washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Political Strategy Notes

In the states Working America canvassed, a surprising number of white working-class voters who had backed Barack Obama chose Trump over Hillary Clinton, helping flip those states to the GOP. So after the election, [Working America director Karen] Nussbaum’s team went back into the field, surveying over 2,300 voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania to make sense of what had happened. Their conclusion, provided exclusively to The Nation today: Many Trump voters “are as up for grabs [to Democrats] now as they were before the election,” Nussbaum said. That may be of little comfort, two days before the inauguration, but it should remind Democrats that the defection of some of their voters to Trump wasn’t a lasting shift based on policy but a bad choice these voters nonetheless perceived as best for them. — from Joan Walsh’s article, “Post-Election Survey: Democrats Can Still Reach Trump Voters: The study by Working America, shared exclusively with The Nation, finds that many Trump voters are up for grabs—but also points to a lack of progressive infrastructure” in The Nation.

At The Washington Post Elise Viebeck reports that “More than 60 Democratic lawmakers now skipping Trump’s inauguration.” Actually it’s 65 and growing. “The number rose sharply after Trump tweeted Saturday that Lewis (D) is “all talk, talk, talk” and should “finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities.” One Democratic House member, Karen Bass, twitter-polled her constituents, and 84 percent of 12, 704 respondents urged her not to attend.

Jane C. Timm has a round-up at NBCnews.com, “Here’s Why Democrats Say They’re Skipping Trump’s Inauguration,” with short explainations, including “Because “Respect, like Pennsylvania Avenue, is a two-way street” (New York Rep. Lloyd Doggett); “Because “a real president doesn’t insult and bully celebrities or everyday Americans because they disagree with him,” (Rep. Raul Ruiz); “Trump is a unique threat to the Constitution and our country” (Pennsylvania’s Rep. Brendan Boyle); and “To keep a clear conscience” (Texas Rep. G.K. ButterfieldTexas Rep. Al Green).

From “An Emerging, and Very Pointed Democratic Resistance” by Benjamin Wallce-Wells at The New Yorker: “Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, had allowed each senator only five minutes to question [Trump Education Secretary-nomine Betsy] DeVos. In these short exchanges, the committee’s Democratic members did remarkable damage. Under questioning from Senator Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, DeVos not only refused to say that guns had no place in schools but also advanced the ludicrous position that they might be needed to protect against “potential grizzlies.” Bernie Sanders got the nominee to admit that her family had spent as much as two hundred million dollars to elect Republicans. Elizabeth Warren’s prodding revealed that DeVos had little to say about the problem of student debt. Under Tim Kaine’s questioning, she repeatedly declined to say that she would hold charter or private schools to the same accountability standards as public schools. Maggie Hassan’s questioning showed that DeVos did not understand the federal government’s legal responsibility to protect students with disabilities. “I may have confused it,” DeVos said.”

Greg Sargent’s Plum Line post “Trump’s Obamacare replacement will be a scam. Here’s how Democrats can expose it” reveals the fradulent core of Trump’s ACA ‘replacement’: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. “We’ll probably have block grants of Medicaid back into the states,” Trump told Fox…Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently put it, they “would likely eliminate the guarantee that everyone who’s eligible and applies for its benefits would receive them…this idea — which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan — would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal.”

At Social Europe Oxford University professor Bo Rothstein addresses a question of interest not only in the U.S., but in industrialized nations world-wide: “Why Has The White Working Class Abandoned The Left?” Rothstein focuses on an issue that is too-often glossed over — corruption. “In several yearly polls, Gallup has reported that, since 2010, between 73 and 79 percent of Americans agree that “corruption is widespread throughout the government in this country.” These staggering figures are by no means unique but there is considerable variation between countries from Greece 99 percent to 26 percent in Denmark…Corruption is not an easy concept to define and the academic literature is, to say the least, not unified. Empirical research, however, gives a quite surprising answer to what “ordinary people” in general perceive as corruption. What they understand as corruption is much broader than bribes. Instead, it is various forms of favouritism in which money usually is not involved. This can be things like access to good schools, getting a building licence or a public contract where in many cases people feel that the decision has not been impartial and based on clear rules about merit. Instead, political, social or ethnic personal connections dominates who gets what…Instead of focusing on universal programs for all or very broad segments of the population, the Democrats and Clinton came to represent policies seen as favouritism (“corruption”) towards minority groups by the white male working class. Targeted programs are also very vulnerable to suspicion about malpractice in implementation processes because decisions about individual cases are often very complicated (who is eligible and how much preferential treatment is justified). Universal programs, once the hallmark of successful leftist policies, do not suffer from this problem usually.”

David Leonhardt’s NYT column “America’s Great Working-Class Colleges” merits a thoughtful read from all Democrats who are seeking ways to win more support from working-class voters of all races. Leonhardt observes, “Because the elite colleges aren’t fulfilling that responsibility, working-class colleges have become vastly larger engines of social mobility. The new data shows, for example, that the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.” However, adds Leonhardt, “The share of lower-income students at many public colleges has fallen somewhat over the last 15 years. The reason is clear. State funding for higher education has plummeted. It’s down 19 percent per student, adjusted for inflation, since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The financial crisis pinched state budgets, and facing a pinch, some states decided education wasn’t a top priority.” If Democrats can brand their party as the sole institutional advocate of broadening the lanes of access to college education for working families, it will not go unappreciated.

In his post at The Upshot, “Trump Shows How to Smother a Scandal: With a Bigger Story,”Brendan Nyhan has a revealing insight on the role of scandals in politics that Democrats better understand, particularly in dealing with the incoming Trump Administration: “Scandals need time and space to develop. When the news cycle is congested, potential scandals are deprived of attention, causing the media to move on to other stories and the political opposition to anticipate that any criticisms will probably have little effect…Many observers suspect that Mr. Trump seeks to exploit this dynamic by distracting the press and the public with stunts like meeting with Kanye West after delaying a news conference on conflicts of interest or tweetingabout Meryl Streep before hearings to consider his nominees on Capitol Hill. It’s impossible to determine his motivations, of course, but the effect is often to divert attention from less flattering issues…In this sense, the continuing reality show that Mr. Trump creates may help protect him from deep damage by any particular scandal. As in the campaign, he makes so much news every day that few stories ever generate sustained controversy. Instead, public attention lurches from one story to the next, never quite focusing on any particular controversy. He may prefer it that way.” Intentional or not, it’s as if Trump’s attention span deficit has become contagious, infecting the media and actually working in his interest by reducing the shelf-life of his ever-percolating scandals. What provoked outrage in years past, now engenders a few chuckles at the breakfast table, then off to work. Republicans were able to manufacture a fake ‘scandal’ regarding Clinton’s emails, without ever addressing specifics, through unrelenting message discipline, while Trump’s tax returns remain hidden on the eve of his inauguration.

For those who have wondered why America’s 57 million citizens with disabilities are not more of a unified political force, Jay Ruckelshaus’s New York Times op-ed explores “The Non-Politics of Disability,” and offers this provocative idea: “…I believe there is great potential for a new disability politics to provide a positive blueprint for dealing with our partisan divide and other identity issues that goes beyond the unhelpful political correctness frame. Thinking seriously about precisely why disability maintains a moral consensus might allow us to harness any advantages (e.g. a common moral vocabulary) while discarding what’s unhelpful. What if we could construct a model of politicization that doesn’t entail bitter partisanship, and rescue authentic disagreement from stultifying consensus? The resulting practices and mentalities could be revolutionary for disability politics, and for democracy itself.”

