Trump seethes, two weeks after midterms

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

 

Trump seethes, two weeks after midterms

 

Donald Trump is seething, publicly and privately, almost two weeks after midterm elections in which he at first believed he had scored a moral victory.

Democrats have run up the score in the House of Representatives and the political world has turned its focus to ominous signs for the president’s reelection hopes. In response, Trump has hit out on Twitter, in impromptu comments to reporters, and in a Sunday TV interview.

Behind the scenes, it’s no better.

“The issue was not election night. But 10 days later, we are still seeing the fallout and losing races,” said one source familiar with the president’s thinking.

Other sources who spoke with The Hill described a similar atmosphere.

“Right after the election, we felt a sense of relief that the impact of the blue wave had not been so great,” said one GOP operative with ties to the White House. “But there has been a rising tide of Democrats flipping Republican seats over the past week-and-a-half, and that has really concerned Republicans and raised eyebrows.”

People close to the administration recall, somewhat wistfully, the buoyant mood in the White House on election night, as early returns seemed to point toward a respectable showing for the GOP.

Trump’s spirits had already been lifted by the adoring crowds that had greeted him during an intense bout of campaigning in the run-up to Election Day.

On election night, the initial sense was that he had been vindicated — and not just in Senate contests.

The projection that Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) had won his competitive reelection race was met with particular pleasure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The president had campaigned for Barr in mid-October.

But the sweetness of moments like that have curdled as Democratic gains keep ticking up. And the president seems to be taking it personally.

“All in all, it’s not bad. We are now at 37, going on 40,” the source familiar with Trump’s thinking said, referring to total seat losses for the House GOP.  But “the expectation was, for a guy who spent as much time and effort, that it would have been better.”

The president’s souring mood has been evident on Twitter, where initial proclamations of victory have given way to familiar complaints about unfair treatment by the media.

“People are not being told that the Republican Party is on track to pick up two seats in the U.S. Senate, and epic victory: 53 to 47,” he tweeted on Friday. “The Fake News Media only wants to speak of the House, where the Midterm results were better than other sitting Presidents.”

In a “Fox News Sunday” interview with Chris Wallace, Trump insisted that his mood was not dark, as Wallace posited, but “very light.”

But his later answers belied that claim. He sought credit for some victories while arguing that GOP defeats showed only that Republican candidates could not match his appeal to voters.

“I have people that won’t vote unless I’m on the ballot, okay? And I wasn’t on the ballot,” Trump told Wallace.

In and around the White House, there is speculation about how the president’s political team might change.

Political director Bill Stepien, who is held in broadly high regard even in the faction-riven White House, has been seen as likely to join the president’s reelection campaign — though some question where he would fit into a chain of command that already has a campaign manager, Brad Parscale.

Renewed speculation over chief of staff John Kelly’s future also impacts the picture.

Kelly is seen, by allies and detractors alike, as more concerned with policy and managerial order than with the finer points of electoral politics.

Were he to be replaced by a more political figure — such as Nick Ayers, currently chief of staff to Vice President Pence — that would likely have ripple effects through the in-house team.

Trump fueled the Kelly gossip during his “Fox News Sunday” interview when he pointedly declined to repeat his prior pledge that his chief of staff would remain in place until 2020.

Trump noted of Kelly, “There are a couple of things where it’s just not his strength. It’s not his fault, it’s not his strength.” Those comments could be seen as a reference to Kelly’s perceived lack of interest in campaign-style politics.

A brief but intense return to the trail could provide one salve for Trump’s spirits, however.

On Nov. 26, he will hold two rallies in Mississippi, where Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith is seeking to hold off Democrat Mike Espy in a Senate runoff set for the next day.

Meanwhile, some Trump loyalists rationalize his mood as an understandable swing after the rigors of the campaign trail.

“The last couple of days, he looked tired. I think he is probably exhausted from the [pre-election] sprint,” said Barry Bennett on Friday. Bennett served as a senior advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign.

But, Bennett insisted, there was no underlying reason to fear for Trump’s reelection hopes.

“Structurally, I just don’t see much there,” he said. “Of course I wish we’d kept the House, but that was historically improbable.”

There are warning signs for Trump, however, including the strong performance of Democratic senators in the Rust Belt states that made the difference between winning and losing in 2016.

