Free-speech conservatives, this is your call to arms

To all those supposed constitutional conservatives out there, consider this your call to arms: The First Amendment is under direct attack, and this time from a much more powerful foe than misguided college freshmen.

By whom I mean: the ostensible leader of the free world.

Again and again, President Trump has used the weight of his office and the broader federal government to inflict financial damage upon critics, whistleblowers, journalists and peaceful protesters for exercising their rights to free speech.

Trump’s most recent salvo involves former CIA director John Brennan. During his long career in intelligence, Brennan briefed Republican and Democratic presidents alike. Which makes his fierce criticism of Trump, and his characterization of Trump’s Helsinki performance as “treasonous,” all the more biting.

.. Such comments led Trump to revoke Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday. The administration said Brennan no longer needed clearance because it didn’t plan to call on him for consultations. But high-level clearances are valuable for private-sector work as well.

In other words, this was about shutting Brennan’s mouth by going after his wallet.

.. And that is but one way Trump has tried to silence critics just this week.

A day earlier, Trump’s campaign said it had filed an arbitration action against Omarosa Manigault Newman alleging that the former White House aide broke a 2016 nondisclosure agreement by publishing her recent tell-all book.

.. And that is but one way Trump has tried to silence critics just this week.

That the party bringing the claim here is technically a campaign, rather than, say, the Justice Department, doesn’t matter. The First Amendment is supposed to protect those critical of their government, including critics of its highest officeholder, from political retribution. And political retribution laundered through an election campaign at the president’s instruction is retribution all the same.

.. Elsewhere — again, in recent days — the president and his minions have called the press the enemy of the people and the opposition party. Previously they have blacklisted reporters and entire news outlets (including The Post) whose questions Trump disliked.

.. When unhappy with Post coverage in particular, Trump has threatened government action against Amazon in an apparent attempt to financially punish its chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, who independently owns the paper.

.. Journalists and media owners are hardly the only ones whose job or financial security Trump has targeted from his bully pulpit. He called for the firing of National Football League players who kneel in protest during the national anthem. NFL owners, in a secretly recorded meeting in October, expressed concern about the president’s impact on their bottom line.

Curiously, Republican politicians and conservative pundits who call themselves staunch defenders of the Constitution have allowed, and at times encouraged, the president to run roughshod over the First Amendment.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), John Neely Kennedy (La.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) celebrated Trump’s revocation of Brennan’s security clearance.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee oversaw a hearing titled “Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses,” refused to condemn Trump’s calls for the firing of NFL players engaged in peaceful protest. Instead, in September, he attacked the media for giving the “false impression” that Trump spent too much time attacking the NFL.

.. Polls in the past couple of years have shown that pluralities and, quite often, majorities of Republicans say that they, too, consider the media the enemy of the people; believe that the president should have the authority to close news outlets that he believes behave badly; and favor firing NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and stripping citizenship from anyone who burns the flag.

Inside the FBI: Anger, worry, work — and fears of lasting damage

In the 109 years of the FBI’s existence, it has repeatedly come under fire for abuses of power, privacy or civil rights. From Red Scares to recording and threatening to expose the private conduct of Martin Luther King Jr. to benefiting from bulk surveillance in the digital age, the FBI is accustomed to intense criticism.

What is so unusual about the current moment, say current and former law enforcement officials, is the source of the attacks.

The bureau is under fire not from those on the left but rather conservatives who have long been the agency’s biggest supporters, as well as the president who handpicked the FBI’s leader.

.. Wray’s defenders say there is a more strategic reason for the new director’s approach — by relying on long-standing law enforcement policies and procedures, he believes the FBI can navigate through the current political storms and get back to a position of widespread trust across the political spectrum, according to people familiar with his thinking.

.. “Following established process is important,” one person said. “Process can protect us.”

.. Comey’s firing shocked the FBI’s workforce. In the aftermath, many employees posted pictures of him at their desks or other workspaces.

