Why is Mike Flynn asking for a deal whereby he testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee (as well as the House Committee and the FBI; although Nunes’ spokesman has denied the report and the FBI won’t comment) in return for immunity? This according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

This is, if true, is troubling. Maybe. We’ll find out if and when Flynn finally does indeed testify. And perhaps the request for immunity – again if true – had to do with his failure to register as a foreign agent. Likely of Turkey, and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin’s company, for whom Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc, did over $500,000 worth of lobbying.

Was Flynn working for the Turkish government? Alptekin insists that his firm has nothing to do with Turkey’s government. DOJ and perhaps FBI officials who seem to have pressured for Flynn to do the registration perhaps have a different view. And these would have been Obama administration DOJ and FBI officials doing the pressuring.

However, the specific issue Flynn’s consulting firm was charged with lobbying on seems to have been exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen who currently lives in Pennsylvania. And who Turkish President Erdogan blames for having a role in the attempted coup in Turkey last year, and wants extradited back to Turkey.

Is this the matter that Flynn wants immunity on? Or does it deal with Russia? We don’t know at this point. And it is a rather uncomfortable lack of knowledge. Is this a thread that will unravel in a dangerous way exposing contacts that Flynn wants to hide?

Or does General Flynn have a healthy distrust of the prosecutorial zeal of people like Adam Schiff of the House Intel Committee? After what happened to Scooter Libby, about 10 years ago, Flynn has every right to want protection. But so far the Senate Committee has apparently been unwilling to grant him immunity.

Again, we have lots of emerging speculation on the part of the media, and almost no hard data. Again, the fact that it is an intelligence investigation and not a criminal investigation (until it is), means most of the data/evidence is not publicly available.

And again, as much information as can be released without clearly damaging American intel interests, should be released. Flynn needs to testify. With or without immunity.

This is Susan Hennessey, a former lawyers for the NSA, talking about classified information and leaks:

The way the system works is that it is classified until there is an affirmative decision to declassify it. So a leak or public disclosure doesn’t declassify it, and it doesn’t allow people who are aware of it to then discuss it publicly.

This is Kafka, pure and simple. The context of Hennessey’s quote is Chairman Nunes and whether his acknowledgement in his press conference of the fact that there is a FISA surveillance warrant related to the documents he saw on the White House grounds, is itself an unauthorized release of classified information.

Get it? The administrative state, or the bureaucracy or whatever you want to call it, has been leaking without pause in what is most likely an attempt to frustrate, thwart and perhaps even destabilize the Trump administration. And Nunes mentions that there is a FISA warrant in existence somewhere out there, and he may now be subject to an investigation?

Another edifying quote from the story in The Daily Beast, (where else?):

The existence or non-existence of a FISA warrant is a classified fact.

This courtesy of Bradley Moss, a lawyer specializing in classification. The point isn’t that Chairman Nunes may have fumbled a fine point. That will surely come out, especially with a little help from Democrats under co-Chairman Schiff’s oh-so-benevolent guidance. Who now are likely to launch an ethics committee investigation.

And that’s the main point. Nunes is being intimidated by any lawyerly squeezing and media-shaming necessary in order to push him off the intelligence committee and let Schiff conduct a witch hunt of anyone in the Trump administration who may have talked to Russians. And protect the leakers in, around, and throughout the beltway bureaucracy.

How will the GOP fight back? Well, expect Nunes to hold his ground. With something less than full support from GOP senators like Graham and McCain, who have once again been quick to criticize where they see an opportunity to embarrass the president.

Of course, Graham and McCain might just be right. Maybe the House Intelligence Committee is now dysfunctional due in large part to partisan maneuvering. And in fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee has just announced that it has drawn up a list of 20 “people” – at least they didn’t say “suspects” – to be interviewed in the coming days. Senators Burr and Warner told the media they will go wherever the facts lead them. Side by side. Sturdy, dependable, senior and wise, and bipartisan. We hope.

While yet another House failure occurs. Is the House burning down? While the Senate takes up the task of governing?

Reconciliation. Senate Parliamentarian. The Byrd Rule. As President Trump has found out, process is a fetish in Washington D.C. And of course, now there are indignant howls from critics on the right about how process was botched by Ryan, Price, and The White House. You should have moved slower. You should have held more meetings. You should have taken more notes. You should have especially taken notes when Freedom Caucus members of Congress talked at those theoretical meetings.

You should have followed the norms of process! (apologies for the tautology). See what happens when you don’t spend at least a year?! Joe Klein at the Washington Examiner, for example, gazes back fondly at how the Obama administration handled and manipulated and fondled and rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress with nary a GOP vote. Ramming slowly it seems is best when it comes to healthcare in America. Other critics are demanding that the process be more transparent next time. Transparent ramming. Done slowly. Now that’s process!

Wonderful. Conservative critics are lambasting the Trump administration for not being more like the Obama administration when it comes to how they manage the legislative process for healthcare legislation.

But here’s the problem. Or at least, here’s one of main questions that arise from the smoldering ashes of the GOP’s quick-march to the exits on AHCA: has the substance of healthcare policy become so divisive that no process in 21st century America can cover the enormous divide between a moderate GOP member of congress and a House Freedom Caucus member? Never mind Bernie supporters and their push for Canadian-style universal coverage.

Everyone is very eager to remind poor President Trump how complex healthcare policy is. But why is that the case? Isn’t the complexity all about covering up the harsh trade-offs that must be made when any democratic legislature has to put together a broad healthcare plan? Cheap, available, good quality. You get 2 of 3 at best. But why tell voters that?