Democratic senators in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio all won reelection comfortably. All four states were carried by Trump two years before.

Brad Blakeman, a member of the senior staff in President George W. Bush’s administration and a supporter of the current president, demurred when asked if those results were troubling.

“I don’t think it’s troubling. I think it’s concerning,” Blakeman said. “Any president up for reelection should be concerned with his support in battleground states. But there is some comfort that can be taken from the shellacking President Obama and President Clinton took, and yet they both won reelection handily.”

In the broader Republican world, however, there is concern not just at the bottom-line results but at exit polls that showed the party faring poorly with college educated voters, female voters and in the suburbs.

Some more establishment-friendly voices place the blame on Trump, contending that his fiery rhetoric on topics such as immigration and the caravan of migrants that originated in Central America, put off as many voters as it attracted.

“I think the immigration rhetoric lost us several seats in Hispanic districts, and it’s not going to get better in 2020,” lamented one GOP operative who worked on the midterms. “There is no district we lost here that we are going to win in 2020 — and it’s going to hurt recruiting, quite honestly.”

Independent experts agree that there are portents of trouble for Trump in the midterm results, even though they stress plenty of caveats.

“Midterms are not presidential elections, and they are not predictive,”cautioned Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“But the president’s standing is undeniably shaky and his deliberately divisive style is not allowing him to capitalize on a time of relative peace and prosperity.”

That’s the kind of verdict likely to stoke Trump’s ire to new heights.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Houston Chronicle endorses Beto O’Rourke (Not Ted Cruz) in Texas Senate race

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Houston Chronicle endorses Beto O’Rourke in Texas Senate race

The Houston Chronicle on Friday endorsed Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke in his bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the closely watched Texas Senate race.
“With eyes clear but certainly not starry, we enthusiastically endorse Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate,” the Chronicle’s editorial board wrote in its endorsement. “The West Texas congressman’s command of issues that matter to this state, his unaffected eloquence and his eagerness to reach out to all Texans make him one of the most impressive candidates this editorial board has encountered in many years.”
The board notes that O’Rourke, a congressman in an El Paso-based district, faces “long odds” to become the first Democrat Texas could vote into the Senate in three decades. The board writes that a victory for O’Rourke would be beneficial for the state “not only because of his skills, both personal and political, but also because of the manifest inadequacies of the man he would replace.”
The board, which notes that it endorsed Cruz’s candidacy in the 2012 Senate race, criticized Cruz in its endorsement of O’Rourke, saying the incumbent has exhibited “little interest in addressing the needs of his fellow Texans during his six years in office.”
“For Cruz, public office is a private quest; the needs of his constituents are secondary,” the board wrote, also citing his pivotal role in a federal government shutdown in 2013, as well as his “nay” vote for the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act — a law that authorized $60 billion for relief agencies that were aiding Hurricane Sandy victims.
The board also pointed to the negative public comments Cruz has received from his Republican colleagues.
Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) once said, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the board notes, once said: “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”
“What sets O’Rourke apart, aside from the remarkable campaign he’s running, are policy positions in keeping with a candidate duly aware of the traditionally conservative Texas voter he would be representing in the U.S. Senate,” the board continues.
The board then goes on to conclude that O’Rourke would serve as a check to President Trump, whom it describes as a “danger to the republic.”
“Cruz is unwilling to take on that responsibility.”
O’Rourke has gained a national following in his quest to unseat Cruz for his Senate seat. Still, polls have shown Cruz maintaining a solid lead. A poll released by CNN this week showed Cruz with a 7-point advantage. The nonpartisan Cook Political report has rated the race a “toss-up.”

GOP Aide Involved In Kavanaugh Nomination Resigns Because Of Sexual Harassment

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Aide for GOP involved in Kavanaugh nomination resigns after past sexual harassment allegation surfaces

Aide for GOP involved in Kavanaugh nomination resigns after past sexual harassment allegation surfaces
© Anna Moneymaker

A spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee who was involved in Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court has abruptly resigned after allegations surfaced that he was dismissed from a previous job following a claim of sexual misconduct.

Garrett Ventry had been working as a communications official for the committee and focusing on messaging for the GOP amid Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh.

