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It Is Now or Never for Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The window of opportunity for the Republicans to repeal the ACA is closing fast. The House is scheduled to leave town for a week-long recess on Thursday, and GOP leaders are scared that members will get an earful from angry constituents and be afraid to vote for repeal when they come back. In addition, the arcane Senate rules used in the budget reconciliation process make it essential that repeal happen before the Senate passes a budget, something it needs to do to pass the rest of Trump's legislative program. So basically, if the repeal bill doesn't pass by Thursday, it is probably is dead forever (unless the recess is canceled, something that representatives are not going to like).

In public, congressional leaders and the administration are brimming with optimism. Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers recently said: "We're very close." Vice president Mike Pence said: "I think health care reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare, is just around the corner." Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn said yesterday: "Do we have the votes for health care? I think we do."

Reality may soon rear its ugly head, however. While the House Freedom Caucus is on board with the most recent version of the repeal bill, the moderate Tuesday Group doesn't like it because it takes health care away from too many people. This week we could find out whether the president is the great negotiator he claims to be, somehow getting the moderates to "yes."

But even if Trump manages to twist enough arms to get to 216 votes in the House and 50 votes in the Senate, he won't be able to keep all his promises about health care. Politico has compiled a list of Trump's promises that will be broken if the current bill is passed. These are:

  • The plan will be as good as "Obamacare" for people with pre-existing conditions
  • Everyone will have insurance
  • Medicaid will not be cut
  • Insurers will be able to sell insurance nationwide
  • No one will lose coverage

None of these are remotely true. To start with, the new plan allows states to opt out of community rating, meaning that insurers will be allowed to charge people with preexisting conditions $10,000, $25,000, or whatever they want in order to deter these people from buying insurance. Second, even under the ACA not everyone had insurance, and the new plan will make things even worse. Third, the House bill cuts $880 million from Medicaid. Fourth, there is nothing in the bill allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines. Fifth, the CBO analysis shows that 24 million people would lose insurance under the previous (and more generous) plan. In short, if the bill passes, Trump will have a lot of explaining to do. (V)

Trump Willing to Meet with Kim, Going to Meet with Duterte

Donald Trump was interviewed by Bloomberg News on Monday, and was asked about Kim Jong-Un. He replied that, under the right circumstances, he would be very willing to meet with Kim. "Most political people would never say that," Trump continued, "but I'm telling you under the right circumstances I would meet with him. We have breaking news." This revelation follows on the heels of this weekend's news that Trump will soon be meeting with controversial Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte at the White House.

Both announcements have been met with almost universal condemnation from all parts of the political spectrum. Kim and Duterte are both strongmen who ruthlessly oppress the citizenry of their countries. By meeting with them, Trump gives them attention, and legitimizes their leadership. At the same time, the President is also rewarding Kim's bad behavior. Launch a missile, get a meeting. What does he get for launching two missiles, or three? $10 billion in aid? A trade deal? Exclusive rights to build Trump Tower Pyongyang?

Meanwhile, Trump once again reveals the thinking that governs his foreign policy. He does not worry about doing the right thing, or the consistent thing, or the most productive thing. Note the "Most political people would never say that," and the "breaking news" bits in the quote above. What Trump worries about, almost exclusively, it would seem, is doing something different from what his predecessors would have done, thus affirming his image as a maverick. Sometimes, challenging the status quo is a wise idea. But sometimes, there's a good reason that the status quo is the status quo. And someone who can't tell the difference between the first circumstance and the second is setting themselves up to make some very dangerous mistakes. (Z)

Trump Runs Ad Touting His Successful First 100 Days

Yesterday, Donald Trump's campaign team released an ad highlighting his many successes during his first 100 days in office. The list includes getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, creating jobs, cutting regulations, and releasing a tax plan. The $1.5 million ad buy will run the ad on television all over the country.

