Mshuham2

Matt Shuham

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

Articles by Matt

Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price contradicted himself again on Wednesday, reversing his comment the previous day that eliminating the penalties associated with Obamacare’s individual mandate “will harm the pool in the [insurance] exchange market.”

“Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do,” Price said in a statement to Politico Wednesday. “Forcing Americans to buy something they don’t want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets.”

“The only fair and effective way to bring down health care costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses,” his statement continued.

It was a turn back to conservative orthodoxy, given that congressional Republicans eliminated the penalty for not having health coverage (or else receiving a waiver) as part of their tax bill last year. The change will take effect in 2019. 

On Tuesday, Price briefly strayed from that orthodoxy when he said in a speech to the World Health Care Congress that the mandate repeal “will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals that are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market.”

TPM obtained audio of Price’s comments. You can listen to them here.

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West Virginia Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship said Tuesday that it wasn’t racist to call Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s father (and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s father-in-law) a “Chinaperson.” 

I mean, I’m an Americanperson,” Blankenship said. “I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying a Chinaperson. Some people are Koreanpersons, some of them are Africanpersons.” 

During a debate hosted by Fox News, moderator Bret Baier asked Blankenship about a radio interview he gave in which he called the shipping tycoon James Si-Cheng Chao, an American citizen, “a wealthy Chinaperson.”

Chao, Blankenship said, has “a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China, and we just need for it to be known.”

Elaine Chao, Baier said Tuesday, “is a key decider in infrastructure projects which might be a big deal in West Virginia. How do you get along and get things done by slinging insults like that?”

Blankenship said that while he was “not going to D.C. to get along,” the idea “that calling somebody a Chinaperson — I mean, I’m an Americanperson.”

“I don’t see this insinuation by the press that there’s something racist about saying a Chinaperson,” he continued. “Some people are Koreanpersons some of them are Africanpersons. It’s not any slander there. But both families are very powerful in both countries. I’ve previously been on the board of four or five major corporations. You do not send family members out to negotiate purchases and deals with other family members. It’s called a conflict of interest.”

Blankenship, a former coal baron who served prison time for conspiring to violate mine safety standards after 29 workers died in one of his mines, has made a strategy of attacking McConnell.

A Democratic super PAC has invested heavily in attacking one of Blankenship’s more polished opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), the Republican sitting Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) least wants to face in a general election. 

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In early 2017, according to a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Tuesday from three House Democrats, Pruitt directed his future chief of staff to explore the creation of an EPA office in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though an EPA office with authority over Oklahoma already existed in Dallas, Texas.

The letter — from Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Don Beyer (D-VA) of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology — claims that Pruitt’s current chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, communicated with EPA officials while still technically staff director for the then-chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Words, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).

Jackson claimed to EPA officials that he was writing on Pruitt’s behalf, the Democrats’ letter said.

“In the e-mail,” the letter states, “Mr. Jackson directed EPA staff to identify proposed new office space in Tulsa that included a conference room, secure parking, would be able to accommodate 24/7 security, and included a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for secure communication.”

EPA staff in turn, according to the letter, contacted the General Services Administration relaying the requests “as coming directly from Administrator Pruitt.”

The lawmakers sent an identical letter, which similarly requested relevant communications and plans regarding the proposed Tulsa office, to the General Services Administration.

The proposed office recalls several scandals Pruitt has faced during his tenure as EPA administrator.

The EPA inspector general announced in August of last year, for example, that his office would probe Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded trips home to Oklahoma. Pruitt’s agency illegally allocated funds, in the Government Accountability Office’s opinion, for a $43,000 phone booth in Pruitt’s D.C. office that the EPA first claimed, and then denied, was a SCIF. Pruitt also enjoys an unprecedentedly large 24/7 security detail.

And Jackson, Pruitt’s chief of staff, has repeatedly taken the fall for damaging stories.

Jackson, for example, took responsibility for the five-figure raises doled out to several top Pruitt advisers within their first months on the job. On Capitol Hill last week, though, Pruitt acknowledged he knew about at least one of those raises — just not the size of it, nor the process by which it was attained. He said that Jackson had been delegated authority to award raises.

The same blame-shifting occurred when lawmakers pressed Pruitt on his $43,000 office phone booth. The whole process, Pruitt explained, had occurred without his knowledge or approval.

“I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000,” Pruitt said. “And if I’d known about it … I would have refused it.”

“Establishing a new EPA office in Tulsa may be personally convenient for you, but it seems ethically questionable, professionally unnecessary, and financially unjustified,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday.

Read the three Democratic lawmakers’ letter below:

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Republican attorneys general from seven states sued the federal government on Tuesday over the continued existence of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which two judges have ordered must continue to process renewal applications and, after a third judge’s ruling last week, may soon have to accept new applications as well.

