Trapped in Trump’s Brain

Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times:

Donald Trump is stuck in his own skull.

He’s unreachable.

“He lives inside his head, where he runs the same continuous loop of conflict with people he turns into enemies for the purposes of his psychodrama,” says Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio.

Because Trump holds Thor’s hammer, with its notably short handle, we must keep trying to figure out his strange, perverse, aggrieved style of reasoning. So we’re stuck in Trump’s head with him.

It’s a very cluttered place to be, a fine-tuned machine spewing a torrent of chaos, cruelty, confusion, farce and transfixing craziness. Of course, this is merely the observation of someone who is “the enemy of the American people,” according to our president.

President Trump likes maps. Once it was John King’s analysis of the CNN electoral map that Trump obsessed over. Now he wants policy papers heavy on maps and graphics and not dense with boring words.

So let’s visualize those phrenology skulls mapping distinct faculties in the brain, the ones that spur chastity, sympathy, philanthropy, philoprogenitiveness, mirthfulness, sincerity, grace, morality, generosity, kindness, benevolence.

Then think of the president’s skull, which is stuffed with other humours: insecurity, insincerity, victimhood, paranoia, mockery, self-delusion, suspicion, calculation, illogic, vindictiveness, risk, bullying, alimentiveness, approbativeness, vitativeness. Gall, divided into three parts.

It seems that at some point Trump decided that he didn’t really trust anyone else. While that was a reasonable strategy for a New York real estate developer who was always trying to rip off so-called partners, it’s obviously a limitation when you’re president.

Like all narcissists, he doesn’t like to be told if he’s screwing up, so he surrounds himself with people who don’t tell him.

The president is still oblivious about the shudder that went through the land, beyond the base that likes seeing the press jackals flayed, during his gobsmacking 77-minute masterpiece of performance art in the White House Thursday.

It was more Norma Desmond than Norman Vincent Peale, the Trump family pastor who wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking” and influenced Donald’s thinking as a child.

If Trump is the swanning, aging diva in the mansion, trapped in a musty miasma, Steve Bannon must be Max, the German director turned butler who massages Norma’s ego. In “Sunset Hair Boulevard,” Bannon is the one who encourages his diva to cling to a delusional world where she is still big and Jeff Zucker and Chuck Schumer are lightweights.

Much more here.

President Trump, White House Apprentice

Via New York Times Editorial Board:

It’s with a whiff of desperation that President Trump insists these days that he’s the chief executive Washington needs, the decisive dealmaker who, as he said during the campaign, “alone can fix it.” What America has seen so far is an inept White House led by a celebrity apprentice.

This president did not inherit “a mess” from Barack Obama, as he likes to say, but a nation recovered from recession and with strong alliances abroad. Mr. Trump is well on his way to creating a mess of his own, weakening national security and even risking the delivery of basic government services. Most of the top thousand jobs in the administration remain vacant. Career public servants are clashing with inexperienced “beachhead” teams appointed by the White House to run federal agencies until permanent staff members arrive.

Mr. Trump lost his national security adviser this week in a scandal involving ties to Russian intelligence. Robert Harward, a retired vice admiral, refused the job on Thursday, rattled by a dysfunctional National Security Council and a president who has alienated Mexico, Australia and even the British royal family, while cozying up to Moscow.

When Mr. Trump’s assistants can keep the edge of panic out of their voices, they insist that Mr. Trump has gotten more done in the early going than most presidents. And Mr. Trump is so adept at creating smoke that Americans might be forgiven for thinking that’s true. But at this point in the Obama presidency, which did inherit a mess, Congress had passed laws aimed at dragging the economy back from the brink of depression while committing $800 billion in Recovery Act spending to projects ranging from housing to roads to advanced energy technologies.

* * *

“Everything he rolls out is done so badly,” Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, marveled recently. “They’re just releasing comments, tweets and policies willy-nilly.”

If there is any upside here, it is that the administration’s ineptitude has so far spared the nation from a wholesale dismantling of major laws, including the Affordable Care Act, though he may yet kill the law through malign neglect. In the meantime, however, as Mr. Harward’s retreat on Thursday suggests, the chaos carries other risks. A Navy SEAL turned corporate executive, Mr. Harward cited family and financial considerations for refusing the national security job, but privately he was reported to be worried about the effect of a mercurial president on national security decision making. As Gen. Tony Thomas, head of the military’s Special Operations Command, said this week: “Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon, because we’re a nation at war.”

