Category Archives: Huffington Post

Trump Taps Jared Kushner To Lead Team That Will Run Government ‘Like A Company’

Fresh from the slopes of Aspen, Jared Kushner will on Monday be named the head of an aggressive new team charged with “fixing” the federal government by using business strategies.

“The government should be run like a great American company,” Kusher said on Sunday in an interview with The Washington Post, which first revealed the new initiative. “Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”

According to The Post, the White House Office of American Innovation has already met with Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Tesla founder Elon Musk, among other business leaders.

President Donald Trump personally picked his son-in-law to head up the initiative. In the new position, Kushner, 36, will be granted sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and attempt to meet Trump’s campaign promises. The business strategies Kushner aims to utilize could include privatizing some government tasks, the Post reported. 

“All Americans, regardless of their political views, can recognize that government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function, often creating widespread congestion and leading to cost overruns and delays,” Trump said a statement. He also said the new team would apply his own “ahead-of-schedule, under-budget mentality to the government.”

Kushner’s new role comes days after a major failure by the Trump administration to get the GOP health care bill passed. The measure was pulled Friday when it became clear that Republicans couldn’t muster the votes necessary for passage.

Early projects of the White House Office of American Innovation will include revamping the Veterans Affairs system and addressing America’s opioid addiction problem, which would seem to be a particularly daunting use of business strategies.

The team will be staffed by former business executives, such as National Economic Council director Gary Cohn; Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intra-governmental and technology initiatives; former Goldman Sach executive Dina Powell, who is currently deputy national security adviser and senior counselor to the president for economic initiatives; and Chris Liddell, assistant to the president for strategic initiatives, CBS News reported. 

The new job adds yet another duty to an already full plate for Ivanka Trump’s husband. A senior adviser to the president, Kushner is also a key foreign policy advisor and the point person in charge of helping to secure Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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Roger Stone: Talking To Guccifer 2.0 Doesn’t Mean I Colluded With Russians On Election

Donald Trump’s long-time pal and adviser Roger Stone again admitted that he communicated with the hacker linked by the FBI to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, but insisted that doesn’t mean he colluded with the Kremlin.

“I reiterate again, I have had no contacts or collusions with the Russians,” Stone said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Stone was singled out by the House Intelligence Committee during the questioning of FBI director James Comey last Monday. He is one of at least three people close to Trump being investigated by the FBI over possible ties to the Russians, The New York Times reported in January. 

Ranking committee Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) brought up Stone’s earlier comments about his communication with hacker Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Although Comey refused to comment on Stone, intelligence officials said both WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 are linked to Russian intelligence.

On “This Week,” Stone said the Democratic congressman was “full of Schiff.” He admitted to communicating with Guccifer 2.0 after the FBI said the hacker leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee, but that he would have “needed a time machine” in order to collude.

“My exchange with Guccifer, based on the content and the timing, most certainly does not constitute collusion,” Stone said. “My brief exchange with him is six weeks after the hacking of and publication of the DNC documents, which I’m accused of colluding with him on.” 

Stone insisted that he had made public all of his exchanges with Guccifer 2.0. He called the correspondence “entirely benign.” (Early this month, Stone tweeted that he had a “back channel” to WikiLeaks, then deleted the tweet.)

During a speech in Florida last August, after Wikileaks printed hacked DNC emails, Stone said he had “communicated” with Assange and predicted that more documents would be leaked in an “October surprise.” 

Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary

— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) August 21, 2016

Just weeks later — in October — emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta were leaked in an operation the FBI again linked to the Kremlin as a bid to sway the presidential election to Trump.

Stone told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos that he wasn’t referring to Podesta’s emails, but to his business dealings, which he did not detail.

He also added: “There is no collusion, none — at least none that I know about, in Donald Trump’s campaign for president.”

Stone said he was not convinced that Guccifer 2.0 was linked to the Russians.

“Number one, I don’t concede Guccifer is a Russian agent,” he said. “Just because the intelligence services say something, as we know from history, does not make it true.”

Stone also described the attacks on him as “McCarthyism,” yet said he has offered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as it examines possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s aides.

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South Korean Prosecutors Seek Arrest Warrant For Ousted President Park Geun-hye

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean prosecutors said on Monday they will seek an arrest warrant for ousted president Park Geun-hye, which would see her held in a cell for up to 20 days while being investigated on charges of taking bribes from big businesses.

Park, 65, became South Korea’s first democratically elected president to be removed from office when a constitutional court upheld her parliamentary impeachment this month.

Park is accused of colluding with a friend, Choi Soon-sil, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back the former president’s policy initiatives.

She and Choi have denied wrongdoing.

