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Updated: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 06:53:54 -0500

 



In Move to Slow Gorsuch Confirmation, Dems Cite FBI Probe

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

With limited options to slow or block Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Democrats raised a fresh question this week as his confirmation hearings unfolded: Should a president shadowed by an active FBI investigation be permitted to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it is “unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court justice” in light of the investigation. He added that “it is the height of irony that Republicans...With limited options to slow or block Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Democrats raised a fresh question this week as his confirmation hearings unfolded: Should a president shadowed by an active FBI investigation be permitted to make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court? Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it is “unseemly to be moving forward so fast on confirming a Supreme Court justice” in light of the investigation. He added that “it is the height of irony that Republicans held this Supreme Court seat open for nearly a calendar year while President Obama was in office, but are now rushing” to fill it. With this “cloud now hanging over the head of the president,” Schumer elaborated later, speaking to reporters, “...there ought to be delay.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leader of the liberal wing of the party, also seized on the issue. “Is the Senate really going to pretend there's no cloud over [Trump] and move on with the Gorsuch nomination like things are normal?” she tweeted Tuesday. “The FBI Director testified [Trump’s] campaign is under investigation for collusion with Russia. Lifetime court appointments can wait.” The question hits on a familiar Democratic theme: that Republicans are moving forward with an illegitimate nomination. Citing Obama nominee Merrick Garland, who received no hearing or vote last year in the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats have consistently argued that the open seat is not Republicans’ to fill in the first place. The FBI investigation puts a new spin on the idea, if a futile one. Should Republicans use their so-called “nuclear option” and eliminate the 60-vote threshold to move forward with the confirmation, Democrats will not be able to block it, the FBI investigation notwithstanding. “It's absurd,” said one Senate Republican leadership aide. “And the Democrats know it.” But the nomination is playing out simultaneously in two alternate universes of government and politics, and a proposition that is absurd in the former could make sense in the latter. Democrats are under pressure by grassroots activists to oppose Gorsuch, although they have no long-term means to do so.   The suggestion that the FBI probe would taint Gorsuch’s nomination seems intended only to appease those activists. Case in point: During Gorsuch’s questioning Tuesday and Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats did not raise the issue. And, even outside of the hearing room, Democratic panel members were circumspect. “There’s a value to knowing as much as possible,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, “and so, I would favor additional time rather than a rush to judgment.” Sen. Al Franken, who this week posed some of the more memorable questions to Gorsuch, seemed less concerned with considering Gorsuch’s nomination amid an active investigation than with how the controversy has overshadowed the confirmation hearings. “I think it wouldn’t hurt to take our time on this, because I don’t think the American people have really had the time to pay attention given this very very serious news that … we’ve been hearing,” Franken said late Wednesday on MSNBC, referencing revelations made by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. Perhaps most telling,[...]



Republicans Mired in Division Ahead of Health Care Vote

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

Republicans control the White House and Congress, and yet the civil war that has come to define the party over the past several years rages on. Donald Trump’s election in November was supposed to be the final puzzle piece Republicans needed to tackle reforms they championed—namely, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Now, faced with the first real chance of rolling back the law they have been campaigning against for years, Republicans find themselves mired in division. Even the master negotiator in the White House, who won both conservative and swing districts alike,...Republicans control the White House and Congress, and yet the civil war that has come to define the party over the past several years rages on. Donald Trump’s election in November was supposed to be the final puzzle piece Republicans needed to tackle reforms they championed—namely, repealing and replacing Obamacare. Now, faced with the first real chance of rolling back the law they have been campaigning against for years, Republicans find themselves mired in division. Even the master negotiator in the White House, who won both conservative and swing districts alike, hasn't yet been able to twist enough reluctant arms. Conservative outside groups remain loyally opposed to the American Health Care Act in its current form, even though it has the support of the president, and will be keeping tabs on who votes for it and who stands their ground. House Republican leaders still plan to put their bill to a vote Thursday, even though passage remains no sure bet, and they spent Wednesday evening negotiating with key holdouts. The fate of the Republicans' health care bill will set the stage for the next four years. If the party can't agree on policy details surrounding an issue they have been largely united around for years, other items on their wish list -- and the president's -- remain in jeopardy. President Trump has warned them about losing their majorities if they don't deliver on their promise to replace Obamacare, and has argued that the larger prize of tax reform could be on the other end if they vote for this bill. But that hasn't stopped the intraparty opposition, which ranges from the most conservative members concerned the legislation doesn't completely unravel Obamacare, to more moderate ones worried about the impact of the changes. While the Republican Party has learned to win elections, it hasn't yet learned to quit warring with itself. The health care vote, if it comes, will test the president's negotiating power, to be sure. But it will also test whether the GOP can fully transition to being a majority party. "The party at large is going to have to turn the page from an opposition party to a governing one," said Republican strategist Josh Holmes. "You cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good when you're trying to accomplish big things and conservative reforms," Holmes said. "It's impossible to believe that a party that can't get there on repeal and replace could on something as difficult and dynamic as tax reform." Even if Speaker Paul Ryan is able to get the bill through the House on Thursday, its future remains uncertain in the Senate, where a handful of Republicans, including Trump ally Tom Cotton of Arkansas, are already opposed to it. Knowing it faces a difficult fate in the upper chamber makes it all the more difficult for some House members to stick their necks out for something that might not become law. “While I've been in Congress, I can't recall a more universally detested piece of legislation than this GOP health care bill,” said Rep. Justin Amash. "Interpreting this as a sign that the Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war is a bit dramatic," said Dan Holler, vice president of Heritage Action, one of the groups opposing the legislation. But, "there's a lot of frustration, even from folks who are inclined to vote yes who are frustrated by the way the rollout happened." Heritage Action and other groups have been visiting with lawmakers, urging them to hold the l[...]



Gorsuch's Convenient Untruth

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

WASHINGTON -- With a shrewdly calculated innocence, Judge Neil Gorsuch told a big fat lie at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Because it was a lie everyone expected, nobody called it that. "There's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge," Gorsuch said. Gorsuch, the amiable veteran of many Republican campaigns, is well-placed to know how serious a fib that was. As Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., noted, President Trump's nominee for Merrick Garland's Supreme Court seat actually received a citation for helping win confirmation for Republican-appointed...WASHINGTON -- With a shrewdly calculated innocence, Judge Neil Gorsuch told a big fat lie at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Because it was a lie everyone expected, nobody called it that. "There's no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge," Gorsuch said. Gorsuch, the amiable veteran of many Republican campaigns, is well-placed to know how serious a fib that was. As Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., noted, President Trump's nominee for Merrick Garland's Supreme Court seat actually received a citation for helping win confirmation for Republican-appointed judges. We now have an ideological judiciary. To pretend otherwise is naive and also recklessly irresponsible because it tries to wish away the real stakes in confirmation battles. The best scholarship shows an increasingly tight fit between the party of the appointing president and how a judge rules. It's a point made in "The Behavior of Federal Judges" by Lee Epstein, William Landes, and Judge Richard Posner, and also in research by Neal Devins and Lawrence Baum. As Devins and Baum write, party polarization now affects the behavior of judges, "reducing the likelihood that they will stray from the ideological positions that brought them to the court in the first place." Face it: If partisanship and ideology were not central to Supreme Court nominations, Gorsuch would be looking at more years in his beloved Colorado. Notice that I referred to the Supreme Court seat as belonging to Garland, the chief judge for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed by President Obama to replace the late Antonin Scalia. In an appalling act of extreme partisanship, the Republican-led Senate would not even give Garland a hearing. It's frustrating that so many minimize opposition to Gorsuch as merely the payback for Garland the Democratic base yearns for. This content-free way of casting the debate misses what's really going on: Thanks to aggressive conservative jurisprudence, we have a Supreme Court that, on so many issues, continues to push the country to the right, no matter which party controls Congress or the White House. The reason Republicans wouldn't even let the moderately liberal Garland make his case is that conservatives who regularly denounce "liberal judicial activism" now count on control of the Supreme Court to get results they could never achieve through the democratically elected branches of government. They could not gut the Voting Rights Act in Congress. So Chief Justice John Roberts' court did it for them. They could never have undone a century's worth of legislation limiting big money's influence on politics. So the Citizens United decision did it for them. And it's true, as Franken and other Democratic senators noted, that Gorsuch has done what economic conservatives count on the judges they push onto the courts to do: He regularly sides with corporations over workers and consumers. We can't know exactly where the millions of dollars of dark money fueling pro-Gorsuch ad campaigns come from, but we have a right to guess. You don't have to believe the liberals on Gorsuch's record. Last month, a report by the Orrick law firm concluded: "After reviewing Judge Gorsuch's background and record of judicial opinions, it appears that the prior relatively pro-business conservative trajectory of the Supreme Court will now be restored." This is the whole point, and GOP senators couldn't allow Garland to get in the way of that. Better to have Gorsuch[...]



