Daily: May 12, 2017

Cassidy Is in the Limelight, Not the Negotiating Room

The Louisiana physician has gotten lots of media attention for his health care compromise plan, but GOP Senate leaders don’t seem interested.

By andrea-drusch

As Senate Republicans prepare to chart their own course on health care legislation, leaders are facing opposition from an unusual source: Sen. Bill Cassidy.

Though not known as a centrist in his caucus, the Louisiana Republican quickly joined his party’s moderates in slamming House Republicans’ bill last week, criticizing what he called inadequate coverage for patients. He’s also proposed one of the most left-leaning replacement plans in his caucus, earning an appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! In doing so, the normally low-key, grey-haired gastroenterologist has raised his national profile, highlighting his years of experience treating the uninsured in his practice in Louisiana.

At the same time, Cassidy may also have just talked himself out of a seat at the top table. Despite representing some of the reddest territory in the country, his replacement plan has drawn criticism from members of his own party who say it’s not conservative enough. And as leaders this week assembled a team to craft their Obamacare replacement, Cassidy, who’s dedicated his political career to health policy, wasn’t on it.

If that oversight is bothering him, Cassidy isn’t showing it. Sitting before a table of scattered notes in his Senate office Wednesday morning, the first-term senator vigorously defended his plan’s conservative credentials, suggesting his colleagues would come around to the ideas with or without him in the working group.

“The fact is, President Trump made a contract with the American voter … and the only way you get there is through Cassidy-Collins,” he said of the bill he introduced in January with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Collins was also left out of leadership’s working group, though less surprisingly because of her moderate record.

Listing lower premiums, elimination of mandates, and coverage for preexisting conditions as must-have components, Cassidy said Republicans pushing the House plan would fall woefully short of the campaign promises they’d made for the past seven years.

“If you’re going to fulfill President Trump’s contract with the voter … it doesn’t have to be our bill, but it has to look like our bill,” said Cassidy.

So far, his GOP colleagues haven’t seen it the same way. While Cassidy wants his party to court Democrats on a replacement plan, GOP leaders hope to use the reconciliation process, which would require just 51 votes. (Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, for his part, panned Cassidy’s plan as “an empty façade.”) And while Cassidy wants states to have the ability to keep Obamacare if they choose, conservative leaders have said that idea wouldn’t pass “conservative muster.”

While Cassidy expects Louisiana would not keep Obamacare under his plan, states like New York and California that have praised its impact could.

“It’d be Albany and Sacramento; it wouldn’t be Washington D.C. dictating—a conservative principle,” Cassidy reasoned of the provision. “I can’t believe that some of my fellow conservatives are complaining about that.”

So how did Cassidy, a reliably conservative member who served three terms in the House, wind up so far apart from his colleagues? In part, he reasons, because of his experience with the realities of health care.

“Personally, I always looked at Obamacare and thought it was going to fail, but that was my insight,” said Cassidy, who was first elected to the House in 2008. “We thought health care was going to be reformed in the next eight years. … It turned out it was reformed in the next eight months … and I’ve been here throughout the beginning of the process.”

Asked why leadership would exclude Cassidy from the working group given that experience, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office pointed to comments the leader made after the group drew criticism for a lack of women.

“The working group that counts is all 52 of us,” McConnell said to reporters at a press conference. “Everybody will be at the table.”

In the meantime, Cassidy hasn’t faced much blowback for proposing a plan conservatives dislike. The Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, which spent big on Cassidy’s 2014 race and has pushed for a straight repeal bill, declined to comment on how the plan might affect its support.

Cassidy’s fellow Louisianan, Sen. John Kennedy, who hasn’t signed on to Cassidy’s plan, called his colleague a “creative thinker” and applauded him for working to solve their state’s problems.

In a floor speech Thursday, Cassidy framed the conservative argument another way. Next to a poster of a quote from Donald Trump, who won Louisiana by nearly 20 points, Cassidy lauded the president for “intuitive genius” on health care, while suggesting his own plan delivered on Trump’s promises.

Asked whether he thought his plan could become a political liability in bright-red Louisiana, Cassidy brushed off the possibility.

“I constantly spoke about replacing Obamacare with something that works for patients,” he said. “It’s not like I’ve been hiding this.”


Comey’s Firing Shakes Up Jittery Republicans

GOP candidates were already worried about Trump’s drag on their midterm prospects, and now they have to deal with another mess.

