The Buzzsaw of Outrage

America should have known what it was getting into. A month before the election, Josh Marshall offered a simple explanation:

The need to assert dominance is at the root of all of Trump’s actions. His whole way of understanding the world is one made up of dominators and the dominated. There’s no infinite grey middle ground, where most of us live the vast majority of our human relationships. That’s why even those who are conspicuously loyal are routinely humiliated in public. In that schema, Trump simply had no choice but to lash out, to rebalance the equation of dominance in his favor. It’s an impulse that goes beyond reason or any deliberation. That’s what left so many would-be or maybe allies flabbergasted at how or why he would have walked straight into such a buzzsaw of outrage.

Ezra Klein seconded that:

Now think about that driving impulse to prove dominance in a context where Trump’s dominance is really being threatened – where he’s being challenge by Hillary Clinton, by Paul Ryan, by the New York Times, by the knuckleheads on CNN, by the polls. Imagine what that’s like. Imagine how that feels. Imagine how painful it is to watch the entire country come to view you as a loser.

You have to fight it. You have to. Your whole sense of self-worth hangs in the balance. And so you find the polls that show you actually won the debate. You swear to take your revenge on the Republican traitors who abandoned you. You promise to bankrupt the outlets that humiliated you. You rally your faithful and recede into a protective cocoon of sycophants, friendly crowds, internet surveys, and golden toilet seats.

That’s where we are now – but there’s an even simpler explanation for why Donald Trump is president. Just enough voters in just the right places liked a guy who just popped off and said anything that came to mind, no matter how absurd and how offensive – in fact, the more offensive the better. They were pissed off at everything – Mexicans and Muslims and gays and urban hipsters and fancy-pants experts and the French and the Chinese and all “politicians” in general. Donald Trump just sneered and mocked them all. Donald Trump said what they dare not say, in public. He was their surrogate. He was one of them.

That’s where things stand today. A bit more than a third of the nation still feels that way. They have their surrogate buzzsaw of outrage. He practices the politics of dominance – actual policy is hardly an issue. Winning is the issue. Trump told them that America would win so much they’d all be tired of winning. Hell, they’d be bored – but they’d love it.

That was a good line, but things haven’t worked out. Congress is the problem. They can’t pass any major legislation for the guy. They can’t even kill Obamacare. After seven years of Republicans saying that they had a better plan all along, they said that they would reveal that plan after they won it all – the House and the Senate and the White House. They won it all. They had nothing. They offered farce.

The New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan recaps the third day of the ongoing farce:

The Senate on Wednesday soundly rejected a measure that would repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act without providing a replacement, leaving Republicans still searching for a path forward to fulfill their promise of dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

Seven Republican senators joined Democrats to vote against the measure, which had been embraced by conservatives but could have left millions of people without health coverage.

The rejection of “clean repeal” laid bare the deep divisions within the Republican caucus about how best to proceed. The night before, nine Republicans, including both conservatives and moderates, voted against comprehensive legislation to repeal the health law and provide a replacement.

That left this:

Without the votes to replace the health law or to simply repeal major parts of it, Senate Republicans appeared increasingly likely to try to pass a modest measure that would repeal only a few provisions of the law, such as the tax on medical devices and the requirements that most individuals have insurance and that large employers offer coverage to workers.

But even that narrow bill could have a significant impact on the nation’s health care system. Democrats on Wednesday night released a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the effects of repealing several provisions that could be part of a “skinny” repeal measure. The analysis found that the number of uninsured people would increase by 15 million next year compared with current law, and Democrats said they were told that premiums would be roughly 20 percent higher.

That won’t do either, but Jonathan Chait explains the strategy here:

Before Obamacare, a handful of states tried to regulate insurance to prohibit discrimination against people with preexisting conditions. But doing this without subsidies and an individual mandate simply drove healthy people out of the markets and created a death spiral. Analysts on the right and the left alike concluded these experiments were a failure. Conservatives have proposed various alternatives to the individual mandate, but the “skinny bill” does not contain any of these. It simply eliminates an important function of the current law.

It’s not clear whether the skinny bill would melt down the individual market altogether. There’s not much study of this as a stand-alone policy, mainly because it’s a terrible idea nobody has ever thought to propose, and Republicans came up with it just this week in a mad rush… but it is clear that the skinny bill would damage the markets and increase premiums while advancing no coherent policy objective.

That’s obvious, but that’s the clever plan:

The point, rather, is to reduce the repeal agenda to its most popular constituent elements, pass something that 50 Republicans can live with, and then create a chance to go to conference with the House and rewrite the proposal. Republicans are very clear about their belief that the skinny plan is not intended to be passed into law. “If we can get a skinny bill over (to the House), we can work in the conference committee to actually improve on the product,” South Dakota Republican senator Mike Rounds told reporters. The “content” of the bill is not the point, says Senator Bob Corker, who calls it a “forcing mechanism.”

That’s the politics of dominance – win – win something – win anything – but Chait sees that as losing:

The GOP’s failure to cohere around a proposal is not an incidental problem. It is a fundamental and unsolvable one. Conservative dogma is wholly incompatible with the development of any healthcare plan that is remotely acceptable to the public. The only solution in the face of this dilemma is to denounce Obamacare while promising something different and better to come along at a later date.

The Republican Party has stuck to the strategic imperative of putting off its plan as unswervingly as the Russian empire pursued its goal of securing a warm water port. It is why Republicans never developed an alternative during the health-care debate that might have peeled away moderate Democrats. It is why their years of repeal votes always promised a replacement to come later. It is why their first and best plan after Trump’s election handed them power was a two-stage “repeal and delay.”

The alternative to this endless farce is to admit the process of developing a Republican-only repeal and replace of Obamacare is a failure. It would be easy, almost trivially easy, to patch up the law and bring down premium costs – simply halting deliberate sabotage by the Trump administration would be enough. But this would admit that the party has spent eight years making promises that it could not fulfill. And a liar who is caught usually prefers to delay exposure as long as possible.

That means the farce will continue, and then Politico reported this:

Even a bare-bones repeal of Obamacare is no sure thing in the Senate. A handful of key Republican senators who had spurned earlier overtures from GOP leadership endorsed the latest plan to gut Obamacare’s individual and employer coverage mandates and its medical device tax. But several centrists said they’re undecided on the so-called skinny repeal, leaving the GOP in limbo through at least the end of the week.

The skinny alternative appears to be dead. They really do have nothing now. The politics of dominance is hard.

The politics of dominance is hard for the Big Guy too, as this news broke:

President Trump has discussed with confidants and advisers in recent days the possibility of installing a new attorney general through a recess appointment if Jeff Sessions leaves the job, but he has been warned not to move to push him out because of the political and legal ramifications, according to people briefed on the conversations.

The need to assert dominance may be at the root of all of Trump’s actions, but he may not be that dumb in this case:

Still raging over Sessions’ recusal from the Justice Department’s escalating Russia investigation, Trump has been talking privately about how he might replace Sessions and possibly sidestep Senate oversight, four people familiar with the issue said.

Two of those people, however, described Trump as musing about the idea rather than outlining a plan of action, and a senior White House official said no action is imminent. Several people familiar with the discussions said that Trump’s fury peaked over the weekend and that he and Sessions now seem to be heading toward an uneasy detente.

When asked about the president’s discussions of a recess appointment, the White House released a one-sentence denial from Trump: “More fake news from the Amazon Washington Post.” The Washington Post is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon.

That denial may be moot:

Those who have discussed Sessions this week with Trump or with top West Wing officials have drawn different conclusions from their conversations – in part because the president ruminates aloud and floats hypotheticals, often changing his views hour to hour.

No one knows what’s coming next:

Some advisers have come away convinced that Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions and is seriously considering a recess appointment to replace him – an idea that has been discussed on some of the cable news shows the president watches. These advisers said Trump would prefer that the attorney general resign rather than have to be fired.

“My understanding is the Sessions thing ends with Sessions leaving the attorney general job to go spend more time with his family,” said one outside counselor to the White House, who, like many others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the subject is highly sensitive.

But others involved in the discussions have concluded that Trump is merely venting with his continued assault against Sessions – one described it as “an emotional exercise,” while another called it “just a rough-up job.” They said Trump has neither fully articulated nor set in motion a plan to replace Sessions.

But that may not matter:

Trump has long confided privately what he began to say publicly last week – that he blames Sessions’ recusal for setting in motion the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as the special counsel of the Russia probe, which the president sees as unfair and a metastasizing problem for himself and his family.

No good will come of that:

Several lawyers around Trump have been urging the president to stop his saber-rattling against Sessions and Mueller, according to three advisers. The president has countered that he believes the probe is a mere political attack – a “witch hunt” and “hoax,” as he often says on Twitter – and that he has no legal jeopardy to worry about.

But several lawyers have told Trump that his comments send a signal to Mueller that the president is trying to shut down or curtail the probe, as though he does have something to hide.

Trump has largely shrugged off these concerns. “In his mind, he is his own best advocate, his own best lawyer,” one adviser said. “He’s not willing to let the Mueller probe and other events unfold without taking action himself.”

That’s a bad idea:

Replacing Sessions could be a precursor to firing Mueller as special counsel. But several of Trump’s White House advisers – including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon – have strongly counseled him against ordering the dismissal of Mueller, which they have warned would be a political, if not legal, catastrophe, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Replacing Sessions with someone who would fire Mueller would be catastrophic. Trump’s daily tweets mocking and ridiculing and humiliating Sessions are bad enough, and Ken Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky business, hates even those:

Mr. President, please cut it out. Tweet to your heart’s content, but stop the wildly inappropriate attacks on the attorney general. An honorable man whom I have known since his days as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, Jeff Sessions has recently become your piñata in one of the most outrageous – and profoundly misguided – courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital. What you are doing is harmful to your presidency and inimical to our foundational commitment as a free people to the rule of law.

In fact, take a junior high class in government:

The attorney general is not – and cannot be – the president’s “hockey goalie,” as new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci described Sessions’ job. In fact, the president isn’t even his client. To the contrary, the attorney general’s client is ultimately “We the People,” and his fidelity has to be not to the president but to the Constitution and other laws of the United States. Indeed, the attorney general’s job, at times, is to tell the president “no” because of the supervening demands of the law. When it comes to dealing with the nation’s top legal officer, you will do well to check your Twitter weapons at the Oval Office door.

In short, grow up, and E. J. Dionne connects all this:

President Trump’s lawless threats against Attorney General Jeff Sessions have a lot in common with the Senate’s reckless approach to the health coverage of tens of millions of Americans.

On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, we are witnessing a collapse of the norms of governing, constant violations of our legitimate expectations of political leaders, and the mutation of the normal conflicts of democracy into a form of warfare that demands the opposition’s unconditional surrender.

The problem is the politics of dominance:

Trump’s latest perverse miracle is that he has progressives – along with everyone else who cares about the rule of law – rooting for Sessions. The attorney general is as wrong as ever on voter suppression, civil rights enforcement and immigration. But Sessions did one very important thing: He obeyed the law.

When it was clear that he would have obvious conflicts of interest in the investigation of Russian meddling in our election and its possible links to the Trump campaign, Sessions recused himself, as he was required to do.

Trump’s attacks on Sessions for that recusal are thus a naked admission that he wants the nation’s top lawyer to act illegally if that’s what it takes to protect the president and his family. Equally inappropriate are Trump’s diktats from the Oval Office calling on Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton and those terrible “leakers” who are more properly seen as whistleblowers against Trump’s abuses.

This has to stop:

Our country is now as close to crossing the line from democracy to autocracy as it has been in our lifetimes. Trump’s ignorant, self-involved contempt for his duty under Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” ought to inspire patriots of every ideological disposition to a robust and fearless defiance.

And meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue:

Where are the leaders of the Republican Party in the face of the dangers Trump poses? They’re trying to sneak through a health-care bill by violating every reasonable standard that citizens should impose on public servants dealing with legislation that affects more than one-sixth of our economy. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have little time for worrying about the Constitution because they are busy doing Trump’s bidding on health care.

Let it be said that two Republican senators will forever deserve our gratitude for insisting that a complicated health-care law should be approached the way Obamacare – yes, Obamacare – was enacted: through lengthy hearings, robust debate and real input from the opposition party. In voting upfront to try to stop the process, Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski demonstrated a moral and political toughness that eluded other GOP colleagues who had expressed doubts about this charade but fell into line behind their leaders.

Again, the problem is the politics of dominance:

The most insidious aspect of McConnell’s strategy is that he is shooting to pass something – anything – that would continue to save Republicans from having a transparent give-and-take on measures that could ultimately strip health insurance from 20 million Americans or more. Passing even the most meager of health bills this week would move the covert coverage-demolition effort to a conference committee with the House.

