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Washington Report March 24, 2017
24 Mar 2017

Washington Report March 24, 2017

What a Morning — and Week — in Washington … House Republicans Called – They Don’t Want to Vote on Their Party’s new Healthcare Plan … Freedom-From-Reality Caucus … Dealmaker Don … The Knives Are Already Out In the West Wing … THE FBI IS INVESTIGATING RUSSIAN MEDDLING IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, INCLUDING POSSIBLE LINKS BETWEEN THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND MOSCOW … When a Leak Is Not a Leak … SCOTUS … Mirandized: Anything You Say Could Be Used Against You … and other news of the week.

Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners

FAILURE IS AN OPTION Axios The fate of the healthcare bill is unknowable after yesterday’s embarrassing delay and President Trump’s strong-arm gamble of demanding a vote today. WHY? theSkimm “Different squads of Republicans are butting heads. Some think this plan doesn’t go far enough in truly repealing Obamacare. Others worry it goes too far, and that it needs to set aside more help for older and lower-income people. A House vote on the bill was supposed to happen last night. But enough Republicans were against it that it looked like it wouldn’t pass, so House leaders hit ‘pause. WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Last night, Trump said he’s done talking it over and promised to leave Obamacare in place if the party doesn’t go for this plan. Meanwhile, lawmakers agreed to axe part of the bill that required coverage for certain “essential” benefits (think: maternity and mental health care). Some Republicans wanted it gone to cut down on costs. Seven years ago yesterday, the Affordable Care Act was signed. Ever since, Republicans have agreed it needs to be swapped out for something else. Now they have the chance, but they may not have the votes to get it done.”

Lessons from the debacle are already apparent:

For tax reform, the White House and congressional leaders should consider splitting key elements into separate measures that have a better chance of success than a massive package. “Congress can only absorb so much political pain on the way to making big changes.’

Regrets? He Has a Few. NYTs “Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with … Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans. … Trump was slow to recognize the high stakes of the fight, or the implications of losing. He approved the agenda putting health care first late last year, almost in passing.”

For immigration reform. Fox “If the president wants an immigration bill, the White House ought to present its plan — not talking points, but a real plan, with details — explain what it is, why it works, how it will make the American middle class stronger than it already is, and then wield the stick. Make it plain that if Republican members of Congress won’t back that bill, the White House will support primary efforts by those who will.”

In a do-or-die moment, Republicans come undone WashPo “Trump’s reputation as the closer in chief has taken a hit — and on the first big test of his presidency. The greater damage has been to the reputation of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan … as the savvy intellectual godfather of a new conservative agenda around which his party could rally.”

Republicans have met the enemy on health care. It’s them. The Fix “Old Boss. Meet New Boss.” House Republicans had to be feeling a sense of deja vu as it became clear Thursday that despite the efforts of President Trump and Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the votes simply weren’t there to pass the legislation. Republicans — led by then-Speaker John A. Boehner — failed time and time again to rally votes behind proposals, from the fiscal cliff in 2012 to the farm bill in 2013 to the debt ceiling in 2014. Each time, the conservative wing of the conference — now organized under the House Freedom Caucus — withheld their votes, insisting that the legislation offered by Boehner was an abandonment of principles. The inability to appease the party’s conservative wing while also keeping the centrists within the party — yes, they still exist — on board is what drove Boehner into a surprisingly early retirement That was then, this is now, Republicans argued in the run-up to the planned health-care vote. Ryan was someone, unlike Boehner, who the House Freedom Caucus liked and trusted. And with Trump in the White House and Republicans with a large House majority and a clear Senate majority, the problems of the last five years were a thing of the past. Except not. As Republicans have learned over the past few weeks — and especially in the last few days — having a majority of House and Senate seats as well as the White House ensures you nothing in terms of legislation. The problem for House Republicans today is the same problem they had in 2012 and 2013 and 2014 and 2015 and 2016. The conference — split, broadly speaking, between activist conservatives and establishment conservatives — simply cannot be consistently led. The House Freedom Caucus not only believes compromise is capitulation but also views Trump’s election last fall as evidence of how unapologetic conservatism can win. The establishment wing of the party — which represents the bulk of competitive seats in swing areas of the country like the Midwest — frets that caving to conservative interests within the GOP could cost them their jobs in the next election. Since he began running for president, Trump has portrayed himself as a person uniquely able to bring warring sides to the table and cut good deals. That’s why getting some sort of health-care deal matters so much to him. But Thursday proved that not even Dealmaker Donald can point in a direction and lead the GOP majority behind him. Some men (and women) just can’t be reached.

