A new dynamic may be emerging in the House: A right and left flank within the GOP willing to buck leadership

Paul Kane, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan made it a binary choice: You’re either for their health-care legislation or you’re for “Obamacare.”

From Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) to Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), spanning the party’s ideological spectrum, the answer came back Friday: No, it’s much more complex. It was filled with several different options and possible routes ahead, and dozens of Republicans agreed with their sentiment.

That left Republicans well short of the votes they needed to fulfill a seven-year promise to destroy the 2010 Affordable Care Act once they were fully in charge, delivering a stinging defeat to both Ryan and Trump.

It also suggested a new dynamic in which both the right and left flanks of the Republican conference are emboldened to challenge leadership. And that could make each future negotiation more difficult as the issue matrix gets more complicated and the pockets of internal GOP resistance continue to grow, not shrink, in the new era of Trump’s Republican-controlled Washington.

Some parts of these botched negotiations looked a lot like the recent past. Franks and his House Freedom Caucus cronies played the role of obstructionists who will buck party leaders no matter if it’s John A. Boehner, Ryan’s predecessor, or now Trump, as well. These ideologues gobbled up tons of attention, resulting in much care from Trump, Vice President Pence and top West Wing advisers.

By lunchtime Friday, Franks still would not commit to publicly supporting the bill — even though he admitted it was far better than current law. “Of course it is, yeah, it’s a lot better than Obamacare, of course it is. There’s not even any comparison,” Franks said a few hours before the legislation went down in flames.

Franks remained upset that conservative proposals were left out of the bill because they would have violated Senate budget rules, meaning that the proposal to replace the ACA was nowhere near to his liking.

“That still is like putting dirt in ice cream,” he said.

Other parts of the negotiation, however, were new and quite different from the previous six years of Republican control of the House. Nothing capped this off more than the stunning announcement Friday morning from Frelinghuysen, just three months into his hold on the coveted Appropriations Committee gavel, that bucked leadership.

“Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents,” he said in a statement.

A 22-year veteran whose family traces its establishment lineage to the Continental Congress, Frelinghuysen won his chairmanship uncontested with the blessing of Ryan and the leadership team. He’s not someone who rocks the boat — he supported impeachment articles against President Bill Clinton — but his pronouncement Friday sent a jolt through the Capitol.

He also joined a long list of influential centrists who rejected the proposal on policy grounds, not out of fear politically. Frelinghuysen has received more than 60 percent of the vote in all but one election.

If anyone should back Ryan — he’s a new committee chairman, he’s safe back home — it would have been Frelinghuysen. Instead, he sent a message to a few dozen other Republicans who have more troubling districts that they, too, should break from the president and the speaker.

More here.

Trump’s path forward only gets tougher after health-care fiasco

Via The Washington Post:

The stunning collapse of the Republican health-care bill now imperils the rest of President Trump’s ambitious congressional agenda, with few prospects for quick victory on tax reform, construction projects or a host of other issues in the months ahead despite complete GOP control of government.

While Republicans broadly share the goal of Trump’s promised “big tax cuts,” the president will have to bridge many of the same divides within his own party that sunk the attempted overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. And without savings anticipated from the health-care bill, paying for the “massive” cuts Trump has promised for corporations and middle-class families becomes considerably more complicated.

Meanwhile, other marquee agenda items, including a $1 trillion investment in roads and other infrastructure and proposed crackdowns on both legal and illegal immigration, will require the support of Democrats, many of whom have been alienated by the highly partisan start to Trump’s tenure.

The lone exception for near-term victory could come with the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — but even that faces the prospect of a threatened filibuster by Democrats.

Trump and Republican leaders continued Saturday in their attempts to put a brave face on the health-care debacle. “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE,” Trump wrote in a morning tweet. “Do not worry!”

But others in the party acknowledged the political damage sustained by pulling the House bill, particularly for a president who had touted his own dealmaking prowess.

“It’s a momentum issue,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.). “The fact is that, you know, you came out of the gate and you stumbled.”

Doug Heye, a GOP consultant and former congressional staffer, said Republicans, having achieved control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, were left with a lot to prove.

“It sends a troubling sign to a lot of folks about the broader issue of whether Republicans will be able to govern,” he said.

Trump has said he would have preferred to start his term by cutting “the hell out of taxes.” Even before the health-care bill was pulled Friday, the president was already starting to turn the page.

