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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

May 11: Possible Obstruction of Justice Makes Impeachment Talk Inevitable

As the potential implications of the Comey firing, aggravated by the wildly varying accounts of how and why it occurred, begin to sink in, so, too are the remote but tangible chances of really serious consequences, as I discussed at New York:

The timing and manner of Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey raise an inevitable suspicion — not proof, but a suspicion — of presidential obstruction of justice. And the only real remedy for presidential obstruction of justice, if it is stubborn, is impeachment, or at least the threat of impeachment — as we learned during the Nixon administration. Because presidents have the power to gum up every other path to the revelation and reversal of serious patterns of administration misconduct, there’s a pretty low threshold for talk of the “I-word,” once said gumming up appears to be happening.

As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Republicans who control Congress can head off an impeachment crisis by un-gumming the path to justice via some investigative entity beyond Donald Trump’s control. But that will require a break with Trump that most of them do not want to make.

If the situation we are in right now gets worse for the White House, and the rest of 2017 unfolds under the shadow of unresolved allegations about Russian collusion, then serious impeachment talk will become unavoidable. One might assume that the talk would go nowhere, since the president’s party controls the congressional levers that would have to be used to formally begin proceedings. But what could ensue, though, is the realization that Republicans might privately crave impeachment more than Democrats.

Why? Absent normal legal proceedings and without the safety valve of impeachment, the only way for an aroused public to hold Trump accountable is by spanking his political party in the 2018 midterms, an election in which the White House party is almost certain to lose ground even in normal conditions. And after that, if Trump stubbornly resists any independent scrutiny of his past and present behavior, Republicans could have a nightmarish 2020 cycle in which efforts to retire Trump after one term collide with his hard kernel of GOP grassroots support, strongest among people who know little and care less about their hero’s compliance with legal and political traditions for presidential accountability. You could definitely envision a vicious primary fight followed by a difficult general election.

In those circumstances, how many conventional conservative Republicans would resist the temptation to fantasize about a deus ex machina procedure that could remove the troublesome Trump and replace him with the extremely well-known quantity of Mike Pence, perhaps just in time to change the dynamics of 2018 — or certainly 2020 — in the GOP’s favor? Conversely, Democrats might prefer to keep Donald Trump around as long as possible to indelibly stain the GOP with his misdeeds and his alarming demeanor.

This is not to say that political considerations will determine the course of events more than the facts that eventually emerge; if it turns out there is no evidence of collusion in the Russia-Trump investigation, then the president is not going to be hounded out of office for acting as though there was.

But the fact remains that the politics of impeachment or a coerced resignation are hard to predict and impossible to dismiss. In all the talk since Comey’s firing of the parallels with Nixon’s 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” it has been largely forgotten that Nixon’s brash action was preceded just ten days earlier by the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, as part of a plea deal over bribery charges. Agnew, in some ways a precursor of Trump in his “politically incorrect” rhetoric, had been what Nixon not-so-jokingly called his “insurance policy” against impeachment. His replacement by the ever-genial Gerald Ford had a definite if hard-to-measure impact on the willingness of Democrats and Republicans alike to send the Tricky One packing.

All in all, Mike Pence resembles Gerald Ford more than Spiro Agnew. Just sayin.’


May 10: Trump Fires Comey To Curb Russia Investigation as GOP Stands By

As pols began to choose up sides after Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey, I made this initial assessment of the partisan politics for New York.

The morning after the president’s abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey, an account of what was really going on is beginning to emerge in which the official explanation of steadily mounting, retroactive bipartisan dismay with Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case is but a flimsy pretext. Politico boils down the background story succinctly:

“[Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”

And so he decided to drop the hammer on Comey at the first convenient opportunity. A screwup in Comey’s description of the emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop that were the subject of the FBI director’s famous October surprise provided the immediate excuse. It seems clear that Team Trump believed Democrats would be thrown into disarray by the clever use of the Clinton emails as the rationale for a firing that was really about something else.

