Friday Talking Points [473] -- Mueller's Busy Week

[ Posted Friday, February 23rd, 2018 – 18:28 PST ]

Bob Mueller has had a busy and productive week. His investigation is intensifying quickly, as it gains speed and moves closer and closer to the inner Trump circle. Just a week ago, Mueller's team dropped an indictment on 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election. By Tuesday, a previously-unmentioned lawyer reached a plea deal with Mueller. Yesterday, Mueller filed an indictment with 32 counts against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Today, Gates officially flipped, and pled guilty to two counts against him, conspiracy and lying to federal agents. Not just another #MuellerFriday, in other words, but a full-on #MuellerWeek. No word from President Trump's Twitter account yet (as of this writing), but if last weekend was any preview, it sure ought to be fun to see him flail around for the next few days as the noose gets tighter and tighter around his innermost circle.

Oh, and as icing on the cake, although nobody at the White House has come right out and admitted it on the record yet, Jared Kushner probably lost his top secret security clearance today, since it was the one-week deadline that John Kelly had set last week for revoking all temporary clearance access to the nation's highest secrets. So there's that for Trump to tweet about too, should he choose to do so.

Since the Gates news just broke, there hasn't been much reaction to it so far, but by this time tomorrow we're sure everyone will have weighed in on exactly what it all means. The two charges Gates admits he's guilty of carry a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years. Reportedly, Gates and Mueller have agreed in the plea deal to ask for a sentence of 57 to 71 months in prison, which translates to just under 5 to 6 years.

This all is going to put an incredible amount of pressure on Manafort, who is accused of laundering $30 million to hide it from the I.R.S. Unlike the other charges he's already been indicted on, this should be relatively simple for the prosecution to prove. Mueller is building his case like it was a RICO investigation, which is precisely what everyone who knows Mueller's style expected him to do. You go after the little fish, and flip them to get the bigger fish. The little guys flip on the medium guys. The medium guys flip on the big guys. The big guys flip on the main targets of the investigation. Mueller is now at "the big guys" stage of this progression. If Manafort flips, the only next step will lead directly to Trump's inner circle, Trump's family, and Trump himself. So, as we said, it'll sure be interesting to see what Trump tweets this weekend, because by now he should be breaking out in a cold sweat.

But rampant lawbreaking by top Trump advisors wasn't the only story of the week, of course. The surviving students from the massacre at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School occupied center stage of the political debate this week, as they expressed both their outrage and their new commitment to changing lax gun laws for the better.

We personally cannot ever remember a political movement in our lifetimes that grew so big so fast. People are saying "this feels different," because it does. Not just different from the reactions to previous shootings, but different from pretty much any other such movement in our memory (with the possible exception of Occupy Wall Street, which also rocketed onto the political scene in an extremely short period of time).

So far, the student activists have appeared on more television news interviews than most House members (and even many obscure Senate members) will see over their entire political careers. They have staged a bus trip to their state capital to lobby their legislature on gun control. Some of them have spoken directly to President Trump, while others got the chance to confront Senator Marco Rubio face-to-face. They have organized a "March For Survival" on Washington D.C. next month, and they're now planning for 500,000 people to attend. They've gotten millions of dollars in funding for their cause from luminaries such as George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey. They have gotten even Republicans in Florida to begin shifting their political position away from the hard line demanded by the National Rifle Association. Speaking of the N.R.A., the students also seem to have given them a healthy dose of fear, as the students' support grows by the day. And, of course, the students have been viciously attacked with falsehoods and conspiracy theories, some of which were retweeted by the president's own son.

All of that happened, in a week-and-a-half's time. It has been less than two weeks since the shooting, and the students have not cowered in fear; instead, they have taken the American political system by storm to express their outrage over elected officials who refuse to act. So far, they've gotten Donald Trump to move quickly on the effort to ban bump stocks (which the previous massacre in Las Vegas failed to do), and Republicans are now hastily making noises about raising the minimum age to buy an assault rifle, improving the background check system, and other positions the N.R.A. usually fights against. Even these small baby steps are astounding, for a movement not even two weeks old.

We would have given them this week's "most impressive" award, but the students are not partisan. They are instead a single-issue group. There's a lot of overlap between the Democratic Party and gun control advocacy, but we cannot paint the students with a partisan label for their nonpartisan efforts, so we had to praise them here in the introduction instead.

Before he met with some student victims this week, Trump apparently had a little chat with someone from the N.R.A., since by the time it happened he was singing the same exact song that Wayne LaPierre was. The problem, according to Trump, is that we need a "good guy with a gun" to be there to fix everything for us. So let's just arm the teachers! There, problem solved!

