The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

John McCain’s Curious Definition of ‘Leading the Fight to Stop Obamacare’

May 2016: A John McCain reelection campaign ad, airing in Arizona:

Obamacare is failing Arizonans. First, a massive rate hike more than twice the national average. Then, America’s largest health insurer abandoned Arizona’s failing Obamacare exchange. That’s devastating – especially to rural counties. Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick bragged about her Obamacare vote, saying “it’s also the one I’m most proud about.” While Kirkpatrick’s “proud” of putting us at risk, John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.

“John McCain is leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” Plenty of other McCain ads and campaign events and messaging pointed to stopping Obamacare as a big reason, perhaps the biggest reason, Arizonans needed to return him to the Senate.

Then, last night, push came to shove. The options were clear: vote for “skinny repeal” and get that version of the repeal bill to conference committee with the House of Representatives, where negotiators from the House and Senate could revise the bill further, or vote it down and effectively end the process, as no version of repeal legislation could reach 50 votes.

McCain made his choice:

Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote to sink his fellow Republicans’ so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

McCain, R-Ariz., joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and every Senate Democrat to bring down the bill on a 49-51 vote.

The late-night failure of the skinny-repeal option, which would have ended the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer insurance mandates and medical device tax for three years and made other limited changes, effectively ended the current GOP push to undo what Republicans call “Obamacare.”

“From the beginning, I have believed that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a solution that increases competition, lowers costs, and improves care for the American people,” McCain said in a written statement issued after the vote, which happened early Friday Eastern time.

“The so-called ‘skinny repeal’ amendment the Senate voted on today would not accomplish those goals. While the amendment would have repealed some of Obamacare’s most burdensome regulations, it offered no replacement to actually reform our health care system and deliver affordable, quality health care to our citizens.”

“I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of ‘Obamacare’ was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict-party line basis without a single Republican vote,” McCain said. “We should not make the mistakes of the past that has led to Obamacare’s collapse, including in my home state of Arizona where premiums are skyrocketing and health care providers are fleeing the marketplace.

“We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people,” he continued. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve.”

McCain didn’t like the substance of the replacement or the process by which that replacement was written, so he – along with Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – blew up the process and forced Congressional Republicans to start over again.

We can argue about whether that is the right or wrong move at that moment. But it’s very difficult to characterize McCain’s decision as “leading the fight to stop Obamacare.” That’s more like leading the fight to keep Obamacare in place while you continue to look for a replacement that you like better. Had Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick won the 2016 Arizona Senate race, she would have voted the same way.

Profane Scaramucci

This week, new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci called The New Yorker Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza and served up a profane tirade against everyone in the White House except the president. He sounded a bit like Tony Montana from Scarface; while Scaramucci never quite invited the swarm of leakers that allegedly surround him to “say hello to my little friend,” he did say, “What I want to do is I want to f***ing kill all the leakers.”

People who are far more in tune with the individuals in Trump’s inner circle look at this spectacle and tell me that this is a performance with an audience of one, President Trump, and the president is likely to relish this. Scaramucci, the new guy, is out to show that his sole loyalty is to the president, and that he’s fearless, that he’s not afraid to use the f-bomb more frequently than a comma, that he’s willing to threaten people, and that he takes no prisoners.

Last night, Scaramucci responded on Twitter, “I made a mistake in trusting in a reporter. It won’t happen again.” But Lizza wrote that Scaramucci called him and “did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.” One might expect a White House Communications Director to understand the importance of declaring when his statement is off the record, particularly when you’re going to accuse the White House chief of staff of being a paranoid schizophrenic, the White House senior counselor of attempting anatomically difficult sex acts, and claim that the FBI and Department of Justice are investigating the White House chief of staff.

Of course, Scaramucci is denouncing everyone else in the White House for talking to reporters . . .  while talking to a reporter from the New Yorker.

The problem with the “performance with an audience of one” mentality is that everyone else can see and read this, too. And while the president may look at Scaramucci’s rant as entertaining and tough, lots of other people – the press, other White House staff, Republican lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill, conservative interest groups, lobbyists, etc. – will look at Scaramucci as a raving maniac who openly expresses a desire to murder his colleagues.

