Opposition To Trump Could Cost Republicans Control Of Congress

I have said many times that the party winning the 2016 presidential election would very likely suffer for it, considering how flawed and unpopular both candidates were. If Hillary Clinton had won, most likely we would see Democrats lose further seats in Congress and the state legislatures in 2018 and 2020. Opposition to Donald Trump should help the Democrats, especially with Hillary Clinton not on the ballot. The elections will largely be a referendum on Donald Trump. Will Jordan recently showed that historically a president with an approval rating as low as Trump’s typically  loses thirty-nine House seats, with the Democrats needing twenty-four votes to retake the House. Larry Sabato had similar findings:

History is on the Democrats’ side: The president’s party has lost ground in the House in 36 of 39 midterms since the Civil War. The average loss is 33 seats, a shift in seats that would flip the House next year. Unpopular presidents can galvanize the opposition — and Democrats already seem highly engaged in battling Trump — and President Trump’s approval rating is already underwater in some polls, meaning he hasn’t had much of a honeymoon. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that to change, both positively and negatively for the president.

While it is far too early to be certain that Trump’s approval rating will remain at its currently low levels, there is considerable cause for concern among Republican House members. This is exacerbated by the complaints many are seeing from their constituents. CNN has reported on the anger at Republican town halls and  The Washington Post reports that Swarming crowds and hostile questions are the new normal at GOP town halls:

Republicans in deep-red congressional districts spent the week navigating massive crowds and hostile questions at their town hall meetings — an early indication of how progressive opposition movements are mobilizing against the agenda of the GOP and President Trump.

Angry constituents swarmed events held by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Diane Black (Tenn.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tom McClintock (Calif.). They filled the rooms that had been reserved for them; in Utah and Tennessee, scores of activists were locked out. Voters pressed members of Congress on their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on the still-controversial confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and even on a low-profile vote to disband an election commission created after 2000.

House Republicans had watched footage earlier this week of McClintock’s raucous town hall in northern California and his police-assisted exit — a warning of what might come. And with Congress scheduled for a week-long recess and a raft of additional town halls starting Feb. 18, the warning may have been warranted…

Remembering how voter anger and heated town halls helped end Democratic control of Congress in 2010, Republicans have begun taking security precautions. Some have avoided in-person town halls, holding forums on Facebook or by telephone instead. Many were briefed on security recommendations for public events and their district offices at a closed-door meeting led by Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), a former county sheriff.

If the Democrats are to retake Congress, it will depend on Trump’s popularity remaining low. Pollsters such as Mark Blumenthal are looking at both whether it is likely to remain low, and how low it can go:

One striking characteristic of Trump’s initial job rating is the relative intensity of disapproval. In our most recent full week of tracking, for example, far more Americans strongly disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job (41 percent) than strongly approve (29 percent). That gap means that Trump’s overall 46 percent approval rating includes 17 percent who only “somewhat approve” of his performance…

One of the themes of new administration, as the NBC News Politics team recently noted, is how “Trump picks fights with, well, almost anyone.” Those stories help reinforce the perception of his toughness and outspokenness.

The downside of these “sprays of attack,” as CNN’s Jake Tapper called them, are the “sprays of falsehoods coming from the White House” that accompany them. These controversies help further reinforce negative perceptions about Trump’s honesty forged during the campaign.

A second theme has been the flurry of initial executive actions that helped drive the sense, especially among Republicans, that Trump can get things done. But note that relative softness in perceptions of effectiveness among Trump’s least committed supporters. As the NBC Politics team points out, executive actions aside, the Trump team has made little progress so far on his “big ticket agenda items (Obamacare repeal and replace, tax relief, paying for that border wall).”

Again, it is very early in the Trump presidency and the long term trends in his approval rating will be influenced by the direction of economy and by war, peace and scandal, or the lack thereof. However, if the initial flurry of executive action gives way to gridlock and legislative stagnation, perceptions of Trump’s ability to “get things done” may atrophy, and with it, his overall approval rating.

We don’t know where Trump’s approval rating will be in 2018 and 2020. There are many factors beyond the actual actions of the president, and if the country is doing well despite Trump’s actions, the Republicans will benefit. However, the first three weeks of Trump’s presidency give Republicans a lot to worry about.

