Posts Tagged ‘Democrats’

The GOP’s Immigration Meltdown

June 19, 2018

Restrictionists may cost Republicans their majorities in Congress.

An undated photo showing a U.S. Border Patrol Processing Center in McAllen, Tx.

Are Republicans trying to lose their majorities in Congress this November? We assume not, but you can’t tell from the party’s internal feuding over immigration that is fast becoming an election-year nightmare over separating immigrant children from their parents. This is what happens when restrictionists have a veto over GOP policy.

Democrats fanned out across the U.S. this weekend to highlight the turmoil caused by the Trump Administration’s new “zero-tolerance” policy of detaining all adult aliens crossing the border illegally. That means separating parents from children who arrive together because courts have said migrant children can’t be jailed.

Children are put into tent encampments or other sites while their parents are processed for deportation. That can take several days, which is bad enough, though much longer if the adults challenge their deportation. Trump officials are defending the policy as a deterrent to illegal entry, but surely they understand that separating parents from children is morally unacceptable and politically unsustainable.

The immediate solution should be for the Administration to end “zero-tolerance” until it can be implemented without dividing families. Congress can also act to allow migrants to be detained with children in facilities appropriate for families. Until that is possible, better to release those who have no criminal past rather than continue forced separation.

This episode underscores the larger GOP dysfunction as it debates how to deal with the former immigrant children known as Dreamers. The threat of Dreamer deportation isn’t imminent while the courts consider Barack Obama’s legalization order and Donald Trump’s revocation of that order. But it is sure to return with urgency next year.

A bipartisan majority in Congress wants to solve the problem of these young adults brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. But a minority of House Republicans continues to block a compromise that would solve the Dreamer problem and give Mr. Trump more money for border security.

Last month conservatives sank food-stamp reforms to pressure leadership into holding a vote on immigration legislation by Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte. The bill imposes an e-Verify mandate, a flawed agriculture visa program and sharp cuts to family-based immigration, among other restrictionist priorities. Moderate Republicans who represent large numbers of Hispanics would have to sell out employers to protect Dreamers.

To side-step this trap, moderates threatened a discharge petition to force votes on four immigration bills including the Goodlatte legislation. Whichever bill passed with the most votes would have gone to the Senate.

House leaders thwarted the discharge petition by promising votes this week on the Goodlatte bill and a compromise bill that would fulfill Mr. Trump’s priorities: $25 billion for a border wall, limits on family migration and an end to the diversity visa lottery. The bill would also repurpose 88,000 or so diversity-lottery and other visas for a merit-based green-card program that Dreamers could apply for with a path to citizenship. Another 65,000 visas for family-based preferences would be reallocated to employment-based categories.

This should be acceptable to moderates, and White House aide Stephen Miller has urged conservatives to support the bill. But then former aide Steve Bannon riled up the restrictionists by blasting the compromise as “amnesty.” The restrictionists don’t want anything to pass because they want to use immigration to drive conservative turnout in November.

This is self-destructive politics. This year is the GOP’s best opportunity for immigration reform in a decade. If Republicans lose their House majority, they will have less leverage when the Supreme Court rules on legalization for Dreamers. If the Obama program is upheld, Mr. Trump won’t have obtained money for his border wall or anything else.

As for November, House control will be won or lost in swing districts where legalizing the Dreamers is popular and separating families isn’t. Members like California’s Steve Knight and Florida’s Carlos Curbelo need to show voters that they’re working toward a solution for Dreamers.

Even better would be for Congress to pass the leadership’s compromise that legalizes Dreamers, ends the family separation fiasco, and gives Mr. Trump some of his priorities. Republicans would solve a problem while depriving Democrats of a potent issue.

But that will only happen if Mr. Trump sells it. On immigration he’s been a study in confusion, one day preaching compassion for Dreamers while deploring “amnesty” the next. The smart play is for Republicans to show they can solve at least some immigration problems.

If Mr. Trump wants to lose the House and risk impeachment, he’ll take Mr. Bannon’s bad advice and keep giving Democrats a daily picture of children stripped from their parents.

Appeared in the June 19, 2018, print edition.


Trump tested his power in last night’s primaries — and won

June 13, 2018


Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republicans saw a trend continue in South Carolina, where an incumbent who opposed President Trump lost his primary just one week after an incumbent congresswoman in Alabama, who was critical of the president, was forced into a runoff.

Why this matters: The president is becoming a one-man litmus test for Republicans all over the country, proving the GOP has little room for an agenda or ideas that don’t align with his.

Be smart: This isn’t all that surprising. President Trump has an 87% approval rating with Republicans (the second highest since George W. Bush after 9/11). We’ve seen Republicans across the country shift their loyalty to him and away from the party itself.

South Carolina

The Trump factor: The Republican incumbent in South Carolina’s 1st district, Mark Sanford, has criticized President Trump for his tariffs, his behavior, and he’s called on him to release his tax returns. His lack of loyalty to the president ended his congressional career.

  • The president tweeted his support for Sanford’s challenger Katie Arrington just hours before the polls closed. Sanford lost his primary for re-election just one week after Martha Roby — a Republican representative in Alabama — was forced into a runoff after she was tagged as disloyal to Trump. (Roby criticized him after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released during the 2016 election.)

