Republicans thought they could force 2018 Democrats to cut deals, but Trump keeps sliding in polls

Paul Kane, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Republicans began this year thinking that they had leverage over some Democrats, particularly the 10 up for reelection next year in states that President Trump won in the fall.

Those Democrats, some GOP strategists believed, would want to work with the president to appeal to enough Trump voters to win their states in November 2018.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Trump’s standing has slipped in many of these states. The president has faced legislative gridlock and a deepening investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russia. His focus, in public appearances and on social media, has regularly drifted away from the policy agenda on Capitol Hill.

That’s left Senate Democrats feeling stronger than they expected to be eight months after their highly disappointing showing in 2016, which left them in the minority and heading into 2018 defending 25 seats compared with Republicans’ eight.

If Trump had spent his first six months increasing or even maintaining his popularity in these states, he might have struck enough political fear in these 2018 Democrats to compel them to support some of his initiatives.

That’s looking more and more like the sort of negotiation that will happen only if Democrats can command a good deal in return.

The dynamic is sure to test Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the months ahead, particularly if Republicans fail to muster the votes solely from their side of the aisle to repeal chunks of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell has warned that such an outcome will force him to work with Democrats to shore up imploding insurance markets.

“No action is not an alternative,” McConnell said Thursday while in Kentucky.

Beyond the health-care fight, McConnell has also made clear that there are many other agenda items that will require the traditional 60-vote threshold to choke off filibusters, meaning he needs at least eight Democrats to move legislation such as annual government funding bills and an increase in the government’s borrowing authority.

But the bargaining table is different now.

Take Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose state delivered a critical victory for Trump, the first by a GOP presidential nominee since 1984.

A staunch liberal, Baldwin began the year expecting her 2018 reelection bid to be a 50-50 prospect. Her state had voted Republican three straight times for governor and in two of the past three Senate races.

Trump has used the presidential bully pulpit to focus on the Badger State, making three trips there since November. But his visits have done little to boost his standing.

Just 41 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of Trump’s job performance in late June, while 51 percent disapproved, according to a poll by Marquette Law School.

On basic popularity, Trump is easily the most disliked politician among Wisconsin voters, with 54 percent holding an unfavorable view of him and 40 percent a favorable one.

Baldwin’s image is not great, but it is far better in Wisconsin’s eyes than Trump: 38 percent have a favorable view and 38 percent unfavorable.

It’s the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both states Trump narrowly won. In Michigan, just 35 percent of voters approved of his job performance in a late May poll conducted by EPIC-MRA, with 61 percent disapproving. In Pennsylvania, 37 percent supported his job performance while 49 percent did not, according to a May poll by Franklin & Marshall College.

More here.

Despite Deep Policy Divides, Europe Trip Seen by Buoyant Trump as High Point

Glenn Thrush, reporting for the New York Times:

The rumble of police helicopters and armored riot trucks shook President Trump’s suite deep inside the convention center, but his staff found unexpected comfort as they watched on TV as protesters rampaged through the streets of Hamburg.

The anger outside, they noted with relief, was mostly directed at globalism, the Group of 20 and European leaders, not at Mr. Trump.

The president’s second trip to Europe since taking office was, on its surface, a turbulent and disquieting couple days. He visited a continent scrambling to cope with a profoundly altered power dynamic under his disruptive leadership, as the United States challenges the region’s liberal governments on climate change, defense, trade and immigration. Cars burned, diplomats fumed.

Yet to Mr. Trump and his battered band of advisers, the discord inside and around the complex housing the summit meeting was someone else’s problem.

It was by no means an unqualified success.

Mr. Trump’s hard-line policy against abiding by international limits on greenhouse gas emissions made him an outlier among many of the other G-20 leaders here. His pressure on Germany over its contributions to NATO and his positions on immigration and trade have made him wildly unpopular here. His threat to impose tariffs on foreign steel prompted European officials to float the idea of taxing American bourbon imports. And he continued to flout tradition by trashing American institutions overseas, criticizing the press in the presence of leaders who have cracked down on the media in their own countries.

“This trip puts into stark relief how the U.S. has relinquished its role as the indispensable nation,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

To much of the rest of the world, the gathering underscored the administration’s growing distance with, and isolation from, the other G-20 members.

But from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s team, the trip to Poland and Germany turned out to be a surprising early high point in his presidency, providing a brief but welcome respite from the forever wars in Washington. It left the president, who had been less than enthusiastic about coming, buoyant and feeling that there might still be a market for his hard-edge brand of conservative nationalism in supposedly inhospitable Europe after all.

“This week’s trip gave the country a very clear sense of the president’s foreign policy philosophy and reiterated the long-term objective of restoring America’s greatness on the world stage,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide who still advises the president and his staff informally.

Mr. Trump returns to a deteriorating domestic situation, facing months of investigations into whether people in campaign colluded with Russia and what appears to be the decreasing likelihood that a deeply divided Senate majority can quickly pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But he’ll always have Warsaw. The apex of the trip from the president’s perspective — and one of the most personally satisfying episodes of his term so far — was Mr. Trump’s powerful invocation of Western exceptionalism to a crowd of like-minded Polish nationalists on Thursday.

