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March 24 2017 6:04 PM

Trump on the AHCA’s Failure: “It’s Been a Very Interesting Experience”

On Friday afternoon, President Trump delivered remarks on the failure of the American Health Care Act. “We were very close,” he said from the Oval Office. “It was a very tight margin. We have no Democrat support, no votes from the Democrats. They weren't going to give us a single vote.” The president went on to say that the plan now is to let Obamacare collapse and hope the Democrats are pushed into working with the GOP on crafting a replacement. “I've been saying the last one-and-a-half years, the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode. It's exploding right now."

That is true, but Trump’s analysis before now has usually been accompanied with a caveat: Letting Obamacare fail would be terrible for the American people and a bad move. Here’s what he said on this course of action at a rally just last month:

I said to the Republicans, I said you want to do something great politically: don't do anything. Sit back for two years, let it explode. The Democrats will come and beg for us to do something, but we can't do that to the American people. We have to fix it. And we will.

Well, will they? When? Trump told reporters there’s no rush. “I never said—I guess I’m here, what, 64 days? I never said repeal and replace Obamacare—you’ve all heard my speeches—I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.”

In fact, he did. “When we win on Nov. 8 and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare,” he said at a rally a week before the election. From Politico:

"I will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace,” he continued. “And it will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.

In any case, on Friday, Trump told reporters repeatedly that Obamacare is certain to fail —“It's imploding and soon will explode”— and that he holds no hard feelings about Paul Ryan and House Republicans having botched this effort to undo it. “I’ve had a great relationship with the Republican Party—it seems that both sides like Trump and that’s good,” he said. “I'm not going to speak badly about anybody within the party.”

What was important about the AHCA’s collapse, Trump now realizes, were the lessons we all learned along the way:

I think this is something that certainly was an interesting period of time. We all learned a lot. We learned about loyalty, we learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules obviously in both the Senate and in the House.

And with that, this Very Special Episode of the Trump presidency is over. “Certainly for me,” the president said, “it's been a very interesting experience.” Likewise.

March 24 2017 5:45 PM

Trump Says He Never Promised to Quickly Repeal Obamacare. Here’s a Bunch of Times He Promised Exactly That.

Republican leaders in the House pulled their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare from the floor on Friday afternoon once it became clear that it did not have the votes needed to pass. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Donald Trump suggested that this was simply all part of his plan. “You've all heard my speeches,” he said. “I never said ‘repeal it and replace it within 64 days.’ I have a long time. But I want to have a great health care bill and plan—and we will and it will happen.”

Hmm. That doesn’t sound quite right.

Here is a small sampling of all the times Donald Trump promised that repealing and replacing Obamacare would be a quick and relatively painless lift, one that he would get to right away.

Jan. 24, 2015, in a speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit:

“Somebody has to repeal and replace Obamacare. And they have to do it fast and not just talk about it.”

Feb. 9, 2016, on Twitter:

Feb. 22, 2016, at a campaign rally:

“Obamacare is going to be repealed and replaced. … You’re going to end up with great health care for a fraction of the price and that’s gonna take place immediately after we go in. Okay? Immediately. Fast. Quick.”

March 3, 2016, on his campaign website (on a page that has since been deleted):

“On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.”

Oct. 27, via the Detroit News:

“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare. What a mess,” Trump told an enthusiastic crowd of thousands at the SeaGate Convention Center in downtown Toledo, his second of three Thursday rallies in Ohio.

Nov. 1, via Politico:

“When we win on Nov. 8 and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare. We have to do it,” Trump said Tuesday afternoon in an address on the Affordable Care Act in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
“I will ask Congress to convene a special session so we can repeal and replace,” he continued. “And it will be such an honor for me, for you and for everybody in this country because Obamacare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.”

Nov. 7, via Roll Call:

“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare,” Trump told a crowd in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during his final campaign rally on Monday evening. “It has just been announced that the residents of Michigan are going to experience a massive, double-digit premium hike, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s not going to matter that much, honestly, because we’re going to terminate it. You’re not going to have to worry about it, OK? Don’t worry.”

Jan. 10, via the New York Times:

President-elect Donald J. Trump demanded on Tuesday that Congress immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and pass another health law quickly. His remarks put Republicans in the nearly impossible position of having only weeks to replace a health law that took nearly two years to pass.
“We have to get to business,” Mr. Trump told The New York Times in a telephone interview. “Obamacare has been a catastrophic event.” Mr. Trump appeared to be unclear both about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress and about the difficulty of his demand — a repeal vote “probably some time next week” and a replacement “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”

Jan. 11, via Politico:

The president-elect, addressing reporters at a news conference in New York, said his administration will submit a plan to repeal and replace the law, known as Obamacare, “almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter” his pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price, is confirmed.
“It will be repeal and replace,” Trump said. “It will be essentially simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day. Could be the same hour.”