Determined to highlight other priorities, Trump staged two announcements in the White House meant to underscore his commitment to creating jobs: granting a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and appearing with executives of a telecom giant as they pledged to hire thousands of new employees, although the company’s plans had already been announced in October.

Separately, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at an event Friday that he will push Congress to enact comprehensive tax reform by its August recess, though he acknowledged that the timetable might slip.

The White House signaled Saturday that it was eager to move on. Trump’s weekly address made no mention of the health-care fight, instead focusing on his signing of legislation authorizing funding for NASA and his commitment to space exploration.

“We’re going to roll our sleeves up, and we’re going to cut taxes across the board for working families, small businesses and family farms,” Vice President Pence said Saturday at an appearance in Scott Depot, W.Va.

A senior White House official, however, said it was unlikely that Trump would ramp up a major sales effort on tax reform immediately, given that his team had been planning on using the coming days to push for Senate action on the health-care bill.

Trump’s top advisers had envisioned a three-step legislative agenda this year, starting with scaling back President Barack Obama’s signature domestic initiative. After that was complete, they wanted to move to a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code, followed by the creation of a $1 trillion infrastructure package.

The implosion of the health-care effort complicates the tax overhaul both logistically and politically.

More here.

Donald, This I Will Tell You

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times:

Dear Donald,

We’ve known each other a long time, so I think I can be blunt.

You know how you said at campaign rallies that you did not like being identified as a politician?

Don’t worry. No one will ever mistake you for a politician.

After this past week, they won’t even mistake you for a top-notch negotiator.

I was born here. The first image in my memory bank is the Capitol, all lit up at night. And my primary observation about Washington is this: Unless you’re careful, you end up turning into what you started out scorning.

And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment.

Your whole campaign was mocking your rivals and the D.C. elite, jawing about how Americans had turned into losers, with our bad deals and open borders and the Obamacare “disaster.”

And you were going to fly in on your gilded plane and fix all that in a snap.

You mused that a good role model would be Ronald Reagan. As you saw it, Reagan was a big, good-looking guy with a famous pompadour; he had also been a Democrat and an entertainer. But Reagan had one key quality that you don’t have: He knew what he didn’t know.

You both resembled Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloons, floating above the nitty-gritty and focusing on a few big thoughts. But President Reagan was confident enough to accept that he needed experts below, deftly maneuvering the strings.

You’re just careering around on your own, crashing into buildings and losing altitude, growling at the cameras and spewing nasty conspiracy theories, instead of offering a sunny smile, bipartisanship, optimism and professionalism.

You promised to get the best people around you in the White House, the best of the best. In fact, “best” is one of your favorite words.

Instead, you dragged that motley skeleton crew into the White House and let them create a feuding, leaking, belligerent, conspiratorial, sycophantic atmosphere. Instead of a smooth, classy operator like James Baker, you have a Manichaean anarchist in Steve Bannon.

You knew the Republicans were full of hot air. They haven’t had to pass anything in a long time, and they have no aptitude for governing. To paraphrase an old Barney Frank line, asking the Republicans to govern is like asking Frank to judge the Miss America contest — “If your heart’s not in it, you don’t do a very good job.”

You knew that Paul Ryan’s vaunted reputation as a policy wonk was fake news. Republicans have been running on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years and they never even bothered to come up with a valid alternative.

And neither did you, despite all your promises to replace Obamacare with “something terrific” because you wanted everyone to be covered.

Instead, you sold the D.O.A. bill the Irish undertaker gave you as though it were a luxury condo, ignoring the fact that it was a cruel flimflam, a huge tax cut for the rich disguised as a health care bill. You were so concerned with the “win” that you forgot your “forgotten” Americans, the older, poorer people in rural areas who would be hurt by the bill.

As The Times’s chief Washington correspondent Carl Hulse put it, the G.O.P. falls into clover with a lock on the White House and both houses of Congress, and what’s the first thing it does? Slip on a banana peel. Incompetence Inc.

“They tried to sweeten the deal at the end by offering a more expensive bill with fewer health benefits, but alas, it wasn’t enough!” former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau slyly tweeted.

Despite the best efforts of Bannon to act as though the whole fiasco was a clever way to bury Ryan — a man he disdains as “the embodiment of the ‘globalist-corporatist’ Republican elite,” as Gabriel Sherman put it in New York magazine — it won’t work.

