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NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:
CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?
TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?
CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?
WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.
Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.
Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”
Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:
Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."
Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.
Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.
CNN moderators Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer should aggressively fact-check Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price during the network’s March 15 town hall, given the Trump administration’s penchant for spreading misinformation on health care. The town hall format amplifies the need for follow-up questions by the moderators who are informed enough on the issues to actively fact-check misleading claims.
CNN is holding a town hall featuring Price that “will focus on the GOP’s health care bill.” This is just one of several special events CNN has held about the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given that the network has a new emphasis on “showcasing special events,” it is particularly important for CNN moderators to fact-check participants so these events don’t simply turn into platforms for conservatives to spread misinformation.
CNN has a unique opportunity during this town hall to hold the Trump administration accountable for the predicted effects of its proposed bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), particularly given that this is will be Price’s first prime-time cable appearance outside the friendly confines of Fox News. (Price has done the rounds on Fox, giving interviews to Bret Baier, Neil Cavuto, and Trump sycophant Sean Hannity).
Given Price’s history of pushing disastrous health care policies and the tendency for Republican politicians to push misinformation about their health care agenda during CNN’s special events, Bash and Blitzer must utilize this opportunity to ask follow-up questions and fact-check the secretary. Here are the five ways that Price is most likely to spread misinformation given his history and the Trump administration’s official positions:
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reviewed the AHCA and reported that it would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 14 million in 2018, and 24 million in 2026. A consistent theme in the conservative reaction to the CBO review revolves around attacking the credibility of the organization as a mechanism for undercutting its predictions. Price echoed these attacks, tweeting that “the CBO report defies logic” and issuing an official statement claiming that the “assumptions” of the report “do not translate to the real world.”
Despite these attacks, the CBO has a long history of making accurate predictions about health care reform legislation. Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes that the CBO’s influence derives from its “reputation as a politically neutral arbiter” and that it is viewed as “the gold standard.” In contrast to the GOP’s claims that the CBO made inaccurate predictions about the ACA, the Commonwealth Fund emphasized that the CBO was “reasonably accurate” and that its “projections were closer to realized experience than other prominent forecasters’ estimates were.” FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson debunked the anti-CBO talking points, illustrating that “the CBO actually nailed the overall impact of the law on the uninsured pretty closely” and “got the big picture right” on coverage estimates. Bash and Blitzer should be ready to correct attempts by Price to smear the CBO to salvage the AHCA’s chances of passage.
Price has consistently misled the public during interviews about the AHCA’s impact on insurance coverage. When asked by Cavuto if he thought it was “inevitable” that “some” people who gained insurance through the ACA marketplaces would lose it, Price said, “No. I just simply don’t believe that.” He went further during a Meet the Press interview, claiming that “we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now.” His remark echoed misleading claims made by Trump about providing “insurance for everybody.”
In reality, the CBO report predicts that “in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured” and that that number would rise to “24 million in 2026.” Vox explained that the AHCA’s provision to end Medicaid expansion in 2020 “would contribute to one in five Americans being uninsured.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) emphasized that “all of the historic coverage gains expected under the ACA would disappear and the uninsured rate among the non-elderly would be at or above its 2010 levels.” The CNN moderators must be aggressive in holding Price accountable for the real impacts the proposed legislation will have on millions of Americans who are currently benefitting from Obamacare.
The AHCA would eliminate the ACA’s means-tested subsidies and replace them with age-rated refundable tax credits. During Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked, “Can you say for certain that once this bill is passed, nobody will be worse off financially when it comes to paying for health care?” Price initially ducked the question but when Todd pressed him again, he declared, “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.”
Despite Price’s bold claims, the CBO report shows that the AHCA will increase premiums for older, low-income Americans by “more than 750%.” Families USA noted that “lower income families could see their deductibles increase by as much as $5,500.” The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund explained that the AHCA “is a mass transfer of income” from working-class and middle-class Americans that cuts taxes for the wealthiest Americans while cutting federal benefits for the middle and working class.” Bash and Blitzer should expect Price to try to spin his previous statements and must be ready to push back on any false characterizations of the AHCA’s impact on health care costs.