The speech was a blunt expression of Western defiance in the face of radical Islamic terrorism. It cast Mr. Trump as a modern-day inheritor of that struggle, a willing warrior in a clash of civilizations.

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” said Mr. Trump, dwarfed by a huge monument to ragtag Polish partisan army soldiers wearing helmets taken from dead German soldiers. “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

More here.

Attack of the Republican Decepticons

Paul Krugman, reporting for the New York Times:

Does anyone remember the “reformicons”? A couple of years back there was much talk about a new generation of Republicans who would, it was claimed, move their party off its cruel and mindless agenda of tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor, bringing back the intellectual seriousness that supposedly used to characterize the conservative movement.

But the rise of the reformicons never happened. What we got instead was the (further) rise of the decepticons — not the evil robots from the movies, but conservatives who keep scaling new heights of dishonesty in their attempt to sell their reverse-Robin Hood agenda.

Consider, in particular, Republican leaders’ strategy on health care. At this point, everything they say involves either demonstrably dishonest claims about Obamacare or wild misrepresentations of their proposed replacement, which would — surprise — cut taxes for the rich while inflicting harsh punishment on the poor and working class, including millions of Trump supporters. In fact, there’s so much deception that I can’t cover it all. But here are a few low points.

Despite encountering some significant problems, the Affordable Care Act has, as promised, extended health insurance to millions of Americans who wouldn’t have had it otherwise, at a fairly modest cost. In states that have implemented the act as it was intended, expanding Medicaid, the percentage of nonelderly residents without insurance has fallen by more than half since 2010.

And these numbers translate into dramatic positive impacts on real lives. A few days ago the Indiana G.O.P. asked residents to share their “Obamacare horror stories”; what it got instead were thousands of testimonials from people whom the A.C.A. has saved from financial ruin or even death.

How do Republicans argue against this success? You can get a good overview by looking at the Twitter feed of Tom Price, President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — a feed that is, in its own way, almost as horrifying as that of the tweeter in chief. Price points repeatedly to two misleading numbers.

First, he points to the fact that fewer people than expected have signed up on the exchanges — Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces — and portrays this as a sign of dire failure. But a lot of this shortfall is the result of good news: Fewer employers than predicted chose to drop coverage and shift their workers onto exchange plans. So exchange enrollment has come in below forecast, but it mostly consists of people who wouldn’t otherwise have been insured — and as I said, there have been large gains in overall coverage.

More here.

McConnell says GOP must shore up ACA insurance markets if Senate bill dies

Juliet Eilperin and Samy Goldstein, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that if his party fails to muster 50 votes for its plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, it will have no choice but to draft a more modest bill with Democrats to support the law’s existing insurance markets.

The remarks, made at a Rotary Club lunch in Glasgow, Ky., represent a significant shift for the veteran legislator. While he had raised the idea last week that Republicans may have to turn to Democrats if they cannot pass their own bill, his words mark the first time he has explicitly raised the prospect of shoring up the ACA.

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said. “No action is not an alternative. We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

McConnell, who pledged in 2014 to eradicate the law also known as Obamacare “root and branch,” initially raised the prospect of having to work with Democrats last week after he pulled a measure he had crafted behind closed doors. That bill would jettison the ACA’s requirement that most individuals prove they have health coverage, would repeal or delay billions in taxes imposed under the current law and would make deep, long-term cuts to the nation’s Medicaid program.

But while he previously declared that Republicans “need to come up with a solution” if they wanted to make real changes to the nation’s health-care system, McConnell on Thursday acknowledged how difficult it is proving to craft an alternative that can satisfy the GOP’s conservative and centrist camps.

His suggestion that he and his colleagues might instead try to bolster the insurance exchanges created under the ACA is at odds with Republican talking points that they are beyond repair. The marketplaces were built for people who do not have access to affordable coverage through a job, and at last count slightly more than 10 million Americans had health plans purchased through the exchanges. More than 8 in 10 customers bought their plans with federal subsidies the law provides.

Until now, both congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have contended that the “collapse” of the ACA marketplaces is a main reason to erase much of the 2010 law.

* * *

Yet the Fourth of July recess has not bolstered the political prospects for McConnell’s legislation; GOP senators have been peppered with questions by constituents anxious about the potential impact on their coverage. In the past several days, some senators have implied that considerable work would still be required before the Better Care Reconciliation Act could pass the Senate.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), a conservative who has played a key role in the chamber’s health-care negotiations this year, said Wednesday during an appearance before a live audience at WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, “We’re still several weeks away from a vote, I think.”

On Thursday Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opposed McConnell’s original draft bill, also voiced skepticism about the chances of reaching a consensus. “If we cannot bring the conference together and agree on repeal legislation, then I think President Trump’s absolutely right that we should pass a clean repeal,” Cruz told reporters, adding such a repeal should be delayed “either a year or two years” to allow time for a replacement.

Earlier in the day, Cruz said in an interview with KTSA radio in San Antonio that though he was feeling hopeful, “I don’t know if we get it done or not.” The situation, he said, “is precarious.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told a town hall meeting in rural Palco that “there are people who tell me they are better off” with the ACA, “and I believe them.” Moran, who said last week he did not support the GOP measure in its current form, called for “a national debate that includes legislative hearings. . . . It needs to be less politics and more policy.”