Governor’s race: Henry McMaster, a Republican candidate running for governor, was the first statewide elected official to endorse Trump in 2016, which went a long way: President Trump weighed in twice for him on Twitter.

  • He didn’t make the 50% threshold, so he’s heading to a runoff on June 26, but expect the president to renew his support then.


Democrats look poised to keep their blue wave washing over Virginia after last night’s primaries. Strong Democratic women candidates were nominated in the state’s four most vulnerable GOP-held districts (2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th) and a controversial conservative candidate was nominated for U.S. Senate.

  • Why it matters: Women have been outperforming in Democratic primaries across the country, and they dominated in last year’s elections, with women winning 11 of the 15 state legislature seats Democrats flipped. Overall, Democrats swept Virginia in the 2017 elections for governor and state legislature.
  • GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock will face Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s 10th district. The real warning sign here is that Comstock, a two-term incumbent, couldn’t prevent her random Republican challenger from getting nearly 40% of the vote.

Virginia’s GOP Senate primary is already giving Republicans a headache. Controversial candidate Corey Stewart won; he’ll face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November.

  • Just look at what Republicans are saying. The state’s former Republican lieutenant governor said he was “extremely disappointed” in Stewart’s victory. “Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight,” he tweeted.
  • “Stewart will bring down the entire ticket,” a national Democratic source told Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Patrick Wilson.
  • The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman predicts Stewart’s victory will weaken Republicans’ chances in four House races across the state.

The bottom line: The two most powerful forces in this year’s midterm elections so far are women and President Trump.

The Autumn of ObamaCare

June 12, 2018

How to score the election debate over rising premiums.

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Republicans are in a predictable spot as they head to the midterm election: The party failed to repeal ObamaCare, and the press is waving around double-digit premium increases for 2019. Democrats are pinning the blame on Republicans, though the basic problem is still the structure of the Affordable Care Act.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared the other day that Democrats will be “relentless in making sure the American people exactly understand who is to blame for the rates.” Some insurers have been requesting large premium increases for next year as they have every year: 19% on average in Washington, 24% in New York. The Congressional Budget Office said in May that “benchmark” or midlevel plans on the exchanges would absorb a 15% increase.

State regulators approve increases and rates are set in the fall, so this pot will reach a boil as Republicans are campaigning for re-election. The GOP deserves some of the political heat after eight years of promising to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The excuses for failure—an “open process” or fear of touching Medicaid—are no more compelling now than they were a year ago.

Still, the sticker shock headlines conceal some compensating realities. The left claims the increases are novel and due to Republican “sabotage,” but ObamaCare has been on this road for a long time. Average premiums doubled between 2013 and 2017, according to Health and Human Services data.

The Autumn of ObamaCare

The law’s benefit mandates and issuer rules bar insurers from pricing based on actuarial risk. Many Americans have decided the quality of the product isn’t worth the price even with subsidies for those below 400% of the poverty line. As a result, the exchanges are attracting the aging or ill.

A 20% increase in premiums also doesn’t necessarily mean that Americans on the exchanges are paying 20% more. That’s in large part because of what is known as “silver loading.” The health law includes tax credits that are tied to the price of the second cheapest “silver” or mid-level plans. Insurers have thus dumped premium increases onto these plans, knowing that the government will pay the difference.

More than 8 in 10 ObamaCare enrollees were eligible for tax credits in the first half of 2017. The average subsidy was $373 a month, with as much as $965 a month in Alaska and $541 in Arizona. The premiums move north but the insurers mostly soak the beleaguered U.S. taxpayer. The people who suffer most from “silver-loading” and other insurer enrichment schemes are those who lack coverage but don’t qualify for subsidies.

The good news is that the GOP repealed the penalty for declining to buy insurance—the individual mandate—as part of tax reform. Democrats are now acting like the mandate was the last Jenga block and the whole ObamaCare tower will now topple. This hardly speaks well of the law’s design if it were true, but it isn’t.

The mandate was never a powerful tool for driving Americans to the exchanges, and more than six million people in 2015 elected to pay the fine instead of buy coverage. CBO has already downgraded its projections on how many Americans will roll off insurance due to the mandate’s repeal, and any effect on premiums is far more modest than advertised.

The same applies to Democratic claims about the Trump Administration’s plans to expand access to “short-term” insurance and association health plans. Groups like the Center for American Progress are churning out estimates about how mandate-repeal and short-term rules will drive up premiums—by exactly $1,011 in Florida, for instance.

But the regulations aren’t even finalized and the Administration hasn’t resolved important questions about incentives, like whether the short-term plans will have the option to be “guaranteed renewable” (yes, please). The short-term and association markets have been traditionally small, but properly structured they have the potential to expand coverage considerably.

Republicans will have to press the case that individual choice is better than the shared misery of the ObamaCare exchanges. The GOP has essentially decided to let as many people as possible flee the exchanges and subsidize those who remain. The Democrats want everyone to pay more to prop up their failing law.

Some on the right are working on another bill to repeal and replace the law this year, and we’d welcome nothing more. But the political odds are steep. The Senate would have to write a budget to be able to pass a bill with 51 votes under the “reconciliation” procedure. The worst outcome would be to roll out a bill to great fanfare, then fail and in the process play into Democratic hands.

