THE MORNING PLUM:
House Republicans are angry with President Trump for blurting out an inconveniently candid view of their health-care bill, Politico reports today. Trump reportedly told a closed-door gathering of GOP senators that the House repeal-and-replace bill is “mean” and called on them to make it “more generous.” This promptly leaked, and a lot of people are noting that Trump undercut House Republicans politically and provided Democrats with ammo for a thousand attack ads.
But I’d like to argue that this moment has broader significance than that. If you place Trump’s private candor in the context of the indefensibly opaque and secretive process that Republicans are using to get this health-care bill through, it reveals in a fresh way just how scandalous their approach to remaking one-sixth of the U.S. economy really has been.
Here’s how Politico characterizes the anger at Trump among House Republicans right now:
Imagine if you’re a House Republican, and voted for the leadership’s health-care bill in May after being told that you were doing the newly elected president a solid. You listened to the White House’s pleading — perhaps you got a phone call from Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus or even the president himself. The administration was on the Hill nonstop to push their legislation. You explained to your constituents that the late-in-the-game changes made to the bill helped cover more people. You celebrated with him in the Rose Garden after passage.
Now you hear the president has gone behind closed doors and told senators the House bill is “mean” and says it doesn’t do enough to cover people. Wouldn’t that anger you? Well, it’s angering a lot of House Republicans, who believe their president put them at political risk with that comment … If you’re a House Republican, are you going to help the White House next time after the president privately just dumped all over you after you cast a vote for him? A lot of GOP lawmakers are buzzing about it, and many are none too pleased with the president right now.
The multiple reports on Trump’s comments differ slightly in the details, but not in their overall thrust. Sources who spoke to the Associated Press said Trump told GOP senators that the House bill is “mean, mean, mean” and must be made “more generous.” CNN adds that Trump told the lawmakers that the House bill would leave too many people vulnerable and that he wants more money spent on those people. One Republican senator related that Trump “talked about the need to take care of people.”
House Republicans are now angry at this, Politico reports, because they stuck out their necks making the case for a bill that would leave many millions without coverage and gut protections for people with preexisting conditions. They “explained to their constituents” that the last-minute changes to the bill (adding all of $8 billion) would make it less destructive to that latter group. But Trump has now upended all of this, putting them at greater political risk.
But their anger over this is particularly galling, because Republicans themselves do not want their constituents to actually know what is in the bill they are set to pass. And they are taking active, extensive and possibly unprecedented steps to make sure they don’t. Trump merely made this harder for them to get away with.
Let’s not forget that House Republicans deliberately voted on their bill before the Congressional Budget Office produced its final score of it. That analysis concluded that 23 million fewer people would be covered and that the bill’s provision allowing states to waive the ban on jacking up premiums for people with preexisting conditions would lead to soaring costs for many of them, leaving untold numbers without coverage entirely. After lying relentlessly about the bill — claiming that no one would be worse off and that it would strengthen protections for the sick — House Republicans deliberately held a vote before the CBO’s final analysis gave voters a way to evaluate those lies in the light of empirical analysis.
Now Senate Republicans are urgently working to soften the bill, because a number of moderates can’t be seen embracing something that cruel. But, if anything, they are going further than their House counterparts to forestall any kind of serious public awareness of what they are doing. Two GOP aides recently told Axios that there are no plans to publicly release the Senate version well in advance of the vote, because, as one of them put it, “we aren’t stupid.” There have been no public hearings. Even some Senate Republicans have expressed befuddlement about what’s in the bill that they will be voting on.
As Brian Beutler and Jonathan Chait have noted, avoiding public scrutiny and accountability is the whole legislative strategy — the process itself is a scandal, given how many millions of people, and how large a swath of the economy, it will impact. And as University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley argues, that could have untold other consequences: The lack of scrutiny and debate could lead to major, destructive flaws in the bill itself and, more broadly, could further erode basic norms of legislative transparency.
We do know a few things about the Senate bill. It will likely phase out the Medicaid expansion more slowly, to allow moderates to argue that they have “softened” the House version, which cuts $800 billion in health-care spending on poor people while delivering to the rich an enormous tax cut. It may also nix the provision deregulating protections for preexisting conditions, but, by keeping the one that allows for skimpier health plans, it could end up nonetheless harming untold numbers of sick people who would need previously covered essential services.
Trump’s admission that the House bill is “mean” should not be taken seriously as an actual statement of values, because he himself has championed it in public, and thus simply means the Senate version needs to provide a way to pretend the final product is far more “generous” than it will surely end up being, which is a lot like the House bill. Indeed, the GOP’s extraordinary lack of transparency is itself a concession that Republicans know how “mean” it will be. Republicans are angry that Trump admitted, in a way guaranteed to leak, that he knows it will hurt huge numbers of people, when they had taken such great pains to obscure that. Trump’s real transgression was to provide the public with a glimpse of a reality that they themselves have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep hidden.