This, of course, ignores completely the fact that, like the Columbine shooting, there was actually an armed police officer on school grounds. Unlike Columbine, however, the guy did nothing and never engaged in a shootout with the killer. Instead, he stayed outside for the entire time the massacre was taking place. So much for that "good guy with a gun" theory. In the real world, it's a lot harder for a guy with a handgun to take out a guy with an assault rifle than Hollywood has made some people believe, apparently. Maybe instead of "a good guy with a gun" we should require every cop at every school to just be Rambo. Yeah, that's the ticket!

Oh, and there was also the fact that in May of 2016, Trump himself tweeted: "Crooked Hillary said that I want guns brought into the school classroom. Wrong!" But then you just knew there'd be an old Trump tweet contradicting his stance, didn't you? After all, there has been on just about every other issue, so why should this one be any different?

The Mueller investigation and the shooting fallout so dominated the news this week that we're not even going to attempt to itemize the minor political stories this time around, but there were two that did catch our eye.

The first was the new Pennsylvania redistricting map that their state supreme court officially mandated, after the politicians couldn't agree on their own map. This is a much fairer map, which will go a long ways toward erasing the blatant Republican gerrymandering, and this map will be in place for the midterm elections later this year. This could mean Democrats pick up from three to five new House seats, making a takeover of the House that much easier to accomplish. We wrote about this earlier in the week, in more detail, in case anyone's interested.

But our final note is also an interesting one from the race for the House. Here's the story, from Vice News:

Levi Sanders, [Senator Bernie Sanders's] only biological child, [said] that he is actively considering running for Congress in New Hampshire's 1st District, an open seat expected to be one of the most contested in the country in 2018. "Oh absolutely, I'm definitely considering it. I'm excited, motivated, and interested in the race," Levi said. "I'm just dotting my i's and crossing my t's." The 48-year-old Levi said that he would run on a similar platform of Medicare for all and free college tuition that animated his father's presidential run in 2016, when the elder Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 22 points in New Hampshire.

So there's that to look forward to! On that happy note, let's move on to this week's awards.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

This week our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to an organization: the Center for American Progress think tank. This organization, described in the news article as "the heart of the Democratic establishment, a think tank that is the closest thing to a Democratic government-in-exile," has put forth a universal healthcare coverage plan titled "Medicare Extra For All." This is to distinguish it from the "Medicare For All" plan put forth by Bernie Sanders. We suppose if it's ever enacted, it'll be shortened somewhat, down to "MedicX4A" or perhaps the simpler "MedicareX."

It's not truly a single-payer plan, and still has "a continued role for private insurance," but it is miles beyond anything the Democratic establishment has ever embraced previously. Democrats appear to be uniting behind the principle, "something that wasn't true even a year ago." Here are the important takeaways from the article:

While this evolution has been in-process for a while, the fact is that as of now, the Democratic Party is converging on consensus around the goal of universal coverage with a much stronger role for government. You may recall that in the last presidential election, the party's candidate wasn't willing to go that far. Today, nearly every Democrat considering a run for the White House in 2020 has endorsed the idea of universal coverage.

. . .

So here are some key features of the CAP plan:

  • Everyone would be eligible for Medicare Extra. If you have employer coverage, existing Medicare, VA coverage or anything else, you'd have the option to stay with what you've got or enroll in the new plan.
  • Anyone without insurance would be automatically enrolled as soon as they show up at the doctor or a hospital; children would also be automatically enrolled at birth.
  • A wide range of benefits would be covered, including preventive care, hospitalization, dental and vision, and mental health treatment.
  • Those with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty level would pay no premiums; above that premiums would rise on a sliding scale capped at 10 percent of income.
  • Deductibles, co-payments and out-of-pocket costs would also vary by income.
  • Employer-provided coverage would remain, but employers could choose to enroll their employees in Medicare Extra instead. Individuals could also choose to leave their employer plan and enroll in Medicare Extra.
  • Medicaid and CHIP would be integrated into the new plan.
  • Costs would be brought down by paying something similar to current Medicare rates to providers, negotiating lower drug prices, implementing payment reforms and streamlining the health-care bureaucracy.
  • Premiums would be collected through the tax system, and new excise taxes and taxes on high earners would pay for the costs that remain.

It's an ambitious plan, but it's also politically savvy. First, unlike the [Affordable Care Act], it's easy to explain. You can say, "Anyone who wants Medicare can get it," which may not be 100 percent accurate (it would be similar to existing Medicare but not identical), but it basically describes the idea. Second, the only easily identifiable losers are the rich, who'd see some tax increases -- and that's something most Americans were in favor of even before the GOP passed a ginormous tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. And it incorporates plenty of free choice for both individuals and employers.