More here.

G.O.P.’s Grand Visions for Congress Now Look Like a Mirage

Jennifer Steinhauer, writing in the New York Times:

Congressional Republicans, who craved unified control of the government to secure their aggressive conservative agenda, have instead found themselves on a legislative elliptical trainer, gliding toward nowhere.

After moving to start rolling back the Affordable Care Act just days after President Trump was sworn in last month, Republican lawmakers and Mr. Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised. Efforts to come up with a replacement for the health care lawhave been stymied by disagreements among Republicans about how to proceed. The same is true for a proposed overhaul of the tax code.

The large infrastructure bill that both Democrats and Mr. Trump were eager to pursue has barely been mentioned, other than a very general hearing to discuss well-documented needs for infrastructure improvements. Even a simple emergency spending bill that the Trump administration promised weeks ago — which was expected to include a proposal for his wall on the Mexican border — has not materialized, leaving appropriators idle and checking Twitter.

At this point in Barack Obama’s presidency, when Democrats controlled Washington, Congress had passed a stimulus bill totaling nearly $1 trillion to address the financial crisis, approved a measure preventing pay discrimination, expanded a children’s health insurance program, and begun laying the groundwork for major health care and financial regulation bills. President George W. Bush came into office with a congressional blueprint for his signature education act, No Child Left Behind.

But in the 115th Congress, the Senate has done little more than struggle to confirm Mr. Trump’s nominees, and Republicans ultimately helped force his choice for labor secretary, Andrew F. Puzder, to withdraw from consideration on Wednesday in the face of unified Democratic opposition.

The House has spent most of its time picking off a series of deregulation measures, like overturning a rule intended to protect surface water from mining operations. For his part, Mr. Trump has relied mostly on executive orders to advance policies.

The inactivity stems from a lack of clear policy guidance — and, just as often, contradictory messages — from the Trump administration, which does not appear to have spent the campaign and transition periods forming a legislative wish list. Democrats have also led efforts to slow the confirmation of nominees to Mr. Trump’s cabinet who might otherwise be leading the charge.

“When you spend a lot of time talking about policy and debating policy in the presidential campaign, it is far easier to be specific about legislation when you get into office,” said Austan Goolsbee, who served as the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration. “President Trump spent the campaign fleshing out nothing in detail, so it’s not really a surprise that they can’t even agree on priorities, much less on actual legislative detail.”

House Republicans say slow and steady was always the plan. “We are 100 percent on pace with the 200-day plan we presented to President Trump and to members at our retreat,” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker Paul D. Ryan, wrote in an email. “Budget first (check), then regs (check), then Obamacare bill (in process and on schedule), and then tax (after Obamacare).”

But even Democrats, who had been gearing up for fights and compromises on health care, a tax overhaul, infrastructure and other policy matters, are bored and frustrated. “It’s painful for someone like me who was excited about infrastructure and tax reform,” said Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut. “It seems like the administration and the majority are nowhere.”

Much more here.

Senators from both parties pledge to deepen probe of Russia and the 2016 election

Via The Washington Post:

Top Republican and Democratic senators pledged Tuesday to deepen their investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election in the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as President Trump’s national security adviser, opening a new and potentially uncomfortable chapter in the uneasy relationship between Trump and Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said such an investigation is “highly likely,” and the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), stood side by side Tuesday to announce that the committee’s ongoing probe must include an examination of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.

Flynn resigned late Monday after revelations of potentially illegal contacts with Russia last year and misleading statements about the communication to senior Trump administration officials, including Vice President Pence.

“We are aggressively going to continue the oversight responsibilities of the committee as it relates to not only the Russian involvement in the 2016 election, but again any contacts by any campaign individuals that might have happened with Russian government officials,” said Burr, the chairman of the intelligence panel.

Added Warner, the vice chairman, “The press reports are troubling, and the sooner we can get to the veracity of those press reports or not, then we’ll take the next appropriate step.”

The consensus among lawmakers came at a tense moment, when congressional Republicans were already finding it difficult to defend Trump as the tempestuous start to his term has stoked frustration, fatigue and fear on Capitol Hill.

Many congressional Republicans have endured Trump’s unpredictability — including his criticism of the federal judiciary, and an immigration order that caught them by surprise and drew intense national blowback and a legal rebuke — because they think he holds the key to passing laws they have talked about for years.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of House members, put it this way: “I would rather accomplish something with distractions than not accomplish anything with smooth sailing.”

