The House of Representatives

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  • What pundits call a "moderate" Senate health care bill will kill people

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As Senate Republicans unveil the draft of their health care proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, media have already taken to framing the Senate GOP’s attempt at destroying the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as “more moderate” than a similar bill passed by the House last month. But comparing the Senate bill to the House bill whitewashes the portions of the proposal that are in fact at least as extreme as the previous one and the immense harm they would do to American people if this bill became law.

    After drafting the bill with an “almost-unprecedented opacity,” Senate Republicans finally publicly introduced their health care proposal on June 22. The Senate draft comes over a month after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) on May 4. Several reports on the Senate health care bill, however, are deceptively framed as they suggest that the bill is “more moderate” than its counterpart passed by the House. The New York Times wrote that the Senate version was “in some respects, more moderate than the House bill” because it offers “more financial assistance to some lower-income people to help them defray the rapidly rising cost of private health insurance.” USA Today speculated that if the Senate passes the bill, it would “likely to be more moderate than what the House passed.” Additionally, Fox News’ Peter Doocy stated the bill appeared “more moderate than the House version” because it would “let states that took more Medicaid money” under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion “keep more of it for longer than the House bill would.”

    Calling the Senate bill “more moderate” than the House’s AHCA is a low bar and framing the Senate bill that way is deceptive. First of all, the House bill is nowhere close to moderate. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the AHCA would increase “the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected” under the ACA by 23 million by 2026. Additionally, under the AHCA, those with pre-existing conditions would be in jeopardy of losing coverage. At the very least, those with pre-existing conditions would face skyrocketing premiums. And those who want policies to cover essential health benefits, like maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services, are “likely to be priced out of the market,” according to NBC News. It would be hard to imagine a bill less moderate than the AHCA.

    The Senate bill is largely a replica of the AHCA that also includes its own extreme measures. As NBC News reported, the Senate draft “makes deeper cuts” to Medicaid “in the long run” compared to the House bill. And according to the Center for American Progress, the Senate bill’s essential health benefit waivers would “erode or eliminate financial protections for about 27 million workers and their dependents,” including those who are in employer health care plans.

    As Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, noted, “The Senate bill needs to be compared to current law, not the House bill.” People will die if this bill becomes law. That’s the context reporters should be using when discussing this new proposal.

  • MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle is obsessed with a Republican talking point about Jon Ossoff

    At least 21 congressional representatives also live outside the districts they were elected to represent

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle has obsessed over a right-wing talking point about Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff's decision not to establish residence in the 6th district where he is running in a June 20 special election. However, as The Washington Post has noted, at least 21 congressional representatives live outside of the districts they represent and Ossoff grew up in the 6th district before moving a few miles away.

    For months, Republicans and right-wing media attacked Ossoff for living just outside of Georgia’s 6th congressional district, and during the race it has become a major talking point, with outside groups running ads against him. President Donald Trump also tweeted similar attacks on the days of the primary election in April and the special election in June:

    During an interview on CNN in April, Ossoff made it clear that he intends to move back to the 6th congressional district where he “grew up” once his fiancee finishes medical school. But Ruhle has repeatedly raised this Republican talking point during interviews with him and during discussions of the race.

    During a June 16 interview, Ruhle noted that this line of attack had been used by Ossoff’s Republican opponent and acknowledged his reason for living outside the district. But she still pressed him on it, asking: “Why don’t you just move, at this point? I mean, you want to get this job, to me it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, why wouldn’t you just move so you could represent the district that you’d be governing?”

    She brought up this GOP talking point again the morning of the election in a panel discussion, saying, “This is one I just can’t get over -- if you think about what people are going after him over -- the president tweeting about it this morning. This is resolvable. He just needs to get a house in the district.” And just minutes later, Ruhle again grilled Ossoff about his address, demanding to know why he just doesn’t move (emphasis added):

    STEPHANIE RUHLE (HOST): Jon, I know you said it earlier, every vote counts. It is all about voter turnout. And I asked you the other day, but it's extraordinary, one of the main points that Karen Handel and even President Trump has pushed against you is something that's very easy to solve: where you live. And if you get elected you're going to be spending the majority of your time in Washington. And while people respect across the board your desire to support your fiancee, she is in medical school, she walks to work across the street at 4 a.m., you're going to be getting a job that has you on a plane living in another part of the country most days of the week. With every vote counting, with every point counting, why not move, sir?