President Trump has repeatedly pronounced the ACA “dead.” And in contrast with their predecessors in the Obama administration, who talked up the law’s marketplaces, Health and Human Services officials have been issuing maps, detailing in red the number of U.S. counties in danger of being without marketplace offerings for 2018. The most recent map, released Wednesday, showed 40 “bare” counties in Ohio, Indiana and Nevada.

More here.

Bizarre. Absurd. Ridiculous. Embarrassing. Trump.

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

As the nation was preparing to celebrate its storied independence from the British crown, the president secured his place as history’s greatest jester.

Or America’s first toddler president. Take your pick.

Trump did so by tweeting a doctored video clip of himself from several years ago in which he takes down wrestling magnate Vince McMahon and gives him a good pummeling. The new version superimposes the CNN logo on McMahon’s head. Get it? In the 28-second clip, Trump walks away from the fray unrumpled with nary a hair out of place.

Bizarre comes to mind. Absurd. Ridiculous. Funny, perhaps, to a certain sort. Embarrassing in the extreme to many Americans who would describe themselves as perpetually appalled. What’s next, Trump in his tighty whities atop Trump Tower punching an inflatable Vladimir Putin?

It is baffling to think that Trump is proud of himself and such high jinks, to put it charitably. We get that he’s at war with the media, hardly an original concept at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But no one has ever seen a U.S. president behave in such an idiotic manner. Most adults have a pause button in their brains that shields civilized society from impulsive, inappropriate behavior. For the president, every impulse is apparently irresistible.

For good reason, many in the journalism world have expressed deep concerns about the effect the video might have. CNN’s response said in part: “It is a sad day when the president of the United States encourages violence against reporters.”

We’ve already witnessed one such event this year when Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, now a member of Congress, assaulted a reporter for the Guardian, breaking his glasses. In a comedy, the audience might applaud the tough guy punching the obnoxious reporter, but this isn’t a comedy. Please, someone tell the president.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), whose recent book laments the absence of people behaving like grown-ups in America, reacted to the video-tweet in strong language, suggesting that Trump is trying to “weaponize distrust” toward the media. It’s not as though the country’s media-haters need much encouragement to act out Trump’s looney-tunes dreamscape. It only takes one.

All is not glum, however. There have been some truly humorous moments in the aftermath of the video’s viral reception, principally from those defending Trump’s cartoon presidency. The ever-earnest Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence.” How’s that? Isn’t this the same Trump who offered to pay the legal fees of anyone who got in hot water for punching out a protester at one of his campaign rallies?

To Trump supporters who find the wrestling video unobjectionable or, I suspect, hilarious in some cases, I would ask that they try to imagine the same video showing Barack Obama superimposing Fox News on someone’s face, punching him repeatedly and then smugly strutting away.

Very likely these same folks would have stormed the Mall demanding the president’s impeachment.

As an opinion columnist who draws plenty of threatening hate mail, I fear less for my personal safety than for the integrity and security of our country. I’ve covered politics off and on for 40 years, including writing a thrice-weekly column for the now-defunct Charleston Evening Post in 1980 leading up to the first Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.

Never during that time or since have I ever worried that a president’s behavior would embarrass the country on the world stage. Trump’s most unpardonable offense isn’t his implied threat to members of the fourth estate but his minimizing of the nation’s stature in the world. Our allies must shudder while our enemies devise new ways to celebrate. Trump may crack himself up, but he also shatters any pretense of our seriousness as a nation. So much for that shining city on the hill, not to mention the president as leader of the free world.

We look like fools because our president so convincingly plays one.

Trump, naturally, begs to differ. To his mind, he’s acting perfectly presidential. His Twitter habit is simply a “modern day presidential” way of communicating. To this thought, homeland security adviser Thomas Bossert added that Trump is a “genuine president expressing himself genuinely.”

Well, there’s that.

But the act of a president using modern technology doesn’t necessarily convey “presidential,” as most define it.

And being genuine in Trump’s case simply means he’s a genuine fool.

Is this it for Trump?

Kathleen Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

For months, Trump watchers have wondered: What will it take?

Meaning: What would finally force Republicans to face the fact, so obvious to so many, that President Trump isn’t quite right? Not in the correct sense but in the head sense.

The answer, apparently, is Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“This is not normal,” people are finally saying in response to Trump’s latest Twitter attacks in which the president of the United States limboed under his own low bar and chastised Brzezinski and co-anchor/fiance Joe Scarborough with his usual knuckle-dragging flair. Applying his 140-character attention span, he squibbed:

“I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”

Classic Trump.

This probably isn’t the way Brzezinski would have preferred things to go, but in Trump’s vernacular, she’s been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ for a long time. That is, she’s been calling out The Donald with everything but an engraved invitation to duel at dawn.

And, high time, I might add. For months during the early part of Trump’s campaign, “MoJo,” as the show is nicknamed, was a welcome station for the celebrity firing squad. Around Washington, people had begun referring to the morning manfest, where Brzezinski gamely serves as reluctant den mother, as “Morning Trump.” This was also the period when then-candidate Trump constantly bragged that he hadn’t spent any money on advertising — and no one wondered why. He regularly called in to the show, essentially running his campaign from Trump Tower.