Burr and Warner’s agreement is also striking given the partisan feuding that has characterized investigations into Russia and the election — and relationships on Capitol Hill generally. The two senators were initially at odds over whether the committee’s probe should include potential ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, with Burr suggesting that it was outside the panel’s purview.

On Tuesday, Burr defended the committee’s right to look at those potential contacts, including any that may have occurred before Trump’s inauguration. And he has the support of Senate GOP leadership; in addition to McConnell, Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), the majority whip, and Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the GOP conference vice chairman, also called for investigations into Flynn’s actions.

Their pronouncements contrasted sharply with remarks by Republicans in the House, who applauded Flynn’s resignation but for the most part stopped short of calling for further investigation.

“I’ll leave it up to the administration to describe the circumstances surrounding what brought [Flynn] to this point,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters.

Some took aim elsewhere. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said the most significant question posed by Flynn’s resignation is why intelligence officials eavesdropped on his calls with the Russian ambassador and later leaked information on those calls to the news media.

“I expect for the FBI to tell me what is going on, and they better have a good answer,” Nunes said. “The big problem I see here is that you have an American citizen who had his phone calls recorded.”

Democrats cautiously applauded plans to expand the Senate investigation, even though several of them had called for an independent probe run by a special prosecutor. McConnell and Republicans will certainly have more control over an in-house investigation, but even Warner said he favors that approach.

“Not only do we have oversight over intelligence and counterintelligence, but it works in a bipartisan basis,” Warner told reporters.

Many Democrats think the slow, painstaking but largely public process of an independent commission, such as the 9/11 Commission, is preferable to leaving the investigation in the hands of committees that work in secret, giving leaders more latitude to pull political strings.

More here.

Outside Washington, the Democratic resistance to Donald Trump is building

Amber Phillips, writing in the Washington Post:

For at least the next two years, this much is true: Democrats are in the minority at virtually every level of government. They could stay in the minority for years to come.

That means the party’s ability to fight back against a Republican-controlled Washington is limited. But they can offer some strategic blows, and in some cases already have.

Much of the nation’s attention has been focused on Washington, where Senate Democrats are trying to delay Trump’s Cabinet nominees in dramatic fashion. But outside Washington, Democrats across the country are mustering a less-flashier resistance that has the potential to coalesce into a formidable roadblock to a Republican-controlled Washington.

As the second week of Trump’s presidency wraps up, Democratic attorneys general across the nation filed a flurry of lawsuits to try to stop his controversial travel ban in its tracks. It worked, at least temporarily. Democratic-controlled legislatures are readying legislation to expand health care if Congress trims it. Progressive groups are organizing to replicate success they’ve had recently with ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. Big-city mayors are opening their doors and — in at least one case — their city halls to illegal immigrants Trump may want to deport.

In all of this, there is potential for big flash points with the Trump administration. Let’s break down the cells of state and local Democratic resistance.

1) Democratic legislatures

Nowhere is the Democratic Party’s decimation over the Obama years more evident than at the state legislative level. Democrats control state legislatures in 14 states; in just six of those do they also have the governor’s mansion.

One of those all-blue states is Oregon, where Democrats are keenly aware of their status as a legislative and political counterweight to Trump. Lawmakers there are prioritizing bills to increase women’s access to abortion, contraception and pre-natal care in anticipation of Congress defunding Planned Parenthood. They will also prioritize a bill to ban racial profiling by law enforcement and try to expand state-funded children’s health care.

It’s a lot of work; progressives are playing defense on a lot of fronts, acknowledged Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson (D).

“Everything that makes me a progressive feels like it’s under attack,” Williamson said. “What lets me sleep at night is we can move policy forward on every issue that makes me a progressive.”

In Nevada, Democrats are back in control of the legislature in one of the only states to flip both chambers from red to blue last year.  Like Oregon, they’re prioritizing unabashedly progressive legislation, like ensuring same-sex marriage stays the law of the land as well as working to ban or limit fracking and expand voting rights if the Trump administration tries to limit them.

But some of that legislation is destined to remain a talking point. Nevada, along with seven other Democratic-controlled legislatures, must work with a Republican governor. Still, the chance to be any kind of counterweight to a conservative Washington is a chance Democrats are eager to seize, said Aaron Ford, the new Senate majority leader in Nevada

“I get giddy every time I think about the fact we have such a great opportunity in this state,” Ford said. “We are not afraid to stand up for what our constituents want.”

