• Republicans Are Already Working on the Second Bucket
• FBI Investigating Trump Campaign-Russia Coordination
• Manafort Had a $10 Million Contract with Russian Billionaire to Help Putin
• Nunes Tries to Throw Trump a Lifeline
• Gorsuch Speaks a Lot, Says Little
• WSJ Slams Trump
• Colorado Republican Who Claimed Widespread Voter Fraud Charged with Voter Fraud
• Bad Day for Secretary of Labor Nominees
An updated whip count from The Hill shows 28 House Republicans as definite "no" votes when the AHCA healthcare bill being pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) comes up for a vote tonight. If more than 22 Republicans oppose the bill, it will fail to pass the House. President Donald Trump and Ryan himself are using every weapon they have to convince six of the "no" voters to become "yes" voters. No doubt both carrots and sticks will be used. The problem is that most of the "no" voters are conservatives who see the bill as "ObamaCare Lite." If Ryan amends it today to make it harsher, he may lose moderates. The whip count also shows 6 more who are leaning "no" and 19 undecided Republicans. The representatives in these latter categories are mostly moderates who think the bill is already too harsh. For them, kicking more people off Medicaid is a step in the wrong direction. Also, an amendment that makes the Freedom Caucus happier will only make the bill less palatable to a number of senators. Trump and Ryan really have their work cut out for them, then, and Ryan spent Wednesday night pleading with moderates to remain on board. The fact that he slipped out of the Capitol afterward via a side entrance, so as to avoid the press, is probably instructive as regards how much success he had.
Meanwhile, Trump was busy in the White House working over some of the recalcitrant representatives. For example, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was summoned to the oval office and asked what it would take to get him from "no" to "yes." King said he would flip if Trump would back a plan to deregulate the entire healthcare industry. Trump agreed. Trump is planning on meeting with more of the naysayers today and will try to buy them off one at a time. The result is going to be a bill that no one has read before the vote and which the Congressional Budget Office will not have scored. Congress loves pork, so buying a pig in a poke shouldn't be a problem at all.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday that there is no Plan B if the AHCA bill fails. He also said Republicans are enthusiastic about it. Actually, it is far from clear that 216 House Republicans will vote for it. If it does pass, it will be by a hair. When asked what will happen if the bill fails, Spicer didn't have an answer.
Politico has a video about what to expect if the bill fails. The main issues are:
- Who gets the blame for failure: Trump or Ryan?
- Can the Democrats exploit the failure in 2018?
- What does this failure portend for the tax-cut bill, which is up next?
As to the first point, Trump will not accept the blame. Ever. Only weak losers ever accept the blame for anything. He will almost certainly blame Ryan. Ryan may or may not publicly admit it is his fault, but if Trump really tears into Ryan, how is that going to affect their relationship for the next 46 months? Probably not in a good way, and Trump may or may not realize that he is very dependent on Ryan for the rest of his program.
The Democrats are doing everything they can to kill the bill, because they care about the 24 million people who would lose healthcare under it. But politically, they are probably better off if the bill passes and those 24 million people get very, very angry with the Republican Party. Under those conditions, their 2018 message is very clear: "Stop these guys before they do any more damage." If the bill fails, marginal Democratic voters may get complacent and think everything is OK. That is not a formula for high turnout in 2018.
For technical reasons having to do with the Senate's budget reconciliation process, the tax-cut bill will be easier to pass if the AHCA bill passes first due to the tax cuts in it, though the real damage may be more political. A failure on such a high-priority item, and one the Republicans have promised for 7 years, isn't going to make them look like competent lawmakers who can govern. It will make them look incompetent and open up a civil war within the party between moderates and conservatives. That isn't going to make the tax-cut bill any easier, and the material is contentious enough without the healthcare bill as a pre-existing condition. (V)
White House officials have said their attack on the ACA involves three "buckets." The first is the AHCA bill, which will be voted on by the House tonight. The second is changing ACA regulations, which does not require congressional approval. The third is repealing the rest of the ACA, but this requires eight Democrats to join in, which is very unlikely.