Resistance Is Not Futile

When even John Yoo is saying that Donald Trump is abusing executive power we know both that we have a problem, and that opposition to him is becoming widespread. We have already seen major protests against Donald Trump. Matthew Yglesias argues that resistance works, and provides these examples of where Donald Trump or the Republican Congress has backed down in the face of protest:

Having people get out to protest also makes it more likely that protests will continue: “Political action can be habit-forming. Once you’ve already made a sign and taken it to a protest, it’s easier to just bring it along again in the future. Once you know which of your friends might be interested in going with you, it’s easier to reconnect and do it again.”

What will be less easy to measure, as compared to the items in the list above, are moves to the right which the Republicans might give up on out of fear of protests. Congressmen might even begin to fear that their reelection is in jeopardy, despite gerrymandering designed to make their seats safe, if enough of their constituents protest at their offices.

The most concrete example of the benefits of opposition to Trump and the Republican Congress will be if some Republicans do lose their seats in 2018. This includes not only members of Congress, but also Republicans at the state level. If Hillary Clinton had won, we would now have Democrats defending her record, even when it includes the same types of policies they protest when coming from Republicans. Most likely we would see further Republican gains in Congress and state governments. While Trump will undoubtedly do many undesirable things, Democrats must take advantage of this in 2018. Of course their chances will be far better if they actually stand for something, as opposed to continuing to run as a Republican-lite party.

Related News:

New York Times: How Attorneys General Became Democrats’ Bulwark Against Trump

Der Spiegel: Europe Must Defend Itself Against A Dangerous President

The Nation Begins To Unite In Opposition To Donald Trump–Growing Number Support Impeachment

Thanks to the incompetence of Donald Trump, opposition to his administration is far beyond what I might have hoped for a month ago. While it took five years to have massive opposition to George W. Bush, we are seeing it in the first two weeks under Trump. We are seeing demonstrations as big as, or in the case of the first weekend,  larger than, were seen during the Vietnam war. The number of people who want to see Trump impeached has reached 40 percent, up from 35 percent a week ago. Public Policy Polling provides these results:

Less than 2 weeks into Donald Trump’s tenure as President, 40% of voters already want to impeach him. That’s up from 35% of voters who wanted to impeach him a week ago. Only 48% of voters say that they would be opposed to Trump’s impeachment.

Beyond a significant percentage of voters already thinking that Trump should be removed from office, it hasn’t taken long for voters to miss the good old days of Barack Obama…52% say they’d rather Obama was President, to only 43% who are glad Trump is.

Why so much unhappiness with Trump? Voters think basically everything he’s doing is wrong:

-Overall voters are pretty evenly split on Trump’s executive order on immigration from last week, with 47% supporting it to 49% who are opposed. But when you get beyond the overall package, the pieces of the executive order become more clearly unpopular. 52% of voters think that the order was intended to be a Muslim ban, to only 41% who don’t think that was the intent. And the idea of a Muslim ban is extremely unpopular with the American people- only 26% are in favor of it, to 65% who are against it. When it comes to barring people from certain countries from entering the United States, even when those people have already secured a Visa, just 39% of voters are supportive to 53% who are against it. And just 43% of voters support the United States indefinitely suspending accepting Syrian refugees, with 48% opposed to that. Finally voters see a basic competence issue with Trump’s handling of the executive order- only 39% of voters think it was well executed, to 55% who believe it was poorly executed…

In addition, Steve Bannon is highly unpopular: “19% of voters see Bannon favorably, to 40% who have a negative opinion of him.” Few believe his claims of vote fraud. A majority opposes the wall, which was the centerpiece of his campaign: “Only 40% of voters are in support of building the wall if American taxpayers have to front the cost for it, to 54% who are opposed.”

Even his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare has become unpopular: “46% of voters now say they support it to just 41% who are opposed. And only 33% of voters think the best course of action is for Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act and start over, to 62% who think it would be better to keep it and fix the parts that need fixing.” Congressional Republicans are also finding it to be difficult to abolish the Affordable Care Act, and are now talking about fixing Obamacare rather than repealing it.

Trump is also losing his battles, including with the media. Despite his attacks on CNN, “By a 50/42 spread voters say CNN has more credibility than Trump.” Similarly, The Washington Post and The New York Times have more credibility than Trump in this poll.

While Donald Trump is highly unpopular and his policies are failing, he may have unintentionally succeeded at one thing. He has brought the country together, even if in opposition to him, as is seen in the highly publicized photo above.

