Hazardous to Republican health
Donald Trump has warned against getting bogged down in "endless wars." For a lot of Republicans, those are words to live by when it comes to the president's surprise new assault on Obamacare.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to stop Trump from pushing in federal court to have the entire Affordable Care Act thrown out, not just parts of it, according to The Washington Post. McCarthy is not alone, reports Axios — multiple GOP sources from the party's most conservative to the most moderate wing said they can't fathom why Trump wants to resume battle on an issue that left them battered by voters.
“It’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” a senior GOP aide told the Post. “It is the equivalent of punching yourself in the face repeatedly.”
Two key Cabinet members, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Attorney General William Barr, also opposed the move, reports Politico. But Trump listened instead to allies of White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who came to Washington as part of the Republican tea party wave that took the House in 2010 amid Obamacare's initial unpopularity. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he also encouraged Trump's decision.
When he spoke to Senate Republicans on Tuesday, Trump said he'd come up with a slogan — “Republicans are the party of health care.” He said he'd leave it to them to come up with a plan.
Among those not leaping to the task was Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who told the Daily Beast: “I don’t think you can really rethink health care until you know for sure whether Obamacare continues to be part of it or not. And I think we’re ahead of ourselves to assume that the court would say that Obamacare is somehow no longer there.”
Before Trump tossed his grenade, Republicans had launched an offensive targeting Democratic plans for an expanded government health care role as irresponsible and dangerous. Josh Holmes, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, tweeted in exasperation: "Dear GOP: When Democrats are setting themselves ablaze by advocating for the destruction of American health care, try to resist the temptation of asking them to pass the kerosene."
Janison: No drama-care
Whether you like the current health insurance system, or not, you can expect to keep it for a while, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Divided government, at least until the next election, is insurance that will prevent Trump and the Republicans from achieving the repeal-and-replace plans that they couldn't push through on their own in 2017. Control of the House alone doesn't give Democrats the power to expand upon Obamacare.
Comey: I'm stumped
Count James Comey among those puzzled about why special counsel Robert Mueller closed his investigation with no definitive conclusion on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice.
"I can’t quite understand what’s going on with the obstruction stuff," Comey told an audience in North Carolina Tuesday night. "I have great faith in Bob Mueller, but I just can’t tell from the letter why didn’t he decide these questions when the entire rationale for a special counsel is to make sure the politicals aren’t making the key charging decisions." By "politicals," he apparently meant political appointees like Barr.
Added Comey: "The Russians really did massively interfere in the 2016 election, with the goal of helping one candidate and damaging another. That was not a hoax.” He said he hopes the American public gets “transparency” on Mueller’s report.
Graham, who met with Barr Tuesday night, said on CNN he expected a release of the report "some time in April, probably" and that Trump told him he won't invoke executive privilege to withhold information from it. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who spoke with Barr Wednesday, said the attorney general "would not make a commitment" to let the public and Congress see "the entire unredacted report and the underlying evidence." Nadler said "that is not acceptable."
The public's verdict
Though Mueller's report, according to the summary from Barr, cleared Trump of collusion, a CNN poll found a 56%-to-43% majority of the public said it was not an exoneration, but rather an inability to prove it.
However, among those who say they have heard or read "a great deal" about the report, a 56%-to-44% majority agree Trump and his campaign were exonerated of any collusion.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want to see Congress continue to pursue hearings into the findings of Mueller's report, according to the CNN.
But a CBS poll, phrasing the question as whether congressional Democrats should keep investigating, found only 38% thought they should. Mueller's report puts Trump in the clear in the view of 34% of those in the CBS survey, while 23% said Trump hasn't been cleared and 36% believed it's too soon to say.
Hicks fix didn't stick
A former Trump legal team spokesman, who quit after two months, said he found the White House staff naive and reckless as they dealt with Mueller's investigation. Mark Corallo, interviewed by ABC News, described the role of Hope Hicks, then the communications director, in a ham-handed effort to hide the purpose of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting hosted by Donald Trump Jr. with Russians, including a lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
After The New York Times first reported on the meeting, Hicks put out a statement crafted by Trump that said it was about adoptions. Corallo put out a separate statement that Russians had misrepresented themselves. According to Corallo, Hicks got mad at him. He then pointed out to her that the adoptions story would backfire.
"I pointed out that the statement was inaccurate and that there were documents, that I understood there were documents that would prove that,” he said, referring to the email chain in which Trump Jr. was involved. "Hope Hicks replied to me … well nobody’s ever going to see those documents."
In short order, the documents came out.
While Mueller has wrapped up, the special counsel grand jury that investigated Russian election interference is “continuing robustly,” a federal prosecutor said in court Wednesday.
Politico reports the revelation suggests the possibility that ongoing cases Mueller has handed off could still feature significant developments beyond the core Russia investigation. Gene Rossi, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia, speculated "the Washington U.S. Attorney's Office could be another troubling front for the president and the White House."
The Moore you know
Trump has said he wants to nominate Stephen Moore, a cheerleader for his economic policies, to an open seat on the Federal Reserve. But it may not be a done deal. While expressing confidence on CNBC that Moore would tone down his rhetoric, White House chief economist Kevin Hassett used the phrase "if" he "ends up being the nominee."
Moore said in interviews with The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that he regrets calling Fed Chairman Jerome Powell "totally incompetent" and told both newspapers he's not "a sycophant for Trump.”
It's not only Moore's credentials and grasp of monetary policy that are raising questions. Bloomberg News reports the IRS has had a lien on Moore's Maryland home since January 2018, contending he owes more than $75,000 in back taxes and other penalties. Moore referred questions to his wife, who said IRS notices about the results of an audit got lost in the mail after a change of address.
What else is happening:
- Until the day she died last April, Barbara Bush kept a countdown clock on a bedside table displaying how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remained in Trump's term, according to a new book on the former first lady by USA Today's Susan Page. Bush also blamed her distress at Trump for worsening her heart condition.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is the first of the 2020 contenders to disclose 2018 tax returns. They showed a payment of about $29,000 in federal income taxes on an adjusted gross income of more than $214,000, reports Newsday's Emily Ngo.
- Joe Biden expressed new regrets over how Anita Hill was treated in a 1992 Senate hearing he chaired when she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. More broadly, he blamed "a white man's culture" and said Hill should not have been forced to face a panel of "a bunch of white guys."
- Openly gay 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg has mused about brokering peace between the LGBT community and Chick-fil-A, whose founding family funded foes of same-sex marriage. "I do not approve of their politics, but I kind of approve of their chicken," the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said on 105.1 FM's "Breakfast Club" show.
- Trump met with Google CEO Sundar Pichai amid growing Pentagon complaints that the company is pursuing research projects in China while doing less for the U.S. Defense Department, Politico reported. Trump also discussed his beefs about "political fairness" on Google.
- From another corner of the internet, Donald Trump Jr. posted on Instagram an obscenity-captioned meme attacking Democrats with a photo of his dad framed like a thumbnail for a video on Pornhub. It also refers to the president as "Orange Man." HuffPost has the screenshot.
- Trump's refusal to provide further aid to Puerto Rico drew a retort from the governor of the commonwealth, The Bond Buyer reports.