That calculation was clearly wrong, but the fact remains that if Trump’s move was intended to curb the Russia investigation, his enemies have limited means of stopping him.

Yes, the FBI can and probably will formally continue the investigation, but the odds are pretty good that whoever Trump chooses as Comey’s immediate successor will treat it as a very low priority.

The Justice Department can — and given the recusal of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, on matters related to the Russia-Trump connection, almost certainly should — appoint a special counsel to take over the investigation and clear the air. But why would a White House determined to shut it all down accept that course of action? It’s implausible unless the administration winds up with no other good options.

Congress could create a special committee, or even a congressionally constituted commission, to delve into the various issues involving the Russians. The latter course is what conservative House gadfly Justin Amash talked about doing in the immediate wake of the Comey firing.

But a lot of Republicans would have to go along with that approach, and most significantly in the wall of noise that rose across Washington after the firing was announced, the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees — Representative Bob Goodlatte and Senator Chuck Grassley — seemed to be buying the White House/DOJ explanation of the matter. If their posture is that Comey had to go for cumulative sins in the Clinton email case, why would they want to waste taxpayer money on some special investigation of that Russian thingy Democrats insist on talking about? You could see any drive for a congressionally authorized investigation running into some real obstacles. For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is arguing against any new investigation of Trump and Russia at all, suggesting the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiries are sufficient.

Once upon a time, there might have been a wellspring of support for the appointment of an independent prosecutor that would not report to Congress or to the administration. But the law authorizing that institution was allowed quietly to expire in 1999 after its generally conceded abuse in seven separate investigations of the Clinton administration.

As veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield points out, the disarray of Congress is the single most important problem with treating this situation as analogous to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” despite the obvious parallels of an angry president trying to dispose of an underling who might be getting too close to securing dangerous information. Nixon was dealing with a Democratic Congress and a much smaller and more uniformly hostile news media; he was quickly forced to replace the fired special counsel Archibald Cox instead of shutting down the Watergate investigation altogether. The 37th president was also laboring under the ultimately fatal existence of massive evidence of wrongdoing documented by his own White House recording system; Cox was fired for trying to secure some of the relevant tapes. If the Trump White House is harboring a “smoking gun” in the Russia case, we don’t know of it at present.

The bottom line is that Trump has a much better chance of getting through this “crisis” than Nixon did when he “massacred” a special counsel and the Justice Department officials defending him. The key thing to watch is whether congressional Republicans decide in large numbers that Trump’s stonewalling over Russia and his generally imperious habits are endangering their grip on the Legislative branch in 2018.


May 4: Trumpcare Will Also Do Damage In Blue States That Don’t Seek Exemptions From Obamacare Requirements

After today’s narrow House passage of the American Health Care Act, it really began to bug me that so any people were focused to the exclusion of everything else on the effect of the bill in conservative states that seek waivers from Obamacare regulations. That was, in fact, the key issue that seemed to separate House Republicans. But as I explained at New York, damage from the bill would be severe in blue states, too.

Trumpcare, at least in its current form, will allow states to decide whether to carry on with something resembling the systems in place under Obamacare, or to opt out of various key requirements under current law — including the one protecting people with preexisting conditions. It seems safe to assume that most blue states will not even consider applying for waivers to screw over their own most vulnerable citizens. But at the same time, there are many provisions in the revised American Health Care Act that will affect people everywhere, often not in a good way.

States like New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — states with Democratic governors and/or legislatures — are not going to seek exemptions from Obamacare requirements affecting the essential benefits health plans must offer, or prohibiting discrimination on the basis of health conditions. And there may be other states that don’t accept the poisoned chalice of health-policy autonomy. One of the House Republicans who seems to be coming around to a vote for Trumpcare, Carlos Curbelo, offered that excuse, even for his own red state of Florida:

“I would highly doubt that any governor, especially the governor of a large state like Florida, would seek a waiver. I just don’t think that any state would want to carry the burden of managing health care more than they already do, through Medicaid.”

