Jul. 17

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More Setbacks for Health-Care Bill

Maybe one of these days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will get some good news about his health-care bill. That day was not Sunday, however, as all sorts of bad news came down the pike.

To start, it would appear that Sen. John McCain's prediction that he would be back to work in about a week may have been a tad optimistic. The New York Times spoke to surgeons who specialize in this particular procedure, and they said that the usual recovery time is more like several weeks. Complicating things is that he is in Arizona right now and not Washington, which means that he'll have to take an airplane to return to work. Airplanes and blood clots, to be blunt, do not mix. So, it would be a surprise if he's back in the saddle next Monday, and it would not be a surprise at all if he's out of commission until mid-August or even September. The problem for McConnell is that delays, in general, are bad. And the longer the delays, the closer we come to the Senate's August recess, and then to the start of the fiscal year in September, by which point a budget will be needed, and there will be no more time for health-care maneuvering.

That's not the only problem, however. One of the key provisions of the health-care bill, designed to assuage the concerns of senators from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, is that it slowly phases out the additional federal funding that paid for the expansion, with cuts starting in 2020 and concluding in 2024. The charitable interpretation of this approach is that it gives states time to plan and prepare. The less charitable interpretation is that it allows the GOP to kill Obamacare, and then stick the next generation of governors and senators with the fallout. As we noted yesterday, a lot of state governors are not fooled by this hocus-pocus. So, all of the Democratic and many of the Republican governors are pushing back against McConnell's bill. And on Sunday, we learned that several of the governors have advised their senators that there is no way their states can afford to keep the Medicare expansion with partial funding—they simply don't have the cash. For example, Gov. Bill Walker (I-AK) and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson have both told Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that if the bill passes, they will have to end their state's Medicare expansion as early as 2020. Murkowski's vote was already in doubt, and this does not improve her odds of voting "yes." Other states where the Medicaid expansion may have to end early and that are represented by fence-sitting senators include West Virginia (Shelly Moore Capito), Ohio (Rob Portman), Arizona (Jeff Flake), and Nevada (Dean Heller).

The final bit of news on Sunday came from the Congressional Budget Office, which announced that it would not be able to announce its score of the new bill on Monday, as was originally planned. The CBO did not provide a new date on which they expect to be done, but the longer they take, the less time Senate Republicans have to react and adjust. This is not nearly as problematic for McConnell as McCain's lack of availability, but even the little setbacks start to add up. (Z)

Trump Jr. Excuses, Part I: Blame the Secret Service

Yesterday, we related Kellyanne Conway's latest spin on the Donald Trump Jr. situation (more on her below). In short, her justification was that it was only a little collusion, and so no big deal. On Sunday, thanks to the morning news shows (and, as always, Twitter), the rest of the Trump camp had their opportunity to weigh in. It is clear that their current approach is to fire off as many excuses as possible, almost like a shotgun blast of Trump Jr. spin, presumably hoping to see what lands.

Starting things off was Donald Trump Sr.'s lawyer for Russiagate-related matters, Jay Sekulow. He appeared on all of the major Sunday morning shows, and he was peddling quite the story: That if the Secret Service allowed Donald Trump Jr. to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, then it's their fault for not warning Junior (and Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort) that she is someone to be avoided. Nice try, but it took less than two hours for the USSS to issue a statement in which they pointed out that Trump Jr. was not under their protection when the meeting took place, and therefore they had nothing to do with screening Veselnitskaya. So, this part of the shotgun blast missed its target. (Z)

Trump Jr. Excuses, Part II: Hillary Is Shady, Too

Jay Sekulow wasn't the only one who defended Donald Trump Jr. on Sunday. Prior to his (apparently) regularly-scheduled Sunday golf game, Trump Sr. decided to unleash a Twitterstorm on his son's behalf, including this message:

HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2017

This was his most remarkable tweet of the day, which is saying something on a day when he also tweets that an approval rating of 40% is "not bad."

Anyhow, it's true that Clinton deleted 33,000 e-mails and that she got one debate question in advance. However, these "crimes" pale in comparison to conspiring with the Russians to influence the outcome of an election, if that is indeed what happened. Further, Trump is engaging in a logical fallacy called Whataboutism, wherein one attempts to discredit an opponent's position by charging them with hypocrisy, rather than by actually responding to their argument. Put another way, even if Hillary Clinton was guilty of bad behavior, it does not mean that Donald Trump Jr. was not guilty of bad behavior. Two wrongs do not make a right. Ironically, Whataboutism was one of the key propaganda techniques of...the Soviet Union. So, this part of the shotgun blast also missed its target, we would say. (Z)

Trump Jr. Excuses, Part III: Hillary Is Shady, Too (Alternate Version)

The third excuse being circulated in defense of Donald Trump Jr. this weekend—it's a favorite of Fox News' Sean Hannity, in particular—is that Hillary Clinton's campaign conspired with the Ukrainians, and so both campaigns are guilty of the same basic crime. This argument is actually based on a story Politico published back in January.

There is some truth here. In brief, a DNC consultant named Alexandra Chalupa suspected (correctly) that Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had engaged in secret dealings in Ukraine. She researched the matter herself and then, after she had gone as far as she could with the resources at her disposal, met with Ukrainian diplomats to collect additional evidence. Little of substance seems to have resulted from all of this, as Manafort was cashiered before Chalupa could finish building her dossier.

