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Upton Flips Again

It's getting hard to keep track of the whip count on the bill to repeal the ACA, what with representatives changing their minds daily. Yesterday, we reported that Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), a former committee chairman who has drafted many bills repealing the ACA, was against the current bill to repeal it. Yesterday he talked to Donald Trump and now he supports the bill. It wasn't just Trump's great negotiating skills that flipped Upton (and colleague Bill Long of Missouri), but Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised to add another $8 billion to the pot for covering people with pre-existing conditions. While that amount helps, experts have estimated that the high-risk pools where the sick people will be placed need at least $20 to $30 billion per year to be adequately funded. The $8 billion is to be spread over 5 years, so it is really only $1.6 billion per year, a drop in the bucket.

Ryan said yesterday that he was extremely close to having enough votes to pass the bill, but he declined to say how many votes short he was. It appears his current strategy is to go after individual representatives one at a time, giving each one a special amendment to get their votes until he hits the magic number of 216 (four House seats are currently vacant). A vote is expected this afternoon, but could be canceled if Ryan discovers he doesn't have the votes.

Democrats are not-so-secretly hoping for a vote on the bill, even if it might pass the House. They believe it won't pass the Senate in anything like its current form. But more important, the slogan: "He voted to take away your health care" could be a potent one in 2018 and everyone in Washington understands this. Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. If they vote to repeal the ACA, the Democrats will be united in their 2018 message. However, if they don't vote or the vote fails, the Republican base will be extremely angry with them and may stay home on Election Day in 2018.

A Morning Consult poll released yesterday is not going to make the Republicans breathe easier. It showed that 48% of Republican voters oppose the MacArthur amendment, which is in the current bill and which allows states to opt out of community rating and essential health benefits. In a state that opted out, insurance companies could charge sick people whatever they want to and could offer policies that covered very little. The AARP, which has 38 million members and an annual budget of $1.5 billion, is lobbying hard against the bill, claiming that it would adversely affect many of its members in the 50 to 64 age range. (V)

California Republicans May Swing AHCA Vote

When it comes to a rock and a hard place, there are few members of Congress that are more tightly wedged than the Republican delegation from California. The Golden State is home to a lot of Democrats, a fair number of moderate Republicans, a sizable number of elderly people, and an enormous number of Trump haters (it's the only state where Hillary Clinton outperformed Barack Obama). On one hand, if the Republican members vote no on the AHCA, they irritate their base, along with their party's leadership, up to and including the President. On the other, if they vote yes for the AHCA, they could be setting themselves up for unemployment in 18 months, particularly since the "get out the vote" operations of California Democrats figure to be especially potent in 2018.

These things probably explain why a majority of California's Republican members—eight of the fourteen—are officially "undecided." Another has said he's a firm "no," and five have said they are a "yes." Now, let's try to dig a little deeper and hazard a guess to how this turns out. The five "yes" votes are Kevin McCarthy, Duncan Hunter, Tom McClintock, Devin Nunes, and Mimi Walters. The Cook PVI scores for their districts, respectively, are R+14, R+11, R+10, R+8, and R+4. The pattern is fairly evident—the four men are from very safe Republican districts, while Walters represents one of the wealthiest districts in the country, where people presumably have means for acquiring healthcare that do not require Barack Obama's help. The one no vote is Jeff Denham, who represents a district with an even Cook PVI. The undecideds are Doug LaMalfa, Ken Calvert, Paul Cook, Dana Rohrabacher, Darrell Issa, Ed Royce, Steve Knight, David Valadao. Their district PVIs, in order, are R+11, R+9, R+9, R+4, R+1, even, even, and D+5. In other words, three of the eight can probably afford to take their chances, but the other five could be committing political suicide. The guess here is that the three safe representatives, and one from the Rohrabacher/Issa pair (since both are quite conservative, personally) end up as "yes" votes and the remaining four end up as "noes." According to most whip counts, four more undecideds turning into "noes" would be enough to kill the bill. (Z)

Tuesday Group May Fire MacArthur

The moderate Tuesday Group of House Republicans is none too happy with Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), negotiating a deal with the Freedom Caucus to let states opt out of community rating and essential health benefits without consulting the members of the group. Some of them are now plotting to oust him as co-chairman of the group. One member said: "I think [MacArthur] overstepped his bounds." Another pointed out that no one gave MacArthur any authority to negotiate for the group. The Tuesday Group has three co-chairs. The others are Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who is a strong opponent of the repeal bill, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) who is officially undecided. (V)

Details of AHCA Reveal GOP Priorities

Given that new revisions of the AHCA seem to be produced more frequently than some people change their socks, it is easy to lose track of the details. However, the good people at newspapers and think tanks across the land are doing their best to keep up, and their investigations reveal a pair of concerning details. First, as noted by the New York Times' Erica L. Green, the current iteration of the bill would represent a devastating blow for special education students. Put briefly, a fair portion of the money for special ed comes from Medicaid. Needless to say, less money for Medicaid would certainly mean less money for the needs of special ed students. But it gets worse; the AHCA has a provision that schools would no longer be regarded as eligible Medicaid providers. If that provision was to stand, it would mean that schools' Medicaid funds would not only be reduced, they would be eliminated entirely. Given that special ed programs are already underfunded, this could prove disastrous for schools that are legally required to provide for these students.

