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A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)

Court ruling in GOP case puts health security for millions in jeopardy

12/15/18 08:27AM

We've seen some big news break late on a Friday night, but this one was a doozy.

A federal judge in Texas struck down the Affordable Care Act on Friday night, ruling that former President Barack Obama's signature domestic legislation has fallen down like a losing game of "Jenga." [...]

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth sided with the argument put forward by a coalition of Republican-leaning states, led by Texas, that Obamacare could no longer stand now that there's no penalty for Americans who don't buy insurance.

There's a lot to unpack, so perhaps it's best to unpack the developments with a Q&A.

Didn't the Supreme Court already rule in favor of the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality? Twice?

Yes, but the Republican tax breaks, approved last year, changed the policy landscape a bit. As we discussed over the summer, when GOP officials approved their regressive tax plan, they simultaneously zeroed out the health care law's individual mandate penalty. And that, in turn, gave several far-right attorneys general an idea: they could once again file suit against "Obamacare," arguing that the penalty-free mandate is unconstitutional, and given the mandate's importance to the system, the entire law should be torn down.

Did last night's ruling come as a surprise?

That's a matter of perspective. Most objective legal experts considered the litigation idiotic, but the Republicans behind the lawsuit took their case to the most conservative court they could find in Texas, expecting to find a partisan judge who would rule their way. Evidently, that worked.

But Donald Trump said the judge in this case is "highly respected."

Well, Donald Trump says a lot of things. U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor, a George W. Bush appointee, is known as a fierce ideologue who has "previously blocked Obama-era efforts to extend medical leave protections to same-sex couples and to include gender-identity discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under the health law."

I've heard for months that this case was about Republicans trying to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, but the ruling seems far more sweeping.

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Friday's Mini-Report, 12.14.18

12/14/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Some late-breaking news: Donald Trump has announced that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney will be the "acting" White House chief of staff. He didn't say for how long, and it's possible the president doesn't fully understand what "acting" means.

* A heartbreaking tragedy: "A 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into Border Patrol custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday."

* Additional reporting from this afternoon: "A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection waited an hour and a half before receiving emergency medical care after showing symptoms, officials said Friday."

* Afghanistan: "The U.S. military says an American service member has died in a non-combat-related incident in Afghanistan, without offering further information. The military's statement says the incident happened on Thursday and is being investigated."

* Remember, Hatch said, out loud and on camera, that he doesn't care whether the president committed crimes or not: "Sen. Orrin Hatch on Friday called his comments earlier in the week 'irresponsible' for seeming to brush aside accusations against President Donald Trump."

* 9th Circuit: "A divided U.S. appeals court Thursday blocked rules by the Trump administration that allowed more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control. The ruling, however, may be short lived because the administration has adopted new rules on contraceptive coverage that are set to take effect next month and will likely prompt renewed legal challenges."

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum, Jan. 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Republicans complete their power grabs in Wisconsin, Michigan

12/14/18 04:02PM

At roughly this point eight years ago, Wisconsin's Scott Walker (R) was a governor-elect, just weeks ahead of taking the oath of office, and he made one thing clear: the outgoing Democratic governor shouldn't try to sign any laws that might affect the soon-to-be Walker administration.

The Wisconsin Republican specifically condemned changes that might "tie the hands" of the incoming governor.

Eight years later, Walker, having been rejected by his state's voters in his bid for a third term, has a very different perspective. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  reported this afternoon:

Outgoing Gov. Scott Walker signed lame-duck legislation Friday that will scale back the authority of his Democratic successor -- approving the entire legislation after saying he was inclined to veto parts of it. [...]

The legislation also puts limits on the incoming attorney general and curb early voting -- provisions that will likely ignite legal fights.

As the NBC News report on this noted among changes the Republican governor signed into law are measures that would "prevent the governor from scrapping the state's Medicaid work requirements and hamper his ability to withdraw Wisconsin from lawsuits like the one challenging the Affordable Care Act."

