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Fri Jun 8, 2018, 10:01 PM

Friday Talking Points (487) -- Trump Hands Democrats Enormous Midterm Gift

As usual, there was a whole lot of political news this week, as President Trump continues to flail his way around the world in multiple unhinged ways. But this week, our eye was caught by the story that the Trump Justice Department has announced it is now conspiring to hand Democrats the midterm elections. Maybe Trump should appoint a special prosecutor to look into or something?

Snark aside, here's what is going on. Traditionally, the Justice Department is charged with defending federal laws in court. Whether the current administration agrees with the laws on the books or not, it's a rule of thumb that they defend them to the hilt in court. Otherwise they'd just be cherry-picking which laws should be followed and which should not.

Which is exactly what the Trump administration is now trying to do. They are refusing to defend specific provisions of Obamacare in court, because they hate it so very, very much. The problem for Republicans is that the two provisions that will now no longer be legally defended are that insurance companies have to offer health insurance to everyone without regard to pre-existing conditions, and that they cannot take pre-existing conditions into account when setting their prices for any individual.

In other words, two of the most popular parts of Obamacare. Even during the whole "repeal and replace" fiasco in Congress last year, Republicans would desperately claim (from the president on down) that the part of Obamacare that dealt with pre-existing conditions would remain for everyone (even when they knew they were flat-out lying). This was because they all knew first-hand that these provisions were wildly popular with the public. And now, five months before the midterm elections, the Trump administration is trying to destroy the pre-existing condition guarantees.

This is an astonishing gift to the Democrats, as one Washington Post columnist pointed out:

{If the lawsuit against Obamacare was successful, it} would mean insurers would no longer be subject to "guaranteed issue" (a requirement that they sell policies to anybody, regardless of medical status) or "community rating" (a prohibition on charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions).

Most legal scholars seem to think this suit is unlikely to succeed. But take a moment to marvel at the position the administration has taken: They think insurance companies should once again be able to deny you coverage or charge you outrageous premiums because you have a pre-existing condition.

If Democrats don't repeat that sentence a thousand times a day between now and November, they're nuts.

Indeed, polls have shown over and over again that the policy issue most on voters' minds right now is health care. In Virginia’s 2017 elections, for instance, exit polls showed health care far and away the most important issue for voters, and those who said it was their top issue picked Democrat Ralph Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie in the governor's race by a margin of 77-22 percent. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll also found that health care is voters' top issue. As much as president Trump may dominate the headlines, the increasing cost of care is weighing heavily on voters.

. . .

Republicans seem determined not only to make American health care more inefficient and cruel in every way they can think of, but to do it while making themselves as unpopular as possible. That could both bring about the political victory of their enemies the Democrats, and create the conditions for those Democrats to pass a universal coverage program. It's quite an extraordinary strategy.


Which is why we began by wondering if this could be considering a massive gift-in-kind to the Democratic Party, because it will certainly dramatically boost their chances in the midterms. Every Democratic candidate everywhere should, in fact, send Jeff Sessions a thank-you card for such an incredibly generous gift. And, as noted, they should also immediately begin campaigning on the issue of pre-existing condition protections.

OK, let's get back to the Trump flailing, as promised. During the past week, Trump accused Canada of burning down the White House over 200 years ago (they didn't, the British did). Also, in his own mind, him pulling out of the Iran deal has not only made things better but actually already brought about regime change (Trump claimed: "Iran is not the same country that it was a few months ago. They're a much, much different group of leaders." ). None of this is true -- America is incredibly isolated as a result of Trump's action, Europe is negotiating with Iran without U.S. involvement, and not only are the exact same guys running Iran, but they're now talking about ramping up their uranium enrichment once again. But in the world Trump carries around inside his own head, everything's going swimmingly.

In advance of the G7 meeting in Canada, Trump got into a war of words with the leaders of not only Canada, but also France. Looks like the bromance with Macron is fading, eh? The other leaders are now considering putting out a "G6" statement and completely ignoring the United States. Trump not only announced he'd be leaving the summit early, but also that he wished Russia could join.

