Trump and Ryan Celebrate Bullying Their Own Party Into Supporting A Bad Bill That Will Never Become Law

trump-and-paul-ryanThe House voted 217 to 213 to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA). This cynical divisive act of cowardice served one (and only one) purpose — to give Donald Trump a legislative “victory.” But what did they win, exactly? I can guarantee you that, even as Trump talks about how great this plan is, he has no idea what the bill does. None. He just knows it must be a good plan because it passed.

During the campaign, Trump promised universal coverage at “a tiny fraction of the cost” and “it will be so easy.” It was only after he was elected that he realized how complicated health care is. By most estimates, it counts for a sixth of our economy and House Republicans passed it without knowing what was in it.

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t Nancy Pelosi, when she was the speaker, say they had to pass Obamacare to find out what was in it? No. That’s one of the enduring myths of Obamacare — a quote, truncated and removed from its context then used as a bludgeon. The Affordable Care Act took 18 months to develop. There were hours and hours of hearings and debates. President Obama toured the country promoting it and taking ownership of it. During that year and a half, we lost Sen. Ted Kennedy and had to endure a special election. Democrats (though they controlled both houses) negotiated away popular provisions such as the public option to garner bipartisan support, incorporating demand after demand from Republicans only to have them vote no anyway. So no, the ACA wasn’t “rammed through” like so many Republicans claim.

The bill that passed the House yesterday was debated for six hours. No amendments were allowed. No hearings were held. There was no score from the Congressional Budget Office letting us know how much it would cost or what the impact would be on the people. The previous version (the one that didn’t make it to a floor vote) was going to kick 27 million people off their health insurance. It was polling at 17 percent. Somehow, I doubt this version will be any better and, when the CBO score comes out in a week or so, we’re likely to find that it is much worse.

Why did they have to rush this? What was the hurry? One reason is that the Trump administration needed some legislative victory to tout. The president just held a 100-day rally in a town he once referred to as a “war zone” and all he could say was that he nominated a Supreme Court justice (which was McConnell more than Trump) and he signed a bunch of executive orders, which were themselves broken campaign promises. The evidence of this assertion is that after voting on the bill, House Republicans got on buses and rode to the White House for a Trump victory celebration. What were they celebrating? Paul Ryan and Donald Trump had bullied their own party into supporting bad legislation? That’s a win?

Trump said Obamacare is “dead” well, “essentially dead.” He described the Republican bill as “something that is very, very, incredibly well-crafted.” I can guarantee you with all certainty that he has no idea what is in that bill. Most of the Republicans who voted for it hadn’t read it.

Now, I can break down for you all the terrible things in this bill, such as how it declares being a woman a pre-existing condition, screws over special-needs kids, cuts Medicaid funds that help the poor to fund a tax cut for the wealthy, and offers states a waiver to allow insurance companies to jack up rates on pre-existing conditions and old people. But what’s the point? This bill will never become law. The Senate is going to start from scratch. That’s the thing that really bothers me about this. The AHCA will be DOA in the Senate. So all the arm twisting and bullying to get the votes they needed in the House was just so Trump could have his Rose Garden photo op:

It was a sea of white men all celebrating killing health care for at least 27 million people and passing a tax cut for people making more than $250,000 a year. They are so proud and happy. But most of them don’t even know what they voted for because what they really voted for was for Paul Ryan to keep his leadership post. Aside from Trump’s photo op, that was the priority here. Because if Ryan failed to pass a bill on this third try, then his speakership was going to be over. In fact, the entire House leadership team would have been kicked out.

Think about that. If you were a rank-and-file member, that conversation had to go something like:

“We need you to support this bill.”

“Can I read it?”

“We don’t have draft language yet.”

“What about a CBO score?”

“Nope.”

“Is it popular with the public?”

“Polling nationally at about 17 percent.”

“This bill sounds awful.”

“Don’t worry. You and your staff will get an exemption from whatever is in it.”

“Why should I vote for it?”

“If it fails again, the entire House leadership will be fired and you might have to take one of the posts.”

“Oh hell no!”

The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospitals Association, the AARP, insurance companies, and editorial boards across the country all oppose this bill. Perhaps the president has succeeded in uniting this country afterall.

Next week (or maybe the week after) the CBO is going to tell everyone exactly what the Republicans passed yesterday. Your congressman needs to hear from you. One of the easiest ways to make that happen is to use ResistBot to send faxes and letters to your representatives for free (though they would appreciate donations). I use it three or four times a week to let my congressman, Dr. Phil Roe, know that his district isn’t as safe as he believes. If we can’t make these people feel uneasy about something as egregious as this dumpster fire of a bill, then we’ve lost already. Next year will be the midterms and every member of congress needs to be held accountable for what they did yesterday. I’ll do my part. I’m counting on you to do yours.

Close Only Counts in Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and Running a Country

grasping-at-strawsThere is an interview with President Donald Trump in TIME this week. It was ostensibly to be a Q&A about whether certain statements he has made recently are false. I’ve read through it a few times now and have come away amazed at how he spins his own lies into . . . well . . . something, but certainly not the truth.

It started with Trump giving a list of his “predictions” that he felt he got right.

Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems. Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing. NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it. Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before. 

There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s take them one at a time.

“Sweden. I make the statement, everyone goes crazy. The next day they have a massive riot, and death, and problems.”

On February 19, Trump held a campaign rally in Florida. He said, “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden — Sweden — who would believe this? Sweden, they took in large numbers, they are having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening Brussels, you look at what’s happening all over the world.”

