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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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Monday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.9.18

07/09/18 12:00PM

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

* In a Washington Post-Schar School poll published late last week, Democrats led Republicans on the generic congressional ballot, 47% to 37%.

* Voters in Michigan successfully put an anti-gerrymandering proposal on the state's November ballot, but the Michigan Supreme Court announced on Friday it will consider a legal challenge to the proposal. Let's note for context that of the seven justices on the state's high court, five were appointed by Republican governors.

* For the first time since the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, Democratic candidates are now running more health care ads than Republicans.

* It took a month, but California has just about finished tallying its primary ballots, and as the Washington Post  noted, we now know that the 2018 primary "had the highest number of votes in the history of California midterm elections" and that Democrats "dramatically grew their vote statewide and in most, but not all, of the House races where they hope to compete in November."

* Speaking of the Golden State, the California GOP is scrambling after a Holocaust denier, with a lengthy history of anti-Semitic screeds, ran as a Republican and ended up on the ballot in the state's 11th congressional district. The district is currently represented by Democrat Mark DeSaulnier, who's heavily favored to win re-election.

* The Senate Leadership Fund, which is closely aligned with the Senate Republican leadership, announced last week it has reserved $4.2 million in airtime in Tennessee, where Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) is taking on former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). This matters because the Tennessee contest isn't one GOP officials thought they'd have to worry about.

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Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by attorneys Paul D. Clement, far left, and Rick Esenberg, second from left, announces that he has filed a lawsuit to block the federal government from helping to pay for health care coverage for members of Congress and th

Home from Moscow, GOP senator questions value of existing sanctions

07/09/18 11:20AM

Eight Republican members of Congress -- seven senators and a House member -- thought it'd be a good idea to take a partisan trip to Russia last week, spending the 4th of July in Moscow. Given an opportunity to confront Putin's government on a range of issues, including its attack on U.S. elections, these GOP lawmakers instead sounded a "conciliatory tone" toward their hosts.

After the Republicans left, Russian state television mocked the U.S. congressional delegation "for appearing to put a weak foot forward."

It's against this backdrop that one of the Moscow Eight is publicly questioning the efficacy of existing U.S. sanctions against Russia. The Washington Examiner  spoke to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who also chairs a Senate Foreign Relations panel.

President Trump and U.S. lawmakers should consider revising sanctions targeting Russia so they focus more on Russian oligarchs, a senior Republican lawmaker suggested after participating in a congressional delegation visit to Moscow.

"You do something and nobody ever sits back and analyzes, 'Well, is it working?'" Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. "And I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well."

The Wisconsin Republican suggested a different approach, in which U.S. sanctions were targeted against Russian oligarchs and members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle. (At the risk of sounding picky, I should probably note that we've already done that. Perhaps Johnson wants more along these lines?)

In the same Examiner interview, the senator said foreign interference in American elections "is not the greatest threat to our democracy" and has been blown "way out of proportion."

So let me get this straight: a group of Republicans went to Russia, where they were reluctant to accuse Putin's government of much of anything, and where one of the leading GOP senators denied that Russia is even an adversary.

Upon returning home, another leading Senate Republican questioned the value of existing sanctions against Russia and suggested the most serious attack against the United States since 9/11 has been blown "way out of proportion."

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Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, arrives for a deposition with Peter Strzok, the FBI agent facing criticism following a series of anti-Trump text messages, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

Facing new accusations, Jim Jordan shifts his strategy

07/09/18 10:40AM

At first, it was three people who alleged that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), during his tenure as a coach at Ohio State, knew about a team physician's sexual misconduct toward student athletes, but he turned a blind eye at the time. The were soon joined by a fourth witness. And then a fifth. And a sixth.

The Washington Post updated the tally in a report over the weekend.

A seventh former Ohio State University wrestler said Saturday that he believes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) knew about inappropriate behavior that allegedly took place in the school's athletic department three decades ago, as two more former team members came to Jordan's defense.

David Range, who wrestled for Ohio State in the late 1980s, said Jordan had to have known about alleged sexual misconduct by Richard Strauss, an athletic doctor whose behavior is under investigation by the school, because it happened regularly to team members and people talked about it. Jordan has denied he knew, saw or heard about any inappropriate behavior while he was an assistant wrestling coach from 1987 to 1995.