And you can jump on the phone with The Times’s Maggie Haberman and The Washington Post’s Robert Costa — ignoring that you’ve labeled them the “fake media” — and act like you’re in control. You can say that people should have waited for “Phase 2” and “Phase 3” — whatever they would have been — and that Obamacare is going to explode and that the Democrats are going to get the blame. But it doesn’t work that way. You own it now.

More here.

It’s time for the feds to follow the Russian money

Colbert I. King, reporting for The Washington Post:

As the Watergate probe was heating up in the summer of 1973, the special prosecutor’s office gained a silent partner: the Treasury Department’s Internal Revenue Service. The Watergate scandal had engulfed the activities of corporations and corporate officials. An IRS investigation found tax violations committed with campaign contributions to the 1972 presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon.

With information gained from the IRS, the special prosecutor’s probe resulted in 18 corporate officials and 17 corporations pleading guilty to violations of campaign contribution laws.

This week, FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that the bureau is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Based upon what has come to light thus far, expect the FBI to be joined by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the IRS. They are the agencies best equipped to conduct financial investigations into any possible crimes dealing with or motivated by money — as in money laundering.

Case in point: The Post’s March 21 article on a Ukrainian lawmaker’s release of financial documents allegedly showing that former Trump aide Paul Manafort laundered payments from the party of an ex-leader of Ukraine with ties to Russia using accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.

If the financial documents are accurate and, as alleged by Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko, Manafort falsified an invoice to a Belize company to legitimize a $750,000 payment to himself, then the FBI and Treasury may come calling.

Manafort, according to the New York Times, denied the allegation, stating that the ledger is forged and that Leshchenko was part of an effort to blackmail him. However, Treasury agents, the Associated Press reported , have already obtained information about offshore transactions involving Manafort in connection with a federal anti-corruption investigation into his work in Eastern Europe.

If, during the investigation of links between Russians and Trump campaign associates, the feds come across financial transactions aimed at evading taxes on illegal income by concealing the source and amount of profit, those associated with such activities should prepare to hear the words: “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury . . . ”

There’s plenty of ground for federal agencies to plow.

Much more here.

The TrumpRyanCare Debacle

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Repealing the Affordable Care Act was meant to be the first demonstration of the power and effectiveness of a unified Republican government. It has turned out to be a display of incompetence and cruelty.

Republican leaders withdrew the American Health Care Act before a vote scheduled for Friday afternoon after it became clear that they did not have the votes to pass it. Many far-right conservatives opposed the bill because it would not have completely repealed the A.C.A., or Obamacare. And some more moderate Republicans said they would vote no because the bill would cause immense damage — 24 million people would lose health insurance over 10 years and millions of others would be hit with higher premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs. Surely, many of them were also thinking about a recent Quinnipiac University poll showing that 56 percent of American voters opposed the legislation and just 17 percent supported it.

When Barack Obama was president, Republicans in the House voted dozens of times to repeal the health care law in a symbolic exercise meant to appeal to their base. But never did they present a plan that could improve on the law for their constituents. Still, G.O.P. leaders imagined that with the House, Senate and White House in their hands, what had once been a hollow threat could become actual policy. That they failed in this legislative effort could well affect the rest of their agenda — tax cuts for the rich, changing the corporate tax structure and new infrastructure spending. The debacle shows President Trump and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, that they can’t count on automatic Republican majorities, especially when they’re offering a destructive, incoherent measure.

Which is pretty much what happened here. Despite their ceaseless attacks on the health care act since Mr. Obama signed it into law in March 2010, Mr. Trump, Mr. Ryan and their colleagues have never had a workable plan that could gain the support of a congressional majority. That is why they rushed their turkey of a bill to the floor without going through the laborious process of holding hearings and building coalitions. The last-minute wheeling and dealing did nothing to disguise the bill’s underlying and increasingly obvious purpose, which was to reduce taxes for the wealthy by cutting benefits for the needy.

Meanwhile, the great dealmaker at the White House was completely ineffectual. Mr. Trump spent a few days cajoling and threatening lawmakers, then threw up his hands and said he had done all he could and was now moving on to other matters. Groups representing doctors and hospitals, as well as public interest groups like AARP and the American Civil Liberties Union, fought hard, and even Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada opposed the bill.

