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The Only Remedy For Trump’s Collusion With Russia is the Ballot Box

[ 98 ] July 12, 2017 |

Did Little Donald break the law? Of course he did:

In addition to representing a clear-cut betrayal of his country, these emails create a serious potential legal problem for Trump Jr. It is illegal to solicit a contribution of anything of value from a “foreign national … in connection with any federal, state, or local election.” This is exactly what Trump Jr. did.

But the beauty of this conspiracy is that it put little Donald’s father in charge of the Department of Justice and — even more importantly — in possession of an unconstrained veto power. So the only effective remedy is to vote Republicans out of office:

The president’s control of the law enforcement apparatus is one reason the framers established another remedy: impeachment. But this, too, remains unlikely to happen. After all, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knew about Russian interference on Trump’s behalf during the campaign and actively worked to shield it from public view. Unless Trump starts threatening to veto tax cuts or nominate liberal judges to the federal courts, congressional Republicans will continue to protect him no matter how much evidence of impeachable offense accumulates. And, alas, the Constitution has no provision for do-overs, so the tainted election can’t be undone.

Which leads us to the final mechanism of control: the ballot box. Trump is already highly unpopular, and it’s now clear not only that Russia helped deliver the 100,000 votes that allowed the popular vote loser to win the Electoral College but that the most important members of his campaign knew about it and welcomed it. This won’t make it any easier for McConnell to ram his tottering and extraordinarily unpopular health-care bill through the Senate. And while it would take a true wave election for the Democrats to take over the House of Representatives in 2018, this is the kind of scandal that can produce that kind of wave.

Trump Jr. probably won’t be punished for his crimes, but if his incompetence leads to Republicans losing their grip on Congress, this would be a much better punishment anyway.

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The Republicans Have No Problem With Trump’s Collusion With Russia Because They Hope He’ll Sign Horrible Legislation

[ 91 ] July 11, 2017 |

Later this week, the Senate is going to introduce another version of their hideously bad health care bill. Why are they proceeding with a staggeringly unpopular piece of legislation? Because it couldn’t be more Republican:

“The Republican reforms are more moderate, and more worthwhile, than they are getting credit for!” — Ramesh Ponnuru, showing why reformicons are probably better off going with the “ban porn” angle

What a Fucking Stagmire

[ 513 ] July 11, 2017 |

Thanks to Little Donald, the Trump administration is at the precipice of an enormous crossroad:

The June 3, 2016, email sent to Donald Trump Jr. could hardly have been more explicit: One of his father’s former Russian business partners had been contacted by a senior Russian government official and was offering to provide the Trump campaign with dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of an ongoing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

Donald Trump Jr. agreed, adding that he would likely bring along “Paul Manafort (campaign boss)” and “my brother-in-law,” Jared Kushner, now one of the president’s closest White House advisers.

[12,000 words about how any suggestion that Russia in any way attempted to influence the 2016 elections in favor of Trump makes you a cross between Joe McCarthy and Alex Jones and is a DISTRACTION from discussions of how someone will never run for president again sucks] Of course, I support a full investigation.

Asshole of the Day, Non-Trump Administration Division

[ 55 ] July 11, 2017 |

April 14, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria before a game against the Houston Astros at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Jeffrey Loria.

Enjoy this post about someone who’s reprehensible even by the standards of billionaire owners:

To understand the treachery of Loria and David Samson, the team president and son of Loria’s ex-wife, one need only understand a single number: $1.2 billion. That’s how much a $91 million note from J.P. Morgan to help finance the team’s new stadium, which opened in 2012, is going to cost Miami-area taxpayers. That’s 13 times the original loan. In all, $409 million worth of loans will balloon to $2.4 billion.

And here’s the thing: That’s not even the worst part. For years, the Marlins cried poor to local politicians, saying they needed a stadium to make money. Never would they open up their financials, of course, because they would have shown the Marlins had cleared nearly $50 million in profits the two years before Miami-Dade County approved the stadium funding. Ultimately, the government cowed, and the Marlins got perhaps the most sweetheart of sweetheart stadium deals, which is saying something. They covered only a quarter of construction costs. They keep all of the stadium revenues: tickets, parking, concessions. They pay $2.3 million annually in rent – money that goes to pay off a county loan.