Trump Screws Up Obamacare So He Can Falsely Call It A Failure

The White House has pulled ads to promote signing up for coverage under Obamacare, including ads already paid for. If the goal is to provide more affordable coverage, this is counterproductive. Younger, healthier people tend to put off signing up, and are among the last to enroll each year. Having more healthy people sign up for coverage leads to lower insurance premiums.

Of course if the goal is to call Obamacare a failure, then this was a smart move by Trump. The higher premiums are, the easier it is to criticize the plan.

What Donald Trump might not even understand is that the Affordable Care Act did not bring about insurance with high premiums, along with high deductibles and copays. Insurance on the individual market has always been like this for those of use who purchase our own insurance, as opposed to receiving insurance through employers or government plans. The difference is that, prior to Obamacare, people could purchase expensive, high deductible plans and then lose their coverage if they got sick. If they already had preexisting medical conditions, they would often be denied coverage, or have the reasons they need health care coverage be excluded from the plan. These problems no longer exist under the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans are meeting to discuss health care, with a goal of introducing legislation by late March for an alternative program. While President Trump and Republican Congressional leaders are talking about a quick repeal of Obamacare, The Washington Post reports that, behind closed doors, many Republicans are expressing concerns:

Republican lawmakers aired sharp concerns about their party’s quick push to repeal the Affordable Care Act inside a closed-door meeting Thursday, according to a recording of the session obtained by The Washington Post.

The recording reveals a GOP that appears to be filled with doubts about how to make good on a long-standing promise to get rid of Obamacare without explicit guidance from President Trump or his administration.

Senators and House members expressed a range of concerns about the task ahead: how to prepare a replacement plan that can be ready to launch at the time of repeal; how to avoid deep damage to the health insurance market; how to keep premiums affordable for middle-class families; even how to avoid the political consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood, the women’s health-care organization, as many Republicans hope to do with the repeal of the ACA.

In a survey conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine, most primary care physicians preferred making improvements to the Affordable Care Act and opposed repeal. Improvements supported by physicians included creating a public option similar to Medicare to compete with private plans, providing tax credits to people eligible for Medicaid to purchase private plans, and increasing the use of health savings accounts. There was less support for some good ideas such as expanding Medicare coverage to those 55 to 64 years of age. There was also less support for two of the ideas promoted by Republicans, shifting even more costs to consumers and reducing regulations on insurance companies by allowing them to sell insurance over state lines. (From or dealings with insurance companies, doctors know that they cannot be trusted, and regulation is needed.) From the report:

We found that in response to the question, “What would you like to see the federal policy makers do with the Affordable Care Act?,” 15.1% of PCPs indicated that they wanted the ACA to be repealed in its entirety. Responses varied according to the physicians’ self-reported political party affiliation; no Democrats wanted to see the ACA repealed, whereas 32.4% of Republicans did. Among physicians who reported voting for Trump, only 37.9% wanted the ACA repealed in its entirety. PCPs were less likely than the general public to want the law repealed. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted after the election that used a question and response options similar to those in our survey showed that 26% of the general public wants the law repealed in its entirety

When asked about aspects of the ACA as it currently exists, the physicians we surveyed almost universally supported the insurance-market regulations that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher prices on the basis of preexisting conditions (95.1% stated that the prohibition was “very important” or “somewhat important” for improving the health of the U.S. population). There was also strong support for other key provisions of the law, including allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance plan until 26 years of age (87.6%), providing tax credits to small businesses (90.8%) and tax subsidies to individuals (75.2%), and expanding Medicaid (72.9%). A lower proportion — just under half — favored the tax penalty for individuals who do not purchase insurance (49.5%)…

Although only 15% of PCPs want the ACA repealed, nearly three quarters (73.8%) favor making changes to the law. Physicians responded most favorably to policy proposals that might increase choice for consumers, such as creating a public option resembling Medicare to compete with private plans, providing tax credits to allow people who are eligible for Medicaid to purchase private health insurance, and increasing the use of health savings accounts. PCP Survey Responses Regarding Potential Health Reform.). Physicians responded most negatively to policies that would shift more costs to consumers through high-deductible health plans. Less than half were in favor of proposals to decrease insurance-market regulations (by allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines), require states to expand Medicaid, or expand Medicare to adults 55 to 64 years of age.

