Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reiterated that Democrats will not accept an extremist on the Supreme Court.

“If the nominee is not bipartisan and mainstream, we absolutely will keep the seat open,” Schumer told CNN’s State of the Union (1/22). Schumer said he is prepared to fight “tooth and nail” should Trump not choose a mainstream nominee. Former President Barack Obama had nominated Merrick Garland, a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, to fill the vacancy. Senate Republicans never gave Garland’s nomination a hearing.

That tough talk is countered by threats from Republicans to do away with the filibuster, Politico reported.

“We’re going to confirm the president’s nominee one way or the other. And there’s an easy way and there’s a hard way,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “They just need to accept that reality.”

“The Democrats will not succeed in filibustering a Supreme Court nominee,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Cornyn’s Texas colleague. “We are going to confirm President Trump’s conservative Supreme Court justices.”

By “the hard way” Cornyn is threatening to nuke the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. That’s a way to try to convince eight Democrats that they need to buckle under and vote for whomever Trump nominates.

That is probably not going to work, McCarter wrote. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), is up for re-election in 2018. Asked if he’ll vote for any Trump nominee to preserve the filibuster, he replied “Hell no. I’m going to make sure the guy or gal is qualified to do the job.”

Likewise, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND): “You think I’m just going to hand them a vote not knowing who it is?”

Cornyn’s threat might be an empty one, as some of the old men of the GOP Senate hold the filibuster close to the heart. But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who said in November, “I’m one of the biggest advocates for the filibuster,” now says, “I mean, [Democrats] set the standard. … They really screwed up the rules. Frankly, they did it for pure political purposes. The Republicans are not limited now.”

Joan McCarter added at DailyKos.com (1/23), “It’s a dangerous game for them, doing all this for a Republican president going into office with historically low approval ratings.”

TRUMP WOULD CONVERT MEDICAID TO BLOCK GRANTS, AIDE SAYS. When he was running in the Republican presidential primary a year ago, then-candidate Donald Trump promised that he would not cut Medicaid, the premiere health insurance program for low-income Americans, Ned Resnikoff noted at ThinkProgress.org (1/23).

“Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is,” Trump told The Daily Signal at the time. “I do.”

In the week before he assumed the presidency, Trump went a step further and promised that his Obamacare replacement plan would provide “insurance for everybody.” He did not describe the mechanism that would provide this insurance. But he did make it clear that no one should expect to lose their coverage as a result of his administration.

It turns out Trump will propose restructuring Medicaid into a block grant program, ending the guarantee of the program to the working poor, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s White House counselor, said in an interview on NBC’s Sunday Today (1/22). This change would ensure that “those who are closest to the people in need will be administering” the program.

Since its creation in 1965, Medicaid has been an open-ended entitlement, paid for by both federal and state governments. It covers more than 70 mln people in the US, including 1 mln seniors in nursing homes, 35 mln children insured through CHIP, 10 mln disabled people and more than half of the 20 mln who gained coverage through Obamacare. The “open-ended” part means that it is flexible, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (1/23). If an economic downturn means more people lose their jobs and become eligible, states get more federal money. Turning it into a block grant would cap that spending, giving a set chunk of money to the states.

That’s where it gets thorny, McCarter noted. How does the government figure out how much each state gets, and when a state’s eligible population changes, or medical costs increase to states, how will the program adjust to meet those needs? That’s what governors—Republican and Democratic alike—want to know, because Medicaid spending is generally the largest line item in state budgets.

“We are very concerned that a shift to block grants or per capita caps for Medicaid would remove flexibility from states as the result of reduced federal funding,” Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA), said this month in a letter to congressional leaders. “States would most likely make decisions based mainly on fiscal reasons rather than the health care needs of vulnerable populations.”

When the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed a 2014 block grant plan crafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (then the chair of the House Budget Committee), it found that would result in a 26% cut to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by 2024, Resnikoff noted. It’s difficult to figure out exactly how many people would lose coverage as a result, but here’s a rough guess from the CBPP report.

The Urban Institute estimated that the 2012 block grant proposal would lead states to drop between 14.3 mln and 20.5 mln people from Medicaid by the tenth year. (That would be in addition to the 13 mln people who would lose their new coverage or no longer gain coverage in the future due to repeal of the Medicaid expansion, with the number rising as high as 17 mln if all states take up the expansion.)

“At a minimum, block granting Medicaid will cost millions of vulnerable Americans their health insurance.” Resnikoff wrote. “Some of those people will die preventable deaths as a result.”

