Monday, July 31, 2017

Trump blackmails Congress with cost-caring payments: "they need to pass something"

Trump threatens ending health payments to blackmail the Senate into revoting on ACA repeal. The AP story was featured on the front page of the Daily Star:White House: Trump to decide soon on ending health payments.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is insisting that the Senate resume efforts to repeal and replace the nation’s health care law, signaling that President Donald Trump stands ready to end required payments to insurers this week to let “Obamacare implode” and force congressional action.

“The president will not accept those who said it’s, quote, ‘Time to move on,’” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said.

Conway said Trump was deciding whether to act on his threat to end cost-sharing reduction payments, which are aimed at trimming out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people. “He’s going to make that decision this week, and that’s a decision that only he can make,” Conway said.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, when asked Sunday if no other legislative business should be taken up until the Senate acts again on health care, responded “yes.”

“In the White House’s view, they can’t move on in the Senate,” Mulvaney said, referring to health legislation. “They need to stay, they need to work, they need to pass something.”

Here we go again. Something, in the view of Trump and his congressional entourage, is better than nothing. Something, anything, would count as a win for Trump.

It will soon be very clear that Trump does not intend to let ACA fail on its own. He promises taking active measures to wreck it.

Also soon to be clear is what kind of constitutional spine the Senate has. One Senator is standing her ground.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the three Republican senators who voted against the GOP health bill on Friday, said she’s troubled by Trump’s claims that the insurance payments are a “bailout.” She said Trump’s threat to cut off payments would not change her opposition to the GOP health bill and stressed the cost-sharing reduction payments were critical to make insurance more affordable for low-income people.

“The uncertainty about whether that subsidy is going to continue from month to month is clearly contributing to the destabilization of the insurance markets, and that’s one thing that Congress needs to end,” said Collins, who wants lawmakers to appropriate money for the payments.

“I certainly hope the administration does not do anything in the meantime to hasten that collapse,” she added.

Illustrated News for this Morbid Monday Morning

Lunch launch
What a difference an A makes

Here’s my nomination for the best of the best of this week’s Illustrated News. Check out the rest of the news in AZBlueMeanie’s weekly toons at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

CD2 candidate update: What is wrong with Martha McSally?

Here’s an update on the CD2 race from Jim Nintzel’s “The Skinny” in the Tucson Weekly. (h/t Miriam Lindmeier)

I picked a few snippets that list the candidates and some good and bad news for Dems. For more on the campaign finances and candidate creds, see Nintzel’s article.

Kirkpatrick jumps into the CD2 race

To no great surprise, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, the former congresswoman who represented the sprawling Congressional District 1 from 2012 to 2016, jumped into the race to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally here in Southern Arizona’s Congressional District 2.

Who else is running?

Kirkpatrick will have to outrun a number of fellow Democrats, including Dr. Matt Heinz, the former state lawmaker who lost to McSally in 2016; Mary Matiella, a political newcomer who is running for Congress after a long career in the federal government that was capped with a gig as a United States assistant secretary of the Army in the financial management arena; former state lawmaker Bruce Wheeler (who just picked up the support of another would-be candidate who dropped out, Air Force vet and Jet Blue pilot Jeff Latas); businessman and political newcomer Billy Kovacs; and a handful of various other candidates who may or may not be serious about their candidacies.

The bad news for Dems

… it remains to be seen how well Kirkpatrick will connect with CD2 voters; in her unsuccessful bid for John McCain’s Senate seat last year, she lost CD2 by 3 percentage points. (On the bright side, that puts her ahead of Heinz, who lost to McSally by 14 percentage points in 2016.) Given that Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 5 percentage points in CD2, it’s fair to say that both Kirkpatrick and Heinz underperformed.

The good news for Dems

… CD2 remains a swing district and McSally herself, in her more candid moments, admits that Trump’s unpopularity—combined with her reluctance to criticize anything he does—leaves her vulnerable …

And well it should.

What’s wrong with Martha McSally?

McSally’s alliance with Trump extends to more than just not being critical. In a district that is split politically, one might expect our Rep. McSally’s voting record to reflect that split. That would be wrong.

Until recently she voted 100% in line with Trump’s positions (now 97.5%). More to the point her votes do not respect the makeup of CD2. In terms of the discrepancy between the CD2 split and her extreme voting record, she ranks 13th among the House Republicans in her devotion to Trump and the GOP party line. (See the voting records at the 538 site.)

Back in May I took exception to what I called Martha McSally’s War on Medicaid. She did vote for the House’s rather ugly American Health Care Act which was basically a repeal Obamacare and replace it with something worse. I reviewed the stats. Statewide, over 600,000 Arizonans would be affected had the House bill been approved by the Senate and signed by Trump. Here’s what the numbers say about those in CD2.

According to numbers compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation and reported by Indivisible in its summary of Affordable Care Act data by congressional district, thousands of McSally’s constituents will be negatively affected by ACA repeal. The Number of People Enrolled in a Marketplace Plan is 19,100 and the Number of People Gaining Coverage From Medicaid Expansion is 28,507, so the Total Number At Risk Due to ACA Repeal in CD2 is 47,607.

Why would Martha McSally want that for her constituents? What is wrong with her?

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The next health care move: Trump administration and GOP act to make ACA worse, not make it work

The login behind some of Trump’s cabinet picks can be succinctly described by a simple formula: X/antiX. That is, for a given government function or agency X, pick as its leader someone who is antiX.

Consider the appointments for Education, Energy, Housing, HHS, Interior, and, for example, EPA: X-AntiX case study: EPA regs on the chopping block.

This is a perfect example of how Trump’s X-antiX formula plays out. For a given agency X, pick as its leader someone who is fiercely antiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage. …

That formula now extends to health care, specifically the Affordable Care Act that most Americans want left in place but that Trump, the Senate Republicans, and HHS leadership want to fail. But it’s not just some philosophical or political or economic motivation. The administration is taking active measures to make sure that ACA fails.

AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) reviews the evidence that Trump and the GOP are sabotaging health care.
The review is comprehensive: John McCain casts the decisive vote to kill GOP ‘Obamacare’ repeal; now comes more GOP sabotage.

The BlueMeanie cites Paul Krugman’s Health Care in a Time of Sabotage:

… now the federal government itself is run by people who couldn’t repeal Obamacare, but would clearly still like to see it fail — if only to justify the repeated, dishonest claims, especially by the tweeter in chief himself, that it was already failing. Or to put it a bit differently, when Trump threatens to “let Obamacare fail,” what he’s really threatening is to make it fail.

[Last] Wednesday The Times reported on three ways the Trump administration is, in effect, sabotaging the A.C.A. (my term, not The Times’s). First, the administration is weakening enforcement of the requirement that healthy people buy coverage. Second, it’s letting states impose onerous rules like work requirements on people seeking Medicaid. Third, it has backed off on advertising and outreach designed to let people know about options for coverage.

Actually, it has done more than back off. As reported by The Daily Beast, the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted funds appropriated by law for “consumer information and outreach” and used them instead to finance a social media propaganda campaign against the law that H.H.S. is supposed to be administering — a move, by the way, of dubious legality. Meanwhile, the department’s website, which used to offer helpful links for people seeking insurance, now sends viewers to denunciations of the A.C.A.

And there may be worse to come: Insurance companies, which are required by law to limit out-of-pocket expenses of low-income customers, are already raising premiums sharply because they’re worried about a possible cutoff of the crucial federal “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that help them meet that requirement.

… this isn’t about policy, or even politics in the normal sense. It’s basically about spite: Trump and his allies may have suffered a humiliating political defeat, but at least they can make millions of other people suffer.

And that misery includes the many Trump supporters who have gotten their health care coverage through the ACA.

Thursday night the Straight Talk Express rolled over the Trump administration and turned the efforts to repeal ACA into Republican road kill.

Back in May I posted on some recollections of John McCain’s way of getting back at his detractors in the context of Trump’s White House needs surgery not band aids.

Blake Morlock (Tucson Sentinel) has some good advice for Trump: Look out, Donald: Straight Talk Express rumbling back to life. President about to pay a price for POW comment.

Sen. John McCain knows how to do political rumble. Morlock recounts how Dubya ran afoul of McCain in 2000 and the price that was paid.