Theoretical solutions flourish like so many weeds, each cultivated by an eager over-informed wonk who just knows she or he has the solution to all that ails America’s healthcare system. But every one of those individual theoretical solutions would have an impossible chance of ever being the basis of a successfully propagated piece of legislation, signed into law by the president. It’s about aggregating the trade-offs between competing players with conflicting interests. And that is becoming an almost impossible task. Yes, Obama managed to do it, but barely and with loads of goodwill. And he sank his own party as a result.

Insurance companies vs. doctors vs. hospitals vs patients vs state governments vs House members vs Senators vs Senior administration officials vs HHS bureaucrats vs FDA vs big pharma vs large employers with benefit plans vs small to mid-size employers vs independent workers vs young people vs wealthier older people vs poorer older people vs veterans.

Healthcare in America has become the planet’s most elaborate entitlement scheme, a jigsaw puzzle that’s always a few pieces short of being finished. Or falling apart. It could be – and is by some – viewed as catastrophe insurance. It could be – and is by some – viewed as a universal right. But maybe the only way to resolve it will be to devolve down to the state level. And let individual states internally fight and bargain to find their own solutions. But for now, don’t expect any big plans for a new health policy by the GOP. Too tough a puzzle to solve. For just about anyone. Let alone a bipartisan congressional committee.

Rare Political Self-Conversions

 

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

It’s been said that the American electorate can be divided into three roughly equal parts:

  • 1/3 that pays virtually no attention to politics and policy, and if they vote, they either vote by habit or by whatever impression happened to catch their attention
  • 1/3 that are somewhat attentive, and have a rudimentary understanding of issues and the candidates’ stances
  • 1/3 that are rabidly attentive and involved, active in supporting and campaigning for their chosen causes

A strong case can be made that for the last two groups—the 2/3 that identify with a Party and an ideology—are very often are born into and grow up with a “baked in” voting ideology. It’s a rare occurrence that an individual makes a 180° ideological turn from their upbringing and converts to the “other side.”

There are two demographic groups in particular that are reliable Democratic voters, mainly because of their upbringing and environment: Jews and African-Americans.

For Jews, cultural/ethnic considerations play a large role in their liberalism. In his book “Why Are Jews Liberal?” author Norman Podhoretz posits that in the mid-20th Century, Jewish immigrants from Europe were drawn to American liberals, who had a kinder, more welcoming feel than the hard-hearted governments of Europe from which many Jews fled. This caused European Jews to identify with American liberals—Democrats—even though Jewish family tradition and culture is at least as close to modern-day Conservatism as it is to current Liberalism. The Conservative-leaning tenets of completing higher education and striving for significant achievement in respected, high-paying professional fields (law, medicine, finance, business, etc.) are staples of American Jewish life. Indeed, the humorous American Jewish clichés of, “You’ll go to college, you’ll get a good job, you’ll make us proud!” and “My son, the doctor!” are directly and accurately reflective of this.

Yet the Jewish vote since 1960 has been reliably around 80% Democratic. The only exception is the outlier year of 1980, when Ronald Reagan beat the hapless Jimmy Carter. But even that year, Carter won the Jewish vote 45-39%.

African-Americans tend to be an even more monolithic voting bloc than American Jews, siding somewhere around 90% with the Democrats. When President Obama ran in 2008, being the country’s first Black Presidential candidate, he garnered around 96% of the African-American vote. President Trump, having made a concerted effort to address that bloc with his now-famous “What have you got to lose?” line, managed to reduce that number by Hillary Clinton to about 88%, which is still an overwhelmingly lopsided figure.

The reasons surrounding the African-American community’s current status in modern American culture are complicated, without question, and difficult to pin down to just a few obvious causes. The long-term systemic prejudice and discrimination that has operated to their detriment in all aspects of American society are well documented and need not be recounted here. The reaction to these wrongs has been the creation and implementation of numerous Government “solutions,” be it welfare, Affirmative Action, various tax and grant programs (ostensibly open to any group but in reality targeted to minorities), and the like. The efficacy of such programs and entitlements is not the issue here. However, it can be convincingly argued that the very existence of—and indeed, expansion of—Government handout programs has contributed to a motivation-reducing entitlement mentality among the very groups such programs are intended to help.

Democratic politicians know that the African-American community has become dependent on these Democratic-sponsored assistance programs. The more cynical observer will unabashedly call it vote buying. But as someone once said, “No one will ever vote to end their own entitlements.”

If liberal doctrine is to offer tax-funded Government programs and financial assistance as the answer to society’s shortcomings and Conservative doctrine is to offer “opportunity to all” via the more difficult path of personal initiative and self-reliance, then it’s fascinating that some African-Americans—born and raised in an environment and culture that teaches them to play the victim, waiting for the inevitable, deserved Government payout—become Conservatives.

That African-American group—Liberal-born, waiting-for-the-handout—who become Conservative and eschew Government largess in favor of self-made gains, is a uniquely compelling group. They have traveled the farthest ideological distance of any voter, a full about-face journey from one extreme of the ideological spectrum to the other extreme. In making that long, emotionally-unsettling, restless journey—often as a young adult—they see things along the way that challenge and threaten the very truths they were brought up to believe. It takes an incredible degree of self-confident open-mindedness and intellectual courage to accept contradictory external evidence and allow it to change one’s philosophical allegiance.

Likewise for the small number of American Jews, born into inordinately liberal households, who nonetheless become conservative. Like their African-American counterparts, they voluntarily undertake an emotionally- and intellectually-arduous quest and manage to counteract their inherited political/social teachings in order to arrive at a philosophical destination diametrically opposed to the one in which they grew up.

African-American conservatives like Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, John McWhorter and Ben Carson, along with American Jewish conservatives like Charles Krauthammer, Mark Levin, David Horowitz, Dennis Prager, William Kristol and Ben Stein among thousands of others, have a clarity of conservative thought and expression—evidenced in their writings and speeches—that has unquestionably been brought about by the egotistically-challenging, eye-opening travails of their own personal ideological journey.