THE INSIDE GAME The top players’ thinking going into today, per Axios.
– “Trump’s message to leadership: give me your vote list and I’ll break arms.”
– “The GOP leadership’s view was that they’re still short on the vote count, and … simply calling a vote is not going to cause the whip count to go up. Members don’t want to vote on something that will fail.”
– “The White House took a different view … Top administration officials believe the vote is close, that it needs to happen.”

REGARDLESS OF OUTCOME, Trump has succeeded in one thing: He has maneuvered so that if the bill passes, he gets the credit. If it fails, Ryan gets the blame.

BY THE WAY … Trump, who has branded himself a dealmaker without parallel, gave this whole health-care process 18 days — including weekends and days Congress was out of session! Let’s be clear — nobody knows how this is going to play out. But in Congress, 18 days is nothing. BEFORE TRUMP’S ULTIMATUM, Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan did not have the votes to pass this bill. The conservative House Freedom Caucus and a dozen or so moderates were banding together against the health-care bill, keeping it well short of the vote threshold required for passage.”

DEMS GLOAT … email with subject line “Unraveling”: “It has always been the case that as soon as Trump had to make policy choices, his ability to be all things to all people would evaporate … taxes next, then the budget, then trade — and don’t forget about the dumb wall, which border-state members secretly hate. Oh, and then there is Russia.”


THE TRUMP-RYAN AXIS. The knives are already out in the West Wing for the House speaker. It was Ryan who devised the sequencing of this year’s legislative agenda. And, at this point, it looks like a mistake. Every Republican is having to spend precious political capital to squeeze this bill through, including Trump. Ryan’s allies, however, insist that the two men are in a good spot, and … they say the unhappiness with Ryan is a staff-driven narrative. Even so, the fact that Trump’s staff feels like they have an opening to dump to the press on a sitting speaker is not necessarily a good sign.

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED. Just a quick reiteration of what most Washington veterans think: This episode shows that tax reform and infrastructure will take time. Keep in mind, Congress has some time-consuming deadlines in the coming months: government funding expires and the debt limit needs to be lifted. Even if this bill passes, many Republicans want the White House to abandon its artificial timelines — and quickly.


SHOT — @AliceOllstein: “I asked Sen. Roberts if he supports scrapping Essential Health Benefits. ‘I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,’ he snarked. #AHCA” … CHASER — @SenPatRoberts: “I deeply regret my comments on a very important topic. Mammograms are essential to women’s health & I never intended to indicate otherwise.”


FREEDOM-FROM-REALITY CAUCUS WSJ The House GOP yanked its health-care bill on Thursday. … But as Republicans contemplate wasting this historic reform opportunity, they should start thinking about the costs and responsibility of failure. As recently as Wednesday, the White House and congressional leadership had nearly whipped a majority for the bill. But the coalition broke down as the Freedom Caucus made 11th-hour demands about ObamaCare’s “essential health benefits,” or EHB. … The result has been a slew of negative media coverage about the insurers that would be supposedly unshackled to dump coverage for cancer, maternity and substance-abuse care. That led in turn to a cascade of centrist GOP defections. The Freedom Caucus didn’t relent on Thursday, though they did give Mr. Trump a standing ovation when he sat down with them in the White House for a last-ditch appeal. There hasn’t been this much faithless acclaim since Julius Caesar stood on the floor of the Roman Senate in 44 B.C.
… By insisting on the impossible over the achievable, these self-styled guardians of conservative purity could become the worst friends conservative ideas and free markets have had in decades.”



