Sep. 21

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Many States Will Lose Federal Funds under the Latest Health-Care Bill

The Republicans' final shot at repealing the ACA is the Cassidy-Graham-Heller-Johnson (CGHJ) bill now being discussed by the Senate. It has to be passed by Sept. 30 to use the budget reconciliation process; after that date it would need 60 votes in the Senate instead of 50. The Congressional Budget Office has said it can't score the bill before Sept. 30, but one consulting firm, Avalere Health, has taken a first shot at trying to figure out its effects. The bottom line is that total federal spending on health care will be cut by $215 billion through 2026 and then completely starting in 2027, when all federal funding abruptly stops. The effect is different in different states. Some of the key results of the Avalere study are as follows:

More broadly, here is a map that Avalere put together showing which states lose the most, and which ones gain:

Cassidy Winners and Losers

This is a map that should give any Republican operative nightmares. The states that would benefit the most are almost all in the bag for the GOP already, while—outside of a few deep blue states like California and New York—the list of states that would take a hit reads like a list of key swing states: New Mexico, Arizona, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, etc. Are these really the places where the Republican Party wants to make a few hundred thousand enemies?

The reason that some states lose money and others gain it is that under the current law, anyone who qualifies for a subsidy is entitled to it and can claim it. Under CGHJ, there will no longer be any subsidies. Instead, federal money will be distributed to the states by a formula written into the bill, and that formula is not revenue neutral. If any of the above senators vote for the bill, they are later going to have to explain it to their constituents. If the bill becomes law and millions of people lose their health care, they had better have good explanations ready.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) understands very well that his members absolutely do not want to take a painful vote and then have it fail. That has only downside and no upside for them. For that reason, he has tentatively scheduled a vote for next week, probably on Wednesday, but if there aren't 50 votes, he will cancel it to avoid embarrassing the members of his caucus. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a hard "no" and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is very likely a "no." She is thinking of running for governor and a "yes" vote would be hard to explain to the voters next year. If any one of the other fence-sitters listed above tells McConnell he or she is a "no," he will pull the vote rather than suffer another defeat. (V & Z)

Obama Unhappy About Newest Obamacare Replacement

That Barack Obama is unhappy with Obamacare repeal v....what, 6.0? could hardly be in doubt. The only question is whether or not he would say so publicly. He did on Wednesday, in a particularly Obamaesque fashion: During a public Q&A session (hosted by Bill and Melinda Gates), offering criticism that was indirect, and naming no names (particularly that of his successor).

The ex-president spoke of it being, "frustrating that we have to mobilize every couple months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on their constituents." He warned against demagoguery and nationalism run amok, and talked about how it really is possible for good ideas to come from the other political party. Obama pointedly did not offer any examples from the current administration, but heaped praise upon George W. Bush's PEPFAR program to combat AIDS in Africa, and called it, an "achievement that we needed to build on." His strongest words came near the conclusion of the address, when he said, "When I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress, for the 50th or 60th time, with bills that will raise costs, reduce coverage and roll back protections for older Americans and people with pre-existing is aggravating."

It is unlikely that Obama's words will have an impact on the Cassidy health-care bill. The fence-sitting GOP senators are presumably unconcerned about his views, and even if they did care, they could have inferred them without a speech. However, the former president will soon hit the campaign trail in support of 2018 Democratic candidates for office. It will be very interesting to see if he has an impact; it's been a very long time since a former president left office with (1) a high approval rating, (2) health good enough to campaign, and (3) the other party in control of the White House and Congress. In fact, since approval ratings began only with Harry S. Truman, there has never actually been a case where all three conditions were met. The closest is Bill Clinton in 2002 (+2 Senate and +8 House seats for the GOP), though the Democrats held the Senate then, and further, that election was affected profoundly by the 9/11 attacks. So there really is no historical precedent that can help us to ascertain how Obama might impact next year's races. (Z)

RNC Is Paying Trump's Lawyers

Donald Trump has hired a number of top-flight lawyers, including Jay Sekulow and John Dowd, to defend him with regard to accusations relating to Russiagate. These guys don't come cheap. CNN has now discovered that the August bill alone for Trump's lawyers came to $231,000, with $131,000 going to Sekulow and $100,000 to Dowd. The fees were not only for the personal services of the lawyers, but also for assistance from other people at their respective law firms. The RNC is footing the bill not only for Trump's lawyers, but also for Donald Jr.'s lawyers. These came to $197,000 for August. It is not as though the president is a pauper and can't pay his own lawyers. He claims to be worth $10 billion, but even if he is worth only a fraction of that, he could easily pay for top legal talent.

