Friday Talking Points -- Happy Birthday, Mr. President

President Donald J. Trump turned 71 years old this week. He held a party and invited all his cabinet members, who were all allowed to sing his praises in a manner one reporter summed up as: "honestly this is like a scene from the Third World." The internet, of course, had a field day afterwards. But it's pretty easy to understand why Trump felt the need to hold a public ass-kissing event to celebrate. After all, pretty much all of his other birthday presents were stinkers.

The news media and Robert Mueller brought the news (tied up with a bow) that Trump's biggest fear already came true a month ago -- he is now officially under investigation for obstruction of justice. When you consider how much time and energy Trump put into getting the word out that he was not under investigation, you begin to see what an enormous blow this news must have been to the birthday boy. He's been grumpily tweeting about it ever since, and leaking that he might just fire Mueller. Because, you know, what could possibly go wrong with that?

Maryland, D.C., and 200 Democrats all chipped in to bring two massive lawsuits against Trump, for blatantly ignoring the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. Trump, as oblivious as ever, announced later in the week he was changing America's policy towards Cuba which would (surprise, surprise!) wipe out the advantage other hotel chains had over Trump properties on the island.

The Senate, not to be outdone, banded together in a breathtaking display of bipartisanship (a 98-2 vote) to pass a sanctions bill on Russia which gives Congress the final say on reducing any existing or future sanctions. This diminishes the power of President Trump in a big way, and just for good measure they threw in a statement affirming the U.S. commitment to NATO. Icing on the birthday cake, as it were.

The Ninth Circuit upheld the freeze on Trump's beloved travel ban, and since they knew that Trump already had several decisions against him on this score, they came up with a brand-new legal reason for why Trump can't do what he wants.

Yale held a confab of 125 big C.E.O.s this week, and they decided to give the president a report card for his birthday. A whopping fifty percent of them gave Trump an "F." Another 21 percent gave Trump a "D." Only a one percent of them gave Trump an "A." This is not a group known for being radical lefties, it bears pointing out -- these are the captains of industry who are normally quite favorable to Republican administrations.

The only person who got Trump a present that wasn't a total dud was Jeff Sessions, who gave Trump a big "stonewall" (assumably because he knew how much Trump loves walls).

All in all, not the happiest of birthdays for the president. To top the week off, Trump hit the milestone of 60 percent job disapproval in the Gallup poll, so that was really the public's big birthday present to him. Trump can feel proud in the knowledge that he hit this record mark much faster than any other modern president.

The following presidents never hit 60 percent disapproval, during their entire time in office: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. Here is how long it took the other four to hit this mark of public disapproval: Harry S. Truman -- 2,129 days into his presidency; Richard Nixon -- 1,736 days; George H. W. Bush -- 1,289 days; and George W. Bush -- 1,758 days.

It took Trump a mere 143 days for six out of every ten Americans to disapprove of the job he's doing. I guess the public's officially tired of all the "winning," or something. This led to the funniest graph-related tweet we think we've ever seen, the "Trump Disapproval Crocodile" (from Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post data reporter). Happy birthday, Mister President!

In other Trump scandal news, Mike Pence has now lawyered-up. Trump is considering firing Robert Mueller, which would pour gasoline on the fire in a big way. Or maybe that should be "nitroglycerine," since the move would immediately blow up in his face. What else? Jared Kushner's finances (and likely everyone else on Team Trump) are also now under investigation, for possible ties to Russia. If we were to place a bet, we'd bet that Mueller either already has or is in the process of obtaining Donald Trump's tax returns. It's the most obvious place to start looking, after all.

Politico reports on the current state of the president's mind:

Trump, for months, has bristled almost daily about the ongoing probes. He has sometimes, without prompting, injected "I'm not under investigation" into conversations with associates and allies. He has watched hours of TV coverage every day -- sometimes even storing morning news shows on his TiVo to watch in the evening -- and complained nonstop. "It's basically all he talks about on the phone," said one adviser.... Aides have tried to change the subject, with little luck. Two people close to Trump note that his is an obsessive personality [but staffers] say they fear his incendiary tweets and public comments have spurred "countless" leaks of damaging information.

So, in other words, Trump is still his own worst enemy.