The Senate’s unseemly marathon thus seems likely to end with a push for a “skinny repeal” bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer mandates and its medical device tax. But no one should be deluded: A vote for skinny repeal is a vote for an emaciated democracy.

It all fits together, and where does that leave us? Dana Milbank suggests this:

Healthcare legislation languishes without presidential leadership. The Senate fails to pass a measure crafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, fails to pass an outright repeal and even fails to pass a proposal to go back to the drawing board.

Huge majorities in Congress, declining to bless President Trump’s love affair with Vladimir Putin’s regime, vote for new sanctions against Russian officials; legislation passes the Senate, 98 to 2, and the House, 419 to 3. The veto-proof rebuke to the president seizes a foreign-policy function from an unreliable commander in chief.

As the deadline looms to avoid a default on U.S. debt, Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate committee chairman, is heard on a hot mic saying she’s “worried” about the president’s stability and calling his administration’s handling of spending matters “just incredibly irresponsible.” She says she doubts Trump even knows how the budget process works.

Trump, baffling and alarming allies, goes on the attack against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who was an outspoken supporter of Trump’s candidacy. Trump clearly wants Sessions to resign, but Sessions is ignoring him. Sessions’ former colleagues in the Senate back him over his boss – and they hope Trump isn’t crazy enough to start a crisis by firing Sessions and then special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

Meanwhile, the president continues to sow chaos with perpetual distractions. He fires off a tweet Wednesday morning announcing he is banning transgender people from serving in the military. The tweet apparently catches even the Pentagon by surprise and draws rebukes from pro-military Republicans who argue that all able-bodied, patriotic Americans should be allowed to serve.

This is not the politics of dominance:

This is what it might look like if there were no president at all: stuff happens, but nothing gets done. Actually, the majority in Congress has great difficulty even doing nothing…

So it goes when a president doesn’t act like one: all fury, no function.

Donald Trump really is only a buzzsaw of outrage, and the quite conservative Ross Douthat has a problem with that:

Donald Trump’s campaign against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet-shame Sessions into resignation, is an insanely stupid exercise. It is a multi-tiered tower of political idiocy, a sublime monument to the moronic, a gaudy, gleaming, Ozymandian folly that leaves many of the president’s prior efforts in its shade… it’s basically madness all the way to the top: bad policy, bad strategy, bad politics, bad legal maneuvering, bad optics, a self-defeating venture carried out via deranged-as-usual tweets and public insults.

Perhaps the 25th Amendment might help:

Trump hasn’t had a stroke or suffered a neurological disaster, and his behavior in the White House is no different from the behavior he manifested consistently while winning enough votes to take the presidency.

But he is nonetheless clearly impaired, gravely deficient somewhere at the intersection of reason and judgment and conscience and self-control. Pointing this out is wearying and repetitive, but still it must be pointed out.

You can be as loyal as Jeff Sessions and still suffer the consequences of that plain and inescapable truth: This president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better.

America should have known what it was getting into. America didn’t know. America knows now. The politics of dominance is a dead end. Outrage leads nowhere. And who needs a buzzsaw?

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Forcing Extra Innings

Where were we? Ah, yes – the baseball metaphor – it’s the bottom of the ninth for the Republicans, now at bat, with two outs, with the game on the line. They can’t pass any major legislation for President Trump. In the House, they finally passed a healthcare bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a bill that everyone hated – even Donald Trump, who called it “mean” – and sent that off to the Senate. Maybe the Senate could fix it, but it was so awful that Mitch McConnell grabbed a dozen old Senate white guys and wrote a new bill, behind closed doors, in secret, so no one would bitch about things and slow down the process. That didn’t work out. The new bill was even meaner, and McConnell couldn’t even whip up the votes for a motion to proceed – that bill never made it to the Senate floor for debate, much less for a vote. Conservative Republicans – from strict libertarians like Rand Paul to the no-to-everything Tea Party crowd, now the Freedom Caucus – hated it. It kept too much of Obamacare. It didn’t get rid of everything. Moderate Republicans – or at least those from states with lots of people on Medicaid – saw the massive cuts to Medicaid and would have nothing to do with that. The idea that at least twenty-two million Americans would be losing health insurance bothered them a bit too. McConnell’s bill was dead too. The Republicans were now down a run and likely to lose the game.

They were down to their last out. They were down to their last vote, but there was no way to pass the McConnell bill. The only thing they could do was force the game into extra innings. Anything can happen in extra innings. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, two teams from the Triple-A International League, played the longest game in professional baseball history, thirty-two innings over two days, April 18 and April 19, 1981, at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island – and the final inning was played on June 23, 1981 – and Pawtucket finally won. Anything can happen in extra innings.

Bad things can happen in extra innings too. Mitch McConnell forced extra innings, and the New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear report that the bad thing happened:

The Senate voted narrowly on Tuesday to begin debate on a bill to repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but hours later, Republican leaders suffered a setback when their most comprehensive plan to replace President Barack Obama’s health law fell far short of the votes it needed.

The Tuesday night tally needed to reach 60 votes to overcome a parliamentary objection. Instead, it fell 43-57. The fact that the comprehensive replacement plan came up well short of even 50 votes was an ominous sign for Republican leaders still seeking a formula to pass final health care legislation this week.

That was the McConnell bill, developed in secret over many weeks, with its surprising massive cuts to Medicaid and all the rest. It was gone. Things went bad fast:

For Republicans, the failure ended the day on a sour note, hours after a more triumphant scene on the Senate floor. Lawmakers from both parties had risen to their feet in the afternoon and applauded when Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, showed up in the chamber despite his diagnosis of brain cancer. He cast a crucial vote in favor of opening what promises to be a freewheeling, hard-fought debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act.

The 51-50 vote to start debate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, came only a week after the Republican effort to dismantle a pillar of Mr. Obama’s legacy appeared all but doomed. It provided an initial win for President Trump, who pushed, cajoled and threatened senators in recent days to at least begin debating the repeal of the health care law.

But the victory could be fleeting: Senate Republicans still have no agreement on a repeal bill that they can ultimately pass to uproot the law that has provided health insurance to millions of Americans.

They won the vote to force the game into extra innings, but no one knows why. No one knows what they want to pass:

The Senate is now moving ahead with debate, amendments and ultimately a final vote in the coming days on legislation that would have a profound effect on the American health care system – roughly one-sixth of the United States’ economy. But it is entirely possible that by week’s end, the senators will have passed nothing.

“Now we move forward towards truly great health care for the American people,” Mr. Trump said from the White House Rose Garden, where he was holding a news conference with the visiting prime minister of Lebanon. “This was a big step.”

No, this was stalling for time, but one thing did go right, sort of:

The successful procedural vote was a moment of redemption, at least temporarily, for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who just last week appeared to have failed in his effort to put together a health bill that could squeak through the narrowly divided Senate.

That said, it remained far from certain whether Republicans would be able to agree on a bill in the days to come – and what exactly the contents of that bill would be. Mr. McConnell promised an “open amendment process” in which members of both parties could propose changes.

That’s starting from scratch, after seven years of saying they had a better plan all along, which they would reveal after they won it all – the House and the Senate and the White House. They won it all. They had nothing.

All they had were bad ideas:

For weeks, Mr. McConnell has been promoting and revising a comprehensive bill that would repeal the health law while also replacing it, but he has struggled to nail down the support needed to pass that measure. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has yet to assess the most complete version of that legislation, which includes the proposals by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Portman.

Without that assessment, the measure needed 60 Senate votes, and it failed that test on Tuesday night.

The Senate is also expected to vote on a measure that would repeal the health law without putting in place any replacement, but that approach does not appear to have enough support to pass, either.

That proposal resembles a bill passed by the Senate in 2015 and vetoed by Mr. Obama in early 2016. But it would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 32 million in 2026, the budget office said.

No good will come from all this, but John Cassidy does note this:

The vote [to start debate] was marked by the dramatic appearance of John McCain, who returned to the Senate for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer. After receiving a standing ovation from his colleagues, McCain cast a vote in favor of McConnell’s motion, and then spoke from the floor of the Senate with great passion.

In fact, McCain said this:

I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them! They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.

Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.

We’re getting nothing done… We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the Administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.

Everyone thought that was wonderful, but Cassidy didn’t:

These were stirring words, and they contained a lot of truth. But what good did this verbal tour de force do? In voting for McConnell’s motion, McCain participated in precisely the sort of cynical partisan political maneuver that he inveighed against. For months now, McConnell has been scheming to shove through a monumentally consequential reform without any hearings, markups, or efforts to reach out to Democrats. After last week, when this scheming looked destined to fail, he called for Tuesday’s vote on the “motion to consider” – even though he had not made clear what sort of measure the members would be taking up.

McCain supported McConnell’s motion. In doing so, he helped enable the Majority Leader to pursue his fallback strategy: getting practically any sort of measure passed and tossing the details of reform over to a Senate-House conference, which would deliberate in secrecy, with little input from anyone outside the GOP leadership.

Cassidy is not pleased:

If he had been following his own advice, McCain would have broken with McConnell and voted against the motion. If the motion had failed, the Republican leadership would have had little choice but to start talks with the Democrats about patching up the Obamacare insurance exchanges and, perhaps, making modest changes to Medicaid. Indeed, earlier this month, after McConnell’s repeal-and-replace bill failed to garner the support of fifty-one Republicans, Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health committee, announced plans to convene bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the individual-insurance markets. Now that McConnell’s motion has passed, such plans are in abeyance.

That may be McCain’s fault – his vote to proceed nullified his “stirring” words – but it may also be that this is beyond anything McCain says or does now:

To be sure, this is only an interim victory for the Republican leadership: the ultimate outcome of their repeal efforts remains uncertain. Even if McConnell succeeds in punting the ball over to a House-Senate conference the full Senate will eventually have to vote on a final piece of legislation, which will have specific terms that can be analyzed and discussed. Getting a final bill passed won’t be easy.

For now, though, the GOP campaign against Obamacare is still alive, and it owes its life to subterfuge. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan managed to assemble a majority for his bill only by persuading his colleagues that any flaws it contained would be fixed in the Senate. That didn’t happen. Instead, McConnell now wants to abdicate the Senate’s deliberative responsibilities and kick things back to the House.

Still, McCain should have known better:

As McCain noted, these “responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.”

For his long record of service to the country, his bravery, and his acerbic streak, McCain is himself widely revered. It is a great pity, indeed a tragedy that he and many other Republican senators didn’t act upon his words.

Well, they may eventually act on his words. Mitch McConnell forced the game into extra innings. Anything can happen in extra innings. Pawtucket may win.

Let it ride, and curiously, there’s another tie game in extra innings in Washington. Devlin Barrett, Philip Rucker and Sari Horwitz provide the play-by-play:

The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground.

Trump won’t fire the guy, he’ll only insult and humiliate him, and the guy won’t quit, so there’s just this:

Trump was asked at a Rose Garden news conference if he would fire the attorney general, who angered the president by recusing himself from the criminal probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“We’ll see what happens,” said Trump – a potentially ominous choice of phrase, considering the president used the same expression when talking to FBI Director James B. Comey before he was fired.

“Time will tell, time will tell,” Trump added.

This could go one forever:

“I’m disappointed in the attorney general,” Trump said. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked somebody else. It’s a bad thing not just for the president, but also for the presidency. I think it’s unfair to the presidency.”

There’s been much talk about that. It’s not the job of the attorney general to protect the president or the presidency. The attorney general is the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer” – another matter entirely. Trump is a little hazy on how our government works, but he does have his priorities:

He said he wanted Sessions “to be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before. You can’t let that happen.”

That’s the priority? Who knew? Everyone knew:

It is unheard of for a Cabinet-level official to be subjected to such visceral and public criticism, which has now gone on for a week. But Sessions showed no sign of buckling Tuesday, and in fact his position was bolstered by support from prominent conservatives taking his side in the fight with Trump.

This is a standoff of course, but for good reason:

Trump’s reluctance to act on his anger and fire Sessions may be based in part on the lack of an immediate plan for a successor at the Justice Department. While Trump has discussed potential candidates to replace Sessions, senior White House officials have not settled on anyone, and may not anytime soon, administration officials said. If Sessions were to be fired without even a temporary replacement lined up, the deputy attorney general who oversees the Russia probe, Rod J. Rosenstein, would assume authority over the entire Justice Department.

One Republican close to the White House said a number of senior aides, including newly hired communications director Anthony Scaramucci, have urged Trump to sit down with Sessions and work through their differences. So far, there has been little enthusiasm for that suggestion, the Republican said.

And there’s this:

One informal adviser to the Trump White House said there is another reason Trump has yet to fire Sessions: “The president doesn’t want to be seen as firing another law enforcement official.”

After Trump fired Comey, one unintended consequence was the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.