Senate To Investigate Alleged Ties Between Trump And Putin

The Hill  and Politco report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to probe the alleged connections between Donald Trump and Russia. As long as it is a real investigation, and not a coverup or witch hunt depending upon party affiliation, I’m all for investigating. I’ll go with whatever the facts show. I could be wrong, but at the moment I question if the Russia claims are the new Benghazi.

There is a tendency of people to believe negative things they hear about politicians they do not like. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they are not. While I do not like Hillary Clinton, and have discussed at length many of the valid criticisms of her, I never bought into many of the claims ranging from Vince Foster to Benghazi. Turning on Fox (which I can only handle in brief spurts) demonstrates that many on the right still believe these things. Despite all the conspiracy theories, multiple investigations have shown that most of what conservatives claimed about Benghazi was false. All that is left is the possibility that Clinton might have involved in spinning the explanation for the attack after the fact based upon what sounded best politically, and it is also possible we were just seeing confusion from the fog of war as opposed to intentional deceit.

I don’t like Trump any more than I like Clinton, and there is also considerable valid criticism of him, but the material recently released regarding Trump’s alleged Russian ties has the same smell of bullshit as that which surrounded Benghazi. Claims of Russian attempts to influence our election are probably valid, just as the United States (including Hillary Clinton) often tries to influence elections in other nations. Circumstantial evidence such as business ties between Trump and associates is insufficient to prove a wider conspiracy.

This all needs to be investigated, but any conclusions ultimately need to be based upon the facts, not whether you dislike Trump for other valid reasons. On the other hand, if there is valid evidence against Trump, this should not be ignored just because you dislike Hillary Clinton, also for multiple other reasons. If the claims are false, they should be demonstrated to be false, as opposed to hiding behind the vastly over-used term fake news.

Whatever the investigation finds, Russian interference is not the main reason Hillary Clinton lost. There are no credible allegations that Russia actually hacked the voting machines, or even faked email. The Wikileaks email was one of many factors which was damaging to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately this just provided evidence of dishonesty on the part of Clinton, and unfair intervention in the campaign by the DNC, which was already known. Similarly, it is foolish to blame James Comey for Clinton’s loss when it was Clinton who both violated the rules regarding handling of email (as documented in the State Department Inspector General report) and who handled classified information in a careless manner, placing her campaign in this situation. Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for Democrats to nominate, and she went on to run an inept campaign.

One negative to a two party election system is that some people come out of it seeing one side as good and the other side as bad. Both sides can be bad, and if we are unusually fortunate, perhaps some year we will have an election when both sides are good. Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Disliking Clinton is no reason to like either Trump or Putin, and all of Trump and Putin’s flaws do not make Hillary Clinton acceptable.

Republican Attempts To End Obamacare May Have Died

As I’ve discussed previously, Republican plans to repeal Obamacare are not going well for them. Donald Trump is still talking about immediate repeal, while having no idea what is actually going on. Repeal might not be possible as more Senators, in addition to those mentioned in the previous post, are jumping ship.  Jonathan Chait writes that their plans to destroy Obamacare may have died, reporting that additional Republican Senators are now pushing to include a replacement plan with legislation to repeal Obamacare.

Over in the House, Paul Ryan is also talking vaguely about including portions of a new plan in the repeal legislation.

Including a replacement plan could very well kill off any Republican plans to repeal Obamacare. From a public relations stand point, they will have difficulty obtaining public support for a health plan which does not include popular components of the Affordable Care Act. Politico confirmed this in a new poll:

Voters want — and expect — President-elect Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress to repeal the 2010 health care law, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Tuesday, but they are skeptical of repeal without a plan to replace Obamacare and some of its most popular elements…

Testing eight separate elements of the law, more voters want to keep each of the eight provisions than want to repeal them, in some cases by overwhelming margins.

Nearly two-thirds of voters, 66 percent, favor keeping a provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. Sixty-three percent of voters want to keep the requirement that insurance companies allow policyholders to keep their children on their plans until age 26. Fifty-six percent think subsidies for low-income Americans to buy insurance should stay, and the same percentage wants to keep federal funding for states to expand their Medicaid programs.

A 55-percent majority also wants to keep the requirement that businesses and companies with more than 50 full-time employees offer health insurance to those employees, while only 27 percent want that provision repealed. Many Republicans say that requirement has led businesses to slash jobs and hours to avoid hitting that threshold.

