THE MORNING PLUM:
For many liberals, the spectacle of President Trump publicly tormenting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over his failure to pass health-care repeal surely carries a whiff of poetic justice or perhaps even schadenfreude. During the election, McConnell pocketed a Supreme Court seat for Trump and helped scuttle bipartisan condemnation of Russian meddling, even though he likely knew Trump was unfit for the presidency and, worse, an untrustworthy ally of the GOP — ideologically, perhaps, but more to the point, temperamentally.
Now McConnell is being targeted by the sort of pathological abuse that Trump has directed at other flunkies who have failed him, such as Jeff Sessions and Sean Spicer. But instead of relishing this moment, we should hope and push for another resolution to this saga — one in which McConnell gets his revenge by helping shore up the Affordable Care Act’s individual markets, thus deftly undercutting Trump’s similarly pathological threats to sabotage the law.
As crazy as that sounds, there’s actually a good case for it. First, a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll out today finds that large majorities want Republicans to do this. The key findings:
- Sixty-nine percent of Americans want Republicans and Trump to fix the remaining problems with the ACA to improve the marketplaces.
- Seventy-eight percent want the Trump administration to do what it can to make the law work, while only 17 percent want the administration to make the law fail to build the case for a replacement later, which is Trump’s threat.
- Sixty-three percent say Trump should not use tactics that could disrupt the individual markets, such as cutting off funding for the cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) that subsidize out-of-pocket costs for lower-income customers, which could cause premiums to soar and more insurers to exit.
Now, the last two of those findings concern what the public wants Trump to do, and he can’t be persuaded to act with that in mind, but McConnell surely knows that if Trump goes through with his threats, it would create a major political problem for congressional Republicans in the looming 2018 elections. Another recent Kaiser poll found that 61 percent say congressional Republicans and Trump are now responsible for any future problems with the ACA, meaning they now own whatever happens with the markets.
McConnell himself knows this. In July, McConnell explicitly said that if the GOP repeal push failed, Republicans would have to work with Democrats to shore up the markets, because doing nothing is “not an alternative.” This was a tacit admission that for Republicans, doing nothing is not an option politically.
What’s more, other Republicans are now moving forward with bipartisan efforts to shore up the markets, in direct defiance of Trump. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee has announced that the health committee, which he chairs, will work this fall on legislation to boost the markets. Alexander has also said that Trump must continue funding the CSRs, which Trump continues to threaten to cut off, a move that could leave many millions without coverage options. A pair of House Republicans has joined with Democrats to push an effort that would legislatively fund the CSRs. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the House Energy Committee, has also called for them to be legislatively funded, suggesting he, too, knows House Republicans will be held responsible in 2018 for sabotage.
Remember, the mere uncertainty Trump is fomenting by not saying whether he’ll continue the CSRs is itself undermining the markets — and if that gets worse, Republicans could bear the blame. If this continues, at some point GOP leaders — including McConnell — will be pressed to support a more formal bipartisan process to stop it. Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at Kaiser, emails:
Uncertainty about insurance market rules and underlying fragility in certain markets around the country are driving premiums up significantly and causing insurers to exit. These are problems that can be fixed pretty easily by Congress, for example by appropriating funds for cost-sharing subsidies and providing funding to help pay for the care of high-cost patients. The industry will be closely watching the bipartisan hearings in the Senate in September for a possible way forward.
I don’t know what McConnell will do — surely there are pressures that make it hard for him to back efforts to shore up the markets, and who knows if this could pass the House. But so doing would amount to an elegant way to give Trump the middle finger. Trump went all in with McConnell’s repeal push, but now Trump is heaping all the blame for failure on McConnell and again demanding Republicans get repeal done, putting them in an impossible position for sport. As part of this effort to distract his voters from his role in repeal’s collapse, he is threatening further ACA sabotage to prove to them that his toughness remains undiminished.
McConnell, by acting to boost the markets, could move to take that weapon out of Trump’s hands, undercutting the chance that Trump’s craziness further damages congressional Republicans in 2018 while simultaneously leaving Trump sputtering ineffectually on the sidelines. And don’t say Trump’s voters would rage at the GOP, because no matter how angrily Trump tweeted about this outcome, they won’t want collapsing insurance markets, either.