We're Against Emotionalism, Except When We're Not

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

Conservatives have rightly taken pride in Neil Gorsuch's calm and cerebral performance at his Senate confirmation hearings. Many commentators, along with Republican senators, have mocked Democrats for presuming to evaluate Gorsuch based on the outcomes of his cases. Did he "side with the little guy" or with big corporations? The right answer, conservatives have correctly chided, is that justice is supposed to be blind. A good judge makes determinations based upon the facts and the law without regard to whether he personally prefers one party to another and without some...Conservatives have rightly taken pride in Neil Gorsuch's calm and cerebral performance at his Senate confirmation hearings. Many commentators, along with Republican senators, have mocked Democrats for presuming to evaluate Gorsuch based on the outcomes of his cases. Did he "side with the little guy" or with big corporations? The right answer, conservatives have correctly chided, is that justice is supposed to be blind. A good judge makes determinations based upon the facts and the law without regard to whether he personally prefers one party to another and without some social-justice agenda to equalize the fortunes of little guys and big guys. It's not little versus big or sympathetic versus unsympathetic in a courtroom, but facts and law. It's a shame, then, that so many conservatives are disregarding the virtues they laud in Gorsuch -- prudence, careful weighing of facts, refusal to be swayed by emotional appeals -- when it comes to a disturbing story of a rape in Maryland. Reports indicate that a 14-year-old high school student in Rockville, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D.C.), may have been sodomized and raped in the boys' bathroom by two suspects. At least one of the suspects, according to Fox 5 in Baltimore, is an 18-year-old who recently entered the country illegally and was enrolled in the school as a freshman. The other, also an immigrant, is 17. Emotional reactions to heinous crimes are completely understandable, but as Judge Gorsuch has properly reminded us, our feelings are not a good guide to justice. Neither are they a prescription for sensible policy. Quite the opposite. If the evidence shows that the victim's account is correct -- that she was pushed into the bathroom by the two suspects and raped by both of them in a stall -- the young men could be facing many years in prison and deserve to. But many are rushing to link this inflammatory case -- before we know the facts -- to the larger cause of immigration restriction. White House press secretary Sean Spicer drew the link: "Part of the reason the president has made illegal immigration such an issue is because of tragedies like this. ... This is why he's passionate about this. Because people are victims of these crimes. Immigration pays its toll on our people." That is exploiting people's anger, which is bad enough, and it's false, which is worse. There are good and bad arguments against immigration. I am sympathetic to some restrictionist points, but smearing immigrants as out-of-control criminals is shameful. High rates of immigration, legal and illegal, are not associated with spikes in crime. In our recent history, between 1990 and 2013, the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. more than tripled to 11.2 million. Yet FBI data indicates that the violent crime rate declined by 48 percent during those years. This included violent crimes, such as aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder. Rates of property crime fell by 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery and burglary. As a survey by the CATO Institute shows, immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born Americans. And when you exclude those illegal immigrants who are jailed for immigration offenses (i.e., just for being here illegally), the numbers really plunge. Looking at the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, CATO notes that illegal immigrants ar[...]



Trump, GOP Struggle for Consensus on Health Vote

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

President Trump and House Republicans negotiated potentially significant changes to their Obamacare replacement Wednesday night, trying to find consensus on the measure that lacks necessary GOP support to pass less than a day before it comes up for a vote. The changes remained in flux late Wednesday night, however, and it was unclear if a deal would emerge Thursday. If they can cobble together enough Republican votes to pass the bill, it would mark a major achievement for House Republicans, who have been promising in campaigns for seven years to repeal and replace President Obama’s...President Trump and House Republicans negotiated potentially significant changes to their Obamacare replacement Wednesday night, trying to find consensus on the measure that lacks necessary GOP support to pass less than a day before it comes up for a vote. The changes remained in flux late Wednesday night, however, and it was unclear if a deal would emerge Thursday. If they can cobble together enough Republican votes to pass the bill, it would mark a major achievement for House Republicans, who have been promising in campaigns for seven years to repeal and replace President Obama’s signature healthcare law. If the measure fails, it will deal Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan a massive early blow to their legislative agenda and put their key campaign promise on life support. Throughout the day, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials met with members across the ideological spectrum, seeking to flip votes one-by-one until they gained enough support. They changed the minds of some members who had previously opposed the bill, but saw others publicly announce they couldn’t support the measure. It remains unclear whether leadership will have the votes to pass the legislation. For Trump and Ryan, Thursday’s vote represents the first major legislative push under their unified Republican government and puts their skills as political leaders and legislative dealmakers under the gun. “I think their credibility is on the line,” said Rep. Bill Flores. “But I think our credibility as a conference is what I care about, and our credibility is on the line to deliver what we said we’d do if the American people let us keep the majority in the House. It think it’s incumbent to us to follow through on this bill tomorrow.” GOP leaders have been struggling with vocal opposition since they introduced their repeal legislation earlier this month, but Trump’s personal involvement in the late negotiations has moved the tally closer to success, securing several necessary “yes” votes. Late Tuesday night, the president and Ryan met privately with Rep. Lou Barletta, a top Trump supporter during the campaign who had announced his opposition to the bill. Barletta said he was concerned about undocumented immigrants receiving tax credits for health care, and got assurances from Trump and Ryan that a bill he crafted to prevent that would reach the House floor next month. Barletta announced his support for the bill Wednesday. “I think he’s doing a hell of a job,” Barletta said of Trump. “Didn’t take much; he got me in 15 minutes, agreed to meet my concern, and I think he’s doing a good job getting this as close as it is. I don’t think it would be without him." Trump also gained the support Wednesday of Rep. Steve King by giving a major concession to conservatives. Some more conservative Republicans had been pushing for repeal of essential benefits health plans were required to offer under the Affordable Care Act – including maternity care, hospitalization, emergency services and mental health and substance abuse services, among others. Trump told King during a meeting with more than a dozen lawmakers at the White House that he would publicly push the Senate to include the repeal of the essential benefits, and won his sup[...]



The Lone Republican Focused on Trump's Ethical Conflicts

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

Amid the torrent of self-inflicted wounds and chaos threatening President Trump’s legislative agenda -- raising new doubt in the financial markets and on Capitol Hill about his ability to fulfill campaign promises -- it’s easy to miss that the presidency has been an enormous success for the Trump family business. Behind the headlines about false wiretap allegations and the FBI investigating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, the feathering of the Trump family nest is going swimmingly, and Republicans are ignoring all of it. But for White House...Amid the torrent of self-inflicted wounds and chaos threatening President Trump’s legislative agenda -- raising new doubt in the financial markets and on Capitol Hill about his ability to fulfill campaign promises -- it’s easy to miss that the presidency has been an enormous success for the Trump family business. Behind the headlines about false wiretap allegations and the FBI investigating the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, the feathering of the Trump family nest is going swimmingly, and Republicans are ignoring all of it. But for White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s pitch for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on “Fox and Friends,” which created record sales for the fashion line but was rebuked by House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and some others, new and blatant conflicts are being met with silence by the GOP. Just two months into the Trump presidency it has been reported that: payments from foreign governments to the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., have not been donated to the Treasury as promised; the Trump sons are developing a hotel project in Dallas with a real estate firm that has business ties to Russia and at least 25 other countries; a deal with Anbang, a Chinese company with known ties to the government, that Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, closed the week after Trump was elected will now provide more than $400 million to Kushner’s family at Kushner Cos.; Trump’s golf courses are now hosting or bidding to host some of the top tournaments in the world; and overall “the stars have all aligned,” Eric Trump told the New York Times this month. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.” Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, is suing the new commander-in-chief, attempting to block any payments Trump accepts that are in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. While he is joined in the suit by others including Norm Eisen, ethics chief under President Obama, Painter remains the lonely GOP cop on the kleptocracy beat and predicts Republicans will regret abdicating their responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch. “They certainly have gotten off to a slow start. I guess they wore themselves out last year going through Hillary Clinton’s emails. But they really do need to step on the gas here,” said Painter in an interview, predicting oversight will ramp up significantly over the summer. “If it does not, I think the voters are going to be in a very bad mood with respect to Republican members of the House and Senate if they’re perceived as not conducting oversight of the Trump administration.” Trump’s “separation” from his business was inadequate, Painter asserted, because as owner of the Trump Organization, the president is taking in money from foreign governments connected to his licensing arrangements, trademarks, property deals and more. Painter noted recent trademarks from China, and said “the timing is quite suspicious,” since Trump was critical during the campaign of the Chinese and, once elected, spoke with the leader of Taiwan -- indicating he may not support the longstanding One China policy. “Then suddenly the Chinese government starts feeding up these t[...]



Nunes Tips Trump He Was Possibly Surveilled; Dems Erupt

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

President Trump learned from the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday that his communications may have been intercepted as a byproduct of legal surveillance by the federal intelligence community. Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by information that Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, shared with him during a hastily scheduled White House meeting. The chairman said he became concerned while reading documents that indicated Trump’s communications and those of other Trump associates were swept up...President Trump learned from the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday that his communications may have been intercepted as a byproduct of legal surveillance by the federal intelligence community. Trump said he felt “somewhat” vindicated by information that Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, a California Republican, shared with him during a hastily scheduled White House meeting. The chairman said he became concerned while reading documents that indicated Trump’s communications and those of other Trump associates were swept up inadvertently, but in a manner that identified them. Following his discussion with Trump, Nunes said the president was “concerned” and “would like to see these reports.” The chairman said he hoped the intelligence community would share the surveillance data with the White House, but he denied that Trump or his associates were targeted in any U.S. probe involving international figures or entities. The committee’s leading Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said Nunes’ unusual decision to share information with the president and House Speaker Paul Ryan before consulting committee members during an ongoing investigation was “beyond irregular” and justified an independent commission to pursue the facts “completely out of the political realm.” The startling twists occurred two days after FBI Director James Comey told the House committee the bureau and the Justice Department found no evidence to support Trump’s March 4 tweets accusing President Obama of “wiretapping” him at Trump Tower last year. Comey disclosed publicly for the first time that beginning in late July, the FBI launched an investigation of Russia’s interference with the U.S. election, motivated by Moscow’s evident support for Trump and opposition to Hillary Clinton. Despite widespread rejections of his assertions, Trump has not retreated. Obama, intelligence officials and lawmakers, including Nunes and Schiff, have all said Trump was not the subject of Obama administration wiretaps. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s telephone contacts with the Russian ambassador during the Trump transition were incidentally intercepted by the intelligence community, leaked to the news media, and disclosed to Trump’s White House counsel by the Justice Department following the inauguration. The president said he fired Flynn weeks later because his national security adviser denied to Vice President Mike Pence that he spoke with Sergey Kislyak once the controversy erupted. Nunes, a member of Trump’s presidential transition team, on Wednesday described what he recently learned as important enough to be folded into the committee’s existing investigation, rather than prompting a new House probe. But he also said privately sharing information with Trump on Wednesday did not scuttle the appearance of independence on his committee because the intercepts he saw did not deal with Russia. “The reports that I was able to see did not have anything to do with Russia or the Russian investigation, or any tie to the Trump team,” Nunes told reporters. “It has everything to do with possible surveillance activities, and the president needs to know that these[...]