Independent of how the vote goes tonight, the administration is already rewriting regulations to weaken the ACA. Secretary of HHS Tom Price said: "We're taking action to improve choices for patients, stabilize the individual and small-group insurance markets, and expand access to more affordable coverage." For example, to improve the choices for patients, the administration cut all TV advertising telling people about the enrollment period and when it ended. By keeping people in the dark about the ACA, they would presumably seek out alternatives (= more choices).
Another action was a tweak to the "actuarial value" in the ACA, which has the effect of shifting more costs from insurance companies to patients. This would have the effect of raising the amount patients pay for their healthcare, so that the Republicans could point out rising healthcare costs as a reason to kill the ACA. Another change is stricter rules for people who sign up outside the normal enrollment period, which will have the effect of fewer people enrolling. Many of the other changes are things like this, which have the ultimate effect (and intention) of making the ACA work less well so there will be more support for getting rid of it. (V)
For months now, it is has been hypothesized that there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, particularly when it came to leaks damaging to Hillary Clinton. And for weeks (at least), it has been suspected that the FBI was looking into this question. Late Wednesday night, the next shoe fell: CNN is reporting that the FBI has actual evidence of such coordination, and is actively looking into its veracity.
One law enforcement official, speaking off the record to CNN, was unambiguous and said the FBI's evidence suggests, "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." Others to whom CNN spoke, again off the record, were not willing to go so far, but all confirmed that collusion is now the main focus of the FBI's inquiry.
At this point, there is a lot of smoke, and at least some fire (see Manafort story below). There is zero chance that the FBI concludes the investigation without issuing a report of some sort, and there is zero chance that the report has absolutely nothing troublesome in it. Consequently, the questions that really remain to be answered are: (1) How soon the FBI will finish its work, and (2) Exactly how troublesome their conclusions will be. Of course, given how leaky Washington is these days, we may get the answer to #2 long before we get the answer to #1. (Z)
Another day, another documented connection between Donald Trump's associates and Russia. Today's installment comes from the AP, which has learned that Donald Trump's second campaign manager, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska starting around 2005. Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort for a multiyear plan that would "greatly benefit the Russian government." Manafort proposed a strategy to influence politics and business inside the U.S. and Europe. The business relationship between Deripaska and Manafort continued for years. In 2014, they had a falling out when Deripaska gave Manafort $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company and Manafort didn't do it and refused to say where the money had gone.
When asked about Deripaska, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump was not aware of Manafort's work to help Putin. If Spicer is telling the truth this time, then Trump's personnel vetting procedures are not very good, to say the least. If Spicer is lying, then the connections between Trump and Russia may be even longer and deeper than they at first appear.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said of Manafort: "Clearly, if he's getting millions of dollars from a billionaire close to Putin, to basically undermine democratic movements, that's something I'd want to know about. I doubt if Trump knew about it."
Deripaska is one of the richest men in Russia and one of the two-or-three oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis. He owns the Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide. He runs one of the world's largest aluminum companies, and also has interests in agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing.
If Manafort actively lobbied for Russia, he would have been required to register as a foreign agent, which he didn't. Failure to register is a felony that can result in up to five years in federal prison. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have taken notice of Manafort. Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said, "This is not a a drip, drip, drip. This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements."
The Manafort story isn't history yet, either. One of Manafort's close business associates, Rick Gates, is one of four people leading a group that defend's Trump's agenda. Gates has been recently involved with deals involving Deripaska and other oligarchs, including Dmitry Firtash, who also has ties to Putin. In one project, Gates was involved in helping Firtash on an $850 million luxury housing project in New York City. Needless to say, Trump is very well connected in New York City real-estate circles and would surely be aware of a project this large and who was involved in it. (V)
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is chair of the House Intelligence Committee. On Wednesday morning, he called a press conference, and made the following statement:
First, I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition.
Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting.
Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked.