That means that all that Trump can do is hurl insults:

Earlier Tuesday, Trump had tweeted that Sessions was “very weak” on investigating Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” and had not aggressively hunted those who have leaked intelligence secrets since he has been in office.

The president’s insistence that Clinton be investigated runs contrary to his own past statements, and to the decision by the Justice Department and the FBI last year to close the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Sessions has recused himself from Clinton-related matters, citing his involvement with the presidential campaign as one of Trump’s major advisers.

It looks like Trump will not be able to do what all presidents have, to jail the person who ran against them and lost. No, wait. This isn’t a South American banana republic. Trump is a little hazy on how our government works, and there was push-back:

On Tuesday, Republicans publicly rallied to Sessions’ defense. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Sessions “is among the most honorable men in government today. I have full confidence in Jeff’s ability to perform the duties of his office and, above all, uphold the rule of law.”

And Breitbart, the conservative website, posted an article saying the president’s public attack on Sessions “only serves to highlight Trump’s own hypocrisy” and it warned that the president’s stance could “fuel concerns from his base [which sees] Sessions as the best hope to fulfill Trump’s immigration policies.”

Even among Democrats, Trump’s treatment of Sessions raised concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “What’s happening is just terrible. The attorney general did the right thing. The attorney general was nothing but loyal to Donald Trump. He took an oath of office to represent the Constitution, the law and the people.”

Trump is getting hammered on this, and forcing the opposite of what he seems to want:

Current and former Justice Department officials said they hope Sessions holds out, refusing to resign as a means of defending the department’s independence.

One former Justice Department official said the president’s anger seems to stem from a misunderstanding about how the department actually works. The White House, he said, should not be interfering with criminal investigations.

“For those of us that want this administration to succeed, this is incredibly self-destructive behavior,” the official said.

Justice Department employees said the president’s comments are damaging the reputation and morale of the department.

“It’s just insanity,” said one employee who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Another official said there was still hope in the building that Sessions could survive, and that Trump’s fury might abate. “This might be the one instance where everyone else just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on,” the official said.

Everyone just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on these days. Baseball is slow. Extra-innings baseball is even slower, but Betsy Woodruff reports this:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.

“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”

It’s this stupid:

Sessions’ allies say the president’s criticism of the attorney general is counterproductive. Perhaps more than any other member of Trump’s Cabinet, Sessions has been an uncompromising advocate for Trump’s agenda. The attorney general has worked methodically to dismantle Obama’s legacy at the Justice Department: reconsidering the department’s efforts to make troubled police departments change their practices, changing the DOJ’s stance on voter-ID lawsuits, and rolling back former Attorney General Eric Holder’s sentencing guidelines that were aimed at reduced incarceration and balancing out drug-crime-related punishments.

Every pick for a U.S. Attorney’s office that Sessions has made has underscored the administration’s focus on border security. He’s visited the border twice to emphasize a desire to prosecute undocumented immigrants. He’s passionately defended Trump’s so-called travel ban and threatened to withhold funding from “sanctuary” cities.

In the process, he’s become Public Enemy No. 1 for progressives, which makes his targeting by Trump so baffling to those close to him.

Trump is baffling everyone now, and he may not have accounted for this:

Rather than quit, Sessions insiders predict the attorney general will call Trump’s bluff. And unlike other members of Trump’s Cabinet, he has political wiggle room to do so. Trump’s base of support – immigration restrictionists, rank-and-file law-enforcement officials, and states’ rights conservatives – were Sessions’ fans before they flocked to the president. They may very well scoff at the idea that the administration would be better off without its attorney general. Sessions also enjoys continued support in the Senate, where he served for a decade. On Tuesday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pushed back on Trump’s attacks and called the president’s encouragement that Sessions prosecute Hillary Clinton over her email use “highly inappropriate.”

Trump won’t fire the guy, he’ll only insult and humiliate him, and the guy won’t quit, he’ll gather his allies. We’re going to extra innings. Mitch McConnell won the vote to force the repeal-and-replace healthcare stuff into extra innings and no one knows why. None of what they came up with would work. Anyone have any ideas? That could go on forever too.

Baseball is a slow game. Some find it tedious. This is like that, except all of this is deadly serious. Everyone cannot just kind of roll their eyes and move on. This ain’t Pawtucket after all. And something else rhymes with Pawtucket.

Posted in Donald Trump, Healthcare Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bottom of the Ninth

It’s summer. Think baseball. Think of the first game of the 1988 World Series, October 15, 1988, at Dodger Stadium here in Los Angeles. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning. The Dodgers are down one run to the Oakland guys, and down to their last out. They have a man on second – the tying run – but they’re going to lose. That was too little too late, but Tommy Lasorda sends a pitch hitter to the plate – Kirk Gibson – who can hardly walk – two bad legs. He’s been out of the lineup for weeks. He hadn’t even been in the dugout. The crowd goes wild. Gibson, who had played the previous nine seasons with the Detroit Tigers, had become the Dodgers’ leader – he was a great guy. Everyone loved him, and he had led the team with 25 home runs, a .290 batting average and 31 stolen bases, but no one expected they’d see him again that year.

He hobbled up to the plate. He took a few pitches – it wasn’t looking good – and then he hit that two-run home run off Dennis Eckersley that won the game. There he was, pumping his fist in the air, circling the bases as best he could – one of the greatest home runs of all time – but that was it. He sat out the rest of the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers won the series anyway – but Kirk Gibson had saved the day. Baseball fans know these things.

Of course it’s the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, for the Republicans these days. They can’t pass any major legislation for President Trump. In the House, they finally passed a healthcare bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a bill that everyone hated – even Donald Trump, who called it “mean” – and sent that off to the Senate. It was still a loser, so Mitch McConnell grabbed a dozen old Senate white guys and wrote a new bill, behind closed doors, in secret, so no one would bitch about things and slow down the process. That was a loser too, even meaner, and McConnell couldn’t even whip up the votes for a motion to proceed – that bill never made it to the Senate floor for debate, much less for a vote. Conservative Republicans – from strict libertarians like Rand Paul to the no-to-everything Tea Party crowd – hated it. It kept too much of Obamacare. It didn’t get rid of everything. Moderate Republicans – or at least those from states with lots of people on Medicaid – saw the massive cuts to Medicaid and would have nothing to do with that. The idea that at least twenty-two million Americans would be losing health insurance bothered them a bit too. Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said “I did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

McConnell’s bill was dead too – or at least it was the bottom of the ninth with two outs – and tempers were flaring:

A Republican House member thinks the GOP women of the Senate are to blame for Congress’ inability to address Obamacare.

Appearing on a Corpus Christi radio station Friday, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) not only suggested that it was Republican women’s fault that the party is fractured on how to get rid of Obamacare, but also said if it was “a guy from south Texas” at the center of the disagreement, he might ask them to resolve their issues with a gun fight.

“The fact that the Senate does not have the courage to do some things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do is just absolutely repugnant to me. Some of the people that are opposed to this, they’re some female senators from the Northeast,” he said, likely referring to Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who has been vocal about her opposition to each of the Senate’s health plans from the start.

And he knows his history:

Farenthold suggested if it were a man from his state blocking the repeal bill, he might ask him to “step outside and settle this Aaron Burr style,” he said, referencing the famed gun duel between the former vice president and Alexander Hamilton, a former secretary of the Treasury who had longstanding political differences. The gun fight ended in Hamilton’s death.

The GOP congressman voted in favor of the GOP’s health care plan that made it through though the House in May. He told NPR in an interview in March that he supported the bill because he ran on repealing Obamacare.

A little man’s fantasies about shooting uppity women aside, this was the general idea here, but there was a bigger voice:

President Donald Trump on Monday applied pressure on Senate Republicans to support a procedural vote on an Obamacare repeal bill – even though Senate leadership hasn’t yet specified which bill senators will be asked to advance on Tuesday.

After a hiccup 22 words into remarks from the White House – Trump said Americans had been living with Obamacare as law “for the past 17 years,” not seven – the President discussed the stories of families gathered behind him at the White House and blamed Democrats for passing Obamacare despite “lies” about what it could achieve.

Most of his remarks, though, seemed designed to pressure Republican senators on the fence about the Obamacare repeal effort – which began with Senate leadership drafting a bill that included deep long term cuts to Medicaid in secret.

That didn’t matter to President Trump:

“For the last seven years Republicans have been united in standing up for Obamacare’s victims,” Trump said. “Remember: repeal and replace, repeal and replace? They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law. We as a party must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters of this country to repeal and replace, what they’ve been saying for the last seven years.”

Senate Republicans, he said, now had a chance “to keep their promise.”

In short, this really is the bottom of the ninth, with two outs, for the Republicans now down a run and likely to lose the game. Long ago, Tommy Lasorda called on Kirk Gibson to save the day. Mitch McConnell just called on their injured Kirk Gibson:

The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who could provide the critical vote to start debate on the bill even as he announced last week that he is suffering from brain cancer.

In a bit of drama, McCain said Monday night that he will return to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday to vote on whether to start debate on the health-care bill. The senator had been recuperating from surgery in Arizona.

“Senator McCain looks forward to returning to the United States Senate tomorrow to continue working on important legislation, including health care reform, the National Defense Authorization Act, and new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea,” McCain’s office said in a statement.

It is unclear, however, if McCain’s return will improve Republicans’ prospects of passing a key procedural hurdle to move the health-care bill forward. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has insisted he intends to hold a vote to start debate on health care on Tuesday – even though its prospects are murky at best.

It may be that McCain will hit that home run. He’s from Arizona. Kirk Gibson managed the Arizona Diamondbacks for a few years after his playing days were over. Maybe the two of them know each other, but Tierney Sneed, reporting for Talking Points Memo, notes that no one seems to know if they’re even playing the same game:

As the Senate GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act reaches its supposed apex this week, a remarkable amount remains unknown – even to Republican senators. But what is close to a given is that whatever happens, the effort will likely fail.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) last week indicated that he was sticking to his plans to hold a vote Tuesday to open the debate on a health care bill. But neither of the two repeal-proposals he has floated – a repeal-and-delay bill and the Obamacare replacement legislation the GOP has been negotiating – has enough support to pass.

Senate Republicans left town Thursday unclear which of the proposals would serve as the base for the final vote, which would likely come a couple of days after Tuesday’s initial procedural vote.

It’s Abbott and Costello – Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know is on third, and I Don’t Care is the shortstop.

It’s just not that funny:

“I don’t think that’s a good approach to facing legislation that affects millions of people and one sixth of our economy,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), an opponent of both delayed repeal and the current Obamacare replacement, said Sunday on CBS’ Face The Nation.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the No 3 in Senate GOP leadership, said on Fox News Sunday that which bill they go forward with is a decision that “Senator McConnell will make at some point this week before the vote, depending on how these discussions go.”

I Don’t Know is playing third here:

Those on the right skeptical of the repeal efforts have signaled they would vote to open the debate Tuesday if they were later allowed to vote on the repeal-and-delay bill.

“I have told them I will vote for a motion to proceed if we’re proceeding to the clean repeal vote,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said on CNN Sunday.

The problem for leaders with that plan is that just as many Republicans oppose repeal-and-delay. When McConnell first announced last week the prospect of voting on that bill instead of the replacement legislation, three senators – Collins, and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) — quickly came out in opposition to that plan, making it also dead on arrival.

“I don’t think that it’s a responsible way to repeal something, have everything fall off a cliff … and have no plan in front of us,” Capito said on a local radio show last week. “I don’t think the U.S. Congress does too well with deadlines. I don’t think that’s when good policy comes forward.”

And there was this:

Another wrench was thrown in the Republicans’ effort last week with the “guidance” the Senate parliamentarian handed down Friday suggesting that key pieces of the legislation would need Democratic votes to pass. From a policy level, the biggest setback was her singling out of the continuous coverage requirement Republicans have in their replacement bill; if Republicans can’t rework it to comply with Senate rules, the individual market would not function under their replacement plan. Politically, her rulings against anti-abortion provisions put conservative support in jeopardy, while her ruling against a New York-specific measure spells trouble for GOP leaders trying to win over hesitant senators with state-specific carve-outs in their bill.

And this:

The only real shot GOP leaders have for winning final passage is complicated. First, they must win Tuesday’s procedural vote. Then that could buy them the opportunity to shore up support for the replacement legislation, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, either through amendments or more assurances to skittish senators.

McConnell, in remarks after Senate GOP lunch with President Trump last week, stressed his desire for Republicans at least to get through this initial vote.

President Trump’s top officials at the Health and Human Services Department – Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma – have hosted extensive meetings with a number of Republicans to convince them the bill’s steep Medicaid cuts could be mitigated through administrative action.

Regardless, if McConnell can run the table on the wavering moderates – besides Collins, who did not even attend a high profile meeting with Price and Verma last week – he would still need the votes of Paul and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to pass the replacement bill, assuming McCain is not back from his treatment to vote.

