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Kavanaugh already saying what the White House wants him to say

07/10/18 10:02AM

After Donald Trump announced that Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be his nominee for the Supreme Court, the president welcomed the conservative jurist to the podium to deliver some prepared remarks. These were his first three sentences:

"Mr. President, thank you. Throughout this process, I've witnessed firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary.

"No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination."

The fight over Kavanaugh's nomination is going to cover an enormous amount of important ground, and I'm sensitive to the importance of not letting trivia detract from what really matters.

But before the debate begins in earnest, it's probably worth pausing to note that these opening comments were quite odd and raise some legitimate concerns about why in the world he'd say something like this.

First, his presidential praise was almost certainly wrong. Conservative interest groups presented Trump with a list of jurists deemed acceptable by the right, and the president chose from his menu of pre-selected options.

Let's not pretend Trump carefully and thoughtfully scrutinized the possible nominees' rulings and academic work. The Washington Post  reported two weeks ago that the president asked aides about prospective nominees' academic writing -- not because he cared to read any of the published pieces, but because Trump simply wanted to know if the work exists.

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The Republican National Committee headquarters, Sept. 9, 2014. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

Following racial controversy, GOP gives up on NJ candidate

07/10/18 09:20AM

The first sign of trouble in New Jersey's 2nd congressional district came two months ago. On the heels of Seth Grossman's Republican primary victory, the public learned that the GOP nominee had delivered remarks in which he said, "The whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American."

Grossman went on to describe concerns about diversity as "an excuse by Democrats, communists, and socialists, basically, to say that we're not all created equal."

Yesterday, the story got considerably worse when Media Matters highlighted the fact that the Republican congressional hopeful "previously touted opinion pieces that were published on two leading white nationalist websites." One of those posts, which Grossman praised, claimed that Black people "are a threat to all who cross their paths."

Republican officials had defended Grossman, but last night, as the Washington Post  reported, they officially gave up.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has withdrawn its endorsement of a congressional candidate in New Jersey after reporters dug up offensive comments he'd made about black and Hispanic people.

"Bigotry has no place in society -- let alone the U.S. House of Representatives," NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement Monday night. "The NRCC withdraws our support of Seth Grossman and calls on him to reconsider his candidacy."

To the extent that electoral considerations matter in a story like this, it's probably worth emphasizing that New Jersey's 2nd is seen by both parties as a key 2018 battleground. The district is currently represented by Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who's retiring, and with a partisan-voter-index rating of R+1, this should be among the nation's most competitive contests.

Which makes it all the more significant that the National Republican Congressional Committee no longer feels it can support its own candidate.

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., a Democratic sponsor of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, makes his plea at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup on the controversial project, Jan. 8, 2015, on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Supreme Court fight creates a unique challenge for red-state Dems

07/10/18 08:40AM

There are several centrist Senate Democrats up for re-election this year in states Donald Trump won with relative ease two years ago, and none of them is likely looking forward to the upcoming fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination.

Indeed, the pressure began before the announcement was even made, when the White House invited three of these Senate Dems -- Indiana's Joe Donnelly, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp -- to last night's event. They all politely declined.

The pressure, however, is just getting started.

Within minutes of President Donald Trump announcing Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court nominee, a conservative judicial advocacy group unveiled a $1.4 million ad buy aimed at pressuring four vulnerable Democrats to support him.

The Judicial Crisis Network announced its "Confirm Kavanaugh" campaign of cable and digital ads in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. These all happen to be Republican-majority states with a Democratic senator: Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

At first blush, this may seem like the kind of tactic the president's allies would utilize if they were working to secure the nominee's confirmation. But that's not the political dynamic unfolding on Capitol Hill right now, where the Senate Republican majority can confirm Kavanaugh entirely on its own, without any Democratic votes.

Rather, the pressure campaign is driven entirely by electoral considerations: the right hopes to use the Supreme Court fight to defeat some Democratic incumbents and ensure that the Senate remains under Republican control.

But while many see this as an "agonizing" choice for red-state Dems, I have a hunch we know how this will play out.

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Image: Donald Trump

For Supreme Court, Trump chose a nominee 'who'd have his back'

07/10/18 08:00AM

Over the course of many years, the right has created an intellectual architecture that exists for a single purpose: to scrutinize jurists for their fealty to the conservative cause. The result is a dynamic in which Donald Trump and his White House team didn't have to come up with a short list of Supreme Court nominees; the president could outsource the heavy lifting to interest groups that were only too pleased to deliver such a list to the Oval Office.

With this in mind, Trump was given the task of simply choosing from a list that was prepared for him, and to no one's surprise, he chose Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) once famously described Kavanaugh as the "Forrest Gump of Republican politics," because he's popped up in so many of the major events of the last generation. Bush v. Gore? Kavanaugh was there. The investigation into Vince Foster's suicide? Kavanaugh was there. Ken Starr's investigation into the Clinton-Lewinski affair? Kavanaugh was there. The Elian Gonzales controversy? Kavanaugh was there.

It's this background that likely would've made the conservative judge a favorite of any Republican president filing a vacancy on the high court. What's unique to this president, however, are the unique circumstances he finds himself in: Donald Trump is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, as well as multiple civil suits.

