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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Senate Leaders Scramble to Save Health Bill Amid Defections


AP17177631487684__1498566415_198.49.27.212

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate leaders scrambled Tuesday to rescue their health care bill, in deepening jeopardy as opposition from rebellious Republicans intensified. The defections loomed as Congress’ nonpartisan budget referee said the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than President Barack Obama’s law.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was hoping to staunch his party’s rebellion, a day after the Congressional Budget Office released its report. He’s been aiming at winning Senate passage this week, before a weeklong July 4 recess that leaders worry opponents will use to weaken support for the legislation.

The CBO analysis suggested some ammunition GOP leaders could use, saying the Senate bill would cut federal deficits by $202 billion more over the coming decade than the version the House approved in May. Senate leaders could use some of those additional savings to attract moderate votes by making Medicaid and other provisions more generous, though conservatives would rather use that money to reduce red ink.

“You don’t want to bring something up unless you know you have the votes to pass it. But I also think we may not know if we have the votes to pass it until we bring it up,” said No. 3 GOP Senate leader John Thune of South Dakota.

The projected boost in uninsured people fed concerns by moderate Republican lawmakers that the Senate measure, annulling parts of Obama’s 2010 overhaul, was too drastic. Yet conservatives were unhappy that it didn’t do enough to dismantle Obama’s law and lower premiums by repealing coverage requirements, leaving McConnell with little margin for error -- the bill fails if three of the 52 GOP senators vote no.

The 22 million extra Americans were just 1 million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version. President Donald Trump has called the House bill “mean” and prodded senators to produce a package with more “heart.”

Minutes after the report’s release, three GOP senators threatened to oppose a procedural vote to begin debate expected Wednesday -- enough to derail the legislation.

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would vote no. She tweeted that she favors a bipartisan effort to fix Obama’s statute but added, “CBO analysis shows Senate bill won’t do it.”

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would oppose that motion unless the bill was changed. And fellow conservative Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he had “a hard time believing” he’d have enough information to back that motion this week.

Moderate Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., on Friday said he’d oppose the procedural motion without alterations.

Those rebels were just part of McConnell’s problem. Two other conservatives -- Texas’ Ted Cruz and Utah’s Mike Lee -- have also said they’d vote no without revisions, and several other moderates have expressed worries about the bill’s Medicaid cuts and reductions in people with coverage.

The budget office report said the Senate bill’s coverage losses would especially affect people between ages 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200 percent of poverty level, or around $30,300 for an individual.

In one example, the report says that in 2026 under Obama’s law, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 would pay premiums amounting to $1,700 a year, after subsidies. Under the Senate bill, that person would pay $6,500, partly because insurers would be able to charge older adults more.

The Senate plan would end the tax penalty that law imposes on people who don’t buy insurance, in effect erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that don’t offer coverage to workers.

It would let states ease Obama’s requirements that insurers cover certain specified services like substance abuse treatments, and eliminate $700 billion worth of taxes over a decade, CBO said, largely on wealthier people and medical companies that Obama’s law used to expand coverage.

It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to over 70 million poor and disabled people, by $772 billion through 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Obama’s expansion of the program. Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.

CBO said that under the bill, most insurance markets around the country would be stable before 2020. It said that similar to the House bill, average premiums around the country would be higher over the next two years -- including about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under Obama’s statute -- but lower beginning in 2020.

But the office said that overall, the Senate legislation would increase out of pocket costs for deductibles and copayments. That’s because standard policies would be skimpier than currently offered under Obama’s law, covering a smaller share of expected medical costs.

In another troublesome finding for the legislation, the budget office warned that in some rural areas, either no insurer would be willing participate in the individual market or the policies offered would be prohibitively expensive. Rural America was a stronghold for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Vice President Mike Pence invited four GOP senators to dinner Tuesday to discuss the bill, his office said: Lee and Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

___

Associated Press writers Erica Werner, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Ken Thomas and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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Restoring Nationalism

Can We Talk About Bernie Sanders And Wife Being Under FBI Investigation?

