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

Travel Ban v2.0 Takes Effect Today

Today, at 8:00 p.m. EST, v2.0 of the Muslim travel ban will officially take effect. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision earlier this week, the Trump administration will be allowed to block visitors from six countries—Libya, Syria, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Sudan—unless those visitors are:

  1. A citizen of the U.S., or
  2. A green card holder, or
  3. A visa holder, or
  4. A person with dual nationalities, or
  5. A foreign nationals with "bona fide" family, educational, or business ties to the U.S., or
  6. Someone not in the above categories who can persuade DHS they have a compelling need to visit

The last two items on the list, particularly #5, are the ones likely to cause chaos. Nobody particularly knows what kind of proof qualifies as evidence of "bona fide" family/business/educational ties, nor of a compelling need to be in the United States. For example, an Iranian visitor might contact an Iranian-run church or business, and get them to write a letter asking for an in-person presentation on current events in Iran or the current business climate in Iran. Is that "bona fide" enough? Similarly, nearly all universities will allow anyone with the necessary tuition money to enroll in classes offered through the university extension (the deal: the student gets to say they studied at Harvard or UCLA or Yale or Stanford, and the university makes money). If a Somalian "student" presents a receipt from UCLA extension for his class on creative writing that begins next week, is that a "bona fide" educational tie? What if the class is being offered, instead, by Outer Southwest Arkansas State Junior College and School of Butchery? Does that make a difference? Who knows?

Also problematical is the issue of who is "family." Guidelines issued by the State Dept. say that grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, and fiances are not close family for admission purposes. Parents, spouses, children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law count, but what documentation has to be presented to verify that the visitee is your daughter-in-law?

There's really only one thing that is certain, and that is that the travel ban will do nothing to make Americans safer. None of the terrorists who have attacked the United States have come from those six countries, nor have any snuck into the country as visitors/tourists. And even if an aspiring Yemeni terrorist did want to take this route, he surely would find a way to offer proof of a "bona fide" need to be in the United States. Officially, the travel ban is supposed to expire in 90 days; presumably the administration will declare a "victory" and let it die at that point, thus sparing themselves further headaches and legal setbacks—at least until the Supreme Court rules (or doesn't rule) on the matter. (Z)

Americans Overwhelmingly Reject Republicans' Health-Care Plan

Two polls of Americans' views of the Republicans' health-care plans were released yesterday. One has better news and one has worse news for the GOP. First, the better news. A Quinnipiac poll Shows that 16% of the voters approve of the new plan, while 58% disapprove. Now for the worse news. A Suffolk University poll shows that only 12% support the Republicans' plans while 53% want to either leave the ACA alone or fix its problems. If we split the difference, then 14% of the voters like the plan Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is fighting so hard to pass.

It is hard to remember a situation when any party was betting the farm on a bill that has about 14% support among the voters. That may suggest the time has come to jump ship, but the Republicans' problem with doing so is twofold. First, for 7 years they have promised to slay the Obamacare monster. Failure to do so now would be embarrassing, to say the least. Second, the party's wealthy donors don't care much about the health-care plan one way or another as long as the ACA taxes are repealed. Neither of these "promises" is going to be forgotten. So, whether McConnell is able to more forward with the BCRA, or he's not, he's going to get massive blowback, which means he's trapped himself between a rock and a hard place.

Incidentally, we might recall that Obamacare was also unpopular and controversial when it was first unveiled, but that eventually those sentiments cooled a bit. GOP partisans might be hoping and/or expecting the same thing to happen here. The problem with that theory is that Obamacare was never as unpopular as the BCRA is. Over 100 times, pollsters gauged Americans' views of the program and at the worst, the "support" numbers were in the mid- to high-20s. That's still double the number that the BCRA is pulling. Further, the mid- to high-20s results were clear outliers (half a dozen times out of the 100+ polls). Even at the beginning, Obamacare was much more likely to have approval ratings in the 30s or 40s. The first dozen polls conducted, for example, had the following approval numbers: 33, 45, 33, 43, 51, 50, 46, 44, 36, 38, 42, and 36. That's an average of 41.4% approval, which is nearly triple the 14% that the BCRA is getting. So, those who expect a big upswing in support for the Republicans' health-care laws should probably take off their rose-colored glasses. (V)

Entire Republican Agenda Is Now at Risk

When the Senate gets back from the Independence Day break, the sausage-making will continue, but it could easily fail. The divides are very large now and aren't likely to get any smaller in the coming weeks. Mitch McConnell has $188 billion he can use to buy off individual senators, but it is still a steep climb. Nevertheless, he is likely to try essentially bribing each of the holdouts with the equivalent of the 2010 ACA "Cornhusker Kickback" used to get then-senator Ben Nelson's vote for the ACA. We could have the "Aleutian Advantage" for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the "Badger Bestowal" for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), the "Buckeye Benefaction" for Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), the "Pine Tree Premium" for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and the "Sunflower Subsidy" for both Kansas senators. The only problem with throwing $188 billion at the problem is that conservatives like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will be infuriated by it.