In announcing the move to seek an arrest warrant, the prosecutors’ office said there was reason to suspect that Park would try to destroy evidence.

“The case is very grave as the suspect has demonstrated acts of abuse of power by making companies give money and infringing on the freedom of corporate management by using powerful position and authority as president,” the prosecutors’ office said in a statement.

Park, who is currently free from detention, was questioned for 14 hours by prosecutors last week.

If the court grants the arrest warrant, Park will become the country’s third former president to be detained in custody while being investigated.

Once Park is under arrest, the prosecutor will have up to 20 days to continue investigations, by which time they must file charges against her.

It was not clear when the court will hold a hearing on the arrest request.

Park could face more than 10 years in jail if convicted of receiving bribes from bosses of big conglomerates, including Samsung Group [SAGR.UL] chief Jay Y. Lee, in return for favors.

Lee, who also denies charges that he provided bribes in return for favors for Samsung, and Choi are in detention and are separately on trial.

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Mexicans Who Help Build Donald Trump’s Wall Are ‘Traitors,’ Top Archdiocese Says

Mexicans who help build President Donald Trump’s planned border wall would be acting immorally and should be deemed traitors, the Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico said on Sunday, turning up the heat on a simmering dispute over the project.

In a provocative editorial, the country’s biggest Archdiocese sought to increase pressure on the government to take a tougher line on companies aiming to profit from the wall, which has strained relations between Trump and the Mexican government.

“Any company intending to invest in the wall of the fanatic Trump would be immoral, but above all, its shareholders and owners should be considered traitors to the homeland,” said the editorial in Desde la fe, the Archdiocese’s weekly publication.

On Tuesday, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo warned firms it would not be in their “interests” to participate in the wall. But the editorial accused the government of responding “tepidly” to those eyeing the project for business.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese, which centers on Mexico City and is presided over by the country’s foremost Roman Catholic cleric, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, said the editorial represented the views of the diocese.

Trump says he wants to build the wall to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the U.S. southern border. He has pledged Mexico will pay for the wall, which the Mexican government adamantly says it will not do.

The Desde la fe editorial, which was published online, said the barrier would only feed prejudice and discrimination.

“In practice, signing up for a project that is a serious affront to dignity is shooting yourself in the foot,” it wrote. Mexican cement maker Cemex has said it is open to providing quotes to supply raw materials for the wall but will not take part in the bidding process to build it.

Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua, another company specializing in construction materials, has also signaled readiness to work on the project.

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Everyone’s Laughing At This Fox News Tweet About Trump’s ‘Weekend Working’

Donald Trump visited a golf course for the 12th time in his nine-week presidency over the weekend, but Fox News saw events differently: 

News Alert: @POTUS spending weekend working at the White House. pic.twitter.com/kAtZVQE2Mr

— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 26, 2017

Needless to say, folks on Twitter thought the network missed the cut on this one. 

Here’s some of the reaction: 

WHOA. This is a first for a U.S. President, right? https://t.co/TFdA6fdfnz

— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) March 27, 2017

.@FoxNews fixed it for you pic.twitter.com/u5A1Y8gbJr

— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) March 26, 2017

@FoxNews wow he only golfed for some of the weekend instead of all weekend gee whiz

— Lev Novak (@LevNovak) March 26, 2017

@pattonoswalt This is hilarious, because there are multiple reports thats not the case. https://t.co/JxulDuBqel

— emu (@Hrd_a_rumr) March 27, 2017

So much for Fox/Pravda spin that he spent the weekend “working.” Honestly, I’m not sure what “work” is for Trump. Tweeting? https://t.co/21CxbzE9gC

— Rep. Jared Huffman (@JaredHuffman) March 27, 2017

@FoxNews @POTUS Then why was he at his golf course in Virginia with cleats and golf gloves yet again? #FakeNewsAlert pic.twitter.com/IUIHxx5sUH

— Josh Sánchez (@jnsanchez) March 26, 2017

I find it simultaneously amusing, pathetic and telling that trump working is breaking news.And like everything else from Fox, it’s a lie. https://t.co/OuUWJd5UGH

— FemDem2021 (@FemDem2021) March 27, 2017

He was at his golf course earlier today. @FoxNews pic.twitter.com/2KSGl8qddr

— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) March 26, 2017

Check that. He went to his VA golf course to not only play golf, but to watch it on TV. What President has time to do that? @POTUS @FoxNews

— lawhawk (@lawhawk) March 26, 2017

.@FoxNews @POTUS “Working” pic.twitter.com/y8gH7QmAGa

— Jonathon Jackson (@jonathonj1970) March 27, 2017

@LeftofWherever Takes break from Florida Vacation to take vacation in Virginia https://t.co/p190A6pjJq

— The Pretender (@NewaHailu) March 26, 2017

No he didn’t. But if he did is that really news? https://t.co/Fu1Uh4DEpU

— Marc E. Elias (@marceelias) March 26, 2017

Fixed it for you. @FoxNews @POTUS pic.twitter.com/rdBvn5eMLf

— david nuzzy nussbaum (@theNuzzy) March 26, 2017

@FoxNews @POTUS That’s a news alert? I thought that was part of the freaking job.