Range told the Washington Post, "Jordan definitely knew that these things were happening -- yes, most definitely."

For his part, the Republican congressman went on Fox News on Friday afternoon, and seemed to take a slightly different posture than he had earlier in the week, saying, "Conversations in a locker room are a lot different than allegations of abuse."

Asked, however, if he'd heard locker-room banter on the subject, Jordan replied, "No. No. No type of abuse. We did not hear that."

But beyond just denying what the witnesses have alleged, the far-right lawmaker has also gone on the offensive against the witnesses. The Washington Post also reported:

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At health forum, Trump admin accused of 'blackmail' over breastfeeding

07/09/18 10:00AM

It sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn't have been controversial or particularly newsworthy: the United Nations-affiliated World Health Assembly was poised to approve a resolution to encourage breastfeeding, and backed by decades of scientific research, its proponents expected the measure to pass easily.

The New York Times  reported over the weekend on what happened when the delegation from the Trump administration "upended the deliberations" by "embracing the interests of infant formula manufacturers."

American officials sought to water down the resolution by removing language that called on governments to "protect, promote and support breast-feeding" and another passage that called on policymakers to restrict the promotion of food products that many experts say can have deleterious effects on young children.

When that failed, they turned to threats, according to diplomats and government officials who took part in the discussions. Ecuador, which had planned to introduce the measure, was the first to find itself in the cross hairs.

The Americans were blunt: If Ecuador refused to drop the resolution, Washington would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid. The Ecuadorean government quickly acquiesced.

It's worth pausing to read that again, because it seems like the sort of development that would be literally unbelievable if it occurred in fiction: Trump administration officials made aggressive threats against an ally over a non-binding breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly.

According to the Times' report, it fell to other countries to champion the measure, but poorer nations "backed off, citing fears of retaliation" from the United States.

Eventually, the delegation from Russia introduced the resolution -- and wouldn't you know it, the officials from the Trump administration were not prepared to threaten officials from Vladimir Putin's government.

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Image: President Trump Holds Rally In Great Falls, Montana

In trade war, Trump doesn't appear to know what he's doing

07/09/18 09:20AM

Donald Trump's trade war took a big step forward on Friday, with the White House announcing the imposition of tariffs against China, which were met with immediate retaliatory measures from Beijing. Ahead of the deadline, there was still some hope that China would satisfy the American president's wishes, but there was no deal, and Trump followed through on his threat.

At the heart of the dispute is an awkward dynamic: no one seems to understand the administration's demands, which makes it difficult for Chinese officials to try to make the Republican happy. Politico had a good piece a few weeks ago, noting that Beijing is "increasingly mystified about what Trump really wants," convinced that the administration doesn't really have a strategy.

"We appeal our American interlocutors to be credible and consistent," Li Kexin, minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said in a recent speech -- suggesting China sees Team Trump's posture as neither credible nor consistent.

All of which sets the stage for a strange trade war that doesn't appear to have a clear purpose, beyond reflecting the whims of an amateur president who doesn't understand trade nearly as well as he thinks he does. The New York Times' Paul Krugman explained the other day:

Trump's tariffs are badly designed even from the point of view of someone who shares his crude mercantilist view of trade. In fact, the structure of his tariffs so far is designed to inflict maximum damage on the U.S. economy, for minimal gain. Foreign retaliation, by contrast, is far more sophisticated: unlike Trump, the Chinese and other targets of his trade wrath seem to have a clear idea of what they're trying to accomplish. [...]

Is there a strategy here? It's hard to see one. There's certainly no hint that the tariffs were designed to pressure China into accepting U.S. demands, since nobody can even figure out what, exactly, Trump wants from China in the first place.

China's retaliation looks very different. It doesn't completely eschew tariffs on intermediate goods, but it's mostly on final goods. And it's also driven by a clear political strategy of hurting Trump voters; the Chinese, unlike the Trumpies, know what they're trying to accomplish:

Or put another way, one of the biggest flaws in Trump's plan is that Trump doesn't appear to know what he's doing.

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