The Swedish government (and news agencies around the world) were confused by this statement because nothing happened in Sweden on Feb. 18. The president may have been confused by a segment on Fox News where Tucker Carlson interviewed a filmmaker pushing highly criticized documentary about issues Sweden is having with immigrants and refugees. Two days later, on Feb 21, police clashed with rioters in a majority immigrant neighborhood in Stockholm. Some rioter threw rocks and one officer was struck in the arm. Police fired warning shots to dispurse the crowd, but no one died and the police said the riot may have been the result of increased police pressure in the neighborhood.

The fact that a riot happened two days after the president made a reference to a terrorist incident that didn’t happen three days earlier doesn’t really mitigate his statement, does it? But Trump believes he got close enough. He wants partial credit.

Huma [Abedin] and Anthony [Weiner], you know, what I tweeted about that whole deal, and then it turned out he had it, all of Hillary’s email on his thing.

In October, a little more than a week before the election, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz at the House Oversight Committee to say that, while investigating Anthony Weiner for an unrelated matter, they discovered some emails to Clinton from Weiner’s wife and Clinton aide Huma Abedine on Wiener’s laptop. Comey has been roundly criticized for rushing to send the letter before anyone (including himself) knew if anything on the laptop was new or relevant to the Clinton email investigation. Contrary to the president’s statement, the laptop didn’t contain “all of Hillary’s email on the thing.” In fact, the wasn’t anything new or undisclosed on the laptop, leading many to speculate that Comey was attempting to put his thumb on the scale to help Trump in the week leading up to the vote. Trump wasn’t even close on that one, but he still wants credit.

NATO, obsolete, because it doesn’t cover terrorism. They fixed that, and I said that the allies must pay. Nobody knew that they weren’t paying. I did. I figured it.

Here the president doesn’t even try to make sense. NATO isn’t obsolete. In fact, it is essential for the defense of Europe and the encroaching threat of Putin’s Russia. They have been working on counterterrorism since 1980 and stepped up those efforts in 2011 after the attack on the World Trade Center. Countries don’t pay into NATO for defense. NATO allies agree to spend two percent of their GDP on defense (this is a goal to be reached by 2026, as of now only four countries are there). None of that money is paid to the United States and our contribution to NATO isn’t a favor to Europe, but an essential part of our own national defense. A free democratic Europe is essential to the security of the western world. He wants credit for being right about something he doesn’t understand.

Brexit, I was totally right about that. You were over there I think, when I predicted that, right, the day before.

The record of Trump’s predictions on Brexit will show that he wasn’t confident. In fact, when asked about his position on Brexit back in June, Trump wasn’t sure what it was. The day before the vote, he was hedging: “I don’t think anybody should listen to me because I haven’t really focused on it very much. … My inclination would be to get out, because you know, just go it alone. … I also tell people: ‘Don’t go with the recommendation, because it’s a recommendation that I would make, but that’s where I stand.’” He got the answer right, but I doubt he could show his work. Technically, he didn’t predict how the vote would go, only how he would have voted.

Then the reporter asked about the president’s various statements that have only a passing aquaintence with the truth.

Wiretapping:

Now remember this. When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes. What I’m talking about is surveillance.

Trump sent out four tweets during that fateful Saturday morning at Mar-a-Lago. In two of them he used quotes around “wiretapping” and in two he didn’t. But in all of them, he accused President Obama of illegally ordering it. In fact, he called the president “bad” and “sick.” None of that is mitigated by trying to walk it back with fake excuses about quote marks. He said it was “Nixon/Watergate” stuff. Trump brought up House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes holding an unusual press conference inwhich he said some of Trump’s campaign team turned up in surveliance files where the targets of surveillance were Russians. That doesn’t mitigate Trumps accusations or provide any sort of vindication for his ill-advised twitter storm. But Trump wants credit for it.

When the reporter brought up that Comey testified that there was no surveillance of the Trump campaign or transition team, he responded, “I have articles saying it happened.” Wow. So the FBI, the NSA, the DoJ, and the Brits all say there was no surveillance. But Trump will ignore them in favor of “articles” in the newspaper? I find it particularly gaulling that he’s referring to the New York Times here because as everyone should know, Trump has no respect for that paper, describing it alternately as “failing” and “fake news.” But if you look at the article to which Trump is probably referring, it doesn’t say anything about Obama ordering surveillance. The president is just way off here and grasping at anything to keep from having to admit he was in error. He’s wrong, but he wants the NYT to be the one to take the hit.

Three million undocumented people voted:

There is zero evidence to support that claim or any of the associated claims such as people being bussed across state lines to vote in two different states. It didn’t happen. But Trump says, “Well I think I will be proved right about that too.” He’s going to form a committee to study it. 

Wait, more than that? Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub disputes that claim and has demanded the president either present his evidence or stop making it. No one else in government seems to believe that this is possible. But Trump wants to form a committee and have it spend tax dollars chasing its tail so he won’t have to admit he got it wrong. Again. He wants credit for believing he’s right. 

Before the election when Trump made wild accusations and “predictions” that turned out to be false, it was just another celebrity blowhard beaking off. But now that he’s the president, it’s not a good look. The reporter asked him if there was a difference between citizen Trump and President Trump making these “kinds of predictions without having the factual evidence.” 

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right.”

No, Mr. President. You’re not. It just goes on an on from there. His contention that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father Raphael had something to do with the murder of President John F. Kennedy? “Well, that was in a newspaper.” It was in the National Enquirer and it was debunked days before Trump made the statement.

“I’m just quoting the newspaper, just like I quoted the judge the other day, Judge Napolitano, I quoted Judge Napolitano, just like I quoted Bret Baier, I mean Bret Baier mentioned the word wiretap.”