In perpetually blue California, Democratic lawmakers are expecting to have so many confrontations with Trump that the legislature has hired former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to counsel them on any impending legal battles with Washington.

Much more here.

Two top Republicans open to repairing Obamacare ahead of repeal

Via The Washington Post:

Two top Republicans long expected to lead the Senate’s role in repealing the Affordable Care Act said publicly this week that they are open to repairing former president Barack Obama’s landmark health-care law ahead of a wholesale repeal, which has been a GOP target for eight years.

Coming one week after a closed-door strategy session in which Republicans expressed frank concerns about the political ramifications of repealing the law and the practical difficulties of doing so, statements this week by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) brought into public view the political and policy challenges the GOP is facing.

Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said at a hearing Wednesday: “I think of it as a collapsing bridge. . . . You send in a rescue team and you go to work to repair it so that nobody else is hurt by it and you start to build a new bridge, and only when that new bridge is complete, people can drive safely across it, do you close the old bridge. When it’s complete, we can close the old bridge, but in the meantime, we repair it. No one is talking about repealing anything until there is a concrete practical alternative to offer Americans in its place.”

And Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee — another panel with a crucial role in the effort to repeal the ACA — said Thursday that he “could stand either” repealing or repairing the law. “I’m saying I’m open to anything. Anything that will improve the system, I’m for,” he said.

The comments come one month after Republicans in Congress first set out to immediately repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. While an increasing number of them have expressed concern about how feasible it is, many others, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), remain committed to a wholesale repeal and replacement.

More here.

Koch network could serve as potent resistance in Trump era

Via The Washington Post:

The weekend gathering of wealthy donors who help finance the conservative Koch network was supposed to serve as a celebration of the policy victories within reach now that Republicans control Washington: a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a rollback of environmental regulations, perhaps even a corporate tax overhaul.

But with President Trump already embroiled in chaos and controversy, the conservative financiers assembled at a desert resort here were also forced to contend with a new uncertainty: whether the new president will be an ally or an obstacle.

In their first formal break with the administration, top network officials on Sunday condemned Trump’s travel ban on some refugees and immigrants, calling it “the wrong approach.” Some here expressed alarm that Trump has staked out positions anathema to the network’s libertarian principles, targeting individual companies that produce goods abroad and indicating possible support for a border tax on imports. And the network’s chief patron, billionaire industrialist Charles Koch, who pointedly declined to back Trump in the presidential campaign, warned in stark terms of the potential perils of the anti-establishment mood that gave rise to Trump.

“We have a tremendous danger because we can go the authoritarian route . . . or we can move toward a free and open society,” he told a packed ballroom Sunday afternoon.

The mixed emotions on display here reflect a provocative role for the Koch network in the age of Trump — as a potent resistance movement within the GOP, well-positioned to fight the president and his allies on Capitol Hill when they push policies that run counter to the group’s libertarian credo.

Network officials made it clear throughout the weekend that their allegiance is not to the GOP. They have already criticized House leaders, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), for backing the idea of a border adjustment tax and are contemplating intensifying the pressure through digital ads and grass-roots lobbying.

“We’re not limiting ourselves on our ability to go out and fight on this,” said James Davis, a spokesman for the network.

The network could present a political dilemma for many GOP lawmakers ahead of the 2018 midterm elections as they choose between two influential forces within the party, a populist wing buoyed by Trump’s “America First” call and the well-organized, well-funded Koch-aligned activists who embrace open trade.

In the next two years, the network aims to spend $300 million to $400 million on policy and political campaigns, officials said — up from $250 million during the 2016 elections.

The Koch operation counts several highly placed allies within the Trump administration, including Vice President Pence; Scott Pruitt, the nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and Marc Short, a former top Koch official who is now serving as the White House legislative liaison.

Nonetheless, network officials made it clear that they intend to deal with Trump and congressional Republicans as they have every other administration — which could mean an impending confrontation with GOP leaders.

“Our secret sauce, so to speak, is the accountability play,” said Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries and co-chairman of the weekend conference. “We’re principled, and if we can’t get comfortable with the policies that are in place, then we’re not going to support them.”

This could get quite interesting.

Repeal of Obamacare now a turn-off to voters

Via The Washington Post:

Republicans are getting very worried about repealing Obamacare, and tensions have begun to boil over, as The Post’s Mike DeBonis reports.

A new poll shows exactly why they should be concerned.