    JON OSSOFF: Well, Steph, voters just aren't asking me this question. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to improve our local economy, voters are asking me what I'm going to do to ensure they have access to health care. Voters are asking me what I'm going to do to bring greater accountability to Washington. Folks here in Georgia’s 6th district care about how their representation is going to impact their daily lives. And frankly, if this is the best argument my opponents have against me, I'm feeling pretty good about the outcome tonight. I grew up in this community, as you mentioned I live a couple of miles down the road to support my fiancee while she finishes medical school. I’m running to serve my hometown in Congress and I want to make them proud.

    RUHLE: But, Jon, since the special election where you were at 48.1, things have only moved to 48.8 with 50 million bucks under your belt. So voters care about a lot. If you look back on this and things are that tight, wouldn't you say to yourself, just get an apartment in the district, this race counts so much?

    OSSOFF: Well, if voters were raising that as a serious concern, Steph, maybe I would. But voters care about how policy and how representation is going to impact their daily lives. They know I grew up in this community, they know I grew up in the 6th district, they know why I'm a couple miles south of the line. It's just not a major issue in the race. I'm focused on delivering representation that will serve our local economy, that will serve the daily needs of the people I hope to represent. And I'm offering a fresh voice to bring that kind of service to the 6th district.

    Ruhle’s obsession with this GOP attack against Ossoff is undermined by data showing at least 21 members of the House of Representatives live outside of the districts they represent. The Washington Post published an analysis on June 20 that found “that at least 5 percent of [House members] live outside their districts” (emphasis added):

    There’s no legal reason he should have to live in the district he hopes to represent; the Constitution mandates only that members of the House live in the state they are going to represent. That said, it’s generally considered politically advantageous to actually be a resident of the area you hope to represent.

    If elected, Ossoff wouldn’t be the only member of Congress living in Georgia’s 5th District. There’s also Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who represents the district. But a review of vote registration records by The Washington Post suggests that Ossoff would be the third member of Congress to make his home in the 5th. According to voter data provided to The Post by the political data firm L2, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) is also registered to vote in the district, instead of the 13th District that he represents.

    In fact, The Post identified 20 members of Congress who are registered to vote outside of the districts they serve. In some cases, it’s clearly a function of redistricting. Four members of the House from southern Florida, for example, live outside of the districts they represent, but that’s likely because the Florida Supreme Court redrew the district boundaries at the end of 2015.

    In total, we identified the records for 395 members of Congress, matching names and birthdates to voter files.

    [...]

    The broader point, though, is a simple one: Should Ossoff win the run-off in the 6th District in June, he will hardly be the only member of Congress to live outside of his district.

  • Lost in the Trump chaos: House Republicans vote to gut financial protections

    Dangerous moves to unravel post-crisis financial protections cannot break through the Trump scandal bubble

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On the same day former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate intelligence committee, the House voted to rip financial protections from millions of American consumers. The scant attention major news programs on the largest cable and broadcast outlets gave this crucial piece of legislation in the lead up to its passage highlights how little time major media outlets have dedicated to covering the Republican Party’s radical policy agenda amid the scandals emanating from the White House.

    On June 8, the Republican-led House passed the Financial Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs (CHOICE) Act -- or simply, the “Choice Act” -- which would gut many of the consumer protections enshrined in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. The Choice Act targets a series of reforms designed to prevent taxpayers from being forced to bail out “too big to fail” institutions in the midst of another financial crisis similar to what happened in 2008. It also weakens the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a watchdog institution set up by former President Barack Obama’s administration to protect American consumers.

    According to a synopsis published by Vox, the Choice Act would “eviscerate” reforms designed to “make a repeat of the 2008 [financial crisis] scenario less likely.” The reforms established new processes for the orderly liquidation of large financial institutions and implemented extra supervision and scrutiny for firms that pose systemic risk to the financial system. The legislation also sharply curtails the CFPB, which, as Mic explained, would make it easier for consumers to be abused by financial institutions. The CFPB and its director are seen as one of the few checks on Wall Street left in the federal government, and have been subjected to constant attack from right-wing media outlets and conservative politicians.

