THE MORNING PLUM:
From the outset, the Trump administration has been infested by a deep rot of bad faith from top to bottom. We’ve seen it again and again: The administration pushes a new policy. Independent institutions provide facts and empirical analyses that completely undercut that policy’s stated rationale. Administration figures then ignore or suppress those facts. Or they push their own “alternative facts,” while deriding the real facts as fake. Or they mount a sustained effort to delegitimize the institution that provided them.
Now the New York Times reports on the latest example of this, and in this case, the analysis in question comes from inside the administration itself:
Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.
The draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times, contradicts a central argument made by advocates of deep cuts in refugee totals as President Trump faces an Oct. 1 deadline to decide on an allowable number. …
The internal study, which was completed in late July but never publicly released, found that refugees “contributed an estimated $269.1 billion in revenues to all levels of government” between 2005 and 2014 through the payment of federal, state and local taxes. “Overall, this report estimated that the net fiscal impact of refugees was positive over the 10-year period, at $63 billion.”
But White House officials said those conclusions were illegitimate and politically motivated, and were disproved by the final report issued by the agency, which asserts that the per-capita cost of a refugee is higher than that of an American.
Strikingly, administration officials defend this by saying the analysis was faulty because it took into account the contributions that refugees make by paying taxes — something they dismiss as politically motivated. Instead, those officials say, it should have factored in only their cost in public services, and compared those costs to average native-born Americans. According to two sources who spoke to the Times, Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s hard-line anti-immigrant agenda, “personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered.”
Miller, naturally, is a key advocate for dramatically cutting refugee flows. The Trump administration is debating whether to cut those flows from around 110,000 per year to below 50,000, and Miller has reportedly pushed for the number to be reduced to as low as 15,000.
This must be viewed in its larger context, which is that virtually every major item in Trump’s immigration agenda has now been revealed to be thoroughly baseless. The rationale for Trump’s thinly veiled Muslim ban was blown apart by two leaked memos from inside the Department of Homeland Security — meaning this refugee analysis is not even the first time reports from inside the administration itself have been disregarded. When Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump’s decision to rescind protections for the “dreamers,” he offered as a policy rationale the notion that they are stealing jobs from Americans, but economists seriously contest this notion.
One of Trump’s leading justifications for pushing a costly and expensive wall on the southern border is that it will stop drugs from pouring in, but experts say this is just nonsense. Trump has called for deep cuts in legal immigration, but his leading rationales are bogus: He claims that immigrants place “substantial pressure” on the wages of U.S. workers, which is mostly simplistic distortion and hyperbole, and he suggests that immigrants “immediately go and collect welfare” in a widespread sense, which is deeply misleading in multiple ways.
And let’s not forget that senior White House officials attacked the media because it told the truth about Trump’s less-than-flattering inauguration crowd size, claiming not just that reporters were wrong on the facts (which they weren’t) but also that they were deliberately minimizing the crowd count. Or that former White House flack Sean Spicer “joked” to the press that in Trump’s view, good jobs numbers were fake under former president Barack Obama, but are “very real” when they flatter President Trump. Or that administration officials worked overtime to delegitimize the Congressional Budget Office because its findings undercut the administration’s lie that no one would be worse off under GOP Obamacare repeal proposals that Trump supported.
This last one is of particular interest right now. Republicans are set to try and pass the new repeal bill — which is being championed by Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) — through the Senate. But the Congressional Budget Office has announced that it will not be able to provide estimates of its projected coverage losses — which are likely to be huge — in time for the vote. Under usual circumstances, if the CBO put out numbers that undercut Trump — who is eager to sign anything that can be called repeal — administration officials would simply deride them as #FakeNews. In this case, they won’t have to deal with an inconvenient fact set at all.
* INVESTIGATORS WIRETAPPED MANAFORT: CNN scoops that U.S. investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort before and after the election:
The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.
Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation. Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.
Special bonus tidbit: Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team has been “provided details of these communications.” Also note that, for this to happen, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court had to see grounds for authorizing the wiretap.