Trump Isn't Running The Government Like A Business

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

Anytime a reporter interviews Donald Trump voters about their reasons for supporting him, you can count on one of them to cite his capitalist credentials. The president has "a businessman's approach to running the country," a Chicago business owner told a Chicago Tribune reporter in a story this week. If only. Trump is completely lacking in government experience, unlike almost every one of his predecessors. But during the campaign, he touted business background as evidence of his ability to handle the presidency. Never mind that his fortune was built on a large inheritance...Anytime a reporter interviews Donald Trump voters about their reasons for supporting him, you can count on one of them to cite his capitalist credentials. The president has "a businessman's approach to running the country," a Chicago business owner told a Chicago Tribune reporter in a story this week. If only. Trump is completely lacking in government experience, unlike almost every one of his predecessors. But during the campaign, he touted business background as evidence of his ability to handle the presidency. Never mind that his fortune was built on a large inheritance from his wealthy father, that he went through six bankruptcies, and that many of his ventures (Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, among others) vanished without a trace. He and his supporters preferred to focus on his successes, which he promised he could duplicate in the White House. But no competent business executive would operate a company the way Trump has operated his administration. Protecting the brand is a key mission of every company. As plenty of defunct corporations can attest, it takes years to establish a reputation and secure the trust of customers -- and that reputation can be destroyed overnight. Ask Volkswagen, whose managers rigged cars to defeat emissions tests; or Samsung, which sold phones that were prone to catching fire; or Chipotle, which had repeated outbreaks of food poisoning. Through ethical lapses or performance failures, these firms drove away the consumers who made them successful. And the damage may never be undone. Those companies are now striving to prove that they have learned from their mistakes and will do better in the future. Trump, by contrast, goes out of his way to raise doubts about his honesty, competence and willingness to correct mistakes. His tweets accusing President Barack Obama of wiretapping created a fantastic lie that was promptly debunked by everyone with knowledge of the facts. This embarrassed many of his Republican allies in Congress and drove his approval ratings down to historic lows. Had he done anything so self-destructive as the CEO of a publicly traded company, he would have been fired. A key to success in business is filling jobs with good people. But Trump has failed to fill thousands of jobs with anyone at all. He complains that Democrats have slowed confirmation of his Cabinet appointees, but Democrats don't have enough votes in the Senate to block these nominations. Part of the problem is that he was slow to make some of his choices because he saw no need to devote any attention to such matters until after the election. Another is that some of his nominees, being exceptionally wealthy, require more extensive vetting to head off conflicts of interest. The problem is even worse that it appears. CNN reported that there are some 1,900 job vacancies in the executive branch, most of which don't have to go through the Senate. Even conservatives have chafed at the delays. There is "a personnel crisis in the Trump White House," wrote John Fund in National Review. "Trump has named only 20 sub-Cabinet-level positions, including two who withdrew -- a list that includes nominees for ambassadorships, counsel positions, and commissioners, according to a tracker from the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service." Sean Hannity cla[...]



What to Do About Obamacare and the Uninsurable? Free Markets and Charity!

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

When it comes to repealing and replacing Obamacare, defenders of President Barack Obama's signature domestic law constantly ask, "What about those with pre-existing illnesses?" After all, the most popular feature of Obamacare is that it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because an applicant has a pre-existing illness. And President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan insist that those with pre-existing conditions will be covered. But by agreeing with Obama on the issue of pre-existing illnesses, by promising to replace Obamacare "with something...When it comes to repealing and replacing Obamacare, defenders of President Barack Obama's signature domestic law constantly ask, "What about those with pre-existing illnesses?" After all, the most popular feature of Obamacare is that it prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage because an applicant has a pre-existing illness. And President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan insist that those with pre-existing conditions will be covered. But by agreeing with Obama on the issue of pre-existing illnesses, by promising to replace Obamacare "with something better," Republicans are making a massive concession: That access to health care insurance should be guaranteed by the federal government, and that denying people coverage based on their health history is unfair and should be prevented by law. That's a lot for the supposedly limited-government party to buy into. Free markets are the best way to improve quality, accessibility and affordability. But by campaigning to "repeal and replace" Obamacare, by refusing to make the case that free markets beat government-controlled health care, they've done just that. So the question now simply becomes who pays and how much. When did health insurance become a right? Did the Founding Fathers, under Article I, Section 8, grant the federal government the power and duty to ensure "universal health care coverage"? The answer is no, and there are many historical examples that prove it. Economist Walter Williams writes of Presidents James Madison, Franklin Pierce and Grover Cleveland, and how they quoted the Constitution to turn away congressional attempts to spend money when the federal government is not authorized to do so. James Madison, known as the "father of the Constitution," opposed a 1792 bill that would appropriate $15,000 for French refugees. Madison said, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." Some argued that the Constitution allows for benevolent spending under the general-welfare clause. Not so, said Madison: "With respect to the words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers (enumerated in the Constitution) connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators." Later presidents understood this. President Pierce, in 1854, vetoed a bill meant to help the mentally ill, saying, "I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity." To approve such spending, he said, "would be contrary to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded." In 1887, President Cleveland vetoed a bill to send money to drought-stricken counties in Texas, saying: "I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan to indulge in benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds. ... I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution." This brings us back to the issue of those with pre-existing illnesses. Before Obamacare, 35 states had "high-risk poo[...]



Assessing the Economic Impact of Climate Change Is Vital

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

How much are the damaging impacts of climate change costing our economy?   Even as some of America's top economists and scientists are seeking a precise answer -- amid a growing realization that the toll is being significantly underestimated -- the Trump administration is signaling that it has no intention to find out.   Worse still, the White House may be poised to order government officials to ignore that calculus altogether in making environmental policy.   In business, ignoring the long term is not only risky but also foolhardy. And it's no way to run...How much are the damaging impacts of climate change costing our economy?   Even as some of America's top economists and scientists are seeking a precise answer -- amid a growing realization that the toll is being significantly underestimated -- the Trump administration is signaling that it has no intention to find out.   Worse still, the White House may be poised to order government officials to ignore that calculus altogether in making environmental policy.   In business, ignoring the long term is not only risky but also foolhardy. And it's no way to run a country.   A rather opaque term of art -- ''the social cost of carbon'' -- has come to define the price tag we ascribe to the economic damage inflicted by the far-flung ravages of climate change. The phrase refers to the cost climate change imposes on society -- hence the “social” cost. The contributing factors include droughts, wildfires, ''sunny day floods" caused by rising ocean tides, and an array of extreme weather events that destroy lives and property, as well as lost productivity and agricultural output.   To measure that cost, experts began in 2009 assigning a monetary value to the emission of every ton of carbon dioxide, the primary pollutant that fuels dangerous climate change. The federal government uses this figure to calculate the cost-benefit analysis for a variety of environmental rules.   Today, that value is set at $41 per ton of carbon pollution spewed into our atmosphere. Let’s do the math. Last year alone, the nation’s power plants pumped 2.1 billion tons of carbon pollution into our atmosphere, accounting for 38 percent of the U.S. carbon footprint. At $41 a ton, that comes to more than $73.8 billion in economic costs.   But that figure fails to fully capture the true cost of greenhouse gas emissions, and a December report by the National Academy of Sciences recommended a major update to how we calculate the social cost of carbon. One indication that the current number is being underestimated is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that said just 15 extreme weather events last year cost our economy more than $200 billion. In 2012, the federal government spent nearly $100 billion to respond to Superstorm Sandy and other similar disasters.   As Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Feb. 14: ''Climate change is real and it's not merely an ecological issue or a political issue, but an economic one.''   Yet Thomas Pyle, a fossil fuel industry lobbyist who led President Trump’s transition team at the Department of Energy, issued a memo after the election declaring an intention to either lower the assigned price tag on the cost of carbon or eliminating its use entirely.   But ignoring the economic costs of climate change, accompanied by inaction, will not make them go away. Rather, that head-in-the-sand attitude will end up costing us, our children and future generations trillions of dollars.   According to Jason Channell, global head of the alternative energy and “cleantech” research program at Citigroup, “Costs in terms of lost GDP from not acting on climate change can be $44 [...]



206 Pivot Counties Voted Twice for Obama Then Switched to Trump

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

There are 3,088 counties in America and only 206 of them voted for the winner in each of the last three presidential elections. In other words, these Pivot Counties voted twice for President Obama before switching sides to vote for President Trump in 2016. The Pivot Counties had an outsized impact on the election results. Despite casting only 5 percent of the national vote total in 2016, they accounted for 51 percent of the popular vote shift toward Republicans. Not surprisingly, just over half of the Pivot Counties are found in the Midwest. That includes 31 counties in Iowa, 22 in Wisconsin,...There are 3,088 counties in America and only 206 of them voted for the winner in each of the last three presidential elections. In other words, these Pivot Counties voted twice for President Obama before switching sides to vote for President Trump in 2016. The Pivot Counties had an outsized impact on the election results. Despite casting only 5 percent of the national vote total in 2016, they accounted for 51 percent of the popular vote shift toward Republicans. Not surprisingly, just over half of the Pivot Counties are found in the Midwest. That includes 31 counties in Iowa, 22 in Wisconsin, 19 in Minnesota, 12 in Michigan, 12 in Illinois, nine in Ohio, and five in Indiana. Nationally, President Obama won the popular vote by 6 percentage points in 2008 (52 to 46 percent) and by 4 percentage points in 2012 (51 to 47 percent). Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by only 2 percentage points in 2016 (48 to 46 percent). In 2008, President Obama won the 206 Pivot Counties by 10 points, with a margin of 54 to 44 percent. In 2012, he won them by a slightly smaller margin of 53 to 46 percent. But the results in 2016 were dramatically different. Donald Trump carried them by 8 points, 51 to 43 percent. That reflects a net swing of 15 percentage points (from D+7 in 2012 to R+8 in 2016). Because of their unique status and significant impact, these Pivot Counties are a good place to study the changing political landscape. I am thrilled to be working with Ballotpedia, the Encyclopedia of American Politics, to examine what these counties can teach us about the ever-shifting landscape of American politics. From now until Election 2018, we will regularly release new Pivot County data and analysis. Additionally, every morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, Ballotpedia will publish Scott Rasmussen's Number of the Day to explore the intersection of culture, politics, and technology. A small number of these Pivot Counties (22) are true swing counties, voting for the winner in eight consecutive elections dating back to 1988. Two counties -- Vigo, Indiana and Valencia, New Mexico -- have gone with the winner in every election dating back to 1960! But while some of the Pivot Counties consistently swing with the national mood, a larger number have a background that traditionally leans towards Democratic candidates. Most voted for the Democratic candidate during the Republican victories in 1988, 2000 and 2004. Only a few voted Republican during the Democratic victories in 1992 and 1996. This suggests strongly that Donald Trump's ability to capture the allegiance of certain formerly Democratic voters was essential to his victory. As the next few years unfold, it will be interesting to see if President Trump can retain the support of these counties. It will also be fascinating to explore whether that support is unique to the president or if it is part of a broader shift to the Republican Party. In any such evaluation, of course, it's essential to keep a proper perspective and remember that the political system is a lagging indicator of cultural trends. It's the culture and technology that lead the nation forward. COPYRIGHT 2017 CREATORS.COM[...]