To put it simply, those African-Americans and Jews who have self-converted from Liberal to Conservative have developed an amazingly clear and effective way of explaining exactly why they now favor the conservative position.

There has unquestionably been some self-conversion the other way, from Conservative to Liberal. Media Matters founder David Brock went from right-leaning investigative journalist to loyal Clinton devotee in the late 1990’s. NY Times columnist David Brooks has, according to many, made a definite transition from “token NY Times Conservative” to “garden-variety Liberal.” However, most Conservative-to-Liberal self-conversions appear to be individual occurrences, not an outright rejection of the one-sided structural circumstances into which they were born and raised.

Indeed, for many born-and-raised Liberals, being Liberal comes easy and is never even given a second thought. For those individuals that undertake the arduous, voluntary journey from born-Liberalism to self-discovered Conservatism, it is an eye-opening trek that imprints on their consciousness an incredibly deeply-held conviction of their newly-discovered philosophical stance. With that conviction comes the ability to express and advocate on behalf of the Conservative cause in a persuasive manner that few people on either side of the political spectrum can match. The actual process of becoming “self-coverted” makes for extraordinarily impressive spokespeople.

 

 

It’s still here. The Affordable Care Act has been taken off the operating table; Doctor Price and Doctor Ryan (yes only one of them is a real doctor) have taken off their scrubs and headed home after a presser or two. And The President did not look nearly as disappointed as the Speaker of the House, after the vote was called off this Friday afternoon. By the President on advice of the Speaker. Or by the Speaker on advice of the President. Or something like that.

So as the patient with ACA on its hospital wrist band is suddenly given leave to head out the sliding doors pf the hospital and wander through the cities and towns of America, the question becomes: is it a zombie just waiting until its head explodes? And until it scatter its broken pieces around every state of the union? Or is it really kinda healthy and therefore there are many people glad that Obamacare is … still alive!!

President Trump did indeed state at various points during the electoral campaign that he thought perhaps the best thing would have been to let Obamacare collapse until there was no option left but to have a bipartisan bill that was able to clean up the mess of exiting insurance companies, skyrocketing premiums, and high deductibles. Now the president has had his wish come true.

Did President Trump invest political capital in Ryan’s AHCA? Of course he did. Quite a lot. We’ll see exactly how much as the weeks and months pass and Congress and the White House move on to attempt tax reform and infrastructure spending. But the tax savings that would have, theoretically at least, been achieved with the AHCA will now not be there to fund a program of tax cuts.

Plus the wounds and scars of a failed attempt at passing a major piece of legistlation – how about just getting it out of one of the houses of Congress, never mind actually passing it – will also make cooperation between GOP members of Congress a lot more prickly as they try to pivot and “roll forward” in the optimistically steely words of Texas’ Kevin Brady.

But the really noteworthy aspect of this first major failure for the Trump Administration and the GOP Congress is that the president seems more than willing to work with Democrats. Once Obamacare becomes manifestly unsustainable, that is. He said as much in his brief press conference in the Oval Office, shortly after Speaker Ryan had given his.

Would Senator Schumer, or Nancy Pelosi, be interested in sitting down with President Trump? Right now, one doubts that very much. But it could happen. It depends on how much salt they decide to rub into the wounds. And how any attempt at a bipartisan reform of healthcare in America gets framed. Would it be fixing the flaws in Obamacare? A little nip and tuck here and there so the zombie looks nicer?

Or would it be a case of digging in that scalpel and going for the bone? Maybe some amputations. Artificial limbs. A new head. For example. Or how about burying the zombie once and for all? Sorry, Chuck and Nancy can’t do that. Can they? Neither can Colins and Murkowski. And it may be that a clear majority of voters want some sort of a healthcare entitlement zombie alive and walking the streets of America. As of now, they have their wish.

Comey filled the Potomac riverbanks with fog. Now Devan Nunes has unleashed some rocking dry ice to really help clear things up. The GOP Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee held a press conference after briefing the White House (and not his colleagues in Congress) where he stated that “incidental” surveillance of Trump’s campaign team was collected in November, December and January. The investigation was a legal one (that surely means FISA approved) and targeted foreign nationals. But the investigation(s?) were not on Trump’s team’s possible coordination or collusion with Russian actors. He thinks at least.

The information was leaked to Nunes by intel operatives who were concerned that this information should be given to his committee. In other words, those rumors last summer of a war inside the FBI between senior leadership and lower to mid level officials might have just been accurate. This seems to be a pushback, perhaps from FBI officials (although it might have come from several possible agencies) against Comey’s penchant for secrecy.

Does this prove that President Trump was at least half-right when he tweeted about being spied on by Obama’s administration? Not really. This seems to be incidental data – but we’ll just have to take Nunes word for it right now – obtained by an investigation targeting other people. But it is hardly reassuring, for any of the actors involved: The FBI and the intel community at large, Trump’s associates like Manafort and Stone, and the president himself.

Watergate had one deep throat, who of course, we know now was a senior FBI official. We now have legions of deep throats leaking continuously.

Trump Towers (despite sounding like a cheesy mid-80’s soap, it’s more a post-modern free for all) has become an epic battle for the control of narratives. By powerful people/groups mostly in the government. Who all have a vested interest in this confusing affair. Is Director Comey brave and resolute? Or defiant, arrogant and controlling? Is Manafort an unlucky scapegoat in an attempt to impeach a populist president the elites hate? Or is he a dubious hustler who has been in the pay of oligarchs and autocrats? Does the president honestly (and disturbingly) admire Putin? Or are there further interests at play? For the most part, we don’t know.

While there is more evidence in Manafort’s case, there is still mostly suggestion and smoke and precious little light in this investigation. There is an attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare that is hanging in the balance. Tax cuts and regulatory peelback await. Infrastructure spending? Jobs and manufacturing? Jobs are happening of themselves. But it would sure help if a few policies to encourage spending and growth in America were put in place.