Donald Trump’s presidency suffered a major blow months before it started. His longest-lasting self-inflicted wound may be the day he threw out the line "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Insulting McCain and all his fellow POW’s in the Hanoi Hilton was a whole new level of trash talking.

Who holds Donald Trump’s domestic agenda in the palm of his hand?

Among others Morlock lists Collins, Murkowski, and McCain.

"I prefer people who weren’t captured?” Oh, Donald Trump. I hope that testosterone-soaked moment was worth it. The Straight Talk Express is rumbling back to life and its tire tracks are about to be a familiar stain for White House stewards to presoak out of Trump’s too-large jacket.

And Thursday evening McCain lived up to that rep.

John Cassidy (New Yorker) writes about How the Republican Effort to Repeal Obamacare Came Crashing Down.

The historic vote was fifty-one to forty-nine against the bill, with three Republican senators joining the Democrats in opposing it. Two of the G.O.P. dissidents were Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Both of them had bravely resisted their party’s previous efforts to pass damaging health-care bills. The other Republican no vote was cast by the cancer-stricken John McCain, of Arizona, who, in an astonishing piece of political drama, helped deliver a monumental blow to his party’s leadership and to President Trump, who once mocked and grievously insulted him.

Some Senators had a clear inkling of what was about to happen.

Shortly before the vote was taken, C-span’s cameras showed McCain engaged in warm conversations with a group of Democrats. He also had some seemingly frostier exchanges with some of his Republican colleagues. At one point, McConnell walked by McCain and the two men appeared to ignore each other. Shortly before the vote, Vice-President Mike Pence—who was in the room to break a tie in case of a fifty-fifty vote—left the chamber. When the roll-call vote was taken and McCain’s name was called out, he gave a thumbs-down sign and said, “No.” Democrats cheered and applauded.

The NY Times has a similar summation in Senate Rejects Slimmed-Down Obamacare Repeal as McCain Votes No.

As the clock ticked toward the final vote, which took place around 1:30 a.m., suspense built on the Senate floor. Mr. McCain was engaged in a lengthy, animated conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who had come to the Capitol expecting to cast the tiebreaking vote for the bill. A few minutes later, when Mr. McCain ambled over to the Democratic side of the chamber, he was embraced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. A little later Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, put her arm around Mr. McCain.

The roll had yet to be called, but the body language suggested that the Trump administration had failed in its effort to flip the Arizona senator whom President Trump hailed on Tuesday as an “American hero.’’

Many senators announced their votes in booming voices. Mr. McCain quietly signaled his vote with a thumbs-down gesture. …

Before all of this McCain responded to a reporter’s question about his coming vote: “Wait for the show.”

Cassidy concludes:

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” [McCain] told reporters as he left after the vote. A bit later, in a statement, he said, “We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

WH Communication Director ScaryMucho's unloads what he thinks about everyone - in 4-letter words.

In a barrage of 4-letter words Anthony “ScaryMucho” Scaramucci tells Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker exactly what he thinks of everyone. Lizza recounts the phone call in Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon. He started by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. It escalated from there.

Thursday night, Rachel Maddow could not bring herself to repeat what ScaryMucho said. Having lived in Army barracks for a few years your Scriber has no such compunctions.

  • WH Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” Channeling Priebus: “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.”
  • The swamp: “they’re going to have to go fuck themselves.”
  • Steve Bannon: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock” … “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President.”
  • Leakers: “What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers”
  • WH aides: “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.”

Lizza has much more of the telephone call in his New Yorker report.

Trump appointed ScaryMucho over the objections of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and established the reporting line direct from ScaryMucho to Trump.

Today, Friday, Trump named John Kelly (Secretary of Homeland Security and retired Marine general) to be the WH Chief of Staff replacing Priebus. Rack up another one to ScaryMucho.

Scriber thinks Kelly’s first task is to reroute ScaryMucho’s reporting from directly to Trump to Kelly. And then Kelly should can ScaryMucho. That most likely will not happen. Why? Because loyalty to Trump is more important than qualifications.

Kelly is a respected and honorable man. So start counting the months until Kelly is gone.

Borowitz Report: Trump supporters angered by Senate's failure to get rid of their health care

SATIRE ALERT:. If you watch Fox News regularly, you should believe all what follows.

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz Trump Supporters Furious That They Still Have Health Care

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—With a fury that could spell political trouble for Republicans in the midterm elections, Trump voters across the country on Friday expressed their outrage and anger that they still have health coverage.

“I went to bed Thursday night and slept like a baby, assuming that when I woke up I would have zero health insurance,” Carol Foyler, a Trump voter, said. “Instead, this nightmare.”

Harland Dorrinson, who voted for Trump “because he promised that he would take my health care away from me on Day 1,” said that he was “very upset” that he will still receive that benefit.

“I woke up this morning, and my family and I could still see a doctor,” he said. “This is a betrayal.”

Many Trump supporters said that congressional Republicans “gave up too soon” in their efforts to deprive ordinary Americans like them of their health care.

“They should not take August off,” Calvin Denoit, a Trump supporter, said. “They should stay in Washington and keep working until I totally lose my coverage.”

For Trump voters like Benoit, the abject disappointment of continuing to have health care raises fears about which other campaign promises might soon be broken.

“Now I don’t know what to believe,” he said. “Are we still going to get to pay billions of dollars in taxes for that wall?”

Scriber can offer some words consolation. There are 49 Senators who would be willing to vote to repeal the law that provides for your health insurance policies. However many of those Senators’ positions are soft. Many Senators really do want you to have health care - they are just too afraid of President Trump (and afraid of you, their voters) to admit it.

However, consider these thoughts from Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line): Now that Trumpcare has failed, it’s time to drop all the lies.

Trump’s ongoing threats to sabotage the ACA have important overlap with the position of many congressional Republicans. Unlike Trump, Republicans had genuine principled reasons for wanting the ACA repealed — many of them sincerely believe that the ACA’s expansion of government spending and regulation is not worth the benefits the law has brought. But beyond this, many Republicans have also refused for years to tell the truth about the real-world impact of the law, or about what their own replacements for it would actually do. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan kept lying right up until the end, claiming the ACA is merely “collapsing and hurting American families.” Throughout, Republicans claimed endlessly that their solutions would not cut Medicaid and would leave nobody worse off, and that if millions were left uninsured, it would be by choice under the new reign of freedom they would usher in. Trump, too, hopes to sabotage the ACA under the guise of the lie that it is collapsing of its own accord.

So Trump’s supporters who crave a loss of their health can take heart. The Trump administration will do its best to insure (oops, bad word) that your health care will go away.

End Satire Alert: Scriber’s closing comments

The lines between satire and Trumpian “reality” often blur. I am hoping that readers of this blog can still tell the difference. To help with that discrimination I routinely flag satirical posts as such.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thursday night the Straight Talk Express rolled over the Trump administration and turned the efforts to repeal ACA into Republican road kill.

Back in May I posted on some recollections of John McCain’s way of getting back at his detractors in the context of Trump’s White House needs surgery not band aids.

Blake Morlock (Tucson Sentinel) has some good advice for Trump: Look out, Donald: Straight Talk Express rumbling back to life. President about to pay a price for POW comment.

Sen. John McCain knows how to do political rumble. Morlock recounts how Dubya ran afoul of McCain in 2000 and the price that was paid.

Donald Trump’s presidency suffered a major blow months before it started. His longest-lasting self-inflicted wound may be the day he threw out the line "He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Insulting McCain and all his fellow POW’s in the Hanoi Hilton was a whole new level of trash talking.

Who holds Donald Trump’s domestic agenda in the palm of his hand?

Among others Morlock lists Collins, Murkowski, and McCain.

"I prefer people who weren’t captured?” Oh, Donald Trump. I hope that testosterone-soaked moment was worth it. The Straight Talk Express is rumbling back to life and its tire tracks are about to be a familiar stain for White House stewards to presoak out of Trump’s too-large jacket.

And Thursday evening McCain lived up to that rep.

John Cassidy (New Yorker) writes about How the Republican Effort to Repeal Obamacare Came Crashing Down.