Trump had ample coverage elsewhere as well. When your strength is branding and your name is the brand, there’s little challenge to getting airtime. Cable television anchors and producers not only became Trump’s unpaid marketers but also bear some of the responsibility/blame for Trump’s election. Then, things got strange. Trump won. Then Trump became even odder than usual, even according to his friends and others inclined to like him. Always fiercely competitive, obviously, as well as flawed, Trump nevertheless was able to control his worst impulses before becoming president, Scarborough and Brzezinski co-wrote in a Post op-ed Friday.

Or, perhaps, something is actually wrong with the guy. Plenty of physicians, psychiatrists and psychologists think so and have written me volumes in off-the-record diagnoses. A group of them have joined forces to co-write a book due out this fall.

It isn’t so much that The Donald always hits back, and harder, as his flacks boast. It’s that he’s so thin-skinned, such a political amateur — and so utterly lacking in the fine art of disregard — that he can’t let anything pass. This is the single greatest concern for the witted, not his idiotic tweets in the night. Impulsivity combined with narcissistic injury is a red flag to many for the man with access to the nuclear codes.

And so, as more and more Americans embrace “This is not normal” as the bumper sticker du jour, many are wondering again: Will this be it? Will the final straw be Brzezinski’s alleged badly bleeding face-lift, which she needlessly denied in the op-ed? She only tweaked some skin beneath the chin, she said. CNN’s Brian Stelter, meanwhile, has posted a photo of Brzezinski on the day in question and she shows no evidence of surgery and certainly not blood. What woman has a face-lift and goes bleeding to a famous club where tout le beau monde are partying?

To the point, is this it? My friends, don’t count on it.

Nothing will happen until GOP constituents start shouting and, remember, these are the same people Trump has taught to hate the media. Also, this is hardly the worst example of Trump’s errant charm. Yet, suddenly, his insulting Brzezinski, widely characterized as evidence of misogyny (what about “Psycho Joe”?), is supposed to send congressional Republicans into paroxysms of penitential rebuke-and-replace?

Brzezinski is wonder woman — smart, strong, wealthy — and engaged to marry her best friend. I seriously doubt she has been wounded by Trump’s pathetic second-grader taunts. But I get it. The most one can hope for these days is that enough Republican men can be shamed into defending Brzezinski, a woman many of them know personally — and who has thumbs-down power over potential guests on the show everybody in Washington watches.

Whatever works.

As GOP buckles down on health care, conservative media loses interest

David Weigh, reporting for the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, the fate of the Republicans’ attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act dominated news out of Washington. Phones rattled with alerts about the decision to delay a vote until mid-July. Camera crews jostled for shots of senators meeting with President Trump, then boarding a bus that took them past jeering protesters.

A viewer tuning into Fox News that night hardly saw any of it.

The network’s prime-time shows, ratings kings of cable news, ignored the health-care story. Fox’s 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. shows began with stories about a sting video that caught a CNN producer dismissing his network’s coverage of Russia and the 2016 election. “The Five,” Fox’s 9 p.m. show, began with the “bombshell” news that President Barack Obama had said — in October 2016 — that it would be “impossible” to rig the election. Nine minutes were spent on the Senate bill before a segue way into the CNN story.

The lack of “Obamacare repeal” coverage, unthinkable just six months ago, reflected a general decline of conservative interest in what had united Republicans for seven years. Conservative grass-roots groups have either ignored the latest health-care details, like Americans for Prosperity, or lobbied against the bill, like the Club for Growth.

Meanwhile, the White House and a symbiotic conservative media have largely moved on to other topics of media bias and cultural warfare. Fox’s multiple segments on the CNN sting came after White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters to watch it. Rush Limbaugh, whose dominant talk show was live during the Senate news, barely mentioned it at all.

“It’s not that surprising,” said Charlie Sykes, a former talk radio host from Wisconsin who has condemned what he sees as a move toward tribalism on the right. “You look at the trajectory of conservative media and it’s not been policy-oriented for a long time. It’s about whether you get the win or not. There’s nothing for Rush Limbaugh to sex up about a bill that’s neither repeal nor reform.”

It was not always like that — not when it came to “Obamacare.” Coverage of the bill’s passage, at the height of the tea party movement, was generally robust, if focused on details that irritated Democrats. (Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi’s infamous promise that people would “know what’s in the bill” after it was passed was about “the fog of controversy” churned up by conservatives.)

As a grass-roots movement, the tea party has largely disappeared or shifted its focus to states, where it has won real victories against the ACA. Since the start of the year, it has been outnumbered by “resistance” activists who continue to crowd town hall meetings and rally outside of congressional offices. Despite the struggles of the repeal bill, pro-repeal protesters have been rare.

“It’s pretty quiet,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), one of the few Republican members of Congress who has held and advertised open town hall meetings — which have been swarmed by Democrats. “There’s some hope that we will be able to change this on a wholesale level; other folks are saying no, the handwriting’s on the wall. It’s a fairly one-sided political equation in my district and in the districts I’m familiar with.”