So, on a surface level, there are some similarities between the two situations. However, there are also some sizable differences, namely:

This excuse is, of course, another example of Whataboutism (see above). Even if Hillary Clinton's people did conspire with Ukraine, that does not excuse Donald Trump's people if they conspired with Russia. Beyond that, however, the differences between the two situations are considerably greater than the similarities. While this is probably the strongest of the three or four Trump Jr. defenses that have been bandied about this weekend, if only because the two scenarios seem so similar at first glance, this one doesn't really stand up to much more scrutiny than the others. (Z)

Conway Says She is Criticized Because of Her Gender

As she circulates on the various news programs, offering up some of the wildest spin America has ever seen, Kellyanne Conway has been the target of a lot of criticism (including from this site). On Sunday, she appeared at the conservative Family Leadership Summit, and had much to say about her critics:

It's unbelievable how if I say something on a television program, or if the president says something, the reaction is so disconnected from what was just said. But so much of the criticism of me is so gender-based. I pray for my country and I pray for my critics.

This brief snippet lends itself to a number of, well, criticisms. First, the "I pray for my critics" bit is kind of a passive-aggressive "I'm holier than thou" cheap shot. Beyond that, if people truly don't grasp what she and/or Donald Trump are saying, that's not on the receiver, it's on the sender. Most significant, however, is her suggestion that her critics are, essentially, sexists.

Falling back on this defense is very convenient, because it's not falsifiable. There's no way for her critics to prove that they're not sexists. It also makes her and other female members of the administration—Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, etc.—into martyrs of a sort, and implies that there is no such thing as legitimate criticism of whatever it is they might say. That said, it's worth pointing out that the three most-criticized and most-lampooned members of the administration are almost certainly Trump himself, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon, all of them men. It's also worth noting that when it was suggested that Hillary Clinton was the victim of sexism, Conway was dismissive, declaring that, "Of course sexism exists but it usually doesn't exist for a woman who was the former first lady of the United States of America, has a Yale law degree, and was the secretary of state and United States senator." So, it would seem that when Conway falls back on "sexism" as a response to her critics, she's either wrong, or a hypocrite, or both. (Z)

South Carolina Attacked 150,000 Times by Hackers on Election Day

As time goes on, we learn that more and more states' elections were compromised in one way or another by outsiders. The latest news comes from South Carolina, where a state-commissioned report reveals that there were over 150,000 attempts by hackers to penetrate the state's voter registration system on Election Day 2016.

By all evidences, the hackers were not successful. And the various contests in South Carolina, including the presidential contest, were not close, so there's no reason to believe that the results from the Palmetto State are tainted. Mostly, this story just raises two important questions. The first is: We know, now, about South Carolina, Illinois, and Arizona; how many other states were there? The second is: When is the United States going to get serious about election security? It's not like there hasn't been ample evidence of a problem. Right now, the country seems as if it is the Titanic, already broken in half and on its way to the murky depths of the ocean floor, but still wondering if it should change course to avoid that troublesome-looking iceberg. (Z)

No Shortage of Democratic Candidates for Congress

Some years, the DNC has enormous trouble finding candidates who are willing to take their chances against an entrenched Republican representative. Not this year, though. Thanks to the health-care debate, and the dislike of Donald Trump, and the sense that a tidal wave is coming, and a host of other factors, aspirants are coming out of the woodwork.

California is the state perhaps most primed to lead an anti-Trump wave, and to sweep numerous vulnerable Republicans from office. So, the situation in the Golden State is illustrative. Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, and Rep. Steve Knight have drawn three, seven, and six challengers, respectively. Reps. Jeff Denham and Duncan Hunter have both got eight. All of these Republicans voted in favor of RyanCare, and voters have not let them forget it. So, all of them are bracing for the fights of their lives. And while the trend is most noticeable in California, state Democratic parties in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and other blue states are finding themselves with many volunteers to try and win back red districts.

This news represents both good news and bad news for the blue team. The good news is that it speaks to enthusiasm the Party hasn't seen for a while, enthusiasm they hope and expect will carry through to November of next year. The bad news is that having so many candidates can backfire in several ways. First, because those individuals will bruise and bloody one another during the primary process while their GOP challenger remains above the fray and conserves money. That leads directly to a second issue, namely that this situation is ripe for the divisions between the progressive and centrist wings of the Party (aka the Sanders and Clinton wings) to flare up and possibly spin out of control. The third, and final, concern is that when five or seven or ten candidates via against one another, it takes only a small fraction of the vote to prevail. That, in turn can lead to sub-optimal nominees who win based on their notoriety. Imagine, for example, that Denham's opponents were seven unknowns plus Sean Penn. Penn would likely win, but he's hardly the ideal congressman or Democratic standard-bearer, for a variety of reasons.

Of course, managing these various problems is why party organizations exist. Next year, the staff of the Democratic Party is definitely going to earn its salary. (Z)

Jenner for Senate?

We now live in a world where "reality TV star" has joined "military veteran," "labor leader," "scholar," "distinguished lawyer or jurist," and "experience in politics" as an appropriate resume for candidates who aspire to high political office. And so, it comes as no surprise that one of America's best-known reality stars is considering a run for the U.S. Senate from California: Olympic gold medalist and "Keeping up with the Kardashians" cast member Caitlyn Jenner.

If ever there was a run for office that screams "publicity stunt," this is it, since Jenner loves attention the way that Donald Trump loves...well, attention. If Jenner really is serious, she's fooling herself. It's hard to see who the base of support would be for a transgender Trump Republican. Further, Dianne Feinstein (D) has given no indication that she plans to retire, and even if she does, the Democratic bench in the Golden State is deep. Still, given recent developments in American politics, announcements like this one and the recent one from rapper Kid Rock have to be taken seriously until evidence to the contrary presents itself. (Z)

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