Fourth and finally, I want to be clear. None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.
Shortly after making this announcement, Nunes met with White House officials to brief them, leading President Trump to declare that he felt "somewhat" vindicated on the Obama wiretapping claims.
Nunes' behavior here is, to be blunt, exceedingly weaselly, even by politician standards. His colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, particularly ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), promptly responded by pointing out that they were not aware of this reported new information, and that in any event, the chairman's job after being briefed is most certainly not to talk to the press and then run to the White House. Further, even if Nunes' information is accurate and truthful, there is a world of difference between what he alleged and "Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Donald Trump." Nunes knows this, which is why his statement is deliberately opaque, and his answers to reporters' questions were evasive and sometimes contradictory. His goal was to give the President some cover to claim that he really was spied upon (and that any other details are just trivialities).
So, will this work? Well, Breitbart promptly declared that "Nunes 'Unmasking' Report Vindicates Trump Claims on Surveillance," but they and their readers already believe that everything issuing forth from Trump's Twitter account is the literal, complete, and final truth (not unlike the Bible). It's hard to believe that anyone else will be persuaded by such obvious snake oil, especially since Nunes managed to choose a morning in which his news was knocked out of the headlines by not just one but two major Trump-Russia stories (see above). (Z)
The Neil Gorsuch hearings are drawing to a close, and the nominee has continued his careful dance, avoiding specific comment on all issues and SCOTUS cases of consequences. This eventually drove a frustrated Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to announce:
You have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have seen before. And maybe that's a virtue, I don't know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote.
The problem is that Feinstein is not being truthful, and Gorsuch knows it. Senate Republicans are going to vote for him, and that's enough for confirmation. Democrats are going to make a choice to filibuster or not, and that choice is going to have little to do with the nominee or his stand on the questions of the day. Gorsuch's only job this week is to avoid making it easier for the Democrats to rally against him. By saying nothing, he is performing that task well. (Z)
The Wall Street Journal, has not exactly been the Donald Trump rooting section. However, it is a staunchly conservative newspaper that reaches many right-leaning readers. So, the paper attracted much attention on Wednesday with an editorial that is very hostile to Trump. It begins:
Two months into his presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump's approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn't show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he's a fake President.
And it's pretty much downhill from there.
While the WSJ hardly speaks for the blue-collar workers that appear to be unfailingly loyal to The Donald, it is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch was initially hostile to Trump, but eventually warmed up to him. If Wednesday's editorial presages a change in policy across Murdoch's media properties (e. g., Fox News), that would be big news, indeed. (Z)
Steven Curtis, the former head of the Colorado Republican Party, frequently charged that voter fraud was common and it was all committed by Democrats. He will soon get his day in court—as a defendant. He has been charged with—you guessed it—voter fraud. In the criminal complaint filed in Weld County District Court, he is charged with a felony count of forging his former wife's signature on a mail-in ballot, as well as a misdemeanor count of tampering with a mail-in ballot. On his Colorado talk radio show on Oct. 6, 2016, he said: "It seems to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, but virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats." If he is convicted on the felony forgery charge, he could face up to 18 months in jail. A spokesman for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said the Curtis case is the only allegation of voter fraud in the state in 2016 that resulted in a criminal charge being filed. If Curtis is convicted, then at least for Colorado in 2016, 100% of the voter fraud will have been committed by Republicans. (V)
Donald Trump's second nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Acosta, appeared before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions on Wednesday and sparks flew. Of particular note was a tiff with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) over the "fiduciary rule," an Obama-era regulation that requires bankers to act in their customers' best interests when recommending investments. Trump wants to overturn the rule, a move that many fear will lead to investors—particularly more aged/vulnerable ones—being foisted with options that are bank-friendly rather than customer-friendly. Though he insisted he believes in protecting workers "fully and fairly," Acosta conceded that he would defer to his boss (Trump) on this matter. Warren and the Democrats on the committee were not impressed, though of course their feelings will not matter unless at least one of their GOP colleagues shares their disdain.