Coverage on Fox News has captured the shift in real time. On the network, the only one that has scored presidential interviews this month, the repeal fight is covered as a priority of President Trump that his allies in Congress are doing a poor job of managing. In a friendly weekend interview, Fox contributor Pete Hegseth framed the health-care fight as a battle between unhinged Democrats and a careful president. He asked just one question about the bill itself: “Are Republican senators doing enough to have your back to get that health-care bill through?”

More here.

The GOP’s health-care bill is political kryptonite

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

We’ve just seen three new polls on the Senate GOP’s health-care bill, and each of them paints an increasingly dire picture for Republicans.

Support for the bill is languishing between just 1 out of every 8 Americans and 1 out of every 6 Americans, according to polls from the Marist (17 percent), USA Today/Suffolk University (12 percent) and Quinnipiac University (16 percent). In each case, a majority opposes the bill. That’s a level of popularity so low that it’s difficult to believe the bill is being entertained.

It’s all a pretty stunning indictment of the GOP’s failure to sell the bill. Republicans have focused like a laser on passing the legislation quickly — and secretively — in hopes of getting to a conference committee where the House and Senate can negotiate the final product. In the meantime, the American people have soured on the bill, disliking almost everything about it.

Four key findings:

  1. Quinnipiac asked whether people supported cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood, as the Senate bill does; people opposed that 61 percent to 35 percent at first blush and then 80 to 15 when informed that such funds cannot be used for abortion.
  2. The pollster asked how people felt about cutting funding for Medicaid, as the GOP bill does by some $772 billion over the next decade; people opposed that 71 percent to 24 percent.
  3. Suffolk asked whether people supported requiring that people with preexisting conditions pay the same as everyone else, a requirement which the Senate bill allows states to opt out of; 77 percent said that was “very important” to them.
  4. Quinnipiac found two-thirds of Americans said they were either “very concerned” (47 percent) or “somewhat concerned” (21 percent) that this bill was crafted almost completely behind closed doors in what some say was an unprecedentedly secretive process.

That’s basically 7 in 10 Americans who oppose four central aspects of the GOP health-care push.

Perhaps as damningly, Republicans don’t appear to have had much success in highlighting the more palatable aspects of their bill, such as decreasing premiums for many Americans over the long term. The Congressional Budget Office estimates premiums would go up for older and poorer people but overall would go down for most Americans. Nonetheless, Quinnipiac shows 41 percent feel their premiums would increase, while just 10 percent said they would go down.

And there is one finding I keep coming back to. The Quinnipiac poll shows nearly half of Americans (48 percent) strongly disapprove of this bill, versus just 6 percent — SIX — would strongly approve of it. Only 18 percent of Republicans support this bill and say they feel strongly about its passage.

Republicans made a calculated decision to try to pass health care quickly and without much of a public relations push. They are paying a heavy price for that.

Hacks Raise Fear Over N.S.A.’s Hold on Cyberweapons

Nicole Perlroth and David E. Sanger, reporting for the New York Times:

Twice in the past month, National Security Agency cyberweapons stolen from its arsenal have been turned against two very different partners of the United States — Britain and Ukraine.

The N.S.A. has kept quiet, not acknowledging its role in developing the weapons. White House officials have deflected many questions, and responded to others by arguing that the focus should be on the attackers themselves, not the manufacturer of their weapons.

But the silence is wearing thin for victims of the assaults, as a series of escalating attacks using N.S.A. cyberweapons have hit hospitals, a nuclear site and American businesses. Now there is growing concern that United States intelligence agencies have rushed to create digital weapons that they cannot keep safe from adversaries or disable once they fall into the wrong hands.

On Wednesday, the calls for the agency to address its role in the latest attacks grew louder, as victims and technology companies cried foul. Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and a former Air Force officer who serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, urged the N.S.A. to help stop the attacks and to stop hoarding knowledge of the computer vulnerabilities upon which these weapons rely.

In an email on Wednesday evening, Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, noted that the government “employs a disciplined, high-level interagency decision-making process for disclosure of known vulnerabilities” in software, “unlike any other country in the world.”

Mr. Anton said the administration “is committed to responsibly balancing national security interests and public safety and security,” but declined to comment “on the origin of any of the code making up this malware.”

Beyond that, the government has blamed others. Two weeks ago, the United States — through the Department of Homeland Security — said it had evidence North Korea was responsible for a wave of attacks in May using ransomware called WannaCry that shut down hospitals, rail traffic and production lines. The attacks on Tuesday against targets in Ukraine, which spread worldwide, appeared more likely to be the work of Russian hackers, though no culprit has been formally identified.

In both cases, the attackers used hacking tools that exploited vulnerabilities in Microsoft software. The tools were stolen from the N.S.A., and a group called the Shadow Brokers made them public in April. The group first started offering N.S.A. weapons for sale in August, and recently even offered to provide N.S.A. exploits to paid monthly subscribers.

Much more here.

‘Repeal and replace’ was once a unifier for the GOP. Now it’s an albatross.

Dan Balz, reporting for the Washington Post:

For Republicans, Obamacare was always the great unifier. In a fractious party, everyone agreed that the Affordable Care Act was the wrong solution to what ailed the nation’s health-care system, with too much government and too little freedom for consumers.