And 53 percent of voters want to keep requiring insurance companies to cover prescription birth control, while just three-in-10 want that requirement repealed. (The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that employers may exclude contraceptive coverage for their employees if it violates the employers’ religious beliefs.)

Pluralities of voters also want to keep two other provisions of the law, though by narrower margins: 46 percent want to keep the elimination of lifetime and annual limits on health reimbursement to individuals, while 32 percent want that repealed. And 33 percent of voters want to repeal the long-derided medical-device tax, compared to 37 percent who want to keep it.

The most-popular elements of the law are also well-regarded by Republicans. Sixty-three percent of Republicans want Trump and Congress to keep the prohibition on denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, and 56 percent want to retain requiring insurance companies to allow the children of policyholders to stay on their plans until age 26.

In other words, as has been the case all along, the public opposes Obamacare by name but supports its components when asked.

Besides the public relations issues, the repeal of Obamacare might be dead due to Senate rules. The Senate can repeal Obamacare as part of a budget resolution with a simple majority, but a bill which repeals Obamacare and establishes a replacement program can be blocked with a filibuster if it lacks sixty votes. If Republicans cannot get a simple majority for repeal now, they could wind up with a choice of continuing Obamacare or only replacing it with a plan which can obtain bipartisan support. Such a plan will very likely be much like Obamacare, even if under a different name.

Republicans Might Lack Votes In Senate To Repeal Obamacare

As I discussed earlier in the week, it was far easier for Republicans to vote to repeal Obamacare when it would be blocked by a filibuster or veto. Republicans might not have the votes in the Senate for repeal. The plan was to repeal the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation, where only a simple majority is necessary, with promises to replace it with something else in the future. The absurdity of that is obvious to pretty much everyone who is not a Republican.

The Republicans might not be able to achieve even a simple majority to repeal Obamacare. Now four Republicans, Rand Paul, Bob Corker, Tom Cotton, and Susan Collins are now showing skepticism towards the plan. Susan Collins also opposes the plans to defund Planned Parenthood.

Bloomberg reports that it is unclear how this will play out:

Only one of the senators — Rand Paul of Kentucky — has so far said he plans to vote against the procedural gambit that sets up Obamacare repeal, citing unrelated budget concerns. Paul and three others are concerned that Republicans haven’t said yet how they would replace the health insurance scheme after repeal, with one of them also opposing the plan to defund Planned Parenthood as part of the repeal.

The skeptics could end up yielding to pressure from their colleagues to support the plan when it reaches the Senate floor, but Republicans can only afford to lose two senators. If they lose a third, the effort would stall, and they’d be forced to return to the drawing board. Such a delay would be an embarrassing setback for Republicans, given the intense pressure from conservatives and the Trump team to speed this through.

One problem faced by the Affordable Care Act is that, with lack of Republican cooperation, it was rarely possible to pass further legislation to make adjustments, which a program this massive would normally receive. The ideal situation would be if Republicans fail to defund Obamacare and are forced to take ownership of health care policy, leading them to work in a bipartisan manner with Democrats to pass an improved plan. Unfortunately we cannot count on the Republicans acting in such a reasonable manner.

AMA Warns Of Risks Of Gutting Health Care Reform

With Republicans appearing to make abolishing Obamacare a top priority (following their failure to gut ethics oversight of Congress), the American Medical Association has weighed in with this letter (emphasis mine) stressing the importance of making coverage more affordable, providing greater choice, and increasing the number insured:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

On behalf of the physician and medical student members of the American Medical Association (AMA), I am writing regarding our ongoing commitment to reform of the health care system and potential legislative actions during the first months of the 115th Congress.

The AMA has long advocated for health insurance coverage for all Americans, as well as pluralism, freedom of choice, freedom of practice, and universal access for patients. These policy positions are guided by the actions of the AMA House of Delegates, composed of representatives of more than 190 state and national specialty medical associations, and they form the basis for AMA consideration of reforms to our health care system.

Health system reform is an ongoing quest for improvement. The AMA supported passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it was a significant improvement on the status quo at that time. We continue to embrace the primary goal of that law—to make high quality, affordable health care coverage accessible to all Americans. We also recognize that the ACA is imperfect and there a number of issues that need to be addressed. As such, we welcome proposals, consistent with the policies of our House of Delegates, to make coverage more affordable, provide greater choice, and increase the number of those insured.