In fact, as Republicans moved closer to a vote, public support for Obamacare went up — 49 percent of those polled this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation had a favorable view of the law, up from 43 percent in December. Obamacare, though not without flaws, has done a world of good. The percentage of Americans who do not have health insurance has fallen to 9.1 percent, from 16.3 percent in 2010. A 2016 Kaiser study of people who gained insurance in California found that 77 percent of them said their health needs were being met very well or somewhat well. By comparison, only 49 percent of those people said their needs were being met three years earlier.

There is no doubt that improvements are needed. Deductibles and premiums are too high for many people, and too many young people are forgoing insurance altogether. More generous subsidies for people with modest incomes could bring the cost of health care down at a relatively small expense to the government.

More here.

Republicans Land a Punch on Health Care, to Their Own Face

Jennifer Steinhauer, reporting for the New York Times:

At the end of the long day, the alliance of conservative ideologues who once shut down the government over President Barack Obama’s health care law could not find the will to repeal it.

Since the Tea Party wave of 2010 that swept House Republicans into power, a raucous, intransigent and loosely aligned group of lawmakers known as the Freedom Caucus — most from heavily Republican districts — has often landed a punch to its own party’s face.

Friday’s defeat of the Republican leadership’s bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a return to form, handing an immense defeat to President Trump and embarrassing Speaker Paul D. Ryan in his own House. It also challenged the veracity of their long-held claims that a Republican president was all they needed to get big things accomplished.

The most important question for Republicans now is whether the members of the Freedom Caucus will find themselves newly emboldened in ways that may bring the new president more defeats — or whether Mr. Ryan will do what former Speaker John A. Boehner could not, and find a way to shred their influence for good.

“If you are defined by your opposition to leadership, it’s hard to be part of a governing coalition,” said Alex Conant, a onetime aide to Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who was once a Tea Party star. “Their opposition to Trump’s health care bill should surprise nobody who’s paid attention for the last six years. Even the world’s best negotiator can’t make a deal with someone who never compromises.”

But the Freedom Caucus has never been about compromise. In 2011, it picked a huge, costly fight over Planned Parenthood. In 2013, it orchestrated a government shutdown over funding for the health care law. Then, in its most striking move, it deposed Mr. Boehner in 2015. The common thread: It has continuously been an adversary of legislation itself.

But after years of opposing power — both in the White House, which was occupied by a Democrat, and in the leadership of their own party — the conservatives were offered a chance to negotiate directly with the president and his budget director, a former Freedom Caucus member, over the bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. The members pushed and pushed Mr. Trump to the far right edges of policy, just as they have done for years on other bills. But they still could not get to “yes,” and therefore became part owners of the expansive health law they were trying to undo.

“They made the perfect the enemy of the good,” said Representative Roger Marshall, Republican of Kansas. “I don’t know how they can go back home and tell people they voted to keep Obamacare, voted to keep funding Planned Parenthood.”

Indeed, members of the Freedom Caucus — which is supported by outside conservative groups — have often claimed the mantle of pure conservatism, but their tactics have been seen by many in their party as uniformly counterproductive.

Time after time, they undermined Republican leaders’ efforts to secure wins for the conservative cause by overreaching and demanding the impossible.

They have anointed Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina as their leader and principal spokesman. But they occasionally get help from three senators sympathetic to their cause: Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

At critical times, House conservatives have forced their party to make deals with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader — an idea anathema to most Republicans, who would seethe.

This time, by negotiating with Mr. Trump on the complex issue of health care, a measure whose complexity he did not seem to fully grasp, they moved an already contentious bill further and further to the right, eliminating too many benefits to keep moderate and other conservative members on board. Even Mr. Trump was said to be taken aback by their attempts to remove things Republicans have long promised to keep, like health insurance benefits for children up to 26 years old.

More here.

Trump’s First Legislative Effort Fails as G.O.P. Pulls Bill to Repeal Obamacare

Via The New York Times:

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 afternoon in a humiliating defeat for President Trump on the first legislative showdown of his presidency.

Paul D. Ryan, the House speaker, rushed to the White House shortly after noon to tell Mr. Trump he did not have the votes for a repeal bill that had been promised for seven years — since the day President Barack Obama signed his landmark health care act into law.

Mr. Trump, in a telephone interview moments after the bill was pulled, blamed Democrats and predicted that they would seek a deal within a year after, he asserted, “Obamacare explodes” because of higher premiums. The president said he did not fault Mr. Ryan and said that he was pleased to move past his first legislative fight. He maintained that he was merely going along with the House bill.