Replacing Obamacare has become the party’s albatross, a sprawling objective still in search of a solution. The effort to make good on a seven-year promise has cost the Trump administration precious months of its first year in office, with tax restructuring backed up somewhere in the legislative pipeline, infrastructure idling somewhere no one can see it and budget deadlines looming.

Republicans have been here before on health care, on the brink and scratching for votes. The House eventually found a way through this political and substantive maze. Now it’s left to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to find the puzzle pieces and President Trump, perhaps, to supply some muscle, lest the GOP be forced to admit failure on the party’s top legislative priority.

Was it only Monday that Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) boldly declared there would be no turning back this week, that the Senate health-care bill would be put to a vote before lawmakers leave for the July 4 recess? “I am closing the door,” he tweeted. “We need to do it this week.” So much for that.

If it was a bluff by the leaders, other Republican senators called it. McConnell, a shrewd legislative poker player, quickly folded Tuesday. Instead of moving forward, the bill is now on ice. The original Senate leadership plan called for negotiations in secret by a small group, springing the results on the other members and forcing a quick vote before outside opponents could mobilize. Instead, the calculation that time was of the essence crashed into the reality of vote counting. The new calculus is that delay is better than defeat.

But will more time help to melt away the opposition? It did in the House, after the sudden and spectacular collapse of the leadership’s bill hours before a scheduled vote in late March. By early May, after weeks of negotiations between Freedom Caucus conservatives and members of the less-conservative Tuesday Group, the House approved a bill. The president was so hungry for even a partial victory that he held a ceremony of celebration with House members in the Rose Garden. Later, he privately and then publicly called that House bill “mean,” and it was left to the Senate to make amends.

In a worst-of-all-worlds environment, Republicans continue to struggle with what they’re selling, beyond the stated goal of repealing or revising the Affordable Care Act. Whatever overarching arguments they hope to make on behalf of their legislation have been lost in a welter of competing claims and demands among senators with different priorities and dissimilar ideological viewpoints.

Much more here.

Who’s afraid of Trump? Not enough Republicans — at least for now.

Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

Scrambling to line up support for the Republican health-care bill, President Trump got on the phone Monday with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and urged him to back the measure.

The president’s personal plea was not enough. On Tuesday, Lee said he would vote against the bill. Senate GOP leaders later postponed the planned health-care vote because too many other Republican senators also opposed — for now, at least — legislation that would deliver on Trump’s campaign promise to scale back the law known as Obamacare.

Trump had hoped for a swift and easy win on health care this week. Instead he got a delay and a return to the negotiating table — the latest reminder of the limits of his power to shape outcomes at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

History suggests that presidents who have governed successfully have been both revered and feared. But Republican fixtures in Washington are beginning to conclude that Trump may be neither, despite his mix of bravado, threats and efforts to schmooze with GOP lawmakers.

The president is the leader of his party, yet Trump has struggled to get Republican lawmakers moving in lockstep on health care and other major issues, leaving no signature legislation in his first five months in office. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is his most-cited achievement to date.

“This president is the first president in our history who has neither political nor military experience, and thus it has been a challenge to him to learn how to interact with Congress and learn how to push his agenda better,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who opposes the current health-care bill.

The Senate could pass a revised version of the bill once lawmakers return from their July 4 recess and pick up deliberations. Still, some Republicans are willing to defy their president’s wishes — a dynamic that can be attributed in part to Trump’s singular status as a disrupter within his party.

“The president remains an entity in and of itself, not a part of the traditional Republican Party,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a moderate who represents a district Trump lost by 16 percentage points. “I handle the Trump administration the same way I handled the Obama administration. When I agree, I work with them. When I oppose, I don’t.”

In private conversations on Capitol Hill, Trump is often not taken seriously. Some Republican lawmakers consider some of his promises — such as making Mexico pay for a new border wall — fantastical. They are exhausted and at times exasperated by his hopscotching from one subject to the next, chronicled in his pithy and provocative tweets. They are quick to point out how little command he demonstrates of policy. And they have come to regard some of his threats as empty, concluding that crossing the president poses little danger.

“The House health-care vote shows he does have juice, particularly with people on the right,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. “The Senate health-care vote shows that people feel that health care is a defining issue and that it’d be pretty hard for any politician to push a senator into taking a vote that’s going to have consequences for the rest of their life.”

Asked if he personally fears Trump, Graham chuckled before saying, “No.”

More here.

The Health Care Hoax Has Been Exposed, Senator McConnell

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Senator Mitch McConnell hoped that keeping his wretched bill to destroy the Affordable Care Act secret until the last minute would make it easier for him to railroad fellow Republicans. The facts the majority leader had hoped to suppress came back to bite him on Monday when the Congressional Budget Office released a detailed review of the bill that confirmed what governors, doctors and indeed the American public had been saying for days: The bill is a cruel hoax that would help the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the poorest.

With members of his own party balking at even bringing the measure to the Senate floor, Mr. McConnell announced on Tuesday that a vote would be delayed until after the July 4 recess. A wiser course — for his party as well as the nation — would be to concede defeat and give up what now seems a desperate quest to fulfill a seven-year-old party commitment to kill an Obama-era program that, as it turns out, a large number of Americans would like to see preserved and improved.