In unrelated news, Trump broke another campaign promise this week, by totally abdicating his duties as commander-in-chief. He's letting the Pentagon now decide how many more troops to send to Afghanistan, which will likely be in the thousands.

Puerto Rico voted to become a state, but this isn't likely to happen any time soon, seeing as how Congress gets the final say and adding two Democratic senators would proportionally shrink the Republican majority in the Senate.

An extraordinary thing happened in Kansas, as the Republican statehouse passed -- over a veto -- an emergency plan to raise taxes. Yes, you read that right. They were forced to do so because -- just like it always does -- the conservative dream of trickle-down economics failed miserably, once again. You'd think they'd realize this after awhile, but you'd be wrong. What Kansas did (which led to utter failure) is exactly the same thing Paul Ryan desperately wants to do on a nationwide level.

Of course, there was a tragic shooting this week, in an apparent act of political terrorism on a baseball field in Virginia.

We have to say, the response from Democrats was pretty impressive across the board. The shooter (we refuse to use such people's names, because we feel such people don't deserve any personal recognition at all) was apparently a Bernie Sanders supporter. Sanders stood up on the floor of the Senate and denounced him in no uncertain terms.

The Democratic leadership was also speaking with one voice -- and in chorus with the Republican leadership. That was heartening, as were all the displays of unity in response to the shooting. Now, we're too cynical to expect any of this to last much past next week, but it was good to see virtually all of our elected officials coming together in very humane solidarity. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer did a good job of leading this effort for the Democrats.

But our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to the Democratic congressional baseball team. They impressively beat the Republicans 11-2, but that's not why we're giving them the MIDOTW.

After winning, the Democratic team was presented with a trophy. Rather than accept it, the Democrats gave the trophy to Steve Scalise, who is still in rather critical condition after being shot in the hip. While this was only a symbolic representation of unity, we have to admit it was a pretty good one. The spirit of "an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us" that Paul Ryan described was perfectly symbolized by giving the trophy to Scalise, where it will be sitting in his office awaiting his recovery.

So we though the 2017 congressional Democratic baseball team deserved an award for selflessly handing over the real award to one of the victims of the attack. They don't have a game trophy any more, so we thought we'd give them their own Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to replace it.

[There are really too many on the official roster to list here, so you'll have to look up their contact info if you'd like to let them know you appreciate their gesture.]

For the second week in a row, no Democrat did anything which we felt rose to the level of a Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. As always, if you've got someone we either missed or forgot about who you feel deserves the award, please feel free to nominate them in the comments.

Volume 441 (6/16/17)

As we are sometime wont to do, we do not have discrete talking points this week, but rather an extended rant on what is going on in the Senate. Mitch McConnell is desperately trying to come up with a healthcare bill in the next two weeks. Republicans themselves are all over the map on the issue, making McConnell's job almost impossible (Senator John McCain: "We've got a divided caucus. I listen avidly at lunch as we go over the same arguments over and over and over again."). But there's a very real danger that McConnell could twist enough arms at last minute to pass some rancid bill to hand over to the House, before they all leave for vacation.

We don't know about you, but we find all of this pretty outrageous. So we're venting that rage, today.

Where is the outrage?!?

I realize how much fun it is for the media to obsessively cover President Trump's numerous investigations and numerous Twitter outbursts. But while this is amusing ("Did you see what Trump just tweeted?!?") it is nothing short of a distraction from a very serious subject. Because while Trump is (as usual) flailing about in public, a very small group of Republican senators is hastily putting together their version of a "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill. This will affect one-sixth of the American economy, and they are doing it completely in secret.

When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was being drafted, Democrats took well over a year, held hundreds of hearings and committee meetings, issued several drafts of the bill, allowed public comment, invited Republicans to add amendments along the way, got numerous scores from the Congressional Budget Office, and held long extended floor debates. Throughout this lengthy and downright exhaustive process, Republicans had the gall to complain that it was being "rammed through." Here's Mitch McConnell from back then:

Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform or a new national energy tax without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people. [Democrats using such means] would make it absolutely clear they intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis.

That was then, this is now. Now, McConnell refuses to even let his fellow Republicans even have a peek at the bill being drafted. The entire process is supposed to wrap up before Congress takes another extended holiday for Independence Day.