And that's one of the key elements that makes his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh so important. The Washington Post  explained a couple of weeks ago:

U.S. Circuit Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy who was nominated replace him, has argued that presidents should not be distracted by civil lawsuits, criminal investigations or even questions from a prosecutor or defense attorney while in office. [...]

Having observed the weighty issues that can consume a president, Kavanaugh wrote, the nation's chief executive should be exempt from "time-consuming and distracting" lawsuits and investigations, which "would ill serve the public interest, especially in times of financial or national security crisis."

As the dust settles on last night's news, this is the angle that warrants considerable attention: the sitting president facing potential legal liability specifically chose a judge who believes sitting presidents should never have to face legal liabilities.

Or as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said on the show last night, Trump was presented with plenty of choices, but he picked someone for the Supreme Court whom he knew would "have his back."

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Monday's Mini-Report, 7.9.18

07/09/18 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:

* Family separations: "A federal judge has agreed to extend Tuesday's deadline for the government to reunite 102 migrant children under the age of 5 who were separated from their parents under President Donald Trump's 'zero tolerance' policy."

* Political turmoil in the U.K.: "Britain's foreign secretary and two other ministers quit Monday amid a deepening crisis over Brexit that threatens to topple Prime Minister Theresa May. The resignation of the foreign minister, Boris Johnson, came after Brexit Secretary David Davis and junior Brexit minister Steve Baker stepped down overnight, blowing apart May's claim to have finally united her squabbling government on the issue."

* Heartbreaking conditions in Japan: "At least 100 people are thought to have died after record rainfall caused flooding and landslides in western Japan, a government spokesman says. Dozens more are reported to be missing and electricity supplies have been hit. Since Thursday, parts of western Japan have received three times the usual rainfall for the whole of July. Two million people have been ordered to evacuate as rivers burst their banks."

* Eventually, Team Trump will probably need to say something about this: "The wife of Bill Shine, the new White House deputy chief of staff for communications, has come under scrutiny for racially charged remarks and unfounded medical theories posted to her Twitter account, according to a report by the website Mediaite."

* BLS: "Top officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics expressed alarm over a tweet by President Donald Trump last month touting a jobs report before it was officially released, according to newly obtained emails."

* The latest from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: "CFPB Deputy Director Leandra English will drop her months-long legal challenge to Mick Mulvaney for the leadership of the embattled agency, saying on Friday that she will leave the consumer watchdog early next week."

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A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription while working at a pharmacy in New York

As drug prices climb, Trump's hollow rhetoric comes back to haunt him

07/09/18 02:25PM

In late May, Donald Trump told Americans about an imminent drop in the cost of prescription medication, which the president said would be the result of his administration's successful efforts.

"You're going to have some big news," he declared with pride. "I think we're going to have some of the big drug companies in two weeks, and they're going to announce -- because of what we did -- they're going to announce voluntary massive drops in prices.... That's going to be a fantastic thing."

As we recently discussed, many of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies had absolutely no idea what Trump was talking about, but the White House made no effort to walk back the president's vow.

And that was probably a mistake. As Axios put it this morning, "So much for voluntary drops in drug prices."

Many pharmaceutical companies this week trotted out fresh price increases on existing products, a common mid-year occurrence that has not abated despite the Trump administration's assertions that prices are coming down.

Pfizer raised list prices on more than 100 drugs as of July 1, David Crow of the Financial Times scooped. Seattle Genetics and Sanofi also instituted mid-year hikes on some products, Meg Tirrell of CNBC reported. Several other companies followed suit with large and small increases, others in the industry tell Axios.

As we've reported over and over againthe pharmaceutical industry's practices have not changed one iota even with the administration's pricing blueprint, and drug companies still have every incentive to raise prices.

Politico had a related piece last week, noting that the industry has generally ignored Trump's call.

In response to reports like these, Trump tweeted this afternoon, "Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason. They are merely taking advantage of the poor & others unable to defend themselves, while at the same time giving bargain basement prices to other countries in Europe & elsewhere. We will respond!"

The missive was enough to push Pfizer's stock price lower, but let's not play games: the likelihood of the White House actually "responding" is poor.

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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)

Trump administration faces new allegations of ACA sabotage

07/09/18 12:59PM

Last fall, during his confirmation hearing, Alex Azar, Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, said he hadn't seen "any effort to sabotage" the Affordable Care Act. Perhaps he ought to take another look.

The president and his team have  taken  several  steps to undermine the existing U.S. health care system, and American consumers are already feeling the consequences of those actions in the form of costlier coverage.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the Republican administration is done. The Washington Post  reported over the weekend:

The Trump administration took another major swipe at the Affordable Care Act, halting billions of dollars in annual payments required under the law to even out the cost to insurers whose customers need expensive medical services.

In a rare Saturday afternoon announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will stop collecting and paying out money under the ACA's "risk adjustment" program, drawing swift protest from the health insurance industry.

A Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association spokesperson, for example, told the New York Times, "Any action to stop disbursements under the risk adjustment program will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small-business owners, and could result in far fewer health plan choices. It will undermine Americans' access to affordable care, particularly for those who need medical care the most."

This may seem like a fairly obscure part of the health care debate, so let's unpack it a bit.

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