And oh yes, a Supreme Court nominee is likely to find the rest of his hearings much nastier than the opening salvos fired by Democrats. One of the more aggressive attacks by liberal Democrats is the claim that Russia stole the election and also that the GOP “stole” Garland’s seat. The first claim is false in almost any reasonable sense. The second claim also patently untrue. But who can tell with all this fog?

Expect Gorsuch to be asked more absurd questions about Russians and impeachment. And not just by people like Senator Graham.

How far is Senator Schumer willing to push these hearings? As every response of Gorsuch, and the question that brought about Gorsuch’s response, is parsed and commented on, the main question is how politicized are the Democrats willing to make these hearings?

Because much – if not almost all – of their questioning has been about the political consequences of applying the law in cases Judge Gorsuch as ruled on. Not whether the law was faithfully applied. The Kansas professor battling cancer for example. One can argue about how politicized confirmation hearings were in past times, but clearly Congress is reaching a new low water mark here.

And much of their base – the left that is – is demanding they do this. It’s not about Judge Gorsuch’s abilities as a judge, which have been roundly praised by almost anyone who has had dealings with the judge. No. It’s about his views – or the assumptions made about what his views are or might be – that matters.

Aren’t they just being honest? The Democrats that is. Of course he’s pro-life, pro-gun rights, favors religious freedom, and does not view business as guilty until proven innocent through the flaying purgatory of high taxes and detailed regulation. That’s why he was nominated. He’s a conservative who will – if and when appointed to the Supreme Court – take Scalia’s place on the bench and ensure America doesn’t have a liberal-leaning SCOTUS. That’s the whole point.

Isn’t it?

Not quite. Yes the administration wants a conservative justice. But you need both of those words. A conservative economist? A conservative talk-radio host? A conservative judge from the lower courts whose rulings have been conflicted and who has been accused of corruption or having submitted to influence-peddling? No one would suggest any of these examples are anything but ridiculous.

You need an eminently qualified jurist. That seems obvious, but when partisan litmus tests – like the ones Senator Schumer has been pushing for Congress to adopt – become the whole point of any hearing, then any nominees ability as a judge becomes secondary. A distant second.

Yes, what should matter is a judge’s philosophy. Her or his view of how the constitution should be read and the law applied, based on that philosophical view. But her or his ability to follow the law faithfully as a judge has to be front and center. Congress – especially these hearings – is more of a red-meat circus with lion tamers poking the animals in their eye. Like Senator Franken, defender of Colorado sheep and lame sarcasm.

So human-interest stores and partisan grilling that pretends to be lawyerly is what the hearings become. Somehow, Congress has to ensure that a qualified Supreme Court Justice emerges from all this partisan baiting, and soundbite fishing. It’s getting harder every time.

Unless District Judge Derrick Watson of Honolulu is a really, really fast judge when it comes to thinking on and writing up rulings, he had this one locked and loaded in his chamber for at least a week or so. Perhaps since the very day the revised executive order on the travel ban came out. That’s because his 43 page ruling was delivered about two hours after a request for a temporary restraining order by the State of Hawaii. Now that’s fast!

And rather than dithering on silly things like possible economic harm to the great state of Hawaii – although that was part of the request, naturally – he went straight to the heart of the matter. He doesn’t like what Trump said during the campaign about banning Muslim migrants to America. Religious animus. Get used to those two words. If Judge Watson and his colleagues in the 9th circuit and elsewhere have their way, religious animus and the Establishment Clause (Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …) shall be the main litmus test for any policy that has anything to do with immigration.

Animus is defined as either:

  • hostility or ill-feeling OR
  • the motivation to do something

But don’t let’s stop there, please. According to Carl Jung’s analytical psychology:

The anima and animus can be identified as the totality of the unconscious feminine psychological qualities that a man possesses, OR the masculine ones possessed by a woman …

There can therefore only be one conclusion if you follow Judge Watson’s logic – which is that Trump, while campaigning, had betrayed religious animus in both senses of the word towards Muslims everywhere on the planet and the travel ban must be stayed forever. And that conclusion is: the woman in Trump is an islamophobe.

Silly you say? Well yes, it kinda is. Isn’t it?

Because the notion that the revised travel ban is unconstitutional cannot stand on any true legal ground. So why bother? Go straight for Jung. Use psychology. Use media stories, headlines, and soundbites. Because that is the raw data that Judge Watson’s ruling is grounded on. Wallow in Trump’s animus. Maybe surf?

But leaving the waters of psychology and returning to the law, even a passionate Trump critic like David Frum – writing in The Atlantic – clearly recognizes that Judge Watson is essentially globalizing the First Amendment as Frum puts it. Provided that any religious group has adherents residing (legally?) in the U.S. then they are afforded constitutional protections. American constitutional rights.

But should this judicial overreach shock? Isn’t it merely identity politics celebrated by activist, progressive law making? Isn’t that what any progressive wants? The First Amendment everywhere? Or at least using the First Amendment as an excuse for identity politics: Trump white male bad; Unvetted Muslims in Syria good. Isn’t that what the U.N. – shameful hypocrites – claim they want? A district judge in Hawaii can save the world from President Trump!

Maybe not. This is headed to the Supreme Court. And in the end, this decision will be found wanting. Legally. Constitutionally. And psychologically.

If the GOP used to be divided between conservatives and moderates, but is now divided between libertarians and populists, then any legislation as important as the AHCA is next to impossible to achieve. Or at least very, very difficult. Democrats don’t even need to be part of this tower of babel. Although they can’t resist joining in, naturally.

Speaker Ryan’s AHCA will have to modified to have a reasonable chance of passing both Houses of Congress. But in which direction? President Trump – in other words – has to decide what philosophy he wants to support as he uses his executive weight to convince, persuade, and threaten enough House members and every single GOP senator to sign off on the bill.

