy Pelosi

“Well the accounting is in. The CBO has reported that the Republican bill pushes 24 million people out of health care – off of health coverage. This is a remarkable figure. It speaks so eloquently to the cruelty of the bill that the Speaker calls ‘an act of mercy.’ I don’t know if he thinks it’s an act of mercy to all the people who will lose coverage, to people who will lose jobs or to the hospitals they will have to close down, especially in rural areas. I don’t know if he thinks this is an act of mercy to people on opioid addiction and other addictions who are looking to Medicaid as an answer, as many Republican Governors have spoken to.

“So they’re taking 24 million people and pushing them off their coverage, and as they do so, they are implementing the biggest transfer of wealth in our history – $600 billion dollars going from working families to the richest people and corporations in our country. In terms of insurance coverage, it’s immoral. In terms of giving money to the rich at the expense of working families, it is indecent and it is wrong.

“The Republicans are confused right now. Some of them are discrediting the CBO and others are glorifying pushing 24 million people off of coverage. So I would hope that they pull the bill, it’s really the only decent thing to do.

“Numbers are important. They see the numbers. They should know how that transfers into peoples’ lives. They are finding that out from their constituents. How can they look their constituents in the eyes, when they say to them, ‘24 million of you will no longer have health insurance, and those of you that do have it will have less in terms of coverage at more cost to you?’”

Chuck Schumer

“The Republican hand-picked head of CBO has confirmed what we democrats have been saying all along. TrumpCare would be a nightmare for the American people, causing tens of millions to lose coverage and millions more seeing the cost of their health care going up.

“That is un-American. That’s wrong. Premiums for seniors will rise a whopping 20 to 25 percent and co-payments and deductibles for millions more. If there was ever a war on seniors, this bill, TrumpCare, is it.

“So when Speaker Ryan says it is an act of mercy, yeah, for those who make over $250,000 a year, because they get big tax cuts. The only winners in this CBO report are the Health insurance executives and the wealthy Americans. Everyone else gets a cold shoulder from the Republicans in Congress and from President Trump.

“You remember when President Trump was a candidate? He said everybody will be covered and costs will go down. We now know he had no intention of keeping either promise. Today, the nonpartisan scorekeepers have spoken clearly. TrumpCare means higher costs, for less coverage. The CBO report should be a knockout blow for Republicans in Congress. They should heed this warning and turn back from their plan, which would be a disaster for the country.”

Pelosi on the raiding of Medicare

“At the same time, you’re seeing in the report that they are taking $170 billion dollars from Medicare , shortening the solvency of Medicare by three years. So, again, seniors have a lot to lose as do all of America’s families.”

Schumer on how the Republicans call everything they don’t agree with a lie

“It’s a pattern that is a disturbing, even alarming in this administration. When they hear something they don’t like, they label it a lie. CBO is virtually unassailable. Everyone, Democrats and Republicans, whether it be George Bush, Barack Obama, or anyone else has gone along with CBO. They appointed this person. He was supposed to be a conservative person. Unfortunately, for the Republicans, he is an honest person and they won’t be able to discredit this. This report is going to resound from one end of America to the other.”

Pelosi responding to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price trying to discredit the CBO report

“And of course he has no facts to back it up. Numbers are quite eloquent things and they speak very clearly. And we all respect and have acknowledged that we need to know the numbers — the number of people affected, the amount of money that it will cost and who wins and who loses in this equation.

“In Congress, they still haven’t come to terms with criticizing the CBO because 24 million people losing health insurance is not a problem for them. It’s an ‘act of mercy.'”

Schumer with the quip of the news conference

“I am sure that the Republicans regret that they can’t fire the CBO Director as easily as they fired the 46 U.S. attorneys.”

Pelosi on the irony of Trump voters being the hardest hit by this plan

“It is really a sad thing because in addition to what the senator said about those who are in red states and rural America who have largely benefitted from the Affordable Care Act and who will be pushed off, a lot of the benefit of the $600 billion will go to blue areas. And that’s just not right.