What is the job of the White House communications director? Is it to just replicate the work of the White House press secretary? Or is it to promote the president’s agenda by pitching stories and ideas and touting accomplishments that otherwise might not be covered by the nation’s media?

What Is Fusion GPS?

You may have heard a bit about Fusion GPS, “the opposition research firm that paid former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to collect intelligence on the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.” This is what ultimately turned into that dossier that was full of increasingly absurd and salacious claims of collusion, blackmail, and other nefarious ties between Donald Trump and the Russian government. William Browder, the head of Hermitage Capital Management, testified before the Senate yesterday, and offered some really intriguing allegations.

Go back a few years, when Congress debated, and ultimately passed, the “Magnitsky Act,” aiming to punish Russian officials who were thought to be responsible for the death of Russian auditor Sergei Magnitsky. The law prohibits these Russian officials from entering the United States and using its banking system.

Browder testified:

Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act. He contacted a number of major newspapers and other publications to spread false information that Sergei Magnitsky was not murdered, was not a whistle-blower, and was instead a criminal. They also spread false information that my presentations to lawmakers around the world were untrue.

The “Veselnitskaya” he’s referring to is Natalia Veselnitskaya, that Russian lawyer who looks like Valerie Bertinelli who was in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. You may recall their characterization of the meeting as being about “Russian adoptions” – in particular, the law the Russian government passed in response to the Magnitsky Act. In other words, here’s this Russian lawyer, pushing for a goal of the Russian government . . .  who has also hired a firm to investigate the presidential candidate she’s seeking to persuade on a policy change. And that dossier was being shopped around to journalists for months, meaning before the 2016 presidential election:

The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials who have seen them. Mother Jones writer David Corn referred to the documents in a late October column.

Does this sound like someone was hedging their bets? Trying to persuade the Republican nominee, while simultaneously putting together an unsavory dossier on him?

Fusion GPS’s defense is, “The President’s political allies are going after Fusion GPS because it was reported to be the first to raise the alarm about the Trump campaign’s links with Russia.” Except, if Browder’s telling the truth, they were working for the Russians at that time.

Move on to this exchange with Sen. Lindsey Graham:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: This whole story reads like some kind of novel that nobody would buy, it’s got to be fiction, but unfortunately maybe it’s true. Let’s just break down sort of why you’re here. You believe that Fusion GPS should have registered under FARA, because they were acting on the behalf of the Russians?



WILLIAM BROWDER: That’s correct.



SEN. GRAHAM: So, I just want to absorb that for a moment. The group that did the dossier on President Trump hired this British spy, wound up getting it to the FBI. You believe they were working for the Russians?



BROWDER: And in the spring and summer of 2016 they were receiving money indirectly from a senior Russian government official.



SEN. GRAHAM: Okay. So, these are the people that were trying to undermine Donald Trump by showing the nefarious ties to Russia. Is that what you’re saying?



BROWDER: Well, what I’m saying with 100% certainty is that they were working to undermine the Magnitsky act and the timing of that.



SEN. GRAHAM: But, the Fusion GPS products apparently as they hired a guy to look into Trump?

BROWDER: Yes.

Lee Smith, writing at Tablet, points out that we’re now in a really murky area where the line between a typical public relations firm pitching stories and a foreign government shaping American news coverage is really hard to see anymore. “What’s new about Fusion GPS and its fellow DC oppo shops – few of which register as foreign lobbyists – is that they take money from entities linked to foreign governments that are eager to re- frame or invent news stories to punish their enemies at home and torque American foreign policy by controlling information.”

ADDENDA: What a week. At least Congressional Republicans are dropping the Border Adjustment Tax, or BAT, the proposal that would place new taxes on imported goods . . .  a tax hike that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher taxes. Glad to see they took the advice of conservative groups . . .  and, you know, the Joker:

Most Popular

Film & TV

A Sad Finale

Spoilers Ahead. Look, I share David’s love of Game of Thrones. But I thought the finale was largely a bust, for failings David mostly acknowledges in passing (but does not allow to dampen his ardor). The problems with the finale were largely the problems of this entire season. Characters that had been ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Great Misdirection

The House Democrats are frustrated, very frustrated. They’ve gotten themselves entangled in procedural disputes with the Trump administration that no one particularly cares about and that might be litigated for a very long time. A Washington Post report over the weekend spelled out how stymied Democrats ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More