    Print and online news outlets such as the Associated Press, Business Insider, CNNMoney, The Hill, and ThinkProgress have covered the Choice Act fairly comprehensively, but the sweeping legislative changes it would implement barely broke through on TV. According to a Media Matters analysis, in the five weeks since the Choice Act advanced from the Financial Services Committee to a final floor vote in the House, the legislation has been mentioned just seven times during weekday prime-time cable news programs. It drew just one mention during weekday broadcast evening news programs:

    The Choice Act got in under the radar even though a coalition of 20 state attorneys general, numerous independent advocacy groups, and a wide array of experts opposed it. In a blogpost for Economic Policy Institute, economists Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz explained that the problems with the Choice Act go far beyond its unnecessary repeal of consumer protections enshrined in Dodd-Frank, and Ed Mierzwinski of the Public Interest Research Group criticized aspects of the law that would rescind protections available to military veterans and servicemembers. Financial regulatory expert Aaron Klein of The Brookings Institution wrote a column for Fortune slamming the Choice Act for limiting consumer access to information. The Southern Poverty Law Center also hit the legislation, decrying it for weakening oversight on predatory lenders who exploit low-income communities around the country.

    Rather than covering the Republican agenda to roll back consumer financial protections -- which Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has labeled his party’s “crown jewel” -- major national media outlets have been almost entirely consumed by the hastening pace of developments in investigations of possible collusion between Trump’s political team and the Russian government. The investigation coincided almost perfectly with Choice Act deliberations: Comey’s May 3 testimony before the Senate dominated news coverage for days, his shocking May 9 firing dominated the news for weeks, and his June 8 testimony -- on the same day the Choice Act was passed -- generated so much attention it was compared to major sporting events. Indeed, the truly damning characterizations Comey made of Trump under oath may influence the public’s perceptions of the White House for the remainder of the Trump administration.

    This is not the first time discussions about the GOP’s policy agenda have been overwhelmed by media coverage of the Trump administration’s scandals. In March, when the White House was rolling out potentially ruinous economic policy proposals, media attention was fixated instead on Trump’s false accusation that Obama had illegally wiretapped him. Though extensive media coverage is warranted for the Trump-Russia saga and other scandals surrounding the administration, the actions of Congress should not be allowed to proceed virtually unnoticed when so much is at stake.

    Chart by Sarah Wasko

    Methodology

    Media Matters conducted a Nexis search of transcripts of broadcast evening news and cable prime-time (defined as 6 p.m. through 11 p.m.) weekday programs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC from May 4, 2017, through June 9, 2017. We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the following keywords: Dodd Frank or Dodd-Frank or Choice Act or CFPB or (financial w/10 regulation!).

  • Alex Jones hosts Maxine Waters challenger and uses vile commentary to boost his campaign

    While hosting Omar Navarro, Jones says of Waters, “I think she’s hot. I’m into necrophilia”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hosted GOP congressional candidate Omar Navarro on his show and used the segment to make vile comments about the incumbent he’s challenging, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), including saying, “I think she’s hot. I’m into necrophilia.”

    Navarro, a traffic commissioner for Torrance, CA, is a declared candidate for the 2018 race for California’s 43rd congressional district, which is currently represented by Waters. Navarro was also the GOP challenger to Waters in the 2016 congressional elections.  

    Jones leveled numerous insults against Waters during Navarro’s appearance including calling her a “gangster,” “one of the most deadly swamp creatures ever seen,” “a flailing octopus creature,” and a “literal mummy they drug out of some type of frozen animation.” He claimed Waters’ “wig identifies as a millennial,” and said, “I think she’s hot. I’m into necrophilia.” (Seconds after Jones’ “necrophilia” comment, Navarro invited Jones and his co-host Owen Shroyer to visit him in California.)

    While Navarro was on the program, Jones also attacked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), saying, “She’s injecting growth hormone with a turkey baster. She’s got like a body of an 18-year-old. You can tell she’s got this shriveled brain.” Jones also used anti-LGBT slurs when talking about comedian Kathy Griffin, who caused controversy by releasing a distasteful image depicting her holding President Donald Trump’s severed head. Jones said, “Kathy Griffin. I’m not against trannies, but literally this woman looks like a tranny. ... Pretty hot tranny actually.”