.. Others express doubts about emulating Mueller’s detached approach, worried that Wray’s calculation not to publicly spar with the president may lead to a gradual erosion of the bureau’s reputation and clout.

.. On Friday, over Wray’s objection, Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo and declared, “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.’’

.. He has called his own attorney general “beleaguered” and claimed the bureau’s reputation was “in tatters.”

.. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Fox News there was “evidence of corruption — more than bias but corruption — at the highest levels of the FBI,” and pointed to texts between two key officials who were once assigned to both the Clinton and Trump probes suggesting a “secret society” at the FBI. Those messages about a “secret society” are now widely seen to be a joke, but that has not diminished Republicans’ fervor

.. it conducts criminal investigations independently and without regard to the will of the chief executive. Trump has defied that norm. He asked Comey for a vow of loyalty, then inquired with Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey after Trump fired him, for whom he voted.

.. The memo itself, though, doesn’t prove the case. It doesn’t have the kind of evidence in it that you would need to see to say that there was an abuse of that authority.”

..  While the president might now feel he wants the bureau under his firm control, Hosko said, he might regret that if a like-minded president took office and ordered investigations of Trump or his family.

.. Current and former law enforcement officials expect the struggle for control of the FBI to intensify.

.. “Republicans think this is just part of the war they are fighting.”

GOP leaders in advanced talks to change tax plan in bid to win over holdouts

The lawmakers attracting the most concern from leadership and the White House are Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who say the current version of the bill favors corporations over other businesses.

.. Currently, in the Senate bill, these companies are allowed to deduct 17.4 percent of their income from their tax liability. Negotiators are looking at expanding that credit up to about 20 percent

.. their tax plan does not allow individuals, families, and pass-through companies to deduct their state and local taxes from their taxable income. The tax plan does allow firms that pay corporate income taxes to deduct their state and local taxes.

.. To create more parity, negotiators are considering putting new curbs on the ability of corporations to deduct state and local taxes from their income.

.. a change requested by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), which would allow Americans to deduct $10,000 in local property taxes from their taxable income.

.. Making this change could cost more than $100 billion over 10 years

.. But Johnson is on the budget panel, and he could demand changes by Tuesday in order to win his vote. If he blocks the tax bill in the Budget Committee and is joined by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has raised separate concerns, the package could quickly die.

The GOP Base Is Beyond Trump’s Control 

You can get elected as an outsider, but once in office, you have to actually govern.

The conservative movement is caught in a Catch-22 of its own making. In the war against “the establishment,” we have made being an outsider the most important qualification for a politician. The problem? Once elected, outsiders by definition become insiders. This isn’t just a semantic point. The Constitution requires politicians to work through the system if they’re going to get anything done.

.. Look at all the senators who rode the tea-party wave into power: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee. To one extent or another, they are now seen as swamp things, not swamp drainers, by the pitchfork populists.

.. Merely talking like a halfway responsible politician — “we don’t have the votes,” “we have to pay for it” — is proof of selling out. Trump bashes NBC News as ‘Fake News’ on Twitter

.. He wore the animosity of his colleagues, including the GOP leadership, like a badge of honor. He was the leader of the insurrectionists. He had only one problem: He talked like a creature of the establishment — largely because the Princeton- and Harvard-trained former Supreme Court clerk and career politician was one. He knew the lyrics to every populist fight song, but he couldn’t carry the tune.

..But not only did Donald Trump jump into the fray at the height of populist fervor, the field was also divided 17 ways. No one spoke less like a politician. No one who understood how governing works would have promised the things Trump promised

  • health coverage for all, for less money,
  • eliminate the debt,
  • bring all those jobs back, etc. —

because they’d either know or care that such things are literally impossible.

.. The establishment remains the villain and Trump the hero for his willingness to say or tweet things that make all the right people angry. For his most ardent supporters, the fault for his legislative failures lies entirely with the swamp, the establishment, or the “Deep State.”

.. he most important factor was Moore’s demonization of the establishment, particularly Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The voters valued sticking their thumbs in the establishment’s eye more than giving Trump a win.

