GAO To Investigate Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Trips And Hotel Profits

The Government Accountability Office is going to investigate the security of classified information at  Mar-a-Lago and hotel profits. Reuters reports:

A U.S. government watchdog has agreed to review how classified information is kept secure at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, the agency said on Monday, after Democratic lawmakers raised concerns about the issue last month.

The Government Accountability Office’s review will examine whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter the agency sent the lawmakers on Friday.

The GAO will also check whether Trump has made any payments to the U.S. Treasury from profits at his hotels, the letter said. Trump’s lawyer pledged at a Jan. 11 news conference to donate Trump Hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s handling of U.S. security information at Mar-a-Lago came under congressional scrutiny in February after photos taken by private guests in the club’s public dining area showed Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reviewing documents following a North Korean missile launch.

The White House denied afterward that any classified material was present in the dining room.

This might turn out to be just one of several investigations into Donald Trump in the upcoming months. Last week I posted about a public corruption prosecutor hired to investigate Trump.

In somewhat related news today, Gallup reports that Donald Trump’s approval has hit a new low:

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating fell to 36% for the three-day period of March 24-26, following Republican House leaders’ failed effort to pass a new healthcare bill that would have replaced the Affordable Care Act.

Trump’s three-day reading prior to Friday’s events was 41%. His previous low point was 37%, recorded March 16-18. His highest reading was 46% in the week following his Jan. 20 inauguration, and he has averaged 42% for his term to date.

Trump’s current 36% is two percentage points below Barack Obama’s low point of 38%, recorded in 2011 and 2014. Trump has also edged below Bill Clinton’s all-time low of 37%, recorded in the summer of 1993, his first year in office, as well as Gerald Ford’s 37% low point in January and March 1975. John F. Kennedy’s lowest approval rating was 56%; Dwight Eisenhower’s was 48%.

Presidents George W. Bush (lowest approval rating: 25%), George H.W. Bush (29%), Ronald Reagan (35%), Jimmy Carter (28%), Richard Nixon (24%), Lyndon Johnson (35%) and Harry Truman (22%) all had job approval ratings lower than 36% at least once during their administrations.

Republican Failures On Health Care Raise Calls For Single-Payer Health Plan

The failure of  the Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare is a tremendous defeat for Donald Trump, along with Paul Ryan, which may hinder their ability to pass other parts of the Republican agenda, such as rewriting the tax code. The inability of Republicans to come up with a reasonable solution for our health care problems highlights the inability to solve the problem by relying on the market, and has revived calls for a single-payer health care plan.

The Week has this argument for Why Democrats should push ‘Medicare for all’ now even before it the Republicans gave up on their plan:

The AHCA is a monstrous bill that would leave at least 24 million more people uninsured by 2026. But whether or not it fails, the Democrats shouldn’t sit idly by and wait for Republicans to slowly bleed ObamaCare to death by other means. They need a counter-offer, one that’s more compelling than the creaky status quo. They need a single-payer, Medicare for all plan. Here’s why.

The first reason is that single-payer is quite clearly the best universal health-care policy option for the United States. As Dr. Adam Gaffney explains, the U.S. model of multi-tiered health insurance has generally lousy and highly unequal outcomes, both here and in European countries with similar structures like the Netherlands. Complicated public-private hybrid systems mean much larger administrative costs, and the fact that markets are extraordinarily ill-suited to deliver health care means tons of difficult regulation.

Indeed, the distance in uninsured people between ObamaCare and single-payer is actually greater than that between ObamaCare and the Republican plan. Complicated, janky programs tend to let people fall through the cracks.

..The AHCA is extraordinarily unpopular because it takes coverage and subsidies away from people, and a majority believe that it should be the government’s responsibility to make sure everyone is covered. Fundamentally, Medicare is very popular, a fact only partially covered up by generations of red-baiting and duplicitous austerian propaganda. If Democrats had simply bulled ahead with a single payer-esque plan in 2009, instead of the complicated and heavily means-tested ObamaCare, they almost certainly would have done better than they actually did in the 2010 election.