Napolitano got his information from Russia Today, Putin’s state-sponsored propaganda media channel and he’s been suspended from Fox News over it. Baier was interviewing Speaker Paul Ryan about unconfirmed reports of wiretapping and Ryan denied seeing any evidence of it. Fox News has said they have no evidence of any wiretapping. 

Rather than take responsibility for his own credulousness, he passes the buck. Oh, I was just quoting what I saw on TV. How can you hold me responsible for the lies of the dishonest media?  The reporter pointed out that traditionally presidents don’t make wild statements without having the facts at hand. 

“Well, I’m not, well, I think, I’m not saying, I’m quoting, Michael, I’m quoting highly respected people and sources from major television networks.”

So, the lying, dishonest, fake media suddenly becomes “highly respected” when he can use them to avoid taking responsibility for his outlandish statements. He lies. He lies repeatedly and with gusto over little, inconsequential matters. 

“Hey. I went to Kentucky two nights ago, we had 25,000 people in a massive basketball arena.” The Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville holds 18,000 people. That’s a respectable number. No one is going to think less of him because he filled an 18,000-seat arena instead of a 25,000-seat one. Why lie about something that doesn’t mean anything and can be so easily checked? 

President Trump doesn’t have the temperament for this job. He doesn’t do well when confronted with facts that oppose his own ideas. He denies his own words when confronted with the truth. I encourage everyone to read this interview and try to make sense of what he’s trying to say. He cannot admit fault. He cannot acknowledge that he got something wrong. He wants credit for getting close.

There are no participation trophies for world leaders. There are only consequences. Bald-faced lies coupled with a complete denial of the truth is the stock and trade of a toddler, not a president. It’s how a con man skates by in the world. It isn’t how an adult does his or her job. 

None Dare Call It TrumpCare?

In all fairness, President Donald Trump had very little to do with the ACA replacement bill making it’s way speedily through the House of Representatives right now. No one wants to put their names on it, (including Trump) so the Republicans call it the American Health Care Act. I’m hard pressed to think of a way you could have written a worse bill to replace Obamacare (We’re keeping all the fees and penalties, cutting your subsidies and coverage, defunding Planned Parenthood, and gutting Medicare). But let’s take a look at what we’re being fed.

First of all, though this claims to be a healthcare bill, it’s a budget bill. The House presented it as a budget bill so they could get it through the Senate with a simple majority. This also means you can’t have any real non-budget-related policy changes in the bill. That’s why we’re not seeing anything in that doesn’t have to do with how the government spends money.

There’s nothing about such Trump promises as selling insurance across state lines, transparency in pricing, or repealing the McCarren Ferguson Act. That would make the bill subject to the filibuster.

Obamacare took a year to pass — there were public hearings, debates, speeches, countless hours of TV coverage, a special election in Massachusetts when Sen. Ted Kennedy died, and an entire summer of Tea Party Town Hall meetings. The president moved off his positions to help bridge the gap with Republicans who had plenty of demands, but no interest in voting for it even when those demands were met. The result was an imperfect legislation-by-committee that nonetheless provided insurance coverage for millions of Americans who could not get it before.

It passed seven years ago. Republicans have been promising to repeal and replace it all this time including voting to repeal it more than 60 times. So it is unconscionable that they didn’t have a replacement ready to go on day one. But now that they have a replacement, they don’t want to debate it. It passed through the first committee at 4:30 a.m. without any markups. That’s unheard of — unless you’re trying to ram it through. Speaker Ryan wants to pass the bill next week and Sen. McConnell promised to have a vote in the Senate by April.

Neither of them can tell you how much the bill will cost or how many people will lose insurance because the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored the bill yet. And while Ryan argued that it was a sham to vote on Obamacare without a CBO score, now Republicans are attacking the CBO (which is an office filled with non-partisan number wonks).

Personal Mandate

Healthy people pay for insurance they don’t use to offset the costs of sick people. That’s how insurance works. That’s how it’s always worked. So Speaker Ryan’s contention only makes sense if your goal isn’t to provide health care. The goal is a tax cut for the rich.

Why do we have a personal mandate anyway? If you make a law that says insurance companies can’t turn away sick people, then you have to also make it a law that everyone has to have insurance. Otherwise, no one buys insurance until they get sick.

Under Obamacare, If you don’t have health insurance, you pay a fine. This drives healthy people into the marketplace:

“I have to buy insurance or I have to pay the IRS a penalty. I’m going to buy health insurance.”

Trumpcare flips this on its side. There is no penalty for not buying health insurance. But if you have a gap in coverage, you have to pay a 30 percent surcharge on your premiums for a year:

“I didn’t buy health insurance while I was looking for a job out of school, now I don’t want to buy it because I have to pay a 30 percent penalty. I’ll put that off until I get sick and have no choice.”

This alone makes this bill worthy of the name “Trumpcare” because it solves a problem that nobody thought was a problem. Seriously, during the entire year of debate over Obamacare, did anyone ever suggest that the issue with the penalties for not having coverage was who got to keep the money? The entire SCOTUS case over Obamacare was about whether the penalty was a fee or a tax. This bill doesn’t eliminate the penalty. It just changes who gets paid. How is that an improvement for anyone except insurance companies?

Premium Subsidies

If you have a personal mandate, you have to subsidize those who can’t afford it. Obamacare based subsidies on income as well as other factors. If you couldn’t afford your coverage you could receive subsidies to help pay for your health insurance. That’s the way it was supposed to work, anyway. But there was a donut hole in the law that left some people in a bind if they made too much money for a subsidy but still couldn’t afford coverage.