The Trump 'Faithful' Get the Budget Cuts They Voted For

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

Kentucky has become a favored dateline for many of President Donald Trump's fervent critics. They collect evidence there of betrayal, such as the ABC News item featuring a coal truck driver, "one of the Trump faithful," attached to a breathing tube and weeping over his expected loss of coverage for deadly black lung disease. "Look what that mean man is doing to you," the critics would seem to say. But a more appropriate message would be, "Look at what you did to yourselves." On that there's no greater authority than Trump's budget director, Mick...Kentucky has become a favored dateline for many of President Donald Trump's fervent critics. They collect evidence there of betrayal, such as the ABC News item featuring a coal truck driver, "one of the Trump faithful," attached to a breathing tube and weeping over his expected loss of coverage for deadly black lung disease. "Look what that mean man is doing to you," the critics would seem to say. But a more appropriate message would be, "Look at what you did to yourselves." On that there's no greater authority than Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney. The president, Mulvaney said, "wrote a budget based upon his campaign promises ... We took his words and turned them into numbers." Putting the onus back on Trump's voters is not only more honest; it is less patronizing. Some undoubtedly approve of plans to defund economic development programs in Appalachia, the South and the Midwest. They see closing rural airports and slashing agriculture disaster funds as sensible. For these voters, the Trump budget delivered. As for blue-collar whites who voted for Trump and are now having second thoughts, it's not quite correct that they were "scammed," as many Trump foes argue. Those who bought into his assurances -- "I'm taking care of my people" -- willingly ignored the piled-high evidence. This is a man who makes a sport of lying. Most everyone was aware that Trump had gone bankrupt more than four times, cheated his creditors and stiffed his contractors. Those who had done business with him testified that his words mean zip. Trump said he would repeal Obamacare a zillion times. And a zillion times he offered no ideas for a credible replacement. Even as the rubber was hitting the road in the House plan to decimate Obamacare, Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt offered this astounding account of his decision to support it: "I expressed to the president my concern around the treatment of older, poorer Americans in states like Alabama," he wrote in a statement. "I reminded him that he received overwhelming support from Alabama's voters." Aderholt went on: "The president looked me in the eye and said, 'These are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them.'" That the cuts were there in legal black and white did not sway Aderholt from concluding, "After receiving the president's word that these concerns will be addressed, I changed my vote to yes." Obviously, self-defeating voting patterns go well beyond Trump. Kentuckians elected Sen. Rand Paul, who bashed the House Obamacare-repeal bill for not cutting the taxes that pay for it fast enough. In 2015, Kentucky elected a governor campaigning on a promise to kill Kynect, the popular state health insurance exchange created to work with Obamacare. Matt Bevin kept that vow, and he's now going after the Medicaid expansion, so important to his low- and moderate-income constituents. Over the border in Tennessee, Sen. Bob Corker is unhappy that Trump's budget didn't take a knife to Medicare and Social Security. For many older Americans, Social Security and Medicare are the last refuges against destitution. All these policy positions have been sitting there right on the table, flashing neon. Perhaps some of the surprised faithful[...]



Chuck Brunie: An Investor Exemplar

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

What are more important to the health of an intellectual movement: writers and academics, or investors and philanthropists? That thought occurred to me when I was informed of the death of Chuck Brunie, the former longtime chairman of the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and chairman emeritus of The American Spectator. Of course, an intellectual movement needs brains, but it also needs money -- prudently spent money. A writer or an academic can while away the days developing ideas, but without investors or philanthropists, those ideas will not get to the public. Frankly, I...What are more important to the health of an intellectual movement: writers and academics, or investors and philanthropists? That thought occurred to me when I was informed of the death of Chuck Brunie, the former longtime chairman of the board of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and chairman emeritus of The American Spectator. Of course, an intellectual movement needs brains, but it also needs money -- prudently spent money. A writer or an academic can while away the days developing ideas, but without investors or philanthropists, those ideas will not get to the public. Frankly, I would say, investors or philanthropists are more important than the idea people in the long run. Take the field of economics. We have had a few giants, most recently Milton Friedman. We have had some very bright economic minds since Friedman. But for my money, he was the last giant, and without people to fund his thought and the thoughts of his disciples, those thoughts would quite possibly die or be set back for years. How often does the left-wing media, for instance, mention Milton Friedman? Those who fund the think tanks and magazines of the right keep his ideas alive. One of the investors who kept investing in Friedman's free market ideas was Chuck Brunie. He began by heading the research department at Oppenheimer & Co. in the 1960s, which he made No. 1 in its league. After four years there, he established Oppenheimer Capital, which he headed as chairman for more than a quarter century. He made many investors rich, among them Friedman. He became Friedman's personal investor and prize student. In an inspired obituary for the City Journal, Myron Magnet tells the story about Chuck arriving at the Friedmans' elegant apartment overlooking San Francisco. As he entered the room, the great economist sang "Welcome to the House that Chuck Built." One of the myths of modern-day politics is that the conservative movement vastly outspends the left. It is a comforting legend to the left, as its stalwarts lick their wounds from a string of defeats ending in the presidency of Donald Trump. As a matter of fact, Jim Piereson has led the way in pointing out that the left outspends the right by an enormous amount. In what he calls the second phase of the conservative movement -- beginning in the mid-1970s and ending in 2003 -- the top conservative foundations spent roughly $100 million annually out of a combined worth of about $1.5 billion. The top five left-wing foundations spent a staggering $1.2 billion annually from a capital pool of approximately $24 billion. In an update from the Manhattan Institute's Howard Husock this week, the figures have grown to overall assets of $38.38 billion for the left and overall assets of $7.41 billion on the right. The right has spent less money, but it spends it more wisely. One of the reasons there is so much acrimony in our politics today is that the old order is passing and it is in a fury about its demise. Chuck recognized the left's demise. He was one of the investors who hastened its collapse. He was the exceptional donor who was both a financial wizard and an intellectual in his ow[...]



Law Takes a Holiday

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

In the 1934 romantic movie "Death Takes a Holiday," Death assumes human form for three days, and the world turns chaotic. The same thing happens when the law goes on a vacation. Rules are unenforced or politicized. Citizens quickly lose faith in the legal system. Anarchy follows -- ensuring that there can be neither prosperity nor security. The United States is descending into such as abyss, as politics now seem to govern whether existing laws are enforced. Sociologists in the 1980s found out that when even minor infractions were ignored -- such as the breaking of windows, or...In the 1934 romantic movie "Death Takes a Holiday," Death assumes human form for three days, and the world turns chaotic. The same thing happens when the law goes on a vacation. Rules are unenforced or politicized. Citizens quickly lose faith in the legal system. Anarchy follows -- ensuring that there can be neither prosperity nor security. The United States is descending into such as abyss, as politics now seem to govern whether existing laws are enforced. Sociologists in the 1980s found out that when even minor infractions were ignored -- such as the breaking of windows, or vendors walking into the street to hawk wares to motorists in a traffic jam -- misdemeanors then spiraled into felonies as lawbreakers become emboldened. A federal law states that the president can by proclamation "suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate." Yet a federal judge ruled that president Trump cannot do what the law allows in temporarily suspending immigration from countries previously singled out by the Obama administration for their laxity in vetting their emigrants. In the logic of his 43-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson seemed to strike down the travel ban based on his own subjective opinion of a president's supposedly incorrect attitudes and past statements. Some 500 "sanctuary" cities and counties have decided for political reasons that federal immigration law does not fully apply within their jurisdictions. They have done so with impunity, believing that illegal immigration is a winning political issue given changing demography. In a way, they have already legally seceded from the union and provided other cities with a model of how to ignore any federal law they do not like. The law states that foreign nationals cannot enter and permanently reside in the United States without going through a checkpoint and in most cases obtaining a legal visa or green card. But immigration law has been all but ignored. Or it was redefined as not committing additional crimes while otherwise violating immigration law. Then the law was effectively watered down further to allow entering and residing illegally if not committing "serious" crimes. Now, the adjective "serious" is being redefined as something that does not lead to too many deportations. The logical end is no immigration law at all -- and open borders. There is a federal law that forbids the IRS from unfairly targeting private groups or individuals on the basis of their politics. Lois Lerner, an IRS director, did just that but faced no legal consequences. Perhaps Lerner's exemption emboldened New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to invite IRS employees via social media to unlawfully leak Donald Trump's tax returns. Later, someone leaked Trump's 2005 tax return to MSNBC. There are statutes that prevent federal intelligence and investigatory agencies from leaking classified documents. No matter. For the last six months, the media has trafficked in reports that Trump is under some sort of investigation by government agencies[...]



