Tag Archives: current

Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

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These Republicans Want to Put Ankle Monitors on the Sponsors of Undocumented Children

Mother Jones

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Two top Texas Republican lawmakers have been working on a border security and immigration enforcement bill with input from the Trump administration, according to multiple reports—and it pulls few punches.

Most notably, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn and House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul’s bill would force the sponsors of undocumented immigrants between the ages of 15 to 17 who show up unaccompanied at the border to wear ankle monitors so that the teens don’t skip out on deportation hearings. The sponsors are typically parents or other family members—many of whom are legal residents or citizens.

The use of ankle monitors on migrants themselves is already controversial. Mother Jones has previously reported that through for-profit companies, and at the cost of thousands of dollars, ankle monitors are offered as alternatives to long-term detention for migrants who can’t afford the lump sum of their bail, even though the monthly payments can eventually overshadow the original bail amounts. Requiring the sponsors, instead of the migrants, to wear the ankle bracelets appears to be an unprecedented step further.

The early “discussion draft” of the bill also calls to increase criminal prosecutions for immigrants who cross the border illegally, including establishing a five-year minimum prison sentence for those who re-enter the country after being deported. It would expand the use of mandatory detention for immigrants arrested within 100 miles of a border who are from countries other than Mexico or Canada—the overwhelming majority of migrants entering the United States come from Central America. It seeks an increase in detention space, allows for financial reimbursement to states that deploy their National Guard to the border, and calls for more immigration judges to speed up deportations. It calls for various border wall upgrades, but stops short of providing for Trump’s long-promised “big, beautiful” border wall.

On Tuesday, a congressional aide told Politico that the bill circulating is “really old” and “nowhere near the current draft.” But it’s unclear what has changed. While the bill is aimed at avoiding the pitfalls of the far right, hardline anti-immigrant groups have come out against it, arguing that because it lacks imposing sanctions on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants and does not provide for Trump’s border wall, it is toothless. “There’s not a single thing about worksite enforcement or anything at all against employers,” Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Washington Post. “It’s tinkering around the margins.”

Both the offices of Cornyn and McCaul declined to comment on the bill, including whether the latest draft still includes a mandate forcing undocumented children’s sponsors to wear ankle monitors.

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These Republicans Want to Put Ankle Monitors on the Sponsors of Undocumented Children

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The White House Won’t Deny the Facts of Latest Russia Scandal But Says It’s False Anyway

Mother Jones

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On Monday, the Washington Post set off a political firestorm when it reported that President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in their White House meeting on May 10. Current and former US officials told the Post that the disclosure jeopardized a valuable source of intelligence on ISIS. The paper quoted one official as saying that Trump had “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

On Monday evening, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster read a confusing statement to the press that appeared to deny the Post’s report. “The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false,” he said, adding that “at no time—at no time—were intelligence sources or methods discussed.” Multiple news outlets soon pointed out that McMaster’s verbal gymnastics seemed to be a classic “nondenial denial.” That is, McMaster appeared to be denying information that wasn’t actually reported by the Post in the first place. The Post had not claimed that “intelligence sources or methods” were discussed; the paper had simply reported that the information discussed could be used to discern intelligence sources or methods.

Trump, for his part, appeared to muddy the waters further Tuesday morning when he took to Twitter to defend his actions. Unlike McMaster, Trump didn’t even purport to dispute the Post‘s reporting:

Later Tuesday, McMaster appeared before the press yet again in an attempt to clear up the situation. Asked about his Monday claim that the Post story was “false,” McMaster said, “I stand by my statement that I made yesterday.” But he then went on to suggest that he wasn’t actually claiming the facts in the story were wrong. Rather, he said it was the “premise” of the article that was false. According to McMaster, “What I’m saying is really the premise of that article is false—that in any way the president had a conversation that was inappropriate or that resulted in any kind of lapse in national security.”

In other words, McMaster wasn’t disputing any of the details in the Post‘s report; he was simply saying the president’s actions were somehow appropriate. McMaster refused to say whether or not the information the president shared with Lavrov and Kislyak was classified. But he repeated several times that Trump’s decision to share the material was “wholly appropriate.”

And why does McMaster think Trump’s statements to the Russians were appropriate? Because, McMaster seemed to imply, the president can decide to share whatever he wants. “As you know,” he said, “it is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did…He made the decision in the context of the conversation, which was wholly appropriate.”

McMaster added that Trump wasn’t even aware that the information apparently came from a sensitive intelligence source:

So there you have it: The Post story is “false” because Trump’s statement’s were “appropriate,” and Trump’s statement’s were “appropriate” because he’s the president.