“But think of yourself as a Trump voter from West Virginia or Kentucky, which has really done a good job with the Affordable Care Act, and thinking ‘I’m going to lose my coverage and they’re going to give $7 million to each of the richest families in America every year, instead of giving me health care. Is that what I voted for? I don’t think so.'”

Leahy: Sessions Should Have “Courage” on Trump’s Wiretapping Charges

Patrick Leahy (D-VT), currently the U.S. Senate’s longest-serving member (42 years), today called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to put to rest the Trump wiretapping charges against former President Obama, saying Sessions knows the truth and is simply unwilling to come forward.

“I was asked earlier this morning about what President Trump has tweeted, basically charging former President Obama with having spied on him in a way that would be patently illegal,” said the Vermont Democrat. “Of course, President Obama’s advisors have denied any such thing happened. If it did happen, of course, it would be a grave constitutional issue and if such a thing did happen, it would be criminal conduct.”

“Was Mr. Trump telling the truth in his tweet or not? There’s a very simple response on this. There’s one person who knows whether it’s true or not and he’s been totally silent on this — that’s Attorney General Sessions.”

Leahy continued, mentioning that Sessions was very clear in his confirmation hearings that he was capable of serving with the extreme independence required of an Attorney General and that in no way would he ever be moved from pursuing the truth based on loyalty to Trump.

“Attorney General Sessions made it very clear in his confirmation hearing — well, he said a number of things at his confirmation hearing — but one was, of course, was that he would be independent,” said Leahy. “President Trump has leveled very serious charges against former President Obama. I happen to feel that the charges are false but let’s have a definitive voice.”

“The Attorney General should have the courage and independence to simply say Mr. Trump is telling the truth or he’s not. It’s a very simple matter. I would hope that the president and everybody else would keep asking him because eventually somebody has to answer that question. And the attorney general can.”

Here’s the full video clip from the Senate floor:

Of course, there’s a reason Senate Democrats will not let this matter drift away and it goes beyond defending President Obama’s honor. It is possible that Trump making such a baseless charge could be an impeachable offense or, at the very least, add weight to charges brought for other reasons.

So we wait again on the actions of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. Let’s hope Democrats keep the pressure on as they have so far.

Conway: Obama May Have Spied on Trump Using Kitchen Appliances

Trump spokesgoblin Kellyanne Conway was at it again yesterday, upping the ante on the administration’s ridiculous wiretapping accusations against President Obama, saying that the former president could have met his nefarious goals by bugging kitchen appliances, such as a microwave.

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” croaked Conway. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.”

She further said that there are “microwaves that turn into cameras,” and sagely advising “We know this is a fact of modern life.”

Next up: Conway accuses Obama of having “turned” the lovable Pillsbury Doughboy and using the eight-inch tall pastry icon to perform further intel operations on Trump’s kitchen.

Update: Conway has apparently started walking back her kitchen-appliance theories saying on CNN today “I’m not inspector gadget. I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the campaign.”

U.S. Senators to Trump: Leave State Marijuana Laws Alone

With everything else that’s been going on, it was easy for this to go under the radar but, about a week ago, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions expressing concern about Trump administration statements that the federal government would start coming down on states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.  They formally asked that Trump take the same stand-down federal approach favored by former President Obama.

Eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for non-medicinal use.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said in recent press briefings that the Department of Justice (DOJ) may start enforcing federal marijuana laws, in a reversal of the Obama administration’s hands-off policy. Spicer has said on numerous occasions that states should expect “greater enforcement” of those federal laws in the near future.

This group of senators has formally objected to that.

“It is essential that states that have implemented any type of practical, effective marijuana policy receive immediate assurance from the DOJ that it will respect the ability of states to enforce thoughtful, sensible drug policies in ways that do not threaten the public’s health and safety,” stated the senators in their communication to Sessions. “This ensures that state infrastructure, including tax revenue, small businesses, and jobs, can be protected; DOJ resources can be used most effectively; and most importantly, that marijuana can be properly regulated to improve public health and safety.”