“Garrett was one of several temporary staff brought on to assist in the committee’s consideration of the Supreme Court nomination, a team that has done outstanding work,” a Judiciary Committee spokesperson told The Hill on Saturday.

“While he strongly denies allegations of wrongdoing, he decided to resign to avoid causing any distraction from the work of the committee,” they added.

Ventry denied any “allegations of misconduct” in a statement to NBC News, which first reported his dismissal on Saturday.

Ventry had previously worked for the conservative firm CRC Public Relations. A company spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill that Ventry had been on a leave of absence.

“We were not aware of these allegations, which he denies. As of this morning we have accepted his resignation,” a company spokesman said.

Politico had reported this week that CRC assisted lawyer and activist Ed Whelan in promoting an unfounded theory about the sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh, which Whelan later removed from Twitter.

NBC News reported Saturday that Republicans were concerned Ventry could no longer lead messaging surrounding the Kavanaugh allegation because of the allegation made in his past.

The allegation was reportedly made by a female employee of the North Carolina GOP General Assembly. Ventry worked as a social media adviser in North Carolina House Majority Leader John Bell’s office last year.

Bell fired Ventry after a few months. The North Carolina leader told NBC News that Ventry had worked in his office and “moved on,” but declined to discuss specifics surrounding the dismissal.

Ventry’s departure comes as the GOP-led Senate Judiciary Committee negotiates with Ford’s lawyers over her appearing before the panel next week.

Grassley has given Ford until 2:30 p.m. on Saturday to decided whether to testify about the allegations.

– Jordain Carney contributed reporting

This post was last updated at 11:41 a.m.

Federal judge says Trump must fully restore DACA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWS)

 

Federal judge says Trump must fully restore DACA

A federal judge ruled Friday that the Trump administration must fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

In his 25-page opinion, Judge John Bates said the Trump White House had again failed to provide justification for its proposal to end the Obama-era program, under which nearly 800,000 people brought to the country illegally as children, known as “Dreamers,” have received work permits and deferral from deportation.

The judge also said in his opinion that he has agreed to delay his ruling to give the Trump administration 20 days “to determine whether it intends to appeal the Court’s decision and, if so, to seek a stay pending appeal.”

President Trump rescinded DACA in September, a decision Bates wrote in his opinion “was arbitrary and capricious” with legal judgment that was “inadequately explained.”

Bates further wrote that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia holds that if the Trump administration wishes to rescind the program, or take any other action for that matter, it must “give a rational explanation for its decision.”

Bates said his court reaffirms its conclusion that DACA’s rescission “was unlawful and must be set aside.”

Earlier this year, Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, became the third federal judge to reject Trump’s explanation for ending the program, ruling at the time that the decision by the Justice Department that the program was unlawful was “virtually unexplained.”

The judge’s decision on Friday comes amid high political tension over the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies.

Trump has faced backlash for his controversial “zero-tolerance” at the Mexican border, which prioritizes the prosecutions of migrants who illegally enter the United States.

The policy led to the separation of hundreds of migrant children from their parents, causing a bipartisan uproar. A court previously ordered the government to reunite the migrant families by last Thursday, but hundreds of children still remain divided from their parents.

Trump has signed an executive order to end the family separations, but also repeatedly pledged to shut down the government this fall if he fails to secure funding for his long-promised southern border wall.

North Korea Is Quickly Upgrading Nuclear Research Facility: report

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘HILL’ NEWSPAPER)

 

Satellite images show North Korea upgrading nuclear research facility: report

Satellite images from last week show that North Korea is making numerous improvements to the infrastructure at a nuclear research facility, according to a new study.

The images, obtained by North Korea analysis outlet 38 North, come just weeks after President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed an agreement that called for a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

The satellite photos indicate that North Korea is quickly progressing on several adjustments to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center.

The improvements include a new cooling water pump house, multiple new buildings, completed construction on a cooling water reservoir and an apparently active Radio chemical Laboratory. It is unclear whether the reactor is still in operation, the report said.

38 North notes that North Korean nuclear officials are expected to proceed with “business as usual” until Kim orders official changes to procedure.

The agreement between Trump and Kim, signed at the historic summit in Singapore earlier this month, commits the U.S. to “security guarantees” in exchange for a denuclearized Korean peninsula. Critics said that the deal was unspecific and gave too much to North Korea without securing anything for the U.S. in return.