Any objective observer would dispute Trump's role in all of his claimed successes. The fact that a Supreme Court seat was open for Trump to fill has to be credited to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Given that Republicans control the Senate, getting anyone confirmed was a no-brainer. Job creation appears to be slowing down. It is true that Trump has cut regulations, but most of his cuts will be challenged in court, so it remains to be seen how many stick. Finally, his one-page tax plan leaves out what he actually wants to do, so it is no plan at all and has no chance of being enacted into law. Nevertheless, it is very likely that most of his supporters who see the ad will be convinced that he is doing a great job so far. (V)

Trump Administration Dismantles Michelle Obama Initiatives

When George W. Bush was president, he and First Lady Laura Bush launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which aimed to reduce the incidence of AIDS worldwide, particularly in Africa. Barack Obama saw the worthiness of the cause, and so sustained and expanded the program.

While Obama was president, he and his wife partnered on a pair of initiatives. First, and close to Michelle's heart, was making school lunches more healthy. On Monday, Sec. of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that many of the Obama administration's reforms in that area would be rolled back. Starting in 2017, lunches can have more salt, servings of milk can have more fat, and breads can have fewer whole grains. "This is not reducing nutritional standards whatsoever," he said.

The second initiative was "Let Girls Learn," started by the Obamas in 2015 to encourage educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. On Monday, the Trump administration killed the program, without announcing any sort of replacement, nor offering any comment on why the program was being discontinued.

By itself, the change to the lunch program is potentially justifiable—there's an argument to be made that making food, say, 5% less healthy in order to cut costs by 10% and to increase consumption rates by 10% is a fair tradeoff. However, hammering both of Michelle Obama's programs on the same day, especially with not even the slightest justification for dumping "Let Girls Learn," suggests there was more than a little spite here. Especially given that the former first lady is not too popular in the White House these days. She's an Obama, she was indirectly responsible for Melania Trump's plagiarism controversy, and she is—shall we say—not the preferred hue of Steve Bannon, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, et al. In any event, the President Obama's handling of PEPFAR and President Trump's handling of "Let Girls Learn" certainly illustrates the difference in style between the two administrations. (Z)

Cabinet Secretaries Are Pushing their Minders Out of the Way

Although President Donald Trump got to choose all of his cabinet officers, he doesn't really trust them. To monitor them, he installed what are basically spies at every agency. Their job is to watch what the secretary is doing and report back to Trump. All of them are young campaign workers with no experience in government or in running anything. Since many of the cabinet secretaries are billionaire CEOs or generals, they are not used to having some wet-behind-the-ears kids snooping on them and in some cases trying to give them orders. To Trump's surprise, they don't like this arrangement much and are now pushing back, and hard.

Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin assigned his minder to a room in the basement. Secretary of Defense James Mattis blew up when his minder insisted on reviewing one of his briefings. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said his minder "serves little purpose or value." Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who served in George W. Bush's cabinet, was aghast when her minder told her she would have to clear all policies with him before they went public. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt banned his minder from meetings.

Word has gotten back to Trump that these high-powered folks have little interest in the back-seat drivers assigned to them, and he appears to be relenting, claiming that they were hired for a mere 120 days and never meant to be permanent (English translation: It never occurred to us that a guy who ran a billion-dollar corporation might object to some snot-nosed kid telling him what to do). Pretty soon there will be few minders left, and those that survive will be instructed by the secretary never to leave their windowless basement office without written permission from the secretary. (V)

Trump University Student Rejects Settlement Deal

Rather than have a long drawn-out fight in court, Donald Trump agreed to settle the various lawsuits that allege Trump University was a fraud by settling a class-action suit for $25 million. Unfortunately for him, he may not be off the hook yet, as one former Trump University student, Sherri Simpson, has opted out of the settlement and wants her day in court. If the case goes forward, it will go the liberal U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is based in San Francisco.