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The White House Won’t Deny the Facts of Latest Russia Scandal But Says It’s False Anyway

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A Lot of Republicans Are Abandoning the Latest Trumpcare Plan

Mother Jones

Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare could once again be in trouble. According to whip counts from various news outlets, Republicans have already lost nearly enough support from their own members in the House of Representatives to tank the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s bill that would rip apart and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The latest blow for House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) came Tuesday, when Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said that he’d vote against the bill. Upton is a particularly notable defection, since he’s the former chairman of one of the committees that deals with health care, and he’s spent years trying to undo Obamacare. But the current GOP repeal effort goes too far for Upton, because it would essentially end Obamacare’s ban on discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. “I’m not at all comfortable with removing that protection,” Upton said in a radio interview.

Last week, Republicans thought they were headed toward a deal that could pass the House. The hardcore conservatives in the Freedom Caucus had finally relented and offered their support for the AHCA after an amendment was introduced that would allow states to opt out of two of the core consumer protections in Obamacare: essential health benefits, and the prohibition on insurance companies charging higher rates for people with preexisting conditions. In other words, in order to win over the far-right members of their caucus, Ryan and other House leaders accepted a proposal that would allow insurance companies to once again price-gouge people with any sort of medical history.

But by caving to the Freedom Caucus and agreeing to ditch one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare, Ryan has lost support from a number of mainline Republicans in his caucus—Republicans who were already waffling thanks to the initial bill’s $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid and policies that would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans higher rates.

Republicans can likely afford to lose just 22 votes and still pass their bill. (The exact number depends on how many members of Congress are present if the vote ever happens.) Per a tabulation by HuffPost‘s Matt Fuller, there are 20 Republicans who have publicly said they will vote “No,” with another eight leaning against the bill. And those are just the Republicans willing to share their plains with the press. It’s possible that others are hesitant to publicly defy GOP leadership but are also wary of voting to repeal protections for their many constituents who suffer from preexisting conditions.

Ryan’s strategy for convincing his colleagues to support the bill seems to be to lie about what it actually does. After Upton announced his plans to vote against the proposal Tuesday, Ryan tweeted that it was “VERIFIED” that the bill protects people with preexisting conditions, despite the bill explicitly doing the exact opposite. Ryan’s own website acknowledges that fact, noting that the GOP plan would let states wave the current ban on preexisting condition pricing differences:

President Donald Trump has helped muddy GOP negotiations in recent days with a string of contradictory messages about what sort of health care bill he’d like to sign. In interviews, Trump has said both that the bill already protects people with preexisting conditions (not true) and also that the bill would be altered to add in those protections.

Still, despite all this bad news, Republicans have good reason to want to rush their bill through this week. While the public vote tallies aren’t favorable to Republicans, leadership is applying pressure behind the scenes that could possibly flip enough votes. Ryan reportedly asked his caucus to “pray” for the bill on Tuesday.

Ryan doesn’t have a ton of time, though. Congress is scheduled to leave town Thursday for a one-week recess, and a week of angry town hall events back home isn’t likely to shore up wavering moderates who are hesitant to overturn the preexisting condition ban and slash Medicaid.

What’s more, the amendment to end the preexisting condition protections hasn’t been analyzed yet by the Congressional Budget Office. When the CBO ran the numbers on the initial GOP proposal, it projected that 24 million fewer people would have health coverage if the plan became law. That number would probably rise under the new proposal, and premiums for people with preexisting conditions would likely skyrocket. But the CBO hasn’t yet had time to score the new legislation, leaving Republicans a brief window in which they could pass the bill before the American public has a chance to hear what it will actually do.

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A Lot of Republicans Are Abandoning the Latest Trumpcare Plan

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Trump Has No Idea What’s In His Health Care Bill

Mother Jones

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I’m going to go out and throw some frisbees around. In the meantime, enjoy John Dickerson’s interview with Donald Trump about his health care bill:

JOHN DICKERSON: So but in the bill, as it was analyzed, there were two problems. One, and you talked about this with Congressman Robert Aderholt, who brought you the example of the 64-year-old who under Obamacare the premiums–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But that was a long time ago, John.

JOHN DICKERSON: But has that been fixed?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Totally fixed.

JOHN DICKERSON: How?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: How? We’ve made many changes to the bill. You know, this bill is–

JOHN DICKERSON: What kind though?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –very much different than it was three weeks ago.

JOHN DICKERSON: Help us explain because there are people–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The bill–

JOHN DICKERSON: –out there wondering what kind of changes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me explain. Let me explain it to you.

JOHN DICKERSON: Okay.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This bill is much different than it was a little while ago, okay? This bill has evolved. And we didn’t have a failure on the bill. You know, it was reported like a failure. Now, the one thing I wouldn’t have done again is put a timeline. That’s why on the second iteration, I didn’t put a timeline.

