A prosecutor of Klansmen captures Jeff Sessions’s old seat, as the Republicans’ Senate majority shrinks

Roy Moore watching results

INITIALLY the mood at Doug Jones’s election-night party was genial but uneasy. Guests knew Mr Jones was closer to winning one of Alabama’s Senate seats than any Democrat in a quarter-century; they also knew that Mr Trump won the state by 28 points, and the last two Republican Senate candidates won 63.9% and 97.3% of the vote. So they smiled, and made all the right hopeful noises, but around the corners of their eyes you could see them bracing for disappointment.

Mr Jones’s victory was narrow—he took 49.9% of the vote to Mr Moore’s 48.4%, with the remaining 1.7% going to write-in votes—but decisive. He flipped every one of the counties that Mr Trump won by 10 points or less last year, banking large numbers of votes in the counties housing Alabama’s five biggest cities, and running up sizable margins in Alabama’s majority African-American “black belt”.  Mr Moore, meanwhile, underperformed Mr Trump’s results from November 2016 in every one of Alabama’s 67 counties, faring especially poorly in those with large numbers of educated voters.

At a rally in south-eastern Alabama the night before the election, Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s former chief strategist and the architect of his presidential campaign, headlined a motley crew of far-right Republicans who offered a cavalcade of bilious, resentment-filled speeches promoting Mr Moore while pandering to Alabamians’ prickliness. “Nobody comes down here and tells Alabamians what to do,” said Mr Bannon, a Virginian, speaking after a Texan and several Midwesterners. Other speakers attacked George Soros, Islam and “the lynch-mob media”. No name got longer and more sustained boos than Mr Shelby’s. Two days before the election he went on a prominent talk show just to say, “I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore…The state of Alabama deserves better.” Mr Moore’s wife defended her husband against charges of bigotry by revealing that “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”

White evangelicals—Mr Moore’s core supporters—comprised a smaller share of the electorate this year than in past elections. Some of them stayed home, or even voted for Mr Jones, despite vehemently disagreeing with his pro-choice position on abortion. Rushton Mellen Waltchack, a Christian and lifelong Republican from Birmingham, compared Mr Moore to “a televangelist who falls from grace,” and said she could not bring herself to vote for him. “He makes statements that to me don’t represent Jesus in the Bible…What does it say about us as a party if we continue to choose policy over character?”

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

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Republican official ‘would have shot’ Guardian reporter attacked by Gianforte

A Montana Republican party official “would have shot” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs if he had approached her as he did Greg Gianforte, who assaulted Jacobs one day before he was elected to Congress.

Jacobs approached Gianforte in May, in a room where he was about to give a television interview. The Republican slammed Jacobs to the floor, breaking his glasses, and then punched him several times.

“If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him,” Karen Marshall, vice-president of programs for Gallatin County Republican Women told the Voice of Montana radio program on Thursday.

Marshall also described herself as a “friend” of Gianforte. According to federal records, a Karen Marshall from Bozeman, Montana, donated the federal maximum of $2,700 to Gianforte’s campaign for Congress.

The altercation occurred in a private room at a campaign event, after Jacobs asked Gianforte a question about healthcare. Several reporters were invited to the event, a picnic.

“That kid came on private property, came into a private building, and went into a very private room that I would not even have gone into,” Marshall said. “It was a setup. A complete setup. He just pushed a little too hard.”

Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told the Helena Independent Record: “Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump presidency is in a hole

After 70 days in office Mr Trump is stuck in the sand.

DONALD TRUMP won the White House on the promise that government is easy. Unlike his Democratic opponent, whose career had been devoted to politics, Mr Trump stood as a businessman who could Get Things Done. Enough voters decided that boasting, mocking, lying and grabbing women were secondary. Some Trump fans even saw them as the credentials of an authentic, swamp-draining saviour.