It is legal for the RNC to spend its money as it sees fit, but it could raise some eyebrows among donors who gave substantial sums to the RNC with the understanding the money was going to be used to help elect Republicans to public office. Probably few of them expected their donations to go to pay the legal bills of a multibillionaire. If enough donors complain, Trump could set up a separate account where people could donate specifically to pay his legal fees. In fact, it is surprising he hasn't already done it. No doubt people who don't care so much about electing Republicans but care a great deal about currying favor with Trump and getting him to remove regulations they find annoying would jump at the chance. It could yet happen, of course. (V)

Trump Is Rising in the Polls

Donald Trump's slide in the polls seems to have slowed down and possibly reversed. A Politico/Morning Consult poll has his approval at 43% now, up from 39% last month. Similarly, Gallup has him at 38% now vs. 35% in August. Real Clear Politics average is up 2.5% to 40% from his low point last month.

Historically, this is still the lowest for any president at this point in his term, but for the moment his slide downwards seems to have stopped. It is hard to tell why he has gone up. It is all but certain that his core voters will not desert him, but some marginal supporters who didn't like how he handled Charlottesville may have already forgotten. A Marist poll last week found that Trump's approval among Republicans has jumped from 79% to 87%, so the theory that some Republicans who left him after Charlottesville are coming home could well be on target. An NBC News/WSJ poll, meanwhile, suggests that he may be benefiting from his bipartisan agreement to lift the debt ceiling and fund the government through December. It is also possible that his handling of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma won back some of his previous supporters. We will see if the increase holds, or if it proves to be more of a dead cat bounce. (V)

Manafort May Have Offered Private Briefings to Russian Oligarch

The Hill is reporting that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort offered to give "private briefings" to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate close to Vladimir Putin. Manafort has done work for Deripaska in the past. The July 7, 2016, email in which Manafort made the offer has been turned over to special counsel Robert Mueller. It is not known if Deripaska took Manafort up on the offer or what such a briefing might cost. Deripaska said the email was scheming by "consultants in the notorious beltway bandit industry." Deripaska is one of the richest men in Russia and a confidant and frequent advisor to Putin.

While there is no evidence that the meeting took place, the offer is completely plausible. In 2008, a partner of Manafort's helped arrange a meeting between John McCain, then a presidential candidate, and Deripaska. Both Manafort and Deripaska have confirmed that. Manafort was paid for acting as a go-between then, so it is entirely believable that he tried again in 2016.

And there is more. The New York Times is now reporting that Manafort is continuing to work for foreign clients opposed by the U.S. government. This past summer Manafort started to work for a Kurdish group that favors creating a Kurdish nation by carving pieces out of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, something the U.S. has strongly opposed for decades because it would antagonize Turkey, a long-standing U.S. ally, and would completely destabilize the region. The Kurds have a referendum on independence Monday, something none of the governments in the area see as legitimate. Manafort's job is likely to sell the results to the U.S. government as a reason to change its policy and recognize Kurdistan as a country. Manafort is presumably now registered as a foreign agent, so this is legal, but at his expected trial, a clever prosecutor could ask him under oath: "Are you currently a registered foreign agent?" It could make the jury wonder whose side he is on.

These stories and others that have been reported recently make clear that the FBI and Mueller are putting Manafort's activities in 2016 and 2017 under a microscope. But it doesn't stop there. According to reporting from CNN, the special counsel and his team are looking all the way back to 2006, a span of 11 years. Obviously, Mueller is looking far beyond Russia as he seeks to expose bad behavior by members of Team Trump. There is a bit of time pressure here, as some of the evidence that might be used against Manafort (specifically, his tax returns from 2011) could become inadmissible after October 15 of this year, due to the statute of limitations' having run. This is not a certainty, because it depends on precisely what charges Mueller is considering, but it does slightly increase the chance that this chapter of the investigation could reach a climax in the next few weeks. (V & Z)

North Korea Responds to Trump's Address

Well, that took about as long as expected. Angry about Donald Trump's bellicose address before the U.N., North Korea responded in kind on Wednesday. Talking to reporters in New York, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho proclaimed: "If he thought he could scare us with the noise of a dog barking, well, he should be daydreaming." Asked about Trump's characterization of Kim Jong-Un as a "rocket man," Ri said, "I am sorry for his aides." In any event, the ball's in Donald Trump's court. If his next response is also going to be based on a hit song from the 1970s, maybe he can go with War (What Is it Good For?) this time. (Z)

Melania Trump Debuts at U.N.