Matt Vespa

Oh, the ghosts of Burlington College are back to haunt the Sanders. In 2016, reports about Sen. Bernie Sander’s (I-VT) wife, Jane, running the college into the ground, coupled with his tax plan, made for some good cannon fodder against the self-described democratic socialist’s financially reckless agenda during the 2016 primaries. Yet, what was missed was the fact that the FBI began peering through the financial records of the college, which had secured a $10 million to expand the campus along Lake Champlain. The local Catholic archdiocese had owned the property and had just settled on sexual abuse charges that totaled over $17 million. They were eager to sell. Still, the college’s plan to expand seemed lofty. It only had an enrollment of around 200. In short, this expansion project sunk the college, but the loan to secure the purchase involved Sen. Sanders, who reportedly placed pressure on the People’s United Bank for the loan. Yes, Democrats will deflect saying that, Brady Toensing, Trump’s campaign manager in Vermont, was the one who dug into this transaction and found possible evidence of bank fraud. Still, the couple has dismissed the claims until now; lawyering up for an investigation that has spanned months that was started under the Obama administration. Politico had a lengthy piece on the subject (via Politico):

Sanders and his wife have been trying to ignore the federal investigation since reporters for VTDigger, an online publication, confirmed the FBI’s involvement in April. The original request for an investigation into the potential bank fraud did indeed come from Brady Toensing, an attorney who chaired Trump’s Vermont campaign, and whose January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney for Vermont put federal agents on the trail.

[…]

On January 10, 2016, in the midst of Sanders’ sudden stardom—just weeks before the votes in Iowa and New Hampshire—the U.S. attorney for Vermont was sent a “Request for an Investigation into Apparent Federal Bank Fraud.”

Backed by six exhibits and a dozen documents, the four-page letter described how Jane Sanders had “orchestrated” the purchase of 33 acres along Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, where her husband had minted his populist political brand as mayor. The deal closed in 2010, when the senator’s wife was president of Burlington College, a tiny, obscure, nontraditional school that always seemed to be struggling for students and funds. The letter alleged that to secure a $10 million loan and execute her grand plan to expand the college, Jane Sanders had falsified and inflated nearly $2 million that she’d claimed donors had pledged to repay the loans.

Sanders had “successfully and intentionally engaged in a fraudulent scheme to actively conceal and misrepresent material facts from a federal financial institution,” the letter alleged. It pressed for a federal investigation into potential bank fraud.

[…]

Beyond the glare, federal investigators and FBI agents started to pull apart the $10 million financial arrangement. They showed up at Burlington College to sift through hard drives, audit reports and spreadsheets. They began to interview donors, board members and past president Carol Moore. “I was contacted and spoke with an FBI agent numerous times last spring, again last summer,” Moore told Vermont Public Radio in May 2017, “and recently, maybe a month ago.”

A second letter to federal prosecutors in early 2016 alleged that Senator Sanders’ office had pressured the bank to approve the loan application submitted by Jane Sanders. “Improper pressure by a United States Senator is a serious ethical violation,” the letter asserted.

[…]

The records showed that Sanders had assured People’s United Bank and the state bonding agency that the college had $2.6 million in pledges to secure the loan. Internal college audits showed that only $676,000 in actual donations came in from 2010 to 2014. Sanders listed two people as having confirmed pledges for more money than they had offered; neither knew their pledges had been used to support the loan. A third donor had offered a $1 million bequest, to be paid upon her death. Instead, the college’s loan application counted it in funds to be paid out over the next few years.

The donor, Corinne Bove Maietta, told VTDigger she had made the bequest contingent on her death, but was surprised the college counted the $1 million toward paying off the land loan. “They had me in increments?” Maietta asked, from her home in Florida. “No, never.” She and her accountant said Sanders asked Maietta to sign documents confirming the donations, but they declined. Maietta said investigators with the Federal Deposit Insurance Agency had interviewed her about the loan details. At the time, Sanders declined to comment.

Brady Toensing wrapped these figures and facts into the January 2016 letter to the U.S. attorney and the FDIC, requesting an investigation into what he termed “apparent federal bank fraud.” In March 2016, Toensing doubled down in another letter to federal officials. This time, he made an allegation that struck to the core of Bernie Sanders’ clean-government image. “As a result of my [initial] complaint,” Toensing wrote, “I was recently approached and informed that Senator Bernard Sanders’s office improperly pressured People’s United Bank to approve the loan application submitted by the Senator’s wife, Ms. Sanders.”