Ahead of the meeting between the two leaders, North Korea claimed to have destroyed its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site.

Jeff Sessions Own Church Charges Him With: Child Abuse, Immorality, Racism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWSPAPER)

 

Hundreds of members at Sessions’s church write formal complaint over immigration policy

More than 600 members of the United Methodist Church signed on to a letter Monday condemning Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant parents and children at the U.S. border.

In the letter, the group of churchgoers, including clergy and church leadership, accuse Sessions of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

They note in the letter that Sessions is a member of Ashland Place United Methodist Church, in Mobile, Ala.

“While other individuals and areas of the federal government are implicated in each of these examples, Mr. Sessions — as a long-term United Methodist in a tremendously powerful, public position — is particularly accountable to us, his church,” the letter reads. “He is ours, and we are his. As his denomination, we have an ethical obligation to speak boldly when one of our members is engaged in causing significant harm in matters contrary to the Discipline on the global stage.”

The letter comes as President Trump and his administration face backlash over its policy to separate migrant families.

Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy earlier this year, saying the Department of Justice would criminally prosecute all adults attempting to illegally cross the southern border into the U.S. As a result, families who crossed together would in some cases be separated, he said.

Trump has repeatedly blamed Democrats for the policy, and administration officials have asserted that only Congress can fix the issue by passing immigration reform.

Members of Congress have introduced legislation to end the practice of separating families, while simultaneously urging Trump to unilaterally stop the separations.

Trump must resist temptation to pardon Manafort for real crimes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWSPAPER AND THE WEBSITE OF JONATHAN TURLEY)

 

Trump must resist temptation to pardon Manafort for real crimes

Trump must resist temptation to pardon Manafort for real crimes
© Greg Nash

After a few weeks on the job, President Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani is beginning to sound like the Vince Shlomi of constitutional law. Shlomi became a household name for his mesmerizing low-grade “ShamWow” commercials promising a towel that “holds 20 times its weight” and “doesn’t drip, doesn’t make a mess.” He would ask, “Why do you want to work twice as hard?” when you could just pull out a ShamWow.

Asked about the jailing of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for witness tampering, Giuliani declared, “Things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons.” The only thing missing to complete the Shlomi comparison was a picture of a pardon soaking up a bowlful of special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments.

The pardon power is not a ShamWow for presidents to clean up scandals. True, the Constitution gives a president total discretion in the granting of pardons and commutations. However, it was not designed, and should not be used, to protect figures like Manafort or Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen. Shortly after Manafort was thrown into jail pending trial, Trump lamented, “Wow, what a tough sentence for Paul Manafort, who has represented Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other top political people and campaigns. Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the mob.”In waving around the pardon power, Giuliani essentially offered a Shlomiesque, “Not wow, Mr. President, ShamWow!” The problem is that Manafort would be the least compelling pardon recipient since President Clinton pardoned his own half brother and Marc Rich, a fugitive Democratic donor. It is true that Manafort is not “the head of the mob,” but he is facing compelling allegations of an array of criminal acts running the gamut of the criminal code. Indeed, the list of indictments would have made mob boss John Gotti blush.

For months, I have written about Manafort’s longstanding reputation for being reckless. It was the reason some observers expressed surprise when he was chosen as Trump’s campaign chairman. He is now accused, however, of an act of sheer stupidity that is truly breathtaking: A grand jury indicted him on additional charges of witness tampering after he allegedly tried to coach witnesses over the telephone while under the continual monitoring of a house arrest.

Trump has complained that Manafort is being prosecuted for things that happened “12 years ago.” However, that is why a pardon would be so problematic. Most independent observers view the charges against Manafort as exceptionally strong. Trump would need to pardon him for crimes ranging from fraud to conspiracy and witness tampering to money laundering and tax violations to false statements.

The same is true with Michael Cohen. This pardon talk notably got louder when reports surfaced that Cohen had fired his lawyers and was considering “flipping” as a cooperating witness. However, he also faces a long list of criminal allegations, ranging from business fraud to tax violations to lobbying violations to false statements. The vast majority deal with dubious business practices unrelated to the Trump campaign.