The Quinnipiac University poll shows that just 16 percent of Americans want Congress to repeal all of Obamacare, while 51 percent say it should repeal only parts and 30 percent say it shouldn’t repeal anything. This echoes other polling showing the Affordable Care Act rising in popularity and that full repeal has fallen out of favor — even as the GOP prepares to repeal the law one way or another.

Even more illustrative in the new poll, though, is this: Voters indicated they’ll actually punish those who vote for repeal. Quinnipiac asked them whether they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a senator or member of Congress who votes for repeal, and by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, they said less likely.

Fully 43 percent said they would be less likely to vote for someone who repeals Obamacare, while only 24 percent said they would be more likely.

This is in contrast to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from March 2014 that asked basically the same question. Back then, 47 percent said they would be more likely to vote for someone who votes to repeal Obamacare, while just 32 percent said they would be less likely.

So it’s basically been flipped. The bloom is off the repeal rose, it would seem.

Of course, this doesn’t mean repealing Obamacare is necessarily going to lose a whole bunch of Republicans reelection races come 2018 (if they actually wind up repealing it). In addition to the 24 percent who want their member to support repeal, another 29 percent say it makes no difference. That’s a majority combined.

But it’s also clear that we’ve seen a pretty demonstrable flip in voter desires when it comes to repealing Obamacare. What seemed like a good idea in the abstract for many voters no longer seems so; about half of those who once said they would be more likely to vote for a repeal advocate no longer say that. And even Republican voters aren’t terribly gung-ho about repeal; just 50 percent say a repeal vote would make them more likely to back a politician.

More here.

Behind closed doors, Republican lawmakers fret about how to repeal Obamacare

Via The Washington Post:

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

The recording reveals a GOP that appears to be filled with doubts about how to make good on a long-standing promise to get rid of Obamacare without explicit guidance from President Trump or his administration. The thorny issues with which lawmakers grapple on the tape — including who may end up either losing coverage or paying more under a revamped system — highlight the financial and political challenges that flow from upending the current law.

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

“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created” with repeal, said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.). “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.”

Recordings of closed sessions at the Republican policy retreat in Philadelphia this week were sent late Thursday to The Post and several other news outlets from an anonymous email address. The remarks of all lawmakers quoted in this article were confirmed by their offices or by the lawmakers themselves.

“Our goal, in my opinion, should be not a quick fix. We can do it rapidly — but not a quick fix,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “We want a long-term solution that lowers costs.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) warned his colleagues that the estimated budget savings from repealing Obamacare — which Republicans say could approach a half-trillion dollars — would be needed to fund the costs of setting up a replacement. “This is going to be what we’ll need to be able to move to that transition,” he said.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) worried that one idea floated by Republicans — a refundable tax credit — would not work for middle-class families that cannot afford to prepay their premiums and wait for a tax refund.

Republicans have also discussed the idea of generating revenue for their plan by taking aim at deductions that allow most Americans to get health insurance through their employers without paying extra taxes on it. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who has drafted his own bill to reform the Affordable Care Act, said in response, “It sounds like we are going to be raising taxes on the middle class in order to pay for these new credits.”

Much more here.

Hill Republicans want answers. On Wednesday, Trump gave them only more questions — and fresh headaches.

Via The Washington Post:

Republicans eagerly seeking answers from President Trump on how he plans to implement his agenda instead found themselves deflecting new questions Wednesday about the president’s latest controversial pronouncements.

House and Senate Republicans began the week expecting specific guidance on what will replace the Affordable Care Act, how quickly taxes might get slashed and how the government will pay for a new border wall and infrastructure plan.

But on Wednesday, Trump offered up a fresh set of distractions with a flurry of announcements and early-morning tweets.

He signed executive orders designed to jump-start construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and withhold federal funds to cities that do not comply with federal immigration laws. Word also came of a White House draft proposal to allow the CIA to reopen secret prisons overseas — and perhaps resume enhanced interrogation techniques. And Trump used Twitter to announce plans “for a major investigation” into his unproved accusations of widespread voter fraud.

That left Republicans scrambling with few details and fewer answers at a moment when they had intended to secure the opposite.

The first signs of trouble came at midday Wednesday, when Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) faced reporters in a hotel ballroom here at the start of a two-day party strategy session.

They came prepared to talk about health care and the tax code but were barraged with questions about Trump’s latest moves.

On voter fraud, Thune said he had not seen any evidence of widespread problems and declined to directly endorse Trump’s investigation.

