The envy of O

Was the proverb “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on President Donald Trump’s mind Monday? Or was he thinking about his approval ratings, stuck in the 40s, while Obama left office with almost 60 percent approval?

The topic was Trump’s drive to repeal Obamacare.

“If we end it, everybody is going to say, ‘Oh, remember how great Obamacare used to be?’ ” he said. (Trump blamed the news media for that.)

“It’s a little bit like President Obama. When he left, people liked him. When he was here, people didn’t like him so much,” Trump said at a morning health care event.

Polls show Obamacare winning more favor now than it did through much of Obama’s presidency, though sharp divisions persist. For Republicans, repealing and replacing means delivering on campaign promises made in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

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Left on the books, it would collapse on its own — “blow itself off the map,” Trump asserted, “but that’s the wrong thing to do for the country.”

Trump spoke before the Congressional Budget Office released its projections on the impact of the House GOP’s bill, which the president so far doesn’t want to call Trumpcare.

The bill and the diagnosis

The nonpartisan CBO’s estimates — that 14 million would lose health insurance coverage next year under the House bill, rising to 24 million by 2026 — were greeted with disbelief by the Trump administration. As in, “it’s just not believable,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan embraced another finding — that it would reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion by 2026. “When people have more choices, costs go down. That’s what this report shows,” he said.

In the short run, however, the CBO said premiums would go up because Republicans would abolish the penalties designed to induce healthier people to buy coverage. The premiums would settle back and get lower in the next decade compared with the current law.

In January, Trump had promised to replace Obamacare with a plan that provided “insurance for everybody.” At Monday’s appearance, Trump said the GOP plan would provide “more choices, far more choices, at lower cost.”

Hover kill

The Trump administration is giving secret new authority to the CIA to conduct drone strikes against terrorism suspects, reversing an Obama administration policy that reserved the killing power for the military and let the spy agency do the surveilling, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The authority was first used in Syria in February in a move against a person identified as a senior al-Qaida leader, U.S. officials told the newspaper. The policy change seems to contradict Trump's earlier sweeping denunciations of the CIA and other organizations that make up the so-called intelligence community in Washington. 

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Is the Oval Office trying to ratchet up tension between the Pentagon and CIA? According to the report: "The agency eventually could become empowered under Mr. Trump to once again conduct covert strikes in other places where the U.S. is targeting militants in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere." Affected agencies offered no official comment.

The Washington Post reports that Trump's drone plans seem to include "lowering the threshold on acceptable civilian casualties."

Spicer’s tap dance

After a nine-day failure to back up the president’s tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping him, Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered an new, expanded and expansive definition of what Trump meant, Newsday’s Emily Ngo reports.

“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” Spicer said at his daily briefing. “But I think there is no question that the Obama administration — that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election.”

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Spicer’s retreat was vague enough to improve the odds that a fact or two could catch up to the revisionist claim. Example: the conversations that fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had last year with the Russian ambassador — recorded because the diplomat was under phone surveillance.

The take-away: Trump and Prexit

Preet Bharara’s ouster as U.S. attorney in Manhattan would have been even more unremarkable, and less remarked upon, had it not been for the November Trump Tower meeting in which the prosecutor said the president-elect wanted to keep him on.

In refusing to go quietly, Bharara looks like he’s standing up to Trump, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison. If he has a political future, it seems likely it will be as a Democrat.

Quiz 1: What’s he saying?

Trump said Monday: “Let’s hope it’s not going to be as bad as some people are predicting. Usually it isn’t.”

Was he talking about:

A. The CBO estimates?

B. The winter storm?

Quiz 2: Is he serious?

Spicer said Monday that whatever Trump says, Americans can trust it to be real — “If he’s not joking, of course.”

So was Trump kidding when he said:

A. 3 to 5 million fraudulent votes were cast for Hillary Clinton?

B. His inauguration crowds were bigger than Obama’s — photo evidence to the contrary notwithstanding?

C. He wants the White House press corps’ advice on which charity will get the promised donation of Trump’s $400,000 annual salary?

D. None of the above?

See quiz answers at the end of the next section.

A snow job to do

Trump is all in on making Washington, D.C.’s snow removal great ... for probably the first time ever. He met with city officials and offered federal resources to help them dig out, Politico reports.

Trump has strong opinions on the subject, including the corrosive effects of road salt. He told The Boston Globe in a 2015 interview: “It’s like hiring Rosie O’Donnell on ‘The View’ — short-term pleasure but long-term disaster.”

What else is happening

  • The Trump White House launched a newsletter Monday and called it “1600 Daily.” “The 1600” was here first. Here. First. Newsday’s “The 1600” debuted in April 2016.
  • The real estate company owned by the family of Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner stands to get more than $400 million from a Chinese company’s investment in a Fifth Avenue office tower, Bloomberg News reports. Anbang Insurance Group has suspected links to China’s government.
  • Trump is tentatively planning to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit next month at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, CNN reported.
  • Kellyanne Conway, asked by The Record in New Jersey about Trump’s wiretap claims, said surveillance could be done by home appliances — including “microwaves that turn into cameras.” On CNN Monday, she said she was talking generically — not about Trump — and added, “I’m not in the job of having evidence.”
  • Shortly after Conway’s interview by CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Trump tweeted: “It is amazing how rude much of the media is to my very hard working representatives. Be nice, you will do much better!”
  • Trump’s first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, scheduled for Tuesday at the White House, was postponed until Friday because of the snowstorm forecast.
  • Answers to the quizzes: 1. B. Trump was referring to the winter storm approaching Washington and the Northeast. 2. D. None of the above. He wasn’t joking about the vote fraud or crowds, though evidence doesn’t support him on either. Spicer spoke about the donation plan Monday.
  • In the sell-sell-sell world of the Trumps, first daughter Ivanka is giving up the fine-jewelry line for a more downscale market approach, says the NY Times.