A GOP conservative perspective, make that a libertarian perspective, admits that more people will be uninsured as a result of repeal. But with taxes, mandates, penalties, regulations, and subsidies eliminated or drastically reduced, private market solutions will drive down premiums and force providers and insurers to create innovative solutions across state lines. And in the end, there may not be anywhere near the number of newly uninsured patients that CBO estimates predict there will be as result of repeal.

A true populist – on the other hand – wants adequate, or better, coverage for just about everyone who is a legal resident of America. That is one tiny step from single-payer universal coverage. The means might differ, but the goals are the same as Bernie Sander’s vision of a socialized American healthcare system.

How the heck do you bridge those two views? When they are essentially inside of the same party? Yes, that’s pushing the populist perspective of Trump Democrats, for example, who basically want Obamacare to be fixed and do not trust its top-heavy centralized system of mandates and penalties. But their views are a long, long way from Senators Paul, Cruz, and Lee.

Who does President Trump listen to, as he decides how to push the as-yet-to-be amended version of Speaker Ryan’s AHCA through Congress? So far, he seems to be more concerned with getting Paul’s, Cruz’s, and Lee’s votes. Repeal as completely as possible now. And then replace with something as conservative, or libertarian, as possible in a month or two. Maybe. Perhaps.

Could the president pivot towards a more populist healthcare proposal? Throughout his campaign, he was clear that he was no conservative when it comes to healthcare. His newfound sympathy for conservative/libertarian concerns is something fairly recent, and definitely post-election. Of course, being a businessman who worries about costs, it would have been fairly straightforward for members of his administration – once they moved into the White House – to lay out some of the unfunded liabilities associated with the ACA. as well as Medicaid and Medicare. That might have helped turn the president.

With healthcare, especially this bill, once you get down in the policy weeds, it’s hard to ever come back up for air and a little perspective. The amount of commentary and policy ideas clash and conflict over differing perspectives on what healthcare insurance actually means. And then what to do, given your view of what health insurance is.

In the end, President Trump will have to expend precious political capital – which he clearly has right now in greater amounts than many critics realize – on legislation which Democrats will try to hang around his presidency. Some want him to walk away from it. Some are willing to listen to him. Some will fight him on this to the end, from both the left and the right.

If the president is able to shepherd some/any version of the AHCA through Congress and survive the mid-term elections as well as do some sort of tax and regulations slashing, he won’t earn a place next to FDR, but he will definitely nudge LBJ out of the way on the presidential stage. Whatever you may think of the big-government policies of either FDR or LBJ. Or the emerging policies of President Trump.

Landmines Abound for Republicans in Obamacare Replacement

 

© 2017 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Now that Republicans control of both houses of Congress as well as the presidency, the process of Obamacare repeal and replacement has begun in earnest. Once the ACA is formally, officially repealed, the Republicans will “own” the healthcare issue and the pressure will be on for them to deliver something better than Obamacare.

As the alternatives for a new Act fly back and forth, the obvious trap for Republicans is crafting a piece of health legislation that is actually better, not merely different. Wider coverage, easier access, more provider choices, lower costs, more provider accountability, less wasted mandated coverage (no maternity coverage for post-menopausal women, for example), no religious/moral/Government mandate conflicts, etc.

The list of must-have items for a successful replacement plan is long. Crafting a plan that satisfies all those requirements is a monumental task and will likely take several iterations past this initial effort.

However, regardless of the details of the actual replacement plan, gaining widespread public acceptance and overcoming structural anti-Republican bias is going to be at least as big a challenge as crafting the legislation itself.

There are three essential public relations issues with the Republican alternative to Obamacare that are problematic, any one of which by itself could spell doom in terms of widespread public acceptance. All three together mean disaster.

  1. Obamacare is President Obama’s “signature domestic achievement” as they call it. It’s his crowning glory. Supporters claim it comes closer to providing universal health care than anything that has come before. it’s President Obama’s achievement. He personally gets the credit for it. His supporters and cheerleaders love this, and do not want his so-called legacy jeopardized by having it dismantled. To repeal it will leave millions without medical coverage in the immediate short term, and because of the potential administrative and logistical time lag before a replacement plan is in place, millions may fall through the cracks and be left without any workable, affordable coverage whatsoever. Republicans must deal with this quickly and effectively.
  1. The liberal mainstream media is virulently anti-Republican/anti-Trump and is loathe to run stories that cast either the President or Republicans in a good light. These media outlets include not only the traditional liberal media like the broadcast networks, major papers like the NY Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe, cable news like CNN, MSNBC, but also social media sources like Zuckerberg’s Facebook, which has been exposed for downplaying conservative stories, and the supposedly “neutral” Internet resources like Snopes, a “fact-finding” site which has been caught multiple times putting forth a liberally-sympathetic version of the facts and being very slow to change when the conservative-favoring side of the story proves to be true. Any proposed Republican alternative to Obamacare, regardless of its actual merits, will be dismissed by the liberal mainstream media as unacceptable, in order to preserve their pro-Obama narrative.

The liberal media is always going to highlight and key in on any aspect of a new Republican plan that they deem inferior to the existing ACA, while ignoring any benefits or advantages. We’re already seeing headlines like, “Why Republicans’ health-care plans are bad deals for Americans” (Washington Post 3/9), “GOP health-care bill would drop addiction treatment” (Washington Post 3/10), “Doctors, hospitals rip health plan” (Providence Journal, 3/10).

Liberal media headlines like these are as predictable as a Brady win in the playoffs.