PROBE KNOCKS WHITE HOUSE ON IT’S HEELS Politico “The White House was knocked on the defensive Monday ahead of its biggest week yet on Capitol Hill as FBI Director James Comey confirmed the existence of an active investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, including whether there was any coordination with now-President Donald Trump’s team. “The dramatic revelation… dragged the Trump administration yet again back into uncomfortable territory just as it had hoped to highlight the smooth rollout of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, who began his confirmation hearings across the Capitol on Monday.”
— “In another blow to Trump, Comey and [NSA] Director Mike Rogers also publicly refuted his unsubstantiated claims on Twitter that President Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower phones. The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees had said last week that Trump’s allegations were untrue. ‘I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,’ Comey said.”
BOTS and Russian-influence probe and far-right news sites,” McClatchy The FBI in investigating a network of bots linked to Russia that flooded social media with links to pro-Trump stories from far right wing news sites during the 2016 presidential campaign. Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories – some fictional – that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say. Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as ‘bots,’ to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton … The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. … Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives.”

1) Since last July, the FBI has been running a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
2) Comey rejected President Trump’s claim that Barack Obama wiretapped him.
3) Certain House members are very concerned that surveillance of Trump advisor Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador became public knowledge. How concerned? Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., told Comey that unless such leaks were stopped, Congress might not reauthorize the law that allows wiretapping of U.S. citizens during investigations of foreigners.
4) Politico “Trump had an opportunity to hit back on FBI Director James Comey and push back against the ongoing FBI investigation into collusion between Russia and his campaign. He did not.
“I would just ask everybody this: Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI? Think of the trauma that would do to this country.”
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said at a campaign rally about Hillary Clinton on Nov. 1, 2016. (h/t Taegan Goddard)

TALE OF TWO HEARINGS The Fix “Trump has surely put Republicans in a tough spot with his Obama-wiretapped-me allegation. And Republicans have had no choice but to state the obvious about that specific claim: that there is no evidence of it. But that’s about as far as they’re willing to go in repudiating him right now. Otherwise, their rhetoric on the whole Russia issue very much echoes Trump’s — almost as if press secretary Sean Spicer was on the dais asking questions himself. And any illusions that these hearings would turn into bipartisan, kumbaya probes focused on Russia’s alleged role in helping Trump and debunking Trump’s specific claim quickly disappeared.”


WHAT TO SAY WHEN YOU ARE CC’D ON AN EMAIL THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU … Am I supposed to get this? theSkimm “Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) – head of the House Intelligence Committee – said that the intelligence community’s been “incidentally” listening in on some of Team Trump’s phone calls. Reminder: earlier this month, President Trump said that former President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last year ahead of the election. The FBI later said ‘hmmm, there’s no evidence to support that claim.’ Then yesterday, Nunes said the intelligence community actually picked up convos between Trump’s transition team and some foreigners after the election. Nunes said this happened during legal surveillance of those foreigners. It’s apparently not unusual for Americans to get tangled up in surveillance if they’re chatting with foreigners the US is keeping an eye on. Unclear what these convos included or where any of this info is from. In other news keeping the White House up at night…yesterday a network of conservative groups backed by the Koch Brothers – billionaires who fork over a LOT of cash for conservative campaigns- pretty much told House Republicans not to vote for the party’s new healthcare plan. That vote goes down today. Not a healthy sign.

SAYING ‘SORRY’ WashPo “House Intelligence Committee Democrats said Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) apologized to them Thursday during a closed-door meeting for his handling of revelations about surveillance that potentially could have been collected about President Trump and his associates during the transition period. NO, LOOK OVER HERE! Nunes came under heavy fire … on Wednesday after going first to the press, then to the White House, and then to the press again before consulting with committee colleagues about what he said was fresh intelligence about the president and his campaign aides (see above). Some … have accused Nunes of speaking publicly in an attempt to deflect attention from Monday’s congressional hearing, at which FBI Director James B. Comey not only confirmed that the FBI is looking into allegations that the Trump team coordinated with Russian officials during the election, but flatly denied Trump’s accusation that the Obama administration had wiretapped him. ”