In considering opportunities to make coverage more affordable and accessible to all Americans, it is essential that gains in the number of Americans with health insurance coverage be maintained.

Consistent with this core principle, we believe that before any action is taken through reconciliation or other means that would potentially alter coverage, policymakers should lay out for the American people, in reasonable detail, what will replace current policies. Patients and other stakeholders should be able to clearly compare current policy to new proposals so they can make informed decisions about whether it represents a step forward in the ongoing process of health reform.

We stand ready to work with you to continue the process of improving our health care system and ensuring that all Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care coverage.

Sincerely,
James L. Madara, MD

Medical groups and physicians have been conflicted regarding expected health care policy under Donald Trump. There was some early support for Tom Price to head Health and Human Services in the hope that he will work to reduce the regulatory burden, but many doctors have come out in opposition to him out of concern for reductions in coverage for many Americans.

While health care policy could likely a major impact of the all-Republican government, it received very little attention during the presidential campaign. This is partially due to the media’s preference to cover the horse race and scandal, Donald Trump making more noise on matters such as the Wall, and an extraordinarily poor campaign by Hillary Clinton which concentrated on stressing Trump’s negatives and avoiding issues. Democrats are now starting to speak out on health care. Chuck Schumer is trying to turn Trump’s slogan against him, warning that Republicans will “Make America Sick Again.” Hopefully they can provide a resistance beyond coming up with a slogan.

Democrats were successful in blocking George Bush when he attempted to partially privatize Social Security in his second term, and similarly have a chance of receiving public support in opposing Republican attempts to reduce health care coverage, including cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Republicans are also getting jittery about health care legislation. They could safely please their constituents by voting to abolish Obamacare when Barack Obama was in office and they knew he would veto their efforts if it made it past a filibuster. Many now realize they will be held accountable for what happens, including if people lose coverage, and insurance costs continue to rise rapidly. The Committee For A Responsible Federal Budget, typically conservative on government  spending,  has outline the costs of repealing Obamacare, giving further reasons for Republicans to be cautious.

Donald Trump remains a huge wild care, having both promised to abolish Obamacare and to provide a plan to cover all Americans. So far he has given no meaningful specifics, talking primarily about health savings accounts and allowing insurance companies to sell insurance over state lines. Neither is a real plan. One point to Trump’s credit is that, while his major appointees have been from a very narrow group (primarily wealthy conservatives), he has spoken to a wider range of people. Zeke Emanuel, the architect of the Affordable Care Act, came out of a meeting with Trump expressing optimism, as reported by NPR. He believes Trump might seek to have a bipartisan bill after Republicans have complained about how Obamacare was passed by only Democrats. He also pointed out that some conservatives are pushing for “repeal and replace” as opposed to the currently discussed tactic of “repeal and delay” and discussed how legislation might be handled after an initial resolution (even if along party lines) to abolish the ACA utilizing budget reconciliation:

And so that you really do need to repeal and replace, and you need to do it in one bill. Otherwise, you’re really going to disrupt the individual insurance market in a very bad way, and you’ll be responsible for millions of people losing their coverage but also health insurance premiums going up. And I think that is not a scenario that a lot of Republicans really want…

So one possibility is that they pass a resolution saying that they will then come back and pass a bill that will repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act and at the same time have a replacement for those parts of the Affordable Care Act…

The resolution can be party lines, but the bill would then have to construct both the repeal part but simultaneously the replacement part. And I think if you do it that way, you could begin to negotiate with Democrats. If you just have a repeal and we’ll be back in three years and tell you how we’re going to fix it, then the Democrats are simply going to walk away. Chuck Schumer has made that clear.

And they should walk away because then it’s all – it’s the old pottery barn principle that Colin Powell made famous, which is, you break it; you have to fix it, and you take responsibility. And the Democrats will not want their fingerprints anywhere near the breaking of Obamacare and the disruption of the insurance industry in the United States…

The question is, what is the shape of that bill? Is it just a repeal bill, or is it a repeal with replacement? And that negotiation about that bill could take several months. My own estimate is if both sides come with good faith, they could probably hammer this out in about six months. It’s not a small item. I mean health care reform is big.