 


Democratic State Attorneys General Prep to Fight Trump, GOP Agenda

Despite the problematic political landscape facing Democrats, the party does have a potent resource, 21 state attorneys general, many of whom are tough advocates of progressive values and reforms, and they are ready to rumble. As Alan Greenblatt writes in his post, “To Battle Trump, Democrats Will Use GOP’s Own Tactics” at Governing the States and Localities:

“Democratic attorneys general are going to be very active, suing a number of regulatory agencies,” says Paul Nolette, a political scientist at Marquette University. “They will be prepared to use a kitchen sink strategy against everything coming out of the EPA.”

…Democrats are preparing to fight the new administration with lawsuit after lawsuit. But can Democratic AGs make a difference with their diminished numbers?……The number of Democratic attorneys general has ticked down with recent Republican successes at the state level. But there are still 21 of them — more than the number of Democratic governors or legislatures. Many are already accustomed to working closely on litigation with liberal groups such as the Sierra Club.

As you can see from the wikipedia map below, many of the Republican A.G.s are in smaller population states.

State AGs

And, as Greenblatt notes,”it isn’t really the number of Democratic AGs that matters. A single activist attorney general such as Eric Schneiderman of New York or Xavier Becerra of California can command a small army of lawyers.”

Republicans will surely whine and howl about the Demcoratic state A.G.s doing their job. But they are on very shaky ground expressing any moral outrage about it. As Greenblatt notes,

In his book Federalism on Trial, Nolette found that recent Republican AGs such as Pruitt were far more likely to file lawsuits than earlier generations of attorneys general. By his count, Republican AGs filed a total of five partisan briefs with the Supreme Court during the Clinton administration, compared with 97 during the first seven years of the Obama presidency. Now that the partisan shoe is on the other foot, Democrats will try their best to block much of what they don’t like coming out of the new Washington.

Looking forward, Greenblatt envisions an era of energetic activism on the part of Democratic state attorneys general:

When fighting the administration on labor, immigration and health, Democrats are likely to borrow from the GOP playbook in seeking to block new federal rules through every step of the process. In addition, they’ll try to do something Republicans generally won’t — use their leverage to win multistate court settlements that increase regulation of targeted industries. They could be especially active in areas where Republicans in Washington might be inclined to let corporations off the hook, such as banking and securities.

President-elect Donald Trump is also uniquely-positioned to draw a barrage of legal chalenges from state A.G.s. As Greenblatt explains,

“I won’t hesitate to take Donald Trump to court if he carries out his unconstitutional campaign promises,” Massachusetts AG Maura Healey pledged in a fundraising pitch last year.

…Trump doesn’t come to office with a clean slate when it comes to relations with attorneys general. Schneiderman helped negotiate a $25 million settlement immediately after the election regarding allegations of fraud involving Trump University. He’s still looking into the question of whether Trump’s foundation violated New York law, notably with a $25,000 campaign donation to Florida AG Pam Bondi.

“Donald Trump, citizen, not Donald Trump, president, enters the world of AGs on a watch list,” says James Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who now teaches at Harvard University. “He ran a routine, garden-variety fraud — Trump University — and he was caught. Every attorney general I’ve talked to has had complainants in his state. Everybody opened files. When somebody’s a fraudster, they get on everybody’s agenda. It changes the way you look at him or her.”

Republicans will soon have control of the three branches of government and a healthy majority of the state legislatures and governorships. But, Democratic state attorneys general have a full agenda of their own, and they are set to leverage their authority to keep the Trump administration in check.


Political Strategy Notes

In his New York Times article, “When He Goes Low, They Go … Where? Democrats Mull How to Confront Trump,” Jonathan Martin writes, “Democrats, here and in Washington, say it is folly to engage him on his preferred terrain of insults and bombast. They suggest that one of Hillary Clinton’s mistakes was to try to isolate him from the Republican Party by portraying him as an aberrant figure…The more effective course, Democrats say, is to focus on policy and assail Mr. Trump for not living up to his populist promises as he installs a largely wealthy cabinet and begins rolling back the Affordable Care Act…But, despite all predictions in the Republican primary contests and then in the general election, Mr. Trump’s succession of perceived missteps never proved fatal. It turned out that waiting for his inevitable collapse based on his behavior amounted to a grave miscalculation of what the electorate cared most about.”

Democrats must come up with a credible, explainable plan for addressing the job losses caused by automation. In her New York Times article, “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us,” Clair Kane Miller writes, “The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” Mr. Obama said. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete…The inequality caused by automation is a main driver of cynicism and political polarization, Mr. Obama said. He connected it to the racial and geographic divides that have cleaved the country post-election…Fifty-one percent of all the activities Americans do at work involve predictable physical work, data collection and data processing. These are all tasks that are highly susceptible to being automated, according to a report McKinsey published in July using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*Net to analyze the tasks that constitute 800 jobs…Twenty-eight percent of work activities involve tasks that are less susceptible to automation but are still at risk, like unpredictable physical work or interacting with people. Just 21 percent are considered safe for now, because they require applying expertise to make decisions, do something creative or manage people.”

Here’s some surprisign bipartisanship: At The Washington Post Republican strategist Ed Rogers explains why “Comey should resign“: “No matter what the inspector general report shows — after what will undoubtedly be a very lengthy investigation — there will always be a lingering suspicion that something went wrong with the FBI’s involvement. There will always be a sense that something wasn’t quite right at the top…too much toothpaste has left the tube. The FBI won’t be thought of as being at its best, and the agency’s investigations and actions won’t be met with complete trust, unless there is a change at the very top.” Sen. Bernie Sanders agrees.

From The New York Times Editorial Board tribute to President Obama: “Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House. Beyond that, they will also miss an impassioned speaker whose eloquence ranks with that of Abraham Lincoln. The way he has defended the founding precepts of the United States while also arguing that those precepts have to be broadened to achieve a new inclusiveness has been especially striking, as have his remarks delivered at moments of national tragedy.”

Some Democrats believe the question of Putin’s influence on Trump is a distraction from the concerns progressives should keep front and center.  As David Weigel reports at The Washington Post, “In a July essay for the left-wing journal Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson arguedthat Democrats were “red-baiting” by accusing people who benefited from the hacks of being Russian pawns. Last week Robinson wrote a follow-up admitting that the hacks had mattered — but chastising Democrats for their seeming obsession…Every moment spent talking about Putin is a moment not spent talking about mass incarceration, policing, Social Security, Medicaid, public schooling, Chelsea Manning, gun violence, climate change and war,” wrote Robinson. “Trump is giving press conferences in front of factories whose jobs he has supposedly preserved, while Democrats are frantically calling Trump a Kremlin agent. Who is speaking most to people’s real life material interests?”