At least Republicans are resisting demands to spend even more money to prop up ObamaCare this year and beyond. This could preclude reform through President Trump’s first term, and perhaps forever. The election-year challenge is to rebut false Democratic attacks and offer voters some reason to give the GOP another chance.


US healthcare to provide Democrats with Trump weapon

June 11, 2018

White House efforts to undermine Obamacare sets up battle for midterm campaigns

By Barney Jopson in Brownsville 

Democrats are seeking to revive healthcare as a political weapon against Republicans ahead of elections this year after the Trump administration signalled it was ready to expand its efforts to undercut Obamacare.
Six months after Donald Trump applauded Congress for knocking out one pillar of Obamacare, his administration has said it will not seek to defend another essential component, which requires insurers to cover everyone regardless of their health.

Democrats, who are seeking to win back at least one chamber of Congress in November elections, accused the Trump administration of engaging in “sabotage” by abandoning a requirement that insurers cover people who are already unwell.

Jeff Sessions, the US attorney-general, said in a letter to Congress last week that the US justice department would argue in an existing court case that the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions was “unconstitutional”.


Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses and closeup

Sessions explains to Congress rationale for not defending ObamaCare
© Greg Nash


Mr Sessions acknowledged he was breaking a tradition of administrations defending the constitutionality of enacted laws. “I have concluded that this is a rare case where the proper course is to forgo defence of [the law],” he wrote.

Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, tweeted a letter he sent to Mr Trump with three other senior Democrats, which said: “Mr President, it is time to stop the sabotage. We are a country of laws and the law must be respected, defended and enforced regardless of the person occupying the Oval Office.”

The Trump administration’s move was also criticised by the health insurance industry.

Healthcare has been a contentious issue in four consecutive rounds of elections since Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, became law in 2010.

Mr Schumer’s letter said as many as 133m Americans had pre-existing medical conditions, excluding the elderly. “Taking this position could render millions of Americans uninsurable or facing higher premiums,” the letter said.

In a nod to the midterm elections, Gerald Connolly, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from Virginia, told Republicans “you’ve handed us an issue we will ride into the sunset”, according to the Washington Post.

Many Republican voters have blamed Obamacare for pushing up monthly premiums for health insurance policies, as insurers seek to cover the costs of customers who are filing more claims.

During his campaign Mr Trump said he would retain protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but he has subsequently supported various Republican efforts to remove them.

Although Obamacare tends to divide Americans along partisan lines, the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions is one of the most popular parts of the 2010 law.

Mr Sessions argued that the provision on pre-existing conditions would be unconstitutional as soon as another change to Obamacare comes into effect next year: the abolishment of a tax penalty for people who do not have health insurance.

That change, which effectively eliminated another core Obamacare requirement, was included in the tax reform bill that Republicans passed at the end of last year.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for health insurers, said scrapping the provision on pre-existing conditions “will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states [and] cause [premium] rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients”.

Mr Trump has continued trying to undo Obamacare — a key part of his predecessor’s legacy — since Republicans in Congress failed to pass new legislation to dismantle it last year.

Additional reporting by Kadhim Shubber in Washington


If There’s a Red Wave Election in 2018, This Will Be Why

June 10, 2018

Democrats promising higher taxes and impeachment are hurting their candidates…

As primaries roll by and the midterms approach, it’s worth remembering that for Republicans 2016 represented an opportunity more than a victory. It was a chance for them to help the country break the 30-year-spell the Clintons and the Bushes cast, President Barack Obama notwithstanding.

It was also a chance for rank-and-file Republicans to replace an insulated, often feckless, party leadership that had elevated its own interests over everyone else’s. With their fixation on the person of President Trump, most Democrats don’t understand that for Republicans, taking the party back is part of a larger intellectual and political project. It’s also a big part of what’s at stake in this year’s midterms.

Image result for children waving american flags, photos

By Christopher Buskirk
The New York Times

As far as Republicans are concerned, the primaries are a continuation of the fight to claw back control of the party. Will it be retaken by the Bushes, their allies and clones and the claque of sinecured retainers who smothered the once-vibrant conservative movement of Buckley and Reagan? Or can the grass roots consummate the promise of 2016’s revolt against ruling-class misrule?

Mr. Trump isn’t on the ballot, but the ideas that animate the current conservative renaissance are. They are represented by some interesting Senate candidates, who have quite different biographies but common goals. Josh Hawley in Missouri is a Stanford- and Yale-educated lawyer who clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, while Matt Rosendale in Montana is a rancher-turned-politician. Both are running on a platform of returning power to the people and nurturing a sense of community and solidarity among Americans that many Republican politicians either ignored or openly disdained.

Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”

Lou Barletta, who is seeking the Republican Senate nomination in Pennsylvania. Credit Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Mr. Trump tapped into this. Most Republicans accept his transgressive personality and his intentional tweaking of social and political norms because they see it as in service of those larger ideas. That will seem counterintuitive to Trump haters, but fiddling with tax rates, however necessary and beneficial, can’t sustain a political movement, let alone a nation. Issues of citizenship and solidarity — that is to say, asking what it means to be an American — have returned to the fore. This is partly because of Mr. Trump and partly in spite of him. What is important is that the tumult caused by his unusual candidacy and his unusual approach to governing created an environment in which an intellectual refounding of Republican politics became possible.