  1. The Republicans always seem focus on tax credits as a way to help pay for healthcare insurance. In order to receive tax credits, an individual or family must earn enough money such that offsetting the tax they owe is a relevant and attractive proposition. In the Hartford Courant on 3/10, they reported, “CT Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman (D) criticized the tax credits proposed by House Republicans to subsidize health care as useless to Connecticut’s poorest residents. ‘If you don’t pay taxes, what do you get a credit for?’ she asked.”

The underlying, undeniable-but-rarely-admitted liberal position is that Obamacare—which is essentially just affordable insurance that the Government will largely pay for if the party can’t afford to pay for it on their own—is a partway measure at best. What the Democrats really want to do is to find a way to flat-out give healthcare away to everyone, regardless of their tax status or income. Democrats want single-payer (Government-run) healthcare, not the private system involving for-profit insurance companies that we have now.

Any of these three—a threat to Obama’s legacy, relentlessly inaccurate, biased reporting by the liberal mainstream media or the perception that the Republicans are against the poor because their favored tax credit-based approach assumes employment and sufficient earnings—give Democratic lawmakers more than enough ammunition for high-profile public grandstanding.

How do Republicans avoid their usual PR disaster?

First, the final version must be a good bill, a legitimate improvement over the existing ACA. This submission is the first step, but it won’t be the final bill.

Then, the Republicans need to learn a lesson that they seem incapable of learning: They need to understand that the merits of the issue do not carry the day in the court of public opinion. It’s the 10-second soundbite that wins the attention of the casually-attentive swing voter. Democrats are very good at that—“Tax cuts for the rich,” “Bush lied, people died,” “Big pharmaceutical companies are ripping you off,” etc.—especially since the liberal media never hold the Democrats to account for the veracity of their statements. Republicans have the challenge of not only crafting a 10-second soundbite that distils the complex essentials down into an easily-memorable clip, but they also have to be accurate and truthful, because the liberal media will not let them get away with the same fuzzy math that they let slide for the Democrats. Tall order, but it’s about time Republicans learned how to play this game.

Third, they must be unified. They need to avoid the destructive public infighting that gives the liberal media the opportunity to say, “See? Even the Republicans don’t like it.” When Rand Paul declares that the House version is “Dead on arrival” in the Senate, he plays right into the Democrats’ hands and the liberal media pounces right on cue. The Democrats are much better at standing unified on legislative issues than the Republicans are, and this works against the Republicans’ PR interests.

Fourth, strike first and strike often. Set the tone and terms of the public healthcare discussion. Be proactive in speaking about why the new bill is a huge improvement, point out the current ACA’s shortcomings and failures again and again and keep the pressure on the Democrats about that. Make the Democrats respond to you, not the other way around. They are already behind the curve on this, but they can reverse that with something as basic as calling a press conference—today!!—and outlining their plan’s advantages. Then, all of a sudden, the Democrats will be forced to play, “But wait….” catch up.

The actual ACA replacement bill is an interesting proposition, but even more fascinating to veteran political observers will be watching how the Republicans present and defend the progress of their bill, and how they deal with the inevitable negative reaction of the liberal media.

 

 

In a small Syrian city called Manbij, Syrian army personnel, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Russian military men met. And danced.

No, this is not a Monty Python video, but rather the latest chapter in the Syrian Civil War, and specifically the strange bedfellows that any alliance against ISIL seems to produce. Whatever the celebratory dancing meant – likely that the ISIL rump state seems to be collapsing in Syria as well as Iraq – the dancing will not go on forever. Or even more than a very short time.

There are also at least two other major forces present in the town. American forces are now there to prevent Turkish forces – whose border is a short distance north of Manjib – from launching an assault on the Kurdish-led forces. America needs the Kurds to decisively crush the Islamic State in Iraq. But as Matthew Continetti points out: what does that imply about America’s policy towards an independent Kurdistan? Which would affect not only Turkey – which has suffered a lengthy terrorist campaign by Kurdish extremists – but also Syria, Iraq, which is in constant danger of fracturing into warring regions like Afghanistan, and God forbid, Iran.

Kurdistan as the Balkans of the Middle East? You wish. The Balkans and their various wars are a cakewalk compared to the dangers surrounding any possible attempt at establishing an independent Kurdish state. What is America’s position? Secretary of State Tillerson will have to get back to us on that one.

But maybe that’s asking the wrong person. FiveThirtyEight has a malicious but interesting analysis of the power centers in the White House. It counts 8 of them. Perhaps they go a little overboard, being a rather liberal, if reliably wonky and usually data-driven, political site. But there are clearly a number of decision-making foci, if you will, around the West Wing. And also in Congress.

Which brings us to what the fivethirtyeight story labels as the McCain wing. Or the stand-up-and salute-em crowd. Senator McCain works with – in this view – Defense Secretary Mattis, DHS Secretary Kelly, and National Security Adviser McMaster in promoting, that means mostly talking up at conferences – a more robust defense posture on the part of America. Compared to the president’s nods towards a more neutral pragmatism. That also means putting boots on the ground in Iraq in the final takedown of ISIS. And it now seems to mean sending a military presence – on the ground and in the air – into Syria to keep Turks and Kurds from shooting at each other after ISIL has been defeated.

Did Mattis lay out a detailed plan for the president on America’s presence in Manbij? Did it include dancing lessons for tank commanders? Did it – rather more seriously – include a little history on America’s presence in the Lebanese Civil War in the early 80’s? Which ended badly, as we all know.

In other words, how much of the details does Defense Secretary Mattis get to keep to himself, and not trouble the president with, when it comes to placing American assets in the middle of the (winding down it is true) Syrian Civil War? Because if it blows up yet again in Syria or Iraq, President Trump can certainly fire Mattis, or Kelly, or McMaster. But he will own the tragedy.

For all of us who bled with compassion at the sight of Alan Kurdi’s little lifeless body lapped by the waves, we must all remember that going into Syria means Americans will be in harm’s way, once again, in an area where a coherent policy has yet to be stated. And even if stated, will be exceedingly difficult to execute.