Simpson, herself a lawyer, claims Trump swindled her out of $19,000. She is not satisfied with getting back 80 or 90 percent of her money, and wants the triple damages she could receive if the case goes to trial and she wins. Trump's lawyers are trying to force her to post a large bond. Needless to say, if she starts a project on saying: "Please fund my lawsuit against Donald Trump" it probably won't take 5 minutes for her to get enough money for the bond, no matter what it is. (V)

Professor Trump Gives a History Lesson

Donald Trump toured Andrew Jackson's home, The Hermitage, recently. That means that he's now an expert on all matters Jacksonian, and he saw fit to share his insights on SiriusXM's POTUS channel on Monday:

I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, "There's no reason for this." People don't realize, you know, the Civil War—if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?

One of us (Z) happens to have a Ph.D. in U.S. history, specializing in the Civil War era. So, this is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, let's try to get a handle on how much wrong Trump managed to squeeze into 86 words:

  • Jackson's heart: During his tour, Trump was very impressed with Jackson's affection for his wife, Rachel, which was certainly very profound. But Jackson's big heart did not extend much beyond that. The multiple people he killed in duels after they dared insult Rachel did not think he had a big heart. Nor did the soldiers he executed for desertion, or the two British nationals he hanged because he thought they were aiding the Natives during the Seminole War. Speaking of Native Americans, the multiple thousands of individuals who died along the Trail of Tears (initiated by Jackson, carried out by successor Martin Van Buren) were not singing the praises of Jackson's heart. Nor, presumably, were his hundreds of slaves. So, that's one vote for "big heart" and thousands of votes against.

  • Jackson and the Civil War: The first thing that most listeners took note of, when hearing Trump's quote, was that Jackson did not have much of an opinion on the Civil War, since he left office 24 years and died 16 years before the war began. However, he actually made his views quite clear on the subject while he was in office. In 1832, right in the middle of Jackson's term, the nation nearly dissolved—not because of competing social, economic, and cultural systems rooted in slavery vs. free labor—but because of the highly-related issue of tariff rates. South Carolina felt that rates were too high, and—egged on by Jackson's vice president, John C. Calhoun—said they would not be paying their share. Jackson responded by threatening to march an army on South Carolina, and to personally hang Calhoun. Cooler heads eventually did prevail, particularly that of Sen. Henry Clay (W-KY), but it certainly was not "Old Hickory" who resolved the matter with his Solomon-like wisdom.

  • Why was there a war?: It's true that people never wonder why the Civil War happened. Oh, wait, no it's not. Mountains of words, pages, and pixels have been spent on this subject. In fact, one can scarcely imagine a history-related question that people have spent more time dissecting. Maybe "Did Washington really have wooden teeth?" For a brief, readable overview of the Civil War's origins, Trump might want to pick up a copy of Kenneth Stampp's very fine The Causes of the Civil War. (Note: Washington's multiple sets of false teeth were made of precious metals, ivory, and human/cow teeth, but not wood).

  • Could the war have been avoided?: Here, Trump has inadvertently stumbled onto an actual school of thought about the Civil War. During the 1940s, historians developed what is called the "blundering generation" thesis, arguing that the Civil War could have been avoided, if only the politicians of the 1850s weren't such bumbling fools. There's even a chapter devoted to this interpretation in Stampp's book. Unfortunately for The Donald, experts today recognize that the scholars of the 1940s were projecting, taking note of the failures that followed World War I and led to World War II, and ascribing them to the Civil War. Nobody today takes seriously that more skilled leaders could have somehow smoothed over the deep divisions that led to the Civil War, particularly since the 1850s gave us some of the most skilled leaders in the history of the country, starting with a fellow named Abraham Lincoln.

It's hardly a surprise that Trump has a poor grasp of U.S. history. It's been a long time since he was a student, he is notorious for his short attention span, and history courses, if taught improperly, are among the densest and most attention-killing classes on the curriculum. That said, this incident certainly gives insight into "expertise," Trump style. He gloms onto a smidgen of information, adds his own spin to it, and announces his "facts" with great certainty. His self-confidence (or, less charitably, arrogance) is so great that it simply does not seem to occur to him that there may be others who know more than he does, and that they may be rolling their eyes at him behind his back. Not a big deal when it comes to the finer points of antebellum historiography, but far more concerning when it comes to say, health care, or fiscal policy, or foreign affairs. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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