The three-legged stool of the new Republican majority is a pro-citizen immigration policy, a pro-worker economic policy and a foreign policy that rejects moral imperialism and its concomitant foreign wars. John Adams described just such a foreign policy when he wrote that America is “the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all” but “the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Giving up on a failed policy of moral imperialism allows Republicans to focus on forming good citizens and restoring a sense of Americanism that relies upon strong ties of fellowship and belief in a shared destiny. To that end, our candidates would be well advised to ignore strategists and consultants who talk exclusively in terms of messaging tailored to statistical constructs like “disaffected Democrats with some college” or “married suburban men who drive S.U.V.s.” When it comes to politics, most people don’t want to be addressed as members of a demographic group looking for a payoff. They want to be addressed as Americans.

Senate candidates like Lou Barletta in Pennsylvania and Mike Braun in Indiana, who have embraced the rhetoric and the policies that connect citizenship and civic virtue, have seen it propel them to victory in their recent primaries. This is a salutary change from the last generation of Republican politicians who seemed to think that they could persuade voters with spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. While appeals to narrow self-interest can work for a while, they eventually fall short because they ignore human nature. From Martha McSally in Arizona to Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee, candidates are sharing this all-embracing message.

That’s why Mr. Trump’s rhetoric works. When he speaks off the cuff, he talks about “we,” “us” and “our.” He has said repeatedly that we love our farmers, our police, our flag and our national anthem — even our coal miners. It is an odd construction, or at least one we’re not used to hearing. It speaks to the essential fraternity of the nation, but when Mr. Trump says it — maybe when any Republican says it — too many people don’t believe that they are included in the “our.” They hear something much narrower than what is meant. People reject the essentially wholesome message because of the messenger. That needs to change because they are, in fact, our farmers, our police and our coal miners, and we should love them. The bonds of civil union that ought to hold us together demand that we love our fellow citizens in their imperfection even as they love us in ours.

This year’s class of Republican candidates seems to get that in ways that they didn’t in 2016. As a result, the Democrats’ advantage in the generic congressional vote dropped from 13 points in January, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average, to 3.5 points at the end of May. A Reuters poll, which recorded a 14-point Democratic edge in April, gave Republicans a 6-point advantage last month. Apparently “resistance” and impeachment aren’t as popular as Democratic megadonors like Tom Steyer and their vassals would have Democratic candidates believe, although RealClearPolitics and Reuters now show Democrats with roughly an eight-point advantage.

Ned Ryun, a veteran Republican activist, noted that the polls now closely mirror the polls in May 2014, when Democrats went on to lose 13 House seats. He also notes that while there are nearly 40 Republicans who are not seeking re-election, only six of them represent districts won by Hillary Clinton. Financially, Republicans are in much better shape, with the Republican National Committee holding $44 million in cash while the Democratic National Committee is $5 million in debt.

There are even more cracks in the Democrats’ front line. Longtime Democrats like Mark Penn, a former Clinton pollster and confidant, are sick of the scandal mongering. Mr. Penn wrote recently that “Rather than a fair, limited and impartial investigation, the Mueller investigation became a partisan, open-ended inquisition that, by its precedent, is a threat to all those who ever want to participate in a national campaign or an administration again.”

At some point, the combination of scandal fatigue — there is almost no crime of which Mr. Trump is not regularly accused — and the continuing revelations of improprieties by government officials (in the F.B.I., at the Department of Justice and elsewhere) will lead voters to believe that Mr. Trump got a raw deal.

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, is pledging higher taxes. Al Green, a seven-term Texas Democrat, and at least 58 other House Democrats, are promising impeachment. But the stock market is up, wages are up, unemployment is down, and peace may be breaking out on the Korean Peninsula. How many people will vote for higher taxes and all the social and political stress associated with impeachment?

Some Democrats are beginning to sense this. One Washington Post columnist predicted that “there will be no Trump collapse” while others are expressing concern that Mr. Mueller’s investigation — his dawn raids and strong-arm tactics — don’t play well in Peoria. If Mr. Mueller is not able to prove collusion with Russia, the stated reason for his appointment, then Democrats, who have talked about little else for the past 18 months, will be left looking unserious or worse. They’re right to worry.

Up until recently, the conventional wisdom has been that a blue wave powered by a huge enthusiasm gap would propel Democrats to midterm glory. But the evidence doesn’t bear that out. Yes, Democrats have won some special elections and those victories are real and should warn Republicans against complacency. But left almost totally unremarked upon is that Republican primary turnout is way up from where it was at this point in the 2014 midterm cycle. This is often the result of competitive primaries, but that underscores the vibrancy of the grass roots’ struggle to reclaim control of the party.