Amazingly, one could argue that what Loria did to the Marlins wasn’t nearly as bad as his systematic slaughter of the Montreal Expos. In 1999, he spent $12 million for a quarter of the Expos. Over the next few years, he built up his stake in the team to nearly 100 percent. Then he asked for a new stadium, couldn’t get traction and made a choice: He would sell the Expos to MLB – and sell out Montreal fans who knew the league wanted to move the team – for the rights to purchase the Marlins. All it would cost was $158.5 million – the $120 million MLB paid for the Expos and the $38.5 million interest-free loan the league gave him.

McConnell’s Secret Weapon

[ 115 ] July 10, 2017 |

“We’re prepared to kick West Virginia 500 bucks in opioid treatment funding. Grace, Grace…put me on the flight to Houston and…annualy? We are not communists!…Hello?” [slams phone] “FUCKIN’ LEADS ARE WEAK! HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE A LIVING ON THESE DEADBEATS?”

As a couple commenters have noted, one reason to be optimistic about BCRA crashing and burning is that McConnell has sent Ted “I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz” Cruz to whip votes. As Brian Beutler observes, this does not suggest a robust commitment to passing BCRA on McConnell’s part:

The good news is these last-ditch efforts to muscle the GOP health care bill into law are beginning to flag and work against each other. The same Post story notes that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will task Cruz himself with pitching his amendment to the rest of the GOP conference. It will be up to Cruz in some sense, then, to stop Republicans from breaking ranks. The Post notes that Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Senator Susan Collins have been in contact with Democrats “to see whether they might be more willing partners in fixing the health-care system.”

The importance of these developments can’t be overstated. Cruz is one of the most hated members of the Senate, even within the GOP conference. “If you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate,” Republican Lindsey Graham once said, “and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.” Cruz is the worst possible salesman for any piece of legislation, let alone a hideously unpopular one that will gut pre-existing conditions protections. If the linchpin of the Trumpcare blitz is the persuasive powers of Cruz, Obamacare supporters have something to celebrate.

Because if the Cruz amendment fails, and bipartisan backchannels expand, the process will freeze up. The hope is that a combination of Cruz’s toxicity, public pressure, and Democratic outreach will draw at least one more Republican into league with Collins and Murkowski. On Fox News Sunday, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said the plan he drafted with Collins earlier this year—one that would leave the ACA’s taxes and coverage goals in place—“is the only way we can go forward.” On that basis, he could be the third apostate, but any Republican would do.

We should pause here and thank the fine people of New Hampshire* for ejecting Kelly Ayotte, because every golden ticket McConnell can’t give out counts.

BCRA isn’t dead, and we should remember that AHCA looked dead too, so be careful and keep the pressure up. But making Cruz his point man definitely suggests that McConnell thinks it’s more important to set up a fall guy everyone will be happy to blame than to optimize the chances of passing BCRA.

*In related news, 2016 was not a year in which the Pennsylvania electorate covered itself in glory.

Vote Suppression Never Sleeps

[ 56 ] July 10, 2017 |

The Republican war on democracy works on multiple fronts:

In June 2014, Miller and her four fellow election commissioners received a letter threatening legal action if they did not purge voters from the rolls. The letter came from the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), a Virginia-based group that has fashioned itself in recent years as a conservative counterpart to the ACLU. The ACRU requested that the commissioners reduce the number of registered voters by the midterm elections that fall because, it claimed, there were more people registered than there were voting-age citizens in the county. The commissioners wanted to fight back, but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, they decided not to respond and waited to see what would happen next.

The letter they had received was one of many that the ACRU had started sending to small, rural counties across Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arizona the year before. These letters were part of a legal campaign spearheaded by three former Justice Department officials from the George W. Bush administration to purge voter rolls across the country. The effort began in remote areas with few resources for legal defense, but recently it’s expanded to include population centers in key swing states. Voting rights advocates worry that the campaign is targeting minorities and likely Democratic voters.

Well, at least Vladimir Putin is on the case of protecting the integrity of American elections, so no reason to be worried.