If the health-care bill ultimately fails, the tax cut bill will be in trouble, too, for reasons having to do with the budget reconciliation process. Basically, once there is a budget resolution, only one bill can be passed using it. The original idea was to pass the health-care bill using this year's budget resolution and tax cuts using next year's. If the Senate vote fails to get a majority, the Republicans can either abandon health care altogether and move on to tax cuts or try to pass one monster bill with both of them. That will be close to impossible. If health care and tax cuts both fail, there will be civil war within the Republican Party and nothing will happen in this session of Congress.

McConnell understands all of this perfectly, so he is doing everything humanly possible to get a new bill, one likely to include goodies for recalcitrant senators, done by Friday so the Congressional Budget Office can chew on it while the senators are off in their home states chewing on hot dogs. McConnell is a master tactician, but this is the biggest challenge of his lifetime. In the next day or two, he is going to have to decide if he wants to move the bill to the left (more coverage) or to the right (more ACA repeal). Each way goes after a different bunch of senators and there may or may not be a sweet spot that gets him to 50. President Donald Trump is "helping" too, by calling senators, but at this point he has almost no clout and is essentially irrelevant to the process.

One last point worth noting: While it is true that McConnell is a master tactician, it's also the case that he's been Minority/Majority Leader since January 3, 2007. That means that he's served one year with a GOP president in the White House (his first year as Minority Leader) and—until January 20 of this year—zero days where his party controlled both the Senate and the White House. In other words, his entire leadership career—and his sterling tactical reputation—has been built on obstruction. First, it was Senate Democrats that he obstructed, then it was Barack Obama. There's no question that he's good at it, but obstruction is a very different task—and, almost certainly, a much easier task—from actually getting things done. Some have described the Majority Leader as "LBJ-esque," but this is a misnomer, because LBJ's talent was in securing passage of legislation, not blocking it. McConnell's biggest achievement so far is blocking Merrick Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court and getting Neil Gorsuch there instead. And he did that by throwing out 200 years of Senate tradition allowing a vote on Supreme Court nominees, thus infuriating the Democrats beyond belief. He got what he wanted, but there could be payback down the road. (V)

Why Has Health Care Been So Hard?

Jennifer Rubin, a long-time staunch conservative Republican pundit, has an interesting piece giving 20 reasons why the Republican attempt to repeal the ACA has been a disaster so far:

  • People don't like Obamacare, but they like the GOP alternatives even less
  • No section of the electorate thinks cutting Medicaid is a good idea—and this is the core of the GOP plans
  • Taking benefits from poor and middle-class people to give the rich a tax cut is the Democrats' wet dream
  • Trump's rhetoric was about giving people more care, not less
  • Trump's idea of outsourcing the details to a Republican Congress that doesn't like his populism was dumb
  • The idea that you can run a White House with amateurs was foolish
  • Trump's strategy of bucking up his base has little effect on Congress
  • McConnell should have known that you can't push senators around like you can House members
  • Republicans should have known that Medicaid serves more than the poor minorities they don't especially like
  • Republican fever dreams aside, there hasn't been anything like a free market in health insurance for 50 years
  • People fear change
  • Republicans in Congress forgot to get the governors, who are more popular than they are, on board
  • They should have done infrastructure first
  • A half-baked plan with big tax cuts for the wealthy strengthens the perception that GOP is the party of the rich
  • Trying to move people from Medicaid to private insurance was nutty because Medicaid recipients can't afford it
  • Plotting in secret is not a good idea
  • Republicans exaggerated the problems with the exchanges and they lost credibility
  • Claiming that all Democrats want only single-payer didn't match reality
  • Standing up for "hardworking taxpayers" doesn't jibe with big tax cuts for the rich
  • Having a president who doesn't understand a word of a bill doesn't make him a great salesman for it

It is a pretty long list, and you can argue about some of the points, but quite a few of them are undoubtedly true. (V)

Health-Care Debate Is Already Affecting Gubernatorial Races

Only two states are holding gubernatorial elections this year (New Jersey and Virginia), but a whopping 36 states are holding one next year. The health-care debate going on in D.C. is starting to affect all of them. That is not surprising since both the House and Senate Bills move a lot of power, money, and responsibilities to the governors. For example, one of the ideas being bandied around in Congress is to turn Medicaid into a block-grant program in which each governor would get a lump-sum of money to provide health care for state residents. The governor would have a lot of discretion in how that money will be used. He could build basic-care clinics in poor neighborhoods or yoga centers in rich suburban areas. The voters are increasingly asking the gubernatorial candidates what their plans are.