According to Chris Wilson at WPI Intelligence, Republican primary turnout was up 43 percent or more over 2014 in states like Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. The president’s popularity has been rising overall but especially in these critical battleground states. In West Virginia, his approval rating was over 60 percent in 2017. That sounds more like a red wave than a blue one, especially for imperiled senators like Joe Manchin in West Virginia and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Yes, the victories won in 2016 can be reversed, but only by voters at the polls and not by any of the irregular means that occupy the fantasies of many people who still can’t believe that their side lost. Persuasion still matters — and it better matter or we’ve got bigger problems. For Republicans, this should be a back-to-basics election. Talk about principles, not just tactics. Talk about America. If Republicans really want to win, then their pronouns must be we, us and our, and they have to make sure that the people who hear them know that they are included in we, us and our. That’s the key to building an enduring electoral majority and a better country.

Christopher Buskirk (@thechrisbuskirk) is editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness, a co-author of “American Greatness: How Conservatism, Inc. Missed the 2016 Election and What the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn,” and a contributing opinion writer.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: If There’s a Red Wave Election in 2018, This Will Be Why.

Why are there people from the Clinton Foundation on the Mueller Staff?

June 9, 2018

Mark Penn helped design the Clinton campaign against Ken Starr. He says he’s being consistent. 

A Democrat Dissents on the Mueller Probe

Image result for Hillary Clinton, campaign button

President Trump opened the week in a typical fashion, angrily denouncing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But Mr. Trump appealed to an unlikely authority: Mark Penn, the Democratic pollster who guided President Clinton through his second-term scandals and then served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“ ‘Why are there people from the Clinton Foundation on the Mueller Staff?’ ” the president tweeted, paraphrasing Mr. Penn’s appearance on Fox News. “ ‘Why is there an Independent Counsel? To go after people and their families for unrelated offenses…Constitution was set up to prevent this…Stormtrooper tactics almost.’ A disgrace!”

Mr. Penn, now a lecturer at Harvard and a private-equity investor, has condemned the Mueller probe both on television and in columns for the Hill newspaper. These broadsides have turned heads in Washington, especially among fellow Democratic political professionals, who accuse him of selling out. Hillary Clinton’s longtime aide Philippe Reines told the New York Times that Mr. Penn is “making a play for something.” Top Obama adviser David Axelrod charged on Twitter that Mr. Penn’s “reemergence as Mueller-basher seems less like courageous truthtelling than cynical opportunism.”

Mr. Penn says it is his detractors who are putting political interest over principle. “There were not enough Republicans who came out in ’98 against the process,” he tells me, “and there are not enough Democrats who are coming out against the process now.”

By “the process” Mr. Penn means the use of legal tools to settle political differences, a phenomenon he sees as getting worse. “If all politics, even after elections, becomes the politics of personal destruction and destroying our opponents rather than fighting for the next election,” he asks, “what will be left of an ideas-based democracy?”

Mr. Penn helped design what he calls Team Clinton’s “aggressive campaign” against the Kenneth Starr investigation. That inquiry originated with suspicions about the Clintons ’ Arkansas land dealings and culminated with Mr. Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice in testimony arising from a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Mr. Penn sees strong similarities between then and now: “In 1998, the country was being torn apart in an investigation that had gone on for many years and then had segued into some other area, after having really not found anything in the areas in which it was set up.”

The process has intensified this time, as Mr. Trump takes on a more personal role than Mr. Clinton did. Mr. Penn also highlights the involvement of Mr. Obama’s former law-enforcement and intelligence chiefs, including Jim Comey, Jim Clapper and John Brennan. “It’s not unprecedented for a president to criticize an independent or special counsel,” he says. “It is unprecedented for people like Comey, Clapper and Brennan to go out and become full-bore political figures on the talk show circuit blasting the president as though they are pundits and not intelligence professionals.”

In addition to corroding “ideas-based” politics, Mr. Penn believes special-counsel investigations can push administration policy toward the extremes. He is credited with helping nudge Mr. Clinton into the political center in the mid-1990s. But in 1998, he says, Mr. Clinton had to retreat leftward to keep his party united behind him: “Those were the votes for acquittal in impeachment.”

Could the threat from the Russia probe force Mr. Trump to lean more heavily on his populist base? Mr. Penn is certain it already has affected the administration’s calculus on foreign policy. “If the idea was to use Russia as a fulcrum against Iran and China, that policy got blown up,” he says. “It’s not irrational policy,” but “the investigation made it impossible.”

The overarching problem, Mr. Penn contends, is that when law-enforcement agencies conduct “impeachment investigations,” it creates “a separation of powers problem.” He therefore recommends undertaking such probes “only when things are on the surest of grounds.”

Absent a smoking gun, in other words, Congress should take the investigative lead. But what if the political system is so polarized, as now, that lawmakers would be reluctant to challenge a president of their own party? “Elections come around every two years in this country,” he says. While lawyers often view the legal process as the key to accountability, Mr. Penn, a pollster, has a sunny optimism in the ability of the electorate to play that role.

He insists he has been consistent on this point, and there’s a paper trail to prove it. As a college sophomore in 1973, amid the Watergate scandal but before the release of President Nixon’s incriminating White House tapes, Mr. Penn wrote in the Harvard Crimson that the special prosecutor was a “ ‘quasi-constitutional’ mechanism” and that impeachment efforts should proceed with caution.