* MUELLER IS RUNNING A ‘SHOCK AND AWE’ INVESTIGATION: The New York Times reports on the uncommonly aggressive tactics driving Mueller’s investigation, and notes that it is taking a very broad scope:
Mr. Mueller’s team has used what some describe as shock-and-awe tactics to intimidate witnesses and potential targets of the inquiry. … He appears to be taking a broad view of his mandate: examining not just the Russian disruption campaign and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort, but also any financial entanglements with Russians going back several years. He is also investigating whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.
Also: Interviews of White House officials will begin “soon,” and Mueller is “dispensing with the plodding pace typical of many white-collar investigations.” Things are about to get real.
* WORLD LEADERS WILL WATCH ‘UNPREDICTABLE’ TRUMP ADDRESS U.N.: Trump gives his first address as president today to the United Nations General Assembly, and the Associated Press comments:
Addressing the General Assembly is a milestone moment for any president, but one particularly significant for Trump … who has at times rattled the international community with his unpredictability. He has pulled the Unites States out of multinational agreements, considered shrinking the U.S. military footprint in the world and deployed bombastic language on North Korea that has been criticized by other world leaders. Trump frequently belittled the U.N. as a candidate.
If Trump merely manages to refrain from scratching his armpits or giving his audience the middle finger, some idiot somewhere will declare that “this is the day Trump became president.”
* A NEW BOOK ON TRUMP: Today is the release of “One Nation After Trump,” the new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann. It’s a must-read on what Trump’s election and presidency really mean and what believers in liberal democracy can and should do right now. You can order it here.
* HOUSE WILL PASS GRAHAM-CASSIDY, CONSERVATIVE SAYS: GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the head of the “Freedom Caucus,” tells Politico that if the Senate passes Graham-Cassidy, the latest repeal bill, the House will pass it:
“It’s fundamentally our last chance to make a legislative fix to Obamacare, and if it doesn’t happen, then the chances of it happening in the future are slim to none,” he said. “And so, I fully expect that if it makes it out of the Senate, the pressure will be so great — from moderates to conservatives — to get it passed.”
If this is correct, it basically means that this is the last chance: If the Senate passes this, the Affordable Care Act is toast.
* BUT IT’S NOT A SLAM DUNK IN THE HOUSE: The Post’s Mike DeBonis points out that Graham-Cassidy hits big states that expanded Medicaid particularly hard, and adds:
The bigger obstacle may be House moderates — particularly from the states of California and New York, which stand to lose tens of billions of dollars in federal health-care funding under the Graham-Cassidy framework. … 21 GOP lawmakers from California and New York voted for the American Health Care Act in May, and a threshold question for considering Graham-Cassidy’s prospects is … how many of them will … vote to blow a hole in their state’s health-care budget.
Republicans would never dream of voting against the interests of their states or constituents! Oh, wait…
* COLLINS IS ‘CONCERNED’ ABOUT GRAHAM-CASSIDY: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is sounding a very sour note about the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill:
“I’m concerned about what the effect would be on coverage; on Medicaid spending in my state; on the fundamental changes in Medicaid that would be made without the Senate holding a single hearing to evaluate them; and also on what the effect would be on premiums, particularly for older Americans between 50 and 64,” she said.
This should be an easy call. Collins opposed all the previous repeal bills in part because of their deep cuts to Medicaid, which she expressed deep qualms about. Graham-Cassidy does the same.
* AND WILL McCAIN SELL OUT HIS PRINCIPLES? David Leonhardt reminds us of the July floor speech on the need for regular order that won Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) so much acclaim, and notes that consistency would require him to vote against Graham-Cassidy:
The latest Trumpcare, known as Graham-Cassidy, risks the Senate’s credibility again. There has been none of the regular process that McCain demanded, not even a Congressional Budget Office analysis. No major medical group — not doctors, nurses, hospitals or advocates for the treatment of cancer, diabetes or birth defects — supports the bill. Passing it would violate every standard that McCain laid down.
If McCain votes for Graham-Cassidy, the accolades showered upon him will look pretty foolish in retrospect.