Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Republican Party in Crisis

The Republican Party has been in crisis for several years now, and Trump, while he¬†may be the party’s biggest problem at the moment, is not by any means the party’s¬†only big problem. ¬†The party’s other big problem is the schism, particularly acute in the House, between the pragmatic conservatives–yes, they are quite conservative in their own right–and the ideologically pure ultra-conservatives. The ideologically pure ultras call themselves the Freedom Caucus, and are closely associated with the older and more familiar term, the Tea Party.

The Republican leaders and President Trump put together a bill to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. ¬†It would cut Medicaid spending, it would eliminate the personal mandate for carrying insurance, it would effectively dry up subsidies other than “tax credits,” and it would scale back the kinds of coverage that policies would be required to provide. ¬†It would keep the ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, but it would leave a lot of people unable to afford insurance.

And who just stopped it from passing the House? ¬†The ultra-conservative Republicans who think it’s still too liberal. ¬†(Click here for Politico story, Friday afternoon, March 24, 2017.)

The bill had no Democratic support whatsoever, so it needed almost all of the Republicans to pass it. ¬†But even though the Republicans were in lockstep during the Obama administration to oppose most of Obama’s initiatives, they can’t agree on this one. ¬†Now, I’m not complaining–I’m a Democrat–but I find it interesting that the Republican Party, at a time when it’s more conservative than ever, can’t reach agreement on a bill that would seem to be this basic to what they claim they stand for. ¬†Again, I’m not complaining, just observing.

But there’s a key point that needs to be recognized here: a significant minority of the Republican Party in Congress would rather be ideologically pure than successful in passing a bill that just partially fulfills what they want to achieve. ¬†Ideological purity is most important to them. ¬†It’s akin to a religion: making a compromise, even with the moderates of their own party, is like being tempted by the Devil. ¬†And I want to stress that this schism in the party was evident two or three¬†years ago, before Trump overshadowed it by giving the party an even bigger, or at least a more conspicuous and attention-grabbing, problem.

(On a side note, the Democratic Party is in crisis at the moment too.  The number of major parties in this country that are not in serious states of crisis at the moment is zero.)

Poor Trump Can’t Catch a Break

This time it’s a federal district court judge in Hawaii who has issued a temporary restraining order on Trump’s new travel ban. ¬†This one exempted travelers who already had U.S. visas and removed Iraq from the list of countries whose nationals could not enter the U.S.,¬†and Trump¬†argues that the six countries have less than 9% of the world’s Muslims–so how can this policy be called a Muslim ban?

Here comes the judge. ¬†“The illogic of the Government‚Äôs contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed. The Court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise.”

The Establishment Clause is the key: ¬†having an established religion includes showing prejudice against religious groups, according to Trump’s challengers and according to Judge Derrick Watson (an Obama appointee).

Indeed, the checks and balances system is biting our current president in what British English speakers call the arse!

Politico.com story, March 15, 2017

By the time you read this, there will be further updates. ¬†See the news feeds at the right-hand side of the OpenLab site page. ¬†If you’re using a pocket device, I don’t know exactly where they are on it, but they’re somewhere, and you should be checking them regularly.

Repealing and Replacing Obamacare

As we speak, a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and replace it with a new system that throws out some of its features while keeping or modifying others is making its way through committee hearings on Capitol Hill. ¬†The hearings ran overnight, in fact. ¬†But when it gets to the full floor of each chamber of Congress for a vote, it’s showing every sign of facing negative votes, not only from all of the Democrats, who feel sure¬†it will take health coverage away from millions who need it, but also from a handful of Republicans who think it’s too¬†liberal, as well as some other Republicans whose vulnerable constituents are benefiting from Obamacare.

Related News Stories:

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/09/519304881/5-things-to-watch-with-the-gop-health-law-overhaul

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/obamacare-repeal-partisan-fight-235832

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/obamacare-repeal-republican-moderates-235852

How Obama Worded His Denial

After President Trump tweeted his accusation that Obama, while still president last fall, was tapping the phones at Trump Tower, Obama issued a statement through a spokesman.  The precise wording of that statement is interesting, and it is as follows:

“A cardinal rule of the Obama Administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement.

“As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen,” he added. “Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”

from thehill.com

If you read that statement carefully, he’s not saying that there couldn’t possibly have been any wiretapping. ¬†He’s merely saying that, if there was, he had nothing to do with it.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that there¬†was any wiretapping. ¬†But there’s another equally important point that needs to be remembered: ¬†If it did happen, the people who know about it are all, at this moment, subordinates of the president who answer to the president. ¬†Trump therefore has the authority to call for a full report on the whole thing with a snap of his fingers. ¬†Why doesn’t he just do that? ¬†Press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday that doing that would be interfering with a Congressional investigation. ¬†(That makes absolutely no sense to me, I have to say honestly.) ¬†NPR news story, Monday, March 6, 2017.

If wiretapping did occur, this story in Politico discusses what procedures would have to have been followed.

The Great Divide in Congress

Trump does something every few days that the Republicans in Congress can’t possibly be entirely comfortable with. ¬†Even so, it’s the Democrats who talk most overtly about Trump as a behavior problem, while the Republicans–with a few exceptions–say no more than they absolutely have to.

This March 5, 2017, article in Politico furnishes a prime example.

Saturday morning, Trump tweeted that Obama was tapping the phones in Trump Tower last fall. ¬†Here are Trump’s precise words on Twitter: ¬†“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‚Äėwires tapped‚Äô in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!¬†Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‚Äėwire tapping‚Äô a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!‚ÄĚ ¬†(See Politico, March 4.)

Remembering, of course, that because the Republicans have the majority in both chambers of Congress, every committee in Congress has a Republican chair and a “ranking Democrat” (the senior Democrat who¬†would be the chair if the Democrats had the majority), it’s instructive to look at the contrast in responses from the chair and the ranking Democrat of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. ¬†(As noted in the chapter on Congress, one of the things Congressional committees constantly do is conduct investigations and hold hearings, in the process called “congressional oversight.”)

Republican Representative Devin Nunes, Chair of the committee: ¬†“One of the focus points of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is the U.S. government’s response to actions taken by Russian intelligence agents during the presidential campaign. As such, the Committee will make inquiries into whether the government was conducting surveillance activities on any political party‚Äôs campaign officials or surrogates, and we will continue to investigate this issue if the evidence warrants it.”

Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s Ranking Democrat: ¬†“Today, it became all the more clear that President Trump’s claim that he was illegally wire-tapped by President Obama was based on little more than Breitbart or other conspiracy-based news. ¬†For a President of the United States to make such an incendiary charge ‚ÄĒ and one that discredits our democracy in the eyes of the world ‚ÄĒ is as destructive as it was baseless.”

There is a lot more happening; I strongly encourage clicking onto http://www.politico.com and the other news sites and doing some browsing and clicking.