Jul. 01

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

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Trump: Repeal Obamacare now, Replace It Later

The Senate is tying itself in knots trying to find a new health-care plan that 50 senators can agree upon. It is having great difficulty, because half a dozen Republican senators think their current plan is too harsh and another half a dozen think it is not harsh enough. Fortunately for them, President Donald Trump has ridden to the rescue with a plan. His plan is simple: Just repeal "Obamacare" now and look for a replacement later. Voila! What could be wrong with that?

Well, for starters, a straight repeal of the ACA cannot be done using the budget reconciliation process, so 60 votes would be needed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) can't even round up 50 votes, let alone 60. Second, repeal would take away health insurance from 18 million people in the first year and 26 million in a few years. Third, if Republicans are not able to come together on a plan now, there is no reason to think that they could in a few years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) are not on the same page now, and never will be. The result of "repeal now, replace later," even if it could be carried out, would simply to go back to the way things were in 2008, when 20% of the population had no health insurance. The 26 million people who lost their insurance might not be happy Republican voters. The senators know that, even if Trump doesn't. His plan is a complete non-starter, and serves only to underscore the notion that he really seems to have no idea how the government works. (V)

Mika Brzezinski Fires Back at Trump

Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski is no stranger to politics. Her fiance, Joe Scarborough, was a three-term Republican congressman from Florida. Her dad, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was counselor to Lyndon Johnson and NSA to Jimmy Carter. Her mom is the grandniece of a former president of Czechoslovakia. She also is co-host, with Scarborough, of a television program which millions of people watch. So when Donald Trump sent out a vulgar tweet about her, she decided it needed a response, and she gave it one, with both barrels. On her program she said:

I'm fine. My family brought me up really tough. This is absolutely nothing for me personally. But I am very concerned about what this once again reveals about the president of the United States. It's strange. It does worry me about the country.

Brzezinski and Scarborough also wrote an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post. It is entitled: "Donald Trump is not well." The pair pointed out half-a-dozen lies in Trump's two tweets about Brzezinski. They denied that Brzezinski has ever had a face lift, and said that if she had, it would have been instantly obvious to anyone watching on their high-definition TV. The piece went on to point out Trump's obsession with shaming women, whether it was Megyn Kelly's period, fat-shaming a former Miss Universe, his claims about grabbing women by the p***y, and now claiming that Brzezinski was bleeding at a dinner to which he invited her (not the other way around), and which she reluctantly agreed to attend. If he reads the piece, it will surely get his goat. Stand by for more tweets. (V)

Trump May Have Tried to Blackmail Brzezinski

On Friday afternoon, another element to the Trump-Brzezinski began to unfold: That the President may have tried to use a National Enquirer story about Scarborough and Brzezinski's romantic relationship as leverage in order to extract an apology for "Morning Joe's" hostile coverage.

Many of the facts in this story are not in dispute, namely:

The only real question, then, is who it was that initiated the conversations about the Enquirer's article. Scarborough and Brzezinski, of course, say that it was Trump, as he tried to use the fear they would be outed in order to gain concessions from them. Trump says that it was Scarborough who started the conversation, and insists the host begged him to use his influence to spike the story.

So, we have a "he said, he said" situation, and those of us who are outsiders are left to make our best guess about who is telling the truth. It is worth noting that between Trump and Scarborough, only one has a lengthy track record of telling outright falsehoods, including about this exact situation (see above). (Z)

Trump's Priorities are Clear

Actions, as they say, speak louder than words. And so, Donald Trump's rhetoric aside, the choices that he is making as president are making it quite clear what he really thinks and what he really cares about. For example, the position of United States envoy for anti-Semitism remains unfilled, and looks likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. (There is no truth to the rumors that Steve Bannon volunteered for the job until he learned that the envoy for anti-Semitism's job is actually to fight anti-Semitism.) Another White House office that is now vacant is the science division of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, which saw its last three staffers—all of them Obama holdovers—leave this week. News also broke Friday that the White House is leaning towards eliminating the Council on Women and Girls, a Michelle Obama-created initiative that focuses on empowering women. So, that's science, women's equality, and combating anti-Semitism that are all very low on the list of priorities.