Questions for Judge Gorsuch

2017-03-23T00:00:00Z

I have spent this past week watching the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogating U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch is President Donald Trump's nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The vacancy was created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than 13 months ago. The Supreme Court is currently generally divided between four liberals and four conservatives. As a justice, Gorsuch would probably break many ideological ties. During the hearings, Republican senators are doing their best to associate Judge Gorsuch with the popular-in-death Justice Scalia,...I have spent this past week watching the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogating U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch is President Donald Trump's nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The vacancy was created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than 13 months ago. The Supreme Court is currently generally divided between four liberals and four conservatives. As a justice, Gorsuch would probably break many ideological ties. During the hearings, Republican senators are doing their best to associate Judge Gorsuch with the popular-in-death Justice Scalia, and Democratic senators are doing their best to try to pin down Gorsuch by making him commit publicly to positions on hot-button issues, such as abortion, gun rights and the use of unrestricted money in political campaigns. Gorsuch has accepted the Republican sobriquets and declined to answer Democratic inquiries with specificity. So, are the hearings of any real value? Here is the back story. Prior to the partisan efforts to block the nominations of the late Judge Robert Bork and now-Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, the Senate's "advice and consent" role was mainly limited to a cursory examination of a nominee's qualifications for office. The Bork hearings succeeded in derailing his nomination by portraying his philosophical views as outside the mainstream of legal thought. The Thomas hearings, which failed to block the nomination, centered on the nominee's alleged personal shortcomings, which were directly challenged and mainly refuted. My point here is that since these two hearings in 1987 and 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee has felt unleashed to probe and prod into any area it sees fit, and the nominees have become unleashed to answer only the questions that they think will advance their nominations. In the Gorsuch hearings this week, the nominee has argued that should he commit to certain positions on issues, it would not be fair to litigants who might come before him as a circuit judge if his nomination were not to be confirmed or before him in the Supreme Court if it were, as those litigants would have a proper belief that he prejudged their cases. "It would be grossly improper," he argued, for him to commit in advance to how he'd vote on any issue. He's correct. So, what questions could both Democrats and Republicans put to him and what questions could he answer that would inform their judgment and illuminate his thinking without committing his judgment? It should come as no surprise that Gorsuch is a traditionalist. The folks who offered his candidacy to the president -- and I played a small role in that process -- spent weeks examining all his public writings, as well as his speeches and lectures, so as to enable them to conclude safely that his 10-year track record as an appellate judge could fairly be a barometer of his likely behavior as a Supreme Court justice. In the process of that examination, the researchers found many similarities in ideas, tone, attitudes and word choice to Justice Scalia. The essence of that similarity is an idea called origina[...]



Supreme Court Pick Parries Democrats' Attacks on Last Day

2017-03-22T00:00:00Z

WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a glide path toward confirmation, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch parried fresh attacks from Democrats Wednesday on abortion and special education, insisting that "when you put on the robe, you open your mind" as he faced a final day before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Frustrated Democrats, unable to get much out of the Denver-based appeals court judge over 11 hours of questioning a day earlier, suggested they might not vote to confirm him early next month. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear this week that he will see that...WASHINGTON (AP) -- On a glide path toward confirmation, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch parried fresh attacks from Democrats Wednesday on abortion and special education, insisting that "when you put on the robe, you open your mind" as he faced a final day before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Frustrated Democrats, unable to get much out of the Denver-based appeals court judge over 11 hours of questioning a day earlier, suggested they might not vote to confirm him early next month. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear this week that he will see that Gorsuch is confirmed on way or another in the GOP-controlled Senate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, gave voice to widespread Democratic complaints Wednesday about Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's pick for the high court. Gorsuch has said repeatedly that he would adhere to the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary, but he has refused to address specifics on any number of issues, from abortion and guns, to allowing cameras in the courtroom, to the treatment of the federal judge nominated last year to the Supreme Court vacancy but denied a hearing by Republicans. "What worries me is you have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before," Feinstein told Gorsuch. "And maybe that's a virtue, I don't know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote 'aye,' and so that's why we pressed and pressed." Gorsuch repeated his general commitments to adhering faithfully to precedent, the law and independence. "I care about the law, I care deeply about the law and an independent judiciary and following the rules of the law," he told Feinstein. "And that's the commitment I can make to you, I can't promise you more and I can't guarantee you any less." Feinstein pressed Gorsuch on the issue of abortion and the possibility the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing it could be overturned: "This is real life, and young women take everything for granted today and all of that could be struck out with one decision." Gorsuch replied, "All I can promise you is that I will exercise the care and consideration, due precedent, that a good judge is supposed to." The hearing took place against the backdrop of the turmoil of Trump's young presidency. Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are demanding a pause in Gorsuch's nomination pending the FBI investigation of alleged ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa dismissed that as "ridiculous," and McConnell told The Associated Press: "Gorsuch will be confirmed. I just can't tell you exactly how that will happen yet." For Republicans, Gorsuch's nomination is a bright spot that could go far to compensate for Trump's various other missteps and misstatements. "I think President Trump, with all of his problems and all of his mistakes, chose wisely when it came to this man," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.., declared at Wed[...]



Gorsuch Hearing; Trump Wrangles Votes; Nunes & Schiff; Tale Spinner Extraordinaire

2017-03-22T00:00:00Z

Good morning, it’s Wednesday, March 22, 2017. One anomaly of our current politics is that the occupant of the Oval Office does not read books. This aversion came to light last summer as Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, and it came from the candidate himself. He has no time to read, Trump told Marc Fisher of The Washington Post. “I never have,” he added. “I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” As president, the pressures on Trump’s time are...Good morning, it’s Wednesday, March 22, 2017. One anomaly of our current politics is that the occupant of the Oval Office does not read books. This aversion came to light last summer as Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, and it came from the candidate himself. He has no time to read, Trump told Marc Fisher of The Washington Post. “I never have,” he added. “I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” As president, the pressures on Trump’s time are undoubtedly even greater than they were last July. But almost all presidents have found time for reading, not only to ground them historically in the great issues they face, but for pleasure and relaxation. Dwight Eisenhower would give western novels by Louis L’Amour to his Secret Service agents after reading them; Jimmy Carter was immersed in the famous L’Amour saga “The Lonesome Gods” when the author succumbed to cancer in 1988. I’m thinking of Louis L’Amour this morning because today is his birthday: One of the most prolific and best-selling authors in history was born in Jamestown, North Dakota on this date in 1908. I’ll have more on this enduring American storyteller in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a full complement of original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following: * * * Trump and His Policy Goals Loom Over Gorsuch Hearing. Rebecca Berg has this wrap-up from the long first day of questioning for the Supreme Court nominee. Trump to GOP on Health Bill: Get This Done or Lose House. James Arkin and Caitlin Huey-Burns report on yesterday’s Capitol Hill meeting. Nunes, Schiff -- Worthy Foes Who Lead House Probe of Russia. Caitlin profiles the two California congressmen and their bipartisan relationship. What Now for Europe's East? Central and Eastern Europe is an always dynamic region that’s now meeting a dynamic period in history, writes RealClearWorld editor Joel Weickgenant. Reclaiming the U.S. Advantage on the Outer Continental Shelf. In RealClearEnergy, Robert Dillon calls for increased development of offshore resources. Market Argues Against Arctic Oil Development. Also in RCE, Keith Kozloff asserts that the Beaufort and Chukchi seas should be off-limits for now. Should You Need a License to Work in Texas? In RealClearPolicy, Josiah Neeley makes a case for reforming occupational licensing requirements in the Lone Star State. Neil Gorsuch in the Pews and on the Bench. In RealClearReligion, Steven K. Green assesses the nominee’s past rulings on church-state matters. Top 10 Non-No. 1 Seeds to Win the NCAA Tourney. Cory Gunkel has this list in RealClearSports.  * * * Ronald Reagan, who read L’Amour’s “Jubal Sackett” while recoveri[...]



Nunes, Schiff -- Worthy Foes Who Lead House Russia Probe

2017-03-22T00:00:00Z

Devin Nunes is a conservative Republican from the San Joaquin Valley who advised Donald Trump through his transition to the presidency. Adam Schiff is a Los Angeles Democrat who campaigned for Hillary Clinton and isn't shy in his criticisms of the man who defeated her. Now the two California congressmen find themselves at the center of the political universe, leading a House probe into Russian meddling in American politics—an investigation that includes alleged links between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives who may have wanted to alter the outcome of the 2016...Devin Nunes is a conservative Republican from the San Joaquin Valley who advised Donald Trump through his transition to the presidency. Adam Schiff is a Los Angeles Democrat who campaigned for Hillary Clinton and isn't shy in his criticisms of the man who defeated her. Now the two California congressmen find themselves at the center of the political universe, leading a House probe into Russian meddling in American politics—an investigation that includes alleged links between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives who may have wanted to alter the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. Other congressional committees are convening hearings, as well, but the House Intelligence Committee has garnered the most attention because it has summoned the nation’s top intelligence and security professionals to Capitol Hill for public testimony. Nunes, the committee’s chairman, and Schiff, the ranking Democratic member, are two of just eight lawmakers cleared for access to the most highly classified information. Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey told the House panel, for the first time publicly, that the bureau was investigating whether there was any coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Comey also testified he had “no information” to support the president’s accusations—made in the form of a spate of tweets—that Trump’s Manhattan offices had been bugged with the complicity of former President Obama. Next week, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates will appear in front of the committee on Capitol Hill. With the Russia probes hovering over the Trump administration, the two California lawmakers have become fixtures on cable news and the Sunday shows. Their frequent joint press conferences in the corridor outside their committee's designated SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities, often make news for both content and style. The two have no qualms about expressing disagreements with what they deduce from the same pot of information, but their joint appearances are a vestige of the kind of bipartisanship that has all but disappeared from Washington. And yet, Monday's hearing showed the partisan divide on the issue, with Republican members focused on plugging government leaks of sensitive information and Democrats interested in possible collusion.  The platform has increased the committee leaders' star power in Washington and perhaps beyond. And their mission presents a nuanced set of opportunities and challenges. Nunes, who has served in Congress since 2003, has been sounding alarms about Russia since before Trump entered politics, and has expressed frustration that the former administration did not heed his committee's warnings. He sees the Russian-meddling investigation as a way to highlight the problem and explain to the American people the dangers posed by Vladimir Putin’s expansio[...]