* SHOOTER IS IDENTIFIED: A gunman opened fire on congressional Republicans at a baseball practice in Alexandria, and the suspected shooter has been identified:
The shooter at the GOP congressional baseball practice this morning is James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Ill., according to law enforcement officials. Hodgkinson, 66, owns a home inspection business. His home inspection license expired in November 2016 and was not renewed, state records show.
Hodgkinson was charged in April 2006 with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle, according to online records in St. Clair County, Illinois. The charges were dismissed, records show.
Majority whip Steve Scalise was among those injured, and multiple reports this morning detailed the heroism of his security detail. Without them, many might have been killed, those reports noted.
* INSIDE TRUMP’S THINKING ON SPECIAL COUNSEL: The New York Times reports that Trump will not try to get special counsel Robert S. Mueller III removed, but by golly that could change. Here’s the thinking:
But people close to Mr. Trump say he is so volatile they cannot be sure that he will not change his mind about Mr. Mueller if he finds out anything to lead him to believe the investigation has been compromised … The president was pleased by the ambiguity of his position on Mr. Mueller, and thinks the possibility of being fired will focus the veteran prosecutor on delivering what the president desires most: a blanket public exoneration.
It’s the latest sign of just how out of touch Trump is with basic institutional realities. Also, how much will it take for Trump to persuade himself the investigation has been “compromised”?
* TRUMP MULLED REMOVING MUELLER, STOKED BY CONSERVATIVE MEDIA: The Times story also reports that Trump genuinely did contemplate trying to get rid of the special counsel:
Angered by reports in Breitbart News and other conservative news outlets that Mr. Mueller was close to Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump in recent days has repeatedly brought up the political and legal implications of firing someone he now views as incapable of an impartial investigation. He has told his staff, his visitors and his outside advisers that he was increasingly convinced that Mr. Mueller, like Mr. Comey, his successor as director of the F.B.I., was part of a “witch hunt” by partisans who wanted to see him weakened or forced from office.
The key point here is that the ease with which Trump concludes he is being unfairly persecuted shows how effortlessly he might come to “believe” the investigation itself is “compromised.”
* IN VIRGINIA, IT’S NORTHAM VS. GILLESPIE: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie won their gubernatorial primaries in Virginia last night. Two tidbits from The Post’s write-up:
Overall, Democrats turned out in far greater numbers than Republicans. About 540,000 voters cast ballots in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, while just over 360,000 voters cast ballots on the Republican side … In his remarks, Gillespie … did not invoke Trump, who has cast a shadow over the governor’s race all year.
The general election will draw massive spending and national attention as one of the only major races this year, and an early sign of how Trump will affect the party’s fortunes.
* DEMOCRATIC ENTHUSIASM IS REAL: Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti comments on the meaning of Northam’s win, noting that the more-than-half-million Democratic votes dwarfed the 320,000 voters who showed up in the last competitive primary:
Democratic Party enthusiasm is very real … his win included higher-than-expected numbers in regions with more African-American voters, a major question mark heading into the vote. That bodes well for his general election chances. If Democrats are going to mount a comeback in the Trump era, governor’s mansions must be a big part of it.
There are three dozen gubernatorial races in 2018, many in states held by Republicans, and winning some back could make a big difference on health care, climate change and redistricting.
* TRUMP REAL ESTATE SOLD TO SECRETIVE BUYERS: USA Today reports that since Trump won the GOP nomination, the majority of sales by his real estate companies are to buyers who use shell companies to disguise their identities:
Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names … Anyone who wanted to court favor with the President could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay, without revealing their identity publicly.
Now try to imagine how much of this sort of thing might take place without ever being disclosed, thanks to Trump’s refusal to divest and show meaningful transparency.
* PENCE’S DUMB DISSEMBLING ABOUT OBAMACARE: Vice President Pence has been citing the fact that many Americans still remain uninsured as “evidence” that the Affordable Care Act is in a death spiral. The Associated Press notes that Pence is leaving something out:
Pence … omitted any mention of the … Medicaid expansion estimated to cover 12 million low-income people this year. More would be covered, but 19 states have refused the expansion because of opposition from Republicans … legislation that’s before Congress would phase out enhanced federal financing for Medicaid expansion and trim subsidies for private insurance. Progress reducing the number of uninsured could be lost.
Can we also pause to note how contemptibly dishonest it is to cite the remaining uninsured as a data point in your push to leave 23 million more uninsured on top of them?