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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  AHCA Fallout Continues
      •  Ryan Is Badly Damaged
      •  Path Forward for Trump Will Be Strewn with Big Rocks
      •  Will the Affordable Care Act Explode?
      •  Flynn May Have Turned Against Trump
      •  Deputy Attorney General Nomination Will Move Forward
      •  Mnuchin Gives Interesting Interview

AHCA Fallout Continues

In the 24 or so hours after the AHCA died an ignominious death, there was not a lot of good news for Donald Trump and the GOP. To start, details of the White House's negotiation process have begun to leak, and they are something of a case study in what not to do. Trump himself was caught completely by surprise by the fact that the Freedom Caucus was absolutely unified, and that their votes were available only as a bloc. When they attempted to raise concerns about the bill, Trump told them to, "Forget about the little shit." During a different meeting, with moderate Republicans, Rep. Charlie Dent (PA) said he was a "No" vote. "Why am I even talking to you?" responded the President. In general, the representatives with whom Trump was interacting walked away unimpressed. "He didn't care or particularly know about health care," said one congressional aide. "If you are going to be a great negotiator, you have to know about the subject matter."

White House Senior Adviser Steve Bannon's performance was even more problematic. At the key meeting with Freedom Caucusers on Thursday night, he lost his temper and informed the representatives that, "I don't give a shit what you guys think." He also said: "This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill." Reportedly, one member responded: "You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn't listen to him, either." Channeling his inner Nixon, Bannon also announced plans to use the AHCA vote as the basis for an enemies list, and he may have compiled the list anyhow, even without benefit of a vote. Needless to say, it's going to be hard to last long in Washington with behavior like this, even with the backing of the Mercer family.

The media coverage of Friday's events has been predictably harsh, across the political spectrum, and in the foreign press as well. A sampling:

  • The New York TimesIn Major Defeat for Trump, Push to Repeal Health Law Fails: "The failure of the Republicans' three-month blitz to repeal President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement exposed deep divisions in the Republican Party that the election of a Republican president could not mask."

  • The Washington PostTrump's Path Forward Only Gets Tougher After Health-care Fiasco: "The stunning collapse of the Republican health-care bill now imperils the rest of President Donald Trump's ambitious congressional agenda, with few prospects for quick victory on tax revisions, construction projects or a host of other issues in the months ahead despite complete GOP control of government."

  • CNNFor Trump, No Closing This Deal: "The debacle raises a very real question as Republicans pledge to move onto other equally ambitious Trump agenda items -- like tax reform, an even heavier lift than Obamacare. Can Republicans actually govern?"

  • ReutersTrump Tastes Failure as U.S. House Healthcare Bill Collapses: President Donald Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign promise of the president and his allies.

  • PoliticoTrump Gets Tamed by Washington: "The businessman president, who sold himself to tens of millions of disillusioned voters last year as the only outsider who could tame a broken capital, ended his first confrontation with lawmakers overmatched, outmaneuvered and ultimately empty-handed."

  • Fox NewsDivided GOP Makes Dismantling ObamaCare Little More Than Campaign Promise: "It was easy to vote dozens of times to repeal ObamaCare when Republicans used dummy ammunition on a target practice range that doubles as the House floor. But as soon as the ordnance went live, it blew up in their faces."

  • LifezetteBlame Game Commences After GOP Effort to Repeal-replace Obamacare Ends in Disaster: "It's hard to overstate what a colossal political debacle that is for a party that has campaigned for seven years on a promise to repeal the Affordable Care likely will tarnish [Trump's] image as the ultimate dealmaker."

  • RedStatePresident Trump, Coward: He Wants Paul Ryan To Step Down But Gets A Sycophant To Say It: Throughout 2015 and 2016, Donald Trump was sold by his campaign team and supporters as the ultimate alpha-male. He was the guy "who fights," who "hits back," "says what he means," and generally, is the "manly man man." In reality, Trump is a thin-skinned bully who shrinks when somebody goes back at him.

  • The HillTrump, GOP Fumble Chance to Govern: "[W]hen the moment of truth came Friday, Republicans choked...And it cast immediate doubts on whether Trump—who has sold himself as the consummate dealmaker—can transition from business guru and campaign showman to effective Washington power broker."

  • The Guardian (UK)Trump Tried to Burn down Obamacare. He Set His Hair on Fire Instead: "Blessed with total control of government, Republicans can only think of how best to burn the house down—and they're not even doing a good job at that."

  • The Independent (UK)Donald Trump Now Focussed on Tax Reform but That Might Not Be Any Easier Than Repealing Obamacare: "Mr. Trump is licking his wounds after a humiliating defeat over the Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare."

