Is House Speaker Paul Ryan As Delusional As President Trump On Health Care Issues?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

“We’re making very good progress, we’re going to go when we have the votes,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said about the GOP’s plans to push forward a health-care plan on April 26.(Reuters)

THE MORNING PLUM:

Republicans have once again shelved their plan to vote on replacing Obamacare, depriving Donald Trump of a fake accomplishment he had hoped to tout on the 100th day of his presidency (even if it had passed the House on the 100th day, there’s no telling what would have happened in the Senate). A lot of explanations are circulating: A rushed vote would have complicatedkeeping the government open; Republicans balked at opposition from the powerful AARP; poor messaging and GOP infighting; and so forth.

I’d like to propose another explanation. What if the GOP repeal effort once again failed because the Affordable Care Act has actually helped a lot of people, and this whole process has made that a lot harder for Republicans to deny?

GOP leaders said they put the latest version on hold because the votes weren’t there for it. The new changes had won over House conservatives who had previously objected, but many of the more moderate or pragmatic Republicans were still opposed. Indeed, the changes that swayed conservatives — which would have allowed states to scrap the requirement that insurers cover Essential Health Benefits and gut protections for people with preexisting conditions — appear to have made it harder for Republicans from less conservative and more contested districts (such as Colorado’s Mike Coffman) to support it.

If you read through the public statements of many of the Republicans who objected to the latest version, you’ll see a common thread. They say either that passing the new bill would drive up premiums for people with preexisting conditions (because it would allow insurers to jack them up); or that too many would lose coverage, partly because of the phaseout of the Medicaid expansion. A number of the Republicans who opposed it this time had previously made statements to this effect about the older version, and those objections were still operative.

“The reality is most of the moderate hard Nos were already opposed,” Matt Fuller, a reporter for HuffPost who has followed this more closely than anyone, told me today. In short, many Republicans objected to the new version on the grounds that it would take coverage away from untold numbers of poor and sick people.

Pelosi: A vote for Trump’s health-care push is ‘doo-doo’ on the shoe

 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the first 100 days of the Trump administration, grading him poorly on health care. (Reuters)

At the same time, though, many of these Republicans avoided openly crediting Obamacare with achieving the very protections for those with preexisting conditions and the vast coverage expansion via Medicaid that they now want to preserve. And they pledged to continue trying to repeal the law. These Republicans cannot affirmatively applaud Obamacare’s success in accomplishing ends they now recognize as imperatives, but they can stand up and say they won’t remove or badly weaken the provisions of it that are accomplishing those ends, provided they also say they’ll replace the law whenever some more acceptable alternative — which would also accomplish those ends — comes along.

The absurdity of this basic dynamic continues to elude direct recognition. Byron York reports that Republicans privately say that as many as 40 or 50 House Republicans secretly don’t want to repeal the ACA, and one key reason appears to be a lack of political courage. As one Republican puts it: “We have members in the Republican conference that do not want Obamacare repealed, because of their district.”

But the reason for this is not stated as forthrightly as I think it should be. Even if the primary motive here is that taking coverage away from people — and gutting protections for those with preexisting conditions — will alienate voters, this is just another way of saying that voters will recoil from efforts to roll back the help the law is providing to countless numbers of people. It is often said that taking away “entitlements” is politically difficult, which is true as far as it goes. But another way to say this is that even many Republicans now recognize that sustaining the law’s achievements is now imperative — and that Republicans have not come up with an alternative that would do this in a way that their public ideological pre-commitments permit. Of course, they can’t put it quite this way out loud.

No, Obamacare is not in a ‘death spiral’ — at least for now

 

Health-care experts say the Affordable Care Act is stable, but President Trump and congressional Republicans could push it over the cliff into a “death spiral.” (Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

The GOP replacement is a non-starter for these Republicans partly because it is wildly regressive. It would roll back coverage for millions of people — 24 million in total; 14 million on Medicaid — while delivering an enormous tax cut to the rich. The polls and the angry town halls suggest that the public clearly decided it prefers the ACA — which is now in positive polling territory — to this alternative. Whether moderate Republicans are refraining from this alternative for moral, substantive or political reasons, the deeply regressive outcome that it would bring about is a key driving factor.

My point here is not that Obamacare doesn’t still have plenty of problems — it does — or that the GOP repeal push will never succeed. It very well may. But if it does, it will be either because Republicans finally figured out how to make their alternative less damaging to the ACA’s coverage expansion — which would be hard to do without alienating conservatives — or because enough moderate Republicans decided the moral or political risk of scuttling the law’s accomplishments on behalf of their own constituents is worth taking, for other reasons entirely.