While it is true that none of these alleged crimes might have been identified had Manafort and Cohen not assumed such visible positions, that does not mean they are not criminals or should not be punished for their crimes. In the end, pardons could certainly keep associates loyal and uncooperative with prosecutors, but a pardon may not be quite as legally absorbent as Giuliani suggests. A president cannot pardon away future crimes. Thus, Manafort and Cohen could be called to testify under oath and could be charged with any new acts of perjury or other crimes. A pardon would make it more difficult for the men to refuse to testify under their privilege against self-incrimination.

Finally, a presidential pardon does not protect against state crimes, which, for Cohen, is a particular concern. Giuliani noted that a potpourri of pardons could come “when the whole thing is over.” It is not clear what that time frame might mean. Ironically, if Mueller is slow-walking the investigation, Giuliani’s words would encourage him to reduce that to a glacial pace. Yet, if it comes too early, they could still be forced to testify and require a daisy chain of pardons for any new false statements or criminal acts. The pardons would also have to cover not only the alleged crimes being investigated by Mueller but alleged crimes uncovered by career prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.

Presidential pardons were meant to address manifest injustices. No matter how you feel about the original basis of the special counsel investigation, it is hard to say that the prosecution of Manafort or Cohen would be an injustice to any degree. Indeed, using this power to relieve them of any accountability for crimes worth tens of millions of dollars would be a manifest injustice. They agreed to take high-profile positions and, when one does so, one accepts greater scrutiny. Hence the old expression, “One day on the cover of Time, next day doing time.”

Trump is correct that he and his campaign had nothing to do with these crimes. That is the point: Just as Manafort and Cohen should not be accused of crimes simply because of their connection to Trump, they should not be excused for prior crimes on the same basis. If Trump is going to grant immunity for any crime of any kind at any time, all of the ShamWows in the world won’t absorb the stain that would be left behind.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

Minimum wage hikes in 18 states set for new year

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE HILL’ NEWSPAPER)

 

Minimum wage hikes in 18 states set for new year

The lowest wage workers in 18 states will get a boost in their paychecks starting on New Year’s Day, as minimum wage hikes take effect.

Many of the wage hikes are phased-in steps toward an ultimately higher wage, the product of ballot initiatives pushed by unions and workers rights groups over the last few years.

The minimum wage in Washington state will rise to $11.50 an hour, up 50 cents and the highest statewide minimum in the nation. Over the next three years, the wage will rise to $13.50 an hour, thanks to a ballot measure approved by voters in 2016.

Mainers will see their minimum wages rise the most, from $9 an hour to $10 an hour, an 11 percent increase. Voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 that will eventually raise the wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont will see their minimum wages increase by at least 50 cents an hour. Smaller increases take effect in Alaska, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota.

Jared Bernstein, a former chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said states have been more willing to raise minimum wages because those who take low-wage jobs are more likely to be better educated now than they were in the past, a sign of an economy where fewer high-wage jobs are available.

“As the population of low wage workers has become a bit more upscale, many places are willing to adjust their minimum wages, especially given the pervasive research that supports moderate increases,” Bernstein said in an interview. “States and localities have been increasingly willing to raise their own minimum wages as the federal value has been stuck at $7.25.”

Several big cities will see significant increases in the minimum wage starting in the new year, a legacy, observers said, of the Fight for 15 campaign spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union in recent years.

California localities are especially likely to see big boosts: The lowest-paid workers in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, Calif., will get $2 an hour increases, to $15 an hour. Workers in Cupertino, El Cerrito, Los Altos, Palo Alto, San Jose and San Mateo will all see their wages rise to at least $13.50 an hour.

Minimum wages will jump to $15.64 in SeaTac, Wash., home of Seattle’s international airport, and to $15.45 in Seattle. Wages are also set to rise in Minneapolis, Albuquerque and Flagstaff, Ariz.

Michael Saltsman, the managing director at the business-backed Employment Policies Institute, said the growing trend of city-specific minimum wages — a phenomenon only about a decade old — can create headaches for small employers, and even lead to business closures.

“Generally, it’s shown that if you raise the minimum wage, you tend to see reductions in hours for younger employees,” Saltsman said.

Both Saltsman and Bernstein pointed to states that prohibit localities from raising minimum wages beyond the state-set standard. In recent years, Iowa and Missouri have joined 23 other states in adopting so-called preemption laws, and other states are likely to introduce their own preemption measures in upcoming legislative sessions.