The historic vote was fifty-one to forty-nine against the bill, with three Republican senators joining the Democrats in opposing it. Two of the G.O.P. dissidents were Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. Both of them had bravely resisted their party’s previous efforts to pass damaging health-care bills. The other Republican no vote was cast by the cancer-stricken John McCain, of Arizona, who, in an astonishing piece of political drama, helped deliver a monumental blow to his party’s leadership and to President Trump, who once mocked and grievously insulted him.

Some Senators had a clear inkling of what was about to happen.

Shortly before the vote was taken, C-span’s cameras showed McCain engaged in warm conversations with a group of Democrats. He also had some seemingly frostier exchanges with some of his Republican colleagues. At one point, McConnell walked by McCain and the two men appeared to ignore each other. Shortly before the vote, Vice-President Mike Pence—who was in the room to break a tie in case of a fifty-fifty vote—left the chamber. When the roll-call vote was taken and McCain’s name was called out, he gave a thumbs-down sign and said, “No.” Democrats cheered and applauded.

The NY Times has a similar summation in Senate Rejects Slimmed-Down Obamacare Repeal as McCain Votes No.

As the clock ticked toward the final vote, which took place around 1:30 a.m., suspense built on the Senate floor. Mr. McCain was engaged in a lengthy, animated conversation with Vice President Mike Pence, who had come to the Capitol expecting to cast the tiebreaking vote for the bill. A few minutes later, when Mr. McCain ambled over to the Democratic side of the chamber, he was embraced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. A little later Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, put her arm around Mr. McCain.

The roll had yet to be called, but the body language suggested that the Trump administration had failed in its effort to flip the Arizona senator whom President Trump hailed on Tuesday as an “American hero.’’

Many senators announced their votes in booming voices. Mr. McCain quietly signaled his vote with a thumbs-down gesture. …

Before all of this McCain responded to a reporter’s question about his coming vote: “Wait for the show.”

Cassidy concludes:

“I thought it was the right thing to do,” [McCain] told reporters as he left after the vote. A bit later, in a statement, he said, “We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of the nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people.”

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Would the Senate consider a new AG if Sessions is axed? "AG no way."

You’d think it would take some earth-shaking cataclysmic event to get a group of influential Republican senators to break with a sitting Republican president. You’re right. That event is Donald Trump’s twitter attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The story on the journalistic street is that Sessions, a former Senator, is well-liked by his former colleagues. They are not about to entertain a confirmation of another AG and they think that Sessions made the right call in recusing himself from the Russia investigations. Here is some of the coverage from the NY Times in Allies Warn Trump of Conservative Revolt Unless He Backs Off Sessions.

WASHINGTON — For a week, some of President Trump’s top aides have tried to talk him down from his public campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was exposing tensions within the administration, stirring consternation with the conservative base and setting off a revolt among Senate Republicans incensed over the treatment of a former colleague.

Among those urging Mr. Trump to spare Mr. Sessions have been Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist; and Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, according to officials who asked not to be named describing internal deliberations.

For the White House, the attacks on the attorney general have touched off a serious problem on Capitol Hill when it did not need any other headaches. Senate Republicans who almost never link arms in unison against a president from their party formed a cordon around Mr. Sessions, making it clear that they neither concurred with nor would tolerate Mr. Trump’s repeated threats to the attorney general’s tenure. Senate leaders made clear they would block Mr. Trump from replacing Mr. Sessions if he tried to do so during the coming recess.

“I would hope the public discussion of that would end immediately,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who said he delivered the message directly to the White House. Those sentiments were echoed publicly by at least a dozen Republican senators, including their top two leaders, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and John Cornyn of Texas. Mr. Sessions’s removal, Mr. Cornyn said, would be “incredibly disruptive.”

… Republicans also fear that the firing of an attorney general in the middle of the Russia investigations would send the country into a political and constitutional tailspin, making it extremely difficult to confirm anyone Mr. Trump nominated to replace him. And they argued that Mr. Trump was jeopardizing his own agenda.

“If you look at so much of what the president of the United States wants to accomplish on his agenda, Sessions is critical to that,” Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would consider any replacement, said in a television interview this week. “And Sessions should remain in office.” In a Twitter message on Wednesday night, Mr. Grassley warned that his committee schedule was full with other nominations: “AG no way.”

And almost every Republican who has ventured an opinion also agrees that Mr. Sessions was correct in recusing himself. “I think the attorney general is doing a fine job,” Mr. McConnell, whose wife, Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, serves in the cabinet with Mr. Sessions, said on Tuesday. “And I think he made the right decision to recuse himself from the Russia matter.”

Assuming that Trump bows to that kind of pressure and backs off of Sessions, then the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller will proceed without a threat of a new AG appointee firing Mueller.

However, and there always is a however with Trump, he does not put aside grudges easily if ever.

The magical number 7: Senators who voted against repeal-and-delay health care bill

Various writers, including your Scriber, have taken AZ Sen. John McCain to task for lecturing the Senate about a return to regular order and then voting for the repeal-and-replace version of the Senate’s health care bill. We must acknowledge that he then voted against the “repeal-and-delay” version as reported in the FiveThirtyEight Significant Digits email.

7
Number of Senate Republicans who joined their Democratic colleagues in opposing a “repeal and delay” of the Affordable Care Act. (The measure would have repealed parts of the health law after two years without immediately settling on a replacement.) The “no” votes came from Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Dean Heller, John McCain, Rob Portman, Lamar Alexander and Shelley Moore Capito. [FiveThirtyEight]

You can track the voting on health care in the Senate at this NY Times link. There you will find the other Senators who voted “no” on the two bills.

Our other Senator, Jeff Flake, voted for both bills. Flake should look to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski as a role model. Perhaps Flake is just trying to survive potential bad treatment by Trump. Check out this one from 538: Trump Reportedly Threatens Murkowski, Clumsily, Over Health Care Vote.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Senate passes motion to open debate on - what? Here's what's next in store for health care in the Senate.

Here is an outline of what to expect during the rest of this week - and maybe longer - from Sarah Kliff’s VoxCare email.

The Obamacare repeal debate has begun in the Senate. That’s about all we know for sure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has managed, after prospects looked dim again and again, to open debate on an Obamacare repeal plan. It’s a huge victory for Senate Republicans’ hopes of passing some kind of health care bill, and it puts health insurance for millions of Americans at risk. Every plan Republicans are considering is projected to lead to millions fewer Americans having health insurance.

But Republicans haven’t actually settled on what legislation they are trying to pass at the end of this debate. Bills to cleanly repeal much of Obamacare or to more fully repeal and replace the 2010 health care law don’t currently have the votes necessary to pass. In just the past few days, the idea of a much smaller bill, repealing just a few of Obamacare’s most unpopular provisions, surfaced.

That final destination must be sorted out in a mad rush over the next few days, with the Senate’s arcane budget rules and a vote-a-rama, which will open up Republicans to a flood of Democratic amendments designed to force tough votes that could make the process even more treacherous.

Senate Republicans scored a victory Tuesday. But the ultimate result is far from clear. Let’s break down how the next few days will look.

This is what will actually happen in the Senate over the next day or so

The Senate’s process from here is byzantine. The vote on Tuesday was technically to start debate on the House’s health care bill, but nobody expects that to be the actual legislation the Senate ultimately votes on.

This is what we expect to happen now, per Senate aides. Remember, timing and order are fluid. But this is a rough outline.

  • Two hours of debate on the clean (partial) Obamacare repeal bill.
  • Two hours of debate on the repeal-and-replace plan that Republicans have been working on since May.
  • Vote on the repeal-and-replace bill. Because of some last-minute changes to the legislation, it is expected to require 60 votes. That would demand Democratic support, which will never happen, so it looks likely fail.
  • Vote on clean (partial) repeal bill. It would need 51 votes, but it is expected to fail as well because too many Republicans are opposed to repealing without a replacement.
  • 20 hours of debate on the Senate floor. That is floor time, not real time, so those 20 hours could take a couple of days. Democrats and Republicans will take turns making speeches about health care. Democrats can use certain tactics — like asking for a full bill to be read out loud — to make the process more painful.
  • Vote-a-rama. This is a lengthy series of amendments offered by Republicans and Democrats to amend the bill. Amendments must be considered relevant to health care, and they need 51 votes to be approved. They would technically be amendments to the House bill, if the previous two Senate bills have already failed or not been voted on yet.
  • Final bill. McConnell will eventually offer a final substitute, encompassing the actual plan that Senate Republicans want to pass. This could be the “skinny repeal” plan that surfaced Tuesday morning.
  • Vote on passage. That needs 51 votes to pass. Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50–50 tie.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Trump delivers hate political speech to Boy Scouts jamboree. Girl Scouts obtain restraining order

Girl Scouts Obtain Restraining Order Against Trump writes New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an extraordinary rebuke of the President of the United States, the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. have obtained a restraining order against Donald J. Trump.