The other power centers in the White House might want to keep tabs on what the McCain wing is up to.

The American Health Care Act – or ACHA; or TrumpCare if you must say it that way – takes a modest middle-of-the-road approach to reforming some aspects of Obamacare. It is therefore reviled by the left for cutting back subsidies slightly by replacing them with refundable tax credits. It is therefore reviled by the right for replacing subsidies with refundable tax credits rather than standard tax deductions.

TrumpCare makes modest attempts to reign in some of the Medicaid expansion that has been a key driver of Obamacare’s expanded coverage. The freeze is delayed to 2020, and incentives are therefore given for people to sign up now before the freeze goes into effect. This angers conservatives. But it also angers progressives because the health care security (an oxymoron by most standards, and one which really means health care entitlements paid for by the government) of Obamacare has been replaced by something just slightly more market-oriented.

And the toughest conundrum of them all: risk pooling. In other words, how in goodness name do you incentivize younger healthier people who are unwilling to take on Obamacare with all it’s conditions and mandates? Because if you don’t, you’re left with the older, sicker patients who drive up costs exponentially and push premiums skyward.

In the Washington Post, Paul Waldman penned an attack article on TrumpCare where he focused on the 30% penalty the current GOP plan imposes if you go without health insurance for 2 months (as opposed to Obamacare’s mandate that penalized people without insurance in a slightly more severe fashion). He writes this about Trumpcare:

If young people make that calculation en masse, the risk pool winds up confined to people who are older and sicker, premiums skyrocket, insurers flee and the whole thing collapses.

Does this sound slightly familiar? As in exactly what has been happening with Obamacare? As in the key weakness of the ACA, a weakness which has been driving up premiums and causing the exchanges to collapse in state after state? This is partisan grenade throwing over relatively minor adjustments to health care policy. Vox, a progressive/radical beacon of activist muck racking journalism – for crying out loud – said this:

A curious thing has happened to the Republican replacement plan as it evolved through multiple drafts; it has begun to look more and more like Obamacare itself. The bill keeps some key features of Obamacare, like giving more help to lower-income Americans, and the Medicaid expansion, in a scaled-back form.

Is TrumpCare true repeal? No it is not. Senator Cruz has outlined in Politico a cohesive plan to use reconciliation to repeal most of Obamacare’s features and replace them with expanded HSA’s (which TrumpCare does do to an extent) and a nation-wide insurance market where lower income people can buy cheaper disaster insurance (high deductibles) and use their HSA money to pay for regular medical expenses. It is truly conservative and runs straight in the face of the progressive view that health care is an entitlement, not a service.

TrumpCare tries to bridge the enormous gap between conservative plans like Senator Cruz’s, and progressive views that would really like a single-payer healthcare plan – like Canada has. And who view Obamacare as a minimum acceptable standard on the road to Canadian style socialized medicine.

That means that TrumpCare is neither Obamacare (although it is very close) nor CruzCare. And it will be attacked from both ends of the spectrum. Trump will indeed own it and it will be interesting to see what further changes are made as the president pushes his plan through Congress. The president will need all the art he is able to muster to get this deal to fly.

The Russia Scandal that President Trump brought back up from the deep with his now infamous tweets this past weekend has left his ship of state between two deadly shores, as Andrew McCarthy has pointed out:

  • President Obama personally ordered (leaving aside the legal parsing of the term ordered and the chain of events that have to proceed according to FISA and involving the DOJ) a wiretap – including electronic surveillance – of candidate Trump last year. OR
  • Trump’s team was knowingly and actively complicit with Putin’s regime in somehow undermining the American electoral process, including the elections themselves, in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and place a Kremlin ally in the White House.

A reasonable person looking at the lack of evidence supporting either outrageously disturbing claim would say neither is true. A conspiracy buff feeding on the media frenzy would pause a moment from his (or less often, her) browsing of UFO websites and say: Yes! They’re both true! Awesome! When do the little green men appear??

But neither President Trump nor the media are in any mood to be reasonable with each other, nor with this scandal, which so far is not supported by any concrete evidence. And the Democrats who have all but said they will disrupt and even end the Trump administration’s term by any means possible, except hired guns triangulating at Mar-a-Lago, are also calling for a special prosecutor.

Both Schumer and Pelosi agreed to let the special prosecutor legislation die in 1999, very conveniently for then President Bill Clinton. Now they want to bring it back, like a zombie from the grave, to ghoulishly pour over the scandal from the deep. And they will surely find a way to justify disarming any special prosecutor act once a Democrat is safely in the White House.

Has Putin sent flowers to Schumer and Pelosi yet? And most every other player in Washington DC? Or is even he slightly troubled by what is starting to spin out of control? These are deadly serious accusations that in the end do merit a congressional investigation with some sort of credible neutral panel, as Carl Cannon has suggested.

Good luck. Any investigating commission will have every member pulled and pried apart by the media or by Trump himself or by leaks even from the intelligence community who has a lot of skin in this dangerous game. Any commission’s credibility will inevitably be undermined by one or other powerful D.C. player. And the public will likely be as partisan as ever in judging any commission or any of its individual members.

Cannon also suggests immunity for those investigated, because as he rightly says, the focus has to be on the integrity of America’s electoral process. Not whether contacts by former or current Trump associates might have been unseemly and therefore – in the logic of today’s divided, venal, and outraged environment – treasonous.

Because there has so far been a lack of evidence supporting either of the two scenarios outlined above – as even articles in the NYtimes usually admit somewhere near the last paragraph – the truth is likely that FISA wiretaps may have been ordered but nothing suggesting a conspiracy has been found. And they likely had nothing to do with Trump himself. Or possibly nothing to do with his campaign, even if they did look at some former associates like Stone, Page, and Manafort.