— Maria Langer (@mlanger) March 26, 2017

@darth @FoxNews @POTUS That propaganda schtick isn’t working so well. Hahaha.

— chkncharge (@chkncharge) March 26, 2017

@FoxNews @POTUS you spelled GOLFING wrong. pic.twitter.com/es0Jbp5mrK

— Ryan Graney (@RyanEGraney) March 26, 2017

@FoxNews @POTUS the fact that this is as News Alert now that Trump is POTUS is hilarious.

— JW (@JW_Ruhestand) March 26, 2017

1) Even if this were true, why would it be news?
2) Not even true. https://t.co/6oHfunGbMj https://t.co/zvOYcyWcmG

— Chuds MacKenzie (@ChudsMacKenzie) March 26, 2017

@FoxNews You know it’s trouble when we need a report that our President will be working during this weekend. #DoYourJob

— Michael Murphy (@BreadTanner) March 27, 2017

@pattonoswalt Live shot of him working pic.twitter.com/Z8NWzxk1eB

— Rep. Jackie Sharp (@JackieSharp) March 27, 2017

@AdamParkhomenko sad how @FoxNews misspelled “Golfing” in this tweet #truth https://t.co/y7KSMdkXd0

— Jonah Rodriguez (@Jonah_Rodriguez) March 27, 2017

@FoxNews @POTUS Golfing away from the White House is actually the opposite of ‘Spending the weekend working at the White House.

— Paul Le Comte (@five15design) March 27, 2017

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Here’s The ‘Little Birdie’ Who Betrayed Rick On ‘The Walking Dead’

Birds are usually majestic, beautiful creatures. 

Usually.

But this week on “The Walking Dead,” we found out that a “little birdie” became a lying backstabber and betrayed Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) ― and that birdie deserves to be exposed!

From the synopsis for the second half of Season 7, we knew someone or multiple people would betray Rick Grimes. AMC warned us, “We’ll see treachery from people we trust.”

This week, it happened.

While talking with Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), who we learn has been taken captive by the Saviors, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) says the aforementioned “little birdie” has told him that Rick is “up to no good.”

The identity of this “little birdie” has remained a mystery, until now …

Right away, one possible candidate comes to mind: Gregory (Xander Berkeley), the leader at Hilltop. But here’s why it’s probably not him:

Yes, in “The Walking Dead” comics, Gregory does go to Negan and tell him about the plans to attack the Saviors. In this episode, however, we see him apparently setting out to go to the Saviors’ headquarters after the scene where Negan tells Sasha about the “little birdie.”

The birdie could be Gregory, but because of that timeline, another candidate is more likely.

Uh huh. The junkyard people stink, and it’s not just because they’re surrounded by garbage.

On Sunday, Rick and the group forcibly take guns from the Oceanside community after Tara (Alanna Masterson) spills the beans about its location. (Nice going, Tara.) The group plans on giving the guns to the junkyard people to get them to fight the Saviors. Now, it seems Rick may be gathering guns that’ll be used on his own group.

It makes sense. The group’s leader, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), straight up tells Rick that they like to take things. They don’t like to work for stuff. Negan may have cut them a sweet deal, and now they get guns from Rick on top of whatever Negan gave them, too.

Plus, that group is just weird. The apocalypse has been going on for years, sure, but all of a sudden you forget how to talk like normal people? 

Who would put their faith in a group like that?

This isn’t a random guess, either. Online rumors say there are sightings of the junkyard people firing on Rick’s group during production. If that’s the case, it’s more evidence that they are the little birds.

And let’s not forget about this …

What’s that in the background at the junkyard? It’s birds, people. And they’re far away, so they look little. Do you need more proof than that?

“The Walking Dead” airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

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Here’s How Trump Could Make Obamacare Better – Or Worse

It’s President Donald Trump’s health care system now. The question is: What’s he going to do with it?

After the collapse of the GOP effort to repeal the Barack Obama administrations’s Affordable Care Act and enact a different set of reforms to the health care system Friday, Trump inherited programs that aren’t going anywhere and that serve tens of millions of Americans.

Trump reacted to his defeat by practically threatening to stand aside and do nothing to address the shortcomings of the law, like rising premiums and declining choices of insurers in some states. “The best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode,” he said at the White House Friday. He made a similar statement on Twitter the next day.

ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2017

Despite claims by Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that the Affordable Care Act is unfixable, the Trump administration has tools at its disposal it could use to make the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges more attractive to health insurers and potentially less costly for consumers. Or Trump could go in the other direction and undermine the law to bolster their case for “replacing” it later.

“I’m quite confident that unless the administration decides to not steward the exchanges because they have some draconian negotiating strategy that the exchanges will be fine next year,” said Andy Slavitt, who oversaw the exchanges as acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama.

“If they choose to screw with them, they control all the branches of government and I think they’ll be judged very harshly,” Slavitt said.

The White House and Department of Health and Human Services so far have sent mixed messages to the industry and consumers about what to expect.

The program doesn’t work for consumers if there are no insurers participating.
Larry Levitt, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

Trump issued an executive order on his inauguration day directing federal agencies to relax Affordable Care Act rules, and the IRS responded by announcing it wouldn’t reject tax returns that failed to include information about health coverage under the law’s individual mandate, for example.

But the administration also has taken some steps to quiet anxiety among health insurers that the exchanges next year won’t function properly and that losses some have suffered ― and that drove some insurance companies out of the market entirely ― will continue. Insurers have until late June to decide whether to sell policies on the exchanges next year.

And the key to shoring up the health insurance exchanges right now is catering to the carriers, even if those same changes make the law less consumer-friendly.

“The program doesn’t work for consumers if there are no insurers participating,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

There are limits to how much improvement, or damage, Trump could make to the health insurance exchanges, but there are several key actions that will go a long way to determining whether his administration wants to make the markets work better or worse.

How To Make It Better

Pay the subsidies

In addition to the tax credits the Affordable Care Act offers to low- and middle-income households to reduce their monthly health insurance premiums, the law provides extra subsidies to the poorest enrollees that cut their out-of-pocket costs like deductibles and copayments.

These subsidies are paid to health insurance companies directly, and the law requires them to reduce eligible customers’ cost-sharing whether the federal government makes the payments or not. And nonpayment isn’t a theoretical problem; it’s a real one.

House Republicans sued the Obama administration in 2014 to halt these payments, arguing the funding needs congressional approval it didn’t receive. A federal judge sided with House Republicans last year, prompting an appeal from Obama’s Justice Department. When Trump took office, his administration became the defendant, so he and congressional leaders got the court’s permission to delay the proceedings.

What they do next is crucial. If House Republicans drop the lawsuit or appropriate the money to keep the subsidies flowing, it not only would make sure low-income families keep their benefits, but it would quell a major source of worry for insurance companies.

Enforce the mandate

The individual mandate (and the fines taxpayers owe if they aren’t covered and don’t qualify for an exemption) is the least popular part of the Affordable Care Act, especially among Republicans. But it’s also vital for keeping the exchanges operating, because it pushes people with less medical need into the insurance pool, where their premiums offset the costs of treating sicker people.

The IRS announcement earlier this year made insurers nervous, but a strong signal now from the administration that it will make people comply with the law could alleviate that. “It’s insurer perceptions that matter here. If they’re not confident that this market is going to work, then they’re going to run for the exits or raise premiums,” Levitt said.

Work with the states

Alaska and Minnesota already are taking matters into their own hands to improve the health insurance markets in their states. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has invited states to apply for “waivers” the Affordable Care Act created that could give them flexibility to redesign the exchanges themselves.

“That gets states more engaged,” Slavitt said. “It creates different solutions and, as far as I’m concerned, so long as you’re meeting the core requirement of covering more people with high-quality benefits, let the states experiment.”

One form that could take, Levitt explained, is helping states set up “reinsurance” funds like the one in Alaska. These compensate insurers that experience higher-than-expected costs, which allows them to charge lower premiums. And lower premiums mean less federal spending on tax credits, so these programs can actually save the federal government money, Levitt said.

Sign up more people

Enrollment on the health insurance exchanges dipped this year, partly because the Trump administration halted some outreach and advertising the Obama administration planned for the end of the 2017 sign-up period.

They could choose a different path for the coming enrollment campaign and work to sign up more customers, especially younger, healthier ones, which would strengthen the market for everybody, Levitt said.

“It’s potentially the most stabilizing thing the Trump administration could do,” Levitt said.

Be flexible with insurers

Not all consumers would like this, but Price has some leeway to allow health insurance companies to offer policies with fewer benefits, which would lower premiums in exchange for less coverage.

The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover 10 “essential health benefits,” like hospitalizations and prescription drugs, but gives the Department of Health and Human Services the authority to specify how that works.

Price would, for example, allow insurers to sell policies that only cover generic prescription drugs or that set limits on how many rehabilitation service visits a patient could have in a year, Levitt said.