The Los Angeles Review of Books has “Reimagining the Working Class: A Roundtable on Economic and Racial Justice in the Age of Trump” by Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Sue J. Kim, Keona K. Ervin, Andrew Hoberek, Min Hyoung Song and Curtis Marez.Among the insights, is this nugget from Ervin: “…invocations of the white working class often ignore the ways in which the economic resentments of white working-class people are conceptualized and expressed through race. Moving from the assumption that invoking class automatically means that race isn’t at work, commentators who cited white voters’ support for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 elections as evidence that white working-class voters for Trump weren’t motivated by racism, for instance, missed how race, as George Lipsitz says, “takes place” or finds expression through economic entitlement and possession. Trump supporters’ racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and support of mass deportations, a wall along the US–Mexico border, and a Muslim registry are inextricably bound up with their economic resentment.”

Michael Tomasky has some salient observations on political clock management in his Daily Beast post, “GOP’s Rush to Rubber-Stamp Trump Nominees: Destroy What We Can, While We Can.” Tomasky observes, “A clock is ticking on the walls of leading Republicans and conservative organizations. They have 80 years of history to undo. Workplace regulations, environmental regulations, workers’ protections, social safety-net provisions, various minority-group protections, non-discrimination laws, and most of all business and corporate regulations—all of these and more have to be, uh, reexamined these next four years. Every day counts…That’s the only way to understand congressional Republicans’ solidarity with Trump: They’ll let him have his Twitter tirades and little victory dances in Elkhart, Indiana, over 700 jobs, as long as he lets them take apart the New Deal. That’s what explains McConnell’s hurry to fill Trump’s Cabinet.”

Paul Rosenberg’s “Don’t think of a rampaging elephant: Linguist George Lakoff explains how the Democrats helped elect Trump: Democrats played into Trump’s hands, Lakoff says — and they won’t win until they learn how to frame the debate” at Salon.com provides some painful insights. Lakoff explains in the interview, “The Clinton campaign decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters…Another problem was the assumption that all you have to do is look at issues, and give the facts about issues, and the facts about the issues supposedly show up in polls, and then they apply demographics. So there was this assumption, for example, that educated women in the Philadelphia suburbs were naturally going to vote for Hillary, because they were highly educated. They turned out also to be Republican, and what made them Republican was Republican views, like Republican views about the Supreme Court, abortion, things like that. So they didn’t all go out and vote for Hillary.”

From “The Rust Belt whips and snaps after eight years of Obama,” a Washington Post op-ed by novelist Justin Torres: “I disagreed with a number of Obama’s policy decisions, but always unforgettably admirable will be the way he took kindness with a mortal seriousness. The great work of my adulthood has been to find more and more compassion, to be honest about the grace and beauty I knew alongside the racism and homophobia and spite. First, I had to tease out the complexity, the love and failure, in my own troubled family, and I’ve been working on solidarity, on teasing out the love and failure of that place as well, the place I am from — it has seemed essential to do this work. Today I am bitter, smarting, hunched. I taste once again the rust in my mouth, metallic, bloodlike, as if I’ve been dragged backward across time to a place, a town, I left for good. I can and will be bitter; I can and will resist; I won’t be made unkind.”


Political Strategy Notes

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik surveys the upcoming Governor’s races for 2017 and 2018 and observes, “More than four-fifths of all Americans live in states holding gubernatorial elections over the next two years. Two states, New Jersey and Virginia, will elect governors in 2017, and 36 other states will hold their elections next year. That includes nine of the 10 most populous states…the 2017-2018 slate of governors provides many opportunities for Democrats. Republicans currently control 33 of 50 governorships, while Democrats hold only 16 (there’s one independent, Bill Walker of Alaska). Of the 38 governorships being contested over the next two years, Republicans already hold 27 and Democrats control 10 (Walker is also up for reelection). Additionally, and here’s where the statistics about the power of gubernatorial incumbency come into play, many of these governorships will be open-seat races. Neither New Jersey nor Virginia will have an incumbent on the ballot in November, and next year roughly half or slightly more of the gubernatorial races will be open seats (a few incumbents are still deciding whether to run again)…As we head into the Trump era, history tells us that the president’s party often loses ground up and down the ballot over the course of his term. That extends to state-level offices: Every post-World War II president, starting with Harry Truman, saw his party lose net governorships from when he took office to when he left office. The average loss during the postwar presidencies is 11. It seems likely, though far from guaranteed, that Republicans will lose net governorships during Trump’s presidency: That’s partially because of history and partially because the Republicans already control a lofty 33 governorships, their highest total in the postwar era.”

Some revealing statistics from Sue Sturgis at Facing South: “According to a Harvard Medical School study, number of North Carolinians who are dying each year because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid: 1,100Number of Americans who stand to lose health care coverage if ACA’s Medicaid expansion provision is scrapped: 11 millionProportion of Americans who support allowing states to expand Medicaid under ACA: 8 in 10Proportion of Trump voters who do: 2/3.”

WaPo’s Aaron Blake reports on new polling data: “Quinnipiac is the first high-quality pollster to poll on Trump twice since the election. And while its poll in late November showed his favorable rating rising from 34 percent to 44 percent, that number has dropped back to 37 percent, which is about where it stood for much of the campaign. That’s tied for Trump’s worst favorable rating in a poll since his election. And a majority – 51 percent – now have an unfavorable view of him…While 41 percent thought he would be a better leader than President Obama, it’s now 34 percent. While 52 percent thought he would help the nation’s economy, it’s now 47 percent. While 40 percent thought his policies would help their personal financial situation, it’s now 27 percent. While 53 percent thought he’d take the country in the right direction, it’s now 45 percent.”

For a revealing round-up of the effects of voter suppresion in the 2016 election, check out Gabrielle Gurley’s American Prospect post, “Voter Suppression Works Too Well: The Republicans’ quest for a permanent political majority culminated in mammoth voter suppression in 2016. The 2018 midterm election promises both to embolden these efforts and energize resistance.” But also read Greg Palast’s “The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…” for an informative look at “Crosscheck,” the GOP’s voter purge operation, which Palast and others believe to be the most effective disenfranchisement strategy. 

Heather Digby Parton’s salon.com post, “Donald Trump’s new Russian scandal: We don’t know how much is true — but we know James Comey behaved shamefully” underscores an important point. After Sen Ron Wyden asked Comey in a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee “Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships, and, if so, what are the agency’s findings?,” Parton reports “Comey responded by saying, “I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this. So I really can’t answer it one way or another.” Considering his notorious behavior with respect to the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, this naturally elicited some incredulous reactions, notably from Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who followed up quickly by asking if Comey planned to answer Wyden’s question. And when Comey repeated his statement, King archly replied, “The irony of your making that statement here — I cannot avoid.” Parton adds, “Then Comey attempted to cover his gaffe by saying that he is known to be “politically tone-deaf” and then patted himself on the back, saying that was “how it should be.” But he has given the appearance of a blatant double standard on this ever since it was revealed that the FBI knew about alleged Russian interference and Comey refused to divulge it prior to the election, citing ethics rules barring the FBI from interfering in elections.” It looks like there will be no legal or political accountability for Comey. But he has certainly earned the shame of his name being forever tainted as a betrayer of the nonpartisan integrity that should be a pillar of law enforcement in America.