.. there is remarkably little intellectual or ideological substance to the current populist fever. Strange was more conservative than Moore but less bombastic. Moore opposed Obamacare repeal and, until recently, couldn’t say what DACA was. In other words, MAGA populism is less of an agenda and more of a mood.

The Simplicity of a Health Deal

The GOP must realize protection for pre-existing conditions is here to stay.

Will the most conservative members of Congress accept that the politics of health care have changed?
.. Will they acknowledge that any reform must include continued protections for pre-existing medical conditions?
.. two camps of defectors from the Senate’s reform bill. One consists of Republican moderates— Rob Portman, Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski —who claim the bill is too mean to poor and sick people.
.. With the stakes this high, the Senate leadership will gladly shuffle some money toward opioid treatment, rural health-care providers or Medicaid. So getting the “moderates” on board is simple and transactional. They name a price, they get pork, they vote yes.
.. Sens. Ron Johnson, Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have been clear from the start that any bill must lower premiums, which involves getting rid of costly ObamaCare mandates. And there is no question that among the most expensive mandates are those designed to protect individuals with pre-existing conditions—in particular “community rating,” which requires insurers to charge the same prices regardless of health status.

The House Freedom Caucus was so intent on getting rid of community rating that it nearly derailed the bill. Only after the conference added an amendment allowing states to apply for waivers from community rating did the most conservative members finally came on board.

..every American remembers two particular provisions of the law—pre-existing conditions and coverage for children up to 26. These policies are simple and sound good. And they have become over the years a new standard in most people’s minds.
..Conservatives will argue their side just needs to do a better job explaining how these mandates drive up costs for everyone, or lower the quality of care.
..conservatives face a choice. They can work with their colleagues to minimize the costs of the mandates (there are innovative ways to do this) and build in different free-market reforms to lower premiums.

On Health Care, a Promise, Not a Threat

McConnell warns GOP senators they may end up having to work with the Democrats. They should.

The failure so far of Senate Republicans to agree on a health-care bill provides an opening. Whatever happens the next few days, moderates and centrists on both sides can and should rise, name themselves, and start storming through.
.. The party is undergoing a populist realignment, with party donors, think-tankers and ideologues seeing things more or less one way, and the Trump base, including many Democrats, seeing them another.
.. He has impulses and sentiments but is not, as the French used to say, a serious man.

.. Many Republican senators see that the American people are not in the mood for tax cuts to the comfortable and coverage limits on the distressed. Democratic senators, on the other hand, are increasingly aware that ObamaCare is not viable, and in some respects is on the verge of collapse.This gives both parties motives to join together and make things better.

.. Republicans believe they must repeal ObamaCare because they’ve long promised to do so. Keeping promises, especially in our untrusting political climate, is a good thing. But polling suggests America isn’t eager that promise be wholly kept

.. Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said on Fox News Wednesday night: “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the Democrats.” Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin says it’s a ‘mistake’ to attempt a partisan fix. Democrat Joe Manchin, also of West Virginia, says he’s “ready” for a bipartisan effort. The New York Times reports senators from both parties met privately weeks ago to discuss core issues. Mr. Manchin was there along with Democrats Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. Among the Republicans were Sens. Capito and Collins, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

.. Every president until Barack Obama knew this. He bullied through ObamaCare with no Republican support, and he did it devilishly, too, in that he created a bill so deal-laden, so intricate, so embedding-of-its-tentacles into the insurance and health systems, that it would be almost impossible to undo. He was maximalist.

.. Here is a thing that would help: a little humility from the Democrats, and a little humanity.

.. ObamaCare has big flaws—always did. It was an imperfect piece of legislation and it’s done some things my party said wouldn’t happen, such as lost coverage and hiked deductibles.

.. The Democratic Party made this mess. It’s on them to help dig out of it. If they show some humility, Republicans would look pretty poor in not responding with their own olive branch.

.. When it’s over, use whatever words you want: “We forced Democrats to admit the bill was flawed and dying.” “We forced Republicans to back down.”