But the effort to win passage was hardly kept secret. Vice President Mike Pence and Tom Price, the health secretary, rushed to Capitol Hill for a late appeal to House conservatives, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“You can’t pretend and say this is a win for us,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina, who conceded it was a “good moment” for Democrats.

“Probably that champagne that wasn’t popped back in November may be utilized this evening,” he said.

At 3:30 p.m., Mr. Ryan called Republicans into a closed-door meeting to deliver the news that the bill would be pulled, with no plans to try again. The meeting lasted five minutes.

“We’re going to go home and spend time with our families and time with our constituents, and one day I hope we can eventually repeal,” said Representative Chuck Fleischmann, Republican of Tennessee.

The Republican bill would have replaced the Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare, which mandated that almost everyone have health insurance, with a system of age-based tax credits to purchase health insurance plans.

But it never won over conservatives who wanted a far more thorough eradication of the Affordable Care Act. Nor did it have the backing of more moderate Republicans who were anxiously aware of the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment that the bill would leave 24 million more Americans without insurance.

With the House’s most hard-line conservatives holding fast against it, the bill’s support collapsed Friday after more rank-and-file Republicans came out in opposition, including Representatives Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, the soft-spoken chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Barbara Comstock of Virginia, whose suburban Washington district went handily for the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, in November.

“Seven years after enactment of Obamacare, I wanted to support legislation that made positive changes to rescue health care in America,” Mr. Frelinghuysen wrote in a statement. “Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would place significant new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey.”

In the end, Republican leaders doomed the bill by agreeing to eliminate federal standards for the minimum benefits that must be provided by certain health insurance policies.

“This provision is so cartoonishly malicious that I can picture someone twirling their mustache as they drafted it in their secret capitol lair last night,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts. “This backroom deal will kill the requirement for insurance companies to offer essential health benefits such as emergency services, maternity care, mental health care, substance addiction treatment, pediatric services, prescription drugs and many other basic essential services.”

Defeat of the bill could be a catalyst if it forces Republicans and Democrats to work together to improve the Affordable Care Act, which virtually every member of Congress believes needs repair. Democrats have been saying for weeks that they want to work with Republicans on such changes, but first, they said, Republicans had to abandon their drive to repeal the law.

Much more here.

‘We just pulled it,’ Trump says of health bill

Via The Washington Post:

House Republican leaders abruptly pulled a Republican rewrite of the nation’s health-care system from consideration on Friday, a dramatic acknowledgment that they are so far unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“We just pulled it,” President Trump told the Washington Post in a telephone interview.

The decision came a day after Trump delivered an ultimatum to lawmakers — and represented multiple failures for the new president and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.).

The decision means the Affordable Care Act remains in place, at least for now, and a major GOP campaign promise goes unfulfilled. It also casts doubt on the GOP’s ability to govern and to advance other high-stakes agenda items, including tax reform and infrastructure spending. Ryan is still without a signature achievement as speaker — and the defeat undermines Trump’s image as a skilled dealmaker willing to strike compromises to push his agenda forward.

“I don’t blame Paul,” Trump said, referring to Ryan.

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), who planned to vote for the legislation, said that Friday would have been the “first big vote in the presidency of Donald Trump. I think it’s a statement, not just about him and the administration, but about the Republican Party and where we’re headed.”

“So much about political power is about perception. And if the perception is that you can’t get your first big initiative done, then that hurts the perceptions down the road about your ability to get other big things done,” Byrne said in an interview before the decision.

The decision came hours after Ryan visited the White House to warn Trump that despite days of intense negotiations and sales pitches to skeptical members, the legislation lacked the votes to pass.

Trump had personally lobbied 120 lawmakers, either in person or on the phone, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reminded reporters on Friday. The president had “left everything on the field,” Spicer said.

Spicer said that no matter what happens, the White House did not think that defeat would slow other parts of Trump’s agenda including tax reform and immigration reform.

Vice President Pence, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also made a last-ditch attempt to win over members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, huddling with them at midday at the Capitol Hill Club, a GOP social hall next door to the headquarters of the Republican National Committee. All three exited the meeting quickly without taking questions.

In one stunning defection Friday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) announced at midday that the health care bill is “currently unacceptable” and that changes made late Thursday to placate conservatives “raise serious coverage and cost issues.”