Lee told Politico last week he was willing to be the decisive vote to tank the replacement bill for not going far enough to repeal Obamacare. A Lee spokesman told TPM Monday that he had not received any indication from Senate leaders that the change to the bill Lee requested has been made.

Paul, on Sunday, called the replacement bill a “monstrosity.”

No home run will fix any of that, which David Kurtz summarizes this way:

Senate Republicans still don’t know which Obamacare repeal bill they’ll be voting on this week, or when. The votes don’t seem to be there for either of the two main options under consideration: “repeal and delay” or “repeal and replace.” And yet they’re not dead either. Both options strip health insurance coverage from tens of millions, but the Senate GOP is trundling along as if it’s no big deal that they don’t know what they’re going to vote on.

Mitch McConnell seems to be calculating that if he can get a majority to vote as soon as tomorrow on a motion to proceed, which would kick off debate on a bill, he can pressure his conference with a combination of amendments, side deals and strong arming to get some bill – ANY bill – passed. All in all, it’s probably not a bad strategy. He hasn’t been able to make that work before now, but it may be the only viable strategy left.

The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman finds that strategy disgusting:

Cynicism is seldom completely absent from the operation of politics, but this is truly a unique situation. Republicans are set to remake one-sixth of the American economy, threaten the economic and health security of every one of us and deprive tens of millions of people of health-care coverage, all with a bill they haven’t seen, couldn’t explain and don’t even bother to defend on its merits.

Why? Because they made a promise to their base and now they say they have to keep it – regardless of what form keeping the promise might take and how much misery it might cause.

Tomorrow, the Senate is set to vote on a Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act. What Republican bill? The senators themselves don’t even know.

He cites what Susan Collins said on Face the Nation:

It appears that we will have a vote on Tuesday. But we don’t whether we’re going to be voting on the House bill, the first version of the Senate bill, the second version of the Senate bill, a new version of the Senate bill, or a 2015 bill that would have repealed the Affordable Care Act now, and then said that somehow we will figure out a replacement over the next two years.

This really is that Abbott and Costello baseball skit, but Waldman sees nothing funny here:

I’ve often argued that Republicans in Congress aren’t serious about policy, but this is taking their un-seriousness to the level of farce. After complaining for years that the ACA was “rammed through” Congress – in a process that involved a full year of debate, dozens of hearings in both houses and 188 Republican amendments to the bill debated and accepted – they’re going to vote on a sweeping bill that had zero hearings and that they saw only hours before, because who cares what’s in it? It’s only the fate of the country at stake. If taking away health-care coverage from 20 million or 30 million Americans is what it takes to stave off a primary challenge from some nutball tea partier, then that’s what they’ll do.

There’s no excuse for that:

No one would argue that keeping promises isn’t important. But Republicans have elevated the idea of keeping their promise to repeal the ACA to the point where it’s drained of all substance. You can see it in the way they talk about the various iterations of their bill. You seldom hear a Republican defend it on the terms of the bill itself. They don’t say, “Here’s how this bill will bring down deductibles” or “Here’s how the bill will take care of those who lose their insurance” or “Here’s how the bill will lower costs.” That’s partly because their bills won’t do any of those things, but mostly because they just don’t care.

Instead, what they say is, “We made a promise, and we’re going to keep it.” If Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) handed them a bill saying that all children on Medicaid would be taken to the desert, buried up to their necks in the sand, and covered in fire ants, at least 40 of them would say, “It may not be perfect, but we have to keep the promise we made to repeal Obamacare, so I’m voting yes.”

That’s a bit overdramatic, but maybe not:

For those few Republican senators with a hint of conscience – or whose states are particularly reliant on the ACA, and on Medicaid in particular – McConnell is trying to hand them a fig leaf they can use to justify their votes. But the goodies he’s offering are laughable. Consider, for instance, that McConnell is telling senators that he’ll put in $200 billion to help states that didn’t expand Medicaid. Sounds generous, until you realize that’s on top of over $750 billion in Medicaid cuts. It’s like saying, “I’m stealing your car, but here, you can keep the spare tire.”

The same is true of the $45 billion over a decade they’re tossing in to address the opioid crisis. Many of the states hardest hit by that crisis are ones such as Ohio and West Virginia that are most dependent on Medicaid. So for them, the Republican bill would take $15 or $20 away from the program most central to treating the addicts in their state, but toss a dollar back to make up for it. People who work with state budgets and addiction treatment have been telling anyone who’ll listen that given the magnitude of this crisis, $4.5 billion a year is a joke. But it might be enough to allow a couple of Republicans in the Senate to claim they aren’t making the problem dramatically worse, which is exactly what they’d be doing.

There’s more, but Waldman sums it up with this:

What you’d expect of leaders is to say, “Okay, there are a bunch of interlocking, complex problems we want to solve here. This has to be done carefully. Let’s take our time and make sure we get it right.” But that’s not what Republicans are saying. Instead, they’re saying “We have to vote on a bill now, even if we don’t know what it’s in it and even if it makes the problems we claim to care about impossibly worse, so we can say that we repealed Obamacare.” Sure, it would be bad to kick 20 million or 30 million people off their coverage – but not as bad as having to admit they failed to pass a bill!

This is even less serious and more cynical than what they’ve been doing for the past seven years. When they held dozens of votes in the House to repeal the ACA, it may have been silly, but at least it didn’t hurt anyone. Now they have the power to affect people’s lives by the millions – even destroy them – and they can’t be bothered to spend more than a day or two figuring out how to do it.

That’s the plan, and a New York Times backgrounder spells out the details:

If that vote succeeds, the Senate would then be able to consider numerous amendments, including complete substitutes for the House bill. But it remains unclear what would take its place, and Senate Republican leaders have not said which substitute measure would be considered first.

Under one possible series of events, Mr. McConnell could quickly move to replace the House bill with an entirely new measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.

If that amendment vote fails, as it most likely would, he could move to replace the House bill with a version of the proposal he has been refining for weeks: to repeal the health law while also replacing it.

That’s as clear as mud:

Democrats were incredulous.

“We are potentially one or two days away from a vote on a bill that would reorganize one-sixth of the American economy, impacting tens of millions of American lives, and no one knows what it is,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “It’s sort of like Alice in Wonderland around here.”

No, it’s more like that famous Abbott and Costello baseball skit, but there is this:

What they will vote on will not matter if senators oppose beginning debate. Mr. McConnell can lose only two Senate Republicans, now that Mr. McCain intends to be in the chamber.

Collins of Maine is certain to vote no on the procedural vote, Capito of West Virginia and Murkowski of Alaska will not vote to proceed if it’s repeal without replacement, so McCain may not matter. He can come in and hit that home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and stumble around the bases pumping his first in the air, but the tying run won’t be on base when he hits it out of the park. Who’s on first? No one is, really, and this isn’t baseball anyway. Baseball fans know these things too. Baseball is just a game. This isn’t.

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For Ego Gratification

Fourteen years ago is a long time. It’s all ancient history now. Few remember that on March 10, 2003, the Dixie Chicks were a big issue. At a concert in London, their lead singer, Natalie Maines, announced to the audience that “just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

They were pissed that we were going to war for no good reason. Many were pissed off about that. There were big demonstrations around the world – but the Dixie Chicks were dropped from radio playlists in the United States and they received death threats and their CD’s were burned in big bonfires at public events here and there. By the time Bush left office pretty much everyone agreed with them – but in 2003 this was a big deal. March 20, 2003, was when the war began. April 9, 2003, was when our forces officially seized control of Baghdad – and that was that – and on May 1, 2003, George Bush gave his Mission Accomplished speech. That proved to be premature.

That’s all ancient history – the details fade – but some were amusing. There was Baghdad Bob – Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf – the Iraqi Information Minister under Saddam Hussein, and the official spokesman for his Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party. He was a hoot. American soldiers were committing suicide “by the hundreds” outside the city, and there were no American tanks in Baghdad, when everyone could hear them in the background as he spoke. Americans “are going to surrender or be burned in their tanks.” He was sure of that – “They will surrender. It is they who will surrender!”

Every war needs some comic relief. After it was all over, after the local Shiites hanged Saddam Hussein to show those damned Sunni bastards a thing or two, we did nothing to him. Baghdad Bob is now living in the United Arab Emirates with his family. No one calls him Baghdad Bob any longer. He really didn’t matter anyway.

Those damned Sunni bastards did get their revenge. They formed al-Qaeda in Iraq which turned into ISIS – but that’s another story. Baghdad Bob had nothing to do with that. He was simply a joke, fourteen years ago.

He shouldn’t be forgotten. Without mentioning him, the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd shows why:

President Trump has finally found a courtier who can give him the buttery, boundless respect he craves – a wealthy mini-me Manhattan bro with wolfy smile and slick coif who will say anything and flip any position – a self-promoter extraordinaire and master salesman who doesn’t mind pushing a bad product – and probably sees it as more fun.

For ego gratification, Trump has struck gold – or Goldman Sachs – with his appointment of Wall Street hedge fund guy and cable TV diva Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.

For ego gratification his predecessor was also humiliated in the process

Sean Spicer had the impossible task of defending a president who didn’t believe in telling the truth to a press fixated on the president’s lying. He was impersonated by a woman on “Saturday Night Live” and put up with Steve Bannon calling him fat. He made up a bunch of nonsense about crowd sizes to please a boss who tallies his own personal value by crowd sizes.

The devout Catholic was cruelly denied his greatest dream when he was deliberately left out of a meeting with the pope during Trump’s trip to the Vatican.

And in a new revelation of humiliation, Michael Bender reported in The Wall Street Journal that Spicer even had to steal his own mini-fridge soon after he started, lugging one in at night from a nearby executive office building.

Those who mocked Sean Spicer now feel sorry for him, but Baghdad Bob is back:

In his first turn at the White House podium Friday, the natty Scaramucci easily outdid Spicer, who in his first outing had upset the president by wearing a suit that was too big.

The Mooch instantly showed he knew the point of his job was not communicating with the reporters assembled before him. The point was communicating with the needy egomaniac in the Oval Office.

“But here’s what I tell you about the president,” Scaramucci said. “He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever met. Okay – I’ve seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I’ve seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on, he’s standing in the key and he’s hitting foul shots and he’s swishing them, okay? He sinks three-foot putts.”

Donald Trump also leaps tall buildings in a single bound, and he’s faster than a speeding bullet. There was more – “The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him.”

Dowd doubts that:

The arrival of the Mooch was a win for the New Yorkification of the White House, another Goldman veteran and a power shift toward those who pushed for the gregarious Scaramucci, including Jared, Ivanka and Wilbur Ross, against the swamp creatures, Priebus and Spicer, and the bridge troll, Bannon.

But a change in communications personnel will not solve the central problem for President Trump. He doesn’t understand that Robert Mueller is not a contractor he’s in a civil litigation dispute with, someone he can intimidate and wear down and threaten and bleed out.

Bringing in another New York deal maker won’t help him understand the existential threat he faces in Washington from Mueller.

Dowd states the obvious, and as for the Scaramucci claim about Donald Trump, even at the age of seventy-one, still being an awesome athlete at the professional level, Ben Strauss notes this:

In the modern history of American presidents, no occupant of the Oval Office has evinced less interest in his own health. He does not smoke or drink, but his fast-food, red meat-heavy diet, his aversion to exercise and a tendency to gorge on television for hours at a time put him at odds with his predecessors. Some of them had their vices (Barack Obama and his cigarettes), but they spent hours of free time outside or on the basketball court, breaking a sweat – and made sure the public knew it. Teddy Roosevelt went on legendary “rough, cross-country walks” in D.C.’s Rock Creek Park and was once punched in the eye by a sparring partner half his age. John F. Kennedy projected an image of youthful vitality even as he secretly took painkillers for his bad back and other ailments. Gerald Ford was lampooned as a clumsy oaf on Saturday Night Live, but he was a champion football player in college. George W. Bush, an avid mountain biker, ran 7-minute miles on his regular 5K workouts. Even Bill Clinton lumbered along on regular jogs to atone for his Big Mac habit.

When Trump goes out, it’s more often to eat – usually at one of his hotels where the chefs know he likes his steak well done with ketchup. And on the campaign trail, he made a point of mentioning his taste for fast foods like Kentucky Fried Chicken (“It’s not that bad,” he said). This may make the president more relatable to the average American, who scarfs down some $1,200 worth of fast food each year, but it’s an unusual habit for someone holding down one of the world’s most demanding jobs. And even by his own charitable metrics – last year, Trump claimed to stand 6-foot-3 and weighs 236 pounds – he is five pounds shy of obese under the body mass index. By any measure, America’s president is overweight, and medical experts say it could be affecting his health and his job. In Saudi Arabia, after Trump deviated from the prepared text of a speech, an aide explained that the president was “exhausted.”