Oh, and the trade wars are heating up as Mexico just announced retaliatory tariffs against products like pork and bourbon which come from Republican areas of the country. This was after the Trump administration used the flimsy excuse of "national security" to levy steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and Europe last week. This week, Republican Senator Bob Corker introduced legislation (over Trump's personal objection) which would give Congress the ultimate say whenever the national security clause is invoked to levy tariffs -- a remarkable break by a Republican from a Republican president. Oh, and the Trump administration just struck a deal to save Chinese jobs at ZTE even though they were demonstrably proven to be an actual threat to U.S. national security -- which GOP congressmen are also considering trying to block legislatively. Nancy Pelosi reacted to the news with a pithy statement: "China is eating our lunch, and this president is serving it up to them."

Trump will travel from the G7 meeting directly to the upcoming summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. When asked, Trump expressed confidence that he was ready for the negotiations:

I think I'm very well prepared. I don't think I have to prepare very much. It's about the attitude. It's about willingness to get things done. I think I've been preparing for the summit for a long time, as has the other side. They've been preparing for a long time, also. So this isn't a question of preparation -- it's a question of whether or not people want it to happen. And we'll know that very quickly.


In other words, he's just going to wing it because all those long briefings on dull and uninteresting facts are such a snooze. What could possibly go wrong with this plan, after all?

In other parts of the world, Rudy Giuliani is still dropping verbal bombshells on a regular basis. Rudy was invited (for some inexplicable reason) to a "capital market" conference in Israel whose agenda was supposed to be about: "forecasts for the US market, the hottest real estate investment trends, and how the political changes will affect the markets." Still not sure why Rudy was invited, but he ranged far beyond the stated subject matter, weighing in on such varied subjects as what Melania Trump thought about Stormy Daniels (after which a Melania spokesperson replied: "I don't believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani" ), what Rudy personally thought about how not-hot and un-classy Stormy Daniels was, Stormy's chosen profession, and (most jaw-dropping of all) how the North Korean summit came about after Trump wrote a letter cancelling it: "Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in." So far, there's be no reaction from North Korea, so hopefully they didn't notice President Trump's lawyer demeaning their leader in such humiliating fashion, right before the big summit.

OK, one last Trump bit of news and then we have to move along. The president sat down this week for what was supposed to be a meeting so he and his cabinet could get briefed by FEMA on hurricane preparedness, since hurricane season is now officially underway for the year. Trump barely mentioned Puerto Rico at all, and avoided all mention of the new death toll estimate that is both 70 times what the official estimate is and more than twice as big as the death toll from Hurricane Katrina. In fact, the meeting so obviously bored Trump that he decided to turn it into a partisan pep rally for how wonderful he and his cabinet were doing. Instead of all that boring stuff on life-or-death hurricane preparedness, here's what Trump wanted to talk about instead:

But President Trump had a lot else on his mind, turning the closed-door discussion into soliloquies on his prowess in negotiating airplane deals, his popularity, the effectiveness of his political endorsements, the Republican Party's fortunes, the vagaries of Defense Department purchasing guidelines, his dislike of magnetized launch equipment on aircraft carriers, his unending love of coal and his breezy optimism about his planned Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.


Someone surreptitiously made a recording of the meeting, and promptly leaked it to the press. Probably out of sheer disgust at Trump's inability to concentrate on anything that doesn't have his name on it for more than 10 seconds at a time.

In election news, eight states held primaries this week, and California Democrats managed to avoid the disaster of being completely shut out of some key House races, but more on that in a moment. Maine will vote in its primary this coming Tuesday, and will be trying out their new "ranked-choice voting" scheme for the first time, so that should interest the election wonks among us.

Mitch McConnell announced that he was largely cancelling the traditional four-week August recess for the Senate, and that they will work through all but one week of the month instead. This is probably designed to do two things: hustle through some more judicial confirmations and make things tougher for Democratic senators who are defending their seats this election cycle. There are more Democrats than Republicans in this position, and this will allow their Republican challengers a free field all month long. But if the Senate winds up not getting much done, the scheme could backfire on McConnell, so we'll have to wait and see.