“If they want to take that up, that is a decision that obviously he can make,” Thune said.

On the administration’s plans to rethink how terrorism detainees are interrogated, Thune was stronger, emphasizing that Congress had settled the issue.

“With respect to torture — that’s banned,” he said, citing a 2015 law that was approved overwhelmingly.

Trying to get back on message, Thune added: “What we have to do is focus on the things that unite us,” including repealing Obamacare and revamping the tax code.

That is exactly what House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to do later in the afternoon. In a private gathering of lawmakers, the two GOP leaders laid out an aggressive legislative agenda calling for Congress to repeal major portions of the ACA, pass replacement measures and embark on a significant overhaul of the tax code — all within the first 200 days of blanket GOP control in Washington.

What they didn’t do is fully explain how these goals will be achieved, which is what most Republican lawmakers traveled to Philadelphia to learn.

Interviews with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers revealed a clash of expectations between rank-and-file lawmakers to get started in disassembling Obamacare and party leaders who are all too aware of the obstacles and difficult choices ahead.

“Exact, specific and detailed — that’s what people want,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee. “We’re going to own this stuff, and we better be able to explain it.”

“I don’t think you will see a plan,” said Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-Ohio), chairman of a key subcommittee on health care. “I think you will see components of a plan that are part of different pieces of legislation that will make up what will ultimately be the plan.”

In the private session, Ryan and McConnell declared repealing and replacing Obamacare their first order of business, with a target date for action within the next three months. The lawmakers also said they plan to move quickly on a broad rewrite of the tax code that is expected to include deep rate cuts while maintaining current revenue through changes to the international tax code, according to multiple lawmakers in the room who requested anonymity to describe the meeting.

The leaders laid out a three-pronged plan to undermine Obamacare with a combination of new legislation, executive action by Trump and regulatory changes within his administration. They said a replacement law would require some Democratic support.

Tax restructuring would follow on an ambitious schedule, members who attended the briefing said, with an eye toward passing that overhaul, at least in the House, before Congress breaks for its summer recess in August. Ryan told members that they would work toward a tax overhaul that would cut rates while roughly maintaining current revenue levels.

Much more here.

The GOP is quickly discovering that there is more trouble with the changes they advocate. Especially with Donald Trump.

‘Alternative Facts’ and the Costs of Trump-Branded Reality

Jim Rutenberg, writing in the New York Times:

When Donald J. Trump swore the presidential oath on Friday, he assumed responsibility not only for the levers of government but also for one of the United States’ most valuable assets, battered though it may be: its credibility.

The country’s sentimental reverence for truth and its jealously guarded press freedoms, while never perfect, have been as important to its global standing as the strength of its military and the reliability of its currency. It’s the bedrock of that “American exceptionalism” we’ve heard so much about for so long.

Disinformation was for dictatorships, banana republics and failed states.

Yet there it was on Saturday, emanating from the lectern of the White House briefing room — the official microphone of the United States — as Mr. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, used his first appearance there to put forth easily debunked statistics¹ that questioned the news media’s reporting on the size of the president’s inaugural audience (of all things).

Mr. Spicer was picking up on the message from his boss, who made false claims² about news coverage earlier that day as he declared a “running war” with the news media during a visit to the Central Intelligence Agency, whose most solemn duty is to feed vital and true information to presidents as they run actual wars.

It was chilling when Mr. Trump’s assertion that reporters were “among the most dishonest people on earth” became an applause line for the crowd gathered to hear him speak in front of the memorial to fallen agents at C.I.A. headquarters.

Still more chilling was when the White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared on “Meet the Press” on Sunday to assert that Mr. Spicer’s falsehoods were simply “alternative facts.”

Ms. Conway made no bones about what she thought of the news media’s ability to debunk those “alternative facts” in a way Americans — especially Trump-loving Americans — would believe.

“You want to talk provable facts?” she said to the moderator, Chuck Todd. “Look — you’ve got a 14 percent approval rating in the media, that you’ve earned. You want to push back on us?” (She appeared to be referring to a Gallup poll figure related to Republicans’ views.)

And really, there it was: an apparent animating principle of Mr. Trump’s news media strategy since he first began campaigning. That strategy has consistently presumed that low public opinion of mainstream journalism (which Mr. Trump has been only too happy to help stoke) creates an opening to sell the Trump version of reality, no matter its adherence to the facts.

Much more here.

Welcome to the United States of Emergency

Dan Froomkin, writing at The Intercept:

And so it begins.

