Tea Party 1, Paul Ryan 0

[ Posted Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 – 15:22 PDT ]

The Tea Party is, once again, flexing its muscles. Little noticed in the 2016 election results was the changing ratio between Tea Partiers and the Republican caucus as a whole in the House of Representatives. Republicans lost seats, but not many of these losers were Tea Partiers. This meant the relative strength of the Tea Party increased, overall. The real power dynamic, though, is that when the Tea Partiers hang together, they've got a big enough bloc to halt any Republican-only legislation cold. Which is what they've just accomplished, on the Ryancare bill. Paul Ryan was forced to concede that there will be no vote today, which means he will be robbed of symbolically voting on Obamacare's replacement on the day Obama signed it into existence, seven years ago.

Of course, the bill could still pass. It's important to remember that, even as Democrats gleefully celebrate Paul Ryan being embarrassed by his own party. Ryan's story as I write this (things are changing fast in Washington, so this may not be true by the time you read it) is that they're going to have a big horsetrading session at the White House tonight, and then they'll have a vote tomorrow morning. Will Donald Trump prove himself to be the dealmaker he's always bragged of being? It's certainly possible. So Democrats should still remain wary -- just because Ryan doesn't get his symbolic anniversary date doesn't mean the bill's dead yet.

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Trump's First Two Months

[ Posted Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 – 17:30 PDT ]

You'll have to forgive me for writing this so early, since the tradition is to give a new president 100 days before such an evaluation, but these are not normal times. It's only been two months since Trump took office, but it certainly feels like a lot longer than that. Trump's pace has been pretty frantic during this period, which is the main reason why I decided to take a quick look at how Trump's presidency measures up to his campaign rhetoric.

On some issues, Trump has tried to act but been rebuffed by the simple fact that being president doesn't mean being C.E.O. of a corporation. There are other branches of government which just don't exist in corporate boardrooms, and they occasionally push back against the White House. On other issues, Trump has been figuring out that the real world is a lot more complicated than promising a crowd of adoring fans: "I know how to fix it, believe me!" And on some issues, Trump has already punted the ball far down the road.

Let's take a look at the checklist of Trump main campaign themes, to see how well he's doing in making good on his promises. I've tried to be objective as possible here, and make the attempt at seeing Trump's presidency through the eyes of his own supporters. There's a reason I'm taking this slant on things, which I'll explain in the conclusion.

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Counting The Votes

[ Posted Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 – 17:08 PDT ]

What are the chances that the Ryancare bill will pass Congress? We are now two days from its first test, and the answer is as unclear as ever. Whatever happens is going to take the measure of the relative political strength of Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. If the Tea Partiers win this struggle, it could doom any chances for actual governance from the Republican Congress for the next few years. If the Tea Partiers lose, there may be a frenzy of primary challenges for sitting Republicans in Congress in 2018. Either way, the next two days could be definitive.

Personally, I have no strong prediction for what's going to happen. There are so many ways it could go, and it's hard to assess each for relative probability. Beyond the Thursday vote (if it even happens, that is), the chances Ryancare will make it all the way to Donald Trump's desk are even harder to figure, at this point. But first, let's take a look at what's going on in the House Republican caucus.

Thursday is an important day for Republicans, because of the symbolism in passing Ryancare on the same day that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, back in 2010. Killing Obamacare on the same calendar day is somehow important to Paul Ryan. Perhaps he's just using this as a goad to accelerate the normal legislative schedule, since he's been trying to hustle this bill through the House as fast as he can. He figures (quite correctly) that the more the public has a chance to understand what Ryancare would mean, the less chance it'll pass, to put it another way.