We're sorry to hear that Keith Ellison will be leaving his House seat, as he announced (at the last minute) that he's now running for the Minnesota attorney general's office. We hope he'll stay on as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, for reasons we'll also get to in a moment. Of course, statewide office could launch him on a path to bigger and better things, but we have enjoyed watching him in the House, so he will be missed there.

And finally, to close on an amusing note, a retired teacher sent a letter to Donald Trump on gun policy and actually got a personal response. But after reading it she became so miffed with the glaring grammatical mistakes that she picked up her correction pen and graded it like she's graded countless thousands of papers and tests. She then sent it back to the president, in the hopes he will learn from his mistakes.





We're going to start off today by handing out a few Honorable Mention awards. The first of these goes to women candidates for office, in a general way. This Tuesday's primaries only continued the trend of women making great strides in campaigning for office in both nationwide races as well as in local and state contests. We noted earlier this week that this year is shaping up to be the "Year Of The Woman 2.0," because the influence of women is going to be felt in November both in the voting booth and in the candidates that win their races.

Our second Honorable Mention goes to Lauren Arthur, who this week won a special election in Missouri for a state senate seat. By doing so, she flipped the district from red to blue for the first time in over a decade. And she did so in decisive fashion, beating her Republican opponent by a whopping 20 points. In her victory speech, Arthur explains a strategy more and more Democrats are openly embracing to flip such red districts:

For too long the priorities and pet projects of billionaires and corporations have been put ahead of investing in Missourians. We sent a message loud and clear that we demand great public schools... and a transparent and responsive state government.


Lauren Arthur has now become the 42nd Democrat to flip a state-level legislative seat since Donald Trump got elected, and for that she is to be congratulated.

Senator Elizabeth Warren deserves at least an Honorable Mention for joining with Republican Senator Cory Gardner to introduce the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States Act (the "STATES Act" ), which would amend the Controlled Substance Act so that people in states that have legalized marijuana use would not be prosecuted under federal law. It would also allow marijuana businesses access to the banking system. These would be two important steps, but this particular solution doesn't go as far as other bills already introduced. Perhaps, though, the STATES Act might get more bipartisan support for that very reason, so it might become an acceptable compromise which would achieve the goal of completely tying the hands of the attorney general (and staunch drug warrior), Jeff Sessions.

We have three Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out this week, to: Gil Cisneros, either Hans Keirstead or Harley Rouda, and Mike Levin. These Democrats managed to win second place in three House districts in California (respectively, CA-39, CA-48, and CA-49), which moves them on to a one-on-one showdown with three Republican candidates this November (note: the final count for CA-48 isn't in yet, but the battle for second is between two Democrats, Keirstead and Rouda, so one of them will wind up facing Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher in November). California's bizarre "top-two" primary meant that if a Republican candidate had won second place in any of these three districts, Democrats would have been shut out of the November ballot -- in three districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. These are prime pickup opportunities for Democrats, in other words, so getting shut out of the ballot would have been a real blow to the chances of retaking the House in the midterms.

Of course, the larger problem of that top-two primary system still remains, and could eventually bite Democrats in the rear end, but we wrote at length about this earlier in the week, so we'll just mention it in passing, here.

With the second-place showing of Cisneros, Levin, and either Keirstead or Rouda, Democrats now have a clear shot at flipping up to seven House districts in California this year. That is almost one-third the total necessary to regain control of the House, so it's a big deal. For preserving Democrats' chances of doing so, all three are hereby awarded the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

{Our policy is not to provide contact information for candidate websites, so you'll have to look up the Democratic winners in those three California House districts on your own, to show your support.}





We have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards this week, but before we get to them we have to hand Senator Bernie Sanders a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award of his own. Sanders has inexplicably refused to endorse his own son Levi, in a House race in New Hampshire. He did have some kind words for his son's candidacy, but stopped short of an endorsement, even though his son's policies closely resemble his own:

Levi has spent his life in service to low income and working families, and I am very proud of all that he has done. In our family, however, we do not believe in dynastic politics. Levi is running his own campaign in his own way.


