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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Starts Gutting Obamacare
      •  Trump Threatens to Cut Off Puerto Rico
      •  Trump Threatens NBC
      •  Gerson Eviscerates Trump
      •  Nielsen Nominated for Homeland Security
      •  Did Trump Fail Econ 101?
      •  Feinstein Draws a Serious Challenger

Trump Starts Gutting Obamacare

Now that Congress has failed to kill Obamacare, and has essentially admitted defeat on that front, Donald Trump has decided to take up the mantle. After all, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. And so, on Thursday, he announced two decisions that will "improve" Obamacare. And by "improve," he apparently means "wreck."

The first announcement was that the administration will end the subsidies that help 6 million poor people afford insurance. Some of those people will be out of luck when the subsidies end (likely at the end of December), while those who manage to hang on to their insurance will pay higher rates due to the insurance companies' loss of paying customers, and their likely skittishness about the future of the Obamacare exchanges.

Later, Trump signed an executive order that tasks his cabinet with developing plans to increase choice and lower costs. Nothing is official yet, but what Trump is clearly gunning for here is a way to make it easier to buy insurance across state lines. And, in turn, the only way to make that happen is to allow insurers to adhere to the laws of any state in which they do business, not necessarily the one in which they are selling a particular policy. Though many Republicans love this ostensibly "free market" solution, common sense and past experience tell us that there will almost certainly be disastrous consequences. First, insurers will do business in the state that regulates least, so they can offer the cheapest possible policies. The problem is that these policies will not cover most things. That's why they are called "buffalo" policies, because they only cover you if you are run over by a herd of buffalo. Further, there is every chance that unscrupulous insurers could engage in all manner of shenanigans in their "home state" of, say, South Dakota, and be beyond the reach of a lawsuit filed by a resident of, say, Florida. Worst of all, perhaps, younger and healthier people would gravitate towards the dirt-cheap policies, older and sicker people would have to stick with the Obamacare exchanges, and the insurance market could (and probably would) enter a death spiral.

If Trump had just issued the executive order to his cabinet secretaries, he might have made the argument that he's trying to improve on Obamacare, as he promised he would do on the campaign trail. It's not a strong argument, in our view, but it's an argument. However, by twinning announcements that will cripple Obamacare in the short-term and then in the long-term, his agenda is plain—he just wants to destroy the program (and everything else his predecessor did), consequences be damned. The President's not in the clear yet, though. Congressional Republicans might not enjoy millions of people losing their insurance right at the start of an election year, and so may step in with a legislative override of Trump's decision to kill the subsidies. Meanwhile, the effort to change the rules for insurance sales is of dubious legality, and may not survive a court challenge. All of that said, just the uncertainty that Trump is creating is bad for the market, and bad for many of the people who depend on Obamacare insurance. But that, apparently, is not a concern for him. (Z)

Trump Threatens to Cut Off Puerto Rico

One time, during Andrew Jackson's presidency, a congressman met with "Old Hickory" to discuss a job as postmaster for one of his constituents, who had lost a leg in the War of 1812 and was unable to perform physical labor. The President seemed inclined to grant the request, but before he could put pen to paper, the congressman felt compelled to admit to Jackson that the would-be postmaster had not voted for him in the presidential election. "If he lost his leg in service of his country," observed the President, "That is vote enough for me," and he signed the appointment.

Few presidents, if any, were as fiercely partisan as Andrew Jackson. And few, if any, were quite as good at holding a grudge. Still, he understood well that once he took the oath of office, he was president of all Americans, not just the members of his party, or the citizens who voted for him. The other men who occupied the chair of state also embraced this notion, which is fundamental to a functioning democracy. At least, all of them did until now. Thursday morning, Donald Trump was apparently watching "Full Measure With Sharyl Attkisson" on the conservative Sinclair network. They had a report on Puerto Rico, essentially arguing that the island deserved its current fate because of years of fiscal mismanagement. That prompted Trump to get out the phone, and unleash a Twitter barrage:

By any standard of human behavior, Trump's handling of Puerto Rico has been reprehensible. He dragged his feet in sending help in the first place, and then has failed to deliver support at anything near the level needed. As people die, or suffer from lack of food, water, shelter, and electricity, he has attacked and insulted them and threatened to turn his back on them. This despite his promise two weeks ago that, "We will not rest, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe." The people of the island—who, once again, are U.S. citizens—feel betrayed, and are furious about being dumped on. But there's little they can do about it, since they don't get to vote in U.S. elections.

