Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Is on a Collision Course with the World at the G20 Summit

When Donald Trump meets with more than a dozen world leaders this week, he will discover that his "America First" policy and desire to withdraw from international organizations and treaties is going to make him a pariah. It also means that other countries will be exploring alternative economic and other types of partnerships that exclude the U.S. For example, it is expected that the European Union and Japan will announce a new free trade agreement, with the U.S. sitting on the sidelines. It should be interesting to see how Republicans in Congress greet this announcement, since Republicans have always been big supporters of free markets.

Another hot potato is Trump's plan to block the import of steel into the U.S. to protect U.S. steel producers. Germany, China, and other countries strenuously oppose this restriction. If Trump says "What are you going to do about it?" the reaction might be "Nothing, except use open-source software and buy planes only from Airbus." Of course if they do that, Trump will hear from Microsoft and Boeing in no uncertain terms.

What Trump doesn't understand at all is how the pieces are interconnected. China makes more than half of the world's steel and Trump can block its importation into the U.S. if he really wants to. But when he later asks China to put the screws on North Korea and make it stop its nuclear development program, the answer is likely to be a less than polite "no thanks." Trump can't even let the State Dept. clean up the mess after him because most of the top positions in that department are vacant since he hasn't nominated people to fill the slots. Issuing a few tweets about how all the other countries are mean isn't going to solve much. (V)

Protesters Show Up in Force to Hound Lawmakers

Congress is taking a week off to meet constituents, but many of the Republicans are trying hard to avoid them. The few that are available are getting an earful. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Angus King (I-ME) marched together on Independence Day in tiny Eastport, ME, population 1,331. All they heard was comments about the Republicans' health-care bill, none of them positive. Everyone was encouraging her to vote against it, saying "Stay Strong, Susan." King, who has long opposed the bill, said: "If you took a blank sheet of paper and said: 'How could we get a bill that would really hammer Maine?' this would be it." At this point it looks like Collins is a definite "no" vote.

If Collins does indeed hold firm, that's very bad news for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as he can afford to lose only two members of the GOP caucus. Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) is also a likely "no" vote, so a lot comes down to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV). Murkowski spent the July Fourth holiday in the small town of Wrangell, AK, and heard pretty much the same thing as Collins. Constituents want her to oppose the bill. They don't think it is good for Alaska.

The only senator who heard people supporting the bill was Heller, who showed up on horseback in Ely, NV, the biggest town in a rural county that gave Trump a 54-point margin in the election. There people encouraged him to support Trump and the bill, despite the fact that it will wreak havoc with health care in rural areas, something most of them probably don't know. But even if Heller eventually comes around and supports the bill, the team of Collins, Murkowski, and Paul could sink it and end the 7-year Republican dream of killing "Obamacare." (V)

Cruz Amendment Could Ease Passage of the Health-Care Bill

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is proposing an amendment to the Republicans' health-care bill that might help get it through the House, assuming it can get through the Senate (but see above). His proposal is to allow insurance companies to offer plans that do not comply with the ACA's list of 10 essential health benefits, provided that they offer at least one plan that does. This idea has gained the blessing of House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC), whose caucus wants a much harsher bill than any of the ones currently under discussion.

To understand why this is important, you have to realize that Democrats and Republicans are focusing on two discrete groups of people, with different health care concerns. Democrats are concerned with the sick, elderly, and poor people who desperately want health insurance but can't get it because they either can't afford it or have a pre-existing condition. The ACA helps them by giving them subsides and preventing insurance companies from rejecting them.

Republicans, especially Cruz, are focusing on young healthy people who don't want to buy health insurance, or want to buy cheap insurance that covers very little. These individuals think they are invincible, and besides, if they get into an accident, hospital emergency rooms are required by law to treat them. If the situation were reversed, Republicans would call these people "moochers." Cruz's amendment would allow insurance companies to offer one expensive plan that covered the ACA's 10 essential benefits as well as a slew of very cheap plans that covered very little. For example, a catastrophic coverage plan could have a $10,000 deductible before paying out. That wouldn't be of use to most people, but would provide coverage in the event of a major medical problem.