The question is, what are the gives and takes? I do think – again, one of the reasons I’m optimistic is that when you look at conservative and liberal health policy experts, there’s about 70 or 80 percent overlap between the two groups about the shape of the future and what you would need. And I think that’s, again, why I’m optimistic – because there aren’t that many ways of doing health care reform. They’re really limited.

Of course counting on the sanity of Republicans is a very risky bet.

Republicans Show Contempt For Ethics; Trump Plays The Press

Among the first actions by the House Republicans were rules changes to reduce the power of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and then reversing course. The bad news is that it highlighted their priorities. The good news is that it did show that Republican House members are susceptible to pressure. The media does tend to concentrate more on ethics than policy. An action such as this was bound to receive more scrutiny than actions such as destroying Medicare as we know it, or reducing health coverage for those who have received coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The impact of the adverse media coverage was helped by many voters taking this seriously. Google searches for “who is my representative” surged. Republican members of Congress were flooded with phone calls.

Donald Trump also played this well when he tweeted on the subject. If you look at the headlines alone, it appears that Donald Trump protested and the Republicans backed down. He called the Office of Congressional Ethics “unfair,” and protested more on the timing of the action than the actual rules changing. It doesn’t appear that he would object to reversing course on the principle of “draining the swamp” as long as they acted to (in his view) making America great first. Of course this doesn’t make very much sense as setting the rules for the upcoming Congress is among the first matters handled.

Senate Bill Allows FBI To Obtain Email Without Warrant

bill of rights

First we found, thanks to Edward Snowden, that the NSA was collecting mass amounts of metadata on email. Some discounted this, downplaying the significance of metadata. Hillary Clinton has called for more government surveillance to fight terror. It looks like her wish will come true. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a bill which would allow the FBI to obtain email without a warrant. CNET reports:

The 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act, if enacted into law, would let the FBI obtain email records without a court order. All the agency would need is a National Security Letter, which lets the FBI get information from companies about their customers without alerting the person being investigated. Currently, the FBI can access phone records that way, but not emails…

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Tuesday in a joint statement that the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act makes it easier for the government to keep Americans safe.

It is not surprising that conservative Democrat Dianne Feinstein would approve of this, but certainly there must be other Democrats who would protest this if there really is still a difference between the parties. One, and only one, Democrat objected. Ron Wyden released this statement:

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today voted against the 2017 Intelligence Authorization Act in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The bill includes provisions to expand warrantless government surveillance and takes aim at a valuable independent oversight board.

“This bill takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty,” Wyden said following the vote. “This bill would mean more government surveillance of Americans, less due process and less independent oversight of U.S. intelligence agencies. Worse, neither the intelligence agencies, nor the bill’s sponsors have shown any evidence that these changes would do anything to make Americans more secure. I plan to work with colleagues in both chambers to reverse these dangerous provisions.”

Wyden opposes multiple provisions to the bill, including;

-Allowing the FBI to obtain Americans’ email records with only a National Security Letter. Currently, the FBI can obtain email records in national security investigations with an order from the FISA Court. The bill would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers. The FBI can currently obtain phone records with a National Security Letter, but not email records.

-Narrowing the jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), for the second consecutive year. The bill would limit the PCLOB to examining only programs that impact the privacy rights of U.S. citizens.  Wyden has supported the PCLOB’s focus on the rights of US persons.  Wyden opposed this provision, however, since global telecommunications networks can make it difficult to determine who is an American citizen, and this provision could discourage oversight of programs when the impact on Americans’ rights is unclear. Furthermore, continually restricting a small, independent oversight board sends the message that the board shouldn’t do its job too well.

The bill does include one proposal from Wyden, which would allow the PCLOB to hire staff even when the board’s Chair is vacant. Currently the PCLOB is prohibited from hiring staff unless a Senate-confirmed Chair is in place.  This proposal is also included in separate bipartisan legislation introduced by Wyden and Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.  PCLOB Chairman David Medine is scheduled to step down on July 1.

The Intercept has further background information on the bill.

Of the current presidential candidates, only Bernie Sanders has stood up for civil liberties. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have similar views supporting restrictions on civil liberties to fight terrorism. I am not aware of any statements from the candidates specifically on this bill, but actions such as this from Congress demonstrate the need for Sanders, as opposed to Clinton or Trump, to have the veto pen in the White House.