The new Republican measure would also "limit gubernatorial appointments to an economic board, and require legislative sign-off for the governor to make changes to certain programs and for the attorney general to settle certain lawsuits."

Remember, it was just last month when Wisconsin voters elected a Democratic governor, re-elected a Democratic U.S. senator, re-elected a Democratic secretary of state, and elected a Democratic state attorney general. Even in the state legislature, Democratic candidates easily won the most votes.

Republicans responded to the results by scrambling to pass measures that proved one thing: Wisconsin's GOP leaders prioritize their wishes, not voters'.

Next door in Michigan, an eerily similar scene is playing out. The Detroit News  reported this afternoon:

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks at the Hudson Institute May 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)

Marco Rubio criticizes the effects of a tax policy he helped pass

12/14/18 12:50PM

It was almost exactly a year ago when Senate Republicans linked arms, ignored public sentiment, pushed aside arithmetic, and passed a massive package of tax cuts, which largely benefited the wealthy and big corporations. It was nine days later when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) started distancing himself from the legislation he voted for.

The Florida Republican conceded last December that he and his party "probably went too far" in delivering massive tax breaks to big corporations, adding at the time that the Republican package "isn't going to create dramatic economic growth."

In April, the GOP senator went a little further in an interview with The Economist. "There is still a lot of thinking on the right that if big corporations are happy, they're going to take the money they're saving and reinvest it in American workers," he said at the time. "In fact, they bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there's no evidence whatsoever that the money's been massively poured back into the American worker."

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt noted at the time that Rubio "shredded" his party's arguments on the tax plan, which his GOP colleagues "are still making literally every day on Capitol Hill and in campaign ads."

As it turns out, Rubio's still at it. Here's a tweet the Floridian published yesterday:

"When corporation uses profits for stock buy back it's deciding that returning capital to shareholders is better for business than investing in their products or workers. Tax code encourages this. No surprise we have work life that is unstable & low paying."

The missive linked to a new essay Rubio wrote for The Atlantic, in which he argued, "Trusting in a corporate tax cut alone to generate innovation and boost productivity is the thinking of the past. A corporate tax-rate cut makes all corporate assets more valuable, causing a bigger return to investment no matter how it is used. In our globalized and financialized economy, though, it's as likely to induce stock buybacks as it is to spur the construction of new American factories."

Oddly enough, I'm inclined to largely agree with this. In fact, it's been well documented that the Republican tax plan has led corporations to apply their tax breaks to buying back stock, not making capital investments. It's exactly what Democrats said would happen -- and what many of the plan's GOP proponents said wouldn't happen.

All of which makes Rubio a curious messenger for this message. He did, after all, help pass the law that's producing the effects he's now criticizing.

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Friday's Campaign Round-Up, 12.14.18

12/14/18 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items from across the country.

* In Arizona, Sen. Jon Kyl (R), appointed to fill the late Sen. John McCain's (R) seat, announced this morning that he will retire from Congress, effective Dec. 31. Gov. Doug Ducey (R), recently re-elected to a second term, will fill the vacancy, but his choice will have to run to keep the seat in a 2020 special election.

* The conventional wisdom was that former Rep. Martha McSally (R), who lost a competitive Senate race in Arizona this year, would be top contender to replace Kyl, but by some accounts, McSally has fallen out of favor in the governor's office.

* As if the scandal in North Carolina's 9th congressional district weren't already serious enough, the Washington Post  reports that Mark Harris (R) ignored warnings about Leslie McCrae Dowless -- the Republican operative at the center of the alleged election fraud -- and directed his campaign to hire Dowless anyway.

* Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met privately this week to discuss their respective plans for the 2020 presidential campaign. The New York Times  reported that the two "did not reach any accord about coordinating" their dueling ambitions.

* Donald Trump said yesterday he hopes Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) runs against him in a 2020 presidential primary. Kasich's chief political strategist responded soon after, "Be careful what you wish for."