And while Donald Trump's actions do speak volumes, his words also make clear where his priorities really are. It would be fair to say that the two affirmative issues that came up the most loudly and frequently during Trump's campaign for the White House (as opposed to negative issues like banning immigrants) were job creation and helping veterans. But judging by his Twitter account—aka, the window into the President's psyche—he doesn't care much about those things nearly as much as he cares about settling scores with the media. A tally of the 770 tweets that Trump has sent as president so far reveals that only 27 were about the military, and 67 were about jobs, while 85—more than 11%—were attacks on the media. Given that Trump is likely to be very unhappy about Mika Brzezinski's response to him on Friday, and given that he's on a vacation this weekend, the odds are good that the imbalance will grow larger by the time people start eating hot dogs and setting off fireworks on July 4. (Z)

Could Trump Be Kicked Off Twitter?

Given that Donald Trump regularly uses Twitter to attack people and institutions, often in a way that crosses the line into bullying (see above), it raises a good question: Could he be banned from Twitter? The social media platform has some clearly-stated rules on this subject. That page includes this passage:

Any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension:

Harassment: You may not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others...

Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or disease.

If we go by the letter of the law here, Trump's behavior appears to have risen to the level necessary for sanctions. His attacks on Mika Brzezinski were almost universally interpreted to be based on her gender, especially as they come from a man who has a history of this kind of misogynistic behavior.

As a practical matter, however, there is little chance Trump will ever be suspended. The first problem—and the one that Twitter will admit publicly—is that lots of Twitter users engage in behavior that runs afoul of the platform's rules, and it would be very, very difficult to identify and sanction all of them. This being the case, they take action only against the most egregious offenders— Milo Yiannopoulos, for example, or Martin Shkreli. Both of those men did things that gave their female targets legitimate reason to fear for their safety. Trump's behavior, while troublesome, has not been egregious to that level.

There are also other reasons that Twitter is not going to suspend Trump, though these are ones the platform's leaders are likely to keep to themselves. To start with, if they shut the President down, they could well be at risk of some sort of retaliation from him. Given the resources at his disposal, the sky is the limit. On top of that, his supporters would up the vitriol on Twitter in his defense, turning it into even more of a cesspool than it already is. That, then, would make suspension of the President's account counterproductive. Finally, while the people who run Twitter reportedly abhor The Donald's words, they surely must enjoy the traffic he brings to the site, which numbers in the millions of page views per day. So, @realDonaldTrump isn't going anywhere. (Z)

Can Trump Be Kicked Out of Office?

The answer, of course, is "yes." It is a bit ironic, perhaps, that it's more likely for Donald Trump to be removed from office that it is for him to be removed from Twitter. He could, of course, be impeached and convicted. Many people also know that, by the terms of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution, he could also be removed by the vice president, backed by a majority of the Cabinet. However, there may also be a third path, one that is currently being advanced by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a former constitutional law professor who has drafted a bill for Congress' consideration. To understand Raskin's argument, let us first look at the relevant part of the Twenty-fifth Amendment, namely Section 4:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Raskin's very correct observation, based on the bolded portion of the passage above, is that the Cabinet is not necessarily required to be a part of the process of removal. They can be supplanted by a Congressional commission. And so, that is what Raskin's bill does—provides for the creation of a non-partisan commission that would be empowered to judge the President's fitness for office. It would be composed of four physicians, four psychiatrists and three others—former presidents, vice presidents or other former senior U.S. government officials—who would have the necessary expertise to make that judgment.

This proposal has a lot of Democrats excited. But now, the reality check. First of all, Raskin's plan would still require the assent of Vice-President Mike Pence. While he may like the sound of "President Pence" very much, he is also likely to tread very carefully, given the risk of being seen as an illegitimate president. Further, Raskin's plan would also require the assent of Congressional Republicans, since they would have to vote the bill into law. Indeed, the only way that Raskin's proposal differs substantively from impeachment (besides the fact that Mike Pence would have a veto, whereas with impeachment he would not) is that it would give added cover to Republicans who decided to remove the president. They could tell constituents, "Hey, when a panel of doctors, psychiatrists, and former presidents says he's not mentally fit, what can I do?" It's also worth noting that if Trump decided to fight his removal, which he surely would do, then Congress either would have to back down or would have to initiate what is essentially an impeachment proceeding, with a two-thirds vote required to sustain removal. So while Raskin's plan would afford Republicans a little bit of cover—enough so that some have reportedly expressed interest behind closed doors—it wouldn't be that much cover. (Z)

Voter Fraud Commission Wants State Voter Rolls

Donald Trump's Election Integrity Commission, led by Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, made a dramatic demand on Friday: They sent a letter, over Kobach's signature, to each of the 50 states ordering them to submit their voting rolls, and to do so within two weeks.

