THE MORNING PLUM:
If you had hoped that President Trump’s incompetence would save us from his malevolence, here’s some bad news: Trump’s efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act out of pure rage and spite are likely to have a very big impact, harming large numbers of people.
Democrats are increasingly pessimistic and think that this year’s enrollment numbers could fall millions short of last year’s numbers, a senior House Democratic leadership aide tells me. And Democrats are aware that this increases the pressure on them — i.e., Democratic elected officials as well as progressive groups — to do more to boost that enrollment in any way possible, the aide says.
With the ACA’s open enrollment period set to begin on Nov. 1, the political world is now digesting Trump’s latest claim about the law. “Obamacare is finished. It’s dead. It’s gone,” Trump said. “… There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.” This is being widely reported as spin that he has delivered on his promise to unravel the law, or as a prelude to Trump accepting a bipartisan deal to shore up the exchanges, which Trump also appeared open to yesterday.
But here’s another way to read those comments: as yet another effort to depress enrollment on the exchanges. Trump used the presidential bully pulpit to tell Americans that Obamacare has either self-immolated or has been obliterated. This could have the effect of discouraging enrollment, supporters of the law worry.
“There is a real threat that Trump’s bluster about Obamacare being ‘dead,’ combined with other administrative actions to suppress enrollment, will accomplish the goal of keeping people from signing up,” Lori Lodes, the co-founder of Get America Covered, a group formed to counter Trump’s sabotage of the ACA, emailed me. “The only thing that will combat their misinformation campaign is everyone else getting the facts out.”
Here’s more cause for worry: The polling firm Hart Research Associates conducted a poll for Get America Covered and found that only 31 percent of customers insured through the ACA exchanges and 12 percent of the uninsured know when open enrollment starts. Worse, majorities of the insured (54 percent) and of the uninsured (59 percent) either believe Obamacare will be canceled in 2018 or say they’re unsure.
Trump’s suggestion that Obamacare is “gone” could fuel such lack of awareness. All this comes after the Trump administration has set in motion multiple other sabotage efforts, such as defunding the campaign to boost enrollment and ending the cost-sharing reductions (CSRs) that subsidize out-of-pocket costs for lower-income enrollees. That last tactic could cause premiums to rise by 20 percent or more and could ultimately lead insurers to pull out of the marketplaces, further destabilizing them. We just learned that premiums in Pennsylvania will rise by an average of 30 percent after Trump’s decision.
Which puts added pressure on Democratic elected officials and progressive groups to get the word out. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg recently urged Democrats to treat this as a partywide priority, and Yahoo News reports that Democratic members of Congress, at the urging of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), will try to use events in districts to push people to enroll. The Democratic House leadership aide tells me there is a clear recognition that members will need to do more than they’re now doing.
There are bipartisan Senate talks underway over a package designed to stabilize the exchanges, which could include appropriations to cover the CSRs along with some deregulatory features that Republicans want. A deal would put pressure on Republicans to accept it, and it’s plausible Trump will feel pressure to sign it if it can pass Congress (another big unknown). It’s also possible, as Jonathan Chait suggests, that he can only sign such a deal if he boasts to his supporters (and himself) that he has successfully obliterated Obamacare (“it’s gone”) and that he’s replacing it with something awesome.
But even if that happens, it may be too late to make a big difference to the coming enrollment period. Bottom line: The rot of bad faith and sheer malevolence at the core of Trump’s claim that Obamacare is already “gone” need to be fully appreciated. Trump is not only rolling back the last administration’s efforts to reach the uninsured; he is also telling the American people that a government program that is up and running and designed to help people get health coverage they can’t afford no longer exists. This, even as he and Republicans have already confirmed that they are incapable of producing a replacement, despite his promises otherwise.
Trump’s incompetence is a key reason why he and Republicans failed to pass an affirmative plan of their own for the many millions of people currently benefiting from the ACA. But that incompetence isn’t preventing his malevolence from destroying what is already there for them.