“These voter-approved laws have been evaluated by Governors and state Attorneys General, rigorously debated by state legislatures and the communities they serve, and implemented through thoughtful processes to ensure the proper regulated production and sale of marijuana.”

The letter also cites the “Cole Memorandum,” which spelled out Obama’s posture toward state-approved recreational marijuana use and the extent to which the federal government would not make an issue of those state laws:

“In 2013, the DOJ issued a memorandum outlining federal marijuana enforcement priorities in light of state marijuana laws (the “Cole Memorandum”). The Cole Memorandum explains that where states have ‘strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and production of marijuana, . . . enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.’

“This guidance has provided clarity to states and Americans on the interaction of state and federal laws regarding marijuana use and has allowed the DOJ to focus its law enforcement resources on the greatest threats to public safety and criminal justice, while allowing states to implement marijuana laws as they deem appropriate.”

The senators point out that Trump himself said during the presidential campaign that the matter should be left to the states, which goes contrary to another Spicer assertion that Trump was referring to medical marijuana and that there is “… a big difference between that and recreational marijuana.”

“While we appreciate the Administration’s apparent recognition that state-implemented medical marijuana laws are regulated effectively, we believe the same is true of states that regulate recreational marijuana use, and those that have decriminalized use,” said the letter from nine senators, including Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

“We respectfully request that you uphold the DOJ’s existing policy regarding states that have implemented strong and effective regulations for recreational marijuana use and ask that the Cole Memorandum remain in place.”

The letter is signed by the following senators: Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HA), Catherine Cortez Mast (D-NV), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

You can see the complete letter here.

Kudos to these Senators for taking this on — let’s see where Trump and the Republicans really come down on “states’ rights” when it comes to an issue not involving women’s health choices.

Gillibrand Rips GOP For “Fixation” on Taking Americans’ Health Care

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) went to the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday to talk about the new Republican health care measure but also took the time to question why the GOP always seem to be against the elderly and low-income Americans and why their default posture is always to deny health care.

“I’m struggling to understand why amid all of the problems we seem to have and all the problems we need to solve in this chamber, why this congress seems to have a singular fixation on taking away access to health care from some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Gillibrand. “I continue to be amazed by how little empathy there seems to be in this chamber for the millions of women, older Americans, lower income Americans who don’t have the incredible resources that we have here in congress and desperately need the federal programs that this bill will cut.”

Here’s the full video of Senator Gillibrand’s comments:

Senators Graham and Whitehouse Demand Proof of Trump’s Wiretapping Claim

I’m sure by this point Donald Trump has started to believe that he can just accuse former President Obama of committing the felony of wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election and walk away from that outrageous action unscathed.

But now, Republic and Democratic Senators, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) are throwing a wrench into those works by formally asking the Justice Department to prove Trump’s claims.

Graham and Whitehouse sent a letter yesterday to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente requesting copies of warrants and court orders “… related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”

The letter was sent to Boente, who will conduct any such investigations, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from any probes that involve Russia or the Trump campaign.

“As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, we would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously,” wrote Whitehouse and Graham in the letter. “We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or Trump Tower.”

Whitehouse and Graham are really only doing what Trump asked when he requested that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees look into his fabricated claims against Obama. And Trump was clearly comforted by the fact that the chairs of those committees, Republicans Richard Burr (Senate) and Devin Nunes (House) don’t seem inclined to do anything to rock the Trump-Putin boat.

But then Graham screwed that up for Trump by asserting jurisdiction for his committee, the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, saying that because his group has purview over “… the Department of Justice’s criminal division that obtains warrants for wiretaps” he has authority to make the request.

While it appears that, so far, Trump has managed to escape consequences for all of his words and deeds, this may end up being a good example of that old saying “be careful what you wish for.”

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