I guess in the president's defense, he's right: He never said 64 days.

March 24 2017 5:24 PM

It’s Beginning to Seem Possible That Donald Trump Is Not in Fact “the Ultimate Closer”

 

Members of Speaker Paul Ryan’s team, trying to appeal to Trump’s ego and deal-making sensibilities, have begun calling him the “closer” or the "ultimate closer.”

A Trump associate had used a similar superlative in a conversation with Breitbart.com the week before:

“The President gave Ryan a chance,” one source close to the President said. “If he doesn’t get his act together soon, the President will have no choice but to step in and fix this on his own. He’s the best negotiator on the planet, and if this were his bill not Ryan’s it would not be this much of a mess.”

And here's a March 9 CNN article:

"He gets the complexity of this," a senior administration official said. "It's a sell for him," the official said, adding that Trump sees himself as the ultimate deal maker and "I think he's willing to cut deals," to get this legislation passed, the official said.

Trump, the ultimate deal stud, met personally with holdouts in the House's Freedom Caucus on Thursday. Here's how that went:

screen_shot_20170324_at_5.01.38_pm

Screenshot/Hot Air

Trump subsequently turned to perhaps the most fearsome weapon in a master negotiator's arsenal: the ultimatum.

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Screenshot/Newsweek

And here's how that ended up:

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Screenshot/Vox

It really is beginning to seem like maybe Donald Trump is not so much a master negotiator and businessman as he is a flimflam bullshitter who's only still rich because he inherited a fortune large enough to hire lawyers who, so far, have always been just good enough to keep him a few steps ahead of everyone he's ripped off. Eventually, though, we all pay the piper.

March 24 2017 4:08 PM

Republicans Cancel AHCA Vote Despite Trump Demand That It Be Held Friday

 

A day after Donald Trump demanded that Republican House leaders hold a Friday vote on the flailing American Health Care Act Obamacare replacement bill—and hours after he reportedly repeated his demand in a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan—the AHCA has been pulled from consideration and will not be voted on. Trump told the Washington Post's Robert Costa that, at least "in the near future" (in Costa's words), the bill will not be taken up again.

The AHCA was by opposed by Democrats and a number of moderate Republicans, who believed it would cut coverage too severely—but also by hard-line conservatives who believed it didn't go far enough in cutting spending and deregulating the insurance industry. Various running tallies had indicated that the bill was between four and 15 votes short of being able to pass.

Despite his Thursday ultimatum and reports that his wishes had not changed Friday, Trump claimed to Costa that it was his decision to pull the bill. Various anonymous sources have also already begun suggesting that Trump didn't really want to pursue health care legislation upon taking office but was persuaded to do so by Paul Ryan and chief of staff Reince Priebus. That's going to be a tough row to hoe, though, given the number of times candidate Trump promised that he would replace Obamacare immediately:

The political implications of Republicans' failure to replace the Affordable Care Act after seven years of claiming they were ready to do so at any moment will no doubt be hashed over for the next two to 100 years; for now, Obamacare and its massive if flawed expansion of American health coverage remain the law of the land.

March 24 2017 4:05 PM

The Trump-Russia Investigation Is a Farce

In a sideshow to all that other drama happening on Capitol Hill on Friday, the House Intelligence Committee descended further into confusing farce with another set of dueling press conferences between its top-ranking Republican and Democratic members.

First up was Republican Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who announced to reporters that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had agreed to testify before the committee. Manafort is a central player in the Trump-Russia drama. In addition to allegedly receiving off-the-books payments when he worked for Russian-backed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an AP report this week suggested that, prior to working for Trump, Manafort had worked on a plan to influence politicians and the media on Putin’s behalf. Nunes would not say if that testimony would be public or closed.

Nunes also announced that FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, who testified in a public hearing on Monday, would return to the Hill for a second briefing behind closed doors. It’s not clear why they have to come back, but Nunes specified that it is not related to the announcement he made on Wednesday that he’s seen documents showing that the intelligence community incidentally collected and then disseminated communications by the Trump transition team. Nunes also said that a planned public hearing on Tuesday with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had been postponed.

The last announcement in particular caused Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff to go ballistic, by his standards anyway:

Schiff then held his own press conference in which he essentially accused Nunes of coordinating with the White House to scuttle the Russia investigation. “What other explanation can there be?” he said of the decision to postpone the hearing. He also said that members of the committee had still not seen the documents collected by Nunes in what Schiff called a “dead of night excursion.” He called the fact that Nunes had shared the information with the Trump administration and held a press conference at the White House “important in terms of understanding what's really going on here.”