Price has a history of discounting the importance of women’s health care and has previously advocated legislation to roll back the ACA’s birth control mandate and to defund Planned Parenthood. Trump administration officials have defended the provision of the AHCA that defunds Planned Parenthood by claiming that it’s “not about denying women access to care” because they would reallocate the money to “federally qualified health care clinics.”
Experts have debunked the conservative lie that Planned Parenthood can be replaced by community health care centers, calling it a “gross misrepresentation.” A Guttmacher Institute study found that in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” with accessible contraception services. Funding cuts to Planned Parenthood in Indiana and Texas resulted in severely negative impacts on community health, contributing to HIV outbreaks. The Washington Post reported that defunding Planned Parenthood “would leave many women without services to help them avoid pregnancy, resulting in thousands of additional births.” The CBO report found that “15 percent” of people in low-income communities “would lose access to care” as a result of defunding Planned Parenthood. CNN should use this town hall as an opportunity to press Price on reproductive rights generally and on the detrimental impact the GOP’s health care bill would have on women’s health care.
The AHCA would dramatically alter Medicaid by instituting a per capita cap on federal Medicaid spending and ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in 2020. During his interview with Cavuto, Price claimed that the AHCA would return “flexibility” to the states and allow them “the ability … to determine what is the right kind of program to care for their Medicaid population.”
While conservatives often claim Medicaid caps -- also known as “block grants” -- will increase state “flexibility,” in reality such proposals result in the loss of services and coverage for the most vulnerable. A CBPP analysis showed that a per capita cap would result in the “loss of health coverage and less access to needed health care for tens of millions of low-income Americans.” The Kaiser Family Foundation explained that federal caps could lead states to “restrict benefits” and “result in eligibility restrictions and cost shifts to beneficiaries.” Vox noted that the rollback of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would take “4 million to 6 million people off the rolls” and, combined with the per capita cap, would result in “a $370 billion cut to federal funding to Medicaid over 10 years.” Given the devastating impact the AHCA will have on Medicaid, Bash and Blitzer must follow up on any general assertions of increasing state innovation.
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Meanwhile, The White House Freeze-Out Of CNN Continues
The Trump administration offered White House senior adviser Stephen Miller -- and reportedly no one else -- to appear on the Sunday morning political talk shows of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Broadcasting Co. In his appearances on the four shows, Miller repeatedly dodged questions, made blatantly false claims, and attacked the media. Recent profiles of Miller have highlighted his extreme ideological views, his close relationship with Stephen Bannon, and the “enthusiasm” of white nationalists like Richard Spencer over his role in the administration.
As Trump Feuds With CNN, NBC Is Elevating Voices That Are Accommodating Trump
A lot of attention in recent days has been paid to the Trump administration’s decision to freeze out CNN. Rather than focusing on why Trump is lashing out at CNN, a better question to ask is: Why does the Trump administration feel so comfortable with NBC and MSNBC?
It was clear back in early January that NBC was building a Trump normalization machine when the network brought on former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, MSNBC brought on former Fox host Greta Van Susteren, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough started talking daily about his chats with the president. Two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, it turns out that things are even worse than imagined.
Kelly has yet to start at NBC (and reportedly won’t for several months). Yet to make space for the former face of Fox News, NBC is removing Al Roker and Tamron Hall as co-hosts of the third hour of Today. Kelly, who, like Trump, built her name on racial demagoguery, is thus taking the space of two of the few people of color who host NBC news shows. Tamron Hall has since announced that she is leaving NBC. Indeed, in recent years, Ann Curry, Alex Wagner, Karen Finney, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Michael Eric Dyson have all left NBC News shows, raising concerns that the network was marginalizing people of color. In short, maybe NBC should treat diversity as more than just a Twitter account.