The Senate will hold not a single hearing on the bill. There will be no testimony by doctors, nurses, patients, hospitals, insurance companies, drug companies, economists, or anyone else with an interest in the healthcare industry. Not a single voice will be heard, from anybody outside the locked room where they're writing the bill.

Even Republican senators outside the tight little group drafting the bill can't see the text of it. Even chairs of committees who are supposed to be responsible for such legislation haven't seen it. Orrin Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, responded: "Join the crowd, I'm in the same category," when a reporter complained the bill's text wasn't available. The most astonishing of these comments came from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who admitted: "I haven't seen any legislative language." He's the guy who will be in charge of implementing whatever bill is produced, and he's not even allowed to peek at it.

The Washington Post had a good rundown on just how breathtaking the plan's changes will be (which, of course, is the whole reason for such secrecy):

It's important to understand that the secrecy with which this bill is being crafted is a tacit admission on Republicans' part that its likely effects on Americans' health care and financial security are so gruesome that it must be kept hidden until the last possible moment, lest the public have time to understand what's in it. We don't know exactly what the Senate's bill will consist of, but there are a few things we do know. At its heart, it will do what the bill the House passed to repeal the Affordable Care Act does: take health coverage away from millions of people in order to give a tax break to the wealthy. While some hoped that a few moderates and senators from states that had accepted the A.C.A.'s Medicaid expansion might try to save the expansion, that hope is dead. According to various reports, those supposed moderates now support phasing out the expansion, but doing it over seven years instead of the three years that the House bill provided for. The Senate bill would also likely transform Medicaid -- which today covers nearly 70 million Americans -- into a block grant, for the first time allowing states to toss people off and cut back benefits. It will cut back on the subsidies that currently allow those not poor enough for Medicaid to afford coverage. It will likely undo the A.C.A.'s mandates for essential health benefits, allowing the sale of "insurance" that in practice covers almost none of the needs people actually have. It will probably allow insurers to once again impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which can turn a life-threatening illness or accident into a financial catastrophe as well. And it could undermine the protections the tens of millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions now enjoy.

Sarah Kliff, over at Vox was even more blunt in pointing out the hypocrisy: "It's become obvious to me, particularly this week, that Republicans plan to move more quickly and less deliberatively than Democrats did in drafting the Affordable Care Act. They intend to do this despite repeatedly and angrily criticizing the Affordable Care Act for being moved too quickly and with too little deliberation." Her entire piece is worth reading, and includes a section explaining how the White House is handling criticism of the bill: by just flat-out lying about it.

Vice President Mike Pence visited the Health and Human Services Department on Tuesday and delivered a speech to the agency's employees. "Now, I know this room is filled with men and women who care deeply about bringing high-quality health care to every American," Pence said. "Rest assured, Donald Trump wants the exact same thing." Trump is not acting that way, though. He held a Rose Garden ceremony last month to laud a bill that would cause 23 million Americans to lose coverage -- a bill he praised as "incredibly well-crafted." This is now a consistent pattern from top Trump officials, who have decided that their strategy to hide the Republican health care plan will be to not tell the truth about what it actually does. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has appeared on national television and claimed that Americans will "absolutely not" lose Medicaid coverage under the House-passed bill. Two separate, independent analyses of the A.H.C.A. find this isn't true. Millions of Medicaid enrollees would lose coverage under that bill. Trump himself gave an interview to CBS in April where he said that people with pre-existing conditions would be protected under the A.H.C.A. They won't be: At the time he gave that interview, the bill had been amended to allow states to opt out of the requirement to charge people with pre-existing conditions the same prices as healthy enrollees, a move that will almost certainly price some patients out of coverage. Trump said that deductibles will go down under the Republican plan. Nonpartisan analysis expects deductibles will go up. The White House has decided to deal with an unpopular bill by refusing to acknowledge the parts of it that the public doesn't like. When asked in interviews about the expected loss in coverage or cuts to Medicaid, administration officials simply act as if they don't exist.

That House bill that Trump called "incredibly well-crafted" (back then) is now being described differently. Trump reportedly complained about the House bill to Republican senators this week, now calling it too "mean." Republican House members are reportedly not happy about this state of affairs: "It is having a lingering, and potentially devastating, effect on his credibility among House Republicans. Members are still talking about Trump's ["mean"] comment, and their frustration that he'd throw them under the bus is likely to damage his ability to negotiate on major items like infrastructure and tax reform."