Critics may object that Mr. Penn has not been a Democrat in good standing for some time. He co-wrote an op-ed last summer urging the party to “move to the center” on cultural issues and focus on defending the Affordable Care Act. He says this advice is “as valid, if not more valid” today, and he hopes Democrats in 2020 pick a moderate nominee who will lead in that direction. He rejects the view that Democrats can win back power by doubling down on their current coalition. “I don’t think it’s possible for the Democratic Party to become a majority party without winning back the working class,” Mr. Penn says, “and continuing to make advancements in the suburbs and particularly with independent women.”

Mr. Penn cites the GOP’s choice of Mitt Romney in 2012 as evidence that a party can moderate. “I don’t think anybody expected during the peak times of the tea party that the Republicans would nominate people like Romney, ” he says. With the right standard-bearer, moving to the center “is a process Democrats could well undertake.”

Is Mr. Penn’s polemical anti-Mueller commentary a sign that he has been seduced by the GOP? No, he insists: Republicans also show no sign of occupying the middle ground that Mr. Clinton once did. But perhaps Mr. Penn’s policy instincts and his hostility to special counsels are related. If politics is a process of messy compromise through which ideas are recontested every two years, then it makes sense to respect election results and meet voters where they are. On the other hand, if the aim of politics is a decisive ideological triumph, then it makes sense to double down on your existing base and support any means, including criminal investigations, to force rivals out of power.

Mr. Penn’s rhetoric on Mr. Mueller has been excessive, but perhaps his views simply reflect a more pragmatic approach to politics—an approach that, alas, may be out of date.

Mr. Willick is an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal.

Sessions explains to Congress rationale for not defending ObamaCare

June 8, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday defending the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) rationale for not defending the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

“As you know, the Executive Branch has a longstanding tradition of defending the constitutionality of duly enacted statutes if reasonable arguments can be made in their defense,” Sessions wrote.

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Sessions explains to Congress rationale for not defending ObamaCare
© Greg Nash

“But not every professionally responsible argument is necessarily reasonable in this context,” he continued, adding this is “a rare case where the proper course is to forgo defense” of the law.

The department argued in court on Thursday that key components of the Obama-era law are unconstitutional, siding in large part with a challenge to the law from 20 GOP-led states.

The DOJ points to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2012 that upheld ObamaCare’s individual mandate – that people have insurance or face a tax penalty – as constitutional under Congress’s taxing power.

After Congress repealed the mandate penalty as part of last year’s tax bill, the GOP-led states and DOJ argue the mandate itself is no longer a tax and is now invalid.

They also argue that key pre-existing condition protections cannot be separated from the mandate and should be invalidated, while the remainder of the law can stay.

Sessions’s move marks a break for the DOJ, which typically defends federal laws when they are challenged in court.

The move shows the Trump administration is not willing to defend the law, which it strongly disagrees with.

However, this is not the first time an administration has broken with precedent.

Former President Obama’s Justice Department declined to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, in 2011.

– Peter Sullivan contributed


Justice Department Won’t Defend Affordable Care Act in Lawsuit Brought by States — Health care and immigration remain two major areas of Trump’s unfinished business

June 8, 2018

Filing creates uncertainty for insurers now setting rates for 2019

The Justice Department’s decision not to defend major provisions in the Affordable Care Act was approved by President Donald Trump, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The Justice Department’s decision not to defend major provisions in the Affordable Care Act was approved by President Donald Trump, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. PHOTO: RICHARD B. LEVINE/NEWSCOM/ZUMA PRESS

The Justice Department won’t defend major provisions in the Affordable Care Act and is asking a federal court to strike down key elements of the law, a new blow to the health law and the stability of the individual insurance market.

The department, in a brief it filed Thursday in a lawsuit brought by 20 state attorneys general, asks the court to halt ACA protections that Republicans in Congress sought to preserve when they attempted to repeal the health law.

The provisions targeted by the Justice Department include the bans on insurers denying coverage and charging higher rates to people with pre-existing health conditions. The department is also seeking to roll back limits on how much insurers can charge people based on gender and age.

The decision to attack the ACA in this way involves a legal, political and policy gamble by the Trump administration, suggesting how much the president still wants to dismantle his predecessor’s signature health law after a failed ACA repeal effort by Republicans a year ago. The move could rattle the insurance markets and shake up the GOP message on health care months before the midterm elections.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the department won’t defend the constitutionality of provisions in the ACA and the decision was made with the approval of President Donald Trump. It is highly unusual for the Justice Department not to back a federal law, though the Obama administration took a similar approach with the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Of all the things the Trump administration has done to destabilize the market, this may be the most major,” said Timothy Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. “What’s an insurer that is setting rates now supposed to do, because the court will not have a decision until early summer or late fall.”

The Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 2012 opinion that the health law, and specifically the requirement that Americans have health insurance, was constitutional because the penalty for not having coverage was handled by the Internal Revenue Service and fell within Congress’s taxation powers.

But Congress repealed the penalty for not having insurance last year. Republican attorneys generals are arguing in the lawsuit that the ACA and its mandate is unconstitutional now that Congress has repealed that tax-based penalty. The Justice Department agreed with that stance in its brief in asking the court to halt certain provisions of the ACA.

That case, filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Texas, focuses on the individual mandate, which is the ACA’s requirement that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty. Congressional Republicans late last year ended the penalty starting in 2019, but the requirement to have insurance technically remains. It is unenforceable without a penalty, however.