4 pieces of evidence showing FBI Director James Comey cost Clinton the election.” While many factors should be taken into account in analysing Clinton’s Electoral College defeat and what Democrats must to to improve their chances in the next election, the authors make the most compelling case yet, based on polling data, that Comey’s  statement was pivotal.

At The Week, Ryan Cooper faults Democrats, with the exception of Al Franken, for wimping out on their responsibility to be tough and relentless at the hearings on Jeff Session’s nomination to be Attorney General. As Cooper arguees, “When facing someone like Sessions, the objective should not be to graciously allow him to defend his long record. It should be to attack, to undermine, and to humiliate. Find the most embarrassing parts of his record, and hammer him on them, with the objective of producing the most hilarious and cringeworthy soundbites, as Trump did to Jeb Bush.”

It really does seem that Democrats have to be more assertive and project more quotable soundbites to prevent Trump from dominating the news in a way that shrinks Dems’ image down to a litter of yapping  Chihuahuas nipping at the heals of a Great Dane. Paul Kane’s “Democrats still grappling with how to navigate the new normal of a Trump news cycle” at PowerPost explores the problem further: “In almost any other political orbit, Wednesday would have been a great day for Democrats. Republican nominees to be secretary of state and attorney general were under fire, other Cabinet nominees’ hearings were delayed and no one could explain when exactly the Republican-controlled Congress or incoming administration would repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act…While Trump did not completely blot out a busy news day on Capitol Hill, he became the sun, the moon and the stars. He consumed the news, and he made it all about himself…That didn’t make it a good 24-hour news cycle for Republicans. But it didn’t quite feel like Democrats were in control, either…Democrats have spent much of their time after their election defeat focusing on how to plot a new course on messaging — how to sell their ideas in the media and to the broader general public. That gets difficult when Trump goes full Trump — not just wandering into treacherous areas that few political figures like to go, but then seemingly enjoying the street fight with his opponents and the media that typically ensues.”

It can be done, but Nathaniel Rakich explains why “It’s Really Hard To Block A Cabinet Nominee” at FiveThirtyEight, and notes, “Cabinet nominations tend only to fail when dragged down by scandal or impropriety.”


McConnell’s Hypocrisy, Trump’s Cruelty Sour Inaugural Environment

Ten days out from the 2017 presidential inauguration, the president-elect still can’t find a bona fide A-list star to add a little lustre to the inaugural festivities. Meryl Streep probably narrowed his options with her speech at the Golden Globe Awards, citing Trump’s horrific mockery of a disabled reporter, which re-sparked storms of outrage using the Trump video in both traditional and social media (plus over 2 million Google citations this morning).

Trump’s inaugural committee will probably find a Hollywood Republican or two to glitz up the procedings. But, to put it generously, January 20th is not shaping up as a joyful outpouring of national unity and bipartisan goodwill like President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Kellyanne Conway and the GOP spin machine are working overtime to pin the blame for the utter lack of national unity on Democrats and the media. It’s a tough sell when your client lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots cast and the country is genuinely divided on many issues. But you would think Trump’s PR wizards would persuade him that a little grace and outreach to the opposition, or maybe selecting a moderate or two among the cabinet picks could at least open the door to the possibility of a less divisive political environment on the eve of the inauguration. You might think so. But, alas, you would be wrong.

Moreover, leaders of the Donkey Party are not the ones who have been tweeting rancid insults and winking at hate groups for more than a year now. Nor did Democrats create the scorched-earth, no-quarter, no-compromise, politics-as-total-war environment that characterizes American politics on the eve of the 2017 inauguration. For that, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can serve as poster boy, as well as anyone.

In his Esquire post, “Noted Grown-Up Mitch McConnell Wants Democrats to ‘Grow Up and Get Past’ Trump’s Win,” Charles P. Pierce puts the Trump and McConnell contributions to the souring mood of the U.S. in perspective. Here’s a taste:

Apparently, we must begin with the lovely and talented Ms. Meryl Streep, who took the opportunity at Sunday’s night’s Golden Globe Awards to express her disapproval of the president-elect, and the campaign he ran to become president-elect, and all his pomps and all his allures, besides. Naturally, this set off the expected Category Five tweetstorm from the president-elect, who really should have better things to do, and who also called some poor New York Times grunt in the middle of the night to lie once again about mocking a disabled reporter…

It was Charlatan Sunday on the The Sunday Showz. For an awfully long time, I thought Tom DeLay was the most mendacious, odious public servant the country ever saw, at least in the modern era, at any rate. I hereby apologize to Mr. DeLay. He was a rank amateur compared to Mitch McConnell, who isn’t even a very good liar, and apparently doesn’t care to learn how to be a better one. After several days in which everyone from the ethics offices of the various branches of government, to people who unearthed e-mails from 2009 in which McConnell argued from a point 180 degrees different from the one from which he’s arguing now, McConnell went on with John Dickerson and, right there in front of the chair once occupied by former Seleucid military correspondent Bob Schieffer, lied even more clumsily than he had previously.

“You know, what this is about, John, the Democrats are really frustrated that they lost the election. I was in Senator Schumer’s position eight years ago. I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation, that the other guys won the election. What did we do? We confirmed seven cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate. I understand that. But we need to, sort of, grow up here and get past that.”

(Ed Note: “Little procedural complaints” is a nice touch.)

And, out on the veranda in Bimini, Merrick Garland hurls his mai tai through the TV screen and orders up two more from room service. God, what a perfectly formed hack McConnell is.

Even before the Trump-Streep dust-up and McConnell’s latest hypocritical outburst, Trump’s inauguration was going to be greeted by massive protest demonstrations, not only in the nation’s capitol, but in cities across the U.S. With McConnell and Trump feeding the animosity on a daily basis, it can only get worse.

The irony is that the Republicans could have gotten most, if not nearly all, of what they wanted without doubling down on the polarizing tactics and rhetoric. Trump and, yes McConnell, could have made a significant contribution to dismantling the partisan gridlock that now paralyzes congress. But they simply lack the maturity, grace and goodwill that empowers reconciliation, and Trump has surrounded himself with people who don’t even understand the concept.

The Republicans have set the stage for four years of bitter political conflict, beginning with what is shaping up to be the most divisive presidential inauguration in memory. They have only themselves to blame for the consequences.


Political Strategy Notes

It looks like neither Democrats nor the Office of Government Ethics are going to be hustled by the Team Trump/Mitch McConnell strategy of stampeding a bunch of his cabinet nominations through the confirmation process all at once without the traditional ethics review before the hearings. Now, Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, has released a statement saying that the rushed confirmation timetable is “of great concern to me” because of the attempt to skip the ethics review. Apparently, the Republicans don’t yet get that pretending they have a big popular vote mandate like Reagan 1980 is not quite the same thing as actually having one. Ed O’Keefe and Sean Sullivan report on the controversy at the Washington Post, noting “Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed.” While it seems likely that nearly all of Trump’s nominees will eventualy be confirmed, Republicans are clearly concerned that many, if not most of them, have some potentially embarassing ethical issues, and they would like to minimize the damage.