Dems Preview Lines of Attack on Day 1 of Gorsuch Hearings

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

Judge Neil Gorsuch emphasized the need for “neutral and independent judges” in his opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, indirectly addressing Democratic concerns and setting the stage for a blockbuster week as the panel considers Gorsuch to be the next justice on the Supreme Court. Democrats made no secret of their reservations about the nominee’s record during their opening remarks Monday, arguing that he often rules in favor of corporations over individuals and questioning his interpretation of the Constitution. Republicans on...Judge Neil Gorsuch emphasized the need for “neutral and independent judges” in his opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, indirectly addressing Democratic concerns and setting the stage for a blockbuster week as the panel considers Gorsuch to be the next justice on the Supreme Court. Democrats made no secret of their reservations about the nominee’s record during their opening remarks Monday, arguing that he often rules in favor of corporations over individuals and questioning his interpretation of the Constitution. Republicans on the panel rose to Gorsuch’s defense, calling him a highly qualified judge with strong character and judicial credentials while trying to get ahead of opponents’ criticisms. Gorsuch himself tried to head off some of the critiques of his past judicial rulings — and of the president who nominated him — during his brief, 15-minute opening remarks, the first time he’s spoken publicly since his nomination in late January. “Sometimes the answers we reach aren’t the ones we personally prefer,” the Colorado judge said. “Sometimes the answers follow us home and keep us up at night. But the answers we reach are always the ones we believe the law requires." He defended his record, saying he had participated in more than 2,700 cases during his time on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and had been in the majority on 99 percent of them. Gorsuch said he has ruled in favor of disabled students, prisoners, the accused, workers alleging civil rights violations and undocumented immigrants, and sometimes the opposite has held true.  “My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law and the facts at issue in each particular case,” he said.  For the most part, it was an understated beginning to the confirmation hearings — in many ways overshadowed by the House Intelligence Committee hearing featuring the directors of the FBI and NSA testifying on Russian interference in the election. Gorsuch listened patiently for nearly four hours as each senator on the committee – 11 Republicans and nine Democrats – gave opening comments laying out their criteria for a justice on the high court, and previewing their lines of inquiry to come this week.  He was then introduced by the senators from his home state – Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner – and Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Obama, who gave an impassioned speech about supporting Gorsuch despite the fact that Obama’s nominee for the vacancy, Merrick Garland, never received a hearing. In several cases, Democrats offered praise of Gorsuch’s credentials, but made clear they have serious concerns about his record on the bench, previewing the specific questions they will pepper him with starting Tuesday morning. Several brought up specific [...]



Gorsuch Hearings; Selling Hate; Reconciled Repeal; the Other Babe

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

Good morning, it’s Monday, March 20, 2017, the first day of spring. Over the weekend the music world lost Chuck Berry and pro football fans absorbed sad news about retired San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark. One of the nice guys in pro sports, Clark now faces a very tough road. In college basketball, the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments really got rolling. The men’s games are more exciting mainly because they are less predictable. Upsets were common, along with close games, horrible officiating, coaching theatrics, and the drama of...Good morning, it’s Monday, March 20, 2017, the first day of spring. Over the weekend the music world lost Chuck Berry and pro football fans absorbed sad news about retired San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark. One of the nice guys in pro sports, Clark now faces a very tough road. In college basketball, the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments really got rolling. The men’s games are more exciting mainly because they are less predictable. Upsets were common, along with close games, horrible officiating, coaching theatrics, and the drama of basketball royalty falling to unheralded teams with little “March Madness” history. (I’m looking at you, Duke.) The women’s game is still too top-heavy, leading to unsightly blowouts, including a game this weekend in which the final score was 119-30. That is not a typo. Late March also means that baseball season is approaching, and while we’re on the subject of women’s sports, I’m reminded that 83 years ago today the great Babe Didrikson took the mound for an inning against the Philadelphia Athletics in a spring training start against the Brooklyn Dodgers. I’ll reveal what happened next in moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion pieces spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a full complement of original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following: * * * Gorsuch Could Benefit From Hill Distractions as Hearings Begin. Rebecca Berg has this preview as senators prepare to consider the Supreme Court nominee. The Hate Group That Incited the Middlebury Melee. In a column, I spotlight civil rights lawyer Morris S. Dees and his paradoxical mission in life. Why Repeal and Replace Will Start With Reconciliation. David Hoppe and John Hart explain the legislative procedure that produced Obamacare in 2009 and why the GOP is reprising it. Getting the GOP Health Plan (More) Right. In RealClearPolicy, Mark Warshawsky writes that the American Health Care Act is a good first step and offers suggestions for improving it.  Trump's Big Budget Mistake: Not Investing in Skills. Also in RCPolicy, Rachael Stephens argues that proposed cuts to federal job training programs would harm workers and the economy. Trump’s ‘Skinny’ Budget: The Good, the Bad, and the Missing. Alison Acosta Winters has this assessment in RealClearMarkets. Obama Gave Trump's FDA the Tools to Keep Its Promise. In RealClearHealth, Sandip Shah and Vidya Ramesh spotlight the Obama administration's parting gift on drug approvals.  Putting Iran on Notice. In RealClearDefense, Jonathan Bergner asserts that completing a missile interceptor program is essential to dealing firmly with Iranian aggression. ‘The Despot’s[...]



Gorsuch Could Benefit From Hill Distractions as Hearings Begin

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

Judge Neil Gorsuch is set to take questions from a Senate panel this week, his most consequential test since being nominated by President Trump to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Beginning Monday with Gorsuch’s opening remarks, these confirmation hearings would normally dominate the spotlight. Instead, they will be competing for attention during a manic moment on Capitol Hill: The House Intelligence Committee will meet publicly Monday regarding Russia’s role in the presidential election, with FBI Director James Comey set to testify; and House...Judge Neil Gorsuch is set to take questions from a Senate panel this week, his most consequential test since being nominated by President Trump to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Beginning Monday with Gorsuch’s opening remarks, these confirmation hearings would normally dominate the spotlight. Instead, they will be competing for attention during a manic moment on Capitol Hill: The House Intelligence Committee will meet publicly Monday regarding Russia’s role in the presidential election, with FBI Director James Comey set to testify; and House Republican leaders are hammering out the final details of their health care reform bill, which is expected to come to a vote Thursday. This three-ring circus might play to Gorsuch’s advantage by muddying Democratic arguments against him, or enabling Republicans to deflect attention from damaging moments during the hearings. But the dynamic could also detract from what has so far been a smooth confirmation process featuring a polished nominee, a much-needed success story for the young Trump administration. “Our strategy has been straightforward: ... letting people see who [Gorsuch] is and letting him be who he is,” said former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who has acted as his guide on Capitol Hill during 72 meetings with senators. “He’s really a judge’s judge.” A counter-strategy has been less clear for Democrats, who have not shown an appetite for blocking the nomination outright, even as they face pressure from grassroots activists to obstruct Trump’s nominees and agenda at every turn. The party has also been slow to settle on a clear line of attack against the 10th Circuit Court judge. Gary Marx, former executive director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and now a senior adviser to the group, said Democrats have taken a “scattershot approach” to the nomination fight. “I guess that’s surprised me,” Marx said. “The only clear strategy has been for Democratic senators to not make up their minds.” On the television airwaves across the country, meanwhile, pro-Gorsuch ads have aired targeting red-state Democrats — paid for by the JCN and other conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association and official party outfits like the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Democratic side has been quieter: Only one group, Constitutional Responsibility Project, has aired TV ads opposing Gorsuch. But both sides’ efforts have been eclipsed by other political issues — namely, the fight over health care reform. “At the moment, health care is kind of drowning out everything else,” said Steve Passwaiter, vice president of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending. Some Democrats involved in the push against Gorsuch insist the crush of major issues will not a[...]



Making Medicaid Great

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

WASHINGTON -- It's time to take control of Medicaid before it takes control of us. Unless we act -- and there is little evidence that we will -- Medicaid increasingly becomes another mechanism by which government skews spending toward the old and away from the young. In the raging debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), this is a subject that neither Republicans nor Democrats dare touch. It's an ominous omission. Medicaid is the sleeping giant of U.S. health care. Created in 1965, it provides health insurance for the very poor. Here are some basic Medicaid facts: -- It is...WASHINGTON -- It's time to take control of Medicaid before it takes control of us. Unless we act -- and there is little evidence that we will -- Medicaid increasingly becomes another mechanism by which government skews spending toward the old and away from the young. In the raging debate over the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), this is a subject that neither Republicans nor Democrats dare touch. It's an ominous omission. Medicaid is the sleeping giant of U.S. health care. Created in 1965, it provides health insurance for the very poor. Here are some basic Medicaid facts: -- It is the nation's largest health insurance program by beneficiaries, with 68 million recipients compared with Medicare's 55 million (Medicare provides insurance for the 65 and over population). -- Medicaid's costs are shared between the federal government (roughly 60 percent) and state governments (40 percent). In 2015, Medicaid spending totaled $545 billion compared with Medicare's $646 billion, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation. -- Although the Obamacare debate has focused on private insurance subsidized through health exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid -- adopting more liberal eligibility requirements -- resulted in the largest gain of insurance coverage, about 11 million people. But the most significant Medicaid fact is this: Although three-quarters of Medicaid recipients are either children or young adults, they account for only one-third of costs. The elderly and disabled constitute the other one-quarter of recipients, but they represent two-thirds of costs. How could this be? Doesn't Medicare -- not Medicaid -- cover the elderly and disabled? Well, yes, but there's a giant omission: nursing home and other long-term care. Medicaid covers these for the poor elderly and disabled. Here's where the past and future collide. As the population ages, the people needing long-term care will soar. From 2015 to 2030, the number of Americans 85 and older will rise about 50 percent to 9 million, projects the Census Bureau. Many will end up in nursing homes, with high costs. The average health costs of Americans 85 and over are 2.5 times greater than for people 65 to 74, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research and advocacy group for the poor. At the federal level, spending on the elderly -- mainly for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is already crowding out non-elderly spending, as the Trump administration's new 2018 budget shows. Now pressures are tightening on states. Because they pay 40 percent of Medicaid, its escalating costs compete directly with state and local services -- schools, roads, police, parks, sanitation -- and lower taxes. Medicaid's "entitlement" nature means that anyone who qualifies for support must get it. By contrast, schools and other state services get what seems affordable. Slowly, Medicaid is usurping state priorities. Medicaid now claims nearly one-fifth o[...]