The expansion of Medicaid was designed to cover those people. Originally, the Medicaid expansion was mandated for every state. But several states sued and the courts said the fed couldn’t require states to expand Medicaid or build state insurance exchanges. The result was that states that expanded Medicaid saw a dramatic drop in uninsured. Those that refused, saw a lot of angry poor people.

The bill bases these subsidies on age. The older you are, the more money you get. This makes no sense because poverty affects young and old alike. And instead of increasing the subsidy with need, you get a flat rate.

Trumpcare doesn’t make sense as a health care bill. It doesn’t make sense as a budget bill. It only makes sense as a tax cut for the wealthy.

Goodbye, Medicaid

Medicaid under Obamacare was expanded. Medicaid under Trumpcare gets gutted. Speaker Ryan bragged that the bill does something that’s never been done before — it defederalizes an entitlement program, capping both spending and rate of growth. What he means by that is that rather than administering Medicaid. The fed will give block grants to states to run their own version of Medicaid. Capping spending and rate of growth is Ryanspeak for cutting funding and letting that states make up the difference in costs. I don’t know about your state, but Tennessee can’t afford it.

The bill calls for the savings from these Medicaid cuts go toward tax cuts for upper brackets. What this does is shift the money designated for poor people to rich people. In fact, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, this bill will transfer $370 billion from the poor to the top one percent of earners over ten years.

By the way, healthcare for the poor (according to Speaker Ryan) is an entitlement. But the tax breaks for the rich aren’t. Sounds like “Trumpcare” to me.

Compare and Contrast

Republicans want to compare the two plans using odd benchmarks like how many pages it took to print the bills.

Image: US-POLITICS-SPICER-BRIEFING

Incidentally, despite being so many fewer pages than the ACA, the Trumpcare bill has six pages dedicated to how to deal with a poor person who wins the lottery. It devotes a not-insignificant amount of space to allowing insurance companies to write off huge salaries for CEOs. I don’t recall that being part of the Tea Party chants. I don’t remember Trump campaigning on giving insurance companies a big tax cut. This only makes sense if the bill is a tax cut for the rich and not a healthcare bill.

When it comes to more important and relevant benchmarks, the Republicans don’t want to hear it. Literally. How much will Trumpcare cost? We don’t know. The Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored it yet and the GOP doesn’t want to wait on them. How many people will be left uninsured? Speaker Ryan can’t say.

The House is trying to rush through a vote and the Senate has already indicated that they’ll vote on it by April. That’s crazy. The only reason to do that is to hide the cost. They don’t want to know. Trumpcare.

They don’t care because the purpose of the bill is not to ensure healthcare for all Americans but to ensure profits for all insurance companies. If this bill makes it to Trump’s desk and he signs it, it won’t be while surrounded by old people, children, or the sick. He will be flanked by insurance executives in suits all tenting their fingers and licking their chops.

The ironic thing to me is that the people who will be hurt worst by this bill (those who stand to lose at least $5,000 in subsidies) voted for Trump by 59 percent. Is there a better name than “Trumpcare?”

Coverage

Let’s get something out of the way about insurance coverage. Republicans in the House don’t understand how it works. Later in the exchange in the video above, a House Republican yells that what he wants is for people to buy their insurance ala carte — picking the coverage they want to pay for. But insurance isn’t sold that way. It’s never been sold that way and Republicans don’t have the power to change the way an industry does business (not with a “budget” bill).

Think of it like your cable bill. You want HBO, but you don’t want CSPAN. You watch “Game of Thrones” but have no interest in watching our government’s dysfunction first hand.

You buy a package. The package includes CSPAN and HBO. You don’t get a break on your bill for not watching CSPAN. You don’t get to pick and choose which channels are part of the package. CSPAN isn’t for everyone, but it is important and so everyone gets access.

The same goes for things like prenatal coverage. I know a couple who owns a successful business, have no children, and no plans to adopt. Their health insurance covers prenatal care. This couple won’t use it. But their package will help subsidize the Duggers’ 21st kid instead. We can’t mandate the number of children people can have. So we spread the cost around. That’s how it works.

Republicans like to frame this debate as about access to healthcare, rather than affordability of healthcare. They seem to believe the problem is not enough patient choice, rather than not enough patient money. Along those lines, Trump and his surrogates have made some crazy promises about coverage that this bill cannot keep.

We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us. You can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much-simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.” — President-elect Trump, January 15, 2017.

“I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we’re going through. They’ll have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their family, not the government forces them to buy.” — HHS Secretary Tom Price, March 12, 2017.

S&P Global says between 6-10 million will lose coverage. Brookings says at least 15 million will lose coverage. The Congressional Budget Office (which released a report while I was writing this) estimates 24 million will lose coverage.

So How’s It Going?

The AARP is out.

The Heritage Foundation is out.

The House Freedom Caucus is out.

Breitbart is out.

Sen. “Tehran Tom” Cotton is out.

Sen. Rand Paul is out.

The American Medical Association is out.

The American Nurses Association is out.

The American Hospital Association is out.

Freedomworks is out.

Americans for Prosperity is out.

That’s some heavy hitters from the industry and from conservative politics. Well, if liberals don’t like it and conservatives don’t like it, who does support it?

Trump, Ryan, and The US Chamber of Commerce.

There is every indication that this bill won’t pass in its current form. Speaker Ryan said not passing it could stall the Republican’s agenda. Trump said if the bill fails, his plan B is to let Obamacare fail (because, you know, “death spiral”) and blame the Democrats.