That last sentence seems crucial, to us at least. Free choice is always popular, politically, after all. In fact, what the plan amounts to is what used to be called "the public option" -- a public health insurance system that would, in essence, compete with private insurance companies. This is the best transitional plan for moving from what we've got now towards the goal of true single-payer that we've personally ever seen. It allows for individual choice and would slowly transition millions of Americans onto the new system. And, unlike just about every single-payer proposal out there, it specifically identifies how it will be funded.

Rather than running on some vague notion of "we want to keep Obamacare, but make it slightly better," Democratic candidates for public office should be proud to run on the Medicare Extra For All plan. It doesn't go far enough for some, but it certainly goes a lot further than Hillary Clinton was willing to run on last time around. The article also notes that it was Donald Trump and the Republicans who have forced the issue (by trying to drive a stake through Obamacare), but the Democratic establishment deserves credit for both realizing what a potent issue this is going to be in 2018 and for not retreating into some weak incrementalist position.

This is a bold plan. It seems entirely do-able, with the proper political will behind it (and a much bigger contingent of Democrats in Congress, of course). So for putting the plan out there this week, we hereby award the Center for American Progress our coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.

[Congratulate the Center for American Progress on their official contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

Sadly, we are also giving the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award to an organization. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is the organization within the House of Representatives charged with getting more Democrats elected to the House, unloaded a blistering broadside this week... on a fellow Democrat who is running for the House.

Here's the story in a nutshell:

On Thursday evening, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the extraordinary step of publicly attacking a prominent Democratic candidate in a contested Texas primary. The party committee's move was made all the more jarring given the background of the candidate, Laura Moser, who in 2017 became a hero of the Trump resistance movement as the creator of Daily Action, a text-messaging tool that channeled progressive anger into a single piece of activism per day.

"Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. [John] Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district," DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told the Texas Tribune. "Unfortunately, Laura Moser's outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas' 7th in November."

The comment followed the release of an opposition dossier the party compiled on Moser. To date, the DCCC has made only two such memos public, one on Moser, and the other on arch-conservative Rick Saccone, a Republican running in an upcoming special election in Pennsylvania.

"Democratic voters need to hear that Laura Moser is not going to change Washington. She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress," warned the DCCC in its memo.

Let's all let that sink in for a moment. The DCCC conducted opposition research on a Democrat. Then they put it in the nastiest language they could, and publicly released it as a memo. This even included the slur "Washington insider" -- which is downright laughable considering it is coming from a whole bunch of Washington insiders. The article in The Intercept goes on to point out further hypocrisies (of the "pot, meet kettle" variety) in the DCCC's position.

And who is the DCCC doing all this for? The other candidates in the primary race, who are (shall we say) not exactly paragons of progressive virtue:

The dropping of the opposition research on Moser came after The Intercept published an article Thursday morning highlighting a rift in the race, with the pro-choice women's group EMILY's List backing Lizzie Pannill Fletcher against Moser. The DCCC and EMILY's List often work hand in glove. Meanwhile, candidate Alex Triantaphyllis, a former Goldman Sachs analyst, has told people on the campaign trail he was recruited by the DCCC, according to local Indivisible leader Daniel Cohen.

Fletcher, a corporate lawyer with ties to a mega-donor steel magnate, worked for a firm that routinely represents employers. The firm recently defeated local janitorial workers in a labor law case by studying social media feeds to ensure the jury had a healthy number of Trump supporters, a tactic it later boasted about publicly. Fletcher said she didn't work directly on the case. But the local AFL-CIO made a rare non-endorsement in the race, urging residents to vote for any candidate other than Fletcher, and pledging to do what it can to defeat her.

No wonder direct donations to the DCCC are reportedly down this election cycle, while donations to individual progressive candidates are up. In response to the attack memo, Moser tweeted a Michelle Obama quote: "When they go low, we go high." It's downright astounding that a Democratic activist candidate for a House seat would ever have to use this particular quote against an official organ of the Democratic Party.

This is really beyond disappointing, but the award is what it is, so we hereby name the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee the Most Disappointing Democrats Of The Week. For shame! They should all be forced to stay after class and write that Michelle Obama quote on the board 5,000 times each.

[Contact the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on its contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 473 (2/23/18)

Another hodgepodge week in the talking points department. Congress was off this week (yet again), so most of these were written in reaction to what Trump and the Republicans have been doing in the meantime. And, of course, Bob Mueller -- can't forget him, can we?



This is a pretty serious word to toss around, but in this case it certainly seems appropriate.

"What with all the other news last week, you may have missed the story about a Russian oligarch who created his own private army of mercenaries to fight in Syria, doubtlessly with the full approval of the Kremlin. Several of these mercenaries were killed recently by American soldiers, because they were preparing to attack U.S. forces in the field. Oh, and the same guy who is obviously now making war against American forces was just indicted last week by Bob Mueller for running a troll farm in Russia which interfered in our elections. This means that a good case can be made that any American found to have conspired with this Russian oligarch is guilty of 'levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.' You might recognize that language, because it is from Article 3, Section 3 of the United States Constitution -- where it defines what constitutes treason."