The strange events of Wednesday—during which the Republican head of the congressional committee tasked with investigating possible Trump-Russia connections went to Trump with information he had gleaned during that investigation—have only fueled growing skepticism, including from members of his own party, about whether Nunes can conduct an impartial investigation. A Democratic member of the committee accused the chairman of running “his own intelligence service.”

It also underscored the degree to which different members of this committee are investigating completely different things. For Republicans, this is about the leaking of classified information meant to damage Trump, notably the conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that forced Flynn’s resignation. There’s also the new but related question of whether the people connected to the Trump campaign, observed during routine surveillance of foreign targets, were improperly “unmasked”—that is, were their identities documented by intelligence agents rather than hidden as would normally be the case for U.S. citizens swept up in incidental collection. (Here’s a useful explainer on the concept.)

Hanging over all of this are the allegations Trump made on Twitter on March 4, and mentioned again in his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that Obama had tapped the phones in Trump Tower during the transition. Nunes reiterated again Friday, as he has before, that “there was no wiretapping of Trump Tower. That didn't happen.” However, he has also previously suggested that Trump’s claims shouldn’t be taken literally and may have instead referred to a broader pattern of surveillance. (This is clearly not what they referred to.) Nunes’ statement about incidental collection on Wednesday certainly did not vindicate Trump’s claim but seemed calculated to give the White House just enough to claim vindication, which Trump and his spokesman did.

For Democrats, this investigation is about the actual degree of Russian interference in the election and what role the Trump campaign itself might have played in it. It’s possible we may finally be getting closer to learning some hard facts on this question, which may be the motivation for the torrent of bullshit unleashed by Nunes over the past week.

Comey confirmed on Monday that there’s an ongoing investigation of links between Trump associates and the Russian government. CNN reported on Wednesday that FBI officials say they have information suggesting that people connected with the campaign were communicating with the Russian government to coordinate the release of hacked information to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Those officials say they can’t prove this collusion yet, but that it’s now a large focus of the investigation. Schiff also said on Wednesday that he’s seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of coordination between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

This is what Democrats have been waiting for. After months of leaks, anonymous quotes from intelligence officials, and investigations by both government agencies and the media, we’ve seen plenty of evidence that there were ethically dubious people with vague ties to Russia in Trump’s orbit. What we haven’t seen is any hard evidence that Trump or his associates were actively working with the Russians to sabotage Clinton. In January, the agencies’ released a declassified version of their assessment that Vladimir Putin was actively trying to help Trump, consisting almost entirely of previously available information, much of it dubiously interpreted. Nearly half of it consisted of a long and irrelevant report on the Kremlin-funded cable network RT. So, despite the reports of the past week, some skepticism is still warranted about whether there is hard proof of collusion, and if so, that we’ll ever see it.

At this point, it looks pretty obvious that the administration’s allies in Congress are working to prevent the investigation into Trump’s Russia ties. It’s less obvious that the investigation itself is turning up the goods.

March 24 2017 10:10 AM

ACHA Live Blog: Goodnight, Trumpcare

Republicans planned to hold a House vote Thursday on the American Health Care Act, their Obamacare replacement plan, but then changed their mind as it appeared the bill didn't have enough support to pass. A vote is now expected to take place sometime Friday afternoon, but what the outcome of that vote will be is still up in the air. Below: Running updates on the whip counting, negotiation, and desperate spinning currently going down in D.C.

March 23 2017 10:47 PM

Trumpcare Is Coming to a House Vote. It Could Even Pass.

There has been one endgame strategy with Trumpcare for a month: Eventually just put the bill on the floor, and dare members to side either with it or with Obamacare. This will be put to its test Friday, after a Thursday of collapsing negotiations and ongoing recriminations surrounding the American Health Care Act. Donald Trump has said negotiations are over, and now he just wants a vote. Members will either be with the AHCA, polling at about 17 percent popularity, or they will be with Obamacare.

It may … work?

House Republicans met for a 7 p.m. meeting Thursday night that lasted about 90 minutes. I was expecting an abject horror show of sullen faces and terse no-comment responses from members as they came out, but they were surprisingly optimistic about the votes falling in place on the floor.

“You don’t get everything you’d like,” Texas Rep. Joe Barton said afterward. A member of the Freedom Caucus, Barton had been leaning no. Thursday night he said that he’ll vote yes, because it’s the only choice.

The meeting served as a clearing of the air and a rallying call for unity. Members of both the moderate Tuesday Group and the conservative Freedom Caucus spoke up about the process and where they were coming from. Several members spoke about the effect of a speech by Rep. Brian Mast, a double amputee veteran, urging everyone to come together.

Speeches are fine. But there were also policy changes afoot, along with “assurances” being made in private.