For those of us who believe in core progressive American values – multiculturalism, civil liberty and civil rights, free speech, a free press, truth in government, economic fairness, environmental protection, inclusiveness, equal justice, a humane society, the list goes on – today marks the first day of a disaster on a scale that until a few months ago was beyond our imagination.

The White House is now in the hands of a pathological liar and megalomaniac, a mutation spawned of our celebrity culture, a thin-skinned authoritarian whose only real constituent is himself, and whose intentions, to the extent we can discern them, are to destroy a lot of the things that make this country (truly) great.

Plus he has no idea what he’s doing. He’s slowly collecting corrupt and venal misfits who hate government and thrusting them into positions of power, with the sickly acquiescence of a self-serving Republican leadership that until recently saw him as a madman. But even they don’t know what they’re saying yes to.

No matter what you may hear in the coming days from the mainstream press and other elite institutions, this is not normal. This is aberrational. This is crazy.

It’s almost too painful to watch, but we all must watch. To the extent that we care about our core values, we must resist. And we need to figure out how to make things better when it’s over.

If one thing is certain, it is that the solution will not come from the current leaders of either of our political parties. Both groups respond to money and power more than to the public will. Both put winning above values. True deliverance from this disaster will have to be people-powered.

Political observers who have not been blinded by partisanship have long recognized that Washington elites are addicted to corruption, cronyism, authoritarianism and international aggression. But like the proverbial frog in the warming pot of water, it’s been a slow and gradual process. Now suddenly we’re boiling – and boiling mad.

Donald Trump ran a long con on the American people, promising them to clean out Washington, make the economy work for them, and disentangle us from international quagmires. He is perhaps the least likely person in the world to do any of those things. But the best con men are astute at figuring out what their marks want most badly.

More here.

The worst cabinet picks of all time

Via The New York Times Editorial Board:

Viewers have been able to watch live as Senate Republicans indulge, and Democrats cross-examine, Donald Trump’s nominees for his cabinet. Within a 24-hour period Tuesday and Wednesday, three of the most controversial and quite possibly the least qualified of these nominees paraded across the screen in a cavalcade of misstatements, lapses of judgment, conflicts of interest and from time to time spectacular displays of ignorance and insensitivity.

Where to begin? Our pick is Betsy DeVos, the nominee to be education secretary, whose energies and considerable family wealth have been devoted to promoting privately run charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools in her home state, Michigan. She refused multiple times to agree that traditional public and charter schools should be held to the same level of accountability. She seemed unaware of some of the basic functions of the education department. She seemed surprised to learn, when Senator Al Franken brought up the matter, of a long-running debate over whether and to what extent to use test scores to measure student achievement or student growth.

She also won the tin ear award hands down. When Christopher Murphy asked whether she would agree that schools are no place for guns, she did not give the obvious right answer to a Democratic senator whose state suffered the horrendous Sandy Hook massacre (“Senator, there is no place for guns in schools”). Instead she said that localities should decide, and — in a transcendently odd moment — suggested that schools in places like Wyoming might need a gun “to protect from potential grizzlies.”

Next up, Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma attorney general initiated endless lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, which he’s been asked to run, and who very nearly matched Ms. DeVos in the wrong answer department. One Democrat after another asked whether he would recuse himself in cases involving those lawsuits and cases involving companies that contributed copiously to his campaigns. The obvious response was, “Of course I will!” Instead, Mr. Pruitt would only say that he would do so if the agency ethics officer tells him to. Mr. Pruitt’s answer to climate change questions was equally depressing. Nearly all mainstream scientists say that human activities have been largely responsible for the rise in global atmospheric temperatures. Mr. Pruitt’s response was that the jury was still out.

Lastly, there was Mr. Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a representative from Georgia. Mr. Price made the preposterous claim that repealing the Affordable Care Act really wouldn’t hurt people as long as they had bare-bones insurance policies that paid for treatment only in catastrophic circumstances. He couldn’t offer any convincing defense of his proposals to strip hundreds of billions of dollars from the budgets of Medicare and Medicaid. In response to questions by Senator Elizabeth Warren, he said that spending on the programs was the “wrong metric” to judge them by and argued that lawmakers should instead focus on the “care of the patients.” Quality of care is certainly the most important standard, but why would drastic cuts to those programs magically result in people getting better medical treatment?

More here.