“There are tradeoffs and consequences in all these changes,” Levitt said. “There’s a big difference between taking administrative steps to sabotage the law and moving it in a more conservative direction,” he said.

They control all the branches of government and I think they’ll be judged very harshly.
Andy Slavitt, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

How To Make It Worse

Cut off the subsidies

If Trump gives in on the House Republican lawsuit or if Congress refuses to fund the cost-sharing reductions, it could blow up the insurance exchanges quickly. Health insurance companies might be able to leave the markets right away, tossing millions off their plans to prevent facing billions of dollars in losses. And they wouldn’t come back.

“If they wanted to destroy the insurance market immediately, then the easiest thing they could do would be to stop paying,” said Timothy Jost, a professor at Washington and Lee University Law School.

Ignore the mandate

Trump could continue along the path the IRS started by making clear to the public that his administration won’t penalize people who don’t get health coverage.

“Weakening the individual mandate could very well sabotage the individual insurance market,” Levitt said.

“Insurers would perceive weakening the individual mandate as a sign that the administration is trying to sabotage the law,” he said. Fear that healthier consumers would opt out without the threat of a fine would spook insurers into avoiding the exchanges, he said.

Let enrollment stagnate

The next sign-up period for the health insurance exchanges begins Nov. 1. The administration could choose to pick up where Obama’s team left off and engage in a nationwide campaign to publicize health insurance enrollment and help people apply for coverage.

Or they could scale back this work, as they did early this year, and leave enrollees to their own devices, which would result in lower enrollment overall and likely make the insurance pool sicker, because those with the greatest health care needs would be the most prone to sign up without help or reminders. 

“It will be Secretary Price’s legacy forever if he acts in ways that are destructive to the American people. And he knows that people will die if they lose their coverage,” Slavitt said.

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Watch Ted Koppel Tell Sean Hannity He’s Bad For America

When it comes to Sean Hannity’s political contribution to America, Ted Koppel doesn’t mince words.

The “Sunday Morning” senior contributor squarely told the Fox News talk show host that he’s “bad for America” when asked if he is in an interview aired on CBS Sunday. The response left Hannity in clear disbelief, and later upset.

During a back and forth on the difference between factual news and political opinion, and its impact on society, Hannity accused the former Nightline news anchor of being cynical, which he didn’t disagree with.

.@seanhannity: “Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?”
Ted Koppel: “Yes.”
More here: https://t.co/HIiWcfVPTb pic.twitter.com/FmAYCFXvwU

— CBS Sunday Morning (@CBSSunday) March 26, 2017

“Do you think we’re bad for America? You think I’m bad for America?” the conservative television host asked him while wearing an American flag pin over his heart.

“Yeah,” Koppel twice replied, leaving Hannity shaking his head and calling his belief “sad.”

“You are selling the American people short,” Hannity added.

“You have attracted people who are determined that ideology is more important than facts,” Koppel continued. 

Shortly after the interview aired, Hannity took to Twitter to slam his encounter with Koppel as “fake ‘edited’ news.”

“I did about a 45 minute interview with CBS. They ran less than 2. Why did Ted cut out my many examples of media bias?” he tweeted.

Fake “edited” news. I did about a 45 minute interview with CBS. They ran less than 2. Why did Ted cut out my many examples of media bias? https://t.co/prynzE2yLQ

— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 26, 2017

Koppel’s entire piece, which ran nearly 11 minutes, included commentary from a range of top media figures, a media expert and President Donald Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer. It also included Hannity sharing a belief to Koppel that “liberalism has to be defeated.”

“Socialism must be defeated in a political sense. We don’t want a revolution in this country,” he said.

Hannity, in statements posted to Twitter, took issue with the selected quotes that were aired.

“I gave a example [sic] after example of why I say ‘journalism is dead’. I also gave many examples of how liberalism has failed,” he argued.

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The Death Of Trumpcare Is The Ultimate Proof Of Obamacare’s Historic Accomplishment

The Affordable Care Act overcame the tea party protests of 2009 and the Democrats losing their filibuster-proof Senate majority in 2010. It survived two challenges in front of the Supreme Court and the calamitous rollout of healthcare.gov.

Now it has withstood the attempt to replace it with the American Health Care Act, better known as Trumpcare.

Somehow, despite the intense political forces arrayed against it, and the mind-boggling policy problems it tries to solve, the 2010 health care law keeps defying efforts to wipe it out. That says something about the people who wrote it ― and what they have achieved.

Obamacare has never been hugely popular, and it has never worked as well as its architects hoped. Millions of Americans don’t like it and, even now, there are parts of the country where the markets are struggling to survive.