    During the appearance, Jones also pantomimed having a seizure before asking Navarro about Hillary Clinton. (During the campaign, Jones and his outlet Infowars pushed conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health.)

    Beyond his attacks on Waters and others, Jones used the appearance to hype Navarro’s candidacy, saying, “Tell folks about your websites, your Twitter, your Facebook, how we support you. A real winner,” asking Navarro to tell listeners how to “help you win 100 percent,” and calling him “a patriot” and “the type of guy we need to put in Congress.” Navarro pitched his candidacy, read out the web addresses of his social media accounts, asked people to volunteer and give money, and told listeners, “If people really want to take a jab at Maxine Waters and everything she’s saying against President Trump, donate to my campaign.”

    Jones frequently attacks Waters, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump. Last month, Jones called Waters an “idiot,” a “dumb witch,” and said, “she’s the enemy of America -- not Putin.”

    Jones has pushed many noxious conspiracy theories, including about tragedies such as the 9/11 attacks, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Boston Marathon bombing, and Oklahoma City bombing. A staunch supporter of Trump’s candidacy, Jones has said that he has communicated with the president and offered him advice. Recently, Jones caused outrage after criticizing the “liberal trendies” who were victims of the Manchester, England, suicide bombing, saying the victims are “the same people -- god love them -- on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in.”

  • When violence against the press becomes acceptable

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On Wednesday night, as news broke that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs had been physically attacked by Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte after Jacobs asked him his position on the Republican health care bill, the conservative movement’s pro-Trump voices rallied to Gianforte’s rescue. This moral cowardice has become commonplace for commentators who have spent so much time immersed in the battle to defend the president and vilify the press at all costs that they are apparently incapable of ethical seriousness.

    Faced with a conservative politician who had -- in full view of a Fox News camera crew -- grabbed a reporter and slammed him to the ground, then lied about the incident through a spokesperson, these pundits backed the politician. Their reactions ranged from efforts to undermine the stories of the reporter and the witnesses, to declarations that it looked bad but Jacobs probably deserved it, to outright cheers for the assault. In doing so, they showed there are few actions that they are unwilling to excuse as long as the victims are journalists and the perpetrator a Republican.

    In some ways, the responses mimicked the right wing’s scorn for HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly and The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery when they were arrested while reporting on protests in 2014. But the Gianforte affair represents not just the misguided use of the power of the state against journalists, but also a politician literally taking matters into his own hands because he didn't want to answer questions. If that behavior is worthy of defense, what isn’t? Where would Gianforte’s defenders draw the line?

    It comes as no surprise that these critics have sought to fend off what seems to be an obvious conclusion to draw from the events -- that they are the result of President Donald Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the press. For if journalists are, as the president says, the “enemy of the American people,” are they not worthy of violence as well as scorn? Or, at least, are those who do respond with violence not worthy of defense?

    Press freedom advocates warned of the dangers of a soft authoritarian like Trump becoming president. And indeed, the first months of the Trump administration have featured a wave of these cases. From an Alaska reporter who says he was slapped by a Republican legislator to a West Virginia reporter arrested while trying to ask questions of a member of the Trump cabinet to a CQ Roll Call scribe who was manhandled by security guards while trying to ask questions of FCC commissioners, government agents are becoming increasingly comfortable responding to the press with force.

    In this environment, as pro-Trump conservatives demonstrate their willingness to support anything and everything the president does without question, it becomes unsurprising that they might also be willing to look away when a politician physically attacks a reporter. This feeling is by no means universal -- many conservatives have been willing to criticize both the president and Gianforte for their attacks on the press. But the Trumpists are ascendant: They have the largest audiences and the most powerful media posts, and their man is in the White House.

    This support for the use of force against journalists is horrifying, but it is not new to the U.S. conservative movement. Trump-style invective against the press has been a staple of modern conservative commentary since at least former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ)’s 1964 run for the White House. But before conservative activists at the Republican National Convention jeered at journalists who they believed had taken sides in the struggle for civil rights, segregationist mobs assaulted and even murdered reporters covering integration efforts.

    The faces change, but the plan remains the same: delegitimization by dehumanization. By convincing themselves and their followers that journalists are something other than citizens who deserve the scrupulous protection of the law and human beings who deserve respect, conservative leaders seek to limit the impact of damaging stories and step in as information gatekeepers for their supporters.