Actually, it’s not clear that most of the people priced out of the individual health-care market by preexisting conditions would qualify for Medicaid, particularly in non-expansion states like Florida. But it is true that applying for the waivers that the House Freedom Caucus demanded will at least be controversial in the states that consider it.

For many of Trumpcare’s provisions, however, there’s not really much state flexibility at all. Indeed, blue states — most of which took advantage of Obamacare’s optional expansion of Medicaid — will be most affected by the bill’s abrupt termination of enhanced federal funds for the expanded population. Indeed, of the 24 million Americans the Congressional Budget Office estimated would lose health coverage under the original Trumpcare bill, 14 million would lose Medicaid coverage.

Some of the Obamacare regulations Trumpcare seeks to revoke and/or replace also are not optional, including the expansion of allowable price discrimination based on age and the elimination of the individual purchasing mandate (to be replaced by a surcharge on people who wait to buy insurance until they are sick).

Trumpcare also gets rid of the tax subsidies set up by Obamacare, and creates its own tax-credit system, with arguably very insufficient credit amounts, especially for low-income and older people. None of this can be waived for any states.

And the cost-sharing-reduction subsidies that have been critical in keeping insurers offering coverage under the Obamacare exchanges — the subsidies the administration has been threatening off and on to withhold — would be formally killed as well.

Finally, there are all sorts of little-recognized side effects of Trumpcare — such as the unraveling of benefit requirements for employer-sponsored health insurance — that do not discriminate by geography. And there is one big national provision that could do vast damage to women’s health care, especially in rural areas: the prohibition on any federal funds for Planned Parenthood.

It is worth watching closely the special provisions cooked into this legislation that affect certain states exclusively. The original AHCA (and hence its successors) included a deal to secure votes from upstate New York GOP House members that shifted Medicaid costs from county to state taxpayers. More of that sort of home cooking could be tucked into the legislation later.

We have no way of knowing what the Senate will do to the “state flexibility” provisions that have been so important to Trumpcare’s struggle towards House passage. On the one hand, there may be some “moderate” GOP resistance to how far conservative states will be allowed and encouraged to go in messing with poorer and sicker people who have benefited from Obamacare. On the other hand, some Republican senators—notably Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins—want to go much further in allowing states to go their own way, to the point of letting blue states keep most of Obamacare in place.

For blue-state progressives, this may be a tempting approach insofar as it insulates them from much of the damage wrought by an Obamacare replacement. But they need to ask themselves if they are willing to sell vulnerable red-state people down the river and accept a sort of health-policy apartheid. Republicans may not actually give them a lot of choice, but it’s important for everyone to understand the trade-offs involved in getting this unwieldy beast of a health-care bill to Donald Trump’s desk.


May 3: GOP Congressman Says Sick People Whose States Kill Coverage Should Move

The latest in many a revealing quote from GOP Members of Congress on health care policy came from North Carolina’s Rep. Robert Pittenger. I wrote about it at New York with some real anger.

It is not quite down there in the hall of shame with his Alabama colleague Mo Brooks’s suggestion that sick people often don’t deserve health coverage because they’ve brought it all down on themselves with bad habits. But North Carolina Republican representative Robert Pittenger was similarly cavalier about people with preexisting conditions who might lose affordable coverage if their state chose to waive protections for them under the terms of the revised American Health Care Act that the White House and Republican congressional leaders are trying to get through the House this week.

Quoth Pittenger: “People can go to the state that they want to live in. States have all kinds of different policies and there are disparities among states for many things: driving restrictions, alcohol, whatever,” he continued. “We’re putting choices back in the hands of the states. That’s what Jeffersonian democracy provides for.”

Seems Pittenger thinks the sick should vote with their feet, or their other afflicted parts, to live in a place that doesn’t view their health as a disposable asset.

I do believe we had a civil war over the proposition that states can do any damn thing they want with people, and the proponents of the states’-rights version of “Jeffersonian democracy” lost. It’s true that the victims back then did not always have the option to move elsewhere (there was this thing called the Fugitive Slave Act), but it should be beyond argument now that some rights and privileges of citizenship ought to be national in scope. Maybe health insurance is one of them, and maybe it’s not, but Pittenger’s glib assertion that the theoretical option of flight for poor, sick people makes it okay to discriminate against them is morally and politically obtuse.