But we have now pre-existing conditions in the bill. We have — we’ve set up a pool for the pre-existing conditions so that the premiums can be allowed to fall. We’re taking across all of the borders or the lines so that insurance companies can compete–

JOHN DICKERSON: But that’s not in–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: –nationwide.

JOHN DICKERSON: –this bill. The borders are not in–

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Of course, it’s in.

Needless to say, it’s not in. It might be in a future bill, but it’s not in the current bill. On the bright side, I’m impressed that Trump even knows about the high-risk pool, even if he doesn’t quite know what it’s called.

We also learned that Trump’s response to North Korea’s missile test is that he’s not happy. What does that mean? “I would not be happy. If he does a nuclear test, I will not be happy.”

Roger that.

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Trump Has No Idea What’s In His Health Care Bill

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4 Ways Trump’s Tax Plan Will Make the Trumps Even Richer

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump revealed an outline of his big tax reform plan on Wednesday. It’s light on specifics and even lighter on details about how the administration might pay for what it describes as the “biggest tax cut” in US history. But one thing is perfectly clear: Trump and his family could save billions of dollars. Here are four ways Trump’s tax proposals would help people named Trump.

1. Eliminating the Estate Tax

The estate tax, which applies to wealth that deceased people pass on to their heirs, only affects the richest of the richest—roughly 0.2 percent of Americans. Individuals worth at least $5.45 million (or married couples worth at least $10.9 million) will owe estate taxes after their deaths. Currently, assets in excess of this $5.45 million exemption are taxed at 40 percent. President Donald Trump claims to be worth $10 billion, so his heirs could save billions if the estate tax disappears.

2. Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax

The alternative minimum tax requires certain taxpayers to calculate how much tax they owe twice—once using the regular income tax rules and again under AMT rules. Originally, the AMT was structured to prevent wealthy people from abusing the system by avoiding paying their fair share of taxes. We don’t know much about Trump’s taxes, but his 2005 returns, which were obtained by MSNBC, indicate the he earned $153 million that year. Without the AMT, Trump apparently would have paid just $7 million in taxes, according to the New York Times—a tax rate less than 5 percent. But the AMT forced him to pony up an additional $31 million that year, raising his tax rate to about 25 percent. Asked at a Wednesday press briefing how eliminating the AMT would impact Trump’s tax liability, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin dodged the question and abruptly ended the briefing.

3. Slashing Tax Rates for Pass-Through Corporations

Many businesses are structured as pass-through companies, meaning that rather than filing taxes as corporations, they “pay taxes through the personal income tax code,” as the Times explains. Trump wants to cut the rate for pass-throughs (as well as for corporations) to just 15 percent, which will certainly enrich anyone named Trump. Since the Trump Organization is a collection of pass-throughs, the organization itself isn’t subject to income tax. Instead, the owners are taxed individually. So Trump and his children would only have to pay 15 percent on their earnings from the family organization in taxes, much lower than the current top rate of 39.6 percent.

4. Lowering the Individual Income Tax Rate

Trump wants to eliminate several tax brackets and lower the top individual tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. Under the new plan, there will be three tax brackets: 10 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. That could be a huge giveaway to the Trumps and other wealthy Americans who make millions of dollars each year.

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4 Ways Trump’s Tax Plan Will Make the Trumps Even Richer

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

Mother Jones

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Did Mack Sennett ever make “The Keystone Cops Go to Washington”? No? No matter. That’s what it feels like right now.

Let’s see if I can do justice to our current legislative follies. For starters, it appears that we’re going to get health care, tax reform, and infrastructure all in one week. Why? I guess so that President Trump can say he got going on all of them in his first hundred days. Which totally doesn’t matter and Trump couldn’t care less about it. But he released a truly comical list of all his accomplishments anyway. Not that he cares. But anyway. Let’s move on.

Health care: The House Freedom Caucus has allegedly agreed to an amendment to the previous House bill—the one that crashed and burned last month thanks to the HFC’s opposition—that now makes it acceptable. They haven’t actually said so in public yet, but maybe tomorrow they will. Maybe. Basically, it allows states to opt out of the essential coverage requirements of Obamacare. Except for Capitol Hill, that is. Members of Congress will continue to get every last thing on the list. And there’s no change to pre-existing conditions except for one teensy little thing: insurance companies can charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. How much more? The sky’s the limit, apparently. Does $10 million sound good? In practice, of course, this means that they don’t have to offer coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Tax reform: It turns out the Treasury Department really was taken by surprise on this, so Wednesday’s announcement will be little more than the same stuff Trump released on the campaign trail. Corporate taxes get cut by nearly two-thirds, to 15 percent. Ditto for “pass through” corporations like, oh, just to pull an example out of the air, The Trump Organization. There will be no offsetting spending cuts. There will be no border tax. There will be nothing much for the non-rich except a modest change to the standard deduction. There will, of course, be no details about which deductions and loopholes, if any, Trump plans to plug. It will be a gigantic deficit buster. And just for good measure, it’s probably literally unpassable under the Senate’s rules.