The program, instituted during the Obama administration, protects qualified young undocumented people from deportation.

The attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (pictured above), were all among the group of nine attorneys general who threatened to sue the Trump administration over DACA last year before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the program’s termination.

However, while the attorneys general from Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and West Virginia sued on Tuesday, two states represented in the previous group did not: Idaho and Kansas. Tennessee’s attorney general, though initially part of the group of attorneys general threatening to sue in 2017, ultimately withdrew that threat days before Sessions announced DACA’s termination. Tennessee is not represented in Tuesday’s lawsuit, either.

The plaintiff states requested the following:

A. An order enjoining Defendants from issuing or renewing any DACA permits in the future;

B. A declaratory judgment that DACA violates the Take Care Clause;

C. A declaratory judgment that DACA is procedurally unlawful under the APA;

D. A declaratory judgment that DACA is substantively unlawful under the APA; and

E. Any and all other relief to which Plaintiff States may be entitled.

Read a copy of the suit, via law professor Josh Blackman, here.

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CNN legal analyst Paul Callan implied Monday night that adult film actress Stormy Daniels would have a hard time convincing a jury that President Donald Trump had caused substantial damages as a result of his alleged defamation of her, given her career.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, sued Trump for defamation on Monday over his comment about a sketch artist’s version of a man Daniels said threatened her to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. The sketch, Trump said, was of a “nonexistent man.”

Callan wondered aloud to CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, whether Daniels would be able to prove that Trump’s alleged defamation incurred special damages.

“Are you arguing that just because somebody is in adult film, that they cannot be defamed?” Cooper asked the analyst.

“Anderson, I’ve tried a lot of cases through the years, and as a matter of principle, you’re probably right, somebody who’s made 500 pornographic films can be defamed in theory,” Callan responded. “But you put 12 ordinary people on a jury and say to them, ‘award her money because somebody called her a liar,’ I think you’d have a hard time getting a substantial damage award.”

He said a jury might give Daniels a “symbolic award”— $1 in damages, for example — but added that “actual damages justifying all of the effort that’s gone into this lawsuit, I don’t see it, which means the lawsuit is a publicity lawsuit and a publicity stunt.”

“If I had a dollar,” Avenatti replied, “for every time a guy that was unprepared to talk about something actually told me it was a publicity stunt or we weren’t going to prevail, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now, I’d be on my own private island.” 

In a statement to TPM Wednesday, Callan said he stood by Monday’s comments, which he said were “deliberately mischaracterized” by Avenatti but which “reflect my pragmatic evaluation of how an ordinary jurors would likely respond to the case.”

“Unfortunately we will never know the answer to this question as the federal court will undoubtedly dismiss the case on motion of the defense,” Callan added. “The law says an expression of opinion cannot be defamatory and the Stormy case clearly involves an expression of opinion. It’s quite similar to Avenatti referring to the people who work for Trump as ‘morons.’ That’s the law whether you like the President or despise him. I like to stick to the law in my commentary.”

Watch below via CNN:

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that, despite a report that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has called President Donald Trump an “idiot” on multiple occasions, Trump was satisfied with Kelly’s performance.

At a press briefing Tuesday, a reporter asked Sanders what Trump’s “level of confidence” was in Kelly, and whether Kelly might be under consideration to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“No he is not being considered as the VA secretary,” Sanders responded. “Both the President and the chief of staff are very happy with his position that he currently holds.”

She referred back to Kelly’s statement Monday about “the comments — the allegations about comments that he’d made.”

“He and I both know this story is total B.S.,” Kelly said Monday in response to the NBC News’ report.

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Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, now safely out of power, said Tuesday that Republicans’ repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate will “harm” the individual insurance marketplace.

“That may help, but it still is nibbling at the side,” Price told this year’s World Heath Care Congress in Washington, D.C., according to audio of Price’s speech shared with TPM by event organizers. The Washington Times first reported Price’s remarks. 

“And there are many, and I’m one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals that are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market,” he added.

Price is making a mundane point to most health care policy experts: If, beginning in 2019, individuals on the non-group market are allowed to avoid choosing between paying for insurance or paying a penalty, many healthy people will simply drop their insurance. As a result, prices for individuals remaining in Obamacare’s individual insurance marketplaces will go up. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2016, and again in 2017, that repealing the individual mandate would increase the number of uninsured people in the United States.

Yet when held a powerful position in the federal government, as secretary of Health and Human Services, Price was noncommittal on the future of the individual mandate and its policy value.