This is not Pittenger’s first or worst comment of this nature. Last year, after protests broke out in Charlotte (a city partially represented by Pittenger) when an African-American man (Keith Lamont Scott) was fatally shot by police, here’s what he had to say:

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people, because white people are successful and they’re not,” Pittenger told BBC Newsnight when he was asked about what is driving heated protests in Charlotte.

He later apologized for the nasty racist slur, but perhaps he should have moved to a different state.


April 28: The “Ten Commandments Judge” Now Wants to Go To Washington To Lend Trump a Hand

An old, notorious name returned to the news today, and I wrote it up for New York:

Robert Bentley recently resigned the governorship of Alabama in a plea deal after years of fighting a losing battle against heavy evidence of an extramarital affair with a staffer that went over the line into misappropriation of state funds and attempted intimidation of witnesses. But before he left office the septuagenarian “Love Gov” had the opportunity to appoint a temporary U.S. Senate replacement for new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He chose state Attorney General Luther Strange, ignoring rumors the new senator had given the Bentley scandal a wide berth in exchange for this supreme favor. Now the voters of Alabama will get to weigh in via a special election (the primary is in August and the general election is in December), and thanks to his Bentley connection, Strange is far from being a shoo-in.

This week the Alabama Senate race went from being overshadowed by peculiar things to being a peculiar thing in itself when Roy Moore, the twice-elected, once-removed, and once-suspended chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and perhaps America’s most prominent theocrat, declared his candidacy. Moore pledged to help Donald Trump “make America great again” by first returning the country to fidelity to God and the traditional family. In case this left anyone in doubt that the man once called “the Ten Commandments Judge” had not changed, he offered this pithy observation:

“I know and I think you do too that the foundations of the fabric of our country are being shaken tremendously….Our families are being crippled by divorce and abortion. Our sacred institution of marriage has been destroyed by the Supreme Court, and our rights and liberties are in jeopardy.”

So Moore is not running on what you’d call an upbeat, “right track” message.

But he never really has. After a West Point education and some odd experiences as a kickboxer and an Australian cowboy, Moore settled into a reasonably quiet legal and judicial career in eastern Alabama. He first came to national attention in the 1990s as a state circuit court judge who was sued by the ACLU for posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom and holding pretrial prayers. He eventually prevailed on appeal, but more important, was able to use his attempted martyrdom by godless liberals to get himself elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000 after winning a highly competitive Republican primary. In an early concurring opinion on a case involving a lesbian mother who was trying to win custody of her children from an allegedly abusive ex-husband, Moore threw down the gauntlet to the tyranny of sodomites everywhere:

“Homosexual behavior is a ground for divorce, an act of sexual misconduct punishable as a crime in Alabama, a crime against nature, an inherent evil, and an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it. That is enough under the law to allow a court to consider such activity harmful to a child. To declare that homosexuality is harmful is not to make new law but to reaffirm the old; to say that it is not harmful is to experiment with people’s lives, particularly the lives of children.”

Soon Moore became embroiled in a dispute with a federal judge over his continued display of the Ten Commandments — this time via a large monument he commissioned — and after defying the judge’s orders and arguing the “Judeo-Christian God” reigned over church and state alike, he was finally removed from his position by a state commission and became a national conservative evangelical martyr for real.

Moore inevitably entered electoral politics, but in part because of his poor fundraising skills, he fell short in two gubernatorial elections in 2006 and 2010. In 2012, though, after a brief feint toward a Republican presidential run, he made a triumphal return to the state Supreme Court, being elected chief justice again. True to form, by 2016 Moore managed to get himself suspended (a sanction just short of removal) for fighting implementation of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

Quite a career, eh? And now Moore will take his virtually universal name recognition and his hard-core Christian-right base of support into a low-turnout multicandidate Senate race where almost anything can happen. At least one Alabama political observer, John Archibald of the Birmingham News, thinks Moore will at least make a runoff.