Infrastructure: In a laughable attempt to get Democratic support for his tax bill, Trump plans to add infrastructure spending and a child tax credit to it. The problem is that Trump’s infrastructure plan is little more than a giveaway to big construction companies, and his child tax credit—designed by Ivanka!—is little more than a giveaway to the well off. In other words, instead of one thing Democrats hate, the bill now has three things Democrats hate. I’m just spitballing here, but I’m not sure this is how you make deals.

This is lunacy. The barely revised health care bill probably won’t pass the House, let alone the Senate. Tax reform is just a PowerPoint presentation, not an actual plan. Plus it’s such an unbelievable giveaway to the rich that even Republicans will have a hard time swallowing it. And the infrastructure stuff is DOA. It will almost certainly be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.

This is like watching kids make mud pies. I guess that’s OK, since this is all terrible stuff that I hope never sees the light of day. Still, I guess I prefer even my political opponents to show a little bit of respect for the legislative process.

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.

Latest book: Growing Up Jewish
Reading recommendations: I can’t avoid including the Book of Psalms. Aside from the fact that it is the only book in the Jewish Bible that is of undisputed human authorship, it is a collection of essential yearnings and gratitudes that give me a sense that our current troubles, existential and political both, are neither new nor permanent. In addition, the melodies to which so many of the psalms have been set are inseparable from the words. And how can I not also hear Leonard Cohen in every “hallelujah.”

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours probably makes me sound like a poetry buff, which, alas, I am not. But Rilke’s extraordinary talent for combining deep spiritual sensitivity with intuition about the human condition can rescue me from almost any funk. I feel the same way about Israeli poet Dan Pagis.

I remember reading Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale when it first came out. I can remember where I was sitting as I read each chapter. The early chapters that almost breezily describe how quickly an inclusive society can collapse into a corrupt theocracy and, most impressively to me, the epilogue in which future academics look back with disdain and incredulity on the dark age of female servitude still inspire me never to give up resisting injustice and never to give up hope that the moral arc of the universe…well, you know. These two features, by the way, are what make this book a better choice right now than Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.
_______
So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

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So How Are Millennial Men Doing?

Mother Jones

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James Pethokoukis has a pair of posts up today that reignite a longstanding question: What’s the right way to measure inflation? And what does that mean about earnings and income mobility over time?

These are both complicated questions, but we can start with a very simple chart. If we want to compare, say, 30-year-old men to their fathers, and their fathers to their fathers, we can do it pretty easily. The Census Bureau collects data on median cash earnings (i.e., not counting health care, employment perks, or government benefits) and then all we have to do is adjust for inflation. But which measure of inflation?

The CPI story is grim: In the previous generation, young men earned about 8 percent more than their fathers. That’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. However, in this generation, millennial men earn 10 percent less than their fathers.

The PCE story is different. In the previous generation, young men earned 22 percent more than their fathers. That’s pretty good. In the current generation, millennial men earn about the same amount as their fathers. Stagnation like that is bad news, but at least millennials aren’t literally losing ground.

So which should we believe? There are arguments for both, and it’s a political hot potato too since inflation measures show up in all sorts of benefit calculations. It would be nice if the economic community could thrash out agreement on an overall best measure, and then make it available as a standard series going back 70 years, but if it turns out that the new measure leads to (for example) lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits, you can expect a massive pushback. Republicans have shown a particularly aggressive form of this kind of political hackery in the past, approving of new inflation measures that would decrease benefits, but opposing the same measures if they meant that people might pay higher taxes.

All that conceded, we really should be able to agree on a good, general-purpose inflation measure. We can still have lots of different measures for specialized purposes, but the headline inflation rate should be something that, say, 90 percent of economists can agree about. (There will always be a few outliers.)

In a way, though, this doesn’t matter too much for the question of how millennial men are doing. On one measure, their market earnings have dropped from 124 percent of per-capita GDP to 72 percent. On the other measure they’ve dropped from 108 percent to 72 percent. That’s pretty grim either way.

For more on this, Pethokoukis points us, first, to a new study by Bruce Sacerdote, which suggests that consumption has increased substantially over the past several decades, once you adjust for inflation bias and include the growth of government benefits. On a less happy note, he also points us to a study by Scott Winship about income mobility. Winship concludes that although there’s still a fair amount of income mobility within the broad middle class, there’s very little at either end. Poor kids stay poor, and rich kids stay rich.

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So How Are Millennial Men Doing?

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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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