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 But that’s already out of date.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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This Climate Denying Lawmaker Has Proposed a Bill to Protect Climate Deniers

Mother Jones

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A Maine lawmaker has introduced a bill that will safeguard political speech—with a special focus on climate change deniers.

Republican Rep. Lawrence Lockman, who told the Associated Press that whether or not human activity is causing global warming is an open question, proposed legislation that would ban the state from prosecuting people for their “climate change policy preferences.” The measure prohibits the state from discriminating against climate change deniers with respect to employment and hiring, and bars any state agencies or departments from refusing to purchase goods and services, or awarding grants and contracts, on the basis of a person’s opinion regarding climate change.

According to NASA, 97 percent of scientists acknowledge that our planet is getting warmer due to human activity.

The bill is in response the lawsuit filed by a group of state attorneys general, including Maine’s Janet Mills, against Exxon Mobil in 2016. The suit alleges that the oil giant misled the public about global warming and should pay a financial penalty.

Lockman told the Associated Press that the bill wasn’t just for climate deniers, because it would protect the free speech of others as well. “I don’t want to see a Republican attorney general issuing subpoenas for the records of progressive or liberal think tanks or public policy groups to chill their free speech,” he said.

But Democratic lawmakers do not seem convinced. Lois Galgay Reckitt, a Democrat in the state legislature, said that the entire Democratic caucus would oppose the bill, as would some Republicans.

“The issue for me is I’m a scientist and I live near the ocean,” she said to the Associated Press. “It’s absolutely clear to me that climate change is happening and it worries me. I will fight this tooth and nail.”

A public hearing is scheduled for April 6.

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This Climate Denying Lawmaker Has Proposed a Bill to Protect Climate Deniers

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Republicans Delay Vote on Health Care Bill

Mother Jones

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In a major blow to President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, the House vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which was slated for Thursday, has been postponed.

The delay comes just hours after a failed emergency meeting between Trump and members of the House Freedom Caucus, hard-line conservatives who demanded the American Health Care Act eliminate Obamacare’s so-called essential health benefits. The potential concession to the Freedom Caucus’ demands reportedly alarmed more moderate-leaning Republicans.

It’s unclear when a rescheduled vote will take place.

As of Thursday afternoon, 47 House Republicans remained undecided about their vote on Ryan’s health care legislation; 31 Republican lawmakers said they would reject the proposal. With all Democrats voting no, the bill can only afford to lose 22 Republicans to secure passage.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.

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Republicans Delay Vote on Health Care Bill

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Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

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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Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

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