The order, which the Girls Scouts were granted on Monday night, prevents Trump from coming within three hundred feet of any gathering of the Scouts’ organization.

Carol Foyler, a Girl Scouts spokesperson, said that while the G.S.U.S.A. sought the restraining order “out of an abundance of caution,” the girls themselves were “in no way, shape or form” afraid of President Trump.

“They’re prepared to deal with bobcats and bears,” she said. “They can handle a malignant narcissist.”

Trump wasted little time responding to the Girl Scouts’ action, lashing out at the organization in a blistering early-morning tweet storm.

“Failing Girl Scouts bad (or sick) guys,” Trump wrote. “Mints, cookies terrible. Sad!”

Scriber congratulates the GSUSA for their foresight and proactive action. Undoubtedly their restraining order was in reaction to Trump’s speech at the Boy Scouts Of America National Jamboree.

BSA speech
Trump delivers hate speech to Boy Scouts

The NY Times covers that speech in After Trump Injects Politics Into Speech, Boy Scouts Face Blowback.

The quadrennial event … attracts tens of thousands of people, and very often, presidents, who usually speak about service, values and citizenship. But Mr. Trump used the speech to rail against “fake news” and recount his election victory.

Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report that, in a rare display of empathy for the difficulties his speech caused the Boy Scouts, Trump ordered his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to prepare a 10-question multiple choice test covering the main points of his speech. Those Sources say that Trump plans to personally administer the test after his reelection at the next quadrennial jamboree.

The themes of that future speech, Trump mentioned, will be Crooked Hillary, Weak Jeff, Russian witch-hunt, and Trumpscare. According to Scriber’s Sources, Trump said “Those are the persisting, cornerstone values of this Presidency. The Boy Scouts would do well to enter into service to my administration so they can maintain their citizenship. I’m suing the Girl Scouts.”

John McCain returns to Senate with a message: "Let's return to regular order."

And then he voted for the repeal-and-replace bill that would harm hundreds of thousands of Arizonans. Read on for disconnects between what Republicans say and what Republicans do.

NPR reports Sen. McCain Calls For Compromise In Return To Senate Floor. The report contains both video of the speech and its transcript. Following are portions of the transcript which I think capture his messages to his Senate colleagues - on both sides.

I hear the senate referred to as the world’s greatest deliberative body. I’m not sure we can claim that distinction with a straight face today.

Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down without any support from the other side, …

I voted for the motion to proceed to allow debate to continue and amendments to be offered. I will not vote for this bill as it is today. It’s a shell of a bill right now, we all know that. I have changes urged by my state governor that will have to be included to earn my support for final passage.

We tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them that it’s better than nothing. That it’s better than nothing? Asking us to swallow our doubts and force it passed a unified opposition. I don’t think that’s going to work in the end, and probably shouldn’t.

… let’s return to regular order—let the health, education, labor and pensions committee under chairman Alexander and ranking member Murray hold hearings, try to report a bill out of committee with contributions from both sides. [Applause]

This place is important. The work we do is important. Our strange rules and seemingly eccentric practices that slow our proceedings and insist on our cooperation are important. Our founders envisioned the Senate as the more deliberative careful body that operates at a greater distance than the other body from the public passions of the hour. We are an important check on the powers of the executive. Our consent is necessary for the President to appoint jurist and powerful government officials and in many respects to conduct foreign policy. Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal.

I have every intention of returning here and giving many of you cause to regret all the nice things you said about me.

His fighting spirit is also likely to give his Trumpublican adversaries serious heart burn. Like Kelli Ward.

Kelli Ward says McCain should quit so she can take over reports Laurie Roberts at The Republic/azcentral.com. “Kelli Ward sees an opportunity to get to Washington, right over Sen. John McCain’s live body.” Sorry, Kelli Ward. Nobody is going to appoint you as anything, not even cat catcher. (I’m a dog guy.) McCain is alive and alert - watch the video of his speech. Roberts has but one of the reports of Ward’s suggestion about who should succeed McCain - herself, natch.

Leave it to Kelli Ward to see Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor as an opportunity for personal advancement.

And she, a doctor. How callous can you be?

Hey, at least, Sen. McCain’s is getting treatment for his cancer.

Sadly, Kelli Ward’s disturbing tendency to become delusional remains undiagnosed.

Read the rest of Roberts’ smack down to answer the question: How callous can Ward be?

However …

In spite of his criticism of Republican tactics and appeal for cooperation, when it came to a vote Tuesday night on one of the Republican health bills, McCain voted the party line. The NY Times reported Senate Votes Down Broad Obamacare Repeal.

The Tuesday night vote was on a comprehensive amendment that included disparate proposals calculated to appeal to conservatives and moderates in the Republican caucus.

One proposal, offered by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, would have allowed insurers to sell stripped-down health plans, without maternity care or other benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, if they also sold plans that included such benefits.

The amendment also included money to help pay out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income people, including those who buy private insurance after losing Medicaid coverage as a result of the Senate bill. This proposal was devised by Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and other senators from states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Tuesday night tally needed to reach 60 votes to overcome a parliamentary objection. Instead, it fell 43–57. The fact that the comprehensive replacement plan came up well short of even 50 votes was an ominous sign for Republican leaders still seeking a formula to pass final health care legislation this week.

Here is How Each Senator Voted on Full Obamacare Repeal-and-Replace. I’ll save you the time: both McCain and Flake voted for it.

Remember McCain’s promise? “I will not vote for this bill as it is today.”

And then he did just that.

“We are ground zero for the failure of the exchanges, but we are also an expansion state,” Mr. Flake said. “I think all of us are concerned that we don’t pull the rug out from people.”

And then he voted to do just that.

You want an another example of callous?

Given the divisions within their caucus, Senate Republican leaders were considering a new approach to keeping their repeal quest alive: They could try to reach agreement on a slimmed-down bill that would repeal a few major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, like the penalties imposed on people who go without insurance and businesses that do not offer insurance to their employees. Republican leaders would not intend such a bill to become law, but they believe that it could win approval in the Senate.

That “skinny” bill could then be a basis for negotiations with the House.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Gaming a presidency in tatters: "It's all downhill from here" - but what comes after?

In this post I ask two questions. Where is the Trump presidency headed? What will happen afterwards?

Where is the Trump presidency headed?

In answer to the first question, Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) offers a half dozen scenarios, each showing that This presidency can’t be saved. It’s all downhill from here.

In light of news reports that President Trump’s team is scouring the record for conflicts of interest on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team (the essence of chutzpah) and contemplating pardons (of aides and/or himself), it is worth considering how this may all play out.

We offer several scenarios:

  1. Trump orders Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller. Sessions quits, as does Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. Eventually someone agrees to fire Mueller. Republicans either will not pursue impeachment or are obliged to begin impeachment hearings but refuse to vote out articles of impeachment. In 2018, Democrats sweep to victory in the House and gain a seat or two in the Senate. Trump cannot be removed (two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal), but his presidency is in tatters. Some aides or ex-aides face criminal prosecution. LESSON: Republicans’ failure to stand up to Trump early dooms his presidency and crashes the GOP.

Scenarios 2 through 5 are variations. By way of summary, here are the lessons.

LESSON: Fire Mueller, and Congress will hire him back.
LESSON: Congress cannot delegate all responsibility to Mueller. It must conduct a parallel investigation and, if need be, commence impeachment proceedings.
LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and preserve the possibility that Trump may be forced to resign.
LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and pay the price for failure to oppose Trump’s nomination and election.

Is there a sixth scenario in which Mueller exonerates Trump? That’s the least likely outcome after Trump has fired former FBI director James B. Comey and threatened the special counsel. Why would he do those things unless there was something really, really bad to find? And if there is something bad, Mueller will find it. You can understand then why Trump sounds frantic. In no scenario does Trump’s presidency recover.

The various scenarios can be distilled into brief notes on possible futures: presidency in tatters, full blown constitutional crisis, resignation, impeachment.