If he does even better than that, Moore would become a figure who might even stand out in Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

The one sure thing is that if Moore fails in his third statewide non-judicial race, he cannot follow it up with a third run for the Supreme Court and perhaps a third effort to get himself tossed off the bench. At the age of 70, Moore is under Alabama law too old to run for that position. So this Senate race could be his last hurrah, praise the Lord.


April 27: No Love in the Senate for Zombie Trumpcare

As Republicans battled to get enough votes to bring the revised American Health Care Act to the House floor, I took a look ahead and the prospects for this legislation in the Senate. It was not a pretty sight, as I explained at New York.

Normally in a situation like this, where a party’s president is 100 percent invested in a piece of legislation, you would look for scattered signs of internal opposition among that party’s senators and speculate as to whether the White House could wear it down. But there is nothing scattered about Senate Republican misgivings over Trumpcare: It appears to be endemic, as Politico reports:

“The hurdles in the upper chamber were on vivid display Wednesday as House Republicans celebrated their breakthrough on the stalled repeal effort. The compromise cut with House Freedom Caucus members won over the right flank, but the changes will almost surely make it harder to pick up votes in the more moderate-minded Senate.

“Not to mention that some Senate conservatives still seem opposed to the emerging House deal.”

They sure are. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, who helped derail the original “replace and delay” strategy that might have at least temporarily papered over GOP differences of opinion over health-care policy, are making discouraging noises about Zombie Trumpcare. Paul in particular seems determined to quash any happy-talk about consensus:

“The Freedom Caucus has done a good job of trying to make the bill less bad,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of the lead Senate agitators against the House health care push, said Wednesday. “For me, it’s a big stumbling block still that there’s taxpayer money that’s being given to insurance companies, and I am just not in favor of taxpayer money going to insurance companies.”

The more any eventual bill has to shift in the direction of Senate conservatives, of course, the less support there will be from moderates. And lest we forget, the GOP can only lose two senators to pass health-care legislation, barring any support from Democrats — and there are zero signs of any Democrats even considering a defection so long as the bill is being pushed on a party-line basis via budget-reconciliation rules that prohibit filibusters.

The rules governing the reconciliation procedure present another potentially big problem for Senate Republicans. The House bill, and particularly the new version with its authorization of state waivers of existing Obamacare regulations, is very likely to run afoul of the Senate parliamentarian’s enforcement of the Byrd Rule prohibiting non-budget-germane provisions in budget bills. If such provisions have to be struck, the compromises that have made it possible for the House to revive Trumpcare could quickly unravel.

And then there is the strong possibility that the Congressional Budget Office will “score” the House bill in a manner that makes its negative impact on health-care coverage vivid. The House itself may be able to avoid terrible publicity on the “score” by racing to a vote before CBO’s analysis comes down. But that evasion will not be possible for senators.


April 22: Zombie Trumpcare Refuses To Die, But Looks Doomed

What’s that gurgling, snarling sound in the distance? Must be Zombie Trumpcare, which as I explained at New York, refuses to die.

Despite near-universal predictions of doom — either now or later, on the House floor or in the Senate — the Trump administration is pushing House Republicans hard to schedule a vote next week on the latest version of Trumpcare, a.k.a. the American Health Care Act. The president’s claim that the the plan had “gotten really, really good … and a lot of people are liking it a lot,” appears to be pure happy talk. They don’t have the votes now to move the legislation forward, and may never have the votes to get this unfortunate legislation to Trump’s desk.

The much-bruited MacArthur Amendment to the earlier bill, with its provision for state waivers to sidestep comprehensive insurance-plan requirements and protections for people with preexisting conditions, may or may not attract some additional House Freedom Caucus votes. But it is very, very unlikely to sway those among MacArthur’s fellow moderates who refused to vote for the original bill. Yes, it would allow blue states to keep something like the original Obamacare individual-health-insurance markets in place, assuming insurers were willing to go along. But it keeps in place AHCA’s quick phaseout of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, hammering those same states.