WHEN A LEAK NOT A LEAK? The Fix “President Trump is on a crusade to stop leaks. But not all leaks. As he clings to the unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign — a claim with “no information that supports” it, according to congressional testimony Monday by FBI Director James B. Comey — it is worth remembering that news reports the White House has cited to bolster Trump’s accusation are based on … leaks. Trump seems not to mind disclosures that help him push a narrative; he just hates ones that work against his preferred narratives. The president’s inconsistency suggests that his opposition to leaks is more about politics than principle and that what he really wants to end is the flow of unflattering information…. What is truly odd, however, is Trump’s lurching back and forth between condemning leaks and relying on them to support unsubstantiated claims — while hoping no one will notice the hypocrisy.”

TOP TWEET @carlbernstein: “I can state w/confidence that many intel members now decrying ‘leaks’ of classified info have themselves ‘leaked’ classified info knowingly”

THIS AIN’T GOING AWAY “A Russian billionaire paid former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort millions of dollars to boost the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the AP reports. “According to documents that we’ve reviewed, Paul Manafort secretly worked for a Russian oligarch to … advocate a pro-Russian agenda both in former republics and “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department.” Manafort signed a $10 million yearly contract with Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally. Their business relationship lasted through at least 2009. The report of Manafort’s pro-Russian work comes days after FBI Director James Comey “confirmed that his agency is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia” in last year’s U.S. election. Investigations are also being pursued in Congress. STRAINING CREDIBILITY Earlier this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer sought to minimize Manafort’s involvement with the Trump campaign, saying that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” EXCEPT Manafort was the Trump campaign’s Chairman and the campaign’s Republican convention manager but resigned in August, shortly after news reports that he had been paid $12.7 million by the political party of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, between 2007 and 2012. … The bedrock of this story is based on documents that (AP) authenticated, and documents that have been corroborated through sources.” GUNNED DOWN IN KIEV … IT’S LIKE A GRISHAM NOVEL CBS “Former Russian lawmaker Denis Voronenkov was shot and killed in Kiev Thursday in what the Ukrainian president has labelled an act of Russian “state terrorism. Ukrainian police also described the killing as a contract hit probably ordered by Russia. Voronenkov, 45, a former member of the communist faction in the lower house of Russian parliament, had moved to Ukraine last fall and had been granted Ukrainian citizenship. He testified to Ukrainian investigators as part of their probe into the activities of the nation’s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted by massive protests in February 2014.” (Yes, Yanukovych, whose political party paid Manafort) $12.7 million.)


‘YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS UP’ DEPARTMENT NYTs “As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending,” AND TODAY Mr. Eitel – on an unpaid leave of absence – is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.”




Sometimes a picture IS worth a thousand words. Just saying …
(NYDaily News, Bramhall)





DISSING NATO? Reuters reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning to skip a key NATO summit in Brussels next month in order to stay at Trump’s for-profit Mar-a-Lago report in Florida for two days of meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Just after that meeting, Tillerson will head to Moscow. More: “A former U.S. official and a former NATO diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the alliance offered to change the meeting dates so Tillerson could attend it and the Xi Jinping talks but the State Department had rebuffed the idea.” Perhaps, as Tillerson recently said about refusing to take the press along on overseas trips, “I personally don’t need it.”

$1 BILLION CUT TO U.N. PEACE KEEPING Foreign Policy “The White House is seeking to cut $1 billion dollars in funding for U.N. peacekeeping operations and to eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars for other U.N. programs that care for needy children and seek to lift the world’s poorest out of a life of grinding poverty, according to two diplomatic sources briefed on the plan. The proposal is certain to face strong pushback from both Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders.”


NO CARRY-ON DefenseOne “DHS and TSA have ordered airlines to force passengers to check any electronic device larger than a cellphone on flights coming into the U.S. from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Washington Post reports. Why? “A person familiar with the security warning said the government has long been concerned about the aspirations of a Syria-based terrorist group to build explosive devices hidden inside electronics in a way that would be hard to detect.” The initial order runs through Oct. 14, but officials said that might be extended.”