“What about the individual mandate?” ABC’s “This Week” host Martha Raddatz asked Price in July 2017. “Is the President considering directing his agencies not to enforce it? Have you ruled that out?”

“The individual mandate is one of those things that actually is driving up the cost for the American people in terms of coverage,” Price responded. “So what we’re trying to do is make it so Obamacare is no longer harming the patients of this land.”

“All things are on the table to try to help patients,” he added.

Listen to a recording of Price’s speech, provided to TPM by the World Heath Care Congress, below. His comments on the individual mandate begin around eight minutes in.

This post has been updated.

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The former Secret Service agent who led EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s multimillion-dollar, 24/7 security detail while also leading his own private security firm resigned Monday, he told ABC News.

“All of this press is taking a toll on my family. I decided to move on and it’s been an honor to serve,” Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta told ABC News. He told the network he would “fully cooperate” with lawmakers probing the EPA, starting with an interview with the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

And so ended the bizarre and twisting narrative of perhaps Pruitt’s most mysterious aide.

Before leading the administrator’s detail, Perrotta worked on the side for the Trump-friendly publisher American Media Inc. during the 2016 election. Led by David J. Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher is now known for the tabloid practice of “catch and kill” — that is, buying and burying stories which Trump, it so happens, benefitted from having buried. Perrotta also published a memoir in 2016 detailing his “battle with the New York Mafia!

CBS News reported last month that Perrotta replaced Pruitt’s existing chief of security, Eric Weese, two weeks after Weese advised Pruitt that his motorcade’s sirens should only be used in emergencies, rather than to cut through Washington, D.C. traffic, as Pruitt wanted.

So began several scandal-plagued months at the EPA, the security chief’s role in which was only reinforced by Pruitt during congressional testimony last week.

Answering lawmakers’ questions, Pruitt spread blame to Perrotta and other top aides for expenditures like the $43,000 phone booth he had installed in his office and the nearly $6,000 the EPA spent on biometric locks, despite Pruitt’s admission that “I just put a code in.”

Still, earlier reporting indicated that Perrotta did indeed encourage Pruitt’s eye-popping security expenditures, everything from unnecessary first-class flights to bullet-resistant seat covers for the administrator’s SUV.

The EPA awarded a business associate of Perrotta’s — Edwin Steinmetz, a vice president at Perrotta’s private security firm, Sequoia — a $3,000 contract to sweep Pruitt’s office for surveillance devices.

Ultimately, according to a letter to the EPA from Democratic lawmakers, that sweep contract was not only improperly awarded, but it also “did not employ the equipment, proper certification, or necessary processes to be approved by the [United States Government] for certifying a USG facility or space for classified information systems or classified discussion.”

Perrotta told ABC News there was no truth, in the network’s words, in the accusation “that he improperly steered an EPA security contract to a business associate.”

Former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, now an EPA whistleblower who claims he and others were retaliated against for raising concerns about Pruitt’s spending, told lawmakers last month that Perrotta threatened him in an effort to retrieve his EPA parking pass.

According to a letter from Democratic lawmakers whose staffs spoke to Chmielewski, Perrotta “said that he was going to go to Mr. Chmielewski’s home and forcibly retrieve his EPA parking pass and that he ‘didn’t give a f—k who is on this call.’”

Perrotta told ABC News “there was no threat made on the phone at all.”

Late last month, Perrotta told the New York Times he was “retiring as planned” in the Summer.

He added: “[B]ut has anyone mentioned that I served with honor and distinction the Obama Administration? I served two former Administrators and now to end my career this way is totally unacceptable.”

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An EPA whistleblower who claims he was forced out of the agency after raising concerns about Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending now says Pruitt lied to Congress during testimony last week, ABC News reported Monday.

The whistleblower, former EPA deputy chief of staff Kevin Chmielewski, is a former Trump campaign staffer who first emerged as an example of Pruitt’s administrative retaliation in a the New York Times report earlier this month. He’s since spoken extensively to several lawmakers’ staffs.

In a largely evasive and blame-shifting day on Capitol Hill, Pruitt repeated one point to subcommittee members on both the House Energy and Commerce and Appropriations committees: There were no career consequences for EPA employees, he said, as a result of their raising concerns about his spending. Pruitt, ABC News noted, claimed Chmielewski had resigned.

ABC News reported Monday that it had obtained a form filled out by EPA HR personnel saying Chmielewski resigned on March 17. But Chmielewski’s signature isn’t on the paperwork, and he claimed to the network that he was forced out a month earlier.

Chmielewski told ABC News he recalled EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson telling him: “Hey — Administrator Pruitt either wants me to fire you or put you in an office so that he doesn’t have to see you again.”