And there is the rub. Trump feels no sense of duty to these Americans as their president. And because they can offer him nothing—no votes, and there isn't going to be a Trump Tower San Jose, or a Trump Golf Course de Bayamón—he has no use for them either. He doesn't even particularly care that everyone knows it. The difference between the President's response to Puerto Rico, and his responses to Texas, Louisiana, and Florida—places that have many Trump voters—make clear under what circumstances he is roused to action, and under what circumstances he is not. The people of Illinois, who have also mismanaged their finances, and who gave their electoral votes to Hillary Clinton, better hope they don't have a disaster in the next three years. (Z)

Trump Threatens NBC

The Puerto Rico blow-up was Thursday's "I didn't like what I saw on TV" Twitter tantrum. Wednesday's, by contrast was aimed at NBC. Early in the morning, Trump watched an NBC News report—one corroborated by three sources—that asserted he lost his cool at a national security briefing this summer, and started ranting about the need for more nuclear warheads, perhaps thousands more. Outraged at the suggestion that he might have lost his cool, Trump lost his cool and took to Twitter to suggest that NBC's license should be revoked:

Now, maybe that was just a "heat of the moment" response, and perhaps Trump thought better of it later? Nope; he actually repeated himself a few hours after the original tweet:

So, not a mistake or a misprint, then.

There is some irony in all of this—that Trump, whose rise was powered by two of the most partisan media outlets in Fox News and Breitbart, is lashing out about media bias. And it should go without saying that it is both frightening and undemocratic that the President of the United States would threaten to use his power in order to silence criticism. But what may be most remarkable is that he, and his supporters, don't see any of this. For a party that presents itself as a proponent of limited government, its adherents are exceedingly willing to assume new government powers, including some that run directly contrary to the Constitution (and that pesky First Amendment). If the Republican titans of generations past—a Dwight D. Eisenhower, or a Barry Goldwater, or even a Ronald Reagan—were alive today, we can only imagine what they would say (and we probably couldn't print it here). (Z)

Gerson Eviscerates Trump

Michael Gerson isn't from generations past, as he is still alive, and he isn't quite a Republican titan. However, he is a dyed-in-the-wool neo-conservative evangelical Christian who worked as George W. Bush's speechwriter, and was responsible for crafting the addresses that W used to justify a preemptive invasion of Iraq. So, Gerson certainly reflects the worldview of a certain segment of the Republican Party; what we might call the old guard far-right. And he is certainly no fan of Donald Trump, as he makes clear in his newest op-ed for the Washington Post, which surely must be one of the most damning assessments of a sitting president ever put to paper. The highlights:

[T]he real problem has always been Trump's fundamental unfitness for high office. It is not Trump's indiscipline and lack of leadership, which make carrying a legislative agenda forward nearly impossible. It is not his vulgarity and smallness, which have been the equivalent of spray-painting graffiti on the Washington Monument. It is not his nearly complete ignorance of policy and history, which condemns him to live in the eternal present of his own immediate desires.

[Sen. Bob] Corker has given public permission to raise the most serious questions: Is Trump psychologically and morally equipped to be president? And could his unfitness cause permanent damage to the country?

It is no longer possible to safely ignore the leaked cries for help coming from within the administration. They reveal a president raging against enemies, obsessed by slights, deeply uninformed and incurious, unable to focus, and subject to destructive whims. A main task of the chief of staff seems to be to shield him from dinner guests and telephone calls that might set him off on a foolish or dangerous tangent. Much of the White House senior staff seems bound, not by loyalty to the president, but by a duty to protect the nation from the president...

The time for whispered criticisms and quiet snickering is over. The time for panic and decision is upon us. The thin line of sane, responsible advisers at the White House—such as Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—could break at any moment. Already, Trump's protests of eternal love for Kelly are a bad sign for the general's future. The American government now has a dangerous fragility at its very center. Its welfare is as thin as an eggshell—perhaps as thin as Donald Trump's skin.

If this kind of invective were to come from the pen of a liberal pundit—a Rachel Maddow, say, or a David Axelrod—then it would be dismissed in conservative circles. But coming from one of the leading intellects of the Republican Party, one wonders if it might not help inspire a few other GOP officeholders to pull a "Corker" and go rogue. (Z)

Nielsen Nominated for Homeland Security

Donald Trump has made his pick to fill the Dept. of Homeland Security post left vacant when John Kelly was appointed Chief of Staff. It's Kirstjen Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert who has been serving as a deputy chief of staff in the White House. She's a grown-up, knows the department she's set to inherit very well, and is well respected in Washington. She should be confirmed easily.

Part of the reason that Nielsen got the nod over other contenders was the support of Kelly, as the two have been working closely over the past year, and have developed mutual admiration. The Chief of Staff is expected to run interference for Nielsen, and to insulate her from some of the President's more troublesome behavior. However, Nielsen probably shouldn't rely on that service being available for too much longer. It has frequently been reported that Kelly is unhappy with his job, and that Trump is chafing at the restrictions placed upon him by the former general. On Thursday, Kelly found it necessary to hold a press conference, at which he denied such reports, said that he likes his job, admitted he opposes the President on some issues, but also declared his support on other matters. "I don't think I'm being fired today," the Chief of Staff said. "And I'm not so frustrated in this job that I'm thinking of leaving." Normally, it is not necessary for a high-ranking White House official to hold a press conference like this. The "my job is safe" or the "his job is safe" press conference is usually only seen in the world of sports. And there, at least, the person who isn't getting fired generally ends up getting canned shortly thereafter. (Z)

Did Trump Fail Econ 101?