Judging from the list of this president’s accomplishments (which is a null, empty list), I have to say that this presidency is in tatters. I think we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis because of the way the administration plays loose with the law; HHS for example is running videos against ACA, opposing Congress’ law using taxpayer money. As for the other scenarios, read Rubin’s article and judge for yourself about the likelihoods of resignation and/or impeachment.

If you see an alternative scenario in which Trump emerges from the fray to revitalize his presidency and eventually win re-election, please write and let me know the details (wsmaki@gmail.com). I’ll publish it here.

What happens next?

Here’s one I just ran into at Daily Kos following up on Rubin’s Scenario #4: Trump Loses Jennifer Rubin. Torpedo in the Water.

Jennifer Rubin’s ”Right Turn” column in The Washington Post was reliably partisan beyond reason during the Obama years, so it’s been a shock to see her turn sane and lawyer-like in her #nevertrump position. In fact she’s given up on Trump and turned naysayer against the GOP. Her prognostications for what comes next as the Mueller investigation unfolds offer a range of possibilities, all bad. Bet on this one [Rubin’s #4]:

Republicans join Democrats in warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Mueller remains and keeps digging. Mueller subpoenas damaging documents; Trump refuses to comply. A court orders him to comply. He declares this a witch hunt, an attack on his family (or whatever). Then he resigns, claiming he has already made America great. He tells the country that Vice President Pence will carry on in his place. LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and preserve the possibility that Trump may be forced to resign.

That’s the most likely scenario because it’s to Trump’s advantage in the same way that this entire presidency has been, as a branding effort to promote his business. If he rejects subpoenas and defies the law he’s doing what he promised, fighting the evil Washington machine. If he leaves before a market correction he can allege that the spike in the Dow was his work; that he delivered on his promise to drive the Supreme Court rightward; that he gave the downtrodden Conservatives voters from both parties a real alternative; and that he is their martyr, their symbol of Making America Great Again despite all the efforts of the liars and partisans who forced him out. It’s a perfect narrative, assuming that his resignation actually offers him some defense against indictment, which is not guaranteed.

It leaves out what comes after, though, and that’s never wise with Trump. He lives to hit back. He’s already attacking the GOP for its insufficient “defense” of him in this case, demanding openly that they put him above the law. If Rubin’s scenario comes true, and Trump does leave, he’ll look for vengeance unfettered by whatever remains of his political restraint. A third party of Trumpist candidates hand-picked by Trump is a realistic possibility. They’ll run against the enemies Trump made in the deep red districts and force the GOP to accede to a Trumpist agenda or be defeated by it completely.

If Trump is forced out he’s a hot torpedo looking for a target. He’ll make revenge his life’s mission. Donald Jr. and his siblings will take up the mantle because there’s money to be made from political warfare. If they’re kingmakers instead of kings they can shelter themselves behind Far Right candidates, take huge money from political consultancies and influence peddling, and turn Conservatism into their business. Their properties and investments won’t suffer, and they’ll rebuild their fortresses of hidden deals and dark money. The GOP will be a sitting duck for them. The Trumps will do with the Republican Party what they do with any distressed property: take it over or tear it down it.

That reminded me of what I posted near the beginning of the 2016 election (March 6, 2016): The dawn of the American 3-party system: What the failure of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men means for America. Here are snippets.

What is unfolding in American politics has not been seen in over 100 years. And what is happening this year may never have been seen before. We are witnessing the division of one of our two major political parties with what amounts to a divorce between two factions. One is a traditionalist group (“establishment”) and the other is an awakened, psychologically distinct movement (“Authoritarians”). The distinction has its roots in psychological and political science research.

The big story [of the 2016 election] is the voters themselves. The assertion that “millions of GOP primary voters don’t seem to be listening” to “politicians of both parties, economists, pundits, business leaders” is flat-out wrong. They are listening and they do not like what they are hearing. The other assertion that “the Republican base has taken leave of its senses” is just as wrong. The part of the Republican base responsible for Trump’s lead in the polls and at the ballot box is perfectly sensible; they are just not well understood by the “politicians of both parties, economists, pundits, business leaders”. So who are those voters?

Of particular interest is that subset of mainly Republican voters who are called, for want of a better term, Authoritarians. They are not “Trumpist” and there is no “Trumpism” (even though I’ve used those terms myself). Those terms are candidate-centered and thus misleading about the underlying psychology. Those voters represent a movement that has gained voice through Trump. We are witnessing “The rise of American authoritarianism”. That’s the title of a review of research on Authoritarians by Amanda Taub at Vox.com …

Here are snippets from Taub’s review.

… Authoritarians may be a slight majority within the GOP, and thus able to force their will within the party, but they are too few and their views too unpopular to win a national election on their own.

And so the rise of authoritarianism as a force within American politics means we may now have a de facto three-party system: the Democrats, the GOP establishment, and the GOP authoritarians.

… although the latter two groups are presently forced into an awkward coalition, the GOP establishment has demonstrated a complete inability to regain control over the renegade authoritarians, and the authoritarians are actively opposed to the establishment’s centrist goals and uninterested in its economic platform.

For decades, the Republican Party has been winning over authoritarians by implicitly promising to stand firm against the tide of social change, and to be the party of force and power rather than the party of negotiation and compromise. But now it may be discovering that its strategy has worked too well — and threatens to tear the party apart.

Now, you can see, why I’ve capitalized Authoritarian. It is my way of elevating that group to the same status as Democrat and Republican.

Taub wraps up with this.

… authoritarianism reveals the connections between several seemingly disparate stories about American politics. And it suggest that a combination of demographic, economic, and political forces, by awakening this authoritarian class of voters that has coalesced around Trump, have created what is essentially a new political party within the GOP — a phenomenon that broke into public view with the 2016 election but will persist long after it has ended.

In the March 2016 post I predicted that we were witnessing the breakup of the GOP. In retrospect I was premature. I overlooked an important stage in that process.

Just a couple of days ago I posted on an article by Ruth Ben-Ghiat Trump’s authoritarian playbook revealed page by page in which she observed that “once political elites have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.”

The “bitter end” is what is described in the Daily Kos post reviewed above.

My original (March 2016) prediction might yet come to pass: “… we are the audience in the theatre of history witnessing a centennial event.”

Addendum: GOP is a fractured party

The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa report that the Republicans are in full control of government — but losing control of their party. Their interviews with prominent Republicans suggest a party at war with itself - although the fault lines are phrased in different terms than what I used above.

Snippets follow.

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill have described the dynamic between the White House and GOP lawmakers as a “disconnect” between Republicans who are still finding it difficult to accept that he is the leader of the party that they have long controlled.

“The disconnect is between a president who was elected from outside the Washington bubble and people in Congress who are of the Washington bubble,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who works closely with the White House. “I don’t think some people in the Senate understand the mandate that Donald Trump’s election represented.”

Trump critics said the ongoing controversies over Russian interference in the 2016 election and probes into potential coordination with the president’s associates would make any improvement in relations all but impossible in the coming months, with many Republicans unsure whether Trump’s presidency will survive.

“The Russia stories never stop coming,” said Rick Wilson, a vocal anti-Trump consultant and GOP operative. “For Republicans, the stories never get better, either. There is no moment of clarity or admission.”

Wilson said Republicans are also starting to doubt whether “the bargain they made — that they can endure Trump in order to pass X or Y” — can hold. “After a while, nothing really works and it becomes a train wreck.”

Roger Stone, a longtime Trump associate, said Trump’s battles with Republicans are unlikely to end and are entirely predictable, based on what Trump’s victory signified.

“His nomination and election were a hostile takeover of the vehicle of the Republican Party,” Stone said. He added, “When you talk to some Republicans who oppose Trump, they say they will keep opposing him but can’t openly say it.”

The broader burden, some Republicans say, is to overcome a dynamic of disunity in the party that predates Trump and the current Congress. During the Obama years, it took the form of tea party-vs.-establishment struggles, which in some cases cost Republicans seats or led them to wage risky political feuds.

“There was a separation between Republicanism and conservatism long before he won the White House,” said former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele. “The glue has been coming apart since Reagan.”

The Republican Senators' vote today on health care is a travesty

That’s what John Cassidy calls it in the New Yorker’s The Senate Health-Care Vote Is a Travesty.