So we will have an investigation – whether by normal congressional committees or by some special committee charged with the task. Let it investigate everything then, including the illegal leaks of classified information to a press hostile to the new administration.

Will it calm the waters? Will it even be allowed to do its work? Let us pray, for the sake of America, that the answer to both those questions is yes.

One would assume that Senator Rand Paul is unable to take his gun collection into the halls of Congress. Without some sort of special permit and with all live ammunition carefully separated from chambers or clip-ons. Or maybe not at all, forget about it senator, keep them at home.

So the image of Senator Rand Paul in hiding in some supply deposit on the Hill waiting for the GOP’s healthcare plan to come out of it’s locked down hiding place, and whisked down the hall on an open cart, quickly escorted to a conference room, so that he can unload a cartridge or two into it’s clean shiny font and splatter the proposals into oblivion is perhaps a little dramatic.

But make no mistake. The GOP’s Obamacare Repeal and Replace is under locked guard for fear of assassination. And that would include triangulation from Democrat Senators and House members as well.

Is this fair or reasonable?

The better question is should it even be? Well yes, perhaps it should, but we’re dealing with healthcare and we’re dealing with revamping or replacing or reforming a piece of legislation that impinges on voter’s and their families’ health. It’s healthcare. It is complicated. Always.

But here’s the problem. Between Senator Rand Paul’s and GOP House conservative members’ vision of health care in America – a robust one that hinges on responsibility and competition – and moderate GOP members’ as well as Democrats’ and state governments’ vision, there is an enormous gap. There will have to be trade-offs. There is no other way, especially with health care.

Is any sort of compromise possible? Feasible that is, when counting up votes on the Hill. Forget about Democrat support. Maybe a few senators up for re-election in 2018, can be shifted to vote yes. Maybe.

But unless the GOP itself can coalesce around a plan – one that by definition will have to compromise between conservatives and moderates in the party – there will be precious little achieved with Obamacare repeal. Maybe replace will be delayed. But that will mean no positive plan in place for the GOP to justify repealing Obamacare.

In other words, would it have been smarter to have let Obamacare collapse? State by state? Rather than replace it immediately? That, of course, would have meant turning back a key campaign promise. Not a possible route, given Trump’s brand is very much wrapped up with his being someone who actually does what he says.

And all this will have to be done with Democrats howling and screaming about how their wonderful ex-president’s plan has been discarded by cruel Republicans.

A compromise is coming. We just don’t know what the details will be. But it will be a costly one, unfortunately. It’s healthcare.

You can’t separate out the two speeches and say: this one good and virtuous, this one dark and divisive. The inaugural address being the dark and divisive speech, according to much of Washington and the media. President Trump’s address to Congress being the virtuous and good speech, grudgingly accorded so even by people like Van Jones. Who basically told Democrats to watch out. If Trump can do this then he will win. Again and again.

The inaugural speech was Trump’s promise to his supporters to take on the establishment. It was dramatic, and it parts it was dark in its portrayal of America. But it was a concise and powerful call to action. And a shot across the bow to that very establishment. Who responded in every devious way possible with yet more attempts to undermine and even overthrow by any (legal one presumes) means possible, Trump’s nascent administration.

President Trump’s address to Congress was the perfectly pitched acknowledgement that America’s government functions on the basis of the separation of powers. The address to Congress was not a contradiction or a denial of the inaugural speech. Precisely because Trump’s proposed reforms to the administrative state – that large and unaccountable bureaucracy that decides how voters’ lives are to be lived in the most painstakingly detailed and intrusive ways – would be a return to a true balance of power. Closer to that envisioned by the founding fathers.

But Trump has taken on the establishment – even as he reached out in sober and occasionally gracious fashion to possible allies – and that means that most Democrats will oppose Trump on everything. They are now the real Never Trumpers. Not some of the writers at the Weekly Standard, or a few of those at RedState. For example. Democrat members of Congress’ partisanship – driven by fear of their own progressive base that howls continually over any perceived intrusion into their radical utopias – means they cannot clearly state that they support infrastructure spending, or defending workers from the presence of illegal migrants in the labor market, or encouraging US companies to invest at home. And must spin every Trump proposal as somehow racist and divisive.

Will the Trump Resistance ever turn or soften? Will Democrat senators up for re-election in 2018 cede on some appointments or issues? They may have to – given that Lindsey Graham is turning out to be one of the biggest obstructions to Trump in the Senate. Almost as much as Chuck Schumer, but more flying low and spraying the occasional guided missiles, only when he finds it convenient. And other GOP senators are already slowing down and gumming up Trump’s attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

So President Trump had to reach out, precisely because of the venue and the audience. And the nature of America’s Republican Constitution. And he did so with a skill that was shockingly admirable to his slightly stunned Democrat members. Recall Nancy Pelosi nervously chatting to her neighbor with a surprised look on her face. Who would have thought, right?

But the president does not have a binary choice before him from now on. His allegiance to his base is the principal wellspring for his policy proposals. His geniune anger at the fate of the forgotten man helps drive his presidency. The means to reach those ends are more flexible. And they will involve Congress and the Courts. And state and local governments as well.

President Trump has shown the world how quick a study he is. From a low-key cautious but compelling start, his address to Congress built almost musically on each theme and reached a perfect crescendo with the tribute to Carryn Owens and her fallen husband Ryan Owens, the special ops SEAL who died in Yemen.

Yes it was theatre, but it was real and raw and Trump even managed a soothing and gracious joke that captured the drive that makes men and women like Ryan Owens risk their lives, and give their lives, for their country.

Even as embedded intel bureaucrats try to discredit the Yemen raid, Trump owned it in front his country and the world. He is now truly Commander in Chief of the United States of America. Van Jones was right. Democrats should worry.