By Charlie Cook

It’s time for con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans and their strategists to start pop­ping their blood-pres­sure meds. Even be­fore Pres­id­ent Trump fired FBI Dir­ect­or James Comey, the po­ten­tial for GOP prob­lems in next year’s midterm elec­tions were real. Ob­vi­ously no one knows what will hap­pen in an elec­tion al­most 18 months away. But now is when in­cum­bents start de­cid­ing wheth­er they will run again. From a party per­spect­ive, it’s al­ways easi­er to de­fend an in­cum­bent’s seat than win an open one.

It’s also the time when chal­lengers and open-seat can­did­ates start mak­ing de­cisions. Sev­er­al of the strongest po­ten­tial Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers to vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors ex­pressed con­cerns to me about the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment next year—and that was be­fore Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal of Comey.

The Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate is not much in danger be­cause Demo­crats are de­fend­ing 25 seats in 2018, 10 of which are in states that Trump car­ried last year, to just nine for the GOP. Even so, the dif­fer­ence between a level play­ing field for Re­pub­lic­ans and one with stiff head­winds is the dif­fer­ence between gain­ing three to five seats versus just break­ing even or per­haps suf­fer­ing the loss of a seat. So it’s a big deal wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans come out of 2018 with as many as 57 Sen­ate seats, or just stay at 52, or even drop to 51.

But it’s the House that’s on the knife’s edge. Midterm-elec­tion his­tory, com­bined with Trump’s dis­mal job-ap­prov­al rat­ings, already put the House in play. The Comey fir­ing ad­ded to Re­pub­lic­an miser­ies, and but­tressed the Demo­crat­ic Party’s ar­gu­ment that at least one cham­ber of Con­gress should be taken out of Re­pub­lic­an hands in or­der to keep Trump in check. But more than that, the fir­ing is enough to make quite a few Re­pub­lic­ans wince—not a good thing when the mood in the GOP already seemed down­beat. The fir­ing also lif­ted the already high en­thu­si­asm of Demo­crats.

Many polit­ic­al ana­lysts were fo­cused on the spe­cial-elec­tion run­off on June 20 in Geor­gia’s 6th Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict, to fill the seat pre­vi­ously held by Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­ret­ary Tom Price. Han­di­cap­pers were call­ing that con­test a toss-up be­fore the Comey mess.

An earli­er spe­cial elec­tion, on May 25, to re­place In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary Ry­an Zinke in Montana’s at-large seat, is in­creas­ingly be­ing seen as an­oth­er ca­nary in the coal mine. While Trump car­ried the Big Sky State by 21 points last year, Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Greg Gi­an­forte was lead­ing Demo­crat Rob Quist by just 8 points, 45 to 37 per­cent, in an in­de­pend­ent sur­vey by Grav­is Mar­ket­ing and by 6 points in a sur­vey by one of the top Demo­crat­ic polling firms, Gar­in-Hart-Yang Re­search. The Grav­is poll was taken in the first week of May, and the Gar­in-Hart-Yang poll was con­duc­ted April 25-27. The Demo­crat­ic poll’s re­spond­ents said they voted for Trump by 22 points, mar­gin­ally bet­ter than the ac­tu­al vote in Montana last year. Among re­spond­ents most in­ter­ested in the race, Gi­an­forte’s lead was just 1 point, 48 to 47 per­cent.

I re­main some­what skep­tic­al about the Demo­crats’ chances in Montana. The path to a Demo­crat­ic ma­jor­ity is more likely to go through up­scale, urb­an, and sub­urb­an dis­tricts than rur­al dis­tricts with large white pop­u­la­tions. But if the Montana vote is close, it will send tremors through a lot of Re­pub­lic­an mem­bers who may not have felt vul­ner­able.

It is cer­tainly a pres­id­en­tial prerog­at­ive to fire an FBI dir­ect­or, but this is more com­plic­ated than that. My view is that at every point in the FBI’s in­vest­ig­a­tion of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s email use, Comey did what he thought was right. He ac­ted with the best of in­ten­tions, and did what he thought was in the best in­terest of pre­serving the in­teg­rity of his agency, even though in hind­sight these de­cisions turned out to be mis­takes.

His ac­tions in the clos­ing weeks of the cam­paign made the elec­tion al­most ex­clus­ively about Clin­ton and ul­ti­mately helped de­term­ine the out­come of the elec­tion, though there were cer­tainly plenty of oth­er factors that were im­port­ant as well. Ar­gu­ably an FBI or Justice De­part­ment in­spect­or gen­er­al might have re­com­men­ded that Comey be dis­missed, but giv­en the ex­pand­ing nature of the bur­eau’s in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to Rus­sia’s med­dling in last year’s elec­tion, Trump’s fir­ing of Comey was a huge mis­take, both in terms of policy and polit­ics. It was a rash act en­tirely con­sist­ent with the worst fears that many had about a Trump pres­id­ency, and it cer­tainly will not help his party next year.