* HEALTH BILL FAILURE IS A BLOW TO PRIEBUS: An interesting nugget buried in the New York Times overview of the collapse of the latest GOP health bill:

The lost opportunity was perhaps the biggest blow to the future prospects of Reince Priebus, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who has a long relationship with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. Mr. Priebus had pushed aggressively for the House to schedule a vote this week, according to several people who spoke with him within the West Wing and on Capitol Hill.

Awww. This diminished a guy who demanded a rushed vote on a bill that would impact millions, solely so that Trump could boast of a fake achievement on his 100th day. So sad!

* TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS DON’T AMOUNT TO MUCH: The Post takes a comprehensive look at the executive orders that Trump has signed, and finds there is less there than meets the eye:

More than half of the 29 orders issued as of Thursday have merely called for reviews, have commissioned reports or established panels to issue recommendations. The documents lay out a dizzying schedule of 90-, 120- and 180-day increments for federal agencies to evaluate the feasibility of White House policy goals and report to the president. They hardly represent the immediate action the president and his aides had heralded they would bring to Washington.

Trump really should hurry up and sign a half-dozen more between now and tomorrow (his 100th day).

* TRUMP SAYS ‘MAJOR CONFLICT’ WITH NORTH KOREA IS POSSIBLE: Trump, in an interview with Reuters, said this:

“There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely … We’d love to solve things diplomatically but it’s very difficult.”

One imagines that Trump sees this as shrewd positioning in an ongoing negotiation.

* TRUMP SAYS SHUTDOWN WOULD BE THE FAULT OF DEMOCRATS: Also in the Reuters interview, Trump had this to say about a possible government shutdown:

“If there’s closure, there’s closure. We’ll see what happens. If there’s a shutdown. It’s the Democrats’ fault. Not our fault. It’s the Democrats’ fault. Maybe they’d like to see a shutdown.”

A frequent Trump tactic is to always assert he has the upper hand regardless of reality, in order to make it so, but given that Republicans control everything, it’s hard to see how they’d skirt blame.

* IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT HUMORING TRUMP: Paul Krugman looks at all the ways in which Trump’s staff props up his falsehoods and fantasies — searching for “proof” Barack Obama tapped his phones; rushing out a one-page tax “plan” before the 100-day mark — and concludes:

Every report from inside the White House conveys the impression that Trump is like a temperamental child … being an effective staffer seems to involve finding ways to make him feel good and take his mind off news that he feels makes him look bad … Don’t pretend that this is normal … No, what we’re looking at here isn’t policy; it’s pieces of paper whose goal is to soothe the big man’s temper tantrums.

The rot of bad faith runs very deep with this White House, and it starts here.

* AND TRUMP EXPECTED PRESIDENCY TO BE ‘EASIER’: A final tidbit from the Reuters interview: Trump actually claimed that “this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” That’s bad enough, but then this happened:

Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

“Here, you can take that, that’s the final map of the numbers,” the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”

It was always about winning, and never about what would happen after

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Lied In His Confirmation Hearing About His 2 Meetings With Russia’s Top Spy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian ambassador

  • The diplomat’s interactions with former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing
  • The Justice Department disclosed the meetings

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the top Russian diplomat in Washington whose interactions with President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing, according to the Justice Department.

Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians. A Justice official said Sessions didn’t mislead senators during his confirmation.
The Washington Post first reported on Sessions’ meetings with the official.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Sessions met with Kislyak twice, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Sessions responded swiftly Wednesday, strongly stating that he never discussed campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Key Democratic lawmakers immediately called for Sessions’ resignation after the news broke.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized Sessions’ comments in his confirmation “apparent perjury,” and said the attorney general should resign.
Kislyak’s potential proximity to Russian spying is one reason why Flynn’s interactions with him, and Flynn’s failure to disclose what he discussed with Kislyak, raised concerns among intelligence officials.
In his confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sessions was asked about Russia and he responded at the time that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because the Alabama Republican “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
“Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” Isgur Flores said in the statement.
A Justice Department official confirmed the meetings, but said Sessions met with the ambassadors “in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Serviced Committee.”
A White House official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. (Attorney) General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”
In reaction to the report, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also called for Sessions’ resignation.
“There is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission” to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Cummings said. “It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations for several weeks.”
Cummings called Sessions’ claim during his confirmation hearing that he did not have communications with the Russians “demonstrably false.”
Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at the confirmation hearing, said if the reports of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak were true, then Sessions’ response was “at best misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately,” Franken said.
News of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak came as the New York Times reported Wednesday evening that officials under former President Barack Obama had sent information throughout government about potential Russian contact with Trump’s associates and interference in the 2016 election. The officials did so, the Times reported, in order to preserve the information after Obama left office.
Regarding the Obama administration efforts, Obama’s spokesman Eric Schultz told CNN: “This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response. When the (intelligence community) does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.”
Two days before Trump’s inauguration, the State Department sent Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a batch of documents related to Russian attempts to meddle in elections worldwide, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Cardin spokesman Sean Bartlett told CNN that the senator had received the classified documents on request and that they were shared with both Republican and Democratic committee staffers.