* Because I'm always interested in officials who switch parties, it's worth noting that Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, has reportedly given up on her affiliation with the Republican Party. She pointed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh as part of her rationale.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds the daily briefing at the White House, September 12, 2017.

White House: Don't blame Trump for his inaugural committee

12/14/18 11:20AM

It's easy to imagine White House officials showing up for work every day wondering what new scandal will unfold before they leave their desks. Yesterday, it was new reporting that Donald Trump's inaugural committee is dealing with scrutiny from prosecutors -- both over the money it received and the money it spent.

How would White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defend this? She doesn't generally answer reporters' questions anymore, but Sanders still talks to Fox News, telling the network this morning that Trump's inaugural committee shouldn't be seen as connected to Trump.

"This didn't have anything to do with the president, he was focused on the transition and building out a new government and preparing to take office," Sanders told Fox News Thursday night. "The role that the president had in the inauguration was to raise his hand and take the oath."

"I think this is a perfect example of Democrats recognizing that all the accusations they made and the information that came out of the Michael Cohen case has nothing to do with the president," she continued. "So now they're going to -- I would say plan B, but this is more like plan D or E or F to take this president down."

I can appreciate how difficult it must be to serve as this president's chief spokesperson, especially given the current circumstances, but Sanders is going to have to do better than this.

For example, if the White House press secretary believes possible crimes committed by the president's inaugural committee won't reflect poorly on the president, she's mistaken.

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Running out of options, Trump turns to self-pitying whataboutism

12/14/18 10:46AM

One of the glaring realizations to emerge this week is that Donald Trump lied about one of the hush-money payments to one of his alleged former mistresses. The president was asked on April 5 whether he know about the pre-election payoff to Stormy Daniels. "No," Trump replied.

Asked where Michael Cohen got the money for the hush-money payment, the president added, "I don't know."

The fact that he was lying is no longer in dispute. In fact, Trump tacitly admitted yesterday that his original claims weren't true when he changed his story about what transpired. The Washington Post had a good piece along these lines, noting, "The evolving strategy on the hush-money allegations is textbook Trump: Tell one version of events until it falls apart, then tell a new version, and so on -- until the danger passes."

But of particular interest at this point in the process is the sheer volume of the president's evolving defenses, each of which are extremely difficult to believe, some of which clearly contradict each other, and some of which have already been proven false.

It led Trump to roll out a new defense during an interview yesterday with Fox News' Harris Faulkner:

"Nobody except for me would be looked at like this -- nobody.

"What about Congress? Where they have a slush fund and millions and millions of dollars is paid out each year. They have a slush fund -- millions. They don't talk about campaign finance or anything. Have you ever heard a campaign finance list? Have they listed that on their campaign finance sheets? No."

Trump's affection for "whataboutism" is limitless, but this was a special example of self-pitying whataboutism.

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The Arizona-Mexico border fence near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013.

The fine print in Trump's border wall promise comes into focus

12/14/18 10:01AM

It's probably Donald Trumps' most infamous promise: the president assured Americans he wouldn't just build a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border, he'd also get Mexico to pay for it. Except, as we discussed on Wednesday, Trump never meant he'd get a multi-billion-dollar check from our southern neighbors.

Rather, the Republican has an entirely different plan in mind, which he tweeted about yesterday:

"I often stated, 'One way or the other, Mexico is going to pay for the Wall.' This has never changed. Our new deal with Mexico (and Canada), the USMCA, is so much better than the old, very costly & anti-USA NAFTA deal, that just by the money we save, MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL!"

I especially enjoyed Trump using the present tense -- as if we're supposed to believe that Mexico is already paying for the construction of a border wall that exists only in the president's overactive imagination.

But what's truly amazing about Trump's tweet is his willingness to expose his own con. As a Washington Post  analysis explained well yesterday, when he promised voters that he'd get Mexico to pay for a wall, Trump didn't exactly mean "Mexico" -- and he didn't exactly mean "pay."

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