Now, the article does say that the evidence for such the allegations is thin, and that the senator’s pressuring might have been mere “casual suggestion.” According to legal experts the publication spoke to, proving bank fraud means, “it requires that the act be performed knowingly.” Not an easy task, but there was certainly enough to go on here for the FBI to take a look. The rest of the investigation is now in the hands of President Trump’s Department of Justice and the Vermont U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is vacant at the moment. The Sanders have reportedly retained the legal representation of Rich Cassidy, who represented former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. 

CNN Snarkily Responds to Trump Tweet About Their Failing Ratings

Cortney O'Brien 


You may have seen President Trump's entertaining tweets Tuesday morning targeting CNN. The network recently embarrassed itself by publishing another report about Trump-Russia collusion with an anonymous source. Lacking evidence, it was forced to completely retract the story and offer an apology for not living up to the standards it set for itself. 

In the since deleted story, CNN writers suggested Trump transition team member Anthony Scaramucci was under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee for his ties to Russian businessman Kirill Dmitriev. Three CNN employees were reportedly forced to resign as a result of the hack job.

Trump responded to CNN's actions by dismissing the network as "fake news" and predicting its shoddy reporting can account for its plummeting ratings.

CNN's public relations Twitter account responded with the following snarky message.

On a similar note, Project Veritas has just released an investigation in which undercover reporters got a CNN producer to admit they were obsessing over the Russia story for ratings.

We are looking to President Trump v. CNN round 201.

Dozens Of House Republicans Urge Ginsburg To Recuse From Travel Ban Cases



U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participates in taking a new family photo with her fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Kevin Daley
26 Jun 2017, 06:46 PM

Fifty-eight House Republicans signed a letter to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg demanding her recusal from the forthcoming travel ban case, given her previous public criticisms of President Donald Trump.

The letterargues that Ginsburg is bound by law to recuse herself in cases where she has a “personal bias or prejudice concerning a party” or from cases where her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The congressmen argue that the justice publicly evinced prejudice towards the president in a series of interviews given at the conclusion of the 2016 term, in which she called the president a “faker” and mused about moving to New Zealand if he prevailed in the general election.

“You are bound by law to recuse yourself from participation in this case,” the congressmen write. “There is no doubt that your impartiality can be reasonably questioned; indeed, it would be unreasonable not to question your impartiality. Your participation in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project would violate the law and undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

What’s more, the congressmen argued that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals placed the president’s credibility directly at issue in this case, as it concluded that the administration was not being forthright about its true motives with regard to the order. Relying on the president’s tweets and campaign statements, the court concluded that the travel ban’s national security rationale was little more that a pretext for implementing a discriminatory policy.

As Ginsburg has already publicly impugned Trump’s credibility, they say she must recuse herself.

The justice offered candid assessments of the president in a series of interviews beginning in aJuly 2016 interviewwith Adam Liptak of The New York Times.

“I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president,” she said.

She went on to double down on her remarks.

“He is a faker,” she toldCNN’s Joan Biskupic. “He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment.”

Her criticisms, unprecedented in the modern period, prompted The New York TimesandThe Washington Postto chastise her political interventions. She walked back the remarks in short order.

“On reflection, my recent remarks in response to press inquiries were ill-advised, and I regret making them,” Ginsburg said. “Judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office. In the future, I will be more circumspect.”

Fix the Court, a watchdog group that advocates for greater transparency at the high court, urged Ginsburg to publicly offer “convincing reasons” for her continued participation in the case.

“Justice Ginsburg should take this opportunity and explain to the American people her views on why she should stay on the case,” said the group’s executive director, Gabe Roth. “It is possible there are convincing reasons for Justice Ginsburg to hear the travel ban lawsuit despite her clear disdain for the petitioner. It is her responsibility now to air those reasons.” Roth also noted Justice Antonin Scalia resisted calls to recuse himself from cases involving Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration. Cheney and Scalia were hunting companions and socialized on occasion.

The Supreme Court Public Information Office has not yet returned TheDCNF’s inquiries.

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High-power Dems facing ethics scrutiny

High-power Dems facing ethics scrutiny
By Mike Lillis - 06-27-17 06:59 AM EDT

Two high-power Democrats are facing scrutiny for possible ethics infractions, the House Ethics Committee announced Monday.

Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, and Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), are being reviewed by the panel at the recommendation of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent, bipartisan group that examines ethics complaints and forwards what it considers the most serious cases to the Ethics Committee.

Michael Collins, chief of staff to Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), is also under review, the House panel announced.

As is typically the case, the Ethics Committee did not specify the allegations surrounding the three Democrats. But Lujan has been the subject of complaints filed by the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a conservative watch-dog group, alleging the DCCC chairman violated ethics rules by soliciting campaign donations following the Democrats' sit-in on the House floor last June to protest Republican inaction on gun reform.

"They protested for TWENTY-SIX LONG HOURS, but Republicans refused to lift a finger," read one DCCC solicitation at the time. "We need to get 21,673 more gifts in the door today to kick them out of office."

In January, FACT filed a separate complaint against Lewis and Collins, alleging that Collins's role as both Lewis's chief of staff and campaign treasurer violated rules limiting outside employment by House staffers.

"[E]ven in the limited instances where outside employment is allowed, the amount that can be earned is capped at $27,255," FACT said at the time. "In this case, Collins was earning $27,495 as Lewis' campaign treasurer, a prohibited salary for a prohibited position."

Conyers's office has been under OCE review over the last year surrounding allegations that a former staffer, Cynthia Martin, may have been paid during months when she was no longer employed by the office. In February, the OCE recommended that the Ethics Committee review whether Martin "accepted compensation that was not commensurate with the work she was performing."

In a statement to The Washington Post, a Conyers spokesperson said the office "is cooperating with the Ethics Committee, and is confident that this matter can be swiftly resolved."

The offices of Lujan and Lewis provided similar statements.

In each case, the Ethics Committee noted that "the mere fact of a referral or an extension ... does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred."

The panel will decide by Aug. 9 whether to take further action in each case.

The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation

The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation
By Niall Stanage - 06-27-17 06:00 AM EDT

This week has already proven vital to President Trump's hopes of putting his imprint on the nation - and the stakes are about to get higher.

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed parts of the administration's controversial travel ban to go into effect, delivering a surprise victory for the president.

Meanwhile, the Senate could vote on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, as early as Thursday.

Outright victory on both those measures would have a significance beyond anything Trump has done so far.

But it will be far from plain sailing - in part because liberal opposition is fierce on both fronts, but also because some Republicans are balking on healthcare.

The bar was raised for Trump on Monday, when a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis found 22 million fewer people would have health insurance by 2026 if the bill became law. By Monday night, four GOP senators were indicating they would not even vote to begin debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cannot afford to lose any more than two GOP senators if he is to pass his bill. At present, five Republicans are not on board with the underlying legislation. Additionally, the backing of at least two moderate members - Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) - is in doubt.

Trump is engaged in the effort to win over Republican senators.

"I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican Senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken ObamaCare any longer!" he tweeted over the weekend.

An outside group that acts to advance Trump's interests, America First Policies, has already begun a campaign against one Republican who opposes the bill, Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), and is reported to be planning action against four others.

According to the Associated Press, Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) could soon be in its sights.

There is no mistaking how much is at stake.

"Look, when you're president every week is critical but this one matters more than most," said Republican strategist Alex Conant, who worked for the presidential campaign of one of Trump's 2016 rivals, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

"If he can start the week with this travel ruling and finish it by [moving toward] repealing ObamaCare, that would be by far the most successful week of his presidency."

The Supreme Court decision schedules the hearing of the case on Trump's travel ban for October. Meanwhile, the administration will have to defend the executive order in the court of public opinion.

There has been little recent polling on the ban, which seeks to bar most travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations. Back in March, when the order emerged, 43 percent of adults nationwide supported the administration's position but 52 percent opposed it, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll.

For the moment, the administration will be able to bar travelers from the nations in question who cannot show a "bona fide" connection to a person or entity in the United States. Exactly how that connection will be defined is sure to be subject to contentious debate.

Still, Trump took to Twitter to laud the justices. "Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!," he wrote early Monday afternoon.

Trump can also take heart from an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas and supported by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, the latter of whom was nominated by Trump.

Thomas's opinion, dissenting from parts of the broader "per curiam" judgment, held that the Court had already drawn an "implicit conclusion" that "the Government has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits."