It is a ludicrous situation, and one that makes a mockery of the idea of the Senate as a hifalutin deliberative body. No major bill in recent history has been railroaded through the upper chamber in such a manner—conceived of and written in secret, and subject to no markups or committee hearings. If McConnell were to succeed in getting some sort of bill passed, it would be a travesty.

Thankfully, the opponents of the Republican designs—which, let us not forget, could lead to at least twenty million Americans losing their health-insurance coverage, and countless others ending up with skimpier plans and astronomical deductibles—are also rallying. Democratic politicians and activists are fired up and engaged, as are organizations representing the people and interest groups that the reform would affect. On Monday night, the American Association of Retired Persons, which has about thirty-eight million members, called on all senators to vote against the motion to proceed.

But this looks like a close one—perilously close given that opinion polls show that a large majority of Americans prefer keeping Obamacare to adopting any of the Republicans plans. If the vote were to go McConnell’s way, it would be another sign that American democracy is failing.

CNN lists the salient facts in Republican senators poised to vote today on health care. What you need to know. There you can find out the procedures to be followed today and who is on board, who is not, and who is on the fence.

FBI director nominee employed by Chris Christie during Bridgegate

If you missed Rachel Maddow’s show last evening you should tune into this portion about Trump’s pick for FBI director. Rachel reported on the New facts uncovered about Trump FBI pick, confirmation vote looms.

Matt Katz, reporter for WNYC, talks with Rachel Maddow about the sketchy employment by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie of Donald Trump’s pick to replace James Comey has director of the FBI, Chris Wray.
Duration: 22:40

You can read the story in the Washington Post’s Trump FBI pick represented Christie a year before agreement. A few snippets follow.

President Donald Trump’s pick to run the FBI represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for nearly a year before a mandatory retainer agreement was signed, according to records obtained by a New York City radio station.

Christopher Wray began representing Christie in September 2014 during the George Washington Bridge lane-closing investigation, but a formal agreement wasn’t approved until August 2015, WNYC reported Monday (http://bit.ly/2tTJuoj ).

Wray’s firm, Atlanta-based King & Spalding, has been paid $2.1 million since Christie hired him in 2014.

“Eleven months is a little on the long side — and in the very least, it’s kind of sloppy,” Jim Eisenhower, a Philadelphia attorney and former federal prosecutor told WNYC. He said some lag time is expected because of government bureaucracy, but he had never heard of such a long period of time in his 30 years of practicing law.

American Bar Association and New Jersey court rules say terms of attorney retention should be communicated in writing “before or within a reasonable time after commencing the representation.”

Wray is awaiting confirmation from the full U.S. Senate after his nomination was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Did the Judiciary Committee know about this? Apparently not, according to additional reporting by Politico.com saying that Christie offered support for Wray nomination to White House.

Wray represented Christie during the so-called Bridgegate scandal, in which top aides and political appointees of the GOP governor plotted to shut down traffic to the George Washington Bridge as political payback.

However: “questions about Wray’s work on behalf of Christie didn’t surface during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.”

Wray also stressed in his written responses that while in private practice, he personally has not worked on matters involving President Donald Trump and his family’s business interests or the Russian state-owned oil companies Rosneft and Gazprom — who are clients of his current law firm, King & Spalding. …

In CD2 Verdin in, Latas out. Is Verdin a real Democrat?

Joe Ferguson (Daily Star) reports that Local business owner Charlie Verdin steps into CD2 race. Actually, Verdin has been on the list for quite a while but there are two features in this story worth mention.

First, there is information about what Verdin believes, how he has voted in the past, and how he promised to vote should he become our CD2 Rep.

Universal health care through Medicare, universal basic income for workers and slave reparations were issues Verdin said he supports, but said if voters send him to Washington, D.C., he would represent what the district wants, not just necessarily what the Democratic Party supports.

He said while electing a liberal in CD 2 might be appealing to many local Democrats, it was not a viable long-term strategy in a competitive district. A liberal representative elected next year would be replaced, he estimated, in one or two election cycles by a more moderate Republican.

The implication is that Verdin is not a liberal. So …

Verdin told the audience he decided to support McCain during the waning days of the presidential campaign if the senator pulled his support of Donald Trump. While McCain publicly denounced Trump, Verdin said he “swallowed bile” and honored his pledge to vote for the Republican senator.

Scriber thinks Verdin is trying to thread a political needle, professing to hold progressive values but in practice behaving as some form of independent - or even “moderate” Republican? Perhaps if we can get him down to Green Valley we can check on that conclusion.

Verdin announced his candidacy several months ago, but is now part of a crowded Democratic field for the 2018 midterm elections that includes Kirkpatrick, former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, emergency room Dr. Matt Heinz, retired assistant secretary of the Army Mary Matiella, businessman Billy Kovacs and consultant William Foster.

The second bit of news is that “Pilot Jeff Latas told local broadcaster Bill Buckmaster on Monday that he was no longer running for Congress.”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday morning illustrated news

Here is the morning illustrated news from the week that was but that should not have been and most likely did not happen according to fake news alert.

Check out the toons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Martha McSally: Money can't buy her love

Election 2018 is game on for Rep. Martha McSally. That’s what I conclude when following the money. Joe Ferguson (Daily Star) reports that McSally raises more than $1M for 2018 race in Congressional District 2.

The most interesting number in Martha McSally’s latest finance report isn’t the $1 million she raised for her re-election campaign.

It is the $663,000 that her campaign team doled out roughly 18 months before voters go to the polls in Congressional District 2.

The McSally for Congress campaign went through cash much faster than in previous election cycles, spending roughly $2 for every $3 the campaign raised.

The potential challengers on the Democratic side do not raise/spend anywhere near those amounts.

With some candidates either newly announced or still in the exploratory phase, only three filed with the FEC for the last quarter.

Emergency room physician Matt Heinz — who ran against McSally last year and lost — has the largest campaign war chest among the Democratic candidates.

He raised $201,086 in the last reporting cycle and has $181,145 in cash reserves, according to recent filings with the FEC.

Heinz has spent a fraction of what McSally spent — $19,941 on election-related expenses.

Retired assistant secretary of the Army Mary Matiella raised $31,214 in the three-month period but only spent $615.

Businessman Billy Kovacs received $12,733 in the same period but spent $14,678. He had $5,492 in cash reserves at the end of June.

Other CD2 Democratic candidates, former state Rep. Bruce Wheeler, small-business owner Charlie Verdin, pilot Jeff Latas and consultant William Foster, did not have to file paperwork with the FEC.

Add to that list former CD1 Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick who announced her candidacy on Friday.

Other than for the money …

Here’s why all her money, to paraphrase the Beatles song, Can’t Buy Her Voter Love.

Outside political observers say CD2 will be very competitive in the 2018 midterm elections, despite the fact that McSally won the district spanning most of Cochise County and part of Pima County with nearly 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

The Cook Political Report, a well-respected, nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns, lists CD2 as “leans Republican,” giving McSally a slight advantage.

[But] McSally is facing mounting criticism from both well-funded political action committees as well as a grass-roots group that has staged dozens of demonstrations outside her midtown offices.

The GV News granted McSally a bully pulpit from which to brag about one of her votes - in an EDITORIAL: Congress shouldn’t put a price on people’s lives. The essence of McSally’s message is “… I voted against a bill in Congress that would set a federal cap on medical malpractice lawsuits by limiting victim damages not related to earning potential to $250,000. I was one of only a handful of Republicans to break with my party and oppose H.R. 1215, which the House passed, 218–210, despite my opposition.”

That is known as (1) making a safe vote - the House was going to do it anyway, and (2) cherry-picking - that’s the only case in which she voted against Trump and the GOP.

McSally complains about being cast as the Trump Twin but her voting record provides the facts. FiveThirtyEight reports voting records on all sitting members of Congress and compares their votes to the positions taken by our deeply unpopular President Trump. McSally has voted with Trump 97.4% of the time. (By my count, that one vote against her party and Trump is far out-weighed by her 37 votes consistent with Trump.) And that record puts her as the 12th most radically right-wing member of the House.

