• Dead: Two More Republican Senators says “No” to the Revised Healthcare bill

    This evening’s declarations by Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’ Jerry Moran, plus earlier statements by Maine’s Susan Collins and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, means there are four declared “no” votes. (Brief story here in the Washington Post.)

    With only 52 Republicans in the Senate and all Democrats and independents voting “no,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot get to the minimum 50 he needs.

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    What happens now?

    The big questions now:

    • What happens to the American health insurance system, which is now melting down under the weight of Obamacare’s malfunctions and heavy subsidies?
    • What kind of patchwork reforms will be put in place this year?
      • Democrats will want a huge say, but rank-and-file Republicans won’t like that and may try to block the Democrats’ proposals.
    • Who pays the political price for this fiasco?
      • Who is hurt more politically? The Democrats by the Obamacare mess they inflicted on the nation? Or the Republicans by their failure to fulfill their repeated promise to repeal and replace it?
      • What happens to the split between moderate Democrats and progressive single-payer advocates?
      • What happens to the split between modern Republicans and more conservative legislators who want to roll back entitlements?
  • ZipDialog Roundup for Saturday, July 8

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     The main stories come out of the G20 meetings in Hamburg.

    • Anti-capitalist riots in the street by extreme left and anarchists
      • Comment: Idiots with nihilist agenda
    • Trump has very long 1-on-1 with Putin
      • Full range of issues, beyond US election meddling, with focus on Syrian cease-fire and division of territory there after ISIS defeat
    • Trump has China’s Xi on schedule on 1-on-1 today
      • North Korea is top of the agenda, of course, but also trade
    • Ivanka briefly sits in for Pres at G20 meeting on Africa alongside world leaders  (Washington Post) (Comment: A nothingburger; still, it should have been the Sec. of State sitting there)

    Comment: We won’t know the results (as opposed to the agendas) of the Putin and Xi meetings until the effects on the ground are seen, beginning next week. The fact that Putin and Trump met without advisors is interesting, too. It indicates how serious the leaks are. The US cannot trust anybody to be in room.

    Comment on Silences at G20: This was supposed to be a showcase for German leader, Angela Merkel. She has been overshadowed by Putin, Xi, Trump, and rioters. Second, we have heard little so far about the shared challenges of Islamic terrorism and vast immigration flows from North Africa and the Middle East.

     US B1 bombers fly over South Korea as heads-up to North Korea after its ICBM test  (CNN)

    Comment: The signal is “the US can easily can incinerate you.” The problem is, if we launch a military attack, the North Koreans can kill large numbers in Seoul. Moreover, the Chinese might come in to prevent a Korea unified under American leadership.

    There are no good US options here. My guess is that the US starts to up financial sanctions on all North Korean trading partners, including Chinese banks.

     Venezuela’s top opposition leader released from prison to house arrest  (CNN)

    Comment: The country is tottering toward civil war, and oppo leader Leopoldo Lopez is a threat to the regime. The surprise here is that he did not die in prison.

     Chuck Schumer skewers Rex Tillerson over Russian meddling in US election  (The Hill)

    “For Secretary Tillerson to say that this issue will remain unresolved is disgraceful,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “To give equal credence to the findings of the American Intelligence Community and the assertion by Mr. Putin is a grave dereliction of duty and will only encourage Russia to further interfere in our elections in the future.” –The Hill

    Comment: Schumer is correct. This issue is not “unresolved.” His base loves it; it reinforces their view that Trump is illegitimate. But voters are interested in forward-looking solutions to real problems in the economy, foreign policy, etc. Schumer knows that, of course, but he has to toss red meat to the base. 

     Morgan Stanley: Renewables will be the cheapest power source within three years (Business Insider)

    Numerous key markets recently reached an inflection point where renewables have become the cheapest form of new power generation.

    A dynamic we see spreading to nearly every country we cover by 2020. The price of solar panels has fallen 50% in less than two years (2016-17). –Morgan Stanley via Business Insider

     K-12 Education: Betsy DeVos takes hard line on enforcing federal laws, surprising states who thought she would support local control (New York Times)

    The basic issue is an Obama-era law, replacing No Child Left Behind, that requires “ambitious” educational goals to meet federal standards. How much latitude will the Washington’s Dept. of Ed. give states to determine for themselves what it “ambitious”?

    “It is mind-boggling that the department could decide that it’s going to challenge them on what’s ambitious,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who worked in the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He called the letter “directly in opposition to the rhetoric and the promises of DeVos.” –quoted in New York Times

    Comment: Conservatives as well as liberals are concerned about this issue. They weren’t surprised by Washington’s heavy hand under Obama; they don’t expect it under DeVos and fear they may be getting it.