Democrats, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the ban, expressed doubt that the court ruling should be seen as a major victory for the Trump administration.

They noted that the debate over the order could be irrelevant by October. The original aim expressed by the administration was for a 90-day pause in order to strengthen security safeguards. There is no consensus as to when that 90-day clock begins.

"I'm sure they can declare it a win on their part," said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, referring to the administration. "But I'm not sure it's much of one."

Trippi and others also questioned the political dynamics of the healthcare law.

Republican proposals, first in the House and now in the Senate, have met with strong public disapproval in polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month found only 16 percent of the public believing the GOP plan "a good idea," while 48 percent said the opposite.

Asked if healthcare could ultimately be a millstone for Republicans, Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz, said, "It could be that the Republicans look fondly at the idea of a millstone. This could be a four-ton anchor."

Still, there is no doubting Trump's desire to notch a win on a signature campaign promise.

The political winds had appeared to shift in his favor after the special election last week in Georgia, in which Republican Karen Handel prevailed over Democrat Jon Ossoff. Democrats had high hopes of an upset and infighting has broken out since their candidate's defeat.

It was the latest of several special elections in which Democrats had hoped to seize a GOP seat but came up short.

"They are a lot less unified today than they were before polls closed in Georgia," Conant said. "Winning all those special elections helped change the narrative in a way that gives President Trump more political capital than he has had in months."

Now the question is whether this week adds even more capital or whether controversy - or a failure on healthcare - will deplete it once again.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch Blast SCOTUS for Refusing to Hear Major Second Amendment Case


Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a major case out of California that asked whether the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms includes the right to carry firearms in public. By refusing to get involved, the Court left in place a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that denied constitutional recognition to the right to carry.

Writing in dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch, blasted the Court for its failure to act and for its "distressing trend" of treating "the Second Amendment as a disfavored right."

According to Thomas, "the Framers made a clear choice: They reserved to all Americans the right to bear arms for self-defense. I do not think we should stand by idly while a State denies its citizens that right, particularly when their very lives may depend on it." Thomas added, "even if other Members of the Court do not agree that the Second Amendment likely protects a right to public carry, the time has come for the Court to answer this important question definitively."

Thomas offered a sharply worded case for why the Court should have taken up the question. Federal circuits, he pointed out, have reached different conclusions and are therefore irrevocably split on this pressing constitutional matter. "This Court has already suggested that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry firearms in public in some fashion. As we explained in Heller, to 'bear arms' means to 'wear, bear, or carry upon the person or in the clothing or in a pocket, for the purpose of being armed and ready for offensive or defensive action in a case of conflict with another person.'" As Thomas observed, "I find it extremely improbable that the Framers understood the Second Amendment to protect little more than carrying a gun from the bedroom to the kitchen."

Today's case, known as Peruta v. California, centered on a state law that says that conceal-carry permits will only be issued to those persons who have demonstrated to the satisfaction of their local county sheriff that they have a "good cause" for carrying a concealed firearm in public. What counts as a "good cause?" In the words of one San Diego official, "one's personal safety is not considered good cause" in and of itself.

What this means in practice, as one earlier court ruling observed, "in California the only way that the typical responsible, law-abiding citizen can carry a weapon in public for the lawful purpose of self-defense is with a concealed-carry permit. And, in San Diego County, that option has been taken off the table."

Despite the strenuous protest of Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch, that option remains off the table thanks to the Supreme Court's inaction today.

Towards a Conservative Democracy

Sasse: Senate Healthcare Bill Not a Repeal of Obamacare


Sen. Ben Sasse speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska asserted that the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act isn't a true repeal during a retreat Sunday.

The senator made the comments during a Koch foundation retreat according to Reuters White House Correspondent James Oliphant. Sasse asserted the measure was simply a "Medicaid reform package" during a session closed to the press.

He later added that he didn't have anything to announce about his official position on the health care plan during an event attended by members of the press. "This session is on the record, right? There's press here? I have nothing to announce," Sasse said officially on the record.

Five Republican Senators, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Dean Heller of Nevada, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin all declared they didn't support the Senate plan as it was currently written, but indicated that they had an interest in negotiating the final language of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated an interest in holding a vote on the measure Thursday, but it remains unclear if Republicans will have enough votes to pass the plan by then.

 

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