Another moderate, Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) — who had met with Trump on Wednesday night — said he would vote against the bill. So did Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), a longtime Ryan friend and ally who represents a competitive Northern Virginia congressional district.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a Freedom Caucus member, was one of six Republicans who voted against a procedural resolution bringing the bill to the floor on Friday morning.

“You know what? I came here to do health care right,” said Gosar, a dentist. “This is one chance we that can get one-sixth of our GDP done right. It starts with here.”

At the heart of the argument made by GOP leaders to skeptical members: Keeping the Affordable Care Act is a worse outcome than passing a potentially flawed replacement.

“You want to score a touchdown, but sometimes, on the fourth down, you kick a field goal,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), the longest-serving member of Congress in the Freedom Caucus. “The choice is yes or no. I’m not going to vote no and keep Obamacare. That’d be a stupid damn vote.”

At the White House on Friday morning, Trump projected confidence as he answered shouted questions following an announcement of a presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, a revived project that the president said would create jobs.

Asked by a reporter what he would do if the bill fails, Trump — seated at his Oval Office desk — shrugged and said: “We’ll see what happens.”

Trump also said he didn’t feel the process had been rushed and that Ryan should remain as speaker if the bill fails.

On Twitter, Trump said that “After seven horrible years of ObamaCare (skyrocketing premiums & deductibles, bad healthcare), this is finally your chance for a great plan!”

With 237 House Republicans, party leaders can afford only 21 or 22 defections, depending on how many Democrats are present on Friday. If the measure fails, it would be a defeat for Trump in his first effort to help pass major legislation. An unsuccessful vote could also jeopardize other items on his wish list, including a tax overhaul and infrastructure spending.

No matter what happens in the House, the ultimate fate of the legislation hinges on the Senate, where new uncertainty emerged about the timing of a vote despite earlier guidance that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) planned to push for a vote next week.

The Congressional Budget Office warned senators on Friday that recalculating the rewritten House bill could take a week or more to produce, said several officials familiar with the discussions, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

That was expected to upend McConnell’s plan to finish their work and send the legislation to the White House for Trump’s signature before a two-week Easter recess, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Senate budget rules require that party leaders provide an official estimate of how much the legislation would cost and how it would change the deficit before scheduling a vote.

McConnell’s aides didn’t immediately return requests for comment.

Republicans have a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate, but at least a dozen Republicans are on the fence about the legislation, because many of them want to maintain some of the current law’s more generous spending components.

When formal debate on the bill began on Friday morning, top leaders used a procedural vote to gauge last-minute support. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was seen conferring with Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), a key holdout. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) sat in the row behind them cajoling Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), another moderate who has yet to announce what he plans to do.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the Freedom Caucus, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday about his plans.

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo), a caucus member who said before the election that minor losses in the House Republican ranks would increase conservative clout, said he remained undecided.

“I’m examining life experiences,” he said. Asked to explain what he meant, he said he was joking.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a moderate who had expressed qualms as recently as Tuesday, when he was singled out by Trump inside a private meeting of House Republicans, said he had all but decided to vote for the bill.

“I’m not one they should worry about,” he said.

More here.

Nunes’s grandstanding proves he can’t lead the Russia investigation

Via The Washington Post Editorial Board:

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-Calif.) on Monday denounced what he described as the illegal leak of classified information concerning conversations between associates of Donald Trump and Russian officials. He insisted that those who described those contacts to the press be tracked down and prosecuted. He demanded that FBI Director James B. Comey confirm that such revelations “violate . . . a section of the Espionage Act that criminalizes the disclosure of information concerning the communication and intelligence activities of the United States.”

Forty-eight hours later, Mr. Nunes himself held a news conference in which he cited a confidential source to describe what clearly appeared to be classified information about intercepted communications involving Trump associates. He did this outside the White House, where he had rushed to brief the president about the intercepts — even though the House Intelligence Committee he chairs is supposed to be investigating the Trump campaign’s possible connections with Russia.

We’ve said before that it was doubtful that an investigation headed by Mr. Nunes into Russia’s interference in the election could be adequate or credible. The chairman’s contradictory and clownish grandstanding makes that a certainty. His committee’s investigation should be halted immediately — and Mr. Nunes deserves to be subject to the same leaking probe he demanded for the previous disclosures.