But while special ed students, their parents, their teachers, and their school administrations have reason to worry, there's another group of people that can rest easy: The members of Congress (and their families). Originally, the AHCA contained a provision that exempted Congress from the bill's provisions, but it was cut after there was an outcry. Now, it appears to be back in the bill. Nothing says, "we believe in our bill" like not wanting to have anything to do with it. Congressional Republicans say they will get around to fixing that loophole "eventually." Uh, huh, and anyone who believes that, we have a nice bridge in San Francisco for sale. (Z)

Kushner Finances Under Scrutiny

More than 100 days into the Trump presidency, with all the revelations that have already come out about his appointees, we are left with a couple of very big questions. Is there anyone in the administration who doesn't have a few tyrannosaurus-sized skeletons in their closet? And did anyone actually fill out their disclosure forms completely and truthfully?

When it comes to Trump confidant, adviser, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, we now learn that he definitely has some skeletons (well, more skeletons than we already knew about), and that he definitely did not provide full disclosure on his paperwork. It would seem that his connections to George Soros, Peter Thiel, and Goldman Sachs slipped his mind. So, too did the tiny matter of $1 billion in loans that he owes.

It's not terribly surprising that Kushner tried to keep this under wraps, because this is the kind of information that's going to irritate everyone. Liberals loathe Goldman Sachs, while conservatives rank George Soros somewhere between Jack the Ripper and Satan. On top of that are the obvious conflicts of interest that these connections raise, which is not going to make anyone happy. And finally, there's the hypocrisy of taking money ($250 million of the $1 billion is from Soros) from a man the President denounced repeatedly on the campaign trail. Kushner says he will file updated paperwork, under the presumption that will fix everything. The Office of Government Ethics may think otherwise. (Z)

Comey Defends His Decision to Bring Up Clinton's E-mails Days Before the Election

FBI Director James Comey has been widely criticized for announcing that the Bureau was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails just 11 days before the election while not saying a word about its investigation into Donald Trump's Russia connections. Tuesday, Hillary Clinton said Comey's remarks cost her the election. Yesterday, Comey vigorously defended himself, saying that he would do it all again. He also said that the thought his announcement might have some effect on the election made him nauseous. The defense came at a Senate hearing presided over by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley defended Comey by saying that "much of the dossier has been proven wrong," referencing a dossier on Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. Actually, that is not true. In fact, portions of it have been confirmed and none of it has been disproven. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) disagreed with Grassley and said she didn't see why Comey was willing to talk about the ongoing investigation of Clinton but not willing to talk about the then-ongoing (and still ongoing) investigation of Trump.

Actually, it is not hard to speculate about why Comey did what he did (and didn't do) in October. After he announced in July that no charges would be brought against Clinton, he went on at length about all the bad things she did. This violates FBI protocol. Clinton was hopping mad about this. Although FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms, they do serve at the pleasure of the president and there is little doubt that Clinton would have fired him had she won. So one way to save his job would be to make sure Clinton didn't win. (V)

Trump May Issue an Order Allowing Churches to Support Candidates

Donald Trump is expected to celebrate the National Day of Prayer today by issuing an executive order making it possible for churches and other religious groups to support or oppose candidates for public office without risking their tax-exempt status. Some conservative religious groups have long longed for such an order. Others don't want it because it could split their congregations along partisan lines and interfere with their religious message.

Another hot potato is that religious groups often have employees who have health-care plans that cover contraception. Some groups would like to be exempt from this requirement because they regard some forms of contraception as abortion, which they see as murder. Also important here is how sweeping the order is. For example, if a church runs a school or college, would the school or college be able to have a health-care plan for its employees that did not cover contraception? It is virtually certain that if Trump issues such an order, the ACLU will file a lawsuit challenging it on constitutional grounds. (V)

Pelosi and Perez Disagree on Abortion

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) does not want to use abortion as a litmus test for deciding which Democrats to support for public office. She said that she grew up in a staunchly devout Catholic family that opposed abortion, but the family was equally staunchly Democratic (her father was mayor of Baltimore and later a Democratic congressman). This statement puts her at odds with DNC Chairman Tom Perez, who recently said support for abortion was not negotiable.