“What you see … are states trying to impose preemption on their localities, disallowing increases, essentially doing the bidding of low-wage employers and trying to block such initiatives,” Bernstein said.

“States are understanding that regardless of where you stand on the merits of raising the minimum wage, having a state standard rather than a patchwork of local laws is better,” Saltsman said.

Supporters of a higher minimum wage are beginning to circulate petitions in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio, in hopes of securing a spot on the 2018 ballot. Legislatures in Massachusetts and Connecticut are likely to consider minimum wage hikes, too.

The Senate Parliamentarian Warns Republicans That Their Healthcare Bill Can’t Pass

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

The Senate parliamentarian has warned Republicans that a key provision in their healthcare reform bill related to abortion is unlikely to be allowed, raising a serious threat to the legislation.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has flagged language that would bar people from using new refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortion, according to Senate sources.

If Republicans are forced to strip the so-called Hyde language from the legislation, which essentially bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortions unless to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest, it may doom the bill.

MacDonough declined to comment for this article.

Unless a workaround can be found, conservative senators and groups that advocate against abortion rights are likely to oppose the legislation.

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate; they can afford only two defections and still pass the bill, assuming Democrats are united against it. Vice President would break a 50-50 tie.

Normally controversial legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate, but Republicans hope to pass the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill with a simple majority vote under a special budgetary process known as reconciliation.

The catch is that the legislation must pass a six-part test known as the Byrd Rule, and it’s up to the parliamentarian to advise whether legislative provisions meet its requirements.

The toughest requirement states that a provision cannot produce changes in government outlays or revenues that are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision.

In other words, a provision passed under reconciliation cannot be primarily oriented toward making policy change instead of impacting the budget. Arguably, attaching Hyde language to the refundable tax credits is designed more to shape abortion policy than affect how much money is spent to subsidize healthcare coverage.

 

The abortion language that conservatives want in the healthcare bill may run afoul of a precedent set in 1995, when then-Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove ruled that an abortion provision affecting a state block grant program failed to meet reconciliation requirements, according to a source briefed on internal Senate discussions.

One GOP source identified the parliamentarian’s objection to the Hyde language along with Republican infighting over how to cap ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion as two of the biggest obstacles to passing a bill.

A Republican senator confirmed that negotiators have wrestled with the procedural obstacle facing the anti-abortion language.

“That has come up and there well could be a challenge,” the lawmaker said.

The lawmaker, however, said that the problem is surmountable, arguing “there are ways around it.”

One possibility would be to change the form of assistance to low-income people by changing it from a refundable tax credit to a subsidy filtered through an already existing government program that restricts abortion services, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits program or Medicaid.

A second Republican senator said discussions on the topic are ongoing.

GOP negotiators picked up the pace of their discussions with the parliamentarian after the Congressional Budget Office released an updated score for the House-passed bill in late May.

President Trump is pushing the Senate to pass its version of the legislation by July 4.

If GOP leaders are forced to strip the Hyde language from the healthcare bill and cannot find an alternative way to seal off insurance tax credits or subsidies from abortion services, they would lose the support of anti-abortion rights groups, a devastating blow.

“We’ve made it clear in a lot of conversations and some letters that any GOP replacement plan has to be consistent with the principles of the Hyde Amendment,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at Family Research Council, a conservative group that promotes Christian values.

“Abortion is not healthcare and the government should not be subsidizing elective abortion,” he added.

Christensen predicted that activists would be up in arms if abortion services aren’t barred under the bill.

“If the Byrd Rule were to be an obstacle to ensuring the GOP replacement plan in the Senate does not subsidize abortion, that’s something that would be a serious problem for us and the pro-life community,” he said.

Republican senators who are thought to be safe votes to support the GOP leadership’s ObamaCare repeal and replace plan may suddenly shift to undecided or opposed.

“Would that be a deal killer? I’d have to think about it. I’m inclined to think it would [be],” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has jurisdiction over the tax credits in the healthcare bill, acknowledged it could be tough to pass the bill without the anti-abortion language.

“I think a lot of people do think that’s essential,” he said.

