The Morning Jolt

White House

Why an Affair Can’t Just Be an Affair

Making the click-through worthwhile: Stormy Daniels goes on 60 Minutes; across the country, students march for gun control; and Republicans give up on health-care reform.

Happy Monday, everyone. I’ll be filling in for Jim Geraghty this week. Away we go.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night . . .

. . . but even Stormy Daniels’s 60 Minutes interview had to wait for overtime in the Kansas–Duke game to conclude. When it did, Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, bared all before the camera — this time in an interview with Anderson Cooper about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. It was heavy on the details:

Daniels: Ummm, it started off all about him just talking about himself. And he’s like: “Have you seen my new magazine?”

Anderson Cooper: He was showing you his own picture on the cover of a magazine.

Daniels: Right, right. And so I was like, “Does this normally work for you?” And he looked very taken aback, like, he didn’t really understand what I was saying. Like, I was, “does, just, you know, talking about yourself normally work?” And I was like, “Someone should take that magazine and spank you with it.” And I’ll never forget the look on his face.

I’ll spare you the rest. As far as the affair is concerned, I don’t know if anyone, even the most sycophantic Trump supporter, doubts that it happened. Having an affair with a porn star months after your wife gave birth simply is the sort of thing Donald Trump would do. Nobody has produced any evidence to dispute the Wall Street Journal reports that Trump attorney Michael Cohen paid Daniels off just before the election. Daniels ended her interview by saying “[Trump] knows I’m telling the truth,” and I’ll bet some part of him knows that she is.

But the 60 Minutes segment also featured Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who said that the hush money paid to Daniels could be a “coordinated, illegal, in-kind [campaign] contribution by Cohen for the purpose of influencing the election, of benefiting the candidate by keeping this secret.” Host Anderson Cooper ran through all sorts of scenarios with the former FEC chairman — did Trump reimburse Cohen or not, could Russia be involved, will Robert Mueller look into the affair —  and Potter seemed certain that Trump was in legal hot water.

Maybe he is! I’m not qualified to evaluate the minutiae of FEC law, and Mueller’s investigation is at this point a black box. Still, it’s a bit jarring that the president having carried on a tryst with a porn star somehow isn’t bad enough to constitute a blockbuster scandal. There has to be some angle tying it to his supposedly inevitable impeachment. We’re so desensitized, we can’t even let a sordid presidential affair be a sordid presidential affair anymore.

March For Your Life!

I try not to use social media on weekends. I especially try not to use social media on weekends when there are massive political protests occurring. But everyone has their weak-willed moments, and, when I checked Twitter and Instagram this Saturday, I discovered that plenty of my friends participated in the so-called Marches for Our Lives that broke out across the country — and some of them even made their own signs. From the New York Times:

Demonstrators flooded streets across the globe in public protests on Saturday, calling for action against gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of marchers turned out, in the most ambitious show of force yet from a student-driven movement that emerged after the recent massacre at a South Florida high school.

At the main event in Washington, survivors of mass shootings, including the one in Florida, rallied a whooping crowd — “Welcome to the revolution,” said one of the student organizers — and spoke of communities that are disproportionately affected by gun violence. “It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet,” Edna Chavez, 17, said of her South Los Angeles neighborhood.

In New York, marchers bundled in bright orange — the official color of a gun control advocacy group — charged toward Central Park. And in Parkland, Fla., less than a mile from where the shooting took place last month, one protester’s eyes brimmed with tears, surrounded by the echoing chant, “Enough is enough!”

My heart goes out to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, of course. But their policy prescriptions are either stale (an assault-weapons ban) or dangerous (put gun owners on a registry, amend privacy laws for those with mental-health issues). The only gun-control measures that would meaningfully curb gun violence are the ones that are impossible to pass because they contravene the Second Amendment. In the end, the best response to the March came, yes, on Twitter, where someone quipped that large groups of people demanding that our civil rights be curtailed is the reason we have a Constitution.

Republicans Give Up on Health-Care Reform

The editors of National Review called the omnibus bill that was passed into law on Friday “an embarrassment and a disgrace.” One of the reasons why is that the bill appears to mark the end of the GOP push for health-care reform.

Republicans have implemented two major changes to the Affordable Care Act: President Trump stopped funding cost-sharing-reduction (CSR) payments, which are subsidies paid to insurers to cover the cost of their offering discounted insurance plans to low-income customers; and the tax-reform law repealed the individual mandate, which levied a fine on individuals who did not buy health insurance. With those measures repealed, premiums should rise unless additional changes to the health-care system are made.

Republicans hoped to pair a measure funding CSR payments with meaningful deregulations to the individual insurance market. But the deal fell apart as Democrats insisted that the money be allowed to go towards insurance plans that cover abortions. And the GOP doesn’t seem to have the will to pass a standalone health-care bill. A report from the Wall Street Journal makes the obvious point that rising premiums will be a hotly contested issue during the elections:

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that gross premiums for a popular middle-priced plan offered through the insurance exchanges are, on average, about 10% higher this year than they would have been if the subsidies to insurers were funded, a figure set to grow to 20% by 2021. The CBO also expects premiums to rise as a result of the repeal of the requirement that most people have coverage or pay a penalty, something that might encourage healthier people to forgo insurance.

Democrats blame the expected premium increases on an ongoing push by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to dismantle the ACA. Increases in health-care costs “have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and destabilize health-care insurance markets,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.).

Republicans fault the ACA and its regulations for stifling competition and driving up premiums, saying the GOP cannot be blamed for the problems with a law the party has forcefully opposed for years.

To borrow from Aristotle, repealing the individual mandate and canceling the CSR payments might be the efficient cause of rising premiums, but the final cause of rising premiums has to be the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is a broken system. But with Republicans not even working to address its problems, they will hard-pressed to make that case come November.

ADDENDA: I alluded to this way up in the beginning, but Duke–Kansas was quite the game. Malik Newman carved up the vaunted Duke zone, and talk about a clutch three from Syd Mykhailiuk. As for the pros, the contest between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder was fun to watch, with one exception: the dreadful performance of Carmelo Anthony. We’ll see if Melo can get back in gear for the playoffs. And baseball’s Opening Day is this Thursday, March 29. Seems a bit early this year. I’m an Orioles fan; the Os shored up their rotation recently by signing Alex Cobb, so I’m hoping for a dark-horse wild-card run.

See you tomorrow, everyone.

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