Meanwhile, Trump's first nominee for Secretary or Labor, Andrew Puzder, had an even worse day. He was, of course, denied confirmation after allegations of spousal abuse and employing an undocumented worked came to light. Now, presumably due to these revelations, he's also out of a job. The CEO of CKE Restaurants was relieved of his duties effective Wednesday morning, thus ending a tenure that began in 2000. An unfortunate turn of events for him, though perhaps Subway is hiring. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar22 McConnell Says Senate Will Take Up the Healthcare Bill Next Week
Mar22 Gorsuch Sits in the Hot Seat, Doesn't Wilt
Mar22 Most Americans Can't Name Even One Supreme Court Justice
Mar22 Dow Has Worst Day Under Trump
Mar22 CNN: Ivanka Will Get a White House Office
Mar22 Manafort May Have Laundered Ukrainian Money
Mar22 Labor Nominee Acosta Let Billionaire Off the Hook in Underage Sex Case
Mar21 Comey Tells House Committee that Obama Didn't Tap Trump's Phone
Mar21 White House Goes Into Full Spin Mode
Mar21 NSA Director Complains that Trump is Undermining U.S. Alliances
Mar21 Trump Didn't Work on the Healthcare Bill During the Past Weekend
Mar21 Ryan Scrounging Up Votes for AHCA One at a Time
Mar21 Neither the ACA nor the AHCA Tackle the Problem of Controlling Healthcare Costs
Mar21 Gorsuch Makes Senate Debut
Mar21 Trump Drops to No. 544 on List of Richest Americans
Mar20 Comey to Testify before House Committee Today
Mar20 Rand Paul Predicts the AHCA Will Fail to Pass Congress
Mar20 Ryan Is Betting the Farm on the AHCA Vote
Mar20 Joni Ernst Is Not Sure If She Will Vote for the AHCA
Mar20 Trump Has "Eyes and Ears" Installed at Every Cabinet Agency
Mar20 It's Not the Economy, Stupid
Mar20 Secretary of State Cannot Operate in Secrecy
Mar20 Trump Approval Rating Hits a New Low
Mar20 Meetup Wants to Organize Anti-Trump Resistance
Mar19 Goodbye RyanCare, Hello TrumpCare
Mar19 Muslim Ban Will Have Unintended Consequences
Mar19 Russian Company that Paid Flynn Was Deemed "Unsuitable" by the Pentagon
Mar19 Russians Have Invested $100 Million in Trump Buildings
Mar19 DHS Is Soliciting Proposals for a 30-Foot High Aesthetically Pleasing Wall
Mar19 Kellyane Conway's Husband Will Run the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division
Mar19 Gorsuch Is Not a Slam Dunk
Mar19 West Virginia Newspaper Slams Trump
Mar18 Collins Will Vote Against Healthcare Bill
Mar18 Trump and House Conservatives Agree on Key New Provisions to Healthcare Bill
Mar18 Healthcare Nomenclature Keeps Changing
Mar18 Freedom Caucus Looks to Bannon for Support
Mar18 What Has Trump Accomplished So Far?
Mar18 Trump Voters Among the Biggest Losers in the Trump Budget
Mar18 U.S. To Appeal Judge's Order on Muslim Ban v2.0
Mar17 Trump's Budget Hits Headwinds before the Ink Is Dry
Mar17 House Budget Committee Approves ACA Replacement
Mar17 Senate Intelligence Committee Also Finds No Evidence of Wiretapping
Mar17 Trump Sidelines the Grown-Ups
Mar17 Congressman Wants to Know if Trump Knew Flynn Took Russian Money
Mar16 Federal Judges Block Muslim Ban V2.0
Mar16 Lessons from the ACA Battles that Republicans Haven't Learned
Mar16 Healthcare Bill Is Needed to Make Tax-cut Bill Work
Mar16 Graham to Start Investigating Trump
Mar16 Nunes Says There is Zero Evidence that Trump's Phone Was Tapped