Will Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, who was denied a federal judgeship decades ago because of his awful record on civil rights, get an easy ride through the confirmation process because he gets along well with fellow senators — despite his continued opposition to civil rights reforms? As Paul Kane notes at The Washington Post, Session’s supporters are playing the ‘collegiality’ card in hopes of distracting attention from his problematic track record. It’s up to Senate Democrats to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King writes in his column, “It was no small moment when NAACP protesters, led by their national president, Cornell W. Brooks, staged a sit-in and got arrested Tuesday at Sessions’s Mobile, Ala., office. Or when more than 1,100 professors from 170 law schools in 48 states wrote to urge the Senate to reject Sessions…Charging that Sessions can’t be trusted to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer for voting rights, Brooks said, “We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud…Entrust Jeff Sessions to fairly, openly and impartially administer justice and protect the rights of all Americans? Not if his own public record is any guide.”

Post columnist and former Bush II speechwriter Michael Gerson does a nice job of describing the hypocrisy of noted Republican leaders on Julian Assange. “Donald Trump’s, Sarah Palin’s and Sean Hannity’s embrace of Julian Assange — who has made a career of illegally obtaining and releasing documents damaging to U.S. interests — is not just a puzzling policy shift. It is the triumph of political tribalism over, well, every other principle or commitment…All three leaders of right-wing populism once saw the risk. Not long ago, Trump recommended the death penalty for Assange. Now he publicly sides with him against U.S. intelligence services. Palin urged the United States to go after Assange “with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda.” Now, we have seen her abject pleading: “Julian, I apologize.” Hannity once called for Assange’s “arrest.” Now he provides a sympathetic platform for Assange’s (and thus Vladimir Putin’s) views…Let’s be clear about what this means. The president-elect of the United States is elevating a man whom the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., holds responsible for putting the lives of operatives in direct danger. The 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee is bowing and scraping to the man who materially aided the Taliban. Fox News is now an outlet for the Russian version of events…It does not require Aristotle to understand that this is a child’s view of ethics. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend. Or he may be an international fugitive who effectively exposed intelligence sources and methods and gave advantages to America’s enemies.”

Why It Will Be Hard to Repeal Obamacare” by NYT’s Haeyoun Park and Troy Griggs visually dissects the provisions of the ACA, which can be eliminated by either 60 or 51 votes in the U.S. Senate.

In his salon.com post “What went wrong with the Democratic Party? Three big failures that led to the current debacle,” Sean McElwee faults the Democratic party for failing “to run viable candidates” and he presents a worrisome litany to make his point: “It’s not just one cycle. There was the trucker with no political experience who ran for governor of Mississippi in 2015, or the unemployed army vet facing obscenity charges for showing pornography to a college student who ran against Nikki Haley in South Carolina in 2010. In 2016 Jeff Stein documented some of the more egregious Democratic recruiting failures in potentially competitive House seats. Candidates included Frederick Lavergne, whose website was “filled with amazingly bizarre rants in Latin” and “a little-known county commissioner who has barely raised any money” (with a broken website). In one Texas district that Hillary Clinton carried, Democrats failed to even put forward a candidate. In a Virginia district that went narrowly for Trump, Democrats didn’t have a primary because only one candidate filed, a woman who “has run for the Newport News City Council four times and has lost each time; most recently in 2010 when she finished in fourth place, out of four candidates…As Roll Call reported last year, “More than a year from Election Day, Democrats are without top-tier recruits in five of the 11 races rated Tossups by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call.” Democrats may claim these races are “unwinnable,” but Republicans have recently won gubernatorial elections in deep blue states like Vermont, Maryland and Massachusetts. Ironically, Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, a state Hillary Clinton won by 26 points, is now considered by some Democrats to be “unbeatable.”

McElwee continues with another equally troubling insight: “In a recent piece, Andrew Prokop noted that the current Democratic situation looks much like the one Republicans faced in 2008. Yet on second consideration, this is deeply troubling. For one, Republicans were coming off a historically unpopular president (Bush had a 24 percent approval rating) while Obama has an approval rating of 58 percent. In addition, Republicans had just presided over the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, while Democrats are running on an economy with sturdy income growth and an unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. Finally, while Republicans were looking at a favorable electoral map in the 2010 midterms, Democrats are looking at an abysmal map in 2018. Their best chance to pick up Senate seats was squandered in 2016, when they were hoping to gain six to eight seats and instead picked up only two…These mistakes are more obvious in retrospect and many choices, at the time, seemed reasonable. The party in power often struggles down-ballot, and Democrats typically perform worse in low-turnout non-presidential elections. Furthermore, it’s difficult to recruit strong candidates when they don’t think they can win. But these defeats were not inevitable, and Democrats have shown only some signs they understand the depths of their plight.”

In a way, McElwee’s report provides at least a partial rebuttal to the meme that President Obama is at fault for the Democratic Party’s defeats during his administration. Jonathan Cohn writes in HuffPo that “…In an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” the outgoing chief executive said he recognizes that the Democratic Party has lost a lot of power during his watch, and wishes he had done more to strengthen it….“I take some responsibility on that,” Obama said…The president was responding to a question from host George Stephanopoulos about the losses Democrats have suffered in Congress, where they have relinquished majorities in both parties, and in state legislatures, where they have lost more than 900 seats. As Obama said in the interview, “We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.” Obama probably could have campaigned more for Democratic Senate and House candidates, where it could have helpted. And perhaps he could have been more of a “take charge” head of the Party, raising more funds for Democratic candidates and playing a louder “cheerleader” role in general. But McElwee demonstrates that the Democratic Party’s structure, projects and institutions, as well as the party’s other leaders, were woefully unprepared for party-building — in stark contrast to the GOP.

It seems only fair to comend state Democratic Parties in those instances when they do a good job of making room for exciting new leaders. In that regard, Brian Eason’s “Working-class mind-set fueled Duran’s historic rise to House Speaker” at The Denver Post profiles an impressive young elected official, Crisanta Duran, who at age 36 ascends to the speakership of the legislature of a pivotal swing state. The first Latina speaker of the Colorado state House, Duran, who addressed the Democratic National Convention last year, checks an array of demographic boxes, including Mexican, Indian and French ancestry and she is the daughter of a labor union leader and granddaughter of a steelworker, served as a union staff attorney herself, and enthusiastically champions a working-class agenda. She is described in the article as an “incredibly strategic,” skilled negotiator, as well as a “warrior.” Dems should more pro-actively do whatever is necessary to encourage more such young and dynamic leaders to emerge in the states.


Political Strategy Notes

At Vox Theda Skocpol’s “A guide to rebuilding the Democratic Party, from the ground up: Organizationally, the US right is light years ahead of the left. A leading political scientist explains what Democrats should do to change that” takes a sobering look at the Democratic Party’s structural deficiencies and how they might be fixed. Skocpol, a Harvard political scientist and director of the Scholars Strategy Network, writes that “the key priority should be strengthening the Democratic Party at state and local levels, even as liberals also build a mass movement to demand universal voter access and devise new formats for unions and other dues-based popular associations.” Skocpol makes a case that “America is actually a federated polity where electoral geography matters more than ethnic or class aggregates…Trump won because he rang up unusually high margins (although not unusually high turnouts) among voters across all social strata in suburban, small-city, and semi-rural counties, especially in the Midwest. In many of those places, Democrats are not an organized presence at all…The cross-state federated networks of the NRA, the Christian right, and the centerpiece Koch organization, Americans for Prosperity…reached into most states and localities and helped Republicans bring conservative voters home and rack up commanding suburban and rural vote margins…Democrats tend to organize across the entire country only temporarily for presidential campaigns…The Democratic Party itself has to be beefed up and redirected into a year-round organizing operation — right now. A new head of the DNC will soon be chosen, and he or she has to be a nuts-and-bolts reformer, not just a show horse or protest organizer…the key to electoral and policy victories for America’s future lies in a robust, nationwide Democratic Party built to engage citizens everywhere in election and policy campaigns year round, every year.”

Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line why “Democrats must do everything possible to resist Trump’s excesses. Here’s what that might look like.”  Sargent focuses on Democratic opposition to Trump’s proposed ‘Muslim registry,’ and supports pro-active legislative measures to prevent any “registry that is based on religion, national origin, nationality, or other classifications.” While most Republican members of congress are expected to oppose such measures, they have the virtue of forcing them to take a clear position. “Congressional Democrats will have to roll out concrete proposals wherever possible which, while doomed, will at least stand as alternatives,” writes Sargent. “One big question is whether they’ll find allies among constitutional conservatives and libertarians who are horrified by Trumpism’s threatened excesses — and one way to test that will be with proposals such as this one.”

NPR’s Meg Anderson shares this critique of Clinton’s campaign strategy from Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Look, you can’t simply go around to wealthy people’s homes raising money and expect to win elections,” the Vermont senator, who gave Clinton a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination, told NPR’s David Greene in an interview airing on Morning Edition. “You’ve got to go out and mix it up and be with ordinary people.”

We’re about to find out how much of Trump’s meddling in America’s intelligence agencies the top Republican leaders are going to accept. According to “Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top U.S. Spy Agency” by Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes of the Wall St. Journal, the President-elect’s plans to upend the U.S. intelligence superstructure, apparently to make it more Putin-friendly, are already drawing hostile reviews. As Paletta and Barnes report, quoting Sen. Lindsey Graham on Trump’s parroting comments by Julian Assange: “We have two choices: some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law…who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us…I’m going with them.”

While most Americans are aware that Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes for President than did Donald Trump, Kos shares a less well-known but even more striking statistic: “In the Senate, the 48 Democratic senators received a combined 78.4 million votes, to the 54.9 million votes earned by the 52 Republican senators. We don’t live in a real democracy, and Republicans have been able to game the system to their advantage.”

Here’s a very disturbing report at The Hill, explaining how the “GOP aims to rein in liberal cities.” As Reid Wilson explains, “After consolidating power in Washington, D.C., and state capitals under President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans are moving to prevent large cities dominated by Democrats from enacting sweeping liberal agendas…Republican state legislatures are planning so-called preemption laws, which prevent cities and counties from passing new measures governing everything from taxes to environmental regulations and social issues…The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council has offered five sample preemption bills on everything from local minimum wage hikes to rules governing genetically modified food and other agriculture products.” At stake are city laws addressing soda taxes, smoking bans, gun control, broadband access and a ranges of other concerns.

At Democracy Now Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh interview NAACP President Cornell William Brooks who was just arrested in a sit-in at the offices of Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. Brooks and other NAACP members were protesting the nomination because of Sessions’s “opposition to the Voting Rights Act, support for anti-immigration legislation and history of making racist comments.” In the interview Brooks explains, “…Not only has he not stood against voter suppression in his own state, not acknowledged the reality of voter suppression as recognized by federal courts, the one instance where he has appeared in court in terms of voting rights, it was to prosecute three civil rights activists, which it took a jury less than three hours to find innocent…We stand in opposition with over a thousand law professors, with Governor Deval Patrick, with organizations not only on the progressive left, but I might also note there are any number of conservatives who take strong exception to the fact that Senator Sessions is—stands against whistleblowers. He stands against civil liberties.”

After reading Dave Weigel’s “Democrats stumble toward a Supreme Court strategy” at The Washington Post, it’s hard to avoid concluding that Democrats don’t have much of a strategy, because they don’t have any promising options. Senate Majority Leader McConnel took a gamble and got lucky with Trump’s Electoral College win, and now the Republicans hold all of the cards. Sure, Democrats and progressives can and should raise hell when Trump nominates a reactionary to complete the High Court. But the hope that Trump will suddenly send a bipartisn olive branch in the form of a moderate Supreme Court nominee appears unlikely, given the pattern of his cabinet picks. True, 2018 looks like a really bad year for Democratic Senate candidates, but Dems must put up a fierce fight for the best possible outcome.

From Jen Hayden at Daily Kos: “Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (TN-07) thought she’d take the temperature of her constituents regarding the Affordable Care Act and it didn’t quite go as Blackburn planned. Turns out, people like having health insurance.” Blackburn tweeted “Do you support the repeal of Obamacare? RT if you do, and share what you want to see as the replacement.” The result from almost 8,000 responses: 84 percent said “No,” and 16 percent said “Yes.”


Obamacare Repeal Follies Showcase GOP’s Moral, Intellectual Bankruptcy

As the big GOP push for Obamacare repeal begins, many Republicans in congress are begining to realize that “Hot damn, we got rid of Obamacare” is probably not going to play all that well with constituents who have their health care coverage eliminated, diminished or made more expensive.

The privatization enthusiasts in the GOP, at least those who believe that the private sector can do no wrong, haven’t quite gotten it yet. For them, unleashing the ‘magic of the market’ as a sacred principle of conservatism is reason enough to trash the Affordable Care Act. Whether they get away with it or not depends on the economic demographics and ideology of their district electorates.

At New York Magazine Jonathan Chait describes the Republicans’ predicament:

After the election unexpectedly put them in full control of government, I predicted they would follow a “repeal and delay” plan, because it is the only way to keep the lie going. The closer they get to taking action, the more clear it becomes to Republicans that their own propaganda has trapped them and given them no escape. Railing against Obamacare was easy, but the responsibilities of power have taken all the fun out of denying medical care to the poor and sick.

…In a free-market system, tens of millions of Americans will not be able to afford medical care because the cost of their treatment exceeds their income, either because they’re too poor, or because they’re too sick. A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that 52 million Americans under the age of 65 have preexisting conditions that would make it impossible for them to purchase health insurance in the individual market that existed before Obamacare. An insurance-industry study from 2008 found that 13 percent of people who applied for coverage in the individual market were rejected — a figure that doesn’t even count the 34 percent of people who had to buy policies that excluded coverage of treatments for their preexisting conditions, let alone those who didn’t even bother applying because they knew they couldn’t afford it.

Covering people who can’t afford to pay for their own medical care means making other people pay for it. You can do that through direct tax-and-spend transfers, or through indirect regulatory methods (like making insurance companies overcharge healthy people and undercharge sick ones). Republicans oppose these methods because they oppose redistribution in general. And yet politics requires them to promise a plan that does not deprive Americans of access to treatment. This is the reason none of their plans has advanced beyond the white-paper concept phase —either they contain too much redistribution to be acceptable to the GOP, or too little coverage to be acceptable to the public, or both.