After 70 days in office, however, Mr Trump is stuck in the sand. A health-care bill promised as one of his “first acts” suffered a humiliating collapse in the—Republican-controlled—Congress. His repeated attempts to draft curbs on travel to America from some Muslim countries are being blocked by the courts. And suspicions that his campaign collaborated with Russia have cost him his national security adviser and look likely to dog his administration (see article). Voters are not impressed. No other president so early in his first term has suffered such low approval ratings.

The business of government

Mr Trump is hardly the first tycoon to discover that business and politics work by different rules. If you fall out over a property deal, you can always find another sucker. In politics you cannot walk away so easily. Even if Mr Trump now despises the Republican factions that dared defy him over health care, Congress is the only place he can go to pass legislation.

The nature of political power is different, too. As owner and CEO of his business, Mr Trump had absolute control. The constitution sets out to block would-be autocrats. Where Mr Trump has acted appropriately—as with his nomination of a principled, conservative jurist to fill a Supreme Court vacancy—he deserves to prevail. But when the courts question the legality of his travel order they are only doing their job. Likewise, the Republican failure to muster a majority over health-care reflects not just divisions between the party’s moderates and hardliners, but also the defects of a bill that, by the end, would have led to worse protection, or none, for tens of millions of Americans without saving taxpayers much money.

Far from taking Washington by storm, America’s CEO is out of his depth. The art of political compromise is new to him. He blurs his own interests and the interests of the nation. The scrutiny of office grates. He chafes under the limitations of being the most powerful man in the world. You have only to follow his incontinent stream of tweets to grasp Mr Trump’s paranoia and vanity: the press lies about him; the election result fraudulently omitted millions of votes for him; the intelligence services are disloyal; his predecessor tapped his phones. It’s neither pretty nor presidential.

That the main victim of these slurs has so far been the tweeter-in-chief himself is testament to the strength of American democracy. But institutions can erode, and the country is wretchedly divided (see article). Unless Mr Trump changes course, the harm risks spreading. The next test will be the budget. If the Republican Party cannot pass a stop-gap measure, the government will start to shut down on April 29th. Recent jitters in the markets are a sign that investors are counting on Mr Trump and his party to pass legislation.

More than anything, they are looking for tax reform and an infrastructure plan. There is vast scope to make fiscal policy more efficient and fairer (see article). American firms face high tax rates and have a disincentive to repatriate profits. Personal taxes are a labyrinth of privileges and loopholes, most of which benefit the well-off. Likewise, the country’s cramped airports and potholed highways are a drain on productivity. Sure enough, Mr Trump has let it be known that he now wants to tackle tax. And, in a bid to win support from Democrats, he may deal with infrastructure at the same time.

Yet the politics of tax reform are as treacherous as the politics of health care, and not only because they will generate ferocious lobbying. Most Republican plans are shockingly regressive, despite Mr Trump’s blue-collar base. To win even a modest reform, Mr Trump and his team will have to show a mastery of detail and coalition-building that has so far eluded them. If Mr Trump’s popularity falls further, the job of winning over fractious Republicans will only become harder.

The character question

The Americans who voted for Mr Trump either overlooked his bombast, or they saw in him a tycoon with the self-belief to transform Washington. Although this presidency is still young, that already seems an error of judgment. His policies, from health-care reform to immigration, have been poor—they do not even pass the narrow test that they benefit Trump voters. Most worrying for America and the world is how fast the businessman in the Oval Office is proving unfit for the job.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

Republican infighting is part of being Republican


‘Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,’ Paul Ryan said despite health advocates’ criticism of bill. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Trumpcare failed to pass but the real problem is that the Republican Party is plagued by partisan infighting. Mr. Trump was able to use the ideological differences between factions in the party to his advantage during the election campaign. Not only did he overthrow the party’s traditional leadership, he united many of the other competing interests in the party.

But the campaign is over now. The factions in Congress are starting to make the President’s life much more difficult. What’s the basis of Republican disunity? Aren’t Republicans, whether elites or voters, all staunch conservatives who oppose the Democrats?