Senate returns more pessimistic than ever on healthcare

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

Senate returns more pessimistic than ever on healthcare

Senators went into a recess skeptical over whether they could agree to legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

They will return on Monday more doubtful than ever.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) most loyal allies, said Thursday that it’s “unlikely” the GOP will get a healthcare deal.

“I don’t see a comprehensive healthcare plan this year,” he told a local news station.

Senate Republicans hoped to have a draft bill this week, but it now looks like there will at best be an outline.

A Senate Republican aide said it’s too early to begin drafting legislation that can come to the floor in the next few weeks.“Parameters are more likely,” said the aide, who explained that McConnell wants to keep the details held closely so the legislation doesn’t get picked apart before lawmakers have a chance to consider it carefully.

“The last thing we want to do is litigate this in the press,” the aide said. “We want to discuss parameters and concepts without releasing a draft.”

“Maybe they can start talking to members about a specific product next week, but I would not be surprised if we don’t,” said another Senate GOP aide.

More unhelpful news came in the form of a Kaiser Family Foundation poll underscoring how unpopular the bill approved by the House is.

It found that three-quarters of Americans surveyed think the House bill does not fulfill President Trump’s promises on healthcare.

A full 82 percent said federal funding for ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid should be continued, an issue that deeply divides the Senate GOP. The House bill ends the ObamaCare funds in 2020.

Yet another factor for Republicans is Trump’s approval rating, which has fallen to its lowest point with Republicans since he took office in the latest Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll.

Republicans already had sought to lower expectations.

McConnell conceded last week that, “I don’t know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment.”

He sounded more optimistic about passing major tax reform legislation, rating its chances as “pretty good.”

Republicans control 52 seats and can afford only two defections from their ranks. Vice President Pence could cast the deciding vote in case of a 50-50 tie.

The Senate GOP hasn’t given up hope on healthcare and faces tremendous pressure from the White House and House Republicans to hold a vote.

Republicans for years have promised to repeal ObamaCare, so failure would be a major blow. They also face pressure to finish their work on healthcare because of the tax reform push.

The GOP is using special budgetary rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering legislation on tax reform and healthcare.

Republicans can’t move to tax reform until the healthcare debate is finished because once they pass a new budget resolution that would allow them to move tax legislation with 51 votes, they will lose the vehicle set up to enable a healthcare bill that would circumvent a Democratic filibuster.

Those on a special 13-member working group have heard very little about the drafting efforts that were supposed to take place over the recess.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) was to provide the framework in consultation with GOP leaders and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

A major sticking point in the Senate is Medicaid. The House bill would cut nearly $900 billion from the program and cap the federal contribution for expanded enrollment in that program by 2020.

Several Republican governors from Medicaid expansion states, led by Govs. John Kasich (Ohio) and Rick Snyder (Mich.), earlier this year came out against the House bill, warning that it failed to provide adequate resources.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he wants a more gradual “glide path” for capping the expansion, an idea not popular with conservatives.

Twenty Republican senators, including Portman, represent states that opted to expand Medicaid, and many of them worry that cutting federal funding will cause significant budget problems at home.

But another group of GOP governors, primarily from states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion, want to end federal support for the expansion.

Senators are divided as well over proposals to limit federal assistance for health insurance subsidies, which would hit older, low-income Americans disproportionately.

McConnell hasn’t set a deadline for passing the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, but he has indicated concern about the debate dragging on for months, which could imperil tax reform.

“We can’t take forever,” he told Bloomberg TV last month.

By raising doubts about the possibility of getting a deal that musters 51 votes, the GOP leader is putting pressure on his colleagues to either come together or move on before the August recess.

McConnell has told colleagues that the 13-member working group will put together a bill and that he will bring it to the floor for a vote, but he has stopped short of promising that it will pass — in contrast to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who earlier this year guaranteed that the House bill would pass.

If the Senate bill fails on the floor, McConnell is likely to declare the GOP conference has worked its will and move on.

Even as the House voted to narrowly pass the House’s American Health Care Act last month, there was already strong pessimism among Senate Republicans about the chances of putting together a comprehensive package in the upper chamber.

A senior GOP senator at the time said the chances of getting 51 votes for legislation based on the House healthcare bill were less than 1 in 5.

When House Republicans debated healthcare reform earlier this year, some of their Senate colleagues said privately that they thought it might be better if the legislation died in the lower chamber.