'Trump' Doesn't Translate Into Dutch

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

WASHINGTON -- President Trump might do the world a perverse favor. Voters in Western Europe appear to be looking at what America has brought upon itself and deciding: "We sure as heck don't want to go there." Thus did the Netherlands slap back the ethno-nationalist far right in its elections last week. The forces of tolerance and openness bent but didn't break. It was a good sign for the year's next two big electoral tests, in France and Germany. There was always some hype in the commentariat's obsession with Geert Wilders, the viciously anti-Muslim leader whose...WASHINGTON -- President Trump might do the world a perverse favor. Voters in Western Europe appear to be looking at what America has brought upon itself and deciding: "We sure as heck don't want to go there." Thus did the Netherlands slap back the ethno-nationalist far right in its elections last week. The forces of tolerance and openness bent but didn't break. It was a good sign for the year's next two big electoral tests, in France and Germany. There was always some hype in the commentariat's obsession with Geert Wilders, the viciously anti-Muslim leader whose party managed only 13 percent of the vote in the Dutch elections. He was never going to form the next government and had already begun sagging at the campaign's end. Still, hold the Champagne. It's troubling that someone as extreme as Wilders (imagine a more malicious version of Trump) would get as many votes as he did. Moreover, the two big conservative parties, Prime Minister Mark Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), embraced more hostile rhetoric toward the country's large Muslim community to appease backlash voters. This worked in keeping enough of them away from Wilders, but at the cost of moving the country's political conversation well to the right. According to the latest count, Rutte's party emerged as the leader in the 150-member Parliament with 33 seats, a loss of eight. Wilders won 20, gaining five. The CDA was well-rewarded for its escalating toughness on immigrants with six additional seats, and a new right-wing party, the Forum for Democracy, won two. Overall the right gained five seats. Many Dutch voters opted for what might be called a softer hard line. On the left, politics was transformed. The election was a disaster for the practical, moderate social democrats of the Labor Party (PvdA). As coalition partners in Rutte's government, Labor endorsed his austerity policies, angering progressive voters. So while the more left-wing (and out-of-power) Socialist Party lost only one of its 15 seats, the PvdA collapsed to a mere 5.7 percent of the vote, and shed all but nine of its 38 seats. How much of an earthquake is this? Consider that at its most recent peak in 1986, the party secured a third of the vote and 52 seats. But the bulk of those losses were redistributed to other left and left-liberal parties. (The left, on net, was down seven seats.) The true outsider winner in this election was not Wilders but Jesse Klaver, the leader of the GreenLeft Party whose representation in Parliament more than tripled, from four seats to 14. The left-liberals of the Democrats 66 party also gained ground, up seven seats to 19. And a Turkish breakaway party from Labor, Denk (Dutch for "Think," Turkish for "Equality"), took three. The Greens' Klaver, just 30, did well by being the most charismatic and uncompromising opponent of Wilders' brand of nationalism. He [...]



The Democrats' Intellectually Weak Attacks on Gorsuch

2017-03-20T00:00:00Z

In preparation for Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, which begin today, Senate Democrats have tried desperately to fit the exceptionally qualified nominee into their predictable and worn-out partisan storylines. In the process, they’ve done little to undermine Gorsuch’s credibility and an awful lot to demonstrate their own intellectual weakness. One of the points the Democrats have been making is that the supposedly autocratic style of President Trump means that federal judges will need to exercise judicial independence more than ever, and that Gorsuch...In preparation for Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, which begin today, Senate Democrats have tried desperately to fit the exceptionally qualified nominee into their predictable and worn-out partisan storylines. In the process, they’ve done little to undermine Gorsuch’s credibility and an awful lot to demonstrate their own intellectual weakness. One of the points the Democrats have been making is that the supposedly autocratic style of President Trump means that federal judges will need to exercise judicial independence more than ever, and that Gorsuch has somehow failed to show that independence. For example, Senator Schumer and others have complained that President Trump presented a litmus test for his nominee, promising to nominate a judge who was, for example, pro-life and pro-Second Amendment. They claim that this approach threatens judicial independence – while ignoring that their preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, assured a Democratic audience, “I have a bunch of litmus tests,” and proceeded to name decisions she would want her nominee to overturn and Democratic policies she would want her nominee to protect. What’s more, Judge Gorsuch is one of the most articulate defenders of judicial independence currently serving on the federal bench. He wrote in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch that judges are “insulated from political pressures with the job of interpreting the law and applying it retroactively to resolve past disputes.” In U.S. v. Nichols, he explained that “ours is supposed to be an independent judiciary making decisions based on the legal merits without respect to the vagaries of shifting political winds.” He would certainly agree with the man he’s been nominated to succeed, Justice Antonin Scalia, who said that federal judges “have life tenure . . . precisely so that we will not be influenced by politics, by threats from anybody.” Democrats also complain that Judge Gorsuch’s textualist approach to the law, by which he interprets laws according to their plain meaning as written, makes him a judicial radical. In fact, Judge Gorsuch clearly swims in the mainstream of American jurisprudence. According to one study, 98% of the opinions he wrote for the Tenth Circuit have been unanimous, even though that court tilts to the left. Seven out of twelve of its active judges were appointed by Democrats. What’s more, his opinions have been unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court four times. These numbers show that he’s a consensus builder, which is why the Senate confirmed him to the federal bench by voice vote in 2006. It’s why his nomination has received support from many liberals, including a former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration. And it’s why the American Bar Association has twi[...]



The Hate Group That Incited the Middlebury Melee

2017-03-19T00:00:00Z

Under different circumstances, Alabama civil rights lawyer Morris S. Dees and American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray might have been colleagues, even pals. Instead, Murray found himself in a near-riot at Middlebury College after accepting a speaking invitation from Republican students at the Vermont school. Students and faculty galvanized by Dees’ political organization barred Murray from speaking. They shouted him down, chanted their own manifesto, and pulled fire alarms to prevent him from being heard. When Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger tried to...Under different circumstances, Alabama civil rights lawyer Morris S. Dees and American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray might have been colleagues, even pals. Instead, Murray found himself in a near-riot at Middlebury College after accepting a speaking invitation from Republican students at the Vermont school. Students and faculty galvanized by Dees’ political organization barred Murray from speaking. They shouted him down, chanted their own manifesto, and pulled fire alarms to prevent him from being heard. When Murray and Middlebury professor Allison Stanger tried to leave the building, they were followed by protesters who accosted them physically. The professor was grabbed by the hair and her neck twisted—she was fitted with a neck brace at a hospital—and their car rocked in a way that alarmed local authorities. It was another victory for opponents of free speech, and if that seems like an incongruous scalp for a civil rights lawyer to wear, well, our politics are pretty odd these days. Charles Murray is a political scientist with a doctorate degree from M.I.T. The American Enterprise Institute is a Washington-based think tank devoted to “defending human dignity, expanding human potential, and building a freer and safer world.” Its scholars believe these goals can be attained by promoting democracy and strengthening the free enterprise system in the U.S. and around the globe. Morris Dees is a born salesman who was a committed capitalist before he entered elementary school. “When I was 5, I bought a pig for a dollar. I fattened it up and sold it for $12,” he once told People magazine. “I always had a feel for making money.” When his mother sent him a fruitcake his freshman year in Tuscaloosa, Morris and classmate Millard Fuller wrote other students’ parents offering to deliver freshly baked birthday cakes. Soon they were selling 350 cakes per month. By the time they left law school, they were making $50,000 a year—$400,000 in today’s dollars. After graduation, Dees and Fuller hung out a shingle and practiced law. But the real money came from their mail order business, peddling everything from cookbooks to tractor cushions. In 1969, Dees sold the direct-mail firm to the Times Mirror Co. for $6 million. By then, Fuller had cashed out, given away his money, and with his wife gone to live a Christian life building homes for the poor—efforts culminating in the creation of Habitat for Humanity. Dees also started a nonprofit, which he named the Southern Poverty Law Center. But he gave up neither the high life nor the direct-mail business. He lives in luxury with his fifth wife and still runs the SPLC, which has used the mail-order model to amass a fortune. Its product line is an unusual one: For the past 47 years,[...]



Top Economies Yield to US, Drop No-Protectionism Pledge

2017-03-19T00:00:00Z

BADEN-BADEN, Germany (AP) -- The world's top economic powers dropped a pledge to oppose trade protectionism amid pushback from the Trump administration, which wants trade to more clearly benefit American companies and workers. Finance ministers from the Group of 20 countries meeting in the southern German town of Baden-Baden issued a statement Saturday that said only that countries "are working to strengthen the contribution of trade" to their economies. By comparison, last year's meeting called on them to resist "all forms" of protectionism, which can include...BADEN-BADEN, Germany (AP) -- The world's top economic powers dropped a pledge to oppose trade protectionism amid pushback from the Trump administration, which wants trade to more clearly benefit American companies and workers. Finance ministers from the Group of 20 countries meeting in the southern German town of Baden-Baden issued a statement Saturday that said only that countries "are working to strengthen the contribution of trade" to their economies. By comparison, last year's meeting called on them to resist "all forms" of protectionism, which can include border tariffs and rules that keep out imports to shield domestic companies from competition. The statement from the G20 finance ministers and central bankers helps set the tone for further global economic cooperation. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, taking part in his first international meeting since being sworn in, sought to downplay the wording issue. He said that the statement needed to reflect the discussion at the current summit. "The historical language was not really relevant," he said. "We believe in free trade: we are one of the largest markets in the world, we are one of the largest trading partners in the world," Mnuchin said. "Having said that, we want to re-examine certain agreements... And to the extent that agreements are old agreements and need to be renegotiated we'll consider that as well." He said trade deals need to offer a "win-win situation." Mnuchin said the administration would be looking at relationships where the U.S. was buying more than it could sell to its partner, and would be more aggressive in seeking enforcement of existing rules that would benefit U.S. workers through the Geneva-based World Trade Organization. The WTO operates a system of negotiated trade rules and serves as a forum for resolving disputes. China and European countries had pushed for a stronger affirmation of cross-border trade without tariffs or barriers. Ironically, China and some European states tend to intervene more often in private sector business than the U.S. government. Canada took a middle approach in the talks, urging a statement supporting free trade but not taking a position on specific wording. Host Germany dropped the no-protectionism pledge in the early drafting process ahead of the meeting, in apparent hope of not antagonizing the U.S. and then finding a substitute that would also uphold free trade. But attempts to include such language did not find agreement. Trump and other critics of free trade argue that it can cause jobs, such as in the labor intensive manufacturing sector, to move to lower-cost countries. Proponents say technological advances, such as automation that replaces workers with robots, are more to blame for the loss of jobs in such sectors. Some advocates, like the International Monetary Fund, r[...]