It Was You, Fredo

[ 225 ] July 9, 2017 |

“How do you say ‘banana daquari’?”

“Банан Дайкири.”

 Nothing to see here!

President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton before agreeing to meet with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign, according to three advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting and two others with knowledge of it.

The meeting was also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kushner only recently disclosed the meeting, though not its content, in confidential government documents described to The New York Times.

The Times reported the existence of the meeting on Saturday. But in subsequent interviews, the advisers and others revealed the motivation behind it.

Don’t worry, I’m sure the “damaging information” was all about Hillary Clinton’s adoption policies. Move along — this is just a DISTRACTION. Although of course I support a full investigation.

But Then They Went Too Far

[ 122 ] July 9, 2017 |

Profile in courage Shelley Capito:

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Friday she wouldn’t support an amendment to the GOP’s health care overhaul pushed by far-right Senate conservatives, pouring cold water on prospects of unifying the party around any legislation.

Following Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s decision to delay a vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, a rewrite of the House-passed American Health Care Act. Capito came out against the bill as written, citing deep Medicaid cuts, the potential to worsen the growing opioid epidemic and how it could harm rural health care providers.

It’s good news that she won’t support the Cruz Amendment. But it’s still rather remarkable that she wasn’t willing to come out against BCRA before the vote was delayed. You would have to be an insanely horrible person to represent West Virginia and vote for this bill. It would cause the uninsured rate in West Virginia to climb from 6% to 25% by 2022. It would also have devastating effects on the state economy. And yet if McConnell had had 49 votes she probably would have been the 50th. And you can say the same thing about every Republican senator even if the effects aren’t quite as dire in their states.

In related news, public officials refusing the Medicaid expansion are monstrous. And the Supreme Court holding that enabled them — although the Court was not enforcing any specific textual provision, the controlling precedent upheld the use of federal spending power in case where the relationship between the spending and the objective was much less direct, and the standard created by the Court going forward is transparently incoherent and unworkable — was monstrous. Given the devastating consequences of the holding, it could be justified only if the legal reasoning was absolutely compelling — with textual support so clear no reasonable person could disagree. The Medicaid holding wasn’t even close to that standard.

Another Entirely Innocent Meeting Between the Trump Campaign And a Random State That Was Not Trying to Influence the Election

[ 72 ] July 8, 2017 |

I hope Democrats don’t get distracted by this, although [22 paragraphs about how Dems are hysterical conspiracy theorists trying to cover up the fact that Hillary Clinton sucked omitted] I support a full investigation:

Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.

The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.

While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.

Representatives of Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner confirmed the meeting after The Times approached them with information about it. In a statement, Donald Jr. described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program. The statement did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed.

Oh. Also, the malevolent Fredo sez he was totally set up:

In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

The thing is, taking his explanation at face value is almost as embarrassing for Malevolent Fredo as the more likely explanation.

Anyway, I’ll screenshot for a taste but this entire thread is pure gold:

Rats Nervously Eye Lifeboats

[ 90 ] July 8, 2017 |

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigrant women and immigration reform on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

It’s so precious when Republican senators pretend they give a damn about their constituents:

With Congress set to return on Monday after a week’s recess, Republican lawmakers are increasingly aware that their seven-year promise to dismantle President Barack Obama’s largest policy achievement is deeply imperiled. Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, signaled this week that he would not vote for the bill as written, following negative remarks from other senators with large poor and rural populations. That was the 10th defection.

Three other Republican senators, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and John Boozman of Arkansas, have withheld their support, although they have not declared their opposition, and others have largely remained silent.

To state the obvious, these aren’t lost votes for McConnell in any meaningful sense. If McConnell can round up the rest of the 50 votes after Heller and Collins get their golden tickets, there’s a 0% chance he wouldn’t get the votes of any of the senators named here.

What is significant about this is that it does reflect skepticism from the Republican conference about whether the 50 votes will be there. If the bill fails, senators can assert they never would have voted for BCRA. (And if McConnell can get 50 votes together for his shit-and-cyanide sandwich, no harm no foul — after all, holding out allowed you to secure that extra $500 in opioid treatment funding for your state.) But it’s a good sign — although a far from a dispositive one — that senators are making sure their lifejackets on.