And even for people who are skeptical of going full-bore all at once on single-payer, it still makes an excellent opening bid. Start with single-payer for all during the next bite at the health-care apple, and you could end up with a plan of combining Medicare and Medicaid, enrolling all people under 26 and over 55, and putting a Medicare buy-in on the ObamaCare exchanges. (That might begin chipping away at the employer-based system and be a somewhat more gradual route to single-payer.) Just witness the original opening bid for ObamaCare, which was far more generous before it got badly whittled down by conservative Democrats…

It also makes an excellent organizing signpost. Medicare for all is simple, easy to understand, and hard to argue against or distort. Most people know someone on Medicare who can testify to the generally good care, or who is counting the days until they can enroll and have the peace of mind that comes with quality coverage. Fabricated agitprop like the mythical ObamaCare “death panels” will be a much harder sell.

Erica Etelson is one of those writing op-eds promoting a single-payer plan, and taking the Democratic Party to task for failing to do so:

With Trumpcare dead on arrival in Congress, Democrats have an opening to propose what they should have pushed for in the first place: single-payer health care for all. Fifty-eight percent of Americans, including 41 percent of Republicans, favor a federally funded health care system that provides universal coverage. Only 48 percent want to keep Obamacare as is.

Though Democrats are loathe to admit it, Obamacare is far from perfect. Some people pay higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs than they can afford. In some areas of the country, choices of doctors are limited. Compared to nations with single-payer systems, health outcomes are poor. And a small but vocal minority of Americans are troubled by Obamacare’s individual mandate which, they believe, infringes on their liberty…

Bernie Sanders ran with remarkable success on a Medicare for All proposal that generated enormous excitement among the progressive wing of the party and sent shivers down the spine of the Democratic corporate establishment. Hillary Clinton, a one-time champion of single-payer, pounced on Sanders with alarmist, counterfactual claims that Sanders’ proposal would increase costs and make people worse off.

While the GOP is still cringing over the humiliating defeat of its seven-year promise to repeal Obamacare, Democrats should kick them while they’re down by introducing single-payer legislation. Even Trump-collaborator, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, is starting to wise up, thanks to his constituents; at a recent town meeting, Manchin praised Canada’s health care system and said he was taking a look at single-payer as an alternative to Obamacare…

We watched the Democratic National Committee undercut Sanders’ candidacy. And we’ve watched the Democrats disappear the single-payer option by refusing to support Rep. John Conyers’, D-MI, single-payer bill (HR 676). Enough.

The Democrats’ lackluster opposition to Trumpism does not match the fierce and relentless resistance of their base. They can and must stop doubling down on the centrist “pragmatism” that has alienated growing numbers of voters and start acting like a party more committed to the health and well-being of the 99 percent than protecting the power and profits of oligarchs.

This populist moment in American politics is the Democrats’ to seize. With a strong majority supporting single payer, the Democrat have a golden opportunity to give their dwindling base a reason to come home. As Trump said moments after conceding defeat, “Here’s the good news: Health care is now totally the property of the Democrats.” Good news indeed, if the Democrats know what to make of it.

Donald Trump now has the opportunity to work with Democrats, and any Republicans who are willing, to fulfill his campaign promises of giving us a great health care plan which will cover everybody. Of course he will not do so, and will probably continue to work to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare Repeal Fails

Donald Trump and Paul Ryan are both losers.

In a spectacular political defeat for Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, the legislation to repeal Obamacare has been pulled as it was clear it was going down to defeat. It was far easier for Republicans to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act over fifty times in the past when they knew it would be vetoed if it made it through both houses of Congress than it is now that they would be held accountable for a replacement. The New York Times reports:

House Republican leaders, facing a revolt among conservatives and moderates in their ranks, pulled legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act from consideration on the House floor Friday in a major defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.

“We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future,” the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, conceded.

The failure of the Republicans’ three-month blitz to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement exposed deep divisions in the Republican Party that the election of a Republican president could not mask. It cast a long shadow over the ambitious agenda that Mr. Trump and Republican leaders had promised to enact once their party assumed power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Paul Ryan apparently was  surprised to find that it is complicated to sell Americans on health care plan which will cost them more and provide less.

James Corden and Jimmy Kimmel On Ivanka Trump Getting White House Office

Ivanka Trump is getting an office in the West Wing despite previously stating she would not take a formal role in her father’s administration. The administration has said Ivanka is going to act as her father’s “eyes and ears,” which basically means she’s going to be walking around the White House saying, “I’m telling Dad!”

