Category Archives: Venta

Friday Is D-Day For the Republican Health Care Bill

Mother Jones

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From Politico:

President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney said.

This makes sense on a whole bunch of levels:

As a threat against conservatives: Vote for the bill or else Obamacare stays around forever and it’s your fault.

As a boredom minimizer: I doubt very much Trump himself cares one way or the other about health care, and he’s probably tired of all boring technical talk that surrounds it (EHBs, continuous coverage, age bands, etc. etc.). He also instinctively understands that the whole thing is a shit show that’s making him more and more unpopular.

As politics: The current debacle has shown that there’s just no sweet spot acceptable to both moderate and conservative Republicans. Why keep beating yourself up over it?

As revenge against liberals: Trump has said that 2017 is the year Obamacare unravels. He will now do everything he can to make that come true, and there’s a fair amount he can do.

As substance: It frees up time for taxes and trade, things Trump is more interested in.

Besides, I don’t think Trump wants to stay in Washington over the weekend. The Mar-a-Lago golf course beckons. So let’s just put this baby to bed one way or the other, OK?

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Friday Is D-Day For the Republican Health Care Bill

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Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

Mother Jones

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On Thursday, mere hours after Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to fellow members of the House intelligence committee for his wild stunt the day before, White House flack Sean Spicer defended Nunes, mischaracterized what he’d revealed, and tried to perpetuate his boss’ bizarre claim that President Barack Obama had ordered “tapps” on his Trump Tower phones during the election season.

In case you missed it, Nunes, a California Republican who was on Trump’s transition team, called a press conference Wednesday to announce that he’d seen intelligence reports indicating that communications of Trump associates—maybe even Trump himself—may have been intercepted in the course of lawful intelligence-gathering on foreign targets after the election. Nunes was so “alarmed” by this that he briefed House Speaker Paul Ryan, reporters (twice), and Trump himself before he shared the information with the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, which is investigating possible Trump-Russia collusion.

That Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, was incensed. In a statement Wednesday, Schiff said he’d expressed his “grave concerns” to Nunes, and told him that “a credible investigation cannot be conducted this way.” Did Nunes intend to lead the Trump-Russia probe, Schiff said, “or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”

“The reality is that Nunes made a decision,” Spicer said at Thursday’s White House press briefing. “He briefed the press first…I don’t hear too much crying about that.”

Spicer said there was absolutely nothing wrong with Nunes going to Trump because the information had “nothing to do with Russia.” He then proceeded to mischaracterize that information, saying: “It was helpful for the president to know that the investigation as he had asked for was starting to bear fruit.” Spicer was referring to Trump’s March 5 request for Congress to investigate the president’s baseless wiretapping tweets. “What Chairman Nunes said is that there was evidence of surveillance that occurred during the election, and I think that’s important to note.”

As his boss might say: Wrong! Nunes never indicated that any Trump associates were under surveillance prior to the election. What Nunes said was that they might have been caught on tape incidentally during the transition—after the election. Nunes’ revelations in fact undermine the claim that Obama ordered Trump’s phones tapped. Ordering the illegal wiretap of an American citizen would be a serious crime. And Trump and Spicer, of all people, should know that falsely accusing someone of a serious crime is defamatory at best—if done with malicious intent, it’s also libelous.

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Sean Spicer Keeps Trying to Mislead the Press About Donald Trump’s Bogus Wiretap Claims

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The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

Nanette Barragán is used to facing off against polluters. Elected in 2013 to the city council of Hermosa Beach, California, she took on E&B Natural Resources, an oil and gas company looking to drill wells on the beach. Barragán, an attorney before going into politics, learned of the potential project and began campaigning for residents to vote against it. The project was eventually squashed. In November, she won a congressional seat in California’s 44th district.