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The Life Cycle Of A Trump Conspiracy Theory

[ Posted Monday, March 20th, 2017 – 17:19 PDT ]

Donald Trump will doubtlessly go down in history as many things, but what we're all coming to grips with right now (a bare two months into his presidency) is that Trump will also surely be remembered as the first "Conspiracy-Theorist-In-Chief" in American history. Trump, in fact, personifies the old adage: "I've made up my mind -- don't confuse me with the facts!" This was on full display today, as the heads of the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. testified before a House committee that there is simply no evidence whatsoever that can in any way, shape, or form validate the wild claim Trump made two weeks ago -- that Barack Obama had personally wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. This adds to a long list of people (who all have the highest security clearance and full access to such things), all of whom have now said the same thing: no evidence exists whatsoever to back up Trump's bizarre accusation. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

But after watching many hours of the live testimony this morning and (for good measure) a large portion of Sean Spicer's press conference today at the White House, I'll leave it to others to point out all the nuances of Trump being totally and completely denied any shred of vindication. Instead, I'd like to take a wider look at the life cycle each one of these Trumpian flights of fancy seems to take. Because so far there have been no real groundshaking consequences to any of Trump's conspiracy theorizing, but that might not always be true in the future. What happens if he gets a bee in his bonnet about North Korea, or China, or Iran? Or the Illuminati, for that matter? What happens when one of these Trump temper tantrums causes an international incident? Accusing a former president of felonious behavior is going to pale in comparison, should that come to pass.

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My Take On Trump's Tax Return

[ Posted Thursday, March 16th, 2017 – 17:48 PDT ]

This was a tough choice to make, for a Thursday column. After all, this was a fairly big week in punctuation news, which normally would be catnip for a pedant such as myself. Not only was the president's spokesman trying to use the old "it was in quotes" defense (or should that be the "it was 'in quotes'" defense?), but there was a recent court ruling which actually hinged on the "Oxford comma." The plaintiffs won because they (correctly) argued that absent the final comma in a list, the final two items have to be taken as a single item, at least legally (it hinged on the phrase "loading for transport or delivery" -- which is different than "loading for transport, or delivery"). As you can see, I could easily have gotten a fun (to me, at any rate) column out of those juicy grammatical items alone.

Instead, we turn to the scintillating world of tax returns. Rachel Maddow has gotten some heat for her usual pedantic opening to the scoop on her show, but the only ones really surprised by it seem to be people who have never watched Rachel Maddow ever before. Putting that aside, I thought it'd be fun to go through Trump's 2005 tax return item by item. If that sounds to you like a less exciting prospect than watching paint dry, well then I'd have to advise you to stop reading right this very minute and go do something more interesting (hint: there are lots of very funny cat videos on the internet, for your endless enjoyment). Plus, this is going to be a fairly long article, even for me. You have been duly warned.

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The Ryan Myth Is In Big Trouble

[ Posted Wednesday, March 15th, 2017 – 16:25 PDT ]

The myth of Paul Ryan is in serious trouble. This was likely inevitable, but it certainly is on stark display in the debate among Republicans over his "Ryancare" bill, which was supposed to be the "repeal and replace Obamacare" answer to all conservatives' dreams. Quite obviously, Ryan's bill fell far short of this lofty goal. It is currently being savaged from all sides within the Republican caucus alone. But beyond the bill's likely failure, the myth surrounding Ryan is also on life support.

The Ryan myth began with a book about three Republican "young guns" who were the best and the brightest of their generation and who seemed destined for leadership positions within the party. Ryan was lauded along with Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy as the future of the Republican Party, but -- importantly -- this was before the Tea Party phenomenon. The phrase "young guns" itself projects a certain cowboy swagger, a manly Reaganesque image of a gun-totin' fighter for the cause. But again, that was before the Tea Party was launched. Nowadays, Ryan doesn't seem to have quite the swagger of a "young gun" anymore, because that role has been co-opted by the Tea Partiers themselves.

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Will Trump Break With Ryan?

[ Posted Tuesday, March 14th, 2017 – 16:03 PDT ]

In the hyperkinetic political era we live in, change happens very quickly. President Trump is the driving force behind this increased speed of the political discourse, but Paul Ryan gamely tried to capitalize on the new frenzy by passing his own favored "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill as quickly as humanly possible. He was going to whip it through the House so fast nobody would know what was in the bill, and then the Senate was magically going to refuse to even debate the bill and instead move it directly to the floor for a vote. This would all happen at blinding speed, and then everyone in Congress could go home for the Easter holiday, having already put the bill on Trump's desk. Problem solved!

Instead, it is now looking like Ryan's "Ryancare" bill is going to face a very tough uphill fight, even among his own Republicans. Passage is in no way guaranteed even in Ryan's House, and the prospects of Ryancare emerging from the Senate in its present form is looking vanishingly small. If the Ryancare bill is in serious trouble, what I am now wondering is whether Donald Trump will at some point drop his support for what seems to be a losing proposition. Trump, after all, hates to lose.