The Justice Department, in its brief, said certain ACA provisions, such as banning insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, are invalid as of Jan. 1 with the mandate-penalty repeal. The U.S. agreed with the plaintiffs that sections “must now be struck down as unconstitutional,” according to the Justice Department brief.

Mr. Sessions, in the letter to congressional leaders, said: “The department in the past has declined to defend a statute in cases in which the president has concluded that the statute is unconstitutional and made manifest that it should not be defended, as is the case here.”

Democrats quickly decried the move as an improper action likely to harm numerous Americans, especially those who are older and less healthy.

“Tonight, the Trump Administration took its cynical sabotage campaign of Americans’ health care to a stunning new low,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Once again, Republicans are trying to destroy protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.”

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Nancy Pelosi

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia sought to intervene in the case to defend the ACA. The court has granted their request.

The move is likely to rattle insurers who are now setting rates for 2019 based on the belief that they must abide by the ACA consumer-protection requirements. Some legal and health experts said the administration’s decision could destabilize markets.

The department didn’t say other aspects of the ACA, such as its expansion of Medicaid and its exchanges, should be halted.

University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley said three Justice Department attorneys withdrew their names from the brief.

“For the administration to cast aside the ACA in a brazen political move, I’m afraid,” he said. “We don’t want the DOJ to take frivolous arguments and make it into law killers.”

For insurers, the Trump administration stance changes nothing immediately, but raises the likelihood of yet another year of far-reaching uncertainty in the ACA markets. As with other significant legal changes and threats to the ACA over the years, the court proceeding will leave insurers and, particularly, state insurance regulators in the hot seat, unsure how to proceed with decisions on pricing and plan designs.

Insurers are currently filing their rates and plans for the 2019 ACA marketplaces, based on the current rules, which require them to sell plans to all applicants and ban them from tying premiums to consumers’ health conditions. State regulators have begun reviewing the proposed rates, which are set to be completed over the next few months.

Now, insurers and state regulators will have to consider the possibility that insurers will be allowed to go back to pricing plans based on health conditions, a change that would in many ways turn back the clock to how individual coverage was sold before the ACA. It would strike down the central assumptions undergirding the filings the insurers are currently making.

Write to Stephanie Armour at

Appeared in the June 8, 2018, print edition as ‘DOJ Says It Won’t Defend Health Law.’

Mitt Romney: Trump will be reelected in 2020

June 8, 2018
Mitt Romney is pictured. | Getty Images


“I think that growth and the higher incomes people are seeing means that Republicans will do just fine in November,” said Mitt Romney, the former 2012 GOP presidential nominee and current U.S. Senate candidate. | George Frey/Getty Images

Republican Senate candidate Mitt Romney bluntly predicted here on Thursday evening that President Donald Trump would win reelection in 2020.

Addressing a group of major GOP donors, Romney — who bitterly collided with Trump during the 2016 campaign and implored his party to nominate someone else — also said Trump would easily capture the Republican Party’s 2020 nomination.

He said Trump’s political fortunes would be bolstered by a pair of factors: an improving economy and the likelihood that Democrats would choose an outside-the-mainstream candidate.

“I think President Trump will be re-nominated by my party easily, and I think he’ll be reelected solidly,” Romney said.

“I think that not just because of the strong economy and because people are increasingly seeing rising wages, but I think it’s also true because I think our Democrat friends are likely to nominate someone who is really out of the mainstream of American thought and will make it easier for a president who is presiding over a growing economy,” he added.

Since launching his Utah Senate candidacy earlier this year, Romney has praised some of Trump’s early actions as president while saying he disagrees with the president’s bombastic style.

During a recent interview with NBC News, Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and the GOP’s 2012 nominee, said he wouldn’t “point to the president as a role model for my grandkids on the basis of his personal style. He has departed in some cases from the truth, and has attacked in a way that I think is not entirely appropriate.”

After the 2016 race, the relationship between Trump and Romney warmed somewhat, with the president-elect briefly considering Romney to serve as his secretary of state before ultimately picking ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Still, there were signs of strain. Earlier this year, Trump waged an unsuccessful bid to persuade longtime Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to seek reelection and block Romney.

After Hatch announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection, the president endorsed Romney for the seat.

The remarks came on the opening night of the E2 Summit, an annual Romney-hosted event that draws influential political leaders and donors. This year’s event is expected to draw a number of bold-faced names, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, investor Stephen Schwarzman, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was Romney’s vice-presidential nominee.

Actor and comedian Seth Rogen is expected to speak on brain health.

Romney also offered a bullish assessment of the GOP’s 2018 midterm prospects, arguing that the party would retain control of both chambers of Congress.

“I think that growth and the higher incomes people are seeing means that Republicans will do just fine in November,” he said. “I think we will hold the House, I think we’ll hold the Senate. I know a lot of pundits don’t believe that. I think we will.”

Romney is heavily favored to capture the Utah Senate seat. He faces a June 26 runoff for the GOP nomination against Mike Kennedy, a conservative state representative.