    Alternative possibilities are that

    • Lower-level officials did this without DeVos’ approval (the person who wrote it is a Democratic advocate for charter schools, appointed by DeVos)
    • The Dept. is actually enforcing the law, as written, until Congress rewrites it

    José Luis Cuevas, a Dark Master of Mexican Art, Dies at 83 (New York Times)

    Comment: He was continually greeted by folks at the bar singing: 

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  • Democrats Latest Strategy on Repeal-and-Replace: Shut Down the Entire Senate

    To show they are grumpy about the Republicans’ negotiations to repeal-and-replace ObamaCare, the Democrats have a new idea.

    They plan to halt all business in the Senate, even the most routine measures.

    Those normally pass unanimously without objection.

    That is what CNN is reporting.

    Senate Democrats will move to bring the chamber to a halt Monday night to protest the Republicans’ closed-door process to gut Obamacare in the coming days, according to a senior Democratic aide.

    Democrats plan to object to routine requests to let the chamber operate — whether it’s scheduling votes or allowing committees to meet for extended hearings — in a move aimed at escalating the fight over health care. –CNN

    CNN reports the Democratic base is enthusiastic about the strategy.

    It is not clear if the Democrats plan to continue the strategy after Monday’s protest.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comment: Rachel Maddow, Elizabeth Warren, and Tom Steyer might like it, but ordinary people won’t.

    This is a temper tantrum wearing the thin guise of political strategy.

    The correct allegation is that the Republican Senators are doing this behind closed doors.

    The Republicans rightly respond that the Democrats have said they won’t agree to anything if it repeals and replaces Obamacare.

    So, Republicans figure, if we can’t get their votes, why tell them in advance what we are doing?

     

  • The “Comey firing” story is going according to script: A comment

    ◆ The Partisans are saying exactly what you expect them to say

    • The Democrats are calling the firing Nixonian, an obstruction of justice because, they say, it was designed to block the Russian investigation.
    • The Republicans are saying that the FBI director’s appointment is within the President’s responsibilities and that Comey’s immediate boss at the Dept. of Justice, a highly-regarded, non-political attorney, lacked confidence in him.

    • The Republicans are stressing the role of Rod Rosenstein, as I expected. Rosenstein memo to his superiors clearly says he lacked confidence in Comey, who, he says, not only made serious mistakes (for which the Democrats had lacerated him) but was still saying he did nothing wrong. By failing to acknowledge his mistakes and learn from them, he raises the likelihood that he will keep making them.
    • The memo, plus news that Trump was frustrated with the continuing Russia investigation (d’uh!), are among the few nuggets of real news since the initial story broke.
    • I explain the basic logic of the two parties’ positions in a previous post here.

    The Democrats are clearly on the offensive, but they have a problem. You cannot coverup a crime–which is essentially their charge against Trump–unless there is a crime.

    So far, there is simply no evidence of such a crime involving Trump or his campaign. Yes, there is a serious investigation into Michael Flynn and perhaps into others, and, yes, the Russians meddled in our election, but so far there is nothing to suggest Trump collaborated with the Russians. (Related story: The Senate committee investigating the Russia issue has ordered Flynn to turn over relevant papers after he failed to do so voluntarily. BBC)

    The Democrats’ call for a special independent counsel will fail unless they can come up with some evidence to support their basic allegation.

    Meanwhile, Trump absolutely must appoint a top-notch, apolitical, experienced law enforcement leader to the FBI. The best names I have heard are Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly, people who have run large police departments very successfully.

    That appointment is not only crucial for Trump politically. It is crucial for the country, which wants to restore confidence in the justice system. And it will be crucial down the line for Trump, who needs to be able to say that the Russia connection was bunk and that a serious FBI inquiry proves it. If the FBI leader doesn’t pass the tests for neutrality and competence, Trump won’t be able to say that.

    ◆ Related story: In the meantime, Trump has hung a nickname on Schumer: “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” (The Hill) Before deriding Trump’s childishness, remember that he has a real knack for picking nicknames that highlight an opponent’s vulnerability. They stick and they work–not always, but mostly. Jeb Bush was low energy. Marco Rubio did seem too little in the campaign. Hillary was and is corrupt. The Schumer nickname highlights his whining negativity–and Trump could make it stick.

  • A Quick Guide to the Political Firestorm over Comey’s Firing. What matters and why. What Democrats and Republicans will argue

    Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey has set off a firestorm, mostly along party lines, but not entirely. Some Republicans have expressed concern, too, and more will wring their hands in the next few days if the Democrats’ narrative takes hold.