Jet lag, maybe. Old age, perhaps. But certainly not an excuse the Bull Moose would have made.

That’s the key passage from a much longer item that, citing experts of all sorts, suggests that Donald Trump is losing it, physically and cognitively. He may not be “fit” to be president in the most basic sense of that word. Anthony Scaramucci has to say otherwise. Baghdad Bob has to say otherwise. For ego gratification, Trump demands that.

As with Saddam Hussein and his information minister that’s an issue here, and Jonathan Swan notes this:

A much-discussed question at the top of the White House: just what magnitude of indignity would it take for Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to resign?

Reince Priebus is being humiliated too:

President Trump knew that appointing Anthony Scaramucci as communications director would humiliate Reince, who fought hard against it.

Scaramucci was smuggled into the meeting with the President on Thursday so Reince wouldn’t know about it. Trump had already taken pains to hide the discussions from his Chief of Staff, knowing Reince would try to foil the move.

Trump also knew that inserting a line in the press release saying Scaramucci would report directly to the President – doing an end-run around Reince – was perhaps an unendurable public humiliation.

Reince Priebus may need to quit now:

Reince has very few true allies inside the building. At this point, they don’t stretch much further than his personal assistant and the RNC holdovers on the press team.

At the senior level, the only White House official who will go to the mat for Reince’s survival is Steve Bannon. They’ve become allies of convenience in a feud against Jared and Ivanka (“Jivanka,” as Bannon calls them to associates). Jared and Ivanka distrust Reince, think he’s incompetent, and want him gone ASAP.

This may be over too:

What does Reince do if Scaramucci fires any of his people on the press team? Does the Chief of Staff take up the fight with the President? And what happens if he doesn’t get his way? On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Scaramucci said he plans to tell the team at a Monday staff meeting that they will all be fired if they don’t stop leaking…

It’s unclear at this point how he survives much longer, and the breeziness with which the President humiliates him has even his enemies wincing in sympathy.

Anthony Scaramucci will be the last man standing. In 1974 there was that book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward – All the President’s Men – about all the men around Richard Nixon who told Nixon just what Nixon wanted to hear. That didn’t go well, and now Trump needs only one guy to get the same results.

It may not come to that, but the process is beginning:

Newly-named White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Saturday praised conservative news site Breitbart News and its political editor Matt Boyle during his first interview since being tapped to join the Trump administration.

“One of the things Breitbart has done is you’ve captured the spirit of what’s actually going on in the country,” Scaramucci told Boyle during an interview on “Breitbart News Saturday” on SiriusXM.

Scaramucci further joked with Boyle that he was surprised the editor had not sent in his resume for West Wing consideration yet.

What’s actually going on in the country? We’re really a nation of blood-and-soil white nationalists. We’re really a nation that wants to get rid of Mexicans and Muslims and gays and whatnot. Anthony Scaramucci says that is so. That’s what Donald Trump wants to hear. Others may disagree. Baghdad Bob said that American soldiers were committing suicide “by the hundreds” outside the city. That wasn’t so either.

There’s a lot of that going around:

US President Donald Trump remains unconvinced that Russia attempted to influence the 2016 election, his new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci said on Sunday.

“He basically said to me, ‘Hey you know, this is, maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it,'” Scaramucci said of a recent conversation he’d had with the President about alleged Russian interference.

That’s what Donald Trump wants to hear being said out there:

Prior to Trump’s inauguration, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified report showing the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency all concluded the Russian government attempted to influence the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Trump.

Scaramucci, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” suggested Trump does not yet accept the conclusion of the intelligence community and questioned the media’s pursuit of the story, saying it tarnished Trump’s victory in November.

“The mainstream media position on this, that they interfered in the election,” Scaramucci said. “It actually in his mind, what are you guys suggesting? You’re going to delegitimize his victory?”

Someone needs to override the entire intelligence community:

Scaramucci said he intended to review the intelligence community’s evidence once he had his security clearance and pledged to give Trump his personal thoughts on the conclusions. He said Trump would make up his own mind in time and that if Trump believed Russia was responsible for the 2016 efforts and a threat to future elections, he would act.

“A person that’s going to be super, super tough on Russia is President Donald J. Trump,” Scaramucci said.

President Trump will act, if he must, but only after he hears the personal thoughts of Anthony Scaramucci. Was Saddam Hussein listening to the personal thoughts of Baghdad Bob fourteen years ago?

This is getting absurd:

On Sunday, Trump posted a tweet that called the Russia probe a “witch hunt,” saying Democrats were using the Russian hacking allegations as an “excuse for a lost election.”

“As the phony Russian Witch Hunt continues, two groups are laughing at this excuse for a lost election taking hold, Democrats and Russians!” he wrote.

In a separate interview earlier on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Sen. Al Franken appeared at a loss, responding, “What can you say? It’s just bizarre.”

Charles Johnson heard something else:

Here’s “the Mooch,” as he’s not-so-affectionately being called, telling Jake Tapper that “somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it.”

Less than a minute later, Scaramucci admits his “anonymous” source for that claim was actually Donald Trump.

That’s absurd, and Johnson adds this:

This is just one more piece of evidence that the White House is in the tiny hands of an unrestrained narcissistic egomaniac, unconcerned about what’s good for the nation. And he’s hiring shameless groveling sycophants like Scaramucci to spread his self-interested propaganda.

Hey, it happens. It happens all the time, for ego gratification, but it gets stranger:

On Sunday morning’s broadcast of CNN’s Reliable Sources, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway continued to wage war on the media – and CNN specifically – by arguing the network shouldn’t be so critical toward the president because Donald Trump simply doesn’t know any better.

That was the argument:

Conway took umbrage with the media’s insistence on covering such “non-stories” as the president of the United States continually lying to the American public. After host Brian Stelter argued that his network was committed to covering the many scandals emanating from the White House, an incredulous Conway pushed back, demanding to know what “scandals” Stelter was referring to.

“The scandals are about the president’s lies,” replied Stelter. “About voter fraud; about wire-tapping; his repeated lies about those issues. That’s the scandal.”

Despite overwhelming evidence that the White House is indeed lying in both of those cases – there is zero evidence to support Donald Trump’s claim that 3 million people voted illegally, or that his office was wire-tapped – the administration continues to promise “investigations” into both matters. But Conway’s response on Sunday was a new approach to how the administration handles allegations of lying.

“Donald Trump doesn’t think he’s lying about those issues, and you know it,” she said.

Stelter went on to point out that just because Trump believes his own lies, well, that doesn’t make them true – but at that point Kellyanne Conway was having none of it. Trump doesn’t think he’s lying, so he isn’t lying, and that’s that.

And there was this:

President Donald Trump on Sunday railed against members of his own party for not doing enough to “protect” him amid the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President,” Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon.

It was not clear which party members Trump meant or what kind of protection he was referring to.

It’s hard to be clear in a tweet, but he might have been referring to this:

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.

The new legislation would sharply limit the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions – a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump’s tenure.

Now he’s screwed:

Now, Mr. Trump could soon face a decision he hoped to avoid: veto the bill – a move that would fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia – or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration has opposed.

They simply will not “protect” him:

The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others.

The agreement highlighted the gap between what Mr. Trump sees as the proper approach to a resurgent Russia and how lawmakers – even Republicans who broadly support Mr. Trump – want to proceed. While Mr. Trump has dangled the possibility of negotiating a deal to lift sanctions, Mr. Putin’s top objective, the congressional response is to expand them.

In Moscow, Dmitri S. Peskov, a Putin spokesman, was asked by the government-run news agency RIA to characterize the Kremlin’s view of the sanctions proposal. “Highly negative,” he said, without elaborating.

The White House did not respond publicly to the legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the measure in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy.

And then, as Peter Baker and Andrew Higgins report, the White House gave up:

The White House indicated on Sunday that President Trump would accept new legislation curtailing his authority to lift sanctions on Russia on his own, a striking turnaround after a broad revolt by lawmakers of both parties who distrusted his friendly approach to Moscow and sought to tie his hands.

If it passes, as now seems likely, the measure will represent the first time that Congress, with both houses controlled by fellow Republicans, has forced its will on Mr. Trump on a major policy matter. That it comes on an issue as fraught as Russia illustrates how investigations into possible collusion between Moscow and Mr. Trump’s team during last year’s election have cost him politically.

The legislation may also have long-term consequences for the American relationship with Russia and for the power of the presidency. Once sanctions are written into law, they are much harder to lift, even long after the circumstances prompting them have changed, which is one reason European allies opposed the bill. And presidents from both parties have long resisted Congress’s inserting itself into the process of determining foreign policy through mandatory sanctions.

But Mr. Trump found himself in a no-win position, as lawmakers eager to punish Russia for its interference in the election and its aggression toward its neighbors dispensed with the usual partisan divide.

Republicans and Democrats were united on this. Perhaps they saw what Charles Johnson saw, the White House in the tiny hands of an unrestrained narcissistic egomaniac, listening to shameless groveling sycophants like Scaramucci, even if they might not have put it that boldly. Maybe they simply remembered Baghdad Bob. Everyone should remember that guy. He wasn’t comic relief. He was the problem. Ego gratification was the problem.

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Exceedingly Bad Karma

“The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him.”

That remains to be seen, but ever since the sixties, when commonplace common sense was given new names from mysterious Eastern religions, everyone knows the term:

Karma means action, work or deed; it also refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Good intent and good deed contribute to good karma and future happiness, while bad intent and bad deed contribute to bad karma and future suffering.

That’s another way of saying that what goes around comes around, but of course there really isn’t reciprocity in the universe. The arrogant and dim-witted often succeed at everything fabulously, and die happy, for no reason anyone can explain. The arrogant and dim-witted assume they’re special. No one else does, and crime does pay – there’d be no criminals if it didn’t. Most criminals don’t get caught – what you see on television is supposed to make you feel better. Things just don’t work that way. You want justice? You can wait forever, and you won’t be happy. You’ll end up quoting that line from Samuel Beckett. “God doesn’t exist – the bastard!”

Another concept was that the Boethian Wheel always rotates:

As the wheel turns those that have power and wealth will turn to dust; men may rise from poverty and hunger to greatness, while those who are great may fall with the turn of the wheel. It was represented in the Middle Ages in many relics of art depicting the rise and fall of man.

That comforting, but that’s cold comfort. Be patient. Just wait – and wait and wait and wait. Those who are great may fall with the turn of the wheel, one day, maybe – but you may be long gone by then. No one said that life is fair.

Anthony Scaramucci, however, says that President Trump has really good Karma. Anthony Scaramucci may not understand the term. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good karma and future happiness. The world may not turn back to Donald Trump.

Bad intent and bad deeds contribute to bad karma and future suffering, and they cannot be papered over with a nifty new communications strategy. The Washington Post team of Ashley Parker, Abby Phillip and Damian Paletta report on that odd effort:

President Trump overhauled his White House on Friday in a dramatic shake-up of his senior team at the six-month mark of his presidency, which so far has been beset by a special counsel’s widening Russia investigation, a floundering legislative agenda and seemingly constant chaos and infighting within his West Wing.

Trump’s decision Friday morning to install wealthy financier Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director set off an unexpected chain reaction, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer resigning in protest, according to people familiar with the departure. By afternoon, Spicer’s deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had been named to replace him.

As the reorganization unfolded throughout the day, Trump’s communications shop – not known for finely tuned messaging – offered its best attempt at a display of unity, a Kabuki-theater performance juxtaposing polite public statements with sniping and complaints behind the scenes.

There’s no way to paper over bad karma:

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus called a private meeting of the White House communications staff Friday morning and said that Spicer, who will remain through August to help Scaramucci transition into the role, is leaving to give the new communications director “a clean slate,” according to someone briefed on the meeting who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Priebus also tried to play down any tensions between him and Scaramucci, saying the two have known each other for a long time, and Scaramucci told his new team that he is not a “top-down” manager, this person said.

Scaramucci and Spicer then attempted an awkward hug, with Spicer stiffly accepting Scaramucci’s embrace, the person said.

It was all bullshit:

Spicer’s abrupt and angry departure – which caught even senior West Wing staffers by surprise – reflects the latest upheaval in a White House that has been consumed by tumult and warring factions since almost the day Trump took office. Bringing Scaramucci into the White House could further heighten tensions among Trump’s senior staff.

Scaramucci has a contentious relationship with both Spicer and Priebus, each of whom vehemently objected to Trump’s decision to install him in the top communications job. Scaramucci has coined a particularly crude nickname for Priebus and, in private conversations with associates in recent weeks, repeatedly savaged both the chief of staff and the entire White House press operation.

Scaramucci has argued to confidants that the media operation mobilizes aggressively whenever critical coverage of Priebus emerges, but that it is far less diligent about defending the president himself, which he characterized as disloyal.