We guess this could be an honorable position to take, and his son is a longshot candidate so he'll probably lose anyway, plus there's that whole Vermont/New Hampshire rivalry to contend with... but c'mon... it's his own son.

With that out of the way, we have two winners for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week, because we couldn't decide which disgusted us more. The first is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the folks in the House who try to get more Democrats elected to bolster their ranks.

In an astounding turn of events (due, once again, to that crazy top-two system), the D.C.C.C. -- an organization which, again, is supposed to take donations from Democrats and use the money to support Democratic candidates -- spent over $100,000 to run ads and robocalls for a Republican candidate in one of those close races in California. In a scheme which can only be described as "Machiavellian," the D.C.C.C. wanted to boost the chances of the third-ranked Republican in the race in the hopes of drawing GOP voters to him rather than to the second-ranked Republican. By doing so, this would allow a Democratic candidate to place second overall.

Another phrase which springs to mind is: "too cute by half." Earlier this year, if you'll remember, the D.C.C.C. released opposition research on a Democratic candidate in the hopes of destroying their chances. This is in the same vein. If we were even modest donors to the Democratic Party, we would immediately demand some major changes in the D.C.C.C., because this sort of manipulation is downright unethical and usually only backfires. Get a grip, D.C.C.C., and put an end to these nth-dimensional chess games.

Our second MDDOTW award goes to Bob Mulholland, who is a former chair of the California Democratic Party, and has a disgustingly swelled sense of his own entitlement in party politics.

The Democratic National Committee is nearing the end of a very long process of re-examining how they nominate presidential candidates, as a direct result of the bad feelings left over from what happened the last time around. They have examined the issue of superdelegates carefully, and they're now ready to propose changes for the whole D.N.C. to vote upon. The main contender was recently announced, and it seems like a fairly good compromise between "leave things as they are" and "get rid of the superdelegates entirely." The new plan would allow the elected officials and other party bigwigs to attend the convention and it would allow them to endorse any candidate of their choice, but it would bar them from voting in the first round of balloting. So if no candidate won an outright majority of delegates on the first round (if there were three candidates splitting the delegates, say), then the superdelegates could weigh in on the second and subsequent rounds -- but not in the initial vote.

Superdelegates aren't some hoary tradition in American party history, it bears mentioning, since Republicans don't see the need for such a system at all and the Democrats have only had it since the 1980s. So easing them out in such a fashion after they overwhelmingly backed one candidate over the other last time around (no matter how the people in their own states had voted) seems fairly reasonable. At least it wouldn't bar them from the convention or try to keep them from personally endorsing the candidate of their choice. But some superdelegates are not happy campers with the idea, to put it mildly.

Now, there's a way to respectfully disagree with this proposal, and then there are other ways. Here's an example of the first way, from Representative David Price, one of the people who sat on the 1980s commission which created superdelegates: "I think there was a good deal of incredulity and some pretty severe criticism {of the new proposal}. For a lot of people, this was the first they'd seen of these things." Price went on to explain that he thought the term "superdelegates" itself might be part of the problem: "We're delegates. Party leaders are delegates. They may or may not be unpledged, but there's nothing wrong with that. {Calling them superdelegates} doesn't help at all." He suggested returning to what they were initially called, "PLEL delegates" (for "Party Leader / Elected Leader" ). It's a shame that "PLELegates" never caught on, in other words.

That is the respectful way to disagree. And then there was Bob Mulholland. He's a current member of the D.N.C., and his criticism was absolutely dripping with elitism and entitlement. Even that wouldn't have won him the MDDOTW award, though, but he crossed a very ugly line as he did so. Here was his response to the D.N.C. chair and vice chair, which he also mailed to reporters:

The two of you are conspiring with Bernie Sanders to block Congress members John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and the rest of the congressional delegation, Governors, State Party Chairs and the rest of us DNC Members from entering our Convention floor in 2020 as voters. I don't know if you will have paid thugs at the doorways to beat up Congressman Lewis and the rest of us or not.


