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Federal Judges Block Muslim Ban V2.0

A federal judge in Hawaii, Derrick Watson, has issued a temporary restraining order blocking the implementation of President Donald Trump's Muslim Ban V2.0 while the case proceeds. While the word "Muslim" doesn't appear in the new executive order, the judge wasn't fooled. He wrote:

It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7 percent to 99.8 percent. It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam. Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.

Early today, a federal judge in Maryland, Theodore Chuang also issued a restraining order, albeit somewhat narrower than Watson's. Chuang wrote that the executive order was "the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban." Judges aren't stupid and they read the newspapers and watch TV. They notice when a president says over and over that he wants to ban Muslims.

In Washington state, another federal judge said bans V1.0 and V2.0 were substantially different and he wasn't planning to automatically apply his ruling on the first one to the second one. Of course these are far from final decisions on the merits of the case. In all three states, the cases have to go to trial, then to the appeals courts, and ultimately to the Supreme Court. In any event, Trump is slowly going to discover that on healthcare, immigration, and many other issues, governing is a lot harder than tweeting. (V)

Lessons from the ACA Battles that Republicans Haven't Learned

The battles over the ACA were long and largely public. Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein interviewed then-president Obama on Jan. 6, 2017 about the ACA and from that discussion write a 9,000 word article about what he learned from the process. Republicans would be advised to pay attention, to avoid making the same mistakes. Here are their main lessons.

  • Everything in health care is a painful trade-off
  • Bipartisanship—can't live with it, nearly impossible to do reform without it
  • If you change the health care system, you own it
  • Once benefits are granted, they are hard to take away
  • Partnering with the private sector and private insurers can be risky
  • Consumers have a completely different definition of "affordability" than politicians do
  • Prices are the fundamental challenge that have to be dealt with to make reform work

President Donald Trump recently remarked: "Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated." Actually, everybody knew. Republicans certainly knew, but they are making the many of the same mistakes the Democrats made. Best case scenario for them is that they change the system fairly radically and keep it that way until the next time the Democrats control the government, at which time they erase everything the Republicans did and start over. (V)

Healthcare Bill Is Needed to Make Tax-cut Bill Work

There is more at riding on the healthcare bill than the question of whether 24 million people lose their health insurance. A lot more. Donald Trump's whole agenda depends on it. Assuming some kind of healthcare bill passes in some form or other, next on the agenda are the tax cuts—big ones. Since the Democrats will never go along with big tax cuts, especially not for the rich, the only way the Republicans can pass it is by using the budget reconciliation process, which can't be filibustered and requires only 50 senators to vote "aye." The problem is that the "Byrd rule" puts constraints on what can be passed using reconciliation. The math is complicated but suffice it to say that bills passed under reconciliation must be revenue neutral over 10 years. If there are big tax cuts coming up later this year, there will have to be new revenue coming in somehow to offset them. The baseline is the amount of revenue projected to come in absent the tax-cut bill. The lower this number is, the easier it will be to plug the gap. For this reason alone, removing all the revenue sources created by the ACA is critical because that lowers the baseline. If the ACA repeal and replacement fails, the tax-cut bill will fail, and Trump's agenda [in reality, the agenda of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)] will fall apart.

For this reason alone, Ryan, and maybe Trump, but who knows, is going to go all out to pass some kind of healthcare bill that eliminates the ACA taxes. That is his highest priority. Nothing else matters. If the bill has to be modified in some way to get it through, Ryan will accept that in the end as long as it eliminates the ACA-imposed taxes. In all future discussions, the thing to keep an eye on is how does V2.0 of the bill affect the ACA taxes. That is the key to everything. (V)

Graham to Start Investigating Trump

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are investigating the Trump-Russia connection, but both committees are chaired by Republicans who don't want to cause any real damage. The House committee is chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). The Senate committee is chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC).

Also in the mix is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism. Graham also wants to get to the bottom of this, but unlike the other chairmen, he is no fan of Trump and probably really means it. Graham's first target is the FBI. He wants to know if there is any evidence to back up Trump's claim that Obama wiretapped his phone during the campaign. He also threatened the FBI with a subpoena if it doesn't comply (but see below). Graham, a former prosecutor, is teamed up on this project with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), also a former prosecutor. Graham briefly ran for president in 2016 and if he can weaken Trump enough, might challenge him again in 2020. (V)

Nunes Says There is Zero Evidence that Trump's Phone Was Tapped

Maybe Sen. Lindsey Graham's first project won't be needed after all, so he can quickly move onto looking at the Russia connection. Yesterday Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said: "I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower." Then he added: "Clearly the president was wrong."

Nunes isn't the first one to say this. former director of national intelligence James Clapper has also said no wiretapping happened. Former president Barack Obama has said it. FBI Director James Comey was so angered by Trump's claim that he tried to have the Justice Dept. publicly refute it. Comey will testify on Capitol Hill on March 20. It is not clear how this will end. If every government official who was involved testifies that there is zero evidence that Obama tapped Trump, Trump still won't admit that he just made up the claim off the top of his head. He will just continue to maintain that he was right and move on. (V)

List of Trump-Russia Connections Fills Up 118 Pages

Political Wire has published a 118-page dossier of connections between Trump and Russia going back 30 years. The first 9 pages cover 1987 to 2015, then it moves to 2016. Every item is sourced, with a hyperlink to the original published news story. Sources include major newspapers, television stations, magazines, and major Websites. Pages 32 to 118 cover the period of Sept. 16, 2016 to March 14, 2017. Maybe all of this is just one giant coincidence, but maybe something is really going on below the radar. (V)