Jon MacKay is an affiliate researcher of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. William Bendix is assistant professor of political science at Keene State College, in New Hampshire. Together they examined how several hundred interest groups have rated congressional Republicans since 2001. They found three distinct factions that were stable over time. Each represented different sets of ideological interests. The party leaders reside in what we call the corporate-establishment faction – a group that advances pro-business policies. The difficulty is that two other Republican factions also compete for power: a lunch-pail faction, whose members focus on working-class issues, and an ethno-radical faction, whose members support a mix of nativist and fiscally regressive policies. You can read their research here…. 2016 08 18 Bendix & MacKay Partisan Republican Infighting

What’s become clear is that any policy decision Donald Trump makes is now likely to produce as many losers as winners within their party’s coalition.

After the health-care defeat, Mr. Trump has said he’ll next turn to tax cuts, dramatically lowering taxes across the board. His plan, estimated to reduce federal revenues by $6-trillion (U.S.) over ten years, will provide much greater tax relief to the affluent than it will to middle- and working-class voters. This makes it, in many respects, a mainstream Republican proposal.

But that’s the problem. Massive revenue cuts need to be offset by large spending cuts, otherwise the national debt will balloon. Mr. Trump wants to boost military spending, cut taxes and slash industry oversight and entitlement programs. That likely suits the corporate establishment and the ethno-radicals of the party, but it will outrage most everyone else – including lunch-pail voters. True, Trump could cut taxes and increase spending without totally blowing up the budget by issuing 100-year bonds. But it’s hard to imagine the ethno-radicals supporting this big-government, big-debt strategy.

Trade protectionism, another pillar of Mr. Trump’s election campaign, is the most important issue for Canada. Although famously inconsistent on many issues, Trump has been unwavering on trade. He has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has said that he wants to reopen NAFTA, impose tariffs on individual firms, and possibly withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization.

These promises are aimed at lunch-pail Republicans, who have seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last three decades. But this anti-trade agenda is at odds with the corporate establishment of the party – which has, since at least Ronald Reagan, advocated trade liberalization.

You may read the complete article on the Globe and Mail newspaper web site.

Trump-Russia inquiry in ‘grave doubt’

The top Democrat on one of the congressional committees investigating ties between Donald Trump and Russia has raised “grave doubt” over the viability of the inquiry after its Republican chairman shared information with the White House and not their committee colleagues.

In the latest wild development surrounding the Russia inquiry that has created an air of scandal around Trump, Democrat Adam Schiff effectively called his GOP counterpart, Devin Nunes, a proxy for the White House, questioning his conduct.

“These actions raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work,” Schiff said late Wednesday afternoon after speaking with Nunes, his fellow Californian, before telling MSNBC that evidence tying Trump to Russia now appeared “more than circumstantial”.

Two days after testimony from the directors of the FBI and NSA that dismissed any factual basis to Trump’s 4 March claim that Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance, Nunes publicly stated he was “alarmed” to learn that the intelligence agencies may have “incidentally” collected communications from Trump and his associates.

Nunes, who served on Trump’s national security transition team, said the surveillance “appears to be all legally collected” and masked the identities of Americans, but did so in such a way that Nunes could hazard a guess as to whom the intercepted communications discussed. Nunes added that the alleged intercepts did not actually concern Russia.

“Details about persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting,” said Nunes, who has shifted the focus of the inquiry onto leaks that Trump blames on the intelligence agencies.

Nunes went to the White House to brief the president, who seized on the chairman’s comments as vindication, even though there is little evidence even in Nunes’s vague and often conditional remarks that they revive Trump’s claim that Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped.

“I somewhat do. I must tell you I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found, I somewhat do,” Trump said Wednesday afternoon.

Nunes took whatever material he had acquired to Trump before sharing it with the committee – a decision that represented nearly a final straw for Schiff, who called for an independent commission to investigate ties between Trump and Russia.

In language that stripped away any pretense of cordiality remaining on the committee, Schiff said Nunes would have to decide whether to helm a credible inquiry or whether to operate as a White House adjunct, complicit in what Schiff intimated was a “campaign by the White House to deflect from the [FBI] director’s testimony”.