KEEPS YA UP AT NIGHT The head of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) tells the Wall Street Journal that North Korea has doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon. … The expansion would allow the North to produce more weapons-grade fuel in addition to its plutonium production facilities in Yongbyon. Bad.


DON’T FORGET ABOUT SCOTUS Politico “Senators officially launched into a battle royale over the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch at the start of his hearing Monday, with Republicans and Democrats previewing their lines of attack in one of the most consequential battles of Donald Trump’s young presidency. Want to Know Where Supreme Court Nominees Stand? Don’t Bother Asking”: Over the last three decades, nominees to the United States Supreme Court have been made keenly aware that the moment the president taps them on the shoulder they are effectively Mirandized. Anything they say may be, and almost certainly will be, used against them. It wasn’t always thus. But an imperative to say as little as possible and pretend one is a juridical blank slate has been close to inviolate since 1987. That was when Robert H. Bork, a federal appellate judge named to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan, testified expansively and combatively as he expounded his conservative judicial philosophy at his Senate confirmation hearing. He did himself no favor. Senators concerned that a Justice Bork would turn back the clock on established civil and individual rights rejected his appointment by a solid majority made up of both Democrats and Republicans. In the process, they changed the nomination dynamic, perhaps for good.” (Clyde Haberman’s Retro Report, NYTs)

CAN YOU NAME A SUPREME COURT JUSTICE? C-SPAN Poll “57% of people can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice.” Sad.

NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN OVER GORSUCH Politico “Chuck Schumer is prepared to push the Senate into a nuclear confrontation over the Supreme Court. …[indicating that] Democrats will deny Neil Gorsuch the 60 votes he needs to clear a Senate filibuster and ascend to the Supreme Court. Dismissing the notion of a deal to confirm Gorsuch floated by some members of his caucus this week, Schumer all but declared that Donald Trump’s nominee will not receive the requisite eight Democratic votes – and that it will be up to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether to try to blow up the filibuster to get Gorsuch through. “There’s been an almost seismic shift in the caucus [against Gorsuch],’ Schumer said as the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings wrapped up Thursday. ‘He did not win anybody over with his testimony.’ If Schumer stops Gorsuch during a filibuster vote in early April – and the New Yorker was brimming with confidence that he will – it will almost certainly force McConnell’s hand on the so-called ‘nuclear option.’ Schumer is betting McConnell does not have the votes to do away with the 60-vote requirement for Supreme Court nominees.”


NEW LOW — “Gallup: Trump job approval drops to 37%,” by CNN “President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has dropped to 37%, while 58% of Americans disapprove of his performance so far as president, new Gallup figures show.”


KEYSTONE XL APPROVED Politico “The decision caps a years-long fight between environmental groups and energy industry advocates over the pipeline’s fate … It marks one of the biggest steps taken to date by the Trump administration to prioritize economic development over environmental concerns. It wasn’t immediately clear what, if anything, had changed since the State Department reached the opposite conclusion two years ago. The 1,700-mile pipeline, as envisioned, would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.”


FEARLESS GIRL … TOUCHED HEARTS ACROSS THE WORLD If you haven’t heard about this … A movement to help the “Fearless Girl” stand her ground is growing. Elected officials and activists said recently] that the inspiring statue squaring off against the famed Wall St. bull should be a permanent installation. The bronze likeness of a small girl with her hands on her hips installed near Bowling Green on the eve of International Women’s Day has become a symbol of gender equality for many.

“This statue has touched hearts across the world, with its symbolic depiction of the resiliency of women,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney. “Here we have a little girl facing a charging bull. Yet she is determined, she is strong, she is defiant.” The girl, placed there by State Street Corporation, was originally granted a weeklong permit that has now been extended to a month. The company said it was meant to celebrate “the power of women in leadership [and the dearth of women serving on corporate boards). And, also some publicity for State Street Corp.”


LOTSA JOE Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz announces .. plans to create more than 240,000 new jobs globally (68,000 in the U.S.) as it reiterates intent to open 12,000 new stores globally and 3,400 new stores in the U.S. by FY21.”

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