Scaramucci had said they were all traitors to Trump, and that was reciprocated:

Priebus, meanwhile, previously blocked Scaramucci from several key White House jobs, including director of the office of public liaison. In a last-ditch attempt to keep Scaramucci out of the communications director role, Priebus offered him the public liaison job, a senior White House official said…

Some Trump loyalists inside the West Wing view the hiring of Scaramucci over Priebus’s wishes – and the sudden resignation of Spicer – as a blow to Priebus’s already fraught standing with the president and his leadership of the senior staff.

“This exposes Reince as neither a leader nor a manager,” one senior White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

It was all nasty:

Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s senior strategist, also opposed the hiring, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Although Bannon – the former chairman of the conservative Breitbart News website – likes Scaramucci personally, he worried that the financier does not have the right set of skills for the job and symbolizes the corporate Wall Street interests that Bannon and others in the nationalist wing of the White House have railed against.

Now add context and stir:

The latest staff changes come amid growing legal headaches for Trump, as well as his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who during the campaign attended a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s legal team, which underwent its own shake-up Thursday, has begun working to undermine the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia by looking into ways to highlight alleged conflicts of interest on Mueller’s team, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The president has also inquired about his pardon authority – including his ability to pardon aides, family members and even himself, according to people familiar with the effort.

Another wave of controversy washed over the administration late Friday when The Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts show Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related issues with the Russian ambassador.

What goes around comes around, but there is family:

Ivanka Trump, her husband, Kushner, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had all been pushing Scaramucci for the job – and on Friday, as some West Wing officials made a final plea to the president to rethink his decision, both his daughter and son-in-law reached out to Scaramucci, to reassure him, according to a senior White House official.

They were right, because the Big Guy liked this fellow:

The president has been particularly taken in recent weeks with Scaramucci’s hard-charging defenses of his administration on cable TV news, several people familiar with his views said. The president was impressed with how Scaramucci – known as “the Mooch” – fought back against a CNN article about himself, ultimately leading to the resignation of three CNN staffers involved with the story. Trump views Scaramucci as a natty combatant with a smile.

A natty combatant with a smile can paper over all sorts of bad karma, or not:

“This is a joke,” said one person close to the press office. “Trump wanted Scaramucci on television as a surrogate for the White House and wanted to give him a more formal title.”

Time’s Zeke Miller explains that:

In President Donald Trump’s operations, experience often takes a back seat to familiarity, trust, and a keen eye for what pleases the boss. So it made sense that Anthony Scaramucci was brimming with confidence when he took to the White House podium Friday, just hours after being named Trump’s new communications director.

Scaramucci, a smooth-talking New York financier, has almost no experience in Washington politics other than as a writer of checks to members of both parties. But he knows both his audience and his way around a television camera, and spent much of his first 34 minutes at the podium emphasizing the close personal affection he has for his new boss.

Scaramucci played to Trump:

The new hire’s easy demeanor and self-effacing answers about his past failures and middle-class upbringing drew an instant contrast from the man he was replacing. And he hewed to a cardinal rule of life in the Trump employ: keep the focus on the chief. Scaramucci’s obsequious display of fealty and devotion may have elicited groans, but they were tailor-made for an extra special audience of one. “I’m very, very loyal to the President,” he declared, adding at least four times that he “loves” the man in the Oval Office.

And then he started papering over all the bad karma:

Scaramucci dodged questions about the ongoing Russia probe, saying he’d yet to have been briefed by the White House Counsel on the limits of what he can say in public. But he failed to avoid some of the same pitfalls that have plagued his predecessor, as he found himself defending Trump’s unfounded claim that 3 million or more illegal votes were cast in 2016. “There’s probably some level of truth to that,” Scaramucci said. (There isn’t.) And he dismissed pessimism over the GOP’s healthcare bill and the president’s dismal poll numbers.

“The president has really good karma, and the world turns back to him,” Scaramucci said of the healthcare bill.

Yes, he brought up that karma thing, and he ran with it:

Pressed on Trump’s approval ratings, Scaramucci went further, spinning a yarn about how poll numbers are only an accurate reflection of a moment in time. “The American people are actually playing a long game,” he said. “And I think they really, really love the president.”

It was just the sort of answer the president loves.

The poll numbers, however, don’t show that – but Scaramucci says it’s so and that comforts the president – that and the remark about his karma. The world will turn back to him, any day now.

No, it won’t, as Aaron Blake explains here:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ bad week just got worse. And while his new problems would appear to threaten his job, they also put President Trump in a box when it comes to his apparent desire to be rid of Sessions.

The Washington Post is reporting that Russia’s ambassador has said he and Sessions discussed the 2016 campaign during two meetings last year. That is contrary to multiple public comments made by Sessions in March, when he recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.

Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report that Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of those meetings were intercepted by U.S. intelligence and that in them he suggested that the two men spoke substantively about campaign issues. Yet Sessions said March 1 that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” and the following day, while announcing his recusal, he said it again: “I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.”

This is now the second time that Sessions’ accounts of his meetings with Russians have been seriously called into question.

And this sets up an odd situation:

That flub was highlighted this week by none other than Trump. In a New York Times interview, Trump openly suggested that he wouldn’t have nominated Sessions in the first place had he known he would recuse himself. Then Trump turned to Sessions’ “bad answers” at his confirmation hearings…

If Trump does want to get rid of Sessions, it would seem that more of Sessions’ “bad answers” about his meetings with Kislyak are on the table to justify it. The problem for Trump is that using that justification would also lend credence to the idea that there was something untoward about those meetings. Trump has repeatedly suggested that the entire Russia investigation is a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” so the idea that he’s suddenly that concerned about Sessions’ Russia contacts would be difficult to reconcile.

It would also be difficult to square with other top Trump allies and family members who have failed to acknowledge or be transparent about their meetings with Russians. How could Trump take issue with Sessions’ failures to correctly characterize his meetings with Russians but not with Donald Trump Jr., whose meeting seeking opposition research about Hillary Clinton allegedly from the Russian government came to light this month – and then what about Jared Kushner’s meetings, which include that one, a meeting with Kislyak, and a meeting with the head of a Russian state-owned bank? None of them were disclosed on his security clearance form when he joined the White House. Trump would need to explain why Sessions’ failures were bad and his son’s and son-in-law’s weren’t.

Once again, what goes around comes around, and there’s this:

Two MSNBC guests – of different political parties – found bipartisan agreement on the likely source of the documents leaked to The Washington Post on the meetings between Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I think they are pushing [Sessions] to get out,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson told host Joy Reid. “I think this leak came from the White House, I think they are absolutely trying to knock Jeff Sessions out of the box, so they can try to get rid of Bob Mueller.”

“They are lawless,” Rick Wilson added.

Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell suspects the same source of the leaks.

“I agree, I think this is a leak from the White House,” Democratic strategist Tara Dowdell, agreed. “I think that they’re trying to push him out, but I think he’s holding on by his claws.”

The idea seems to be that this was a set-up. This was a leak from the White House. Sessions will have to resign now. Trump can get himself a new attorney general, one with no history with the campaign and any Russians, one who won’t have to recuse himself from any of that. Trump can then order the new guy to have his FBI director fire Robert Mueller and shut down the Russia investigation – all of it – problem solved. Bad intent and bad deeds may contribute to bad karma and future suffering, but bad intent and bad deeds can be hidden from everyone, with a loyal attorney general. Jeff Sessions was too prissy about ethics.

That’s a plan, and if Anthony Scaramucci is right about the Senate healthcare bill, the president has really good karma and the world will turn back to him on that.

No, what goes around comes around:

Several key provisions in the Senate’s Obamacare repeal and replace bill, including language targeting Planned Parenthood, may have to be stripped or could be eliminated on the Senate floor by Democrats because they don’t comply with budget rules, according to Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee.

The Senate parliamentarian advised Friday in an informal and preliminary ruling that key conservative agenda items, including defunding Planned Parenthood for one year and banning coverage of abortion in Obamacare insurance plans, do not comply with Senate rules on reconciliation, the fast-track procedure the GOP is using to repeal Obamacare…

The 52 Senate Republicans would need to muster 60 votes to preserve each provision flagged by the parliamentarian for potentially violating the so-called Byrd rule.

Those clever Senate Republicans, using the Senate rules on reconciliation so they’d need only fifty votes, had their cleverness come back and bite them in the ass.

Kevin Drum adds the details:

Keep in mind that the Byrd Rule allows a reconciliation bill to contain only provisions that directly affect the budget. If a provision only “incidentally” affects the budget, it needs to pass via regular order, which means it needs 60 votes – which means it is dead.

And here’s what is dead:

Abortion: The GOP bill contains two separate provisions that ban the purchase of health care policies that cover abortion. Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows says that killing these provisions makes passage “almost impossible.”

Planned Parenthood: This is a provision that prevents Medicaid from covering services provided by Planned Parenthood. Presumably this doesn’t pass muster because it doesn’t affect total spending, only where money can be spent.

Essential benefits: A provision in the Senate bill allows states to propose Medicaid alternatives that don’t cover essential benefits. However, this is merely a regulatory change, not something that changes overall spending.

CSR funding: This one is kind of ironic. The House has sued to stop the payment of CSR subsidies under Obamacare, and President Trump has deliberately refused to say if he’ll continue them. However, Republicans recognize how important they are, so they included them in their own healthcare bill. The parliamentarian struck down this provision because it duplicates something that already exists, which means it doesn’t affect the budget.

Six-Month Lockout: This is the Republican replacement for the hated individual mandate. Instead of legally requiring everyone to buy insurance, they encourage everyone to buy insurance by mandating a waiting period if you fail to maintain continuous coverage. With this gone, there’s no longer any incentive to buy insurance. You might as well just wait until you’re sick and then buy it.

Medical Loss Ratio: This is a provision that does away with Obamacare’s mandate that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of their revenue on medical care.

Drum sums it up:

This stuff is deadly. Conservatives will hate the abortion and Planned Parenthood decisions. Insurers will hate the CSR and lockout decisions. Medicaid reformers will hate the essential benefits decision. And the end of the six-month lockout provision will almost certainly have a big negative impact on the next version of the CBO score.

That’s some seriously bad karma, but so is this:

Despite no single Republican health care proposal on the table clearing the bare minimum 50 vote-threshold for passage, the Senate is planning a vote to put a bill on the floor – and potentially, all the competing bills – early next week.

Since his acknowledgement that the Obamacare replacement bill the GOP Senate has been negotiating for weeks has failed to win over 50 supporters in his caucus, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s message to members has focused on the necessity of at least getting a debate open on the floor for any health care bill.

The best Republicans may be able to hope for is a series of votes that signal what would have been their preferred approach, so if the final bill fails, they can point the blame at other members.

That’s what this has come down to:

Despite the looming prospect of failing once again to deliver on eight years of promises to repeal Obamacare, Republican senators seem eager for a vote, saying it was important to get every member “on the record” before going back to their districts to face the music.

This won’t go well:

Some Republicans have already admitted that the dozens of votes they took to repeal Obamacare under a Democratic president they knew would veto it were pure messaging votes – “fantasy football” in one lawmaker’s words. This vote could serve the same purpose, and considering the deep unpopularity of the Senate’s Obamacare replacement plan, they may be more damned politically if it passes than if it fails.

Still, that doesn’t make Republicans cheery about the prospect of next week’s vote going down in flames.

“When you can’t even get votes to go to a motion to proceed, you’re in pretty bad shape,” grumbled Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) to reporters on Thursday.

Asked what an unsuccessful vote would say about Republicans’ ability to govern, he quipped: “Not much.”

That’s karma. Anthony Scaramucci got it backwards. The president and the Republicans have really bad karma, and the world is turning on them, not back to them. Bad intent and bad deeds do lead to future suffering after all. Donald Trump is pleased with Anthony Scaramucci. He won’t be for long.

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Ten Times Harder

Legends don’t have to be true. No one believes that George Washington, as a lad, chopped down that cherry tree, and when confronted by his father, fessed up and said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.”

That’s admirable, but Mark Twain had two responses to this. First – “George Washington, as a boy, was ignorant of the commonest accomplishments of youth. He could not even lie.” And there was this – “I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t.”

The whole thing was nonsense, but legends don’t have to be true. Americans like to believe that their first president just couldn’t tell a lie – ever. All subsequent presidents should be like George Washington, but there’s no way that George Washington could have survived in polite company, much less in politics, without a pleasant little bit of fudging the truth – it’s not always “a pleasure to make your acquaintance” after all. One simply says such things. One lies. Everyone lies. That’s what makes civilized life possible.

That means that no subsequent presidents have been like George Washington. Even George Washington wasn’t like George Washington – but that odd anecdote lives on. It speaks to character. Character counts.