Pelosi is an old political hand and understands better than Perez that Democrats need the votes of blue-collar workers in the Midwest, many of whom are religious and oppose abortion. She also understands that in some other areas, support for abortion is fatal for a Democrat and so the party has to support anti-abortion candidates if they want to win those races. The issue arose recently because the Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, Heath Mello, initially opposed abortion, riling many pro-choice Democrats. He has since muddled his position. Pelosi's point is that if Democrats oppose any candidate who is anti-abortion, they can forget about winning any elective office in Nebraska, not to mention about half the other states. Her view is that a candidate doesn't have to toe the party line 100% to deserve support, especially if that would be fatal in the area where the candidate is running. (V)

Chaffetz Gunning for Obama's Pension

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) apparently can't find anything Russia-related to investigate, and so has some spare time. On Wednesday, he announced what he plans to do with some of that spare time: Re-introduce a bill (previously vetoed by Barack Obama) that would reduce former presidents' pensions if they earn income from other sources. This is a response to recent news that Obama would be paid $400,000 for an address before a group of Wall Street titans.

With the caveat that Obama's speech is not a great look for him, this story would seem to reveal two things. The first is that the 44th president isn't even in office any more, and yet he's still taking up prime real estate in Republicans' heads. George W. Bush collected $15 million in speaking fees in his first year out of office. Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush were similarly profitable, and Ronald Reagan once collected $1 million (close to $2 million in 2017 money) for a single speech. In all four cases nobody said "boo." This makes it hard to avoid the conclusion that it's personal with Obama. The second thing we learn is that Chaffetz, though he is retiring from his Congressional seat, is clearly not going to ride off into the sunset. He's doing everything he can to take headline-making shots at two of Utah's least favorite people—Obama and Donald Trump. Anyone who thinks a run for either the senate or the governor's mansion is not in Chaffetz's future has not been paying attention. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May03 ACA Repeal Is Dead Again
May03 Yates to Contradict Trump Administration on Flynn
May03 New Study Examines Why Clinton Lost
May03 Clinton Blames Her Loss on Comey and Putin
May03 Trump Responds to Clinton
May03 Poll Has Georgia Race as a Tossup
May03 Why Jim DeMint Was Kicked Out of the Heritage Foundation
May03 Trump Teaches History
May02 It Is Now or Never for Repealing the Affordable Care Act
May02 Trump Willing to Meet with Kim, Going to Meet with Duterte
May02 Trump Runs Ad Touting His Successful First 100 Days
May02 Trump Administration Dismantles Michelle Obama Initiatives
May02 Cabinet Secretaries Are Pushing their Minders Out of the Way
May02 Trump University Student Rejects Settlement Deal
May02 Professor Trump Gives a History Lesson
May01 Government Funded Through September
May01 Gorka Off National Security Council
May01 Biden Speaks in New Hampshire
May01 Democrats Can't, Won't Work with Trump
May01 How Good a Negotiator Is Donald Trump?
May01 Priebus Says the Administration Has Considered Changing Libel Laws
May01 Ros-Lehtinen to Retire
Apr30 Trump Commemorates 100th Day with Rally, "Deeply Disturbing" Speech
Apr30 This Week's March: Environmentalists
Apr30 Should Trump Worry About His Polls?
Apr30 The Trump Economy, 100 Days In
Apr30 2.13 Falsehoods Per Day
Apr30 The Next 100 Days Begins Today
Apr30 Democrats Feeling Bullish
Apr29 President Trump Very Impressed with President Trump
Apr29 North Korea Not Backing Down
Apr29 Trump's America Is Less Safe
Apr29 What Is MS-13?
Apr29 Secret Service Spread Thin
Apr29 Democrats Considering Suit Against Trump
Apr29 Lewandowski Appears to Be Selling Access to Trump
Apr28 Flynn's in Big Trouble--Thanks, Obama!
Apr28 Obamacare Replacement v2.0 May Be Dead on Arrival
Apr28 Military Buildup Unlikely
Apr28 Trump Claims He's a Nationalist and a Globalist
Apr28 So Much for Russian Hacking Report
Apr28 Democrats Not Backing Down on Wall
Apr27 Trump Tax Plan Underwhelms
Apr27 GOP Unveils Obamacare Replacement v2.0
Apr27 Trump to Pull out of NAFTA...or Not
Apr27 Net Neutrality Getting Closer to Being a Memory
Apr27 Trump 100-Day Mark Approval Rating Will Be Lowest Recorded
Apr27 Trump Unveils Anti-Immigrant Phone Line, Gets Trolled
Apr26 Michael Flynn Is in Hot Water
Apr26 Judge: No Defunding "Sanctuary Cities"