    How long the fire lasts and how much it consumes depends, crucially, on information that will emerge out over the coming days, as media organizations pump their sources and Comey defends himself.

    Here are the basic messages you will hear from Democrats and Republicans, starting immediately.

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    The Democrats’ message is remarkably disciplined. They are speaking with one voice, Chuck Schumer’s.

    They will repeat two key words: Nixon and Watergate.

    Their meaning is clear: Comey was fired to cover up Trump’s crimes.

    Here is their message:

    • Trump, not some underlying, is the person who fired Comey.
    • Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting to close to uncovering malfeasance by the Trump campaign and transition.
      • This is focused on Russian collaboration with Trump and usually implied rather than asserted directly. Why?
        • First, the intelligence agencies agree that Russia actively meddled in the US campaign, sought to harm Hillary Clinton, and favored Trump.
        • We know that some Trump advisers had connections of various sorts to Russian entities. The most important is Michael Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Adviser. There are reports that he and his associates are now under investigation by a grand jury. Some questions have also swirled around Paul Manafort, head of Trump’s campaign in the summer, and Carter Page, a lower-level figure.
      • Key question: Do the connections between the Trump team and Russia rise to the level of collaboration? If so, that would be a huge scandal and lead to calls for impeachment. If such evidence were found and were convincing, many would consider it a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
        • So far, no evidence of such collaboration has been found. Senior figures of the intelligence community, associated with the Obama Administration, have specifically said that they have looked and that there is no such evidence.
    • Because Trump “interfered” with the FBI, which was investigating the Russia issue, we cannot leave this investigation to the Congress or Department of Justice.
      • Key claim: We are now seeing a Watergate-style coverup by the Trump Administration since they cannot fairly investigate themselves and we cannot count on the FBI, the DOJ, etc.
      • Key demand: We must have an independent special counsel to investigate
      • This demand will receive unanimous backing from Democrats, I expect, and has already received a lot of vocal support from them.
      • The demand will succeed politically if the public thinks there is a coverup and enough Republicans agree that an independent counsel is needed.
    • What’s missing from the Democrats’ argument?
      • None of them actually defend Comey or say he should have been kept in the job. They can hardly make the affirmative case since they have repeatedly called for him to be fired.
      • They simply say “the timing is bad” or “looks suspicious.” But they would have said that if Trump had fired Comey on Day 1. They would have said Trump is trying to stop an on-going investigation.
      • They have not produced any evidence that the firing was actually related to the coverup of a crime, which was the essence of the Watergate firing of Archie Cox and his associates.
      • They have not explained why the firing of Comey impedes the Senate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
    • What to expect?
      • Democrats will keep pushing hard to get an independent counsel and, if possible, stop Trump’s policy agenda by tying up the Congress and undercutting public support for him.
      • Hearings, of course. Lights, camera, preening. The goal of public hearings is to push agendas, not discover information. And the Democrats have a perfect opportunity here.
      • huge fight over whoever Trump picks as the new FBI director. The fight will be less intense if the nominee is a highly-regarded, career professional, but the Democrats will still use the selection and confirmation hearings to slash and burn the Trump administration.

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    What are Republicans saying?

    They have said, or will say,

    • Comey deserved to be fired for cause, totally unrelated to any Russian investigation.
    • Rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey, making it impossible for him to lead the agency.
    • Senators from both parties had already expressed their lack of confidence in Comey.
    • There is zero evidence, so far, of collusion between Trump and the Russians, much less that Trump was trying to stop any investigation (the obstruction of justice charge against Nixon).
    • If you D’s think Comey is so great, why did you call repeatedly for him to be fired? That is, R’s will try to get D’s to defend Comey, an untenable position, and move them away from simply attacking Trump and the Republicans.
    • The acting director at the FBI is a dreadful candidate to lead the agency, even in the interim. Why? Because his wife, an unsuccessful candidate for local office in Virginia, was handsomely funded by Clinton confidante, Terry McAuliffe. At the very least, that was a horrible judgment, given the FBI’s interest in the Clinton machine.

    Significantly, I expect Republican activists to demand a fresh start to several failed investigations Comey led.

    They think Comey botched them and that the DOJ blocked them under Lynch and Holder. Besides thinking that’s true–and wanting to get evidence that it is–they would be happy to distract attention from incoming fire.