The bottom line is that this bill is a travesty that fixes none of the problems Obamacare has and creates a whole new set of issues. To fix the problems with Obamacare, you’ll have to spend more money. Republicans are not interested in spending money to fix it. They’re not interested in providing healthcare to poor people. They just want to transfer more wealth to the upper earners.

I can’t think of a better name for that than “Trumpcare.”

 

EDIT: Here’s the CBO report.

 

Can You Get A Retroactive Waiver For Your Ethics?

source

Appointees to the Trump administration pledge an oath to a set of ethics laid out in an executive order titled “Ethics Commitments By Executive Branch Employees.” There are nine rules. This is No. 6:

6.  I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.

I looked it up because of reporting from Business Insider saying White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon contacted Breitbart Washington Editor Mathew Boyle and “instructed” him to write no more stories critical of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Evidently, the last one was a doozy.

According to the two sources, Bannon was so furious that he phoned Boyle after the story was published and unloaded on him. Boyle hadn’t sought to notify Bannon he was publishing the story in advance, the sources said.

Bannon further aggravated Boyle that week when he instructed him not to publish additional articles critical of Priebus, prompting the Washington editor to tell others that Bannon had betrayed Breitbart and was guilty of “treason,” according to a source.

If Bannon picked up that phone and called Doyle to instruct him to lay off Priebus, he violated his ethical pledge. If this pledge is indeed a condition of employment, then Bannon should be fired. If he’ll fudge on his ethics, what won’t he fudge on?

Now Trump could issue him an ethics waiver. That’s covered in the ethics oath — a waiver. For your ethics. All it requires is for Trump to sign it, keep a copy, and give one to Bannon. Did that happen already? Can you get a retroactive waiver — for your ethics?

To placate Doyle, the White House arranged interviews with Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, and even a one-on-one with Trump. Trading access for favorable coverage is a standard operating procedure. It has been for years. It’s the only reason Sean Hannity has a job.

Then came the American Health Care Act, which is supposed to both repeal and replace Obamacare. To use the president’s terms, the rollout has been a disaster. Officially, the White House was holding it at arm’s length, Kelly Ann Conway asked that it not be called “Trumpcare,” but Trump called it “our bill” in a tweet, so . . .

Breitbart called the AHCA “Obamacare-lite.” They have been hugely critical of it and key Republicans who’ve championed it. I wonder if that will have any effect on Doyle’s access to senior White House officials?

I imagine Breitbart is already on the president’s shit list over the wiretapping story. This played out in such an odd, yet somehow typical way. President Trump, angry over Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from any investigations of the Trump campaign, chewed out Bannon and Priebus before taking off to Florida leaving them behind in the dog house.

The next morning, Trump woke up angry and was given a copy of a Breitbart story that summarized radio host Mark Levin’s theory about an unverified report in the British press saying the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted a warrant for a server in Philadelphia belonging to Trump. Probably this one.

Trump responded by tweeting:

Boom. Drunk uncle strikes again. Trump accused President Obama of tapping his phone, of interfering in the election, and of being “bad” and “sick.” All this over a breathless headline on Breitbart. The only difference is that when your uncle forwards you the crazy crap he reads, you can ignore it. President Trump called on the House Oversight Committee to investigate Obama. To which Rep. Jason Chaffetz (who just said he wasn’t going to investigate Trump’s claims that 3-5 million people voted illegally) said, he hasn’t seen any evidence to support an investigation but he didn’t say no.

Consider this for a second: In his view, Trump has uncovered a “Nixon/Watergate” level scandal in his own White House involving his predecessor. Fewer than 30 minutes later he tweets about Swartzeneggar quitting “The Apprentice” and goes out for a round of golf. Does he not understand the seriousness of the charge? Does he not believe the charge? Does no one hold him accountable for his actions?

The White House scrambled to find a justification for the accusations and presented a list of news clippings that all depended on the reporting of the original (and unverified) story in Heatstreet. So, rather than come up empty handed, Trump punted it to Chaffetz. Let him come up empty handed. FBI Director James Comey asked the DoJ to refuse the request for an investigation. The White House said they’re done talking about it until Congress does its oversight job.

I can’t believe that my friends who voted for Trump were voting for this — a paranoid old man who flies to Florida every weekend to play golf? A president who parades his cabinet members around his private club in Palm Beach so that members who have paid him $200,000 have access? A man who may have to issue a bunch of retroactive ethics waivers for his inner circle?

 

Oh . . . you mean *that* Russian

ap-jeff-sessionsWay back in 1972, then-president Richard Nixon had a problem. His attorney general John Mitchell had resigned due to his involvement in Watergate. The investigation was ongoing and Nixon had to appoint someone to finish it.

Nixon chose Richard G. Kleindienst, the acting attorney general.

During this time, the Department of Justice was pursuing an antitrust case against ITT corporation. This was complicated by a couple of factors 1) their involvement in the 1964 coup in Brazil and 2) Their funding of the 1972 Republican National Convention.

When Kleindienst appeared before the senate for his confirmation hearing, he was asked several times if he’d spoken to anyone in the White House about the ITT case. Why? Because the attorney general and the DoJ are supposed to be independent of the White House. The president doesn’t give orders to the AG and the AG doesn’t consult the president on open investigations.

Kleindienst answered that he’d had no contact with the White House about ITT. He was confirmed as attorney general. Eventually, when a special prosecutor was appointed to look into Watergate, his team discovered a recording of an Oval Office phone call between President Nixon and Kleindienst in which the president told him to “drop the ITT case.”

So, Kleindienst had lied to the senate. When questioned about it, he claimed he thought the senator’s question was narrowly focused on a particular period of time, not the length of the entire ITT case. The special prosecutor filed criminal charges against Kleindienst, who resigned and plead guilty to lying to congress.