Net Neutrality Throws FCC’s Comment Section Into Chaos

The commission’s system was hit with a suspicious cyberattack, beset with racist rhetoric, and flooded with astroturfed comments ahead of next week’s net-neutrality vote.

By Brendan Bordelon

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion’s com­ments sec­tion is get­ting out of hand.

The com­mis­sion’s Elec­tron­ic Com­ment Fil­ing Sys­tem is the stat­utor­ily re­quired ven­ue through which cit­izens can provide their take on any and all act­ive com­mis­sion pro­ceed­ings. It is nor­mally a sleepy place, but Re­pub­lic­an FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai’s new pro­pos­al to roll back the 2015 net-neut­ral­ity or­der has de­luged the sys­tem with hun­dreds of thou­sands of com­ments.

And since last Sunday, after HBO’s John Oliv­er dir­ec­ted his view­ers to ex­press their dis­pleas­ure with Pai’s net-neut­ral­ity plans, this ex­er­cise in civic par­ti­cip­a­tion took a series of nasty turns.

It’s not just the ra­cist and ab­us­ive lan­guage be­ing hurled at Pai, an un­for­tu­nate haz­ard whenev­er an or­gan­iz­a­tion so­li­cits com­ments on­line. De­pend­ing on who you talk to, the com­ments sec­tion has also been vic­tim­ized by either a crip­pling cy­ber­at­tack or—for the con­spir­at­ori­ally minded—a false-flag op­er­a­tion con­duc­ted by the FCC it­self. And identic­al bot-gen­er­ated com­ments—most in fa­vor of Pai’s pro­pos­al—ap­pear to be flood­ing the sys­tem, threat­en­ing to drown out le­git­im­ate con­sumer feed­back.

All this has flung the FCC’s com­ments-fil­ing sys­tem in­to chaos just days be­fore a sched­uled May 18 vote on Pai’s net-neut­ral­ity pro­pos­al. For pro­gress­ive tech groups hop­ing to mo­bil­ize pub­lic opin­ion against both that plan and any even­tu­al le­gis­lat­ive com­prom­ise on net neut­ral­ity, the dis­cord seems de­lib­er­ate.

“It’s like any of these hack­ing at­tacks—like there was dur­ing the French elec­tion, like there was in our elec­tion—where the whole point is just to un­der­mine the le­git­im­acy of the sys­tem,” said Har­old Feld, a law­yer and the vice pres­id­ent of pro­gress­ive tech group Pub­lic Know­ledge. By “pulling a Putin” and mud­dling the con­ver­sa­tion, Feld be­lieves, uniden­ti­fied op­pon­ents of the FCC’s net-neut­ral­ity rules hope to de­fang any grass­roots op­pos­i­tion to a roll­back.

“I think the chair­man has a re­spons­ib­il­ity to get out there and make it very clear that he does not sup­port people try­ing to hack the pro­cess,” Feld told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Then-FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er’s 2014 net-neut­ral­ity pro­ceed­ing even­tu­ally at­trac­ted around 4 mil­lion pub­lic com­ments. The ma­jor­ity sup­por­ted some form of ad­di­tion­al reg­u­la­tion on in­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders, and in 2015 the com­mis­sion ad­op­ted rules to gov­ern ISPs like pub­lic util­it­ies. At the time, Wheel­er touted the massive num­ber of com­ments as proof that con­sumers wanted the com­mis­sion to en­act tough net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions.

The new chair­man’s at­tempt at a net-neut­ral­ity roll­back has so far at­trac­ted around 730,000 com­ments. But while this is just a frac­tion of the com­ments col­lec­ted last time around, the pro­cess has already proven more chaot­ic.

Pai, a second-gen­er­a­tion In­di­an-Amer­ic­an, has been the tar­get of mul­tiple com­ments us­ing ra­cially charged lan­guage. One sug­ges­ted he was a “dis­grace to all In­di­ans,” while an­oth­er called for his de­port­a­tion. He also re­ceived at least two com­ments cheer­ing for his death.

Sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ive groups and me­dia out­lets, as well as Pai’s chief of staff, Mat­thew Berry, have pub­licly called out the charged rhet­or­ic. Even the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation, a D.C.-based trade group op­posed to Pai’s pro­pos­al, re­leased a state­ment on Thursday con­demning the “use of hate­ful or threat­en­ing lan­guage” by neut­ral­ity ad­voc­ates.