I’m glad Ivanka is going to be her father’s “eyes and ears.” Now all we need is for her to take over his mouth, and his tweeting thumb.–James Corden

***

Ivanka Trump is getting an office at the White House and she’s getting top-level security clearance. She will take a position in the White House where she’ll draw upon her 20 years of foreign and domestic policy experience that she gained selling sandals to Nordstrom.

Her role is that she will serve as her father’s “eyes and ears” at the White House. He doesn’t need that. He needs somebody to be his thumbs so he can stop tweeting.

Her office is on the second floor of the West Wing, not far from the Oval Office. I suspect they put her there so somebody can run and grab her in case her father decides to nuke anything. She might be the only one he’ll listen to.

Meanwhile, poor Tiffany Trump can’t even get the White House Wi-Fi password. –Jimmy Kimmel

Trump May Be Terrible, But Few Regret Not Voting For Hillary

Donald Trump has given us numerous reasons to dislike and distrust him. His policies, such as the Republican health care plan, have turned out to be horrible for the bulk of his voters. I have seen multiple media and blog stories suggesting that many Trump voters regret voting for him. A new poll suggests that is not the case. An article in The Washington Post discusses a recent poll to determine if Trump voters regret their votes, and how they wish they had voted:

Our Mood of the Nation Poll from Penn State’s McCourtney Institute of Democracy provides answers. Conducted by YouGov, the poll tracks the mood of the public through traditional survey questions and numerous open-ended questions that allow citizens to express themselves in their own words. The poll’s methodology is described here.

Our Feb. 23-27 poll asked a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans to report on how they cast their vote in November. The results of these reports closely align with other national polls, with Hillary Clinton voters comprising 49 percent of the sample, Trump voters 46 percent, with 3 percent and 2 percent for minor-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, respectively.

Who would vote differently?

On the next screen, we asked everyone, “Suppose you could go back in time and vote again in the November election. What would you do?”

Respondents were presented with the same choices — Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson, someone else, or not vote at all. Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different.

It will be interesting to see if this changes over time. It is one thing for Trump to propose policies which harm his base. It is a different matter for these voters to realize it. Perhaps this will change if more of Trump’s policies are enacted.

I find it interesting that not only do few Trump voters regret their votes, but that of the twelve people who say they would change their votes, only three said they would vote for Clinton while seven would vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson.

I wish we had similar data on those who voted for Stein or Johnson. Not surprisingly, I have seen many comments from Clinton supporters on social media suggesting that Stein and Johnson voters should regret their votes. However, while a few might exist, I have seen no evidence of any Stein or Johnson voters wishing they had for Clinton.

It is one thing to oppose Trump’s policies. It is a different matter to think that we would have been better off if a corrupt, socially conservative,  warmonger such as Clinton had won. There is at least some consolation following Trump’s election in seeing how quickly we have developed strong opposition to his policies. If Clinton had won, those on the left who are actively opposing Trump would be finding ways to excuse and defend Clinton’s actions and policies, as we frequently saw during the campaign. Those who say there has been no evidence of wrong doing by Clinton, despite all the evidence raised of corrupt and dishonest behavior on her part, are objecting to the corruption seen from Trump, making it far less such corruption would become institutionalized as it would have been if Clinton had been elected.

While large portions of the pro-Democratic media have shown an extraordinary amount of hypocrisy in accepting Clinton’s actions, there has been opposition to Trump from both the left and segments of the right. For example, even the pro-Republican Wall Street Journal is running an op-ed about Trump’s lack of credibility. The article both gave examples of the frequent falsehoods from Trump and noted the consequences:

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods…

All of this continues the pattern from the campaign that Mr. Trump is his own worst political enemy. He survived his many false claims as a candidate because his core supporters treated it as mere hyperbole and his opponent was untrustworthy Hillary Clinton. But now he’s President, and he needs support beyond the Breitbart cheering section that will excuse anything. As he is learning with the health-care bill, Mr. Trump needs partners in his own party to pass his agenda. He also needs friends abroad who are willing to trust him when he asks for support, not least in a crisis.

This week should be dominated by the smooth political sailing for Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and the progress of health-care reform on Capitol Hill. These are historic events, and success will show he can deliver on his promises. But instead the week has been dominated by the news that he was repudiated by his own FBI director.

Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39%. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.