Some final amendments were finalized before negotiations wrapped. Rep. Kevin Brady, a lead author of the bill as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said that another $15 billion would be added to the bill’s patient and state stability fund—on top of the $100 billion already there—so that states could address “mental health issues, maternity care, infant care, and substance abuse issues.”

Why more money for those specific benefits? Because the final bill will eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s 10 essential health benefit requirements, including in these areas, beginning in 2018. (Republicans like to describe eliminating federal benefit guarantees as allowing “each state to determine its list of essential benefits,” in case you happen to see that particular gloss floating around.) The benefits that Brady listed are the ones most endangered by that repeal as insurers find them no longer worth offering.

Brady also said that the ACA’s Medicare surcharge on high-earners (a TAX!) would be extended another six years to cover for the cost of the essential benefit repeal and allow the bill to be revenue neutral so that it can pass through reconciliation in the Senate. “We expect the CBO to score that more people will choose health care plans,” Brady said, “because they’ll be more affordable for them, so that will cost money.” You can read more about this dynamic on Slate. We will not see a Congressional Budget Office score on this latest batch of amendments, including the significant policy change regarding essential health benefits, before the Friday vote, though.

“The Freedom Caucus has improved the bill significantly,” Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a Freedom Caucus member and holdout, said after the meeting.

The change in tune from Franks and Barton suggests that the Freedom Caucus may have just been holding out for this precise moment, when Trump called negotiations over, to declare victory. Not all of them will vote yes, but the most torn ones will. Nor will another $15 billion thrown at states turn around all moderate defectors. But can leaders eke out 216 votes, perhaps after a lengthy floor vote involving some indiscreet arm-twisting? Maybe!

“Each member is really going to have to search their conscience tonight and come back tomorrow afternoon and realize, it’s a vote to maintain Obamacare or it’s a vote to get rid of Obamacare,” New York Rep. Chris Collins, one of Trump’s most loyal Hill allies said. “Those who say they want to get rid of more of it, or that it’s Obamcare Lite? This is it. It becomes a binary choice tomorrow.”

And if it prevails, it will head to the Senate, where it may well be found in violation of multiple planks of the Byrd Rule, and where not many senators like it.

March 23 2017 10:46 PM

Largest Canadian School System Will End Class Trips to U.S. Because of Travel Ban Uncertainty

This is what happens when you have laws that target people arbitrarily, rules that are administered unevenly and often treat people unfairly—people stop coming. Not terrorists, not criminals, normal people stop coming. School children. On Thursday, the Toronto District School Board announced it would no longer be scheduling school trips across its southern border into the U.S. because of the uncertainty around the rules for entry and the risk that a young school child might be turned away or detained. And, to be honest, that seems fair; it's hard to blame them.

The school district, Canada’s largest, which covers 584 schools and more than 284,000 children, sits just miles from the U.S. border and actively sent dozens of school groups to the U.S. each year, but no longer. "We just can't have trips going across the border and a student for no legitimate reason being denied entry to the U.S. We're obviously not going to leave that student and continue on," Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the board, told the Associated Press.

The 25 trips already on the books will proceed as planned, but if any of the students are refused entry at the border, the entire group will return home, according to the Toronto Star.

March 23 2017 8:15 PM

Trump Reportedly Wants an AHCA Vote Friday. Or Else.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will hold a vote Thursday on the American Health Care Act, the Republican Party's Obamacare replacement plan. But whether the bill will pass is still an open question. Below: Running updates on the vote counting, negotiation, and desperate spinning currently going down in D.C.

March 23 2017 5:34 PM

Watch a Gorsuch Defender Say a Dead Victim of Gun Violence Would Support Gorsuch

At Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, experts and witnesses testified about Gorsuch, his past decisions, and his potential to shape the law. The most moving testimony came from Sandy Phillips, a self-described Republican gun owner whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessi, was killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. “My daughter went to a movie and was slaughtered,” Phillips said of the massacre, which took 12 lives and injured 70. She continued:

I use the word ‘slaughtered’ because the killer chose to use a weapon designed for the battlefield by the military as part of his arsenal and ambushed people that could not escape. He was able to purchase 4,000 rounds of green-tip .223 high velocity bullets over the internet without even showing his drivers’ license.
The night Jessi was murdered, I was texting with her. … The last thing she wrote to me was, “I can’t wait to see you. I need my mama.” I wrote back, “I need my baby girl.” Minutes after that text, my phone rang. What I heard on the other end of the phone changed our lives forever. …
Our little girl had been hit six times with the .223s that sprayed the theater in mere seconds. One bullet tore through her leg and entered into the other leg making it impossible to escape. Three more ripped through her abdomen. One hit her clavicle and shattered it. And one exploded through her left eye leaving a five-inch hole that blew her brains onto the theater seats, floor, and people. I live with that image every day of my life.

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