But while Pai’s de­fend­ers and his staff push back against the at­tacks, they’ve spoken less about sev­er­al oth­er prob­lems fa­cing the FCC’s com­ments sec­tion.

When the com­ments-fil­ing sys­tem re­peatedly stuttered on Sunday night, many at­trib­uted it to a surge of pro-neut­ral­ity traffic in the wake of Oliv­er’s HBO show that had just aired. But on Monday, the com­mis­sion re­leased a brief state­ment claim­ing it had been the tar­get of a dis­trib­uted deni­al-of-ser­vice at­tack, mak­ing it “dif­fi­cult for le­git­im­ate com­menters to ac­cess and file with the FCC.”

Con­spir­acy the­or­ies sprang up in­stantly. Evan Greer, the cam­paign dir­ect­or for net-neut­ral­ity act­iv­ist group Fight for the Fu­ture, said the group was con­cerned that the com­mis­sion’s story was “in­ten­tion­ally mis­lead­ing,” and sug­ges­ted the FCC was try­ing to hide be­hind a made-up cy­ber­at­tack as an ex­cuse for al­low­ing its web­site to crash un­der the weight of Oliv­er’s audi­ence.

Demo­crat­ic Sens. Ron Wyden and Bri­an Schatz sent a let­ter to Pai on Tues­day de­mand­ing a full ac­count­ing of the al­leged cy­ber­at­tack. Schatz told Na­tion­al Journ­al that, for now, he won’t com­ment on wheth­er he be­lieves the com­mis­sion is be­ing en­tirely forth­com­ing. “I’ll with­hold judg­ment un­til I hear from the FCC,” the sen­at­or said, adding that “people need to be able to file com­ments no mat­ter what” and that it was im­port­ant to de­term­ine how the cy­ber­at­tack took place so it could be pre­ven­ted in the fu­ture.

FCC spokes­man Mark Wig­field did not re­spond to ques­tions on wheth­er the com­mis­sion would re­lease more evid­ence of the at­tack. Wig­field told The Wash­ing­ton Post earli­er this week that the com­mis­sion had up­dated to a cloud ser­vice that should prove more re­si­li­ent.

Adding to the tur­moil is a sud­den surge of hun­dreds of thou­sands of identic­al com­ments in fa­vor of Pai’s pro­pos­al. So far around 130,000 com­ments—nearly one-fifth of the total—lament the “un­pre­ced­en­ted reg­u­lat­ory power the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed on the in­ter­net” and urge the FCC to en­act “light-touch” rules as Pai has sug­ges­ted. Tech out­let ZDNet reached out to sev­er­al of the al­leged com­menters, all of whom said they did not send the re­marks in ques­tion. That sug­gests the use of a spam bot to flood the FCC with il­le­git­im­ate com­ments.

Brent Skorup, a re­search fel­low at the free-mar­ket Mer­catus In­sti­tute and a mem­ber of the FCC’s Broad­band De­ploy­ment Ad­vis­ory Com­mit­tee, said he was “sur­prised” that the FCC’s com­ment sys­tem didn’t pre­vent bot activ­ity. But, he ad­ded, it’s not un­usu­al for fed­er­al agen­cies to move slowly on IT up­grades.

The war over net-neut­ral­ity com­ments may have little prac­tic­al im­pact on the com­mis­sion’s de­cision to move ahead with the roll­back. In a press call last month, FCC of­fi­cials said they wouldn’t take the total volume of com­ments for or against in­to ac­count, fo­cus­ing in­stead on leg­al and tech­nic­al ar­gu­ments.

For Skorup, that’s a wel­come change from what happened un­der the last chair­man. “It’s a fic­tion that these form com­ments sig­ni­fy any­thing that the FCC is ever go­ing to read,” he said. “I think the pre­vi­ous FCC mak­ing a big deal about the num­ber of com­ments en­cour­ages this sort of gam­ing of the sys­tem.”

Feld ad­mits that there’s little chance of chan­ging Pai’s mind through a storm of pro-neut­ral­ity com­ments. But he dis­misses the no­tion that the com­ments don’t mat­ter, par­tic­u­larly giv­en the ex­press in­terest by Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans to craft a le­gis­lat­ive net-neut­ral­ity com­prom­ise in tan­dem with the FCC’s ac­tions.