* ANOTHER POLL FINDS TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN TOILET: A new CNN poll finds that Trump’s approval is at 37-57, and the percentage who think things are going well has fallen to 46 percent. And:
The poll also finds Democrats holding a lead in the generic congressional ballot — 51% to 37% overall, driven by a unified base of Democrats. Nearly all self-identified Democrats (98%) say they prefer the Democratic candidate in their congressional district, compared to 88% of Republicans who prefer the GOP candidate in their district.
That’s a 14-point lead in the generic ballot matchup. Of course, given structural factors like gerrymandering, Dems will need a large popular vote margin to take back the House.
* TRUMP PRIVATELY DUMPS ON McCONNELL: The New York Times reports that Trump “privately denigrated” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at a recent dinner with conservative leaders, and McConnell is similarly infuriated by Trump:
According to two people with knowledge of the president’s remarks, he called Mr. McConnell “a weak leader” and said that he remained befuddled at Mr. McConnell’s inability to wrangle the votes needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For his part, aides to Mr. McConnell say that he has been deeply frustrated by Mr. Trump’s willingness to lash out, even as the Senate leader successfully guided the chamber to confirm Mr. Trump’s cabinet and judicial nominations.
No matter how much Trump whines, he was all in with McConnell’s health push, and the real reason it lost a few GOP senators was their joint failure in selling garbage policy built on cruelty and lies.
* BANNON WON’T ABANDON WAR ON GOP: Trump yesterday said he would try to talk Stephen K. Bannon out of targeting some Senate GOP incumbents, but Bloomberg reports that Bannon will keep on backing insurgent challengers:
There are deep fears in the White House and among Republicans that the tax overhaul, considered vital for next year’s midterms by the party’s strategists, will follow Obamacare repeal to the legislative ash heap. … Trump and Bannon have spoken in recent days, said someone familiar with the conversation. But the president’s former chief strategist hasn’t changed his outlook toward his party’s establishment.
This is puzzling. Trump wants Bannon to stand down to improve the odds of his tax cuts passing? Does that mean Trump admits the notion that the GOP establishment has sold out his agenda is a scam?
* McCONNELL WARNS TRUMP ABOUT BANNON: Meanwhile, the Washington Examiner reports that McConnell has privately warned Trump that Bannon is the real threat to his agenda:
The Kentucky Republican communicated his warning during a private lunch with the president at the White House, sources tell the Washington Examiner. McConnell emphasized that Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was undermining the president’s agenda with plans to recruit and finance primary challenges against Republicans who are some of his most reliable supporters in the Senate.
As it happens, McConnell is right: Trump and McConnell are all in together on Obamacare repeal and huge tax cuts for the rich. This really isn’t complicated, folks.
* VIRGINIA RACE TIGHTENS: A new Wason Center poll of the Virginia gubernatorial contest finds Democrat Ralph Northam leading Republican Ed Gillespie by 48-44. This is down from a six-point lead several weeks ago.
The polling averages have had Northam up by at least six points, but allow us to remind you: Democrats think Northam’s lead is considerably tighter than that.
* WILL MEDIA LET TRUMP SKATE WITH HIS TAX LIES? Paul Krugman points out that the Trump/GOP tax-reform plan is based on multiple demonstrable lies and asks whether the media will let them skate:
If an administration spokesperson declares that up is down, will news reports simply say “so-and-so says up is down, but Democrats disagree,” or will they also report that up is not, in fact, down? … One thing we know for sure, however, is that a great majority of Republican politicians know perfectly well that their party is lying about its tax plan — and every even halfway competent economist aligned with the party definitely understands what’s going on.
* ON TRUMP’S CLAIM ABOUT OBAMA AND FALLEN SOLDIERS: Trump yesterday claimed that President Barack Obama didn’t call families of fallen soldiers, then quickly took it back. Glenn Kessler points out that there is plenty of evidence that Obama actually met with these families. Note this:
Still, in early 2011, the family of one fallen soldier, Sgt. Sean Collins, told Fox News they had requested a call from Obama and were told his schedule was too packed for a conversation. … Trump, as is his style, was too quick to charge that Obama had not made phone calls. Perhaps he was influenced by the Fox News report in 2011, or perhaps he received some bum information.
It is actually quite plausible that Trump made this claim based on that one Fox News report, which doesn’t say anything good about where we are right now.