GOP SENS. PROPOSE GIVING STATES OPTION ON OBAMACARE. Several Republican senators on Monday proposed a partial replacement for the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) that would allow states to continue operating under the law if they choose, a proposal meant to appeal to critics and supporters of former President Barack Obama’s signature health law, the New York Times reported (1/23).

Under the proposal by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), an MD, and Susan Collins (R-ME), a moderate Republican, states could stay with the Affordable Care Act or they could receive a similar amount of federal money, which consumers could use to pay for medical care and health insurance.

“We are moving the locus of repeal to state government,” Cassidy said. “States should have the right to choose.”

The proposal shares some features with House Republican proposals: It would encourage greater use of health savings accounts and eliminate the requirement for most Americans to have insurance or pay a tax penalty. But its option to keep the Affordable Care Act alive in many states will rankle the most conservative Republicans who have been trying for nearly seven years to blow up the law.

Trump also signed an executive order for federal agencies to waive or delay any part of the Affordable Care Act that imposes a financial or regulatory burden, which John Judis at TalkingPointsMemo.com noted could lead to the disintegration of state health exchanges even before Congress gets around to repealing the act, and well before it creates a viable replacement.

Something very similar happened in Australia in the 1980s, he noted, when the Liberals (which is the conservative party) replaced a national health insurance system in 1981. But with no protection against rising healthcare costs, the public turned against the Liberals, and in 1983 voted in a Labor government nationally and in four of the six states, which reintroduced a new stronger healthcare bill, dubbed Medicare, which was funded through its own tax, Judis noted. “It is popular and remains in place, although government has changed hands several times since then.

“In the United States, support for national health insurance has remained very high during its absence — helping Democrats win the White House in 1992 and 2008 — and has fallen when an administration proposed an actual system, as the Clinton administration did in 1993, or when an actual system was adopted, as the ACA was in 2010,” Judis wrote. “If the Republicans gut the ACA, support for national health insurance will revive. You can bet on it. And Democrats may even get a chance in 2020 to implement a new system as the Australian Labor Party did.”

CANADIANS DENIED ENTRY FOR WOMEN’S MARCH. Canadians seeking to participate in the Women’s March on Washington said they were denied entry the the US when they told border agents their plans to attend the march.

Sasha Dyck of Montreal was part of a group of eight who had arranged online to travel together to Washington, the Guardian reported (1/21). Divided into two cars, the group – six Canadians and two French nationals – arrived at the border crossing that connects St Bernard de Lacolle in Quebec with Champlain, New York, on Thursday.

The group was upfront about their plans with border agents, Dyck said. “We said we were going to the women’s march on Saturday and they said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to pull over’.”

They were held for two hours while their cars were searched and their mobile phones examined. Each member of the group was fingerprinted and had their photo taken.

Border agents told the two French citizens that they had been denied entry to the US and informed them that any future visit to the US would now require a visa.

“Then for the rest of us, they said, ‘You’re headed home today’,” Dyck said. The group was also warned that if they tried to cross the border again during the weekend, they would be arrested. “And that was it, they didn’t give a lot of justification.”

Dyck described it as a sharp contrast to 2009, when the research nurse made the same journey to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration. “I couldn’t even get in for this one, whereas at the other one, the guy at the border literally gave me a high five when I came in and everybody was just like, ‘welcome’. The whole city was partying; nobody was there to protest Obama the first time.”

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that other Canadians and other foreign nationals were denied entry for anti-Trump activities.

TRUMP’S INAUGURATION TV RATINGS WORST IN 40 YEARS. Donald Trump had the fourth-largest TV audience in the past 40 years for his inauguration and the smallest audience as a share of the population, Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (1/22). Comparing Nielsen ratings with US Bureau of Economic Analysis figures for first-term inaugurations, Ronald Reagan had the greatest audience, 41.8 mln, 18.25% of the population in 1981; followed by Barack Obama, 37.79 mln, 12.35% of the population in 2009; Jimmy Carter, 34.13 mln, 15.57% in 1977; Trump, 30.64 mln, 9.41% in 2017; Bill Clinton, 29.72 mln, 11.48% in 1993; George W. Bush, 29 mln, 10.21% in 2001; George H.W. Bush, 23.32 mln, 9.47% in 1989.