We’re on our forty-fifth president now, and character still counts, but the odd anecdotes that reveal character have changed. That which Americans find admirable has changed. The stories change. Michael Kranish explains how a lawsuit that charged his father’s real estate company with racial bias influenced Donald Trump’s core philosophy:

This was a very serious lawsuit, one of the most significant racial bias cases at the time, and it’s very interesting. We were able to obtain, under Freedom of Information Act requests, all of the transcripts for this court case. What happened was Donald had to decide – was he going to settle this case or was he going to fight the federal government? One night in Manhattan he walked into a nightclub that he belonged to, and there was a man named Roy Cohn, and Roy Cohn of course is the famous or infamous lawyer who was the aide to Joseph McCarthy of the Army-McCarthy hearings that was held in the 1950s. Donald got to talking to Roy Cohn and told him about this racial bias case brought by the federal government, and Cohn, who had fought the federal government himself many times in his career, said: “Don’t settle. Fight like hell. When they hit you, hit back ten times harder.”

The bottom line is, after this discussion at the nightclub, Donald Trump decided that he would, in fact, fight like hell, and he absorbed in a philosophy that he maintains to this day – when you’re hit, hit back ten times harder.

And the rest is history. Everyone has heard of how Donald Trump refused to pay contractors, and when they sued him for their money, he countersued, for defamation of character or whatnot – for hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to his reputation. He had an army of lawyers. It would be nasty. No small or large contractor had the means to fight that out. They gave up. Many went under – and Trump got their goods or services for free in the end – and got richer. It pays to fight back ten times harder.

That worked way back when:

Representing Trump, Cohn filed a countersuit against the government for $100 million, asserting that the charges were irresponsible and baseless. The countersuit was unsuccessful. Trump settled the charges out of court in 1975 without admitting guilt, saying he was satisfied that the agreement did not “compel the Trump organization to accept persons on welfare as tenants unless as qualified as any other tenant.” The corporation was required to send a bi-weekly list of vacancies to the New York Urban League, a civil rights group, and give them priority for certain locations. Several years later (in 1978) the Trump Organization was again in court for violating terms of the 1975 settlement; Cohn called the new charges “nothing more than a rehash of complaints by a couple of planted malcontents.” Trump denied the charges.

Cohn also counted Rupert Murdoch among his clients, pressuring President Ronald Reagan repeatedly in furtherance of Murdoch’s interests. Cohn is credited with introducing Trump and Murdoch in the mid-1970s, marking the beginning of what was to be a deep and pivotal association between them.

That’s cozy, and that business model became a political model. The primaries and the general election were all about hitting back ten times harder, even with nonsense and empty insults. It was all about dominance, about humiliating anyone who got in his way. He won. He always won – and now America would always win. No nation would ever humiliate America ever again, even if none really had. He said they had, and starting with Mexico, we’d humiliate them all – we’d hit back ten times harder, and starting with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and moving on to Crooked Hillary, he humiliated anyone who disagreed with him about anything at all. Whatever it was, he hit back ten times harder – and 62,984,825 voters loved it – even if 65,853,516 voters didn’t.

Why change now? It worked, and he’s found another way to hit back ten times harder:

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

The whole idea is to humiliate Mueller, and if that doesn’t work, to pardon everyone in sight, and himself, and laugh at them all, but there’s tedious work to be done:

With the Russia investigation continuing to widen, Trump’s lawyers are working to corral the probe and question the propriety of the special counsel’s work. They are actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work, according to several of Trump’s legal advisers.

A conflict of interest is one of the possible grounds that can be cited by an attorney general to remove a special counsel from office under Justice Department regulations that set rules for the job.

The president is also irritated by the notion that Mueller’s probe could reach into his and his family’s finances, advisers said.

That’s what pisses him off:

His primary frustration centers on why allegations that his campaign coordinated with Russia should spread into scrutinizing many years of Trump dealmaking. He has told aides he was especially disturbed after learning Mueller would be able to access several years of his tax returns.

And there’s this:

Further adding to the challenges facing Trump’s outside lawyers, the team’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, resigned on Thursday, according to two people familiar with his departure. Corallo did not respond to immediate requests for comment.

It may be that Mark Corallo wants nothing to do with this nonsense, but that doesn’t matter:

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s private lawyers, said in an interview Thursday that the president and his legal team are intent on making sure Mueller stays within the boundaries of his assignment as special counsel. He said they will complain directly to Mueller if necessary.

“The fact is that the president is concerned about conflicts that exist within the special counsel’s office and any changes in the scope of the investigation,” Sekulow said. “The scope is going to have to stay within his mandate. If there’s drifting, we’re going to object.”

Sekulow cited Bloomberg News reports that Mueller is scrutinizing some of Trump’s business dealings, including with a Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for $95 million in 2008.

“They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago,” Sekulow said. “In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation.”

That may not be relevant:

The president has long called the FBI investigation into his campaign’s possible coordination with the Russians a “witch hunt.” But now, Trump is coming face-to-face with a powerful investigative team that is able to study evidence of any crime it encounters in the probe – including tax fraud, lying to federal agents and interference in the investigation.

“This is Ken Starr times 1,000,” said one lawyer involved in the case, referring to the independent counsel who oversaw an investigation that eventually led to House impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. “Of course, it’s going to go into his finances.”

One thing does lead to another, which was the whole idea:

Following Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey – in part because of his displeasure with the FBI’s Russia investigation – Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in a written order. That order gave Mueller broad authority to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” and any crimes committed in response to the investigation, such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

Mueller’s probe has already expanded to include an examination of whether Trump obstructed justice in his dealings with Comey, as well as the business activities of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.

That calls for hitting back ten times harder:

Trump took public aim on Wednesday at Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein, whose actions led to Mueller’s appointment. In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, the president said he never would have nominated Sessions if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the case.

Some Republicans in frequent touch with the White House said they viewed the president’s decision to publicly air his disappointment with Sessions as a warning sign that the attorney general’s days were numbered. Several senior aides were described as “stunned” when Sessions announced Thursday morning he would stay on at the Justice Department.

Another Republican in touch with the administration described the public steps as part of a broader effort aimed at “laying the groundwork to fire” Mueller.

“Who attacks their entire Justice Department?” this person said. “It’s insane.”

Roy Cohn wouldn’t think it’s insane, but something else here might be:

Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

“There is no predicting what would happen,” said Kalt.

That does worry some people:

Other White House advisers have tried to temper Trump, urging him to simply cooperate with the probe and stay silent on his feelings about the investigation.

On Monday, lawyer Ty Cobb, newly brought into the White House to handle responses to the Russian probe, convened a meeting with the president and his team of lawyers, according to two people briefed on the meeting. Cobb, who is not yet on the White House payroll, was described as attempting to instill some discipline in how the White House handles queries about the case. But Trump surprised many of his aides by speaking at length about the probe to the New York Times two days later. Cobb, who officially joins the White House team at the end of the month, declined to comment for this article.

Yes, this Ty Cobb is related to that other Ty Cobb – the most hated man in baseball history – but now the idea is to hit back ten times harder, but subtlety and with discipline. The original Ty Cobb liked to slide into second cleats-up, to cause maximum injury – to end the other player’s career. The current Ty Cobb would like to dissuade Donald Trump from such things.

That might be hard, because Bloomberg News reported this:

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings … SoHo development with Russian associates … 2013 Miss Universe pageant … sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch … dealings with the Bank of Cyprus … efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties…

The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie in a wide-ranging money laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year.

Kevin Drum wonders about this:

On the one hand, this stuff is all semi-related to Russia, and might therefore be relevant to the campaign issue. On the other hand, we’ve all seen what happens when special prosecutors get out of control and start investigating everything under the sun. So far this looks like it’s still legitimately tied to Mueller’s original brief, but it’s a close call.

But he doesn’t wonder about this:

Donald Trump sure knows how to screw up, doesn’t he? He fired James Comey because the FBI was investigating Russia and he fired Preet Bharara because he was leading an investigation of money laundering. The end result was to bring more attention to both of these issues and put them in the hands of a guy with a big budget and nothing else to distract him. Nice work, Donald. Anybody else you want to fire?

Yes, Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller, but David Ferguson has more:

Deutsche Bank has agreed to hand over records of its financial dealings with President Donald Trump after months of stalling and insistence that the records are confidential and privileged information.

That’s trouble:

Vanity Fair’s Bess Levin wrote on Thursday that the German company was one of the last banks on Wall Street willing to do business with Trump after his long line of bankruptcies and unpaid debts.

Deutsche Bank loaned Trump hundreds of millions of dollars when no one else would. Now banking regulators are questioning why the banking giant would take on that kind of risk and taking a closer look at the relationship between Trump and Deutsche Bank – which, like the president, has significant ties to the Russian oligarchy.

The New York Times reported that investigators are “reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit to see if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risk.”

The New York Times item is here – long and detailed – and the Vanity Fair item is here – and then there are the Brits:

Deutsche Bank executives, the Guardian said, are bracing for subpoenas from former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump, which is reportedly expanding to include Trump’s ties to Russian money laundering and organized crime.

Ferguson adds this:

Over the last 20 years, Levin said, the German bank has loaned Trump more than a billion dollars, in spite of the fact that he sued the company when he fell behind on payments on a $630 million loan to build the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago.

Trump wound up taking out another Deutsche Bank loan from the wealth management division to pay off the earlier loan after he first sued the bank for its role in the U.S. financial crisis and getting counter-sued in return.

Don’t even ask. Roy Cohn would be proud, but there’s this:

Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are also Deutsche Bank lending clients, as well as members of Kushner’s family.

Investigators are also looking into Deutsche Bank’s relationship with Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank, whose chief executive Kushner met with and forgot to mention on his security clearance application.

In response to inquiries by Congressional Democrats, initially Deutsche Bank balked, citing privacy laws. However, on Wednesday the company agreed to comply with investigators.

This calls for a lot of hard hitting back, and Josh Marshall sums that up:

President Trump will define the scope of Mueller’s investigation. Mueller will continue his investigation only as long as President Trump wants: Trump and his spokespeople have now repeatedly said that the President reserves the right to fire Mueller. The President is also prepared to pardon some or all of the people under investigation. Again, many details, one upshot: Mueller can only do what the President allows. That amounts to saying that the President will not allow the law to operate with respect to him or his family.

From a different perspective, we are beginning to see what everyone who’s studied Trump’s business history knows: to paraphrase the Army maxim, Trump’s business would not survive first contact with real legal scrutiny.

Marshall thinks that had to happen:

President Trump has been in crooked business for decades: money laundering, mob partnerships, various straight-up swindles. Statutes of limitations will have run out on most of those infractions but not all of them. This has always been obvious to me and everyone else who’s looked closely at Trump’s record. What recent weeks have made clear to me is that there’s almost certainly lots of dirty laundry tied to money deals and connivances with the Russia government.

One thing does lead to another:

Trump is in many ways his own worst accuser. Anyone who’s been in business for decades would not welcome a searching legal scrutiny of years of business. Most people, certainly in Trump’s line of work, aren’t totally clean. And a determined prosecutor can often find technical infractions that in the normal course of things would never be an issue. So no one would like this. But Trump is willing to run the most unimaginable political and even criminal risks to block even the beginnings of a serious probe into his business history and the 2016 election.

That means that hitting back ten times harder isn’t going to work:

We are far, far past the point where there is any credible reason to doubt that President Trump is hiding major and broad-ranging wrongdoing. No mix of ego, inexperience, embarrassment or anything else can explain his behavior. It just can’t. He’s hiding bad acts. And the country is likely heading toward a major constitutional and political crisis because Trump is signaling that he will not allow the normal course of the law to apply to him – a challenge which puts the entire edifice of democratic government under threat.

We’ve come a long way from George Washington and that cherry tree. Donald Trump is chopping down everything. And he’ll fess up to nothing. It seems that character does count after all.

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The Sore-Loser-in-Chief

f”If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

That was W. C. Fields’ advice, but there are romantics. Robert Kennedy’s favorite song was The Impossible Dream from the 1964 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha – “To dream the impossible dream / To fight the unbeatable foe / To bear with unbearable sorrow / To run where the brave dare not go” – and so on and so forth.

Go ahead. Follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far – but you still lose. Some things are hopeless. Don Quixote died in prison. Robert Kennedy was assassinated here in Los Angeles – but Brian Stokes Mitchell performed that song at Ted Kennedy’s memorial service in 2009 – so there are political romantics. It must run in families.

There are also those who don’t know when to quit. There are political pragmatists who know when to settle for what you can get and live to fight another day – Ronald Reagan saying that getting eighty percent of what he wanted was better than getting nothing, and Barack Obama muttering about how the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good (and pissing off a lot of liberals) – but Donald Trump isn’t a political pragmatist. He’s also not a political romantic. He’s just a sore loser:

President Trump exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to resurrect the failed Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, injecting fresh turmoil into an issue that had appeared settled the day before, when Senate leaders announced they did not have the votes to pass their bill.