As the news article added: "To emphasize his point, Mulholland attached a photo of police beating Lewis at the 1965 march for voting rights in Selma, Ala."

Now, first off, Representatives Lewis, Waters, and Lee are fully capable of speaking for themselves, and it's a pretty safe bet they wouldn't be using the same comparison to do so. In the second place, Mulholland is white, so this comparison was downright inexplicable, coming from him. But mainly, getting beat up by police for marching for voting rights for African-Americans is in no way, shape, or form equivalent to the Democratic Party going back to the rules it had in place before the 1980s for how it chooses its presidential candidate. Period.

Under the proposed plan, superdelegates would still be allowed on the convention floor and be allowed to publicly support the candidate of their choice. Nobody is being politically gagged, and nobody is being disinvited from the big party. So there would indeed be no reason for "paid thugs at the doorways to beat up" superdelegates trying to enter. And attaching the photo was just inexcusable.

Mulholland is guilty not just of cultural appropriation (in the worst way possible), but also of an incredibly outsized view of his own importance to the Democratic Party. The sense of entitlement he is showing is precisely what Bernie Sanders was complaining about, in fact. Let the voters decide! The party elites can weigh in if the voters have no clear choice for their candidate, and they can certainly come to the convention and wear funny hats, but they should not have an outsized thumb on the scale for any candidate at all. Even if you disagree, there's certainly no reason to bring up the Civil Rights movement, or issue dire warnings about "paid thugs" issuing beatings willy-nilly. Which is all why Mulholland wins his very own Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

{You can try contacting the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee via their official webpage, and Bob Mulholland through the official California Democratic Party's contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.}




Volume 487 (6/8/18)

A mixed bag again this week, although the last three really fall into the category of "How to effectively troll Donald Trump," just because we're in that sort of a mood this week. Enjoy, and as always, use responsibly.



Thanks, Jeff!

Not sure where to send the thank-you card, to Sessions or to the White House....

"I'd like to join every Democratic candidate today in thanking Jeff Sessions for so vividly pointing out the differences between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party on healthcare. You'd think that after their 'repeal and replace' effort crashed and burned so badly that Republicans would want to shy away from the issue in the midterm campaigns, in the hopes that the voters would forget how many millions of people would have lost their insurance under the GOP plan. But Sessions just put the issue front and center in the campaign, by stating that the Justice Department would cease defending the pre-existing condition guarantees in court. That's right -- the Trump administration wants to take us all back to the days of insurance companies turning people away or charging sky-high prices because of pre-existing conditions. The voters already routinely place healthcare at the top of the list of issues they'll be voting on this year, and Jeff Sessions has just provided the biggest, ugliest reason yet for people to trust Democrats on the subject more than Republicans. So I'd like to say thank-you, Jeff, for making it so obvious."



Pruitt going for some kind of record

At this point, that seems to be the only explanation.

"Scott Pruitt seems to be going for some sort of record of the number of scandals he can immerse himself in and still remain a member of Trump's cabinet. Before this week, he already was under ten or more active investigations into his flagrant corruption and elitism, but that simply wasn't enough for Scott! Added to all the others, we now have Pruitt illegally using government employees to fetch and carry his personal exotic hand lotion, to pick up his dry cleaning, and to try to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchise. Sometimes this involved not just his underlings at the E.P.A., but his outrageously large security detail. Oh, and there was also the thousands of dollars he spent on pens embossed with his own personal signature, as well. I think I'm going to have to look up the all-time record for 'most active investigations of any sitting cabinet member,' because if Pruitt hasn't already broken the record, he certainly does seem to be trying."



Paul off to jail?

Continuing the theme of corruption...