Another feature of both the House and Senate plans is to allow states to opt out of the ACA's ten essential health benefits. So a governor could decide, for example, that insurance plans offered in the state don't have to offer mental health or pregnancy (or abortion) coverage. By eliminating enough benefits, governors can get premiums to drop but then the insurance won't be worth much, either. Voters are quizzing the candidates on their views on the subject, as well as how they will deal with people who have pre-existing conditions.

The situation is especially painful for Republican candidates. Running for office on a platform of "If elected, I will slash your health care" isn't a winner, but neither is attacking the national party. For Democrats, it is simple. Just say: "The Republicans want to gut your health care." Some Republicans, like Ed Gillespie (R) who is running for governor of Virginia, have declined to take a position. This leaves him open to charges of being a coward. The Republican gubernatorial candidates running in 2018 have to hope that whatever happens, happens quickly and definitively and is forgotten by next year. (V)

Senate Intelligence Committee Investigation Is Picking Up Steam

The Senate Intelligence Committee's aides have already interviewed 40 people and plan to interview another 50 before it is done. Although the testimonies of former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions were in public, most of the others were done behind closed doors. The chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), hasn't said whether he plans to interview first son-in-law Jared Kushner. The committee also has negotiated a deal to get the memos Comey wrote every time he met Donald Trump.

Burr wants to get a final report out by the end of year so state and local election authorities can take measures to prevent more hacking in 2018. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who sits on the committee, has said the probe could take years due to the large number of new revelations, which come out almost daily. (V)

Trump's Ongoing Re-Election Campaign Raises Ethical Issues

On some level, every first term president spends his first four years in office running for re-election (well, except Jim Polk, who promised—truthfully—that he was one-and-done). However, for the first three years or so, "re-elect me" is generally just an unstated subtext of presidential appearances and statements. Not so for Donald Trump, who has flipped the script, and began openly campaigning for re-election the day he took office. He even filed re-election papers with the FEC on Jan. 20, 2017.

There are certain benefits to doing things in this way, of course. It lets the Trump 2020 fundraising get underway early, and it keeps the base energized. Further, it appears that holding raucous rallies is the only part of the job that the President actually enjoys. However, as with so much of what The Donald does, this approach carries some significant risks. Most obviously, it is not legal to use government employees and/or money for political campaigning. And often, the line between "ok" and "not ok" can be hard to discern. Consider these two situations, one of which led to a reprimand, and one of which did not:

  • Trump social media maven Dan Scavino sent out a tweet urging supporters to vote against Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who has been critical of the President.

  • White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a photo of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross signing a Trump/Pence campaign sign. The tweet included the hashtag #MAGA.

So, which one was problematic and which one wasn't? Since it happened only two weeks ago, some readers may recall that Scavino was the one to be sanctioned. However, absent that clue, it is difficult to be certain where the line between situation #1 and situation #2 is. For what it's worth, the Office of Special Counsel decided that Huckabee Sanders' tweet did not directly attempt to influence the outcome of an election, and so was kosher.

Assuming that Trump continues to overtly run for re-election—and there's no reason to think he will change his approach—then it is hard to see how his staff will not eventually run afoul of the Hatch Act and other relevant laws. First of all, because four years of "taking your chances" means four times as much risk as the usual one year or so. Second, because most of Trump's team are amateurs, and are not likely to be able to wrap their minds around the subtle distinctions that are in play here. Third, because Team Trump—from the President on down—does not generally seem to have much use for pesky things like ethics rules. If and when the line does get crossed, any guilty party—except for the president, vice president, and a few others who are exempt—is at risk of being fined, suspended, or removed from office. And if their name does not rhyme with Flichael Mynn, they probably should not expect their boss to come to their rescue. (Z)

Trump's Lawyer Is in Hot Water

Donald Trump's lead counselor in the Russiagate matter, Marc Kasowitz, is rock solid when it comes to legal matters, but he looks like a deer in the headlights anytime he steps before a camera. So, The Donald hired Jay Sekulow to, in essence, run his Russiagate PR campaign. Sekulow is not only a lawyer, but also a talk show host and frequent guest on right-wing television programs. Thus, he's very smooth in front of a microphone or a camera. He's also an activist, as leader of several ultra-conservative political PACs that raise money by targeting poor people and frightening them into making lots of small donations to combat the evil Muslims, or the evil undocumented immigrants, or the evil Obamacare, or whatever other nuisance is the evil du jour.

On Wednesday, some very troublesome information was made public: Sekulow has reportedly steered a large amount of the money collected by his PAC Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE) to himself, to members of his family, and to their businesses. How much? A mind-boggling $60,000,000. This news has drawn the attention of the attorneys general of North Carolina and of New York, Josh Stein and Eric Schneiderman, both of whom say they will be launching an investigation into CASE and its disbursements. Assuming the charges are true, then Sekulow would be guilty of self-dealing, and would be in deep trouble. At best, he'd be hit with stiff financial penalties and disbarment. At worst—and when $60 million is involved, the worst is a distinct possibility—he'd be relocating from his luxurious mansion in Washington to...more spartan accommodations.

In any event, this story immediately raises two questions. The first is: Does Donald Trump know anyone who doesn't have major skeletons in their closet? At least Sekulow was (allegedly) stealing the money for himself, as opposed to sending it to Russia, but it certainly seems like quite a few of the President's associates (not to mention Trump himself) have inexplicable dealings with Russia. The second question is: Does anyone in the White House understand how bright the spotlight on them really is? All presidents are subject to intense scrutiny, and with Trump, that tendency is heightened, since there are major journalistic prizes to be won by ambitious reporters, and major political points to be scored by ambitious attorneys general. If Sekulow is indeed guilty of misappropriating 60 million dollars, and he actually thought he could keep that on the down-low while serving as the public face of Donald Trump, he's delusional. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun28 Vote on Health Care Bill Delayed Until after Senate Recess
Jun28 The Shoes Keep Falling
Jun28 Five Takeaways from the Senate Health Care Bill
Jun28 Bipartisanship Lives: Governors of Both Parties Attack the Senate Health Care Bill
Jun28 Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Trump?
Jun28 Time for a Trade War?
Jun28 Only Two Major Countries Like Trump Better than Obama
Jun28 Fake Time Magazine Cover Featuring Trump Hangs in His Golf Resorts
Jun28 Manafort Registers as a Foreign Agent
Jun27 CBO: 22 Million People Will Lose Insurance under the Senate Bill
Jun27 Senate Leadership Revises the Health-Care Bill
Jun27 Graham to Colleagues: Trump Won't Have Your Back
Jun27 Pelosi: 'Hundreds of Thousands' Will Die if Health Care Bill Becomes Law
Jun27 Supreme Court Will Take the Muslim Travel Ban Case in October (Unless it Doesn't)
Jun27 Supreme Court Will Look at Wedding Cake Case
Jun27 No White House Ramadan Celebration this Year
Jun27 Ryan Draws Ironworker Opponent
Jun26 Koch Brothers Want Health Care Bill Changed
Jun26 Vote on Health Care Bill Before July 4 Looking Doubtful
Jun26 Trump Lashes Out at Obama, Clinton
Jun26 Republicans Will Campaign Against Nancy Pelosi in 2018
Jun26 It's Not Just Rusted-out Factories; It's Also Rusted-out Stores
Jun26 "I Do Not Recall" Is Not a Magic Amulet
Jun26 Are Republicans Crooks?
Jun26 Kushner Finalized Loan Shortly Before Election
Jun26 Russia Recalls Kislyak
Jun26 Democrats' Fortunes May Pick Up in November
Jun26 How to Blunt Gerrymandering
Jun25 Anthony Kennedy Is Considering Retirement
Jun25 Problems with the ACA Repeal, Part I: GOP Governors
Jun25 Problems with the ACA Repeal, Part II: The Opioid Crisis
Jun25 Problems with the ACA Repeal, Part III: Planned Parenthood
Jun25 Problems with the ACA Repeal, Part IV: Elizabeth MacDonough
Jun25 Problems with the ACA Repeal, Part V: Death
Jun25 Trump Proposes Welfare Ban for Immigrants
Jun25 FBI Is Investigating Jane and Bernie Sanders
Jun24 Last August, CIA Had Putin's Detailed Instructions for Compromising the Election
Jun24 Trump Blasts Obama for Russian Interference
Jun24 Heller Won't Support Senate Health Care Bill
Jun24 Meadows: Senate Bill Won't Pass the House
Jun24 Gowdy Will Not Investigate Russiagate
Jun24 White House Uses Tweet as Official Statement
Jun24 Pence Meets with Charles Koch
Jun24 Spicer "Explains" Off-Camera Briefings
Jun24 Trump Social-Media Guru Bankrupted by One Illness
Jun24 Carrier Employees Angry with Trump
Jun24 Johnny Depp Steps in It
Jun23 Meet the New Health Care Bill--Same as the Old Health Care Bill
Jun23 Trump: There Are No Recordings
Jun23 Karen Handel is Very Orange County