But the program has provided security and access to care for millions of others. More importantly, it has shifted the expectations of what government should do ― and of what a decent society looks like.

This week’s defeat of the Republican repeal effort shows just how hard it is to undo those changes. And it won’t get any easier.

What Obama And Pelosi Did (And Trump And Ryan Didn’t)

On Friday, hours before President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) formally conceded their bill lacked the votes to pass, White House press secretary Sean Spicer signaled what was coming. Trump, he said, had “left everything on the field.”

The statement was preposterous.

Trump and the Republicans in Congress had spent all of 63 days trying to pass their Obamacare repeal ― less than three weeks of which were spent actually debating the text of the AHCA. They held votes before Congressional Budget Office evaluations were ready, and were about to ask the full House to decide on the proposal just hours after making major changes to it.

Over in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had already indicated he intended to bypass his committees altogether and take legislation directly to the floor ― perhaps with a quick House-Senate negotiation, a fast vote and a signature from the president.

By contrast, it took former President Barack Obama, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) more than a year to pass Obamacare ― a politically tortuous period that many people later blamed for Democrats losing their House majority in 2010.

At the time, every apparent error loomed large ― from taking on health care at all, to letting the process drag out for more than a year, to slavishly crafting a proposal as CBO specified, to cutting unpleasant deals with health care’s special interests.

Lost amid the recriminations was the talent each player brought to his or her task ― and the Democrats’ single-minded focus on avoiding mistakes of the past in order to achieve something their party had been trying to do since the days when Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House.

I am not saying we needed 14 months to do this. But I think a more careful and deliberate approach … would have gotten us further down the path to a solution.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

The work had begun long before Obama even ran for president. In the aftermath of the defeat for Bill Clinton’s 1994 health care plan, activists, advocates and intellectuals regrouped ― and then spent literally years hashing out their ideas for achieving universal coverage in a politically viable way. When Obama did run, he borrowed their work for his own plan. When he was elected, the most pivotal committee chairman of the process, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), was ready with his own blueprint that looked nearly identical.

Baucus had done something else: Working with then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), he had convened meetings with virtually every health care stakeholder, from hospitals to unions to insurers to patient advocacy groups, exchanging ideas and negotiating over principles. It meant that when the actual legislating started, the channels of communication were already open and the groundwork for a common vision was already in place. 

And still it was a nearly impossible task. Like the Republicans this year, Democrats found consensus difficult to achieve ― among the outside groups, and within their own ranks as well. Liberals wanted a more generous program, and a public option. Moderates wanted to avoid too much government spending and too much meddling with the way independent businesses operate.

But unlike the Republicans, the Democrats’ reaction was to work with the different groups and slowly bring them along ― most vividly, by negotiating with a handful of moderate Republicans, in the hopes that one or two (or maybe more) would sign onto the plan. It never happened, but the effort to woo those members helped secure moderate Democrats who needed to tell their constituents that, yes, they had tried to be bipartisan.

One reason Democratic leaders were able to preserve legislative momentum was that they understood, at all times, where they were trying to go ― and they were fluent enough in the policy to handle direct negotiations on their own. One of the enduring images of Obama during the Affordable Care Act fight was his visit to a Republican Party policy retreat in Baltimore, where he fielded questions and parried criticisms from the assembled members for roughly 90 minutes.

The work that led to Obamacare had begun before Obama even ran for president.

Trump, by contrast, seemed to lack anything beyond a superficial understanding of the bill, to the point where allies worried about letting him negotiate details. “Either doesn’t know, doesn’t care or both,” a Capitol Hill aide told CNN about the president.

As for Pelosi, her job was easier than Ryan’s in one important sense. Nobody in her caucus was as extremist or nihilist as the Freedom Caucus, partly because Democrats had done so much prep work and hammered out a rough consensus before the hard legislating work began.

But Pelosi didn’t try to jam through “slapdash” legislation, as Harold Pollack, writing in Politico, recently called the AHCA. And she didn’t flinch when her political task looked utterly hopeless.

When Kennedy’s seat went to Scott Brown, depriving Democrats of a filibuster-proof majority to approve a final compromise, she told Obama she would get the votes for the Senate’s bill ― and she did, taking charge of the whip count personally ― and working her caucus, one member at a time, until she had a majority.

On Sunday, during an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), conceded that maybe the Democrats knew what they were doing.

“When the Democrats came to power in 2009, for 60 years at least, they had been pursuing a national health care system, yet they didn’t introduce legislation for eight months, and they didn’t pass it for over a year of Barack Obama’s first term,” Cotton said.

“I am not saying we needed 14 months to do this,” he added, “but I think a more careful and deliberate approach, which we now have time to do because we are going to have to revisit health care anyway, would have gotten us further down the path to a solution.”

The Resilience Of Obamacare

But the Republican failure wasn’t just about process. It was also about policy ― and a failure to realize just how profoundly the Affordable Care Act has changed public expectations for how the U.S. health care system operates.

The end product of that long, cantankerous debate in 2009 and 2010 wasn’t pretty. Keeping the health care industry on board meant heeding their demands to ratchet back aggressive cost controls. Holding moderate Democrats in the coalition meant putting a tighter lid on what the program would spend. Passing the Senate bill meant accepting statutory language that its authors had hoped a conference committee would clean up before enactment.

These compromises and concessions made implementation difficult. The sloppy language from the Senate bill exposed the program to the lawsuit King v. Burwell, which, if successful, would have destroyed the exchanges. The deals to secure support from individual members, like the “cornhusker kickback” that helped reel in Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), stained the whole effort with a tinge of corruption. The stingy funding meant that some middle-class people wouldn’t get much financial help, despite high premiums.

Republicans proved exceptionally adept at turning these problems into political advantages. But more frequently than not, they attacked the law because it wasn’t living up to liberal ideals ― because it left middle-class people on the hook for premiums, or because the plans had onerous deductibles, or because it was insufficiently harsh to the health care industry. McConnell was fond of pointing out that the law had left some 25 million people uninsured.

The message was unmistakable: The health care law had failed because it had made health care harder for people to get, and the GOP had a better way.

These arguments helped Republicans grab and hold congressional majorities, and they helped put Trump in the White House. But McConnell wasn’t interested in covering more people any more than Ryan wanted to lower people’s deductibles. And the need to write legislation exposed their real policy preferences ― which were lower taxes, fewer regulations and less government spending on the poor.

The combination meant that more people, not fewer, would be exposed to crippling medical bills. When the CBO finally did weigh in, the number of people predicted to lose their insurance, 24 million, was so big that even Republicans couldn’t spin or lie their way out of it.

“All politicians overpromise,” Jonathan Chait, of New York magazine, observed. “But the Republicans did more than overpromise. They delivered a policy directionally opposed to their promises.”

Republicans had also convinced themselves that nobody who had insurance through the Affordable Care Act liked it. The media coverage made it easy to believe this. Stories of people losing their old plans or paying more for new ones were all over the press for the first few years of the program. Stories of people saving money, or getting insurance for the first time, were much harder to find.

But as surveys showed, the majority of people getting coverage through the Affordable Care Act were actually satisfied with it ― and quite a few were deeply grateful. In the last few months, finally, their stories became part of the conversation. They showed up on television, in the print media, and especially at town hall meetings ― forcing Republicans to answer questions they’d successfully dodged for years by tapping into anger with “Obama” and glossing over details about the “care.”

“If it wasn’t for Obamacare, we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance,” an Iowa farmer told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Recalling Grassley’s 2009 false warning that the Affordable Care Act had “death panels,” the farmer said, “With all due respect, sir, you’re the man that talked about the death panel. We’re going to create one big death panel in this country if people can’t afford insurance.”

At a CNN town hall, in front of a live national audience, an Arizona man with cancer told Ryan that the health care law was paying for his cancer treatment. “I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart because I would be dead if it weren’t for him,” the man said, adding that he was a Republican who once opposed the law and had volunteered in GOP campaigns.

The backlash left Republicans visibly rattled. And although leaders tried to write off such incidents as paid activists making trouble, they couldn’t explain why nearly every group connected to health care ― from the American Medical Association to AARP ― was making the same arguments.

Nor could Republicans explain plummeting public support for the legislation. By the end, the GOP bill had support from just 17 percent of the population ― much less than Obamacare, at its worst, ever polled.

Depriving people of health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition is no longer acceptable.

Up until the end, Republicans had the votes to pass the House bill or something like it, and deliver Trump the big win he craved. It’s not so difficult to imagine a scenario with slightly better leadership, and slightly less obstreperous Republican factions, in which the legislation would have gone through both chambers and eventually to the White House.

But doing so would have almost surely produced a massive political backlash, because taking health insurance away from millions of people ― depriving people of health care because they have a pre-existing condition, or because they don’t have enough money to pay for it ― is no longer acceptable.

It was the status quo until 2010. That was seven years ago and there is very little enthusiasm for going back.

As Sen. Bill Cassidy, a conservative doctor who represents the conservative state of Louisiana, told The New York Times, “There’s a widespread recognition that the federal government, Congress, has created the right for every American to have health care.”

What Happens Now

Obamacare remains a shaky enterprise, with markets in several states down to two or even one insurance company. And Trump, who has already taken some actions to sabotage the program’s performance, might make it even a shakier.

“Bad things are going to happen to Obamacare,” Trump said from the Oval Office on Friday, making what sounded to a lot of people like a threat. “There’s not much you can do to help it.”

Nobody questions that Obamacare requires reinforcement and repair ― or that someday it might need total replacement. Conservatives and liberals each have plenty of ideas along those lines.

But the standard for judging any of these proposals, or some bipartisan combination of them, will be the same one that Trumpcare failed to meet: Does it protect the people who need protection? Does it improve access to care? Does it reduce financial insecurity? Does it move the U.S. closer to a system where all Americans truly have a way to get the medical care they need ― at a price they can afford?

This, in the end, is what Obama, Pelosi and their allies achieved with the Affordable Care Act ― not the creation of a jury-rigged system of regulations and tax credits, or the expansion of an overtaxed Medicaid program, or any of the myriad smaller policy initiatives the Affordable Care Act. The true legacy of Obamacare is the principle that everybody should have health insurance.

Erasing that is not something that can happen in 63 days. And it may never happen at all. 

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Protesters Take On Settlements In ‘Biggest Ever Jewish-Led Protest’ Of AIPAC

On Sunday, hundreds of mostly young, American Jews rallied in Washington, D.C., during the first day of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee 2017 Convention, to protest the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“We’re protesting [AIPAC] en masse as Jews to say that to be Jewish in America at this moment doesn’t mean to support Israel unconditionally,” said 25-year-old Yonah Lieberman, one of the co-founders of the anti-settlement group IfNotNow, which spearheaded the protest in Washington D.C. 

Lieberman described Sunday’s march as “the biggest ever Jewish-led protest of AIPAC.”

“Palestine, my friend, you do not walk alone, we will walk with you.” AIPAC is not our establishment. #JewishResistence #ResistAIPAC pic.twitter.com/frl3U2JWkg

— Abraham Gutman (@abgutman) March 26, 2017

Non-Jewish leaders like academic and activist Cornel West joined in Sunday’s protest, which saw participants briefly blocking the doors of the conference.  

“A precious Jewish child in Tel Aviv has the same value as a precious Palestinian child in Gaza.” – Dr. Cornel West at #ResistAIPAC pic.twitter.com/yGylxxmGzO

— IfNotNow (@IfNotNowOrg) March 26, 2017

The annual conference of the powerful pro-Israel lobby draws heavyweights from both ends of the political spectrum: This year’s speakers include House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi  (D-Calif.). Though the group describes itself as bipartisan, it’s commonly viewed as a right-leaning organization ― or at least one that is unfriendly to criticism of the Israeli government’s right-wing policies. 

AIPAC has historically avoided taking a firm stance on settlements, but has had a hand in influencing policy that tilts in their favor. Critics, like Lieberman, are more blunt in their assessment:

“AIPAC is the largest institution that supports Israeli settlements,” he said Sunday. “They’ve done more in the past 50 years to support occupation than anyone else in the Jewish community.”  

Over 1000 protesters streaming out of #ResistAIPAC changing “If not now, when,” through the Red Sea to our freedom. #JewishResistance pic.twitter.com/io4mMreH7j

— IfNotNow (@IfNotNowOrg) March 26, 2017

Sunday’s protests are symbolic stands against not only Israel’s half century-long settlement stance, but policies of President Donald Trump’s nascent administration. 

Earlier this year when the Israeli government approved the construction of thousands of new settlement homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite Palestinian opposition and widespread international condemnation, Trump’s administration took a more amiable stance on the development than those of previous administrations ― which flatly opposed any construction of settler homes. 

The Trump administration’s closer alignment to the Israeli government was confirmed at AIPAC by Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., during Sunday’s conference.

“For the first time in many years, perhaps even many decades, there is no daylight between our two governments,” Dermer said.

 

AIPAC will be pro-Israel at any cost, prioritizing the occupation over the safety of the Jewish community and other marginalized people in America.
Sara Sandmel, an IfNotNow member

 AIPAC was also criticized for what protesters said was a weak stance against a growing wave of anti-Semitism in the U.S.

“I’ve never seen the sort of antisemitism we’re seeing today, but despite bomb threats and desecrated cemeteries, AIPAC has chosen to remain silent,” Sara Sandmel, an IfNotNow member from Boston, said in a statement Sunday.

“This proves without a doubt that AIPAC will be pro-Israel at any cost, prioritizing the occupation over the safety of the Jewish community and other marginalized people in America.”

Lieberman said the new dynamic creates a “unique moral moment for the Jewish-American community.”

“Now, we have a unique role to play to ensure the occupation comes to an end,” he said. “We have a responsibility to resist it.” 

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.