Assuming we survive his presidency, there are also long term political advantages to having Trump in the White House destroying the Republicans, as opposed to seeing Clinton destroy the Democratic brand. Getting rid of the Clintons gives the Democrats a chance to reform the party–which they may or may not take advantage of. If Clinton was elected, we would probably see a continuation of the trend for Democrats to lose in Congressional and state governments, with opposition to Clinton likely to give Republicans a super majority in the Senate and potentially control of enough state governments to enable them to rewrite the Constitution. Having Trump in the White House, as terrible as that is, at least means that the Democrats not only have a real shot at taking control of the House in 2018, but Stuart Rothenburg is writing today that Republican “gains probably won’t be anywhere near what they might have been with President Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office.”

United States Fails To Attend Human Rights Hearing

The United States government refused to attend a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as it was planning to raise questions regarding the Trump administration’s actions including its travel ban. The American Civil Liberties Union posted the above picture of the empty chairs where the US delegation would sit, and issued this statement:

The United States has pulled its participation from hearings planned for today by a regional human rights body that has enjoyed the support of every U.S. administration since its founding.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Washington, D.C., for a regular session covering human rights issues spanning North and South America. The hearings today are scheduled to cover the Trump administration’s attempt to ban immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, its immigration enforcement and detention policies, and its approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ACLU is testifying on Tuesday at hearings that can be livestreamed here.

In the past, when U.S. governments have sought to express displeasure at having their records scrutinized, they have occasionally protested by sending lower-level officials. But today’s refusal to engage the commission at all is a deeply troubling indication of its disrespect for human rights norms and the institutions that oversee their protection…

The Trump administration’s refusal to engage with an independent human rights body, which has played a historic role in fighting impunity and barbaric military dictatorships in the region, sets a dangerous precedent that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them. It is a worrying sign that the administration, which has also said it would review future engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, is not only launching an assault on human rights at home. Rather it’s upping the ante and weakening the institutions that hold abusive governments accountable.

Just Security received a response from the Trump administration stating they did not attend as matters were under litigation (an excuse which sounds a lot like Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns because he was being audited):

The Trump administration said it didn’t attend two Tuesday hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because the topics being discussed are related to matters currently in litigation, according to the U.S. State Department. The Commission, which is meeting in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss human rights issues in North and South America, planned to discuss on Tuesday, the new U.S. travel ban, the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement and detention policies, and the administration’s approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The two thematic hearings held today related, directly or indirectly, to matters currently in litigation,” and “participants at both thematic hearings included parties to such ongoing litigation,” a State Department official said in a statement to Just Security. “We note that our decision not to participate in these hearings does not have any bearing on current or future U.S. engagement with the Commission.”

Public Corruption Prosecutor Hired To Investigate Trump

The Wall Street Journal reports that New York’s attorney general has hired a top public corruption prosecutor to go after Donald Trump:

New York state’s attorney general, to date one of the most vocal antagonists of President Donald Trump, is preparing to escalate his office’s litigation against the president’s administration.

Democrat Eric Schneiderman has hired one of the top public-corruption prosecutors under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to focus specifically on issues involving the Trump administration. Howard Master, who prosecuted the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s case against longtime New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver , is expected to work on both continuing and new White House-related matters for the attorney general, as well as on high-level public-corruption cases.

The hiring of Mr. Master, whose title will be senior enforcement counsel, signals Mr. Schneiderman’s continued intent to take on the Republican president…

Since Mr. Trump took office, Mr. Schneiderman has been one of a group of Democratic attorneys general who have directed both legal challenges and critical rhetoric toward the president on matters including his executive orders on immigration and refugees, climate change and threats to deport millions of illegal immigrants, among other issues.

Last week, Mr. Schneiderman’s office joined Washington state’s lawsuit against the Trump administration’s revised immigration order. “The Trump administration’s continued intent to discriminate against Muslims is clear,” Mr. Schneiderman said at the time, “and it undermines New York’s families, institutions and economy.”

In addition to challenging White House policies in court, Mr. Schneiderman’s office is expected to explore whether it has any standing to pursue cases that hinge on the Constitution’s emoluments clause, according to people familiar with the matter. That provision prohibits federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments…

State attorneys general have wide berth to challenge the legality of federal policies and laws that impact their states and citizens. In the lawsuit against the revised immigration executive order, for example, the complaint alleges that the policy harms New York’s health-care institutions, its tourism industry and its colleges and universities’ ability to recruit international students.