Consider just one counter example. McSally voted in favor of the House’s Trumpscare bill (AHCA) which would knock millions off of health care nationally and hundred’s of thousands here in AZ. If any form of this passes both chambers of Congress, nearly 50,000 CD2 residents will be at risk (as I reported in Martha McSally’s War on Medicaid back in May).

We must all ask: Why would McSally want that?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Trump proposes to share weapons information with Putin

Not exactly, but awfully close to the truth. Trump did propose a joint cybersecurity arrangement with Russia. He was not kidding.

So Putin continues to groom his Moskovian President. Here’s a great analogy in a LTE in the Daily Star this morning.

Russian interference more than ‘meddling’

I would urge the media to stop embracing Trump’s rebranding of Russia’s seemingly successful attempt at cyberattacking America’s democracy by referring to it as “meddling.” Would FDR have, even if he was the apparent beneficiary of such an attack, begun to refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor as the “confusion” on a small island in the Pacific?

But then again, FDR didn’t have a sit-down chat with Emperor Hirohito to ask him if he had any hand in it, and upon getting a firm, “No, I did not,” accept it and agree to move on, putting the whole unfortunate incident behind them, perhaps even sharing some weapons information in the future, while pledging to become BFFs.

Thomas Nicholson

Required reading: Trump's authoritarian playbook revealed page by page

Ruth Ben-Ghiat writing for CNN.com predicts Trump’s authoritarian playbook – what’s next? (h/t Paul McCreary)

Just before Donald Trump took office, I argued that our new President would likely follow the “authoritarian playbook,” an approach toward governance that privileges executive power and makes the leader’s personal goals and needs the focus of his public office. Now, six months later, those predictions have come true.

Believe me, I wish I had been wrong. I warned that President Trump would escalate his attacks on the media, disregard political customs and democratic norms, and single out judges or other government employees who might challenge the legality or ethics of his actions. Two weeks later, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and over the next months, United States Attorney Preet Bharara and FBI Director James Comey.

So what’s next for Trump and his authoritarian playbook? What is he likely to do over the next six months of his presidency?

Here’s the short version.

The most important item of the authoritarian’s playbook is this: He is in office not to serve the nation but to protect his own position of power, often enriching himself along the way. As Prime Minister of Italy, the business and sports tycoon Silvio Berlusconi set the standard here. He transferred certain functions of his business to his children but never resolved most of his conflicts of interest. The constant legal and juridical fallout from this fazed neither him nor his supporters. Look for Trump to continue doing the same – and with the same attitude.

… he is on his way to accomplishing the most important things an authoritarian leader must do to survive over the long term. The strategies that he’s already used effectively will also guide his next phase of rule.

… he’s created what Carl Bernstein called “a cold political and cultural civil war” by pursuing a media strategy that’s benefited him but further polarized the country. Discrediting the mainstream media is the authoritarian’s insurance policy: He cashes it in if allegations of corruption surface, or if events occur that merit a government crackdown.

Now, President Trump will continue to cultivate ties with followers that are based primarily on loyalty to his person. He knows that what matters the most is not whether they believe him, but that they believe in him. He’ll use rallies and tweets to keep up this direct connection, and continue to brand the mainstream media as “fake news” purveyors. It’s already paid off handsomely: His support has held and much of his base is wedded to his version of reality (or has decided they don’t care if he tells untruths).

See my other post today on the new communications director. The principal qualification Scarymucho (as I call him) has is his over the top loyalty to and love for President Trump.

President Trump will also fulfill his end of the bargain with supporters who wish to stymie America’s shift to a minority-majority country. Look for aggressive action on the kinds of voter suppression tactics that disadvantage people of color and for attempts to cast doubt on the veracity and validity of elections. …

At the same time, President Trump’s adviser Stephen Bannon and his Republican allies will accelerate their campaigns against sectors of society that uphold the value of evidence and expertise, such as the media, the intelligence community, and the judiciary. The GOP’s increasing negativity toward higher education, and NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre’s inflammatory comment that academic, political, and media elites are “America’s greatest domestic threats” also herald the ramping up of this strategy.

Finally, look for Donald Trump to leverage the culture of threat he’s created and profited from. The President’s recent circulation of a meme showing him punching a CNN logo raises the belligerent tone, as do the NRA’s recent videos, one of which asserts that “the clenched fist of truth” is the only means of saving the country from the left.

Studies show that once political elites have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.

It took the Eurozone crisis of 2011 to finally bring down Berlusconi. The question now: What will it take to end Trump’s presidency?

New WH Communications Director Scaramucci is mucho scary

Trump made some Trumpish personnel decisions over the last couple of days. He appointed Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director. He elevated Sarah Huckabee Sanders to Press Secretary. Sean Spicer resigned in protest. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus objected to the Scaramucci hire but that protest went nowhere.

I caught the noon-time press briefing conducted mostly by the new guy, Scaramucci (although Huckabee Sanders lurked off to the side of the stage before making brief comments). Scarmucci in my book is scary mucho. To understand why consider the reactions to Trump’s recent interview with the NY Times. Greg Sargent’s column is representative. I’ll get back to Scarymucho in a few moments.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) retrospects on how Trump’s deeply worrisome New York Times interview reveals a lawless president. He offers three examples.

  • Trump flatly declared that if Attorney General Jeff Sessions had told him in advance that he would recuse himself from the Russia probe, “I would have picked somebody else.” Just as bad, Trump also said that Sessions’s recusal was “very unfair to the president,” i.e., unfair to him.
  • Trump said clearly that if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is examining his family’s finances, he would view that as an abuse of his role. While Trump declined to say whether he would try to get Mueller removed, he said he would view any such overstepping as a “violation.”
  • In at least two exchanges, Trump was asked directly about the fact that Donald Trump Jr.’s email chain showed that the information offered to his campaign in advance of the now-notorious meeting came from the Russian government. In one of them, he strongly suggested that being open to such information was no biggie. In the other, he dismissed the offer itself as “standard political stuff.”

Trump sees the world as everything is about Trump.

Benjamin Wittes, founder of the Lawfare blog, aptly denounces Trump’s “monomaniacal view of the relationship between the president and law enforcement,” in which the latter is there to “serve” the former.

Ultimately, the picture that emerges from this interview is this: Trump has done no evident reflection on the obligations to the public that accompany the massive public authority that has been entrusted to him. He has no clear sense of why it is even desirable, as a matter of public trust, to demonstrate respect for the norms and procedures that are meant to safeguard against abuses of that authority. I know that sounds prim and stuffy and perhaps even obvious, given all the madness we’ve already seen from Trump. But it still matters, and to see it displayed so nakedly is more unsettling than usual.

And now WH communications are to be managed by a slicker-than-Spicer mouthpiece who believes that Trump is a great man and wonderful president. At least that’s what the new guy says.

Spicer resigns as White House press secretary, Scaramucci to be communications director reports the Washington Post. Spicer had been rumored to be on his way out. But Scaramucci? Scara who? The Post provides a video on what you need to know about the new communications director.

I found Scaramucci to be frightening because he is the ultimate loyalist and loves Trump. Moreover, he thinks America loves Trump. It just doesn’t appear that way, you see, because the press does not understand Donnie. So you should love Trump. We all should love Trump.

The NY Times’ Glenn Thrush reported Spicer’s resignation in Sean Spicer Resigns as White House Press Secretary.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday after denouncing chaos in the West Wing and telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

After offering Mr. Scaramucci the communications job Friday morning, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Spicer to stay on as press secretary. But Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment of Mr. Scaramucci was a major mistake and said he was resigning, according to a person with direct knowledge of the exchange.

In one of his first official acts, Mr. Scaramucci, who founded the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital and is a Fox News contributor, joined Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Mr. Spicer’s chief deputy, in the White House briefing room and announced that she would succeed Mr. Spicer as press secretary.

Scarymucho came across like Hitler’s Goebbels, promising honesty but putting Trump Gloss on Trump’s outrageous claims. The Post reports that Scaramucci takes podium, declares loyalty.

Newly named White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci went right to work answering journalists’ questions after getting the job.

Scaramucci entered the White House press briefing room with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who now has the position of press secretary for President Donald Trump.

The New York financier repeatedly declared his love for and loyalty to Trump.

Scaramucci also pushed back against the notion that the White House remains adrift six months into Trump’s term.

Scaramucci says Trump is doing a phenomenal job and that he’ll work with the rest of the White House communications team to get that message “out there a little more aggressively.”