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Everyone Will Be Covered (Except For 24 Million)

[ Posted Monday, March 13th, 2017 – 17:14 PDT ]

Today was the first reality-check for the Republican goal of health insurance reform since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed. The breathtaking numbers from the Congressional Budget Office just proved what many of us have been saying all along -- this is the first time in the past seven years that Republicans have tried to bring an actual piece of legislation to the floors of Congress for a very good reason. The numbers just don't quite add up the way the GOP has long wished they would. By never writing an actual bill before now, they avoided letting the public in on this crucial bit of information. But now it was "put up or shut up" time, so Republicans were forced to come up with an actual bill. And the C.B.O. just confirmed what Democrats have been saying for a long time -- replacing Obamacare is going to throw millions of Americans off health insurance.

Donald Trump's insistence that "everyone will be covered" has now been proven to be a gigantic lie. Everyone will be covered, except for the 24 million who will lose coverage in the next ten years (starting with 14 million who will lose it next year alone). The number of uninsured Americans will skyrocket from the current 27 million to over 50 million. This won't be because (according to Paul Ryan) they never really wanted health insurance in the first place and would now use their expanded "freedom" to refuse to pay for it -- it will instead be because tens of millions of people will not be able to afford insurance. This was always going to be the reality under a Republican revamp of Obamacare, but now that the C.B.O. has finally been given a chance to run numbers on an actual bill, we can all see just how drastic this is going to be for millions of American families.

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Friday Talking Points [428] -- Ryancare's Awfulness

[ Posted Friday, March 10th, 2017 – 19:24 PST ]

As is becoming the new normal, a ton of things happened in Washington this week. Donald Trump kicked the week off by tweeting out a conspiracy theory, then he rolled out "Muslim Ban 2.0," and by week's end a gigantic fracas within the Republican Party was building to fever pitch. Oh, and that fever will not be covered by the new GOP Obamacare replacement plan, sorry.

But before we get to all the fun, we've got to address a pedantic point. The White House is shrinking in horror from the label "Trumpcare," but if the Republicans ever do manage to pass anything, the label seems inevitable. Trump can decree that the tides stop, but he's going to get swamped in the end. But our point is even more pedantic than that, because while Democrats are gleefully tossing around the Trumpcare label (precisely because it seems to annoy the White House), the biggest pushback so far has been from within the ranks of the Republican Congress. GOP critics of the bill, within the first 24 hours, were already calling it derogatory names (to them) like "Obamacare 2.0" or "Obamacare Lite." But some were pinning the blame directly on Speaker Paul Ryan, and attempted to coin their own new term: "RyanCare."

Here's where we get truly pedantic, because while we do indeed favor naming the bill after the principle mover behind it (for the time being -- because there is plenty of time later to slap Trump's name on it), we must insist on consistency. Therefore, in these pages, we'll be calling it "Ryancare" and not "RyanCare." After all, there is Medicare, Obamacare, and, soon, Trumpcare -- so this capitalization battle has already been fought and won. Mindless grammatical nitpicking aside, though, it's pretty easy to see why any politician would be leery of slapping his name on the new Obamacare replacement bill, because it is so awful.

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Twenty-Two And Three And The C.B.O.

[ Posted Thursday, March 9th, 2017 – 17:24 PST ]

That title is not a weak attempt to make a pun on the genetics company "23andMe." It is not a throwback to "23-skidoo." And it's definitely not an attempt to sound like a quarterback calling signals at the line (besides, it's the wrong season for football metaphors). Instead, it represents the three biggest hurdles that Republicans now face in their efforts to dismantle Obamacare.

The first two are actual numbers, unlike (for the moment) the last one. Twenty-two is the number of votes Republicans cannot afford to lose in the House. Likewise, if they lose only three senators, the bill will also fail. So far, Paul Ryan should be worried about both of those numbers. But the biggest headache is going to arrive for Ryan next Monday, when the Congressional Budget Office is slated to release its "score" of the GOP health bill. Because the C.B.O. numbers might just push both the House and the Senate Republicans into open revolt over what was supposed to be their party's signature issue.

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