Mr. Nunes’s behavior provoked head-scratching from Republican colleagues, in addition to denunciations from Democrats; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called it “bizarre.” But there was nothing really irrational about the representative’s actions: He was simply doing everything in his power to protect President Trump, for whom he has become a fierce, if erratic, guard dog. In denouncing leaks Monday, Mr. Nunes was doing his best to deflect attention from what appears to be a substantial ongoing FBI investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

In offering his own leak Wednesday, Mr. Nunes was trying to provide cover for Mr. Trump’s false claim that his campaign had been wiretapped on orders of President Barack Obama — a statement that Mr. Comey flatly described as groundless. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Trump declared hours later — again, falsely — that Mr. Nunes had proved him right.

In fact, as Mr. Nunes himself acknowledged, the intercepts he described were legal and appropriate, the result of routine surveillance of foreign targets, or that were approved by a secret court. The identities of the Americans who were picked up in the conversations were mostly masked — Mr. Nunes said he was able to figure out they were Trump associates because of the context. Quite possibly, the chairman revealed the same intelligence that sources described to The Post when it reported on conversations between Michael Flynn, then Mr. Trump’s nominee for national security adviser, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a disclosure Mr. Nunes tarred as criminal.

Mr. Nunes’s antics serve only to underline the urgency of a serious, nonpartisan and uncompromising investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and any contacts between Moscow’s agents and the Trump campaign. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also conducting a probe, may make a useful contribution, but as Mr. McCain said, “no longer does the Congress have the credibility to handle this alone.” It is time to discuss the formation of an independent, nonpartisan commission with full subpoena power, like those that investigated the attacks of 9/11 and the intelligence failures in Iraq. In the meantime, House leaders should put an end to the embarrassing travesty being directed by Mr. Nunes.

The Republican health-care proposal is breathtakingly unpopular

Philip Bump, reporting for The Washington Post:

We’ll start with the bad news for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

A new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows that the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill championed by Ryan and due for a vote any minute now, is severely unpopular. Stunningly unpopular.

It is, amazingly enough, less popular than Congress itself.

According to Quinnipiac, only 17 percent of Americans approve of the bill — and only 6 percent of the country supports it strongly. (Congress is approved of by 21 percent of the country.) By contrast, well over half of Americans disapprove of it, 43 percent of them strongly. In other words, more than twice as many people have strongly negative views of the bill than have any positive feelings for it.

Broken down by demographic, the data are grim for Ryan and Republican leaders — including President Trump, who has embraced the plan.

Some things to note:

• A lot of people aren’t very familiar with the legislation, as indicated by those gray bars. But those who are familiar with it are heavily stacked against it, by a 3-to-1 margin.
• Among no demographic group does a majority approve of the bill.
• Among only three groups — Republicans, older Americans and whites without college degrees — does less than half of the population disapprove.
• Only among Republicans and those 65 and older does more than 10 percent of the population approve of the bill strongly.
• In every group except Republicans, more than a third of the population views the legislation strongly negatively.

The three groups that are below 50 percent disapproval are, as you likely noticed, groups that backed Trump strongly in the 2016 election. Across the board, Trump’s approval rating from each demographic group was much higher than the legislation’s approval rating — generally about twice as high.

More here.

Rep. Nunes Is a Lapdog in a Watchdog Role

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Representative Devin Nunes looked uneasy. Mr. Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was struggling on Monday to elicit details from James Comey, the F.B.I. director, about his explosive revelation that the bureau is investigating whether Russia and the Trump administration colluded to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. That disclosure, Mr. Nunes said, had put “a big, gray cloud” over the White House.

On Wednesday, Mr. Nunes tried to replace that cloud with a smoke screen. In a possible violation of the law, Mr. Nunes described intelligence reports that he said had suggested that American intelligence agencies incidentally intercepted communications of then President-elect Trump and people close to him, and then disseminated the information widely throughout the intelligence community. His disclosures, which have destroyed the credibility of his committee in investigating Russian interference in the election, make clear that he is unfit for the job and should be replaced.

Mr. Nunes’s remarks, which appeared to be deliberately vague, gave President Trump cover for his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had illegally wiretapped his phones. After making his disclosures during a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Nunes went to the White House to brief the president. In a startling break with tradition, Mr. Nunes, a Republican, briefed reporters before sharing his findings with fellow members of the committee, who are from both parties. Mr. Trump portrayed the congressman’s assertions as a vindication of his widely discredited accusation. “I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found,” Mr. Trump said.

* * *

Mr. Nunes’s remarks left the impression that American intelligence personnel may have been careless in redacting identifying information of American citizens whose communications were intercepted as part of the lawful monitoring of foreigners. He did not, however, claim that intelligence personnel broke rules.