Chait adds an important insight Repubicans don’t want to face, and one which Democrats must embrace as a central principle of health care reform: “The health-care plans people like are ones such as Medicare, or employer-sponsored insurance — plans in which all customers pay the same rates regardless of age or preexisting conditions, and which don’t put them at risk of paying out huge costs if they get sick.”

Instead, argues Chait, the Republicans are wedded to “threadbare, catastrophic coverage with enormous deductibles.” They know this is a tough sell, and the “replace” part of “repeal and replace” promises to give Republicans in competitive districts an exended migraine headache for months, if not years, to come.

Chait likens the proposed GOP strategy of peacemeal replacement bills to an episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer, faced with certain failure in a test, says “I’ve been working on a plan. During the exam, I’ll hide under some coats, and hope that somehow everything will work out.”

“Repeal-and-delay,” adds Chait “is the ultimate backhand acknowledgement that the party has no answers. Their wan hope is that by repealing the law, they can satisfy the blood lust of conservative activists. The repeal won’t take place for years. Then they can hide under some coats and hope it all works out.”

As you might imagine, health insurance companies are not eagerly looking forward to such a scenario —  yet another example of the political party that purports to be the champion of pro-business policies introducing new chaos and uncertainty into the markets.

As for emerging scenarios, Chait sees one coming into focus:

The most likely answer is that Republicans never craft a replacement. They repeal Obamacare, but delay the effective date of the repeal, and then Obamacare becomes a “cliff” that Congress votes to keep extending. There is no majority in Congress behind any one specific plan to replace Obamacare, but there is probably a majority against blowing it up immediately. That will likely become the new status quo. There’s no transition to a new plan. The transition is the plan. Or, at least, it will be…The most likely outcome is that Republicans keep extending the law until Democrats have the presidency again, at which point they’ll no longer have an incentive to prevent mass suffering, and can go back to opposing anything Democrats try to do to make the system work. Republicans just need to keep the system from collapsing on their watch.

Paul Krugman writes in his latest New York Times column,

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Krugman notes also that Republican Obamacare repeal mania is fueled in part by the GOP’s opposition to the higher taxes on the wealthy needed to fund the ACA and, not incidently, because the latest enrollment figures are “running ahead of their levels a year ago,” a strong indication that Obamacare is working.

So the charade continues at the taxpayers expense. The scary part is that the likely scenarios sketched by Chait and Krugman are the optimistic outcomes. If lunacy prevails over their normal economic mismanagement, and the Republicans go ‘The Full Monte’ on privatization, it could get a lot worse.

It’s regrettable that Democrats have to spend so much time defending the only major health care reform to benefit millions of Americans since the days of LBJ. But if the experience clarifies the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republicans and their equivocating candidates, Dems might get some electoral benefit as early as 2018.


Political Strategy Notes – Obamacare Repeal Edition

NYT’s Robert Pear reports on the latest GOP schemes to repeal Obamacare, or at least the latest timetable, beginning this week: “Within hours of the new Congress convening on Tuesday, the House plans to adopt a package of rules to clear the way for repealing the health care law and replacing it with as-yet-unspecified measures meant to help people obtain insurance coverage…Then, in the week of Jan. 9, according to a likely timetable sketched out by Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the House will vote on a budget blueprint, which is expected to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act…Later, in the week starting Jan. 30, said Mr. Walden, incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the panel will act on legislation to carry out what is in the blueprint. That bill would be the vehicle for repealing major provisions of the health care law, including the expansion of Medicaid.” No one seems to know just what the particulars will be, but Pear also notes, “The law also saves hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing the growth of Medicare payments to hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations and other health care providers. Repealing the law would eliminate those savings and thus increase federal spending, the Congressional Budget Office says.”

The Guardian explains various Obamacare repeal scenarios with “How Obamacare could be dismantled by Republicans” by Jessica Glenza and Nadja Popovich. The authors provide a “how it works/how it could go” analysis (with some polling data) concerning 11 key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including: the individual and employer mandates; pre-existing conditions; the Medicare payroll tax; insurance exchanges; health plan subsidies; Medicaid Expansion; Donut Hole and 39 rule; free preventative seervices; converage for young adults; and the ban on coverage limits. There is not much here that supporters of strengthening Obamacare will find encouraging.

What seems likely as not when all of the dust settles, is that the Republicans will make a big flashy show of repealing Obamacare, keep much of it, but call it something else, screw around with funding mechanisms and leave a hideous mess for government accountants, the health care industry and millions of Americans with weakened health security to sort out, and then loudly proclaim a great victory. In her preview of the upcoming week’s repealapalooza festivities, HuffPo’s congressional reporter Laura Barron-Lopez writes “The GOP’s current plan is to move swiftly on repeal legislation and then spend up to four years developing a consensus on a new set of health care reforms ― an achievement that has otherwise eluded the party for years. But Republicans are already split over how long they’ll spend creating that replacement. Party leaders expect it to take years, but some conservatives are pushing for a replacement to be finished within one year…Democratic leaders have been defiant about Republicans’ chances of pulling off this effort. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted that Republicans would not repeal Obamacare once they realized how difficult it would be to replace…“They’re not going to repeal it,” Pelosi said earlier this month. “I don’t think they’re going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

At New York Magazine Ed Kilgore explains “The Latest ‘Repeal and Delay’ Idea for Obamacare: Grandfathering!,” noting that “Now comes the American Enterprise Institute’s conservative health wonk James Capretta with an idea that cuts to the chase: Why not just “grandfather” all the people currently receiving benefits via the ACA and make whatever the new “replacement” system turns out to be prospective for new people seeking assistance?” Kilgore acknowledges that “the idea has the advantage of being relatively simple and predictable,” but adds “Until the GOP can pass something that garners bipartisan support and solves the Obamacare problems it has identified, it should do nothing. That’s the ultimate “grandfathering” — leave the system in place. That is the only real solution politically or policy-wise that doesn’t create a raft of victims. The sooner the GOP figures this out, the better.”

Sean Williams reports at Fox Business, no less, that “In an Ironic Twist, Obamacare Enrollment Hits an All-Time High.” Williams writes, “Yet in spite of its perceived demise, Obamacare enrollment is currently proceeding at a record pace, at least according to the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the HHS, roughly 6.4 million people had enrolled via HealthCare.gov, the federally run website that runs the online marketplace exchange for more than three dozen states, between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19. This represents an increase of nearly 7% year over year, or about 400,000 enrollees…The data midway through 2016 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the uninsured rate had fallen to 8.9% from 16% in the quarter immediately preceding Obamacare’s implementation on the individual market. If the early enrollment data is any indication, the uninsured rate could fall even further in 2017.”

Vox will be running an live-streamed interview with President Obama on Friday, January 6th on the topic of Obamacare repeal prospects, with an audience of Obamacare enrollees who are also members of the Vox Facebook community. Meanwhile Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein write at Vox that “the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces have struggled to attract health insurers who want to sell coverage” and “about half of Obamacare enrollees say that they’re unsatisfied with the high costs of premiums and deductibles… That’s what we want to talk to the president about: the lessons he has learned from six years of implementing the biggest health coverage expansion in decades, his thoughts on its political vulnerability now, and the challenges Republicans may confront as they embark on a similar task.” Kliff and Klein note that “Economists, however, are skeptical that Republican plans will cover as many people as Obamacare currently does. Estimates predict that the plans the GOP has offered so far will lead to anywhere from 3 to 21 million Americans losing health coverage, depending on which plan Republicans pick.”