TRUMP MAKES HOMEBUYING MORE EXPENSIVE. After being sworn into office (1/20), President Donald Trump moved to raise Federal Housing Administration premiums for new homebuyers by 25 basis points. This action, which reverses an Obama administration move to lower FHA insurance premiums to offset expected increases in mortgage rates, will cost a new homebuyer an additional $500 on their housing payments in 2017, the Center for American Progress noted. The government sells the insurance in case borrowers default. The lower premium rate, the FHA estimated, could have made homeownership affordable for an additional 250,000 first-time homebuyers in the next three years.

Sarah Edelman, director of housing policy at Center for American Progress, noted that more than 7 mln Americans lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis, largely because of predatory mortgages and incompetent servicing practices, and Trump’s own Treasury secretary nominee, Steve Mnuchin, made millions from the crash. “Today’s action is all the proof we need to know whose side the Trump administration is on,” Edelman said.

TRUMP PICKS ‘NET NEUTRALITY’ FOE AS FCC HEAD. President Trump has reportedly picked a fierce critic of the Obama-era “net neutrality” rules to be chief regulator of the nation’s airwaves and internet connections. Citing unidentified sources, Bloomberg and Politico both reported (1/20) that the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will be Ajit Pai, one of the two Republican commissioners on the 5-member panel that regulates the country’s communications infrastructure, including TV, phone and internet service.

The Republicans’ FCC majority would help them roll back pro-consumer policies that upset many phone and cable industry groups, including net neutrality rules that bar internet service providers from favoring some websites and apps over others, the Associated Press noted.

Pai has long maintained that the FCC under former chairman Thomas Wheeler had overstepped its bounds, suggesting that he would steer the agency in a direction more favorable to big phone and cable companies. In a December speech, he expressed confidence that the 2015 net neutrality rules would be undone and said the FCC needed to take a “weed whacker” to what he considered unnecessary regulations that hold back investment and innovation.

Consumer advocates have been concerned that a deregulation-minded FCC could potentially allow more huge mergers, overturn new protections for internet users and lead to higher costs for media and technology companies that rely on the internet to reach consumers.

Pai opposed online privacy regulations that force broadband providers to ask consumers for permission before using their data, saying they are more onerous than the requirements for internet companies like Google and Facebook.

He voted against approving Charter Communication’s $67 bln takeover of Time Warner Cable and a smaller company, Bright House — not because he opposed the merger, but because he thought some of the conditions required by the FCC, like barring data caps on home internet service, amounted to government meddling in business, AP noted. [Editor's Note: Since this was written, the White House has confirmed Pai's nomination.]

GROUP AIMS AT RECRUITING, TRAINING, SUPPORTING YOUNG PEOPLE TO RUN FOR OFFICE. A group of former staffers of Hillary for America and Obama for America announced a new initiative to encourage people 35 or younger to run for office. The new site, runforsomething.net, will serve as a hub for information on how young people across the country can run for elected office.

“After the 2016 election we saw the need to build a bench of candidates from the town level all the way to the Presidential level that support progressive values,” stated Amanda Litman, co-founder of Run for Something. “Run For Something is unabashedly progressive and we plan on recruiting, training and supporting candidates, under the age of 35, to run for office, whether it be on their town council, city council, mayor or other elected office,” added Litman

Founded by Hillary For America’s Amanda Litman and For Our Future’s Ross Morales Rocketto, Run for Something’s mission is to recruit and educate potential candidates that are millennials, progressive and diverse.

TRUMP HAS HIGH DISAPPROVAL RATINGS. After three days in office, President Trump got his first job approval rating: 45% of Americans approve of his job performance and 45% disapprove, according to Gallup. That’s an improvement on his favorability ratings, but it’s still not good, Harry Enten wrote at fivethirtyeight.com (1/23). Indeed, Trump’s the first new president who didn’t have a net positive approval rating since 1945 (as far back as we have polling) and it suggests Trump failed to take full advantage of the transition period to build support.

Every president before Trump started their first term with the approval of a majority of the country. The average president had a first job approval rating of 66% — 21 percentage points better than Trump’s. Trump also faces far more opposition coming into office than previous presidents. The average disapproval rating before Trump was just 10%. Trump’s is 35 percentage points higher than that.

The inflated level of opposition to Trump at the start of his term could be explained, in part, by increased political polarization. George W. Bush, with a 25% disapproval rating in 2001, held the previous record for start-of-term opposition. Bush, of course, was the last president to win the White House without a plurality of the national popular vote. But Trump’s lack of support isn’t all down to polarization. Barack Obama entered office in 2009 with a disapproval rating of 12%, and politics was pretty polarized then. No matter what way you look at it, Trump is quite unpopular compared to the historical average.