There are all sorts of problems with this request. To start, it violates many states' privacy laws, and may also run afoul of the federal Privacy Act of 1974. In fact, under Kansas law, Kobach himself cannot comply with his own request. Beyond that, Kobach sent his letter to each state's secretary of state, even though voter rolls are not within the purview of that job in many states. He also proposed that they submit the data via e-mail, despite the almost total lack of security that would entail. Finally, even if none of these other issues existed, two weeks is far too short a time to compile so much data.

In short, Kobach's maneuver was half-baked, and not well thought out. However, it does confirm what the real agenda of the "integrity" commission is. It is no secret that their real goal is to make a case that voter fraud is rampant, and that strict voter ID laws are therefore necessary. Since there is no evidence to support that position, inasmuch as voter fraud barely exists, then they will have to invent evidence. That is where the voter rolls come in. The plan is to use a program called CrossCheck to identify voters who are registered to vote in multiple states. If things unfold as Kobach envisions, the commission will identify tens of millions of voters who are registered in more than one state, and will then use this as "proof" of widespread fraud.

There are two obvious and gaping holes in this approach, however. The first is that CrossCheck is notoriously inaccurate, primarily because it regards two people with the same name and birthdate to be the same person, despite the fact that they are likely not the same person at all. There are, for example, thousands of Michael Smiths born on April 24, 1978, and thousands of John Andersons born on August 30, 1974, not one of each. Given this systemic weakness, for every one time CrossCheck makes a correct match (accurately recognizing that Michael Smith of Miami and Michael Smith of San Francisco are the same person), it gets it wrong two hundred times. And that is with a data set limited to just a few states. Were it to be applied nationwide, the error rate may go up to 1,000 errors for every 1 correct match.

The even more serious problem, however, is that being registered in two states is not illegal and is not de facto proof of fraud. Lots of people move, but few of them cancel their old registrations. The only thing that is illegal is to actually vote in two different states. For clarification on this point, Kobach might want to chat with several members of Donald Trump's inner circle, including Strategic Adviser Steve Bannon, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, first son-in-law Jared Kushner, and first daughter Tiffany Trump, all of whom were registered to vote in more than one state within the last year.

Thus far, Kobach's directive has met with much resistance, from both blue and red states. Many have politely told Kobach to shove it. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), for example, issued a statement in which he declared that, "California's participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud." Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) echoed Padilla: "At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression." Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R) told Koback to "Go jump in the Gulf of Mexico." This link has a state-by-state accounting; 13 have refused Kobach outright, 16 have yet to comment, and the other 21 have said they will only provide the information that is available to members of the general public. None has given full assent. Kobach has implied he might get the DoJ involved, but they're likely to tell him he has no leg to stand on, so it's probably back to the drawing board. (Z)

Mueller Makes Another Hire

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been assembling an all-star team of lawyers as he gears up to investigate Donald Trump and his administration. On Friday, he announced the latest hire: Andrew D. Goldstein, who will leave his post as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Like the other members of the team, the 43-year-old Goldstein's credentials are impeccable. He's got years of experience under his belt, a law degree from Yale University, and is widely praised by his colleagues. The aspect of his resume that should have the administration really nervous, however, is that he's got an extensive background in prosecuting money laundering cases. What should make Trump really nervous is that Goldstein is the second lawyer Mueller has hired with an extensive background in prosecuting money laundering cases. The first was Andrew Weissman, who is chief of the criminal fraud section of the Dept. of Justice. The signs have been mounting that Mueller is—wisely—following the money, and this points even further in that direction. (Z)

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