Saturday, Trump (apparently) began the process of damage control. He took to Twitter, naturally, to declare:

If Trump really feels that way, it's rather cynical. It also suggests that he learned nothing from this process, since the issues that killed the AHCA yesterday will still exist in six months, a year, or two years. One also wonders how many times he can make a promise to his supporters, without any details whatsoever, before they start to get wise. It brings to mind the old saying about "Fool me once..."

Shortly thereafter, Trump issued forth with this:

This would be fairly unremarkable—plugging a Fox News show is a little inappropriate, yes, but is also par for the course. However, the tweet really got people talking when Jeanine Pirro opened the show with a call for Paul Ryan to resign as speaker. Coincidence, or passive-aggressive attempt to rid himself of an enemy, Donald Trump-style? The only person who knows for sure is not talking—or tweeting, at least at the moment.

Finally, the conservative SuperPAC American Action Network (AAN) gave the day a rather amusing coda, running a series of commercials Saturday evening in which they congratulated various Republican congressman for their success in passing the AHCA. Maybe they haven't been paying attention to the news for the last 24 hours. (Z)

Ryan Is Badly Damaged

Make no mistake about it. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has been badly damaged by the healthcare-bill fiasco. Now no one sees him as a serious policy wonk with incredible political skills. In his speech after the bill was pulled, Trump played pin the fail on the donkey rather than pin the fail on the elephant, but privately Trump is seething. The Freedom Caucus is not going to make a motion to vacate and force Ryan out quite yet, but its members could do so at any time in the future. And the caucus will certainly be emboldened on tax reform, the budget, and many other issues, and far less likely to do Ryan's bidding.

Since Trump accepted none of the blame himself, and since he isn't willing to throw Ryan completely under the bus yet, for fear a Freedom Caucuser will end up as speaker, some convenient scapegoat is needed to take the blame. One potential candidate who is involuntarily auditioning for the job is Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. After all, Priebus is from Wisconsin, just like Ryan, so that could seal Priebus' fate in Trump's eyes. Presidential adviser Steve Bannon, who can't stomach either Priebus or Ryan, is no doubt already encouraging Trump to get rid of Priebus since Trump can't fire Ryan. We'll probably know within a week whether Priebus keeps his job. (V)

Path Forward for Trump Will Be Strewn with Big Rocks

Donald Trump's humiliating defeat on healthcare has many repercussions for the rest of his agenda. To start with, tax reform will be much tougher now, because Republicans want to pass it using the budget reconciliation process, which requires that the bill be revenue neutral. They can throw out the whole tax code if they want to, but the new one has to produce the same revenue as the old one. Had they succeeded in getting rid of the ACA taxes, the baseline would have been lower, so it will be harder now.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is hell-bent on creating a big border-adjustment tax to raise a trillion dollars, but many Republicans oppose this, as do businesses that import a lot. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to envision Walmart telling all its customers that prices will rise by 30% if House Bill XXX passes, and asking them to contact their representatives to strongly oppose it. Walmart might also mention this to its senators, Tom Cotton (R-Walmart) and John Boozman (R-Walmart). In practice, a bill with a border adjustment tax can't afford to lose even one more vote in the Senate.

A second problem will be Trump's planned trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Many Republicans already oppose it, so he will need Democratic votes. The Democrats already sense that he is greatly weakened and not such a terrific negotiator, so they will drive a much harder bargain than if the AHCA bill had passed.

As to Trump's wall, likely no Democrats will support it, and some Republicans will oppose it due to its price tag of $20 billion, give or take a few billion.

All in all, Trump's entire agenda took an enormous hit on Friday and it would take a big win on something to get it back on track. Where such a win would come from is far from clear. (V)

Will the Affordable Care Act Explode?

In his short speech after the vote on the AHCA was canceled, Donald Trump said that the ACA would soon explode. Inquiring minds want to know if that is real news or fake news. Politico interviewed Larry Levitt, a health insurance expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, to find out. He said that the law is not collapsing, but the Trump administration could take steps to make it collapse if it wants to. He also said that insurance companies will be watching very, very carefully to see what the administration does.

One item that is crucial is the list of 10 essential benefits the law requires. However, the administration—meaning, in practice, Secretary of HHS Tom Price—has a fair amount of freedom to define precisely which benefits are covered. For example, prescription drugs are covered, but Price can determine exactly which drugs are covered and which are not covered.