Melania Trump made her first speech before the U.N. on Wednesday, and indeed her first major address, since becoming First Lady. The theme was her signature initiative—combating bullying—and, like her husband's address on Tuesday, it was not very well received.

Most of the commenters had three complaints. First, that the speech was devoid of any specifics. Trump lamented bullying, but that's the easy part. She spent only seven minutes at the podium, and did not propose a single plan, idea, or program that might actually help ameliorate the matter.

The second complaint, which she is going to hear until she comes up with a plausible response (or another cause), is that it comes off as a bit hypocritical for her to lecture others on bullying when her husband is one of the worst perpetrators of that particular behavior. Neither the First Lady nor any of her spokespeople have ever been able to answer this charge, other than to say "no comment." There may very well be no resolution here; he's not going to change his behavior, and Merriam-Webster isn't going to change the definition of "bullying."

Melania Trump in Shocking Pink

The third complaint was that Trump's wardrobe was, to be blunt, not appropriate. Her dress was a shocking pink, so bright as to be distracting, and rather overly-pricey and overly-flashy for that particular venue. Though criticism of a prominent woman's sartorial choices can sometimes communicate thinly-veiled sexism, that does not appear to be what's happening here. It is fair to say that Donald Trump or Barack Obama would have been criticized for a similar choice, say wearing a Matthew Lesko suit for their addresses before the United Nations. And this is not the first time Melania Trump has pushed the boundaries of good taste, fashion-wise. The expensive stiletto heels she wore as she departed the White House for a survey of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey were deemed by many to be insensitive to the victims.

Undoubtedly, all of this is very difficult for the First Lady. English is not her first language, American is not her native culture, she's not comfortable with public speaking, The Donald is presumably a difficult man to be married to (for several reasons), and by all evidences she never wanted this role. Further, there have been few First Ladies who were a harder act to follow than Michelle Obama (maybe Jacqueline Kennedy or Betty Ford). There was a time when a First Lady who wanted no public role—Jane Pierce and Mary Todd Lincoln, for example, who were mourning dead sons, or Ida McKinley, who was an epileptic—could essentially hide in the White House. That's no longer really possible (though hiding in Trump Tower might be). In any case, the Trumps are going to have to decide exactly what Melania's place in the administration is going to be, because right now, things aren't working so well. (Z)

Bharara Talks About His Firing

Preet Bharara is now a CNN legal correspondent, but before that he was US attorney for the Southern District of New York. At least, he was until Donald Trump fired him three months after assuming the presidency. And in the first episode of his new podcast "Stay Tuned with Preet," which dropped Wednesday, Bharara dished on that termination at far greater length than he previously had done.

To start, Bharara notes that shortly after being elected, Trump asked for his personal office and cell phone numbers. "It was odd, because as a general matter, Presidents don't speak directly to United States attorneys. It's unheard of, in my experience," he says. "You know the number of times President (Barack) Obama called me? Zero." From that point forward, Trump called on a semi-regular basis, and while their conversations were short on specifics, it was clear to Bharara that he was being groomed. Given that he was a U.S. attorney, and one whose jurisdiction included Trump's home base in Manhattan, he became concerned about the propriety of the phone conversations. And so, on March 9, when the President dialed him again, Bharara declined to accept the call. He contacted the White House staff to communicate his concerns, and was fired 20 hours later.

The former U.S. attorney is clear throughout his narrative that Trump never specifically asked him to do anything illegal or unethical. However, he is also convinced that was coming eventually, declaring that, "[H]ad I not been fired, and had Donald Trump continued to cultivate a direct personal relationship with me, it's my strong belief that at some point, given the history, the President of the United States would have asked me to do something inappropriate." We will never know for certain, of course, though it's fair to say that another item just got added to Robert Mueller's to-do list. (Z)

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