TRUMP FACES LAWSUIT FOR VIOLATING CONSTITUTION. An all-star team of lawyers, including two leading experts on presidential ethics and two of the most prominent constitutional scholars in the nation, filed a lawsuit (1/23) challenging President Trump’s ongoing violation of an anti-corruption provision in the Constitution.

The suit alleges that Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal office holders from receiving “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, does regular business with foreign governments, presenting them with an opportunity to launder unconstitutional gifts to the president. A bank controlled by the Chinese government, for example, rents office space in Trump Tower. And the Embassy of Kuwait reportedly moved an event from the Four Seasons hotel to a hotel owned by Trump “after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect.”

Although Trump announced at a press conference prior to his inauguration that he would take some steps to insulate himself from his company, Norm Eisen, former chief ethics counsel to President Obama and Richard Painter, who held the same job under President George W. Bush, released a statement saying that these steps are insufficient.

“Mr. Trump did not make a clean break with his business ownership interests as his predecessors for four decades have done; did not establish a blind trust or the equivalent as bipartisan experts and OGE called for; entrusted trust responsibility in his family and a current employee, rather than in an independent trustee; did not screen all ‘emoluments …of any kind whatever,’ as required by the constitution, but only some revenues, and only from his hotels; and offered an inadequate and scantily-detailed ethics wall,” Eisen and Painter wrote.

Eisen and Painter are both counsel on the lawsuit, which was filed by the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. They are joined by famous lawyers, including Harvard Professor Laurence Tribe and University of California, Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. Tribe and Chemerinsky have arguably done more to shape how the Constitution is taught to law students then any other legal scholars. They are the authors of rival treatises which are widely read by lawyers-to-be hoping to pass their Con Law exam.

Though CREW’s lawsuit presents a very strong case that Trump is violating the Constitution, the biggest obstacle facing this suit is likely to be a jurisdictional problem, Ian Millhouser noted at ThinkProgress.org (1/22). In order to bring a lawsuit in federal court, a party must show that they have been injured in some way by the defendant — a requirement known as “standing.” Such an injury, moreover, cannot be rooted in a “generalized grievance” shared by the nation at large, but must be particular to the party filing the suit.

If CREW’s case ultimately fails on standing grounds, that does not necessarily mean that no lawsuit can prevail. As the New York Times noted (1/22), the ACLU “hopes to find a hotel or bed-and-breakfast that might compete against a Trump hotel as a party that might have standing to sue.” A rival business which actually loses money because of Trump’s unconstitutional actions would have a much stronger theory of standing than CREW.

The ACLU’s theory, however, will require it to find a business willing to challenge a notoriously vindictive rival who is now armed with the full power of the United States of America’s executive branch. It may prove difficult to find such a business, Millhouser noted.

For this reason, the only entity that may truly be able to force Trump to follow the Constitution is Congress, which can impeach the president.

ABORTION RATE HITS ALL-TIME LOW, NOT BECAUSE OF ABORTION RESTRICTIONS. The US abortion rate declined to a historic low in 2014, Laura Clawson wrote at DailyKos.com (1/19) and evidence suggests the reason is something else Republicans oppose: access to reliable contraception.

Guttmacher gathered data on abortions performed between 2011 and 2014, and found that abortion rates continued their steady downward trend before reaching historic recorded lows in 2014. The overall rate, 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women, is lower than it was in 1973, when *Roe v. Wade* was decided and when the abortion rate was 16.3 per 1,000 women.

What’s more, Guttmacher found, the raw recorded number of abortions fell below 1 mln for the first time since the mid-1970s. There were 1.06 mln recorded abortions in 2011, and by 2014 that number was 926,200.

The abortion ratio — the proportion of abortions to live births — is also down to historic lows. In 1995, the abortion ratio was about 26 abortions for every 100 live births; in 2014, it was 18.8.

Republicans have been making it hard for women to access abortions, but by defunding Planned Parenthood and opposing the inclusion of contraception in the Affordable Care Act, they’ve acted against the thing that made women less likely to seek abortions to begin with, Clawson notede. The rate of unintended pregnancies dropped, and one key reason for that was an increase in the use of long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs and implants.

“In other words, if you want to make abortion less common, Democratic policies are the way to go.”

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2017


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