The budget office said the measure would leave 22 million more Americans without insurance by 2026. Hit hardest would be lower-income people between the ages of 50 and 64 and people struggling with chronic illness or battling addiction — many of the same voters who believed President Trump’s promises to improve their health care. The bill would cut $772 billion over the next decade from Medicaid, which covers most of America’s poor children and nursing home patients, to help finance tax cuts for the wealthy.

Some Republican senators — Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas — actually complain that the bill is too generous and doesn’t deliver sufficient spending cuts. But others — Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada — have listened to those who are outraged that they’d even consider such a harmful measure.

Having drafted a bill so indefensible on the merits, Mr. McConnell and his allies promoted it with fibs. Mr. McConnell, for instance, claimed it would “strengthen Medicaid.” John Cornyn of Texas said it would “save the people who are currently being hurt.”

It will be interesting to hear what the voters have to say during the July 4 break. Some states that would be most deeply hurt by the bill are represented by Republicans who back it. Looking at you, Richard Burr of North Carolina; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; and Mr. Cornyn, the majority whip hellbent on forcing a vote this week.

And then there’s Mr. McConnell. Under Obamacare, the majority leader’s home state, Kentucky, experienced one of the biggest reductions in the rate of uninsured people of any state in the nation, according to a study from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, mostly because of gains in Medicaid coverage. Last year, more than 81,000 Kentuckians purchased coverage in the federal marketplace.

Even so, despite all evidence, Mr. McConnell seems determined to impose his will and deny these very same people access to the benefits of Obamacare when he returns to Washington.

What has blocked the bill’s progress on Capitol Hill, at least for now, is that ordinary Americans have begun to pay attention to the facts instead of the fearmongering and falsehoods emanating from the White House and the congressional leadership. Let’s hope the system works, and elected representatives listen to the people who stand to lose.

McConnell’s Reputation as a Master Tactician Takes a Hit

Jennifer Steinhauer, writing in the New York Times:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has long enjoyed a reputation as a master tactician. But when it comes to repealing the Affordable Care Act, he seems to have miscalculated in the first round of play.

He assumed that his conservative and moderate colleagues would come together to make good on their seven-year promise to repeal the health care law, and quickly.

But when he assembled a group of senators to cobble together a health care bill last month, he seemed to go out of his way to exclude some of the most knowledgeable members and moderate voices on health care, like Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a doctor, and Susan Collins of Maine, an insurance expert and one of the few women in the Senate Republican conference. Views outside of Mr. McConnell’s on health care did not receive extensive consideration.

When Republicans from states that had expanded their Medicaid programs quickly found themselves at odds with more conservative members who wanted a large rollback of Medicaid, Mr. McConnell did little to allay those worries. Conservatives generally wanted to rein in costs while moderate members wanted to increase spending, particularly in states where health care costs are high and opioid addiction is escalating.

On those key issues, Mr. McConnell put his legislative thumb on the scale in favor of conservatives, quickly alienating many senators from states that had expanded Medicaid, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Ms. Collins, who became an early and vocal opponent of the bill.

Ms. Murkowski raised concerns on several levels. She expressed worries about soaring health care costs in rural areas, about women’s access to health care if Planned Parenthood were defunded, and about how the most vulnerable citizens, such as Alaska Natives, would get health care. Those concerns were largely unanswered.

Conservatives point out that, compared with the House bill, the Senate bill delayed the phaseout of the expansion of Medicaid as detailed in the Affordable Care Act, and that preserving protections for patients with pre-existing conditions was something that moderates wanted. But over all, the bill was similar to the House version in broad strokes that moderates disliked, and conservatives won out on the key issue of reining in the growth of Medicaid in the long term.

Mr. McConnell may have been betting that pressure from a majority of Republicans — who have been promising for the better part of a decade to unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — would get senators from Medicaid expansion states on board to do just that.

But the forces arrayed against Mr. McConnell were many, including doctors and hospitals, patient advocacy groups and, perhaps more than anyone else, governors — many of them Republicans — from states where tens of thousands of residents have found themselves newly insured under the health care law and are not eager to see that evaporate.

“There may be some philosophical, you know, kind of textbook disagreement,” Gov. John R. Kasich, Republican of Ohio, said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday. “But when you sit in a room and you say to people, ‘Should we strip coverage from somebody who’s mentally ill?’ I’ve never heard anybody say yes.”

Last week, Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, stood at a news conference with Brian Sandoval, the state’s extremely popular Republican governor, and said that the “bill that’s currently in front of the United States Senate is not the answer — it’s simply not the answer.”

* * *

Then there is the not-so-small matter of President Trump, who in any other universe would be the greatest asset Mr. McConnell could have, but has turned out to be quite the opposite. Republican senators all watched carefully as Mr. Trump at times berated, cajoled and mildly wooed House Republicans, who had their own divisions, to get to yes on their version of a health care bill.

After celebrating in the Rose Garden with Speaker Paul D. Ryan and a bevy of other Republicans, Mr. Trump turned around and told senators that the House bill was “mean.”

This allowed Republican senators to understand that, as in most areas, Mr. Trump is a mercurial force at best on health care policy. What is more, even though a group that supports him came out with a vicious ad attacking Mr. Heller — and hinted that it would spread to other senators who opposed the health care law — senators are also keenly aware that Mr. Trump did not win the White House by promising to take away voters’ Medicaid.