Another area of great importance to the insurance companies is the formula for cost-sharing. The law foresaw that some insurance companies might get sicker customers than others, and there is money available to compensate them for this. But Price has a fair amount of leeway on how much they get. Also of importance is how hard the administration advertises the enrollment period each year. Many people don't know when they can sign up or how to do it. Will the administration do any publicity at sign-up time? Finally, there is a penalty for not having insurance, but Trump could instruct the Commissioner of Internal Revenue not to press charges on anyone who is not insured. Once the word gets out, healthy people wouldn't sign up and the markets would collapse.

So, the bottom line is that the law will not explode and the insurance markets will not collapse unless the administration actively tries to sabotage them. (V)

Flynn May Have Turned Against Trump

Citing sources within the FBI, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem reported late Saturday that former national security adviser Mike Flynn has cut a deal, and will now inform against former boss Donald Trump.

If this is true, it would not be terribly surprising. The problem with throwing your associates under the bus, as Richard Nixon learned the hard way, is that they sometimes turn state's evidence. This development would also be very bad news for the President—presumably there would be no deal to be cut if Flynn didn't have something pretty juicy to share. Stay tuned. (Z)

Deputy Attorney General Nomination Will Move Forward

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had been holding up the confirmation of Rod Rosenstein as the deputy attorney general until he received more information about the ongoing Russia probe. Grassley has now announced that he will move forward with the confirmation process. Grassley wanted certain key documents, but it is not clear whether he got them.

The problem isn't with Rosenstein himself. He got his law degree cum laude from the Harvard Law School and then clerked for Judge Douglas Ginsburg for the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. He served in Bill Clinton's administration as well as in George W. Bush's administration. No one has any doubts at all about his competence. The issue is that since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from investigating the connection between Donald Trump and Russia, as #2 in the Justice Dept., Rosenstein would be in charge of the investigation. Democrats don't believe he would be able to withstand pressure to whitewash Trump. They want him to promise to appoint a special prosecutor with subpoena power. They have said they will do everything to block Rosenstein unless he agrees to a special prosecutor who is independent of the Justice Dept. (V)

Mnuchin Gives Interesting Interview

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin sat for an interview with the site Axios and revealed many interesting items. He said that President Trump doesn't eat fast food any more, and that he "has perfect genes." Mnuchin also wants to see Trump's picture put on the $1,000 bill (presumably he's aware they are no longer made). As regards policy matters, he said that tax reform will be easier than healthcare, and that Trump is interested in cutting taxes for the middle class and not the wealthy—two rather dubious assertions.

Late in the interview, Mnuchin may have stepped in it, when asked what movie he recommends. His answer: "I am not promoting any product, but you should send all your kids to 'Lego Batman'." Mnuchin certainly is promoting a product, one where he just so happens to have served as executive producer. As we learned with Kellyanne Conway's endorsement of Ivanka Trump products, that's a no-no. If Mnuchin skates on this, will it be: (1) Because it was a Website interview and not a TV interview; (2) Because this particular offense is no longer interesting; (3) Because he is a man and Conway is a woman? We report, you decide. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar25 Who Knew Governing Was so Hard? Obamacare Repeal Fails
Mar25 Trump: I Should Have Done Tax Reform First
Mar25 Investigation of Manafort Now Extends to Cyprus
Mar25 Poll: Americans Don't Want to Deport Undocumented Immigrants
Mar25 Senate Votes to Kill Internet Privacy
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Mar24 Healthcare Bill Vote Is Canceled Because the Votes Aren't There
Mar24 What Happens Next?
Mar24 Congressional Budget Office Scores the New Healthcare Bill
Mar24 The Koch Brothers Are Trying to Buy "No" Votes on Healthcare Bill
Mar24 Voters Overwhelmingly Oppose AHCA
Mar24 Could This Be the End of the Line for Ryan?
Mar24 Schumer Plans to Filibuster Gorsuch
Mar24 Nunes Really Stepped in It
Mar24 Trump Hotel Does Not Violate Lease
Mar23 Latest Whip Count Shows AHCA without Enough Support to Pass
Mar23 Republicans Are Already Working on the Second Bucket
Mar23 FBI Investigating Trump Campaign-Russia Coordination
Mar23 Manafort Had a $10 Million Contract with Russian Billionaire to Help Putin
Mar23 Nunes Tries to Throw Trump a Lifeline
Mar23 Gorsuch Speaks a Lot, Says Little
Mar23 WSJ Slams Trump
Mar23 Colorado Republican Who Claimed Widespread Voter Fraud Charged with Voter Fraud
Mar23 Bad Day for Secretary of Labor Nominees
Mar22 Republicans Are Running Scared
Mar22 McConnell Says Senate Will Take Up the Healthcare Bill Next Week
Mar22 Gorsuch Sits in the Hot Seat, Doesn't Wilt
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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