Paranoia Runs Rampant in the White House

Abraham Lincoln's cabinet was famously a "team of rivals." Donald Trump's White House is a "team of enemies." Interviews with a dozen White House aides and top staffers depict an administration riven by factions, consumed by paranoia, and battling each other rather than trying to push the president's program through. Once they get home, they are turning off their work-issued smartphones and putting them in drawers out of fear the phones are snooping on them. Others are leaving their personal smartphones at home out of fear that they might be searched at work. Those who bring them to work are using encrypting apps that delete messages once they have been read for fear the messages may come back to haunt them. Some staffers are worried that the CIA is monitoring all their calls and leaking them to the media.

One senior official who spoke anonymously to Politico said the Trump White House had become "a pretty hostile environment to work in." Trump has a history of setting up surveillance operations to monitor employees at his properties, including at his campaign headquarters. This probably doesn't do much to improve the esprit de corps at the White House.

Another worry at the White House concerns the career bureaucrats in the federal agencies. Many of these people were put into their positions in the past 8 years and have an extreme dislike for Donald Trump and want him to fail, preferably in the most spectacular way possible. Of course, any time one party that has been in power for 8 years gives way to the other party, this situation holds, but rarely has the animosity been so strong. (V)

Dutch Voters: Populism? No Thanks

For a while it looked like the next domino to fall, after the U.K. (Brexit) and the U.S. (Trump), was going to be the Netherlands. It didn't happen. The party of far-right populist Geert Wilders came in way behind the conservative party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Wilders' party got 20 seats in the 150-seat lower chamber of the parliament, compared to Rutte's party, which got 33 seats. Since none of the other parties want anything to do with Wilders, he won't play any role in the formation of a new government, but he will no doubt continue to tweet from the sidelines. Also noteworthy is that 80.3% of the eligible voters showed up to vote. In the U.S. election, turnout was a much lower 57.9%.

The Dutch election also holds a different message that could be relevant to the U.S. Many supporters of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have argued for breaking the two-party "monopoly" so more parties can run and people can vote for one they really like. A lot of the data from the November election suggest that Donald Trump didn't really win. Hillary Clinton lost because many people on the left didn't want to vote for the lesser of two evils. In the Netherlands, that is not a problem. No fewer than 28 parties took part in the election so everyone could easily find a party he or she really liked.

Yesterday was the easy part. Today the hard part starts. To form a stable government, the parties have to find a coalition with 76 seats in the 150-seat lower house of the parliament. Rutte gets along well with the slightly right-of-center Christian Democrats (19 seats) and tolerably well with the slightly left-of-center D66 party (19 seats). Together that adds up to only 71 seats. To make the math work, Rutte has to find 5 more seats. Here is the list of all 13 parties that won at least one seat:

  • VVD - Conservative party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte (33 seats)
  • PVV - Populist party of anti-Islam zealot Geert Wilders (20 seats)
  • CDA - Slightly right-of-center Christian Democrats (19 seats)
  • D66 - Slightly left of center secular party (19 seats)
  • SP - Socialist Party (14 seats)
  • GL - GreenLeft - former Communists & socialists, now supported by many young voters (14 seats)
  • PvDA - Social Democrats (9 seats)
  • CU - Christian Union (5 seats)
  • PvdD - Animal rights party (5 seats)
  • 50+ - Party for people 50 and older (think: AARP party) (4 seats)
  • SGP - Very strict Christian party (3 seats)
  • DENK - Turkish party (3 seats)
  • FvD - New somewhat rightish party (2 seats)

None of the other 15 parties got even the 1/150 of the total vote needed for a seat. Rutte's problem is finding five more seats. He certainly won't even talk to Wilders, so he has to go further down the list. The SP and GL are far to the left and would demand the moon for their cooperation, so he would really, really prefer not having to make major concessions to them. The PvDA was his partner in the previous government, but they went from 38 seats to 9 seats—the biggest loss in Dutch history—so teaming up with a huge loser doesn't look so good and the party may want to go off an lick its wounds rather than be part of a new government.

With five seats, the Christian Union comes next and would supply just enough seats for a bare majority. Rutte would undoubtedly prefer not to be dependent on a small party that believes the Bible is the literal word of God. Rutte's party is completely secular and disagrees with the orthodox-Protestant CU on many issues. For example, the CU wants to overturn the laws that make abortion and euthanasia legal. Homosexuality is also a sensitive issue within the CU. Rutte (50) has never been married and has never talked publicly about his sexuality, so there might be potential conflicts there. Theoretically, the Animal Rights Party could also provide the necessary five seats, but giving a party that wants to give animals rights and tax meat will be hard for Rutte to swallow. Forming a government could take a long time.

The lesson here for the U.S. is that a multiparty system gives everyone the chance to vote for a party that exactly fits what they believe in, but makes putting together a majority incredibly difficult. Currently, the U.S. House has de facto three parties: the establishment Republicans, the Freedom Caucus, and the Democrats, and they are far apart on the healthcare bill. Imagine what would happen if there were 13 parties in the House. Also, as in all parliamentary systems, any one of the parties in Rutte's coalition can pull out any time during the next 4 years, causing the government to fall and forcing new elections. When you look at the alternative, maybe having only two parties isn't so awful after all. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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