Prospects in the Senate, where Republican moderates have much more leverage due to the GOP’s narrow two-vote majority, are much worse. On top of the substantive health care policy concerns House moderates have articulated (particularly over Medicaid), there are now three GOP senators who are not necessarily onboard for the defunding of Planned Parenthood that is part of the package. And there remain real problems with the Senate rules, since the state waiver provisions that are central to the MacArthur Amendment could easily be ruled non-germane to the budget process by the Senate parliamentarian, exposing the whole bill to a Senate filibuster.

So why the rush toward an apparent abyss? From the White House point of view, it’s apparently all about Trump’s panic over not having big accomplishments to boast of when the 100-day mark of his presidency arrives, on April 29. That factor is also reportedly driving a sudden hard line in the White House position in the appropriations negotiations aimed at avoiding a government shutdown on April 29. Since a renewed furor over health care could not possibly help the atmosphere surrounding the delicate appropriations talks, Trump is in danger of a dual disaster next week.

Perhaps the best thing about racing ahead is that it might not allow the Congressional Budget Office the time to score this new version of AHCA, a process that would undoubtedly produce a terrible number in terms of the impact on health-care coverage.

You might expect Paul Ryan to tell Trump the votes aren’t there for Zombie Trumpcare, and to ask him to call off the dogs. But Ryan is undoubtedly under pressure from some members who would prefer to get the monkey off their backs and blame the Senate or Democrats for the failure to enact health-care legislation, and others who figure a second failed vote in the House would convince everyone to give up and move on to the more congenial territory of tax legislation.

It’s a horror-show for Republicans, all right.


April 21: Trump Could Yet Provoke a Government Shutdown

In what was a relatively peaceful Easter Recess for Congress, Donald Trump’s fatal pride is again causing trouble, as I explained at New York:

While everyone enjoys (and tries to exploit) the drama of an impending government shutdown, and the events of 2013 showed shutdowns can indeed happen, the deadline itself is disposable, since it is all too easy for negotiators to agree to short-term extensions of existing appropriations while talks continue. A one- or two-week extension remains the most likely scenario for next week, given the number of issues that must be resolved and the short time available after Congress returns from its Easter recess.

But there is an additional dynamic that could upset these expectations and create a higher risk of a shutdown: Donald Trump’s ego.

Like a howling feral dog on the edge of a peaceful town, Trump’s potential for havoc has haunted any and all sensitive congressional negotiations this year. CNN noted it as the “X factor” in the funding talks:

“So far the President has not issued any major controversial ultimatums – insisting on money for certain programs or barring it from others. If that changes, it could blow up the bipartisan talks.”

The reason that might happen is simple: April 29 marks the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, and the image-conscious POTUS rather obviously hasn’t been on a winning streak.

Sure enough, Politico suggests today that the desire to show some results for the first 100 days is driving the White House toward a “harder line” in appropriations talks.

While the funding deadline can be pushed off temporarily, the 100-day milestone and the negative media assessments of the Trump presidency’s beginnings that are sure to dominate the airwaves can’t just be postponed. Thus the president’s underlings are under pressure to get some highly visible concessions in a hurry:

“The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

“It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday — the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“People familiar with the negotiations say Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations. The White House, one person familiar with the conversations said, has pushed for $3 billion for the border wall, and discussions have been ongoing.
Border-wall funding is one of several “poison pills” congressional Democrats have signaled might justify a Senate filibuster, gridlock, and a government shutdown. Another that involves a positive demand Democrats are making also touches on Trump’s ego: an appropriation for those Obamacare “cost sharing reduction” subsidies for insurers that the president has threatened to withhold unless Democrats help Republicans enact Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.”

Given the amount of time Trump spends claiming that undocumented immigrants are running wild in our cities and producing a hellish crime wave, you also have to figure budget director Mick Mulvaney’s recent demand that the funding bill include a cutoff of grants to “sanctuary cities” — still more shutdown bait — may have had its origins in the Oval Office.