So now the Senate Republicans have to make the bill ever-so-slightly less mean. Initially, it was thought that GOP senators from states which had expanded Medicaid would fight to keep the money. Now they've given up and are reduced to pleading to the other Republicans not to kick millions off Medicaid too quickly. A few years isn't really a difference worth mentioning, when the end result is still going to be the same, but people like Rob Portman will not fight to the mat on the issue.

Mitch McConnell is desperate to pass a bill -- any bill. This sense of desperation is going to lead to a lot more arm-twisting behind the scenes, in an attempt to bridge the gap between those who want to destroy everything and those who merely want to partially destroy everything. Think that's too harsh? Please remember that this entire exercise is designed to pass a disguised multi-billion dollar tax cut for the wealthy. In other words, they're not just intent on destruction, but also on looting and pillaging afterwards.

Three Republican senators is the magic number in all of this -- that is worth remembering. If three Republicans vote against the bill, it will die. If this happens, it is quite likely that the entire issue will be dead for the rest of this year, since the Senate has some hard deadlines staring it in the face immediately afterwards.

One of the necessary "no" votes is likely to be Rand Paul, who will probably vote no on anything short of an Ayn-Randian paradise of no federal interference in healthcare at all. Hey, he may be wacky, but at least he's consistent when it comes to voting his beliefs -- you've got to give him that. Counting Paul as a no, this means two other Republican senators will have the power to stop this legislative travesty in its tracks.

Democrats are impressively united, it also bears pointing out. To date, there have been no Democratic defections in either the House or the Senate on the issue. Not one Democrat is willing to put their name on this gruesome bill.

But the time for venting outrage is now, make no mistake. The public should be doubly outraged at what Mitch McConnell is doing in a locked backroom in the Capitol. They should be outraged at the outcome, of course, because it will be (as the president so aptly put it) "mean." It will devastate millions of lives and sentence tens of thousands to unnecessary early death each and every year. This is legislative mass murder, folks. Many will die early from easily-preventable diseases as a direct result of the Republican plan -- for lack of access to health insurance.

That is outrageous.

But people should likewise be outraged at the process both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have used. This is one-sixth of the American economy we are talking about, and the Republicans have held not one single hearing and not one single committee meeting on it, to date. No doctor has testified. No nurse has testified. No health insurance executive has testified. No patient has testified. No drug company executive has testified. No economist has testified. No healthcare expert has testified. No hospital administrator. Nada. The Republicans are so sure of their ability to change one-sixth of our economy that they have absolutely refused to talk to anyone outside their locked backroom. They won't even let their own fellow Republican senators know what they're deciding in this backroom. The head of Health and Human Services doesn't know what's in the bill. Nobody outside that room knows what will be in it, until they try to whisk it onto the Senate floor and pass it in the dead of night before anyone realizes what's in it -- in the nick of time, so they can go enjoy yet another week's vacation.

This is outrageous!

This is not the way Congress is supposed to work, folks. Even Republicans are complaining. Here is Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee: "I've said from Day One, and I'll say it again.... The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what's going on. Obviously, that's not the route that is being taken." You can say that again, Senator Corker.

I would urge anyone concerned about this secret backroom dealing and complete and utter lack of input and transparency to contact your senator today. Especially those of you who live in states with Republican senators, and especially those in red states that have actually expanded Medicaid. They need to hear from you now. In droves. As Hawai'i Senator Brian Schatz tweeted this week: "The 13 dudes who are secretly working to take away your healthcare met again today. They have bill text. Light up the phones."

If you don't know what to say when contacting your senator, I would suggest using the words of Mitch McConnell, from 2009. When the phone is picked up, all you really have to do to register your disapproval is to read McConnell's own words:

Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as health care reform without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people.

This is a travesty and an outrage. It is also, as McConnell himself put it, a massive disservice to the American people. Republicans have had eight full years to come up with a plan and they have not done so in all of that time. But now, for some reason, they have to throw something together in a few weeks and only let the public know what is in it at the last minute, right before the vote? Without any input at all from anyone concerned?

I don't know about you, but I find that outrageous, in the extreme.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

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