* WHY THE NORTH KOREA STANDOFF IS SO DANGEROUS: Experts tell the New York Times that even a limited strike by Trump on North Korea probably would not be able to avoid setting off a spiral of widespread destruction and death:
Even a limited strike against a North Korean missile on its launching pad or the shooting down of a missile in midair would pose risks that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, might retaliate, setting off a spiral of escalation that could plunge the Korean Peninsula into war. … A major consideration would be whether and when to evacuate American and other allied civilians, which is no small feat as Seoul, a city of about 10 million, is within range of North Korea’s rockets and artillery …
Fortunately, we have a president who has demonstrated a penchant for carefully weighing the unintended consequences of every decision he makes.
* IF TRUMP ORDERS NUKE STRIKE, HIS ADVISERS CAN’T DO MUCH: Dan Lamothe has a great piece explaining that if Trump orders a nuclear strike, it cannot be overruled by either military leaders or the Congress:
The reason is simple: The system is set up for the United States to launch an attack within minutes, so that if the United States is under a nuclear attack, it can respond almost instantly, said Bruce Blair, a former nuclear watch officer. Trump would presumably meet with [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. and Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the White House national security adviser, before launching a preemptive attack, but it would “really be uncharted territory” if they sought to stall or slow down an order from the president, Blair said.
A few Democrats are pushing ways to pass legislation to place some constraints on this process, but as Lamothe notes, these efforts are “unlikely to [succeed] with Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress.”
* REPORT: STATE DEPARTMENT ‘RATTLED’ BY TRUMP COMMENTS: Yesterday Trump thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomatic staff from Russia, saying, “Now we have a smaller payroll.” Reuters reports:
The State Department [is] “horrified and rattled” by Trump’s remarks, said a veteran U.S. diplomat who has served in Russia, speaking on condition of anonymity. And Heather Conley, formerly a top State Department official dealing with European affairs, said … “it is very difficult to see how the president could view these expulsions as a ‘positive’ development in any form.”
It’s not that difficult, really.
* WORLD STOCKS SLIDE AMID TENSIONS BETWEEN TRUMP AND NORTH KOREA: The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Dow closed down 205 points Thursday, in its biggest decline since May 17, after U.S. President Donald Trump rejected criticism that his threats to release “fire and fury” had been too inflammatory. Instead, he said his statement “maybe wasn’t tough enough.” … The selling in the U.S. extended to global markets Friday.
As one investment adviser puts it: “This situation is beginning to develop into this generation’s Cuban missile crisis.”
* EVEN NEWT GINGRICH IS NOW CRITICIZING TRUMP: Trump continues to blast McConnell for failing to get repeal through. This is now drawing fire from Trump loyalist Newt Gingrich:
“It’s a team problem; the president has to own a piece of this. … I may not be clever enough to understand this, but I don’t see how a Republican president deepening his fight with the Republican majority leader gets him very far.”
But, Newt, the thing is, Trump will never “own a piece” of any failure, because he never takes responsibility for anything, ever. By the way, the deadline to raise the debt ceiling looms…
* JEFF FLAKE GETS A CHALLENGER: A local news outlet in Arizona is reporting that Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is gearing up to challenge GOP Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018:
Sinema has locked down her swing district and proved to be a prolific fund-raiser, with $3.2 million in cash on hand as of June 30, a solid base for a Senate run in Arizona. … Recent polling shows Flake with high disapproval ratings among Arizona voters, driven down in part by his recent votes for the Obamacare repeal.
This might explain why Flake has been escalating his criticism of Trump of late. But he’s on record voting for the repeal bill that failed in the Senate — i.e., for an effort to move Trumpcare forward.
* DON’T GET COMPLACENT ABOUT THE TRUMP ERA: Paul Krugman looks at all the forces that are collaborating to push climate denialism — fossil-fuel interests; ideological foes of regulating business; bought-and-paid-for analysts — and concludes:
Right now progressives are feeling better than they expected to a few months ago: Donald Trump and his frenemies in Congress are accomplishing a lot less than they hoped, and their opponents feared. But that doesn’t change the reality that the axis of climate evil is now firmly in control of U.S. policy, and the world may never recover.
Of course, there is some hope in the fact that Trump will have a very hard time fully undoing climate regulations, even as some states will continue forging ahead, but yeah.
* AND TRUMP KEEPS UP THE TWITTER BRINKMANSHIP: Good morning, Mr. President:
Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 11, 2017
Again, one wonders whether Trump’s top national security officials had any idea that this carefully crafted statement, in the midst of an extremely volatile crisis, was coming.