Senate Intel chiefs promise investigation of Trump-Russia ties

Via The Washington Post:

Senate Intelligence Committee leaders announced late Friday that they would look into allegations of links between Russia and the 2016 political campaigns as part of a broader review of the intelligence community’s report on Russian hacking.

Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) said that their investigation, announced on Tuesday, would review “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns” — a scope that includes allegations of ties between president-elect Donald J. Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

Their announcement came as additional House Democrats called for FBI Director James B. Comey’s resignation, following a closed-door briefing from spy chiefs about Russia’s alleged election-related hacking in which they say Comey stonewalled members about whether the FBI is investigating links between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin.

Democrats accused Comey of being “inconsistent” for refusing to confirm or deny whether or not the FBI was investigating the alleged ties, despite his willingness to frequently update Congress on the status of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. They described the exchange with Comey as “contentious” and even “combative,” while leaders accused him of using a double standard.

“One standard was applied to the Russians and another standard applied to Hillary Clinton,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who one member described as “just outraged” at Comey’s resistance to questions.

Pelosi “really let Comey have it” during the meeting, the member said, who spoke on background because the meeting was classified.

Pelosi and other Democratic leaders excoriated Comey for his stubbornness, but stopped short of calling for his head — pressing the FBI director to take up an investigation into what “leverage” Russia might have over Trump, even as they questioned Comey’s integrity.

“I think the American people are owed the truth,” Pelosi said. “And for that reason, the FBI should let us know whether they’re doing that investigation or not.”

Democrats have been leaning into Comey to commit to an investigation of Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian government after new, unsubstantiated allegations emerged suggesting the existence of compromising personal and financial links between the president-elect and the Kremlin.

Earlier this week, Burr had previously expressed doubts that the Senate Intelligence Committee would be able to investigate such allegations, according to reports, because the committee lacks the authority to compel information from the campaigns.

But if the committee investigates potential Trump-Russia ties by probing the information the intelligence community already collected, they can get around that hurdle, a committee aide explained late Friday.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s panel on crime and terrorism, would not say Thursday whether he would also investigate alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia from that perch, deferring that question to the FBI.

“If there were contacts that are unnerving, time will tell,” Graham said.

Much more here.


The GOP has “buyer’s remorse” over Obamacare repeal

Aaron Blake, writing in The Washington Post:

Politics can sometimes resemble a smoldering pile of broken promises. And the GOP‘s long-standing pledge to repeal Obamacare on Day One of a GOP administration is suddenly looking like it might be thrown on the heap.

Over the last week, 10 Republican senators have voiced concerns about the GOP’s plans to repeal the law immediately before a replacement can be crafted, and they’re now being joined by a group of very conservative House Republicans.

“I think when we repeal Obamacare we need to have the solution in place moving forward,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Chuck Todd’s MSNBC show. “Again, the solution may be implemented in a deliberate fashion, but I don’t think we can repeal Obamacare and say we’ll get the answer two years from now.”

Joining Cotton in this sentiment last week were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). And this week, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is urging patience, as is Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Corker and Collins, meanwhile, have joined with Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to file an amendment to the budget reconciliation process that would delay the deadline for repeal legislation from Jan. 27 — one week after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in — to March 3.

While most of these senators are on the moderate side, they’ve also gotten some buy-in from the House Freedom Caucus — a group of tea-party aligned conservatives. “We just need to slow down the process so that we can understand a little bit more of the specifics, the timetable, replacement votes, reconciliation instructions, etc.,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C) said Monday.

Republicans have 52 senators, so nearly one-fifth of their members have now lodged this concern. Even more importantly, losing three of them could thwart any effort to repeal Obamacare in the near term.

It’s not clear how most of these members will actually vote — many of them have demurred on this question, likely because doing so could be cast as a vote against repealing a law the GOP base hates — but there appears to be a very real and growing possibility that Obamacare won’t be repealed right away.

 * * *

The best way to foreclose the possibility of repealing Obamacare and failing to install a good replacement, then, would seem to be to hold off on repealing it until you’ve got that replacement. And a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that’s what the vast majority of Americans would prefer.

As Wonkblog’s Carolyn Y. Johnson writes, the poll shows that 49 percent of Americans support repealing Obamacare, but only 20 percent want instant repeal while working out the details of a replacement later. By contrast, 28 percent prefer Congress would do as these 10 GOP senators are urging and wait until there’s a replacement. Combine them with the 47 percent who don’t want repeal at all, and that’s a very healthy popular desire for Congress to leave the law in place, at least for now.