Skip to 2017 and President Trump’s pick to lead the Justice Department, Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. At his confirmation hearing, Sen. Al Franken asked:

“If it’s true, it’s obviously pretty serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian Government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

To which Sessions responded:

“I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

You’ll notice that Franken didn’t ask Sessions if he’d had contact with the Russians. He asked what Sessions would do as AG if it turns out Trump campaign officials (of which Sessions was one) had had contact with the Russians. Sessions volunteered that he had no contact.

So when it came out that Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the campaign, it appeared that Sessions lied under oath. He responded to this accusation by claiming he met with Kislyak in his role as a senator on the Armed Services Committee. But none of the other members of the committee met with Kislyak. And Sessions didn’t correct the record even after seeing his colleague Mike Flynn resign over failing to disclose his conversations with the very same Russian. As a side note, what is it about Kislyak that makes conversations with him so forgettable? No one can seem to remember meeting with him and when they’re reminded, they can’t recall if the subject of the thing that was consuming their lives at the moment came up.

Are we seeing the pattern here? An attorney general lies during his confirmation hearing. He’s caught. He claims he misinterpreted the question. The next step is resignation. Or it would be if he had any honor.

So where does that leave us? It seems a lot of Trump officials met with Russians during the campaign. Kislyak was at the RNC convention where at least some of these meetings took place.

Paul Manafort was fired by Team Trump when his name was discovered in a hand-written ledger in locked safe in the office of a Russian oligarch for whom Manafort used to lobby. The ledger denoted a $12 million payout to Manafort. Actually, that wasn’t the triggering event. Manafort didn’t disclose his lobbying on behalf of a foreign entity, which is a felony.

Carter Page was a Trump aide with experience in global energy production and ties to several Russian state-run energy companies. He denied he met with Kislyak even as he was fired from the campaign. He kept on denying it until about yesterday. But back in July, when asked if he met Kislyak at the Republican Convention, he issued one of the most bizarre non-denial denials I’ve ever read:

“I can neither confirm or deny any meeting with him at that event in the interest of respecting the confidentiality rules that people agreed to as it was an off-the-record session.”

Uh, dude. Saying “it was an off-the-record session” is a confirmation that the meeting took place.

Now, Team Trump says these meetings at the convention took place, but they were just “get-to-know” meet and greets. Nothing nefarious about them. We can all relate to that, right? Secretive off-the-record meet-and-greets between campaign officials and Russian diplomats? The kind that no one can seem to recall having or what was said? The kind Team Trump denied happened like 20 times?

Now, remember what happened at that convention. Team Trump’s only input into the RNC platform was to soften the Republican stance from arming Ukrainians against Russian invaders to providing “appropriate assistance” to Ukrainians.  Trump denied he had anything to do with that.

Michael Flynn was Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor. He resigned when it was discovered that he lied to both the FBI and Vice President Pence about his conversations with Kislyak on the day President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for interfering in our elections. Again, he claimed he couldn’t remember what they talked about.

Trump’s son-in-law and White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner along with Mike Flynn met with Kislyak at Trump Tower back in December. Funny thing about that meeting: the security tapes don’t show Kisylak entering or leaving Trump Tower, which suggests they brought him in some back way. That’s not normally what you’d do if the meeting was legit. It’s not like Kisylak would have been mobbed on the streets if he’d walked in the front door.

Donald Trump, Jr. was paid $50,000 for a speech about Syria at a French think tank called the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs. If you’re wondering what junior has to say about Syria that could possibly be worth 50 large, you’re not alone. Turns out the directors of the think tank once nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for a Nobel Prize.

Trump’s new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is the single largest shareholder of the Bank of Cyprus, which was fined $630 million by the DoJ for laundering money from Russian oligarchs. One of those oligarchs bought a house from Trump in Florida in which the future president made a tidy profit. Not one senator questioned Ross’s ties to Russia.

Yesterday, Sessions held a press conference to say he was recusing himself from any investigations dealing with the Trump campaign. This is too narrow. This is also unsustainable as the investigation would fall to the deputy AG who would be forced to investigate his boss. We need an independent prosecutor at a minimum and a non-partisan 9/11-style commission to investigate what really went on between Russia and the Trump campaign. We need to see Trump’s taxes to see if he has any financial ties to Putin.

Until that happens, expect to see more of the daily drip, drip, drip that keeps the story out front, and hijack’s Trump’s agenda. You know how you can tell when Trump is in trouble? He does stuff like this:

 

Hello From the Other Side (of the bathroom stall)

gender-neutral-signGoing to the bathroom used to be a private thing. Even public bathrooms used to be private in that no one cared or bothered you while you did your thing. You went in, you did your business, and you went back to class. Taking a leak didn’t used to be a political statement. But at some point, Republicans decided that the small government they wanted should still big enough to determine which bathrooms people should be allowed to use.

Oh sure, they don’t want to tell coal miners how to dispose of their toxic waste, but if there happens to be a transgendered kid at your high school, they have a hot take for you.

When President Obama issued guidance to public schools saying they should let transgendered students use whatever bathroom they feel comfortable using, the right lost their collective mind. They built up their strawmen arguments and went to town, saying we have to protect our women and children from perverts who hang out in bathrooms hoping to see a little girl pee. The way to do that, you understand, is to enact laws that prevent transgendered women from going to the women’s bathroom.

I had this argument dozens of times:

“We have to protect the women from perverts.”

“Transgendered women aren’t perverts. They don’t tend to molest children or even care about who’s peeing in the next stall.”

“But a pervert might take advantage by putting on a dress and going in the women’s bathroom.”