Why Repeal and Replace Will Start With Reconciliation

2017-03-19T00:00:00Z

Remember the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase"? During the Obama administration, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid crafted the deals to buy the votes of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu to pass the original Senate Affordable Care Act with 60 votes on Christmas Eve 2009. Then, Massachusetts voters replaced Sen. Ted Kennedy with Scott Brown before the final bill could pass the House and get back to the Senate. For Democrats, it looked like the ACA was dead.  Suddenly, the White House and the Democratic Congress decided...Remember the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase"? During the Obama administration, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid crafted the deals to buy the votes of Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu to pass the original Senate Affordable Care Act with 60 votes on Christmas Eve 2009. Then, Massachusetts voters replaced Sen. Ted Kennedy with Scott Brown before the final bill could pass the House and get back to the Senate. For Democrats, it looked like the ACA was dead.  Suddenly, the White House and the Democratic Congress decided that they could pass health care by using a reconciliation bill. First, it’s important to explain what reconciliation means. Put simply, the budget reconciliation process is like the TSA Pre Check process at airports -- it speeds things up. For instance, a reconciliation bill isn’t subject to a Senate filibuster (which can only be ended with 60 votes), and debate is limited to 20 hours. The catch is in order to be eligible for the reconciliation process, a bill has to have a budgetary impact.  This provision limiting reconciliation (the Byrd Rule) forced the ACA to be passed as two bills. First, the House passed the Senate bill as it was sent over without any changes. Then House members passed a reconciliation bill that provided for tax and spending changes in the first bill. Bye-bye, Cornhusker Kickback; lucky you, Louisiana Purchase. This year, as congressional Republicans faced the practical challenges of repealing and replacing the ACA, their first hurdle was their lack of 60 votes in Senate. Leadership realized its only path was for the House to act first and do it in three steps: reconciliation legislation to repeal those things passed in the reconciliation bill in 2010 (what is done by reconciliation can be undone by reconciliation); regulatory changes proposed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price under the authority of the original ACA; another piece of legislation done under regular order to put the new regulations into law and to clean up those issues which couldn’t be handled in reconciliation because of the Byrd Rule. This is why the House bill, for instance, effectively defunds rather than repeals Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates. In other words, by zeroing out the penalties associated with these mandates, Congress can more effectively repeal Obamacare than by attempting to make a legislative change that would be blocked by the Senate parliamentarian. House Republicans are moving as quickly as they can to protect people who are being hurt by Obamacare, which is collapsing, while creating a new patient-centered system that will improve care for all by focusing on the individual. The only way to start that process is with this imper[...]



Opioid Deaths: Another Drug War Failure

2017-03-19T00:00:00Z

Illicit drug use is an old phenomenon, and Jeff Sessions has an old solution: take off the gloves. "We have too much of a tolerance for drug use," the attorney general complained to an audience of law enforcement officials Wednesday, promising more aggressive policing. "Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad," he declared. "It will destroy your life." That claim will fall on a lot of deaf ears among the 100 million Americans who have used marijuana -- most of whom found it did not destroy their lives and some of whom found it made...Illicit drug use is an old phenomenon, and Jeff Sessions has an old solution: take off the gloves. "We have too much of a tolerance for drug use," the attorney general complained to an audience of law enforcement officials Wednesday, promising more aggressive policing. "Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs is bad," he declared. "It will destroy your life." That claim will fall on a lot of deaf ears among the 100 million Americans who have used marijuana -- most of whom found it did not destroy their lives and some of whom found it made their lives better. He is right, though, that tolerance is rampant. A Gallup Poll last year showed that 60 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized for recreational use -- as eight states and the District of Columbia have done. Medical marijuana is allowed in 28 states and D.C. But in his prepared remarks, Sessions insisted cannabis is "only slightly less awful" than heroin. Oh, please. The nation is in the midst of an epidemic of overdose deaths involving heroin and other opioids. In 2015, 32,000 Americans died of such overdoses. Compare that with the number of people who died from ingesting an excess of marijuana: zero. Pot, in fact, appears to be saving lives. A 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states allowing medical marijuana had 25 percent fewer deaths from prescription drug overdoses than states forbidding it. People often use opioids to relieve pain. But "individuals with chronic pain and their medical providers may be opting to treat pain entirely or in part with medical marijuana, in states where this is legal," said Johns Hopkins University professor Colleen Barry, the lead author. Sessions made a point of commenting on this unwelcome scientific data: "Give me a break." He paid lip service to "treatment and prevention," but don't expect much there. The Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal, has been "the largest expansion of drug treatment in U.S. history," according to Stanford University psychiatry professor Keith Humphreys. If they have their way, we can expect the largest contraction of drug treatment in U.S. history. Promoting treatment goes against the approach long preferred by hard-line politicians. The most effective remedy for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, with drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. But if you'd like to stop shooting heroin, you may search in vain for help. The Drug Policy Alliance reports that "access to MAT is severely limited by extensive federal and state regulations and restrictions. A scant 12 percent of individuals with opioid dependence receive methadone, and only nine percent of substance abuse treatment facilitie[...]



Trump Deals His Base a Double-Whammy

2017-03-19T00:00:00Z

WASHINGTON -- So much for the forgotten men and women. Judging by President Trump's initial forays into economic policymaking, they would have been better off forgotten. "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," Trump vowed in his inaugural address. "Everyone is listening to you now." They are? The Republican health care plan that Trump endorsed and the budget he just submitted cater more to the interests of the team of billionaires Trump chose for his Cabinet than to the lower-income, rural and older voters who formed the backbone of...WASHINGTON -- So much for the forgotten men and women. Judging by President Trump's initial forays into economic policymaking, they would have been better off forgotten. "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," Trump vowed in his inaugural address. "Everyone is listening to you now." They are? The Republican health care plan that Trump endorsed and the budget he just submitted cater more to the interests of the team of billionaires Trump chose for his Cabinet than to the lower-income, rural and older voters who formed the backbone of his electoral support. Indeed, if you convened a group of health care experts and asked them to design a system guaranteed to alienate those Trump voters, you would come up with something like the American Health Care Act. The bottom line of the Congressional Budget Office number -- that 24 million fewer would have coverage by 2026 -- actually understates the harms that the proposal would inflict on many Trump voters. The insurance that people would obtain would have "lower average actuarial values" -- CBO-speak for worse coverage. The high copays and deductibles about which Trump and other critics of Obamacare rail? "They would tend to be higher than anticipated under current law," and would climb even higher for the less well-off after 2020, when cost-sharing subsidies are repealed, "significantly increasing out-of-pocket costs ... for many lower-income enrollees." The new system would hurt the oldest consumers. Insurers would be free to charge those between 50 and 64 five times as much as younger enrollees; under Obamacare, that differential is limited to three times as much. It would hurt those with lower incomes, because the tax credits would "tend to be smaller" than the subsidies available under current law, which are more generous to those who earn less -- not to mention the extra hit after 2020, mentioned above. It would hurt those who live in rural areas, with fewer available health care services and therefore higher costs, because the tax credits would be the same across the country, not based on the actual cost of premiums in particular states. Meantime, the ultra-wealthy would benefit, big-league. The Trump plan would eliminate the additional 0.9 percent payroll tax on earnings and the 3.8 percent tax on investment income for households making more than $250,000. Those in the top 1 percent (making more than $772,000 in 2022) would reap 40 percent of the benefits, according to the Tax Policy Center. As former CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf summarized the impact in recent testimony, "I'm baffled that anyone could have watched last year's election campaign, seen the frustration and anger of many working Americans, and concluded that th[...]



Wiretapping Imbroglio Colors Trump's Meeting With Merkel

2017-03-17T00:00:00Z

A sidelong look German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave President Trump as he spoke Friday was sharply quizzical – an expression of momentary disapproval as the two heads of state fielded reporters’ questions during their first face-to-face meetings at the White House. Trump, with one sentence, roped Merkel into his wiretapping controversy, and she appeared displeased. “I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped when asked by a German reporter about the president’s as-yet-unsubstantiated...A sidelong look German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave President Trump as he spoke Friday was sharply quizzical – an expression of momentary disapproval as the two heads of state fielded reporters’ questions during their first face-to-face meetings at the White House. Trump, with one sentence, roped Merkel into his wiretapping controversy, and she appeared displeased. “I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump quipped when asked by a German reporter about the president’s as-yet-unsubstantiated insistence that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower in 2016. The president and Europe’s most influential head of state leaned on diplomatic rhetoric to hail the shared values and alliance between the United States and Germany, substituting formality for warmth. Trump appeared reluctant to shake hands with Merkel in the Oval Office, but did so in the East Room. The pair have differed on a range of issues, including trade, the European Union, immigration and refugee policies, treatment of Russia, and countries’ financial obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 2015, Trump criticized Merkel’s decision to admit thousands of Syrian refugees to Germany. “I always thought Merkel was, like, this great leader. What she’s done in Germany is insane. It’s insane … letting in that many people," he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Merkel, who has since tightened Germany’s immigration stance, faces re-election Sept. 24. “I've always said it's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this,” she said following her first meeting with Trump, which was followed by a roundtable discussion focused on retraining and apprentice programs aimed at workers. Trump’s March 4 allegations that President Obama spied on his offices have sparked weeks of distracting headlines as the president struggles with his own party to enact a health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, move a budget through Congress, and implement an immigration travel ban, tied up in revised form in federal courts. Trump’s tweets about Obama have been refuted by the former president and members of his administration; denied by the FBI privately; and House and Senate lawmakers who are investigating Trump’s claims and Russia’s hacking of last year’s election say they have found no evidence to support the president’s suspicions. But Trump has refused to fully explain his allegations and he reminded reporters Friday that Obama’s National Security Agency spied o[...]