Asked if Schiff was considering pulling out of the inquiry, Schiff said he would have to “analyze what this development means”, suggesting a potential Democratic departure from one of the most internationally watched congressional investigations in recent history.

“If you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House, sharing information with the White House, when the people around the White House are the subject of the investigation and doing it before sharing it with the committee, it puts a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly,” Schiff said.

Schiff reiterated that from what he had gleaned from his conversation with Nunes, “there is still no evidence that the president was wiretapped by his predecessor”.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper website.

Budget Office says Trump’s healthcare bill favors wealthy

Donald Trump: pointing the way toward … more of the same for the wealthy, actually. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Effects on Health Insurance Coverage

To estimate the budgetary effects, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) projected how the legislation would change the number of people who obtain federally subsidized health insurance through Medicaid, the nongroup market, and the employment-based market, as well as many other factors.

CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026.

The reductions in insurance coverage between 2018 and 2026 would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.

In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law.

Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.

Effects on Premiums

The legislation would tend to increase average premiums in the nongroup market prior to 2020 and lower average premiums thereafter, relative to projections under current law. In 2018 and 2019, according to CBO and JCT’s estimates, average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law, mainly because the individual mandate penalties would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up.

Starting in 2020, the increase in average premiums from repealing the individual mandate penalties would be more than offset by the combination of several factors that would decrease those premiums: grants to states from the Patient and State Stability Fund (which CBO and JCT expect to largely be used by states to limit the costs to insurers of enrollees with very high claims); the elimination of the requirement for insurers to offer plans covering certain percentages of the cost of covered benefits; and a younger mix of enrollees.

By 2026, average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market under the legislation would be roughly 10 percent lower than under current law, CBO and JCT estimate.

Although average premiums would increase prior to 2020 and decrease starting in 2020, CBO and JCT estimate that changes in premiums relative to those under current law would differ significantly for people of different ages because of a change in age-rating rules.

Under the legislation, insurers would be allowed to generally charge five times more for older enrollees than younger ones rather than three times more as under current law, substantially reducing premiums for young adults and substantially raising premiums for older people.

Helping the richest

For many lower-income people, the new tax credits under the legislation would tend to be smaller than the premium tax credits under current law. Conversely, the tax credits under the legislation would tend to be larger than current-law premium tax credits for many people with higher income.

Read the complete CBO report in PDF….  americanhealthcareact_CBO

House Republicans reveal bill to repeal and replace Obama’s healthcare law


‘Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,’ Paul Ryan said despite health advocates’ criticism of bill. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

American Health Care Act would shrink government role in healthcare and could leave more people without insurance despite Trump administration promises.

Called the American Health Care Act, the bill would eliminate the individual mandate, which required Americans to have health insurance or pay a fine; cut the number of people insured under Medicaid; and allow insurance companies to charge the elderly up to five times more than the young.

The bill would require insurers to cover so-called pre-existing conditions, but would allow them to add a 30% surcharge to premiums if people go without insurance for too long.

“The American Health Care Act is a plan to drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance,” said House speaker Paul Ryan. “It protects young adults, patients with pre-existing conditions, and provides a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them.

“Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare. This will proceed through a transparent process of regular order in full view of the public.”

But several Republican senators remained skeptical. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Assuming all Democrats hold firm in opposition to the Republican bill, three defections would be enough to deny Obamacare repeal a majority.

The legislation has not been fully scored by the congressional budget office and debate in the House will proceed without members having a clear accounting of the mechanics of implementing it. Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who has proposed his own Obamacare alternative, expressed skepticism about the lack of this information.

“What I would say is I would want to know the score, what is the coverage, what is the cost absolutely,” said the Louisiana Republican. He added that proceeding without this policy detail “seems problematic”. Cassidy added: “I am trying to be diplomatic.”

Other issues in the Senate for the House bill include the proposal to roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Four Republicans senators, Rob Portman of Ohio, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wrote publicly that they could not support the draft bill’s current provisions to eliminate the expansion of a program that provides healthcare to the working poor.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.