At Forbes, Duke University/American Enterprise Institute scholar Chris Conover mulls over “How The Patient CARE Act Would Repeal And Replace Obamacare” and observes that “this plan would result in very modest reductions in coverage, accompanied by massive federal tax savings (to the tune of more than one half trillion over ten years!).” I’m guessing that Conover’s health security will not be adversely affected by the “modest reductions in coverage” he envisions for others.

However, at Vox Sarah Kliff explains some of the effects of The Patient CARE Act in less than glowing terms: “There are two economic analyses of CARE Act available at this point. One, from the RAND Corporation, estimates that it would cause 9 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. Another, from Parente’s Center for Health Economy, estimates that 4 million would lose insurance the same year… In addition, the Patient Care Act suffers from the same major flaw as all of the republican proposals,” making insurance cheaper for young people and more expensive for old people.” Further, “Eibner has done economic modeling of the CARE Act (although not Better Way yet) and is able to show who benefits and who loses under the proposal…She finds that under the CARE Act, only 85 percent of 21-year-olds would see their premiums either stay the same or decline compared with Obamacare. But 100 percent of 50- and 60-year-old enrollees would see their premiums increase under CARE Act.” Thus many seniors who are surviving on Social Security can expect a health care premium hike under this plan.

What is so frustratingly childish about all of the Republican Obamacare repeal talk, is that they all know that none of the health care reforms they now claim to support would ever have gotten a fair hearing, much less enacted, without Obamacare. The GOP has always been content to let health insurers and ritzy physician groups gouge and impoverish consumers who face major illnesses. With the exception the Medicare prescription drug benefit Bush II signed, the Republican Party has never provided leadership for broadening health care security for Americans. Instead they have resisted significant reforms, from Medicare and Medicaid on down to the Affordable Care Act. When you take a look at the most recent polling on Obamacare, you find more respondents saying they “disapprove” than “approve” of the ACA. But when the question is framed in terms of should it be repealed or expanded, the most recent Pew Research poll, conducted Oct. 20-25, found that 53 percent of respondents say “expand it” or “leave it as it is.” No matter what happens to Obamacare, President Obama can always be proud that his leadership has saved countless lives and improved the health securitry of millions of Americans. Thanks to him, the Republicans can no longer hide from public demand for affordable health care.


Hey Trump, is that all there is?

It can be argued that in 2008, President-elect Obama’s victory included a significant element of luck, including the timing of the economic meltdown and John McCain’s disastrous veep pick. So too, it can be argued that Trump’s Electoral College win/popular vote loss in 2016 threaded a lucky path through the rust belt.

President Obama did a good job of making the most of his short-lived congressional majorities and produced one historic reform, the Affordable Care Act, which provided health security for additional millions of Americans, and he was able to enact a few other well-received legislative accomplishments, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Looking forward to Trump’s presidency and his congressional majorities, it’s hard to see any positive reforms on the horizon. So far all of the Republican talk, and all of Trump’s appointments, have been about undoing Obama’s legislative accomplishments, as if that alone was somehow a great achievement.

Despite Trump’s bloated reputation as a “builder,” no one expects him to actually build much, since he is now waffling on the infrastructure upgrades. No one in GOP Land can identify any concrete plans to better prepare Americans for a new era of prosperity. There are no job-training measures in the Republican legislative hopper, for example, no projects or proposals for innovation that anyone can get excited about.

Instead, it’s all about, “boy, we can’t wait to undo Obama’s reforms.” Trump and the Republicans can only milk that tired cow for so long, before their voters start wondering, like Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” At that point, Trump and his fellow Republicans become an awfully inviting target for disgruntled voters who expected something…more.

At slate.com Jamelle Bouie points out that Trump and the GOP are not really in good shape to weather such growing doubts, despite all of the pundit crowing about Republican strength in the House and state houses. As Bouie writes,

…Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans are as strong as they appear. Both enter the field with severe disadvantages, and both risk overplaying the hands that they have. Democrats are on the defensive, but the conditions are there for pushback and resurgence.

Consider Trump’s favorability rating. On Election Day, just 38 percent of Americans had a positive view of Trump, against 60 percent with a negative view. Now, with the glow of victory, his average favorable rating stands at 43 percent, while 49 percent view him unfavorably. For comparison’s sake, Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating versus 21 percent unfavorable, while George W. Bush—the victor in a contentious election decided by the Electoral College—entered office with a 50 percent favorable rating. Trump is historically unpopular for an incoming president and shows no signs of improving. This, coupled with his substantial loss in the national popular vote, is a potent vulnerability. Democrats can credibly say that Trump lacks the “will of the people.” They can rebuff charges of obstructionism, and they can say, with little exaggeration, that the public is on their side.

To Trump’s personal unpopularity, you have to add the unpopularity of the Republican policy agenda. Citing Trump’s win as a victory for conservative governance, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority are prepping a sweeping small-government agenda, including tax cuts and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But there’s a problem. The 2016 election wasn’t fought over policy; it was a battle over values and priorities (it’s likely Hillary Clinton made a fatal strategic mistake in not making this a fight over policy). And throughout, Trump showed little interest in conservative policymaking or conservative ideas. He promised help for his supporters and “better deals” for the country, not a Ryan-esque agenda of lower spending and upper-income tax cuts. That agenda is hugely unpopular: Substantial majorities support greater taxes on high-earners, while a smaller majority backs a more active government role in reducing income inequality. And although Americans still disagree about the Affordable Care Act, most of them still reject repeal.

Intoxicated and emboldened by their near-miraculous victory, Republicans are rushing into the new year with a divisive and unpopular agenda, led by a divisive and unpopular president. Indeed, with no apparent plans for increasing manufacturing jobs or improving veterans’ health care, Trump shows few signs of delivering on his substantive promises. In all likelihood, he’ll offer rhetoric and scapegoats and stunts, while delivering little in the way of tangible gains. And all of this will exist against a backdrop of corruption and influence-peddling, as Trump refuses to disentangle himself or his children from their opaque and sprawling web of business interests.

Ultimately, good government has to be about something more than shrinking itself. Ronald Reagan was as eloquent a messenger for tax and budget cuts as the Republicans have ever had. Trump does not have his skill-set, and can only offer a much cruder politics of distraction that is not likely to play well for very long. He can’t count on his November luck hanging around.

The thing about smaller government, budget cuts and austerity is that they are not very inspiring. There is no stirring vision, no uplifting challenge you can hang on shrunken government. FDR, JFK and Obama, were able to generate excitement because they could talk about mobilizing American resources, human and economic, in service to a new era of broadly-shared progress. That message option is not available to Trump, Ryan and McConnell. But I can hear Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and maybe a half-dozen other Democrats working it well enough.

In 2016, Democrats lacked the message discipline needed to hold the white house and make substantial gains in congress and the states. By the end of 2017, it should be crystal clear which party has no vision whatsoever for moving America forward.