The two views are completely incompatible. In order to have money to pay for health care for old, sick, and poor people, healthy young people have to put money into the pot now, knowing that if they later get old, sick, or poor they will have coverage. If all they care about is saving money right now and not having (much) insurance, the whole idea of insurance falls apart.

One problem with Cruz's amendment is that to pass under the budget reconciliation rules, it has to be something that primarily affects the federal budget. On its face, this amendment doesn't, so Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough might rule it inadmissible under reconciliation. Cruz is talking to her to see if there is some way to structure it to pass muster. (V)

Why Is Health Care So Expensive in the First Place?

A lot of the battles concerning health care are due to the fact that it is so expensive. If it were cheaper, then Republicans wouldn't be so focused on getting premiums down and there would be more room for bipartisan agreement. The U.S. spends far more per capita on health care than any other country—and gets much worse results. In one study done by the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranked 37th in the world, behind such health powerhouses as Colombia, Morocco, and Costa Rica. Why is it so expensive? Here are some of the main reasons:

  • Administrative costs eat up 25% of total health care spending due to multiple payers
  • Americans want the latest (and most expensive) technology
  • Doctors can be sued, so they order every test known to science as a defense
  • State laws make it hard for new providers (like hospitals) to set up shop
  • Nurse practitioners, who are cheaper than doctors, are very limited in what they may do
  • Consumers have little or no skin in the game so they don't comparison shop

In short, the system is deeply irrational and has many inefficiencies in it, but too many groups have some vested interest in keeping their part of the system intact, so nothing changes. Just as one simple example, Duke University Hospital has 900 beds but 1,500 billing clerks because it deals with hundreds of health insurance organizations, all with different rules. If there were a single payer, a large piece of the 25% would vanish, but for ideological reasons, Republicans are opposed to a single-payer system, even though it would save billions of dollars every year. (V)

Why Does Trump's Voter Commission Want Data It Can't Have?

David Becker, a former top official in the Justice Dept.'s Voting Section, has written an article discussing the panel Donald Trump created to investigate voter fraud, and, in particular, the panel's recent request to all the states to give it a list of every voter along with information about the voter including political party, military status, birth date and the last four digits of the voter's social security number. All this in the name of combating voter fraud, which virtually all 50 secretaries of state have said is at most a few thousandths of one percent of the vote.

Releasing the information the panel has asked for is illegal in most states. To their credit, so far 44 states have refused to provide the information—and that includes the secretaries of state from Indiana, Kansas, Maine, and New Hampshire, all of whom are members of the panel. State law aside, privacy advocates have said that compiling a database listing every voter in the country would surely lead to a massive amount of identity theft.

The data would also be useless for determining how much voter fraud exists. If the database base showed a John Brown born on May 1, 1950, living in Los Angeles and one living in Nevada, how would the commission know if they were the same person? Even if the last four digits of their social security numbers matched, there are so many people named John Brown it could just be a coincidence. Without more data, the commission couldn't tell. Also, it could be the same person who recently moved from Las Vegas to Los Angeles and who forgot to cancel his Nevada registration.

Even more to the point, it is not illegal to be registered in multiple states as long as you vote in only one of them. If the commission had gotten its way and done the comparison carefully, it would have discovered at least three people who were registered in multiple states: Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and first daughter Tiffany Trump. Bannon was, until recently, registered in Florida and New York. Mnuchin was registered in Florida and California. Tiffany was registered where she went to college (in Pennsylvania) and at her parent's home in New York.