Trump, Republicans: Warning Shot Across The Bow: House GOP guts ethics panel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN NEWS)

House GOP guts ethics panel

  • The amendment was proposed by Republican Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte
  • This move would weaken ethics oversight in Congress

Washington (CNN)House Republicans voted Monday night to gut Congress’ independent watchdog on the eve of a new era.

Republican members voted 119-74 — breaking with party leaders — during a closed-door meeting in favor of Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s proposal, which would place the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of those very lawmakers, a move that outraged Democrats and outside ethics organizations.
The change in rules carries the appearance of House members taking power away from the office that can investigate them for misconduct, at a time when Republicans are about to have control of two branches of government with a mandate for shaking up Washington.
The proposal would bar the panel from reviewing any violation of criminal law by members of Congress, requiring that it turn over complaints instead to the House Ethics Committee or refer the matter to an appropriate federal law enforcement agency. The House Ethics Committee would also have the power to stop an investigation at any point and bars the ethics office from making any public statements about any matters or hiring any communications staff.
And the ethics office would no longer be able to accept or investigate any anonymous reports of alleged wrongdoing by members of Congress.
The full House of Representatives will now vote on it as part of a larger rules package up for consideration Tuesday.
Currently the ethics panel operates as an independent, non-partisan entity that has the power to investigate misconduct against lawmakers, officers and staff of the United States House of Representatives. Originally created by Congress under Nancy Pelosi’s speakership in the wake of multiple lobbying scandals, it continued to act as an independent body under then-House Speaker John Boehner.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top GOP leaders opposed the change to ethics rules, but rank-and-file members disregarded their views and voted to approve the new structure for ethics reviews going forward, according to a senior House GOP leadership source familiar with the closed-door discussion.
Members of both parties complain that panel often takes up matters based on partisan accusations from outside groups with political motivations, and once they launch a probe members have to mount expensive defense campaigns.
Pelosi slammed the move.
“Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions. Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress,” she said in a statement Monday following the vote.
Pelosi added: “The amendment Republicans approved tonight would functionally destroy this office.”
Goodlatte defended his proposal in the wake of the outrage Monday evening, telling CNN that the move “will make sure that work is properly done,” but “will also make sure that people who are wrongly charged have an opportunity to protect themselves.”
“There should be no entity in the entire federal government that doesn’t have review by some committee of the Congress so that’s all it sets up is oversight,” he said. “It still has its designated statutory responsibilities. It has some new rules that it has to follow but it still is empowered to take complaints from individuals as it was intended to do and investigate those complaints but every agency of the government whether it’s executive, legislative or judicial should have a committee that reviews it’s work.”
GOP Rep. Hal Rogers, the Appropriations Committee chairman, told reporters he backed the proposal because “it’s the right thing to do.”
Rogers said there were “numerous examples” of members “who were falsely accused by this group who had to spend a fortune to get their good name restored so I think there’s been an abuse.”
Texas Congressman Bill Flores also backed the change, saying the panel is “out of control‎, we don’t even get constitutional rights, constitutional protections. They don’t tell us who accuses us and they leak the data — they are out of control.”
Outside ethics group point to the ethics panel as the only real entity policing members and argue its independent status and bipartisan board are an appropriate way to oversee investigations.
“Gutting the independent ethics office is exactly the wrong way to start a new Congress,” said Chris Carson, spokesperson for League of Women Voters, in a statement. “This opens the door for special interest corruption just as the new Congress considers taxes and major infrastructure spending.”
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, said the ethics office “has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug.”
“If the 115th Congress begins with rules amendments undermining (the ethics office), it is setting itself up to be dogged by scandals and ethics issues for years and is returning the House to dark days when ethics violations were rampant and far too often tolerated,” they said in a Monday night statement.
Eisen served as the top ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama and Painter held the same job under President George W. Bush.
CNN’s Tal Kopan contributed to this report.