The Cult of Trump

June 8, 2018

Forget policy. Forget ideology. Forget hating Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi. From Indiana to Arizona to Ohio, the name of the game for Republican candidates this primary cycle has been to flaunt their Trump love. And woe unto anyone deemed insufficiently smitten.

This week’s primary elections underscored the striking degree to which President Trump has transformed the Republican Party from a political organization into a cult of personality. By contrast, Democrats show signs of taking a more pluralistic approach, fielding candidates who are willing and even eager to break with their national leaders — the House minority leader, Ms. Pelosi, in particular.

The New York Times

For Republicans tempted by Trump apostasy, Tuesday’s clearest cautionary tale was that of Representative Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican. Two years ago, Ms. Roby was considered a real comer. But then she got all squeamish about the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump shared some of his more pungent dating tips, and she called on him to leave the race.

Unfortunately for Ms. Roby, her district ultimately went for Mr. Trump by 32 percentage points. And although she has been a loyal Trump supporter ever since his win, many voters back home are still sore about her brief heresy. Throughout this primary season, Ms. Roby’s Republican opponents were quick to bring up her 2016 comments, and come Tuesday, the congresswoman failed to win the nomination outright. She’s now facing a runoff next month against former Representative Bobby Bright, who ran ads accusing her of having “turned her back on President Trump when he needed her the most.” (Mr. Bright is the party-switching former Democrat from whom Ms. Roby wrested her House seat in 2010.)

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Illustration by Woody Harrington; Photograph by Damon Winter-The New York Times

On the opposite end of the Trump-impact spectrum is John Cox, a Republican businessman running for governor of California. With registered Republicans down to 25 percent of the Golden State electorate (putting them slightly behind independent voters), the party is as likely to capture the governorship this year as Jeff Sessions is to be the next head of the American Civil Liberties Union. Nonetheless, Republicans needed a candidate at the top of the ticket to increase turnout for all the down-ballot House seats they’re fighting over. With the state’s wacky primary system, in which the top two vote-getters advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, that was hardly a given. (A longtime senator, Dianne Feinstein, will be facing a fellow Democrat.) But late in the race, Mr. Trump came out strongly for Mr. Cox, tweeting his praises, energizing the troops and propelling him to a solid second place behind Gavin Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor.

It is, of course, not unusual for presidents to have political coattails — and for the party wandering in the wilderness to show greater openness to new ideas and new kinds of candidates. The Democratic approach may be more a function of default (or desperation) than design, but Ms. Pelosi still deserves props for not seeking to kneecap candidates, like Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey, who have said they would not support her as speaker. With a bit of luck, genuine ferment and debate among Democratic candidates and officeholders over the right direction on issues like trade and immigration might result in at least one party oriented around a set of ideas.


Assuming that American democracy endures, a party organized around a single extreme personality seems like a brittle proposition. But Mr. Trump’s grip on the Republican psyche is unusually powerful by historical standards, because it is about so much more than electoral dynamics. Through his demagogic command of the party’s base, he has emerged as the shameless, trash-talking, lib-owning fulcrum around which the entire enterprise revolves.

Forget the longstanding Republican orthodoxy about the wonders of free trade. If Mr. Trump says tariffs are the way to go, his base is good with that. Even Republican lawmakers who fear a trade war seem disinclined to push very hard to prevent one. (Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has dismissed proposed legislation aimed at curbing the president’s tariff fever as an “exercise in futility.”)

As for any misbehavior uncovered by the Russia inquiry, Republican voters are having none of it. If Mr. Trump says it’s all part of a deep state plot, that’s good enough for them. Three-quarters of Republicans embrace his claim that the investigation is a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

The bulk of Republican lawmakers, even those who find Mr. Trump appalling, are increasingly loath to cross him — at least in public. In April, the conservative commentator Erick Erickson recounted in graphic detail his conversation with a G.O.P. congressman who, while publicly Trump-philic, fulminated obscenely off the record about the president.

Such timidity is hardly surprising. Mr. Trump’s favorability rating among Republicans is at 87 percent — the second-highest rating within a president’s party at an administration’s 500-day mark since World War II. (George W. Bush was slightly higher following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.) The absence of Republican criticism of Mr. Trump, in turn, serves to reinforce his popularity, creating a cycle cravenness that has now made it risky for even the staunchest of conservatives to question Mr. Trump.

Every now and again, someone sticks a neck out. Consider poor Representative Trey Gowdy. In 2015, the South Carolina Republican became a conservative darling as head of the House’s Benghazi inquiry. But last week, Mr. Gowdy, now chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, went on television and undercut the Spygate conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump has been peddling so vigorously. Mr. Gowdy not only batted down the term “spy,” but dared to defend the F.B.I. Quicker than you can say “collusion,” the congressman got dog-piled by Trump fans in the conservative media. On the heels of Mr. Gowdy, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, ventured forth this week with his own questioning of the Spygate fantasy. This may well signal growing unease among congressional Republicans with Mr. Trump’s conspiracy mongering. On the other hand, it’s probably not coincidental that Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Ryan have both announced they are retiring at the end of this term.

A week ago, John Boehner, the former House speaker, neatly captured the state of his party during a policy conference in Michigan. “There is no Republican Party,” he told the crowd. “There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Sounds peaceful. But where will the party, not to mention the country, be when it finally wakes up?

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