“Then why not enact legislation increasing the sanctions for molesting women in public bathrooms? Why enact new legislation aimed at a completely different group of people than the ones committing the crimes?”

Many of these people assured me that they didn’t have anything against trans people, they just didn’t want some man to put on a dress and get his jollies in the ladies room. Their logic seems to work like this: If I see a man in a dress go into a ladies room, I might not report it because I don’t want to be called transphobic. That’s dumb.

Naturally, whenever some weirdo was caught in a bathroom trying to see women pee, I got all the clips in my email and was tagged in social media posts.

“See!?! This pervert put on a dress and tried to videotape women peeing!”

“But he isn’t transgendered. What he’s doing is already illegal.”

That’s when I get accused of being a “libtard” who doesn’t “get it.” But I do get it. Trans people need to pee like everyone else. They need protection from perverts who want to peek into their underwear before letting them go to the bathroom to make sure they use the “right” door.

This brings us to President Trump — a man who bragged about how owning a beauty pageant meant no one would stop him when he took a stroll through the dressing rooms at Miss Teen USA. That is literally true. He bragged about it to Howard Stern. He didn’t even have the courtesy to put on a dress while he did it.

But back in June, he claimed to be a champion of the LGBT community.

It turns out, Trump was the one to bring in people who threaten the freedoms and beliefs of the trans community — Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Pence has a long history of trying to enact legislation to legalize discrimination against LGBT people. And in the senate, Sessions was one of the most hostile senators in terms of LGBT rights.

It started with a leaked draft executive order titled “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom.” This nearly mirrors Pence’s RFRA bill in Indiana that caused him so much trouble a few years ago. It allows businesses to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of “deeply held religious beliefs.” The memo got out, was roundly criticized and died, according to reporting, when Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, White House senior advisor, pushed to kill it.

One wonders why they haven’t wielded this influence with respect to the trans community.

Yesterday, the Trump administration lifted the protections for trans students in public schools enacted by Obama in 2014. Out of curiosity, I searched for what I was certain would be waves and waves of stories about trans students molesting girls in locker rooms over the last three years, but I came up empty.

So why is this a priority for the Trump administration? Reporting suggests that Sessions pushed for this. That old unreconstructed racist hasn’t wasted any time being a terrible person. Several reports say newly minted Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos offered some pushback on the order but was told by the president to sign off or quit. I can understand why she didn’t quit. She paid a lot of money for that cabinet position and it’s not like trans students are people or anything. But DeVos added insult to injury on Twitter.

That brings us to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

The Obama administration guidance said trans students are covered under Title IX, saying that the law’s injunction against discrimination based on “sex” should cover gender identity. A federal district court in Texas issued a nationwide injunction in 2016 until the guidance could be adjudicated. Sessions withdrew the guidance, ending that court action.

Case law, as it turns out, was not in Session’s favor. Transgender plaintiffs had successfully won court cases involving the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under Title IV rules barring sexual discrimination in the workplace. Other successful cases involved the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Credit Act, and Title VII. Had Sessions not pulled the guidance, it is likely the courts would have found in favor of trans rights. That’s why he had to pull the guidance now. Waiting would have codified these protections.

So now the Trump administration falls back on the old “states rights” chestnut. Surely, they argue, local officials have a better understanding of the needs of the community and can provide local solutions without those horrible federal mandates.

I disagree. I believe one of the problems with our public education system is that we give too much deference to local school boards. Either trans students have rights or they don’t and the equal protection clause in the Constitution suggests that those rights shouldn’t depend on which county or state the trans person lives.

In my home state, Sen. Mae Beavers has introduced a trans bathroom bill. She paid no heed to the problems North Carolina had with HB2. She paid no heed to similar problems in Texas. She paid no heed to constituents or Tennessee-based businesses that understand these draconian and puritan legislative efforts only serve to hurt the state’s economy. Businesses don’t want to relocate to a state where their employees face discrimination.

But beyond the economic arguments, it is just bad policy to single out a vulnerable community for punitive and discriminatory legislative action. It hurts the people she was elected to serve.

During the election, people tried to tell me that Trump wouldn’t be horrible on LGBT issues. He’s a Manhattanite, they said. He doesn’t have the bigotry for the LGBT community that other Republicans have. Besides, Ivanka would keep him in line.

Like much of what I was told about Trump during the campaign, this is poppycock. He may say that Caitlin Jenner is welcome to use whatever bathroom she wants in Trump Tower, but if you’re not a famous trans person, I guess you can go pound sand. His actions indicate that he feels fine with your rights being determined by the sensitivity of some locally elected school board that’s probably still mad they can’t start their meetings with a prayer anymore.

Sessions may have won a battle, but the courts will eventually determine that Title IX covers all of us. Not just the people of whom he approves.

Russian to Judgement or From Russia with Love?

flynn_putin_021517

By now the entire world knows that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has resigned his White House post. That makes him a record holder! He is the shortest-serving national security advisor in our nation’s history. Congratulations, general!

If we were to take the advice of Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science Committee, we’d get all our news “directly from the president” and Flynn would still have a job. That’s because President Trump wouldn’t tell us anything about Flynn’s contacts with the Russians. Assuming of course that Trump knew himself. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the beginning.

On Dec. 29 2016, President Obama issued sanctions against Russia for meddling in our elections. He expelled some diplomats and took over a compound used by Russia here in the states. That same day, Flynn texts the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the two spoke on the phone multiple times.

The next day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announces that he wouldn’t retaliate, instead offering US diplomats in Russia an invitation to the Kremlin for a Christmas party. President-elect Trump fires off a tweet:

Senior Obama officials tell reporters that they are aware of Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador.