Then there was the fundamental math problem. Moderate senators simply want more money for the bill. Conservatives like Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, want policy changes that would not only alienate more moderates in the Senate, but also probably be impossible under the strict rules imposed by the process Mr. McConnell is using to try to repeal the law. Mr. McConnell chose that path because he needs a mere 51 votes — including one cast by Vice President Mike Pence — to get it done. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, insisted that the bill could not even fairly be called a repeal, so Mr. McConnell started his counting one vote down.

More here.

Senate Health Bill Reels as C.B.O. Predicts 22 Million More Uninsured

Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear, reporting for the New York Times:

The Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was edging toward collapse on Monday after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said it would increase the number of people without health insurance by 22 million by 2026.

Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky, said Monday that they would vote against even debating the health care bill, joining Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who made the same pledge on Friday. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin hinted that he, too, would probably oppose taking up the bill on a procedural vote expected as early as Tuesday, meaning a collapse could be imminent.

“It’s worse to pass a bad bill than pass no bill,” Mr. Paul told reporters.

Ms. Collins wrote on Twitter on Monday evening that she wanted to work with her colleagues from both parties to fix flaws in the Affordable Care Act, but that the budget office’s report showed that the “Senate bill won’t do it.”

The report left Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, with the unenviable choices of changing senators’ stated positions, withdrawing the bill from consideration while he renegotiates, or letting it go down to defeat — a remarkable conclusion to the Republicans’ seven-year push to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

But the budget office put Republicans in an untenable position. It found that next year, 15 million more people would be uninsured compared with current law. Premiums and out-of-pocket expenses could shoot skyward for some low-income people and for people nearing retirement, it said.

The legislation would decrease federal deficits by a total of $321 billion over a decade, the budget office said.

Mr. McConnell, the chief author of the bill, wanted the Senate to approve it before a planned recess for the Fourth of July, but that looks increasingly doubtful. Misgivings in the Republican conference extend beyond just a few of the most moderate and conservative members, and Mr. McConnell can lose only two Republicans.

At least some of Ms. Collins’s concerns could be shared by Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, whose rural states would face effects similar to those in Maine.

“If you were on the fence, you were looking at this as a political vote, this C.B.O. score didn’t help you,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “So I think it’s going to be harder to get to 50, not easier.”

He added, “I don’t know, if you delayed it for six weeks, if anything changes.”

Under the bill, the budget office said, subsidies to help people buy health insurance would be “substantially smaller than under current law.” And deductibles would, in many cases, be higher. Starting in 2020, the budget office said, premiums and deductibles would be so onerous that “few low-income people would purchase any plan.”

Much more here.

This “health care plan” is a nightmare. It hurts the weakest among us, and the GOP should be ashamed to call it healthcare. It is simply a way for the wealthy to steal money from the needy. Shameful.

Trump likely to break many of his health-care promises — no matter what happens

John Wagner, Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

Donald Trump set himself apart from other Republican presidential candidates when it came to health care. Before taking office, he vowed “insurance for everybody” that would be “much less expensive and much better” and explicitly promised not to touch Medicaid, which millions of his working-class supporters rely upon to cover doctor’s visits and medication.

But as Republicans in the Senate press ahead with legislation that would dramatically cut Medicaid and scale back the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, it is increasingly clear that President Trump is almost certain to fall well short of fulfilling those promises.

Trump and congressional Republicans will likely hail any bill that reaches the president’s desk as the fulfillment of a long-standing pledge to “repeal and replace” the ACA, former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. But if the House and Senate agree on legislation along the lines of what is now being debated, millions — including some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — are projected to lose coverage, receive fewer benefits or see their premiums rise.

And if the health-care push stalls or falls apart, the president who campaigned for the White House as the ultimate dealmaker will be dealt a serious political blow — another example of Trump’s inability to move major legislation through Congress.

“He’s going to own it either way, whether he signs a bill or doesn’t get a bill,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele said passage of the legislation could hurt Trump politically as much as its failure. “You’re going to have a whole generation of people who had health care losing health care, and in many instances, they’re Trump voters. I think that’s a very risky play.”

* * *

“Conservatives should embrace the goal of universal coverage, and this bill makes enormous progress towards that goal,” said Avik Roy, a health-care expert who was critical of the House bill but supports the Senate’s version.

“Does this bill have heart?” Roy asked, citing a standard Trump recently articulated. “It absolutely does.”

Polls suggest Trump has a long way to go to make that case to voters.

Only 16 percent of adults believe that House bill is a good idea, while 48 percent say it’s a bad idea, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week. Even Republican respondents are lukewarm, with 34 percent viewing the bill positively and 17 percent viewing it negatively.

Doug Heye, a Republican consultant, argued that the president badly needs a legislative victory and that achieving a high-profile win should override concerns about the legislation’s impact.

“Those who are strong Trump supporters have remained so despite the controversies,” Heye said. “They still see Trump as someone willing to take on their fights.”

Interviews with Trump supporters who attended his campaign rally in Cedar Rapids suggest that many of them are dissatisfied with their health care — and many suspect Trump won’t fully deliver on his promises. But so far, they don’t seem inclined to blame him.

Much more here.