    This is not a failure of “our politics,” as some mainstream journalists have claimed. When a Democratic president says that journalists are vital to the democratic process but could at times do better, and his Republican successor denounces individual reporters from his rally podium to the delight of his jeering audience, it is nonsense to throw up one’s hands and declare oneself under attack from both sides.

    The conservative movement is suffering from a unique and acute defect. And if physically attacking a reporter is now considered acceptable, where will this anti-press mania end?

  • Law School Dean: Trump's Comey Actions “Are Evidence Of Obstruction Of Justice”

    Legal Experts See A Potentially Impeachable Offense In Trump's Comey Conduct

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP & TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Congress could consider actions taken by President Donald Trump regarding former FBI Director James Comey to constitute obstruction of justice warranting impeachment, legal experts tell Media Matters.

    Trump has been embroiled in controversy over his firing of Comey, who was leading an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

    On May 16, The New York Times published a bombshell report stating that “President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”

    The memo purports that Trump said to Comey, “I hope you can let this go.”

    Last week, Trump himself admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that when he was deciding whether to fire Comey, he was thinking about “this Russia thing,” which he declared a “made-up story.”

    Trump’s conservative media allies -- especially those on Fox News -- have been defending and excusing the president’s actions, arguing that Trump did nothing wrong and ridiculing journalists for supposedly overreacting.

    While right-wing media are trying to convince people that what Trump did is no big deal, experts disagree.

    Legal scholars who spoke to Media Matters explained that impeachment of a president is a political matter. While a federal statute exists defining obstruction of justice, it would be up to Congress to decide whether Trump’s alleged obstruction of the Russia investigation warrants impeachment as a “high crime or misdemeanor,” of which there is “no settled definition.” (Both Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were charged by Congress with obstruction of justice during impeachment proceedings.)

    Legal experts told Media Matters that Trump’s conduct could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice, and Congress could impeach Trump on those grounds.

    Erwin Chemerinsky, the newly named dean of Berkeley Law, told Media Matters via email that Trump’s actions “are evidence of obstruction of justice” and that the current situation is “very comparable to what caused Nixon to resign.”

    “Obstruction of justice occurs when one ‘obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding.’ I think that this warrants a thorough investigation. Certainly a felony is a basis for impeachment. Whether the majority of the House will vote articles of impeachment is a different question,” Chemerinsky added.

    Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown University Law Center (GULC) professor and former Obama nominee to the Seventh Circuit, said via email that both actions taken by Trump vis-a-vis Comey could be seen by Congress as obstruction of justice and that those actions could serve as grounds for impeachment.

    Regarding Trump’s reported request for Comey to “let it go” concerning the investigation of Flynn, Nourse said, “Of course, in a criminal case, you would have to show POTUS had the ‘intent’ to obstruct, but his own words are making that easier every day.”

    “The opposition will deny it, but it’s hard to understand what he meant by ‘letting’ the investigation ‘go’ ... if he did not mean to end it. Perhaps the Comey memo will reveal more.”

    John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, explained that recent comments by Trump could be seen as obstruction of justice because Trump “explained his state of mind with Lester Holt when he fired [Comey], that this was a phony investigation.”

    Asked whether this conduct could be impeachable, Dean responded, “It is, historically. You can make the case that Nixon was impeached for impeding the FBI inquiry into Watergate.” He added, “It is kind of a direct parallel, having the CIA go to the FBI and tell them to shut down is just a little more indirect than Trump saying can you not investigate Flynn, which is the import of that message when he and Comey are speaking.”

    David Pozen, a professor of law at Columbia Law School, told Media Matters that if the “serious charges” against Trump “are correct, they look like plausible violations of the president’s Constitutional oath and therefore impeachable offenses.” He added, “But it depends on the facts and, realistically, it depends on the politics.”

    Stressing that “impeachment is not a matter decided by judges, it is a political matter decided by representatives,” constitutional law professor Louis Michael Seidman at GULC told Media Matters, “It seems entirely possible that [Trump] made the advance to Comey and fired him because he wanted to stop the investigation because he was afraid of what it would turn up.”

    “If that were true, then it would be obstruction of justice,” he concluded.