Donald Trump was on Fox News Wednesday night to be fawned, interviewed by Sean Hannity. And after Hannity prompted the President with a softball question about the great things he has done for the economy, Trump responded with this head-scratcher:

The country, we took it over in 20 trillion you know the last eight years they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion. Right? And yet we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months. In terms of value. So you can say in one sense, we are really increasing values and may be in a sense, we are reducing debt. We are very honored by it and very, very happy by what's happening in Wall Street.

Either Trump does not understand basic macroeconomics, or he thinks his base doesn't. Or maybe it's both. In any case, the President is wrong about Obama by about $2 trillion, since #44 oversaw the borrowing of $7.917 trillion and not "more than $10 trillion." Trump's implication that Obama exploded the debt like nobody else is even more incorrect; he oversaw an increase of 68%, which is worse than Bill Clinton (32% increase), comparable to one-termer George H. W. Bush (54%), and is dwarfed by two-term Republicans George W. Bush (102%) and Ronald Reagan (186%). Beyond that, Trump's continued insistence on taking credit for the stock market is unsurprising, but also unjustified, since a president doesn't really "own" the market's performance for 12 to 18 months; prior to that it's really on his predecessor (for better or worse). And finally, the biggest howler of all is Trump's implication that a $5.2 trillion increase in the stock market effectively cancels out $5.2 trillion in national debt. Even if all those gains went directly to the government, that would not really be true. And since they do not, it's pure fantasy. Naturally, since he is a seasoned journalist, Sean Hannity promptly took Trump to task for his errors, pointing out the same problems that we just did. Oh, wait, no he didn't. He just sat and smiled and nodded. Fake news, indeed. (Z)

Feinstein Draws a Serious Challenger

Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she would run for re-election in 2018; a decision that was not entirely automatic given her lengthy term of service, and her status as the oldest person in the Senate. California progressives are not happy about this news, and they have now managed to recruit a serious challenger, Kevin de León, who is currently president of the California State Senate.

The source of the progressives' irritation with Feinstein is that she's too much a centrist—at least, by California standards. There's something to that; an analysis by Fivethirtyeight reveals that on voting for or against Donald Trump's initiatives, she's actually more out-of-step with her state than any other Democrat (and she only had to vote with The Donald 31% of the time to earn that "honor"). So not only was a primary challenger likely, but there's a good chance that Feinstein will draw a couple more viable opponents from the left, possibly Reps. Adam Schiff (D), Karen Bass (D) and/or Barbara Lee (D).

A challenge from the left is the only real threat to Feinstein in deep blue California. However, she is still an overwhelming favorite to win re-election. She's got name recognition and piles of money, two areas where all of her hypothetical challengers trail her by a mile. Further, thanks to California's jungle system, there's every chance that Feinstein will be facing a fellow Democrat on Election Day, as was the case last year when Democrat Kamala Harris defeated Democrat Loretta Sanchez for the right to go to Washington. In that election, most California Republicans left their ballot blank rather than vote for the more conservative Sanchez as the "lesser of two evils." With her long track record and her centrism, however, Feinstein has a much better chance of attracting a fair number of votes from GOP Californians. So, she's probably not sweating too much. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct12 Is the Cheese Slipping Off Trump's Cracker?
Oct12 Foreign Affairs Are Going Poorly
Oct12 Trump Comfortable with Vacancies
Oct12 Trump Is Fumbling Puerto Rico Badly
Oct12 McConnell Feeling the Heat
Oct12 Skeletons Emerge From Moore's Closet
Oct12 Democrats Worried About Russian Hacking Redux in 2018
Oct11 Trump vs. NFL Continues; Trump May Be Winning
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Oct11 Pruitt Makes It Official
Oct11 Obamacare Fight May Finally Be Over
Oct11 Page Will Plead the Fifth
Oct11 Are the Democrats Too Old?
Oct11 Eminem Blasts Trump
Oct10 New E-mail about Russian Meeting Appears to Exonerate Team Trump
Oct10 Babysitting Donald Trump
Oct10 Pence's Indianapolis Stunt Cost at Least $240,000
Oct10 Cotton's Star is...Rising?
Oct10 Iran Does a Little Scimitar Rattling
Oct10 Feinstein Will Run for Reelection
Oct10 Do the Democrats Have a "Harvey Weinstein" Problem?
Oct09 Trump Picks Fight with Corker
Oct09 Pence Stages a Little Political Theater
Oct09 White House Publishes List of Immigration Demands
Oct09 Starr Predicts Indictments
Oct09 Bannon's List of Targets Is Expanding
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Oct07 Trump Approval Hits Record Low
Oct07 Trump Slams Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate
Oct07 Democrats to Play a Little Dirty Pool Next Year
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