On Jan. 15, 2017, Vice President-elect Mike Pence says in an interview that he’d spoken with Flynn about the calls and was assured that they did not discuss the sanctions. It was just a looking-forward-to-working-with-you call. He “did not discuss anything having to do with expelling Russian diplomats.

On Jan. 23, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the press corps that Flynn didn’t discuss sanctions with the ambassador.

Three days later on Jan. 26, Sally Yates, acting attorney general (remember her?), informs the White House Counsel’s office that the Department of Justice knows that Flynn talked about the sanctions with the ambassador and his denials could mean he’s susceptible to blackmail by the Russian government. Flynn “misled” Pence who in turn misled the American public. Trump asks the White House Counsel to look at the legal issues involved.

On Jan. 28, President Trump had his official call with Putin. Flynn is among those in the Oval Office listening to the call.

trump

On Feb. 1, Flynn makes a surprise appearance at the daily press briefing to make a statement about Iran launching a missile in the vicinity of a Saudi ship. Flynn said, “As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” demonstrating that he continues in his job as national security advisor.

A week later on Feb. 8, Flynn again denies he spoke about sanctions with the ambassador. But the next day, Flynn’s spokesperson said Flynn “couldn’t be certain the topic didn’t come up.”

On Feb. 9, someone finally got around to telling Pence that Flynn lied to him. Also, the Washington Post broke the story about the DoJ telling the White House about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions.

Feb. 10, Trump says he doesn’t know anything about the reports about Flynn. Spicer later clarifies that, while Trump was talking about a specific report in the Washington Post, not about the Flynn scandal in general.

Feb. 13, Flynn is still working, sitting in on calls with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Kelly Ann Conway goes on TV and says the president has “full confidence” in Flynn. Sean Spicer says the president is “evaluating the situation.” Flynn submits his resignation, still insisting he “crossed no lines.” Flynn apologizes to Pence and says in an interview that the leakers should be prosecuted. Trump echoed that sentiment:

The Nazis take Flynn’s resignation pretty hard, but they know who to blame. 

So where does that leave us? Well, with more questions than answers, really.

Why did Trump wait until the story broke publically before he fired Flynn? Had the story not broken, would Flynn still have a job? Was Flynn freelancing or did Trump tell him to contact the Russian ambassador? Flynn is the third Trump advisor to resign because of inappropriate contact with Russian officials. Was he talking with the Russians during the campaign too? Were others? Apparently yes. Several Trump campaign officials were talking with members of Russian intelligence during the campaign. Now, to be fair, there is no evidence at the moment of any sort of collusion or cooperation between the Trump camp and the Russians. But given the interference in our campaign by Russian intelligence, it would seem that an independent investigation is in order.

President Trump said Flynn was “treated very very unfairly by the media.” Trump wants to investigate where the leaks came from (he suspects the CIA and the FBI) and accused the leakers of trying to “cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.” I’m at a loss as to what kind of bubble the president must be in to believe Hillary made Flynn reach out to the Russians or what evidence he has to make such a specious claim. Were I in a position to ask the president a question, I’d like to know when he decided that leaks were a bad thing.

You may recall that during the campaign Trump was a big fan of leaks, mentioning the Wikileaks information about the internal communications of the DNC (also illegal, btw) about 150 times during the last month of the campaign. He praised Wikileaks. He praised (and repeated) erroneous FBI leaks about an imminent indictment of Hillary Clinton. But now, he’s worried about the criminality of it, the un-Americaness of it. Like CNN Anchor Jake Tapper said, “It’s not a moral position if you only hold it when it applies to you.”

The FBI says they will not prosecute Flynn over this because no one gets prosecuted for the Logan Act. The House Oversight Committee will not investigate. The House Intelligence Committee will not investigate Flynn but will investigate the leaks. Sen. John McCain wants to investigate Flynn and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said such an investigation in the Senate is “highly likely.”

Meanwhile, the Russians have a spy ship off the coast of Connecticut and seem to be testing the new president by violating a cold-war era treaty by launching a cruise missile. Oh, and they’re working with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Let’s also recall that Flynn was forced out of his last government job in 2014 (President Obama and President Trump have one thing in common, they both fired Michael Flynn).

“Former subordinates at the DIA said Flynn was so prone to dubious pronouncements that senior aides coined a term — ‘Flynn facts’ — for assertions that seemed questionable or inaccurate.”

He had a real hard on for “radical Islamic terrorism” that bordered on the fanatical, if not unhinged. He claimed his firing (along with his deputy) was a political purge by Obama because of his stance on Muslims. Retired Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chair of the joint chiefs said of Flynn’s departure from DIA, “This is not about the right to speak out, it is about the disappointing lack of judgment in doing so for crass partisan purposes. This is made worse by using hyperbolic language all the while leveraging the respected title of ‘general.’”

Flynn literally went from being one of the most respected members of the intelligence community to leading chants of “Lock her up!” at the RNC convention. That’s not something you normally see a retired general do. Neither is politicizing the intelligence services, which are traditionally (and by necessity) non-partisan.

It will be interesting to see what Flynn has to say should he be called to testify before some senate investigation. The DoJ has transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls because they routinely intercept calls to the Russian ambassador. One would think Flynn would know that and couch his language. Perhaps he did. But you’d think he’d know to avoid the subject of sanctions in the call itself, rather than just in the public statements and private conversations with the vice president.

Flynn is out and that’s a good thing. And while we won’t get an indepent investigation of the events leading to his ouster, the entire affair has a frayed edge to it. It feels like the first pulls on a thread that unravels the whole sweater. We’ll see.