“The grass­roots folks and the pub­lic have a real seat at the table and real power in this—not so much in what Pai and [Re­pub­lic­an Com­mis­sion­er Mi­chael] O’Ri­elly are go­ing to do, but in how this de­bate is go­ing to evolve,” Feld said. “That’s why you have people who are mo­tiv­ated to try to hack the pro­cess and del­e­git­im­ize it. Be­cause if you’re a Re­pub­lic­an in Con­gress, it’s a lot easi­er to dis­miss this stuff if you think, ‘Well, who knows who the real com­menters are?’”

Smart Ideas: The Case Against Trumponomics; the Case for Dwayne Johnson

Caity Weaver, writing for GQ

“In a moment of political ridiculousness, there’s even the suddenly not ridiculous question of whether Dwayne Johnson might actually be headed for Washington.” He admits it’s a “real possibility,” and a checklist of his various attributes only serves to tease it more. He’s the most bankable star on the planet, possessed with unnatural personal magnetism and likability. His “uncommon ethnic background means that, in the right light, he can read as Pacific Islander, Latino, Middle Eastern, Native American, Southeast Asian, undead Scorpion King from an ancient civilization.” He has a rags-to-riches story. He frequently thanks members of the military on social media and in person, evidence of his “industrial-strength patriotism. … He’s got a politician’s warm, deep voice, which projects authority, capability, and strength. And he possesses a startling steel-trap memory. … The cold, hard truth is that if Donald Trump can be elected president, Dwayne Johnson can be elected president. Easily. He probably has better odds of winning an election than Trump, and Trump did win.”

The Editors, writing for The Economist

Trump’s economic policy—comprising tax cuts, deregulation, and “fair trade”—is not conventional Republican supply-side policy at all. Rather, it’s something more mercantilist, infused with his kingly whims. “His approach to the economy is born of a mindset where deals have winners and losers and where canny negotiators confound abstract principles. Call it boardroom capitalism”—a “business wishlist” compiled by Trump’s “courtiers.” Some of these impulses could unleash “pent-up energy” in the economy and lead to short-term growth, but it’s “a poor recipe for long-term prosperity. America will end up more indebted and more unequal. It will neglect the real issues, such as how to retrain hardworking people whose skills are becoming redundant. Worse, when the contradictions become apparent, Mr Trump’s economic nationalism may become fiercer, leading to backlashes in other countries.”

Jeff Spross, writing for The Week Donald Trump’s Rose Garden celebration last week following the House’s passage of Obamacare replacement legislation was exceptionally “premature.” For any legislation to reach his desk, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to walk an incredibly thin tightrope and craft legislation on which nearly ever Republican senator must agree. There is only one conclusion: “TrumpCare is basically doomed.” While House Speaker Paul Ryan could afford to lose more than 20 Republicans in the House, McConnell can afford two defections. “[T]he split in the House between GOP moderates and hard-core right-wingers that sunk the first version of TrumpCare, and almost sunk the second, will appear again in the Senate” and “the divide will be even deeper.” So while supporters of Obamacare shouldn’t breathe any sighs of relief, “TrumpCare is simply unlikely to become law.”


Revolving Doors

By andrea-drusch

With few vulnerable incumbents up for reelection and little chance of losing the upper chamber, Republicans’ top Senate strategists are eyeing other opportunities in 2018.

A host of open governor’s races have already attracted talent such as veteran Senate adviser Justin Brasell, who ran campaigns for Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton, but this cycle will run South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem’s (R) gubernatorial bid. Florida gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam (R) rolled out a campaign team this week that includes former NRSC Executive Director Ward Baker as a senior adviser. Baker is also a long-time adviser to Tennessee Rep. Diane Black (R), who’s eyeing a bid for her state’s open governor seat in 2018.

In a nod to the more-competitive House landscape this cycle, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s (R) Campaign Manager Corry Bliss, who was praised for one of the best Senate campaigns of 2016, is instead leading the House GOP’s main super PAC this cycle. Bliss brought with him Portman’s Deputy Campaign Manager William Inman, who will now serve as deputy executive director for American Action Network, and Portman Field Director Patrick Lee, who will serve as national field director for Congressional Leadership Fund. Two other communications operatives from 2016 Senate races, Jack Pandol and Jesse Hunt, moved over to the National Republican Congressional Committee earlier this year.

An offense-heavy Senate map chalked with competitive primaries also means less job certainty for campaign manager gigs in 2018. Notably, Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R) campaign manager, Betsy Ankney, who spent three years in Wisconsin for his race, will shape this year’s contest and others from a perch at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Andrea Drusch