    • Why, they ask, were all Hillary’s aides given immunity without an indictment in prospect for the bigger fish, the one with the private, unsecured server? Why was no Grand Jury empanelled? Why didn’t the FBI interview Hillary under oath? Why wasn’t the Clinton Foundation seriously investigated?
    • They will want a major investigation of the Obama Administration’s alleged spying on Americans, including members of Congress, the Trump team, and so on. If such spying really did take place, and if it was directed against political opponents, that is a scandal as big as anything since Watergate.
    • They want to know exactly who ordered all the unmasking of names, which should be readily available, and they will want to know the purported national security purposes for the large number of such requests from the White House. They will note that Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has already refused to testify voluntarily on that issue.
    • They know the leaking of Flynn’s name was a felony, and they want to see an indictment in that case.

    My guess: if the Democrats look like they might get a special prosecutor for the Russia issue, the Republicans will want one for the Obama spying.

    The Republicans in Congress know–or ought to know–that if Trump’s firing of Comey takes firm root as a major scandal, an attempted coverup by the White House, then the GOP’s grip on power will slip away.

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Wednesday, April 5

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news day this week will be Thursday, when

    • Pres. Trump meets with China’s Xi for two days in Florida, and
    • Senate decides how to move forward on Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

    Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has said that Gorsuch will get an up-or-down vote, which he will win, and I have no reason to doubt him. By Monday, Justice Gorsuch.

     There are three big issues in the Trump-Xi talks, but I suspect they will focus on only 2.

    • Will China stop North Korea’s nuclear/missile program (done in close cooperation with Iran)?
    • What happens to US-China’s bilateral economic ties?
    • Will China stop its territorial aggression in the South China Sea?  (I suspect this will get less attention)

    Comment: Trump will likely tell Xi that the US intends to sanction Chinese banks and companies doing business with North Korea and that the US will work toward regime change in North Korea. China can go along, and have a say, or do nothing.

    On economic issues, China’s economy has slowed and is vulnerable to US pressure, which Trump will apply. He will also highlight China’s systematic, state-sponsored theft of US intellectual property. These are high-stakes issues and Trump’s nationalist position on trade makes his threats credible. So far, no word on what he is proposing or how flexible Xi will be.

     Huge jobs increase in March  Over 260k, compared to 180k estimate. Widespread gains in private payrolls. (CNBC)

    Comment: Optimism about US growth taking root.

     That red line Pres. Obama drew in Syria? It is a Code Red Line after another deadly chemical attack. Russia denies the Assad regime is involved, naturally (CNN)

    A chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, told the BBC’s Radio 4 that all signs showed the chemical used was sarin gas and that Russia’s versions of events was “completely unsustainable.”
    “I think this is pretty fanciful and no doubt the Russians trying to protect their allies. Axiomatically, if you blow up sarin you destroy it,” he said. –CNN

    Comment: A vast human tragedy in Syria unfolding over years, with perhaps 500,000 civilians dead.

    Pressure is building to get a full explanation of what Susan Rice did, why she needed the unmasked names of US citizens, and who she shared that information with. Her record of public dissembling does not help her.

    Senate intel committee says Ms. Rice “may be of interest” to us.  (Washington Post)

    Comment: Well, duh.

     

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  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 4

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     St. Petersburg, Russia hit by deadly Islamacist terrorist attack, probably retaliation for Russian action in Syria. (Washington Post)

    At least 11 dead, 30+ injured.

    No one has claimed responsibility yet, but everyone suspects Islamic terrorists associated with the fighting in Syria.

    A crackdown by Putin is certain.

     Democrats have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch. (New York Times)

    Comment: Mitch McConnell won’t let it prevent Gorsuch’s confirmation. For D’s in purple and red states, this opposition is perilous. Their base loves it, their donors love it, but the general public does not.

     President of Northern Arizona Univ. rejects idea of “safe spaces.” Students now demand her resignation.  (Heat Street)

    Rita Cheng had the courage to tell students they had to confront ideas they don’t like.

    Comment: Well, they didn’t like that idea.

     White House says mainstream media not showing interest in Obama-era spying (Washington Post)

    Comment: Absolutely right. In a separate post (here), I show screenshots from CNN, NYT, and WaPo that completely ignored the revelations about Susan Rice on Monday.  That’s worse than spin. 

     CNN’s chief national security correspondent say Susan Rice story is a “distraction” that the Trump Administration “ginned up” (Daily Caller)

    Comment: CNN is the name of a former news organization

     Odd, new job titles: “Sales Enablement Associate” Yes, someone just emailed me with that title.

    Comment: Like all right-thinking people at universities, I object to Enableism.

     

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