He answered a range of questions and blew a kiss and waved to journalists before leaving the briefing room.

You see why I am worried?

I’m afraid we are witnessing the opening act of a Minister for Propaganda.

What Donald Trump does not know about health insurance can hurt you

Trump trips over his own ignorance on health care reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog).

During the public portion of yesterday’s White House meeting, Trump made a series of bizarre claims about his party’s proposal, making clear that he had absolutely no idea what he was talking point. He said the Republican proposal would offer “better coverage for low-income Americans” than the Affordable Care Act, which isn’t even close to being true. Trump added that the GOP plan is “more generous than Obamacare,” which is bonkers.

Towards the end of his public remarks, the president added, “Your premiums will be down 60 and 70 percent. People don’t know that. Nobody hears it. Nobody talks about it.” In reality, people don’t know that or talk about it because it’s spectacularly untrue.

In the New York Times interview that soon followed, Trump offered this gem:

“So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, ‘I want my insurance.’ It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.”

Huh?

In context, it’s not at all clear that the president understands the difference between health insurance and life insurance. Or put another way, Trump isn’t just confused about the plan he’s eager to sign into law, he’s also confused about the concept of coverage in general.

Yesterday morning, Vox’s Ezra Klein wrote, “*The core problem is Trump has no idea what he’s talking about on health care and never bothered to learn*…. When Trump does weigh in, it’s often a disaster.”

The president then spent the day proving Ezra right.

So where does health care legislation stand?

BusinessInsider.com reports that Senate Republicans [held] an emergency meeting to revive their healthcare bill — but it already sounds like a mess.

According to reports, GOP senators who opposed the first two versions of the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) will hold a meeting Wednesday night in an attempt to hash out their differences on the plan.

The first two versions of the bill were opposed by both conservative and moderate members. Moderates thought the bill’s cuts to Medicaid and the potential for massive coverage losses under the BCRA went too far. Conservatives felt the bill did not go far enough in its rollback of the Affordable Care Act’s regulatory structure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has attempted to bring the two sides to a compromise but has faced two rounds of defections that have killed different versions of the legislation.

Given this state of play, McConnell told reporters after a Senate GOP conference meeting at the White House that he would move forward with a key procedural vote to begin debate on the bill sometime next week.

Four Republican senators have said they would oppose such a motion on the latest version of the BCRA, effectively killing it Monday.

At the same time, Sen. John Cornyn — the second-highest ranking Republican in the Senate — said leadership may bring more than just the BCRA to the floor. If that does not work, Cornyn said, the Senate could vote on a repeal-only bill.

“We’re discussing that,” Cornyn said when asked if the BCRA would make a comeback. “I’m more optimistic that that would be the case. But if there’s no agreement, then we’ll still vote on the motion to proceed but it’ll be to the 2015 just-repeal bill.”

If the Senate passes a repeal-only bill, then Trump will have his chance to let Obamacare fail thus inflicting harm on millions of Americans. How might he do that? Here is an analysis by FiveThirtyEight in their TrumpBeat email.

… it’s not clear whether the Trump administration will enforce the mandate that most people have health insurance or pay a fine, though it has already weakened it, which could mean fewer healthy people participating in the marketplaces and higher premiums for those who do. Another is that we don’t know whether President Trump will use marketing and advertising to promote enrollment as the Obama administration did, which has been shown to increase enrollment among healthier people. There are already signs he will not: The Daily Beast reported that the Department of Health and Human Services has been using money earmarked to promote enrollment to create videos attacking Obamacare. And Politico reported that the department canceled contracts with two companies that were supposed to help enroll people during the open enrollment period for next year. Again, fewer healthier people in the marketplaces results in higher premiums.

The other big outstanding question is how Trump and Congress will deal with payments owed to health insurance companies. Insurers are required to give the poorest enrollees discounts on things like deductibles and co-pays; the law intended for the federal government to reimburse those discounts — with Congress appropriating the funds. When Congress refused to do so, Obama made the payments anyway, and Congress sued his administration. (The court case is ongoing.) Trump has been making the payments on a month-by-month basis while threatening to pull them, using the payments as leverage in the ongoing repeal debate in Congress. More than half of people using the marketplaces receive these payments; if insurers aren’t reimbursed, it will push up premiums and could lead some to leave the marketplace.

McConnell and Senate followers are willing to put repeal-only to the vote this coming week. Trump threatens “We’ll just let Obamacare fail.” With those our leaders entrusted with the well-being of American citizens, what could possibly go wrong?

Tim Steller identifies some lamentable possibilities to replace McCain

Tim Steller considers replacements in If John McCain retires, 12 who could succeed him.

… McCain’s diagnosis with an aggressive brain cancer makes it very likely he will not finish his term.

If not, what happens? Actually, it’s pretty simple. Gov. Doug Ducey appoints a replacement, who by law must be a Republican, like McCain. The appointee then must stand for election at the next general election.

If McCain were to retire in the next year, then whoever Ducey appoints will have to run in November 2018.

Really, that system is simple. What’s more complicated is thinking through who Ducey might choose to replace McCain. This is something that’s been idly discussed since Nov. 8, but now those discussions are much more urgent.

I’ll highlight some of the possible picks.

Rep. Martha McSally — This possibility deserves a little deeper reflection because she is ours, after all.

Cons: McSally represents a swing district, which means it will be harder for Republicans to retain the seat if she leaves for the Senate. Also, she’s from Southern Arizona and therefore a harder sell in Maricopa County. Finally, she’s a moderate compared to the other possible candidates.

Pros: McSally is a former military aviator, like McCain. She is a woman, of course, and she has shown a strong ability to raise money. Also, she might lose anyway next year, so why not appoint her? (See above.)

She’s “a moderate”? Judging from her voting record, I’ll have to disagree. There are Republicans who actually pay attention to their constituents and vote correspondingly. McSally is not one of those reps. The ranks #12 out of the House in voting more in line with Trump’s positions than would be predicted by the makeup of CD2 voters. That’s because CD2 is a competitive district but McSally votes 97.4% of the time with Trump.

But I must allow Steller’s qualification: “compared to the other possible candidates” – and those are ugly possibilities indeed. Trent Franks?

Rep. Trent Franks — The Glendale Republican is perhaps the favorite Arizona congressman among evangelical Christian conservatives. Ducey would endlessly please the Center for Arizona Policy and its supporters if he picked Franks.

Debbie “voucher lady” Lesko?

Sen. Debbie Lesko — A leader of the state Senate, Lesko famously pushed for increasing the school voucher program last year and has been the state chairman for the Arizona Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a group loved by Arizona conservatives and hated by Democrats.

And Ducey could appoint himself.

This is, to paraphrase another politician, a basket of lamentables.

Friday, July 21, 2017

A glimpse of Trump's end of days?

The Washington Post reports two stories bundled under one headline: Trump team seeks to control, block Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The first story is in the headline. Trump’s lawyers are trying to dig up dirt on Mueller and his hires in order to discredit, and even block, the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. So far, as far as I can tell, despite what the say, they have discovered nothing but Trump’s temper. Mueller, on the other hand, is reported to be closing in on Trump’s financial ties to Russia and that triggered more rage from Trump.

The second story is that Trump and his lawyers are reported to be discussing presidential powers to issue broad pardons for Trumps family and staff and even a self-pardon for Trump. That would set off a constitutional firestorm. Here are snippets from the Post’s story.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation.

Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

One Trump lawyer denies Russia probe pardons being discussed.

A related thread in all this was reported by the NY Times in Trump’s Fury Erodes His Relationship With Sessions, an Early Ally. Trump has expressed anger with AG Jeff Sessions over Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigations. Trump claims he would not have appointed Sessions if Trump knew in advance that Sessions would recuse. That seems to me to be a strange argument, one that implies advance knowledge of all things in the future. But most of what Trump says is strange.

The deeper concern is the possibility that Trump will force Sessions out and appoint someone favorable to ending Mueller’s investigation. Right now Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein is Trump’s boss and Sessions has said he would stay on as AG - in spite of Trump’s anger. If Trump could fire Sessions and install a new AG, then the way would be open for charges of conflict of interest ( or other trumped-up claims) to be the basis for fireing Mueller. And all that would eclipse Watergate.