As for Scarborough, Morning Joe of late is best understood as not just its own show but also a window into the heart of the Trump administration. Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski are regularly meeting with and advising Trump. Scarborough defends some of Trump’s worst instincts. And, of course, there’s the obnoxious infighting with other advisers whom Scarborough blames when things go wrong. Trump himself watches the show. Even on the rare day when he criticizes Trump, Scarborough will say something apparently intended to protect his relationship with the president. If Trump’s administration is Apocalypse Now, Morning Joe is Hearts of Darkness.
Van Susteren, who debuted on the network with an effusive introduction from Rachel Maddow (“Greta Van Susteren is great!”) has continued her schtick of trading access for the type of softball questions and deferential approach you would expect from someone actually employed by the people she is interviewing. The show is clearly more concerned with booking big guests than with answering big questions. Van Susteren’s deferential interview with House Speaker Paul Ryan exemplified this approach, as was especially notable when she brought back the torture-substitute phrase “enhanced interrogation.” Somehow, the most newsworthy thing from a 22-minute interview with the speaker of the House was Ryan speculating about how Trump might eventually get Mexico to pay for the border wall.
Van Susteren’s interview with Trump aide Stephen Miller about the Muslim ban was even worse. Where to even begin? Van Susteren’s first question to Miller was literally, “Have at it!” It somehow managed to get worse from there.
The problem is not that Van Susteren is too far left or right. It’s that her style of access journalism itself enables misinformation. We are living in a post-truth era with an administration that lies even on routine matters. Giving deferential interviews to these liars only makes Van Susteren an accomplice. That she will do similar interviews with Democrats (or, one can imagine, with the few “Never Trump” Republicans left) is no defense. Journalism at its best speaks truth to power. Van Susteren’s show does the opposite.
NBC’s leading figures seem eager for politics to get back to some sort of “normal” -- to the point that they sometimes seem in denial about who Trump really is. When the intelligence community briefed then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump on alleged ties between Trump and Russia, leading figures at NBC and MSNBC united to downplay the claims.
Andrea Mitchell praised the “reboot” of Sean Spicer’s first press conference (following his bizarre harangue directed at the media about inauguration size two days before), as if the Trump camp’s years-long war on the press was just a Hollywood franchise that needed a new beginning:
Chuck Todd bizarrely claimed during the inauguration that former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon was “not ideological.” When Trump organized a reality TV-style circus to announce a Supreme Court nomination, Todd gushed over the presentation, saying Neil Gorsuch made “an incredible first impression.”
When NBC News chairman Andrew Lack began to make changes at MSNBC in late 2015, at first he was understandably putting more emphasis on breaking news capability. But things slowly began to change. Lack then touted extensive coverage of Trump on MSNBC even as the network was under fire for running a ridiculous number of Trump rallies. He also offered an assessment of geopolitics that was far more in line with Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric than with reality. When Matt Lauer interviewed both candidates during a widely panned forum, two of the very few people who praised Lauer were Lack and Trump himself. The network botched coverage of Trump on tape bragging about sexual assault, even though it owned the footage. And just yesterday, NBC News president Deborah Turness was spotted in the West Wing.
It looks to a lot of people like NBC and MSNBC are shifting right in order to compete for the GOP audience and appeal to Trump himself. The Trump administration’s increasing comfort with MSNBC and NBC only reinforces this theory. But as Fox News could tell them, once you start giving in and moving to the right, you may have a hard time stopping.
Graphic by Sarah Wasko
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Some media commentary focused on President Donald Trump’s inaugural address as “populist,” but Trump’s approach cannot be reduced to simplistic advocacy for the "forgotten men and women," which ignores not only the racist and misogynist strains of his campaign and proposed presidency, but also the leanings of a Trump administration poised to favor the very rich at the expense of the already vulnerable.
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NBC and MSNBC figures have adopted misleading language also used by President-elect Donald Trump and his advisors to criticize and dismiss claims that Russia may have compromising information on the president-elect. A statement released by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that Trump was briefed on the allegations, which the intelligence community has not yet verified or discredited.
Most Sunday news shows gave little attention to reports detailing the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) concerns that it will not be able to complete background checks on all of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees in time for their confirmation hearings. Despite the confirmation hearings beginning this week, CBS’ Face the Nation was the only show to devote significant time to the story.