"Today, Bob Mueller's investigation filed indictments against Paul Manafort and one of his Russian buddies, charging the two with conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their attempts at witness tampering. So add those to the growing list of Mueller indictments handed down so far. In Manafort's case, this could lead to his bail being revoked and him having to wait for his upcoming two trials in jail rather than at home, so watch for that possibility next week."



Republicans about to force Paul Ryan's hand?

This story could get a whole lot bigger next week.

"Moderate House Republicans are in open revolt against their own leadership, and things could come to a head next Tuesday. That's the deadline Paul Ryan has been given to come up with some sort of immigration bill that can satisfy both the moderates and the hardliners within the GOP. The moderates want the DREAMers to get a path to citizenship, and the hardliners are going to scream 'Amnesty!' at anything even hinting at that. Interestingly enough, both sides are making the claim that either acting or refusing to act could cost them control of the House this November. The moderates are all from districts with a high percentage of voters who are demanding positive action on immigration, and the hardliners argue that any immigration bill now would depress Republican base voter turnout across the country in the midterms. In fact, they might both be right -- a classic example of 'damned if you do, damned if you don't.' Right now, the moderates are three signatures away from being able to force the House to vote on multiple immigration bills, including one that they and the Democrats favor. They have given Ryan until Tuesday to come up with an alternative, and then they will force such a vote. Democrats, of course, would love to vote on a reasonable bill to solve the plight of the DACA kids without allowing Trump to build his wall or drastically cut back legal immigration. So we'll see whether they get this chance, next Tuesday."



China First!

Senator Bob Menendez, fresh off a rather unimpressive primary victory, expressed his views of Trump working extra-hard to save Chinese jobs at a company that is a threat to U.S. national security (for dealing with North Korea and Iran, among other things), in two rather sharp tweets. We've combined them into one talking point:

The Trump #ChinaFirst policy strikes again. Cuts a deal with ZTE to save Chinese jobs and gets nothing for our economy or New Jersey. He's tougher on Canada than he is on Chinese currency manipulation & billions of dollars of intellectual property theft. Makes you wonder why... Meanwhile, China keeps granting trademarks to Trump and Ivanka Trump. Who is our President negotiating for? The United States or the Trump Organization?




Newsom trolls Trump

If he's looking to step into Jerry Brown's "I can get under Trump's skin better than anyone!" shoes, he's doing a good job so far....

"Gavin Newsom will be facing a Republican candidate for governor in November. Donald Trump is convinced he boosted the Republican's chances so stratospherically high that the GOP has a chance of winning this race. Trump is, not to put too fine a point on it, absolutely deluded in this belief. Trump's approval rating in the Golden State is hovering around 30 percent, to add some perspective. So when Trump bragged in a tweet how his chosen guy 'could win,' Newsome tweeted back a direct challenge: 'Please come campaign for him as much as possible.' California Democrats would indeed be delighted to see Trump campaigning for Republicans all over the state, for obvious reasons."



Philly trolls Trump

And finally, we have the Eagles fiasco.

"Donald Trump this week disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from a celebration of their Super Bowl win at the White House, when it was reported that only two or three of the players (along with the owners and the mascot) were planning on showing up for the shindig. Trump then flew off the handle, insisting that the players were part of the whole 'taking a knee' conspiracy against him, the flag, and apple pie. However, no Eagle either kneeled or stayed in the locker room at all last season -- they just didn't want to meet Trump. So Trump tried to make it all about the flag and patriotism. He tried to loudly sing both the National Anthem and 'God Bless America,' except that he obviously didn't know the words. Here's a hint, Mister President: if you're going to attempt to wear your patriotism on your sleeve, take ten minutes and learn the words to 'God Bless America,' fer cryin' out loud! The final insult to Trump was given by the chief of staff of the Philadelphia mayor, who tweeted: 'Our party was bigger than yours,' complete with side-by-side photos of Trump's inauguration crowd and the (much, much bigger) Eagles Super Bowl celebration crowd. Hey, the truth hurts...."




Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com
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