For a sense on how the national environment is shaping up for Senate Democrats, look no further than the Montana Senate campaign to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Max Baucus (D).
— It’s a race featuring a Democratic outsider with a compelling biography against a House Republican. It’s taking place in a Republican state — but one where Democrats have won 19 of the last 23 Senate races. And it’s emerging as an early test for how badly Obamacare will hurt Democrats, even those who didn’t vote for the law.
— Republicans landed their top recruit Wednesday in freshman Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT). After failing to get former Gov. Brian Schweitzer in the race, Dems settled on Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who led the state National Guard and boasts outsider credentials, without a voting record to scrutinize. Last month, in the wake of the government shutdown, being a House Republican was a problematic part of a resume. Now, given the president’s falling numbers, being a Democrat in a red state could be more problematic.
— Unlike incumbent senators who voted for the law, Walsh will have the freedom to distance himself from the White House as much as he needs to. But in an unexpected challenge, he’s facing some friendly fire from his own party. Schweitzer’s 77-year-old Lt. Gov., John Bohlinger, is challenging Walsh in the primary, and the former governor told Hotline that Walsh starts the primary at a disadvantage. There’s clearly no love lost between the former governor and Washington Democrats.
It’s appropriate that Montana is shaping up as an early bellwether, given that Baucus drew headlines for suggesting — in April 2013! — that the health care law’s implementation was becoming a train wreck. His successor will be determined by how badly that “train wreck” costs Senate Democrats next November.
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The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has released its score of the House-passed American Health Care Act, which would replace Obamacare. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $119 billion by 2026, while leaving 14 million more Americans uninsured in 2018 than under current law, a number swelling to 23 million by 2026. Further, insurance premiums would balloon 20 percent in 2018 and five percent in 2019 before the waiver provision in the legislation would kick in. The provision allows states to apply for waivers and permit insurers to offer skimpier plans, which would likely entice younger and healthier individuals to buy health insurance while potentially pricing older and less healthy Americans out of insurance plans. House Republicans approved this bill in late April without waiting for the CBO score.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that President Donald Trump's budget is literal more than recycling bin material. "The budget proposed by the president doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Graham said. Graham had previously opposed the budget over its nearly 30 percent cut to the budget of the State Department. The budget slashes spending on domestic priorities while increasing military spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he doesn't yet know the formula towards gaining passage of an Obamacare replacement in the Senate. "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal," McConnell said. The House passed an Obamacare replacement bill which has been widely seen as dead on arrival in the Senate, and McConnell has put together a working group of Republican Senators working towards creating health care legislation which could gain the support of at least 50 Senators.
The transcript of a phone call between Donald Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked and it shows Trump referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un as a "madman with nuclear weapons" and praising Duterte, saying he was doing an "unbelievable job on the drug problem." For context, Duterte has presided over a vicious and genocidal campaign of extrajudicial killings within his country which has led to the murder of thousands of expected drug dealers and users. Trump also told Duerte to take care of himself and promised that the U.S. would "take care of North Korea."