The former EPA staffer said he was “100 percent” forced out of his job after objecting to Pruitt’s spending, starting with his refusal to authorize first class flights for an aide of Pruitt’s. Chmielewski has previously told lawmakers that he believed the retaliation began after he refused to authorize a first class flight for Samantha Dravis, a former top EPA staffer, on a trip home from Morocco in December.

“I refused to do it,” Chmielewski told ABC News of the first class authorization. “And, once again, I think that was some of the beginning of the retaliation, and why you know, cause I said absolutely not. And I kinda got in trouble behind closed doors for not signing that. Just Kevin, ‘Sign it. You know, be done with it.’ And the last thing I was doing was signing off on that.”

“They didn’t wanna touch it with a ten-foot pole,” Chmielewski said of White House officials with whom he shared his concerns about Pruitt. “Understandably. I mean, at this point I’m going up against a Cabinet secretary. Who wants to do that? I sure didn’t want to, and still don’t want to. But that’s apparently where I’m at now.”

Documents released by the EPA’s inspector general indicate Chmielewski was one of several top EPA staffers to receive a five-figure raise during his first months at the agency. According to the documents, Chmielewski’s pay went from $115,755 to $140,000 between April 23 and July 16, 2017.

Chmielewski also failed to complete the necessary financial disclosure form during his time at the EPA, ProPublica reported earlier this month. That filing failure, however, has never been cited publicly as a reason for his ouster.

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Failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore and his wife Kayla Moore on Monday sued several people, including three of his accusers, for what the pair alleged yet again were defamatory claims made against Roy Moore.

Such claims, which include sexual misconduct allegations made publicly by several women, had a huge impact on Moore’s campaign. The former Republican candidate has already counter-sued one of his accusers, Leigh Corfman, who sued him for defamation.

Moore’s new suit alleges that three of his accusers — Corfman, Debbie Wesson Gibson and Tina Johnson — demonstrated via their personal histories and social media posts that they were motivated to lie about him.

Johnson’s house burned down in January, weeks after she alleged Moore sexually assaulted her. Investigators ultimately said the cause of the fire was “undetermined.”

The suit also accuses another man, Richard Hagedorn, of being motivated by a ruling Moore made against him years ago to convey false information to the Washington Post.

Moore’s suit says Hagedorn “escorted [the Washington Post’s] reporters for several days in Etowah County and attended meetings with other individuals, including Corfman and Wesson to further the false and malicious attacks on the character and reputation of Judge Moore.”

The suit notes Hagedorn failed to tell media outlets that Moore held him in contempt of court in 1994 “for non-payment of past-due alimony and child support amounting with interest to $63,154.33.”

A spokesperson for the Post declined TPM’s request for comment. Hagedorn, contacted via his Facebook page, did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The Moores alleged the defendants “have committed libel and slander against Judge Moore by making statements which were false, malicious, and made with intentional or reckless disregard of the truth and with the intent that those statements be published to others including through state and national media.”

The suit also alleges the defendants “conspired and associated with each other in a common design and purpose for the political objective of defaming the character and reputation of Roy and Kayla Moore in such manner as to cause them to experience disgrace, shame and contempt.”

Several formal allegations follow, including of defendants’ negligence, wantonness, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, outrage, and civil conspiracy.

Read the lawsuit below, and below that, the statement Kayla Moore sent reporters to accompany it from attorney Melissa Isaak (formatting hers):

Today, Judge Roy Moore and his wife, Kayla, jointly filed an action for defamation and political conspiracy against those women who have falsely and maliciously accused him of sexual misconduct, and others who were part of the conspiracy.

Melissa Isaak, Judge Moore’s attorney, released the following statement:

“The people of Alabama deserve to know the truth, that the accusations made against Judge Moore during the U. S. Senate campaign arose from a political conspiracy to destroy his personal reputation and defeat him in the special Senate election for United States Senate.

Although over $40 million was spent to defeat Judge Moore, he remained 11 points ahead of his opponent in the polls prior to publication of the accusations. With only 32 days left before the special election 3 women, (not 9 as the press would have you believe), made false and malicious allegations of sexual misconduct against Judge Moore dating back 40 years. Those accusations were made within a few days of each other and made only to ruin and destroy the good name, character, and reputation of Judge Moore.

Having served as a deputy district attorney, circuit judge, and Chief Justice of Alabama on 2 separate occasions, Judge Moore had never before received a complaint or report of any offensive conduct.

Judge Moore is a graduate of West Point and a Vietnam Veteran, and has been married over 32 years to his wife Kayla. They have four children and five grandchildren. He has filed this action not only to hold accountable those who are guilty of slanderous and libelous conduct, but also to restore his good name, character, and reputation with the people of Alabama.”

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