All in all, if negotiators reach a tentative deal next week — or more likely, decide to kick the can down the road for a week or two — they will probably be checking their phones nervously for Twitter explosions from the man just down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president is certainly capable of pretending, as he’s already done, that his first 100 days were one long triumphal march toward unprecedented accomplishments. But if he decides he needs more trophies because his evil media enemies don’t see it, look out!


April 15: Paul LePage’s Threat to the Senate

In those wonderful days before Donald Trump ran for president, the most ridiculously entertaining Republican pol in the country was often Maine governor Paul LePage. He was back in the news this week with a frightening threat, as I discussed at New York.

Per the Boston Globe:

“Maine’s Republican governor says he’s strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but also feels he ‘wouldn’t make a very good legislator.’’’

“Gov. Paul LePage made the comments on a radio appearance on WGAN-AM on Thursday morning. The two-term governor is termed out of his current job in 2018 and he has been the source of speculation about his next move.”

Most of said speculation has revolved around a 2018 LePage challenge to Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He’s considering it, even though he doubts he would be good at the job and is concerned committee meetings “would be boring.”

Since he’s not that jazzed about the gig, perhaps LePage should make a Senate run conditional on someone talking Eliot Cutler into running as well — Cutler’s two independent candidacies for governor aided LePage’s election in 2010 and reelection in 2014 by pluralities.

There is possibly a different, easier route for LePage to get from Augusta to Washington: Senator Susan Collins has been openly talking about returning to Maine next year and running to succeed LePage. If she won, under current state law LePage would get to appoint someone to finish the last two years of Collins’s Senate term. He might find the most qualified candidate to be the belligerent man staring back at him from the mirror.

Yikes.


April 14: Trump’s Obamacare Squeeze Play on Democrats Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump probably thought he was pulling a trick out of The Art of the Deal when he tried to pressure Democrats into helping him salvage his healthcare disaster. But he tricked himself, as I explained at New York:

A heavy-handed effort by the president to take hostage insurer subsidies critical to the proper functioning of Obamacare — with the demand that Democrats cooperate to salvage Trump’s own failed health-care initiative — seems to be backfiring loudly. Soon after Trump made it clear (first via a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then in his own words, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal) that he was indeed threatening to stop payment of the so-called Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies (amounting to $7 billion in 2017 and an estimated $10 billion in 2018), congressional Democrats quickly struck back, reports The Hill:

“Congressional Democrats are demanding that key Obamacare payments be included in the next spending bill, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if they are not.”

The “spending bill” in question is the omnibus appropriations measure needed to keep the lights on in the federal government beyond April 28, the expiration date of the funding bill enacted last December. It has been the subject of extended negotiations involving the White House and both parties in Congress, aimed at removing “poison pills” that might produce a deadlock, a Senate Democratic filibuster, and a government shutdown.

Providing an appropriation for CSR payments would permanently take this particular weapon out of Trump’s hands — no matter how an underlying lawsuit, over the constitutionality of the Obama administration making the payments without such an appropriation, turns out….

Far from forcing Democrats to the table to help him pass the Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation he cannot get with Republican votes alone, he has emboldened them to fight back. Given significant Republican support (even among House Freedom Caucus members) for keeping the CSR payments flowing to avoid an individual-insurance-market meltdown, Trump may have gone into battle with his own flanks exposed. And he has now managed to add a new complication to the already-sensitive discussions aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, for which he would inevitably bear the major responsibility.

He will likely have to back down pretty quickly. Besides the low odds of success — and the terrible optics of risking health coverage for millions of Americans because he can’t get his own party in line — there’s yet another problem: If Trump goes to the mats on this issue, he’ll have to answer to all the other powerful interests who are deferring their own demands to keep the federal government open. Is this complicated gambit on health care really more important to Trump than defunding Planned Parenthood or getting money for a border wall? That’s one of the problems with hostage-taking: All your friends will want their demands included on the ransom note.