To Barragán, making sure President Trump’s environmental rollbacks don’t affect communities is a matter of life or death. The district she represents, the same in which she grew up, encompasses heavily polluted parts of Los Angeles County — areas crisscrossed with freeways and dotted with oil and gas wells. Barragan says she grew up close to a major highway and suffered from allergies. “I now go back and wonder if it was related to living that close,” she says.

Exide Technologies, a battery manufacturer that has polluted parts of southeast Los Angeles County with arsenic, lead, and other chemicals for years, sits just outside her district’s borders. Barragán’s district is also 69 percent Latino and 15 percent black. She has become acutely aware of the environmental injustices of the pollution plaguing the region. “People who are suffering are in communities of color,” she says.

Now in the nation’s capital, Barragán is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s newly formed environmental task force and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation on topics like energy and public lands and is chaired by climate denier Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican. She knows the next four years will be tough but says she’s up for the challenge. “I think it’s going to be, I hate to say it, a lot of defense.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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The lead poisoning of Flint’s children pales in comparison to rates found in parts of California.

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The Republican Health Care Bill Is In Deep Trouble

Mother Jones

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Jonathan Chait has a question:

No, no, no, no, no! Remember when we thought it might be better if Donald Trump won the Republican primary because Hillary Clinton would be sure to beat him? Then James Comey came along.

Shit happens, people, and there’s no predicting it. I doubt that the Republican bill can pass the Senate, but it might. The only thing we should care about is taking every possible opportunity to stop it, whenever and wherever we have a chance. Period.

(Besides, I doubt that voting for this bill will do much harm to Republicans when the midterms roll around. That’s still 20 months away, and besides, at least the yes voters can say they did everything they could to repeal Obamacare but leadership screwed it up.)

And speaking of the Republican bill, apparently the whip count really is falling short. So now the vote has been postponed to Friday. Maybe. It all depends on whether Paul Ryan and Donald Trump can figure out something else to capitulate on in order to win the votes of the crackpots in the Freedom Caucus.

Oh, and one more thing: CBO has rescored the bill. The original version reduced the deficit by $337 billion. The new one reduces it by only $150 billion. But that’s already out of date. They’ll have to score it again after Ryan and Trump finish negotiating with the conservatives. But it’s worth noting that Ryan doesn’t have a lot of headroom left if he also needs to negotiate with moderates who want a slightly less brutal program. Another $150 billion and the bill won’t reduce the deficit anymore. And if it doesn’t reduce the deficit, it can’t be passed under reconciliation.

But wait! One final thing: earlier I noted that the Republican bill is allowed to repeal only the elements of Obamacare that directly affect the budget. So if Republicans try to add provisions that repeal, say, essential benefits or pre-existing conditions, the Senate parliamentarian is likely to rule that they have to be jettisoned. However, as the presiding officer of the Senate, VP Mike Pence has the final word on this. He could just declare the parliamentarian wrong and allow the vote to go forward.

But what justification would he offer? As it happens, Republicans already have one handy. Last year, a number of them made the argument that the “direct effect” rule should be applied to the whole bill, not to its individual parts. In other words, Obamacare can be repealed completely because Obamacare as a whole directly affects the budget. If Republicans go down this road, that’s what you’re likely to hear.

However, my guess is that if Pence does this, he’ll lose a whole bunch of votes from moderate senators who won’t be a party to something that effectively kills the filibuster. So it probably can’t pass the Senate either way.

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The Republican Health Care Bill Is In Deep Trouble

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Government Official Who Negotiated Trump Hotel Deal Says Deal Is Fine

Mother Jones

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A top government official who negotiated a controversial deal to lease a historic Washington, DC, property to Donald Trump has announced that he sees no problem with the arrangement—despite a clause in Trump’s contract that prohibits any elected officials from benefiting from the deal.