By speaking expansively about intelligence gathering, Mr. Nunes may have broken the law by disclosing classified information, however obliquely. The congressman, who has assailed leaks to the press, said his information came from unnamed “sources who thought that we should know it.” That’s rich.

On Wednesday night, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said the recent developments make it necessary to appoint a select committee or independent commission to run an inquiry. “No longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone,” Mr. McCain said in an interview on MSNBC. “And I don’t say that lightly.”

More here.

Healthcare quote of the day

I don’t know whether [Trump] will ultimately succeed or fail [on healthcare], but I will tell you that President Trump is so transactional, who knows what transactions he will be willing to make to pass this.

So far he’s acting like a rookie. It’s really been amateur hour. He seems to think that a charm offensive or a threat will work — that saying “I can do this for you” or “I can do this against you” will work. That’s not the way it works. You have to build real consensus, and you have to gain a real knowledge of the policy — and the president hasn’t done either of those things.

Nancy Pelosi, quoted in the New York Times.

Quotation of the day

He’s a poor person’s idea of a rich person. They see him. They think, “If I were rich, I’d have a fabulous tie like that. Why are my ties not made of 400 acres of polyester?” All that stuff he shows you in his house–the gold faucets–if you won the lottery, that’s what you’d buy.

 — Fran Lebowitz, on U.S. President Donald Trump. (Via The Quotation of the Day Mailing List)

US officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians

Via CNN:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton‘s campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign‘s ties to Russia, according to one source.
The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.
In his statement on Monday Comey said the FBI began looking into possible coordination between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives because the bureau had gathered “a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
The White House did not comment and the FBI declined to comment.
* * *
One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests “people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready.” But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it’s premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it’s largely circumstantial.
The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place, but the information suggesting collusion is now a large focus of the investigation, the officials said.
The FBI has already been investigating four former Trump campaign associates — Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page — for contacts with Russians known to US intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts and CNN has not confirmed any of them are the subjects of the information the FBI is reviewing.
Much more here.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Harshly Rebukes Trump

Sydney Ember, reporting from The New York Times:

The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is known for its conservative tone, but an editorial the newspaper published online Tuesday night would stand out even in the pages of its left-leaning peers.

The editorial was an extraordinarily harsh rebuke of President Trump, calling him “his own worst political enemy” and asserting that he was damaging his presidency “with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.”

In particular, the editorial board pointed to Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones. “The President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the editorial said, even though senior intelligence officials, as well as Republicans and Democrats, have said they have seen no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s accusations.

The paper’s editorial and opinion writers have been critical of Mr. Trump in the past, although the language of this editorial, which ran in Wednesday’s paper, seemed intended to remind the president to focus on his stated goals rather than distractions. And the timing of the editorial — during a week in which Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, is testifying at confirmation hearings and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Republican health care bill — is almost certainly not a coincidence.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for The Journal said, “The editorial speaks for itself,” and declined to make Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor, available for an interview.

The editorial, headlined “A President’s Credibility,” criticized President Trump for “rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims” — namely, repeating an unsupported allegation by a Fox News commentator that British intelligence had wiretapped Mr. Trump on behalf of the Obama administration. Like The Journal, Fox News is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who has ties to the president.

The editorial concluded: “Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent. 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.”

When the editorial went online, it immediately garnered attention on social media.

The editorial comes at a particularly sensitive time for Mr. Murdoch’s media empire. Last week, Andrew Napolitano, the senior legal analyst for Fox News, ignited a firestorm when, citing unnamed sources, he said Mr. Obama had used British intelligence to spy on Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, later cited Mr. Napolitano’s claim from the White House lectern, infuriating British officials and prompting Fox News to disavow Mr. Napolitano’s comments.

Mr. Napolitano, who likes to be addressed as “the Judge,” has since been temporarily sidelined by Fox News.

Against this backdrop, British regulators have been asked to investigate a deal between Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and the British satellite television company Sky. The deal, for the 61 percent of Sky not already owned by 21st Century Fox, has prompted concern in Britain about Mr. Murdoch’s control over the media there. Mr. Murdoch has coveted Sky for years — in 2011, his company News Corporation withdrew a $12 billion offer for Sky in the face of a phone-hacking scandal in Britain — and he already holds a number of British media properties.