Becker concludes by saying that the commission is pointless and will only create problems, rather than solve them. He also notes that a huge problem to democracy—foreign meddling in our elections—doesn't seem to be on the president's radar at all. (V)

Twitter Condemns the Declaration of Independence

To celebrate Independence Day, NPR thought it would be nice to tweet the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. Things went swimmingly until it got to the part of the Declaration in which the country's Founders listed all their gripes with the King. For example:


People who tuned in late got the wrong idea (not unlike the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds, which described an invasion of the earth by aliens). In particular, some Donald Trump supporters thought the tweets were directed at the President, rather than at King George III, and reacted furiously. Comments from Trump supporters included things like this:

After a while, some of the Trump supporters figured out what was going on and retracted their tweets. Nevertheless, few people seem to stop chewing on their hot dogs long enough to realize that the Declaration of Independence was fundamentally about a bunch of malcontents who didn't like how things were going and decide to overthrow the lawful government by force. (V)

Poll: Americans Support Muslim Ban

Polling on Donald Trump's Muslim bans has been all over the map, but as the dust is beginning to clear, the polls may start to converge. A new Morning Consult poll shows that now 60% of Americans approve of the executive order banning people from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. unless they have a good reason for doing so such as a job or acceptance at a school. Only 28% oppose the ban.

One important note is that the wording of the question often plays a crucial role in polling. This poll just asked about the ban. It didn't mention Trump. A question that asked "Do you approve of President Trump's ban on people from six Muslim countries?" would have gotten a very different result.

Even without Trump's name in the question, though, 84% of Republicans approved of the ban. Among Democrats, support was lower, but 41% did approve of it. (V)

All the President's Lawyers

Jonathan Mahler has a very interesting piece on Donald Trump's lawyers and his view of the law. Trump's long career has been an endless series of lawsuits going back 40 years. Over that time he has had three primary lawyers: Roy Cohn, Jay Goldberg, and Marc Kasowitz, with many secondary lawyers for specific projects. Before the election, USA Today counted the lawsuits Trump has been involved in. The number was 4,095, going back to the time the government sued him for racial discrimination in his rental properties in Queens.

Trump often demands that his lawyers do things that they are ill-equipped to do. For example, when Trump wanted a divorce from his first wife, Ivana, he browbeat Goldberg into taking the case, even though Goldberg told him, "I don't know the first thing about matrimonial law." What Trump liked was Goldberg's style. Before long, Goldberg was standing on the steps of the courthouse in Manhattan with a giant copy of a check Trump had written to Ivana for $10 million, surrounded by news photographers. In so many of Trump's lawsuits, it is the publicity that matters even more to him than the legal result of the case.

All of Trump's lawyers share certain characteristics. They are hard-charging fighters whose primary concern is making Trump look good. They rarely give him detailed legal advice since they know he will ignore it. Like Trump, they try to dominate everyone concerned with the case. The see legal proceedings as a form of theater that is played out as much in public as in the courtroom. When Trump said he was divesting himself of all his businesses, he had one of his lawyers, Sheri Dillon, point to a stack of manila folders, as if that gave proof that he was indeed divesting himself. For all anyone else knew, the papers in them might have been blank. The piece is a fascinating glimpse into Trump's world. (V)

Voters May Feel the Bern Again in 2020

As commentators have tried—way too early, of course—to handicap the Democrats' 2020 field, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is generally regarded as out of the running. Yes, he may well be the best-known and most popular politician on the left, at least among those politicians who are still eligible to be president. And he may have a finely-tuned moneymaking operation, not to mention charisma by the truckload. But he'd be 78 on Inauguration Day 2021, and that's just too old to begin a challenging eight-year commitment. Case closed.

Or, maybe not. As Vox's Matthew Yglesias points out, Sanders is certainly acting like a man who's learning from the lessons of 2016, and gearing up for his shot in 2020. He's touring the country giving speeches and meeting with people, which certainly looks a lot like building a network. During these tours, his destinations include many red states, which are pretty useless to him in most circumstances, but offer some low-hanging fruit during primary season. He's been staffing up, most recently adding foreign policy adviser Matt Duss and former Harry Reid strategist Ari Rabin-Havt. And Sanders has also been moving closer to the Democratic mainstream—hanging on to "free tuition for all" and single-payer healthcare, but softening his stances on minimum wage, taxation, and environmental policy. Add it all up, and it means that until such point as we get a full Sherman, we should probably regard Sanders as a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2020, perhaps even the frontrunner. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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