The New York attorney general also has broad powers in prosecuting financial fraud through the Martin Act, a state law that has more lenient requirements than on the federal level.

In addition, James Comey has verified in Congressional testimony today that the FBI is investigating alleged Russian interference in the election, and whether there was any collusion with the Trump campaign. So far, there has been no evidence released of collusion between Trump and Russia. Comey also stated that there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wire tapped Trump Tower.

Jake Tapper On Holding Trump Accountable For His Dishonesty

Jake Tapper’s appearance on Bill Maher provided some hope about the future of media coverage in challenging government, but the interview also got back to partisan double standards. The Hill summarized some of the good points (with full video above):

CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday tore into President Trump’s claims of news media bias, saying “there’s no bias when it comes to facts and there’s no bias when it comes to decency.”

“I’ve never really seen this level of falsehood,” Tapper said on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

“Just quantitatively. It’s not just, ‘If  you like your doctor you can keep your doctor,’ it’s conspiracy theories based on nothing that have members of his own party distancing themselves from him.”

Maher noted that Tapper “sounds different” lately in adopting a more critical style in “speaking truth to crazy.”

“Politicians lie. It wasn’t invented on January 20,” Tapper said, but Trump is trying to “discredit the entire fourth estate, the entire media, we’re all fake news except for ‘Fox And Friends.’ ”

“The truth of the matter is that there’s no bias when it comes to facts and there’s no bias when it comes to decency,” Tapper added. “It is empirically indecent to make fun of the disabled. You don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican or Independent or socialist or libertarian. That is just indecent. My children know better than that.”

Having the media point out when Trump is lying is far better than the common practice of the media reporting what both side say as if they are equally valid. Trump lies quite frequently in an administration which has become known for its use of alternative facts, and this should be pointed out. The news media provides an important service when it points out when politicians are lying.

While I applaud Tapper for trying to hold Trump accountable, he did drop the ball when Bill Maher reverted to partisanship in complaining about the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s scandals. Clinton violated email policies established to promote transparency in government as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then went on to repeatedly lie about the situation. This included her lies about the initial FBI report.  Clinton’s statement that, “Director Comey said my answers were truthful” was the first lie listed by Glenn Kessler (listed in no particular order) in his listing of The biggest Pinocchios of 2016. She also grossly violated the ethics agreement she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State.

Candidates of both parties should be held accountable for their lying.

Quotes of the Day: Colbert on Rex Tillerson & Conan on Steve Bannon

“It came out last night that Rex Tillerson used an email alias while he was CEO of Exxon to discuss climate change on the sly. So in the Trump administration, you can be a sexist, or a white supremacist, but you’re gonna want to keep your science talk on the D.L.” –Stephen Colbert

“White House strategist Steve Bannon is under criminal investigation for voter fraud. Reportedly he voted last year in Florida while still technically a resident of 1930s Germany. Can’t have it both ways.” –Conan O’Brien

Clinton Supporter With CIA Background Says No Collusion Between Trump And Putin

There is no question that Russia has attempted to influence elections in other countries, just as the United States has. There is also no question that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have views which are in opposition to liberal democratic ideas. The degree of Trump’s business involvement with Russia is unknown, partially due to Trump refusing to release his tax returns. Claims from Clinton supporters, claims that Russia is responsible for Clinton losing the election are debatable, and there is zero evidence of any conspiracy between Russia and Trump to influence the election. A former acting CIA director, who did support Hillary Clinton, has joined those who say there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. NBC News reports, which has often been quite favorable to Clinton, reports:

Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and called Donald Trump a dupe of Russia, cast doubt Wednesday night on allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

His comments were in sharp contrast to those of many Clinton partisans — such as former communications director Jennifer Palmieri — who have stated publicly they believe the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election against Clinton.

Morell said he had learned that the former officer, Christopher Steele, paid his key Russian sources, and interviewed them through intermediaries.

“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site.

“There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”

While Russian hacking to release DNC email would be objectionable, it should also be kept in mind that there has been no evidence that any of the released information about Clinton and the DNC via Wikileaks was inaccurate. If this information did harm Clinton in the election, this ultimately would indicate that it was a mistake for the DNC to nominate a candidate as flawed as Clinton, or for the DNC to violate their own rules to rig the nomination for her.