If God willing this things goes down in flames, I wonder if McConnell will just refuse to bring it to the floor, or if he’ll let the Senate vote it down 65-35 or something to tell Ben Bradlee Paul Ryan “fuck you.”

The Republican Party Now! (And Then)

[ 103 ] July 8, 2017 |

Before Chris Christie finally takes his single-digit approval ratings and heads home to beg Trump let him be his personal pizza delivery boy, remember that he’s the epitome of Republican priorities:

With the precarious condition of the century-old rail links between New York City and New Jersey threatening to disrupt lives for the rest of the summer, commuters may wonder what became of all the money that had been pledged for a new train tunnel under the Hudson River.

Well, courtesy of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, several million dollars of it have been used to provide heavily subsidized boat rides for a very small contingent of Jersey Shore residents like Tim Halligan. For more than three years, New Jersey has been paying nearly $95 a day for Mr. Halligan and each of his fellow passengers to commute to and from work in Jersey City or Hoboken.

They make the 90-minute round trip on a fast ferryboat, operated by Seastreak, that costs them $12 each way. Mr. Halligan, who knows a good deal after 25 years at a Wall Street investment bank, grinned as he discussed one of the best commuting bargains around.

“Direct to Jersey City for $12, take it or leave it,” he said on a recent weekday morning as the ferry roared away from Atlantic Highlands, where he lives.

But those discounted fares do not come close to covering the costs of the operation. In addition to the ticket revenue, Seastreak has been receiving $7,200 a day, or about $1.8 million a year, from the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

That money did not come from the agency’s budget, but from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which had intended it to help fund a rail project that was known as ARC, or Access to the Region’s Core. The ARC project was designed to reduce congestion at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, the nation’s busiest railroad terminal, by doubling the capacity for trains crossing the Hudson River. It could have opened as early as next year.

But in 2010, Mr. Christie abruptly halted work on the project, saying that he feared New Jersey could have been stuck with big cost overruns. He demanded that the $1.8 billion the Port Authority had pledged to the tunnel project be redirected to road and bridge repairs in northern New Jersey.

That is how several million dollars of the Port Authority’s tunnel money wound up subsidizing the waterborne commutes of about a single busload of New Jerseyans.

On the one hand, if a major storm hits before the alternative rail tunnel is completed, the northeastern transportation network will be thrown into chaos. On the other hand, proceeding with vital transportation infrastructure would have mean less money for failed casinos and malls that will never be built because there is no demand for them. I’m sure history will vindicate him!

TrumpCare is Incredibly Unpopular

[ 79 ] July 7, 2017 |

No major proposal in the last 30 years comes close:

One move conservative pundits like is to make facile comparisons between the unpopularity of the ACA and the unpopularity of TrumpCare, but this is really misleading. The ACA was unpopular, but not nearly this unpopular. And second, Democrats could point out that while “Obamacare” didn’t poll very well, most of its underlying components are popular. And they were right — the ACA has become popular, and would be even more popular had the Supreme Court not ineptly re-written the Medicaid expansion. (I think this also goes to Erik’s implicit point below that messaging is overrated, but I’ll return to that in a separate post.) Nothing about BCRA — the savage Medicaid cuts, the deregulation, the subsidy cuts, the upper-class tax cuts — is popular.

Some Republican legislators are arguing that the BCRA is flailing because they didn’t expect Trump to win. But while I think this is true in some cases — such as the tax cut bill — I don’t think this is the issue with health care. After all, Republican health care plans have consistently been vaporware for decades, and Republicans have been cynically attacking the ACA from the implicit left long before Trump became the frontrunner. The reason for this is simple: people hate conservative health care ideas, and the more conservative an idea is the more people will hate it. The Republicans can pass BCRA and hope the various undemocratic aspects of American political institutions will shelter them, but they’ll never make it remotely popular. And, conversely, the popularity of the Medicaid expansion and the unpopularity of attacks on the ACA will further solidify a Democratic consensus in which the question is not whether to get to universal coverage system that is mostly or entirely public, but how.

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