   Getcher programs! Programs heah!

Just in case you haven't been keeping up....

"The Washington Post has helpfully put together a handy scorecard for the Bob Mueller investigation, because they know how hard it is to keep up with all the indictments flying. When it ran, it listed over 100 charges from Mueller's indictments (so far) which targeted 19 separate individuals. These numbers, obviously, are going to climb much higher before Mueller is done, and in fact the article doesn't even reflect the fact that Rick Gates has now decided to cut his own plea deal and spend only five or six years in prison rather than the decades of incarceration he would have faced in a trial. So for those keeping track at home, we're now at over 100 separate crimes Mueller has so far indicted. And it looks like Mueller's just getting started, folks...."


   Pay no attention... please!

Another sign of the times, as America's standing on the world stage shrinks day by day.

"The foreign policy elite of Europe met this week, and America's representatives were reduced to begging their foreign counterparts to totally ignore tweets coming from the American president. Anxiety about Trump's incoherent approach to world affairs is rising, especially when Trump's Twitter feed is included in the equation. Foreign officials have no idea what to believe from Trump's White House, and are baffled at the disconnect between what his sober policy experts tell the world and what Trump regularly says and tweets. So America's foreign policy experts are now reduced to begging the world to completely ignore their own leader. Not exactly the image we are used to portraying on the world stage, eh?"


   Victim not impressed by Trump

"I, um... [consults cheat sheet in hand]... feel your pain -- yeah, that's it!"

"Comedians ripped into Trump for bringing to a meeting with school shooting survivors a list of talking points, including one just to listen to them. Seriously. The president had to be warned to listen to the people he had arranged to meet with. An even more devastating review of Trump's inability to sound even slightly empathic came from one of the students who was shot. Here's what she had to say about receiving a call from the president: 'He said he heard that I was a big fan of his, and then he said, "I'm a big fan of yours too." I'm pretty sure he made that up. Talking to the president, I've never been so unimpressed by a person in my life. He didn't make me feel better in the slightest.' Ouch. That's from a Trump supporter, mind you. She went on to say later in the interview that Trump called the shooter a 'sick puppy,' and that Trump said: '"oh boy, oh boy, oh boy," like seven times.' So it looks like Trump's still got a lot to learn about this whole 'empathy with victims' thing, doesn't it?"


   So who is going to pay for all of this?

Gotta love those free-spending Republicans, eh?

"Republicans, from Trump on down, seem to have latched onto an issue they used to discount as a wacky fringe notion -- that of arming schoolteachers. Trump has even proposed letting up to 20 percent of the nation's teachers carry concealed weapons at schools. So let's see... there are just under four million teachers in the country. This means that over 700,000 will have to be armed. So who is going to pay for all this? First, you've got to train them to know they know what they're doing. That won't be cheap. Then, you've got to buy them guns and ammunition. That's going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars right there. Trump has proposed paying them bonuses for the extra duty, so that's also going to add to the total. Then there's the question of school insurance rates, which are quite likely to go way up to cover such things as accidents, guns being stolen by students, and possible collateral damage should a teacher ever fire at a gunman but hit an innocent student instead. None of this will be free -- it all comes at a price. So where, exactly, is all the money to pay for all of this going to come from? Trump and the Republicans are noticeably silent on how such a plan would ever be paid for."


   Blue wave in the distance

There were two notable items from politics outside the Beltway this week, both of which were good news for Democrats.

"Looking forward to the midterm elections, the Republican Party seems to be sinking further into the ooze, as Missouri's governor was just indicted for blackmailing his mistress with a nude photo he took without her consent. Nothing like the party of family values, right? And in Kentucky, a Democrat won a special state legislative election that had to be held because the Republican in the seat committed suicide days after being accused of sexually molesting a 17-year-old girl in the basement of the church he ran. His wife ran to retake his seat. In a district Trump won by nearly 50 points, the Democrat won this Tuesday by swinging the vote totals a jaw-dropping 86 points from the 2016 election. The blue wave continues, as this was the 37th such race Democrats have now won since Trump got elected. Cowabunga! Surf's up, Democrats!"


   Trump's ulterior motive?

This is just too good to pass up, even if it is a cheap shot.

"It seems that for all the fulminating Donald Trump is doing about what he calls 'chain migration,' some people very close to him apparently have directly benefited from it. It was revealed that Melania Trump's parents have their own green cards because Melania sponsored them for entry. So Trump's own in-laws are beneficiaries of a program he now wants to end. Boy, with that one, the mother-in-law jokes just write themselves, don't they?"

-- Chris Weigant


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Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground