Trump surprises Republicans — and pleases Democrats — with push to revive health-care battle

A surprise move by the Trump administration aimed at striking down the Affordable Care Act thrust the partisan battle over health care into the middle of the 2020 campaign on Tuesday, handing Democrats a potential political gift on an issue that damaged Republicans badly in last year’s midterm elections.

In a new court filing, the Justice Department argued that the ACA, also known as Obamacare, should be thrown out in its entirety, including provisions protecting millions of Americans with preexisting health conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health-care plans.

President Trump praised the move during a lunch with Senate Republicans, and suggested the GOP should embrace a new congressional battle over health-care policy ahead of the 2020 elections.

“Let me tell you exactly what my message is: The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care,” he told reporters before the lunch. “You watch.”

.. Trump spent much of his time at the Senate lunch talking about health care, according to several senators present.

If there’s a message to be learned from 2018 on policy, it’s health care,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters after the lunch Tuesday. “Let’s become the party of health care.”

“He thinks that that’s the one area where we’ve fallen short and he wants to see us address it,” said Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.). “He made that very clear.”

“If you’re a Republican thinking about 2020 right now, you want to be on offense on health care, not defense,” she said. “And the only way to do that is to make the focus on what Democrats want to do — on Medicare-for-all — rather than making it on what the president and the White House are suggesting.”

.. A federal judge in Texas ruled in December that the law’s individual mandate “can no longer be sustained as an exercise of Congress’s tax power” and further found that the remaining portions of the law are void. He based his judgment on changes to the nation’s tax laws made by congressional Republicans in 2017.

.. “It is highly unusual for the Department of Justice not to defend duly enacted laws, which the Affordable Care Act certainly was,” Collins said. “This decision to even go more broadly in failing to defend the law is very disappointing.”

.. “I think Obamacare should be gone,” he said. “We’ve got to cover people with preexisting conditions apart from Obamacare, which is what I talked about a lot.”

.. There would be ripple effects throughout the health-care industry and insurance landscape as well. Those with workplace plans could be affected, as employers would be allowed to scale back certain medical benefits, and people with preexisting conditions buying coverage on their own would no longer be guaranteed access to coverage at no extra cost.

What did they do with Lindsey Graham?

It isn’t unusual for politicians to tweak their language or style, to soften or toughen rhetoric as one’s audience pleases. Still, there’s something almost comical about Graham’s toughening stances and head-snapping reversals. It’s as though his body has been occupied by someone else, his inner Terminator liberated at last — in part, perhaps, because he’s no longer John McCain’s wingman. He’s Maverick now.

.. Whatever else he intends, Graham has always known how to play the media and keep himself in the headlines. This may explain his and Trump’s recent comity, which can be traced to a lunch in March 2017 when the two found common ground in, among other things, an affection for playing golf. They are also both showmen and may share some mutual respect. Both love to be center stage, and both seem to have a similar knack for giving people what they want. The president and the apprentice.

.. He is also very funny, as debate viewers will recall from his 2015 performances. His best lines from those debates were spontaneous, quick-witted and true. We delighted in his unfiltered answers to questions, such as: “You know how to make America great again? Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.” Or, if Trump were to win, the Islamic State “would be dancing in the streets; they just don’t believe in dancing.”

.. No longer is Trump a “kook.” In 2017, Graham repeated the word but that time in taking issue with the media for “this endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook not fit to be president.”

.. But then Monday happened. The president turned on Maximus, rejecting Graham’s suggestion to temporarily reopen the government while the wall debate continues. The mind meld lost its connection. Do we sense a split after all Graham has done, not least his fiery attack against Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Brett M. Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, which Graham called an “unethical sham”?

Instantly, Graham became a meme sensation on the right. On the left, you’d have thought he had called Kavanaugh’s accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, “bat—- crazy,” a term he previously had used to describe the GOP for its support of Trump.

As we enter 2019, the Grahamster is full of brio and bluster, ready to rush Texas with his own posthole digger. His speechwriter must surely be busy preparing text for the senator’s remarks upon the groundbreaking, perchance to include: “President Trump, build this wall!” In the meantime, as Judiciary Committee chairman, Graham has vowed that the next Supreme Court justice will be a conservative, as though anyone doubted it.

Trump Pick for Attorney General to Tell Senate He Would Allow Special Counsel to Finish Investigation

William Barr to testify Tuesday that it is ‘vitally important’ Robert Mueller be allowed to complete Russia probe

“At the same time, the president has been steadfast that he was not involved in any collusion with Russian interference in the election,” Mr. Barr will say, according to the remarks. “I believe it is in the best interest of everyone—the president, Congress, and most importantly, the American people—that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work.”

.. Bur Mr. Barr does acknowledge concerns among Democrats and some Republicans that Mr. Trump will seek to quash the investigation’s findings, saying it’s important for Congress and the public to know as much as they can.

“My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can, consistent with the law,” Mr. Barr’s remarks say. “I can assure you that, where judgements are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political or other improper interests influence my decision.”

“I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation,” Mr. Barr plans to say. “I will follow the special counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.”

.. Mr. Barr’s nomination was generally welcomed by those in both parties, as well as by many Justice Department officials, who see him as a more traditional candidate than others Mr. Trump was considering. He says he plans to prioritize tough crime-fighting and immigration policies, in much the same way he did when he served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.

.. Mr. Barr’s testimony was released a day before he will face a committee filled with ambitious senators of both parties who have strong opinions and are eager to make a mark. The Judiciary Committee has increasingly become a battleground over the direction of the courts and the shape of American law.

The new chairman is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), an outspoken ally of Mr. Trump who won allies and adversaries with his angry defense of Justice Brett Kavanaugh during the latter’s confirmation hearing.

On the Democratic side, Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey—whose impassioned arguments during the Kavanaugh hearing made for dramatic television—are believed to be seriously considering a run for president, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is also mentioned as a possible candidate.

Many Democrats are expected to vote against Mr. Barr, partly because of the Senate’s partisan divisions and partly because of his memo on Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. Still, administration officials shepherding his nomination believe they can win some Democratic support.

With Republicans holding a 53-47 advantage in the Senate, Mr. Barr is expected to be confirmed, unless an unforeseen development causes Republican defections.

Trump’s Efforts to Hide Details of Putin Talks May Set Up Fight With Congress

President Trump’s efforts to hide his conversations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and new details about the F.B.I. inquiry into his ties to Moscow have intensified debate over his relationship with Russia, adding fuel to Democrats’ budding investigations of his presidency and potentially setting up a clash between the White House and Congress

.. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, who now leads the Intelligence Committee as part of the new Democratic House majority, implored his Republican colleagues Sunday to support his effort to obtain notes or testimony from the interpreter in one of the private meetings between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin.

“Will they join us now?” Mr. Schiff wrote on Twitter.Shouldn’t we find out whether our president is really putting ‘America first?’”

The administration appears unlikely to acquiesce to such a demand without a fight.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly withheld details of his conversations with Mr. Putin, according to current and former American officials, a practice that has left officials blind to the dynamic between the two leaders and intensified questions within the administration over the president’s actions.

.. On Sunday, congressional Democrats said the steps Mr. Trump took to keep his conversations secret brought forth uncomfortable questions about the relations between the two men and why the American president echoed some of Mr. Putin’s positions.

“Why is he so chummy with Vladimir Putin, this man who is a former K.G.B. agent, never been a friend to the United States, invaded our allies, threatens us around the world and tries his damnedest to undermine our elections?” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Why is this President Trump’s best buddy? I don’t get it.”

Mr. Trump went so far as to take the notes from the interpreter who worked with him during a private meeting with Mr. Putin at the 2017 Group of 20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

.. A former senior administration official said a number of top figures in the administration sought in the hours and days after the meeting to find out details of what Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had discussed. But Mr. Trump waved off their queries, leaving the officials to rely solely on a brief readout that Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state at the time, had provided to the news media, according to the former official.

.. Several administration officials asked the interpreter what had been discussed. But the interpreter told them that the president had taken the notes after the meeting, and had instructed the translator not to discuss the meeting, the former official said.

..Mr. Trump’s failure to allow other officials into the room or share notes of the meeting has become something of a Rorschach test inside the government.

For opponents of the president, there are no innocent explanations for Mr. Trump’s actions, which are possible evidence that Mr. Trump has colluded with Russia, a question at the heart of the special counsel inquiry. For supporters, Mr. Trump’s actions are evidence that he must go to extreme lengths to prevent leaks and is a nontraditional politician pursuing new approaches to old problems.

Republicans defended Mr. Trump on Sunday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that any notion the president was a threat to American security “is absolutely ludicrous.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, defended Mr. Trump’s choice to talk privately with Mr. Putin or other leaders.

“I know what the president likes to do,” Mr. McCarthy said on “Face the Nation.” “He likes to create a personal relationship, build that relationship, even rebuild that relationship, like he does with other world leaders around.”

.. Mr. Mueller asked Mr. Trump whether he had any discussions during the campaign about any meetings with Mr. Putin and whether he spoke to others about American sanctions against Russia.
.. The revelation about the earlier F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation prompted Republicans to renew their criticism of the bureau.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and fierce defender of Mr. Trump, told Fox News he was going to ask Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, if the bureau had begun a counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Graham said there should be checks inside the bureau to prevent such an investigation.

“I find it astonishing, and to me, it tells me a lot about the people running the F.B.I.,” Mr. Graham said. “I don’t trust them as far as I throw them.”

.. Without official detailed notes about Mr. Trump’s conversations, senior officials in the administration have had to rely on intelligence reports about what the Russians were saying to one another after the meeting. There are limits to what officials could glean from the intelligence, current and former officials said. And the Russians could hardly be considered reliable narrators, even with one another.

While that frustrated some in the government, the former senior administration official said he was not unsympathetic to Mr. Trump’s predicament. The official said the president feared that whatever he said to Mr. Putin would be twisted by critics.

But because access to meetings and transcripts was tightened after early leaks, some officials believed Mr. Trump’s decision to take the notes was too extreme and raised questions about what he was trying to keep private, the former official said.