Trump’s remarks, at a lunch with 49 Republican senators, prompted some of them to reopen the possibility of trying to vote on the sweeping legislation they abandoned earlier this week. But there was no new evidence that the bill could pass.

President Trump did give a rip-roaring speech – Republicans were so close to a wonderful bill that would fix everything and cover everyone and cost next to nothing – so it was time to just clean up the details – which of course was nonsense, so there were threats:

At the lunch, the president threatened electoral consequences for senators who oppose him, suggesting that Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) could lose his reelection bid next year if he does not back the effort. The president also invited conservative opposition against anyone else who stands in the way.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare,” Trump said.

Such people would be destroyed by his tweetstorms, so they had to put up or shut up:

After the collapse of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would have repealed and replaced key portions of the Affordable Care Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday announced plans for a vote on pure repeal instead, a move that seemed designed to either allow – or force – lawmakers to record a vote on what has been the GOP’s top campaign promise of the past seven years.

That was it. Go on record. But there was a new problem with that:

A repeal-only approach – which also lacks the votes to pass – would increase the number of people without health coverage by 17 million next year and by 32 million at the end of a decade, according to a fresh analysis released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office.

They would have to go on record denying health coverage to thirty-two million Americans, the highest number yet, but of course that wouldn’t be Trump’s fault:

Trump’s remarks introduced a new level of chaos into the GOP, potentially setting up Senate Republicans to take the blame from angry conservatives for failing to fulfill a long-standing GOP vow.

And he wasn’t helping at all:

Trump claimed at the lunch that “we’re very close” to passing a repeal-and-replace bill. It was the latest sign of the disconnect between the president and the Senate. It also came a day after Trump tweeted “let ObamaCare fail” – and two days after he called for a repeal-only bill.

No one knows what the hell Trump wants:

The White House appeared determined to keep trying for something. Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services director Seema Verma met with roughly two dozen GOP senators for nearly three hours on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening. The meeting was arranged by the White House to help persuade wavering senators to back the repeal-and-replace bill, according to people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning.

Following the meeting, several senators described the talks as productive, but none would name specific areas of progress or new agreement that resulted from the gathering.

This is that impossible dream, impossible because no one knows what the dream really is, but the threats are real enough:

Seated directly to Trump’s right at Wednesday’s lunch was Heller, who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state Democrat Hillary Clinton won.

“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump asked, Heller smiling at his side. “Okay – and I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do.”

After he returned to the Capitol, Heller sized it up this way: “That’s just President Trump being President Trump.”

Tensions have been evident for a while. After Heller came out against an earlier version of the Senate bill, a conservative organization aligned with Trump vowed to launch an expensive ad campaign against him, angering and shocking many mainstream GOP allies of the senator. Later, the group backed off.

Now, senators are not sure what they will be voting on in the coming days – pure repeal or repeal and replace.

And they have other fears:

Even GOP senators who oppose the repeal efforts worry about being blamed for failing to act on health care. A recent Gallup poll found that 70 percent of GOP respondents said they support repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Conservative activists are already aggressively targeting centrist Republicans who have opposed the efforts. On Wednesday, a pair of influential conservative groups launched an “Obamacare Repeal Traitors” website attacking Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).

“They campaigned on REPEAL,” says the website, which the Club for Growth and Tea Party Patriots launched. But now, it says, “they are betraying their constituents by joining with Democrats to defeat Obamacare Repeal efforts!”

The whole thing was unpleasant:

At the lunch, Trump said, “People should not leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we give our people great health care,” meaning that recess plans should be put off if a deal isn’t reached. Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, told reporters afterward that “this is not something that we can walk away from.”

Trump, as he has done numerous times in recent weeks, reminded the lawmakers that Republicans campaigned against the Affordable Care Act for years and that their supporters are counting on them to make good on their promises.

“I’m ready to act,” Trump said. “I have my pen in hand. I’m sitting in that office. I have pen in hand. You’ve never had that before. For seven years, you’ve had the easy route — we repeal, we replace, but he [Obama] never signs it. I’m signing it. So it’s a little different.”

This is their problem, not his, and David Weigel has more:

As they scramble to resurrect the Senate GOP’s last chance to repeal the Affordable Care Act, conservative activists and media figures have settled on a message that could fall flat: Do it for President Trump. From Tuesday night through the announcement of yet another Republican meeting on their repeal bills, pundits and outside groups cast senators as “traitors” if they did not deliver a victory for the president.

“Republicans don’t really want this to be repealed and don’t really want Trump to win,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners on Wednesday. “They never sell the plan.”

“These people are being true to their school, just not true to their party, and maybe not true to their country,” said “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade, before asking a guest why Congress had “let Trump down.”

This was getting nasty:

On the right, the final repeal push has been framed as a rematch of Trump’s 2016 victory – a chance for Republicans to go with their president, or reveal themselves as sellouts. Coverage of the health-care fight on Fox News, which had occasionally vanished from prime time, returned Tuesday night in the form of attacks on congressional failure.

“Coming close doesn’t count,” Fox’s Sean Hannity said in his opening monologue. “You people in Congress – you are pampered. You are overpaid. You are spoiled.” After attacking members of Congress for access to “free parking at work” and “access to the congressional gyms,” the Fox News host, whose annual salary has been estimated at $29 million, informed viewers that members of Congress are paid “$174,000 a year, three times higher than the median household income.”

And there was more:

In the conservative media, Trump’s Wednesday speech at the White House was portrayed as the president trying to save Republicans from themselves. “If there’s virtue in the replacement bill, sing its praise,” Limbaugh said. “Well, Trump did in his speech today. Nobody else is. They’re all acting embarrassed of it.”

In fact, defenders of the legislation had spent plenty of time talking it up – and, like Trump, describing the ACA as a collapsing house. But conservative media showed little interest in the details of the bill as it was debated; it emerged again as a topic when it became a straightforward story of the president against the shirkers.

Perhaps it was the president against the shirkers, but there are political pragmatists who know when to settle for what they can get – a matter of acknowledging reality and moving on to what else might be possible to get done. Donald Trump isn’t one of those. He’s a sore loser. He holds grudges, and after he spent the day ripping into all those damned useless Republicans in the Senate, he sat down with three reporters from the New York Times and proved what a sore loser he really is:

President Trump said on Wednesday that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

In a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters, Mr. Trump complained that Mr. Sessions’ decision ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel that should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Mr. Trump said.

So his own attorney general, who was with him early on and stuck with him through thick and thin, is a shirker too, as are others:

In a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times, the president also accused James B. Comey, the FBI director he fired in May, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job.

That was blackmail, damn it:

Mr. Trump recalled that a little more than two weeks before his inauguration, Mr. Comey and other intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower on Russian meddling. Mr. Comey afterward pulled Mr. Trump aside and told him about a dossier that had been assembled by a former British spy filled with salacious allegations against the incoming president, including supposed sexual escapades in Moscow. The FBI has not corroborated the most sensational assertions in the dossier.

In the interview, Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Comey told him about the dossier to implicitly make clear he had something to hold over the president. “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there,” Mr. Trump said. As leverage? “Yeah, I think so,” Mr. Trump said. “In retrospect.”

In fact, everyone is out to get him:

Mr. Trump criticized both the acting FBI director who has been filling in since Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the deputy attorney general who recommended it. And he took on Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel now leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election.

Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia. Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.

Asked if Mr. Mueller’s investigation would cross a red line, if it expanded to look at his family’s finances beyond any relationship to Russia, Mr. Trump said, “I would say yes.” He would not say what he would do about it.

And there’s this:

Mr. Trump was also critical of Mr. Mueller, a former FBI director, reprising some of his past complaints that lawyers in his office contributed money to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. He noted that he actually interviewed Mr. Mueller to replace Mr. Comey just before his appointment as special counsel.

“He was up here and he wanted the job,” Mr. Trump said. After he was named special counsel, “I said, ‘What the hell is this all about?’ Talk about conflicts. But he was interviewing for the job. There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

The president also expressed discontent with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a former federal prosecutor from Baltimore. When Mr. Sessions recused himself, the president said he was irritated to learn where his deputy was from. “There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any,” he said of the predominantly Democratic city.

Everyone is out to get him, except for one guy:

Describing a newly disclosed informal conversation he had with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a dinner of world leaders in Germany this month, Mr. Trump said they talked for about 15 minutes, mostly about “pleasantries.” But Mr. Trump did say that they talked “about adoption.” Mr. Putin banned American adoptions of Russian children in 2012 after the United States enacted sanctions on Russians accused of human rights abuses, an issue that remains a sore point in relations with Moscow.

Mr. Trump acknowledged that it was “interesting” that adoptions came up since his son, Donald Trump Jr., said that was the topic of a meeting he had with several Russians with ties to the Kremlin during last year’s campaign. Even though emails show that the session had been set up to pass along incriminating information about Hillary Clinton, the president said he did not need such material from Russia about Mrs. Clinton last year because he already had more than enough.

Concede enough to Putin, drop a whole lot of sanctions, and Americans would again be able to adopt Russian babies – and then all Americans, even bleeding-heart liberals, would love him. He does love babies:

At one point, his daughter Ivanka arrived at the doorway with her daughter, Arabella, who ran to her grandfather and gave him a kiss. He greeted the 6-year-old girl as “baby,” then urged her to show the reporters her ability to speak Chinese. She obliged.

That was cute, but beside the point:

Mr. Trump left little doubt during the interview that the Russia investigation remained a sore point. His pique at Mr. Sessions, in particular, seemed fresh even months after the attorney general’s recusal. Mr. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump’s candidacy and was rewarded with a key cabinet slot, but has been more distant from the president lately.

“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” he added. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair – and that’s a mild word – to the president.”

That’s first-class whining from a sore loser, and Kevin Drum is amazed:

Trump apparently thinks that blocking embarrassing investigations is part of the attorney general’s job. If Sessions wasn’t willing to do that, “I would have picked somebody else.” Does Trump have any idea what he’s admitting here?

And, in retrospect, he now thinks Comey was trying to blackmail him. This despite the fact that Mother Jones had written about the dossier weeks before and it was common knowledge that it was out there.

I’m not even sure what to say about this stuff anymore. Nothing matters, does it? Trump really could gun someone down in the Oval Office and Fox News would report that Trump had stopped a terrorist attack.

Heather Parton echoes that:

And, oh, by the way, today it was announced that we’re pulling our support for the rebels who are fighting against Assad, Russia’s ally in Syria.

I don’t know what to say anymore. He’s at war with the entire Justice Department and the Intelligence agencies and he seems to be threatening to fire anyone who crosses him.

Is this the new normal? Is this America?

Perhaps it is, but Americans may be able to able to adopt Russian babies again, if Trump keeps this up:

President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later.

Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.

That’s odd:

Just three months ago, after the United States accused Assad of using chemical weapons, Trump launched retaliatory airstrikes against a Syrian air base. At the time, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, said that “in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

The mysterious one-on-one chat with Putin must have changed his mind, but that’s a worry:

Some current and former officials who support the program cast the move as a major concession.

“This is a momentous decision,” said a current official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert program. “Putin won in Syria.”

Some analysts said the decision to end the program was likely to empower more radical groups inside Syria and damage the credibility of the United States.

“We are falling into a Russian trap,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, who focuses on the Syrian resistance. “We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. We are really cutting them off at the neck.”

No one was happy:

Even those who were skeptical about the program’s long-term value viewed it as a key bargaining chip that could be used to wring concessions from Moscow in negotiations over Syria’s future.

“People began thinking about ending the program, but it was not something you’d do for free,” said a former White House official. “To give the program away without getting anything in return would be foolish.”

Perhaps so, but that is exactly what Trump did, and this is a matter of knowing who your friends are:

The White House said Wednesday that President Donald Trump has declined an invitation to speak at the NAACP’s annual convention next week in Baltimore, leading the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to question the president’s commitment to his African American constituents.

“During his campaign, President Trump asked us ‘what do you have to lose?'” NAACP Board Chairman Leon Russell said. “We get the message loud and clear. The president’s decision today underscores the harsh fact: we have lost – we’ve lost the will of the current administration to listen to issues facing the black community.”

Leon Russell should know that was lost long ago:

Trump was the first GOP presidential nominee in years not to address the NAACP last year. Republican nominees John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 both addressed the NAACP convention before losing to Obama in the general elections.

What did Leon Russell expect? Donald Trump lost the black vote – pretty much all of it – and he’s a sore loser. The disloyal Senate Republicans just found that out – so did Jeff Sessions, and James Comey, and Robert Mueller, and Rod Rosenstein – and everyone else. There will be no acknowledging reality and moving on to what else might be possible to get done – a sore loser does other things. He hits back. And nothing gets done.

Is this America? It is now.

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