Since before Trump’s inauguration, ethics experts and Trump critics have cried foul over the 60-year lease Trump signed with the General Services Administration in 2013 to take over the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue. Long before he ran for president, Trump beat out a handful of large hotel chains to redevelop the property, which had long languished under poor management, costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

In late November, George Washington University law school professor Steve Schooner wrote in Government Executive magazine that the lease Trump signed includes a clause that prohibits any elected officials from benefiting from the deal. For months, the GSA has been silent on the question of whether Trump’s election causes a breach of the contract.

Today, Kevin Terry, a GSA contracting officer who oversaw the original contract negotiations with Trump, released a letter declaring that there was no reason for concern. In the letter, which is reprinted in its entirety below, Terry takes the position that there is no violation of the clause because the Trump Organization has been rearranged to steer any profits from the hotel away from Trump’s bank accounts while he’s in office. Trump owns more than 76 percent of the project; his children own the remainder.

According to Terry’s letter, the Trump Organization has presented documents to the GSA showing that although any profits (or losses) are accrued among the partners based on their ownership, any profits that would have gone to Trump himself will be kept separate and unavailable for Trump’s personal use until he is out of office. Under the terms of the original agreement, Trump could have withdrawn money with ease, but the new corporate structure (established before Trump’s inauguration) would prevent this, Terry wrote.

Schooner, who raised the original concerns, was scathing in his response to Terry’s letter. “Disgusting,” he wrote in an email to Mother Jones. He is bothered that Terry’s analysis does not take into account—or even acknowledge—the inherent conflict of interest in the decision.

“It is deeply troubling that the contracting officer’s letter makes no reference to the underlying conflicts of interest, which, of course, undercuts any suggestion that he (the contracting officer) engaged in independent analysis,” says Schooner, who teaches government contracting law. “The CO’s decision favors the President, who, in effect, is his supervisor, just as it favors the GSA (in terms of maintaining the status quo); but it also pleases his (the CO’s) ultimate supervisor – the head of the agency – who serves at the President’s pleasure.”

In December, congressional Democrats said they had been briefed by GSA officials who believed Trump would be in violation of the lease when he was inaugurated. Today, Reps. Elijah Cummings and Peter DeFazio, the top Democrats on the House Government Oversight and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees, respectively, condemned Terry’s decision, calling it is a reversal from what the GSA had previously told them.

According to Terry’s letter, while Trump is in office, his share of the hotel’s profits will be available for the hotel to use in its operations. The Democratic lawmakers said that was not an acceptable arrangement. “This decision allows profits to be reinvested back into the hotel so Donald Trump can reap the financial benefits when he leaves the White House,” Cummings and DeFazio said in a statement. “This is exactly what the lease provision was supposed to prevent.”

Terry’s letter is defensive and makes a dig at critics of the deal.

“To date, most of the review and reporting on the clause has focused on only a few select words, and reached simplistic ‘black and white’ conclusions regarding the meaning and implications of the clause,” Terry wrote. “However, it has been less widely reported that other legal professional and former government contracting officials have reviewed the language and come to different conclusions.”

Not all attorneys agreed with Schooner’s interpretation of the contract’s clause about elected officials. Some argued that the contract was written in a way that barred elected officials from becoming new parties to the deal but did not seem to prohibit someone from becoming an elected official after signing the contract. In a letter to the GSA that was included with Terry’s announcement, Trump’s personal attorney, Sheri Dillon, made a similar argument.

But that’s apparently not the reasoning that Terry used in making his decision that there was no breach of contract. Instead, he relied on the belief that Trump would have to wait until he left office to receive any profits from the hotel.

Terry’s letter points out that the property was a money-loser for the federal government before the Trump lease, but that the Trump Organization has been paying $250,000 a month in rent since it signed the lease. According to Terry, Trump has paid $5.1 million so far.

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Contracting Officer Letter March 23 2017 Redacted Version1 (PDF)

Contracting Officer Letter March 23 2017 Redacted Version1 (Text)

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Government Official Who Negotiated Trump Hotel Deal Says Deal Is Fine

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