Yes, Steve Bannon Should Terrify You

a new protégé, Michael Grimm, who is hoping to reclaim, from a fellow Republican, the congressional seat that he had to vacate a few years back when he was convicted of felony tax fraud and sent off to the clink. Bannon apparently wants to help.

Why? Excellent question. Grimm’s botched effort to enrich himself by hiding $1 million of his restaurant-business earnings doesn’t exactly scream populism.

.. Bannon’s real intent, which is to inflict as much pain and ugliness on the G.O.P. as he can. He’s not an ideologue. He’s an arsonist. And he doesn’t care who or what is reduced to ashes.

.. For Bannon, Moore is an instrument of torture, and after he won the Republican primary less than two weeks ago, Bannon and his allies made clear that the scheming and dark fun had only just begun.

.. Nick Ayers, who is Mike Pence’s chief of staff. According to an audiotape obtained by Politico, he recently urged major Republican donors to “purge” Trump-bucking lawmakers by denying them any money and instead funding Republican challengers.

.. “Republicans’ two toughest Senate races — Nevada and Arizona — are winnable with the incumbents but are going to be very, very rough if the Bannon-backed candidates are the nominees.”

.. “Republicans’ two toughest Senate races — Nevada and Arizona — are winnable with the incumbents but are going to be very, very rough if the Bannon-backed candidates are the nominees.”

.. Moore, McDaniel and Grimm aren’t perfect ideological companions, but they’re chaos candidates, and if they manage to get to Congress and the G.O.P. maintains its majorities there, heaven help us all. Just think about what they’ll inject into the formal debate on Capitol Hill; just think about how much further they’ll warp it. It could make the Tea Party’s ascent in 2010 seem tame.

Centrist Project 2018: Run 3-5 Senate Seats

1). We are organizing a campaign to draft a slate of 3-5 Centrist, independent candidates for U.S. Senate (stay tuned!). Recognizing the high barrier to entry at this level, we are focusing on potential candidates who would be instantly credible and viable based on their existing name recognition and fundraising capacity.

2). For the first time, we are recruiting a slate of Centrist, independent candidates to run for state legislature in at least two potential target states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Oregon, Nevada, and Connecticut. Winning races at this level can serve as a proof of concept that can be scaled to other states and up the ballot in future elections, while simultaneously building a farm team of leaders to run for higher office in the future.

While over 40% of voters self-identify as independent voters, fewer than .01% of legislators are elected as independents. Why? Talented leaders don’t run as independents because there is zero infrastructure to support their campaigns, unlike major party candidates. That is the core problem we are determined to solve.

McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

.. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

.. A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war.

.. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

..In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

.. During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

.. Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

..In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond

..“When it comes to the Senate, there’s an Article 5 understanding: An attack against one is an attack against all,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who has found himself in Mr. Trump’s sights many times, invoking the NATO alliance’s mutual defense doctrine.

..Some of them blame the president for not being able to rally the party around any version of legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, accusing him of not knowing even the basics about the policy. Senate Republicans also say strong-arm tactics from the White House backfired, making it harder to cobble together votes and have left bad feelings in the caucus.

..White House aides told Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from the state whose support was in doubt, that she could only accompany him on Air Force One if she committed to voting for the health care bill. She declined the invitation, noting that she could not commit to voting for a measure she had not seen

.. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told colleagues that when Mr. Trump’s interior secretary threatened to pull back federal funding for her state, she felt boxed in and unable to vote for the health care bill.

.. But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

.. An all-out clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell would play out between men whose strengths and weaknesses are very different. Mr. Trump is a political amateur, still unschooled in the ways of Washington, but he maintains a viselike grip on the affections of the Republican base. Mr. McConnell is a soft-spoken career politician, with virtuoso mastery of political fund-raising and tactics, but he had no mass following to speak of.

.. Roger J. Stone Jr., a Republican strategist who has advised Mr. Trump for decades, said the president needed to “take a scalp” in order to force cooperation from Republican elites who have resisted his agenda. Mr. Stone urged Mr. Trump to make an example of one or more Republicans, like Mr. Flake, who have refused to give full support to his administration.

.. The president should start bumping off incumbent Republican members of Congress in primaries,” Mr. Stone said. “If he did that, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would wet their pants and the rest of the Republicans would get in line.”

.. But Mr. McConnell’s allies warn that the president should be wary of doing anything that could jeopardize the Senate Republican majority.

“The quickest way for him to get impeached is for Trump to knock off Jeff Flake and Dean Heller and be faced with a Democrat-led Senate,” said Billy Piper, a lobbyist and former McConnell chief of staff.

The Americans Who Saved Health Insurance

The bills had virtually no independent defenders. This intellectual honesty — the avoidance of false balance — helped the public understand that this wasn’t a classic partisan fight with each side making some good points. It was a case of cynical politicians willing to hurt their constituents in order to keep a misguided campaign promise.

.. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, told me that he thought the two senators’ history of partisan independence was crucial: “Susan and Lisa knew you could stand up to the Republican leadership and survive.”

.. Chief Justice John Roberts is a movement conservative. Yet he cast the vote that saved Obamacare in 2012 partly because he understood that a partisan shredding of the safety net could undermine his institution — the Supreme Court.

John McCain is also deeply conservative. Yet, like Roberts, he realized that taking health coverage from millions, in a hasty, secretive process, could damage his favorite institution — the Senate.

When his colleagues didn’t heed his warning to abandon that approach, McCain flipped his vote. “No,” he announced at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, shocking Democrats who had given up on him and Republicans who had assumed he wouldn’t really break ranks on principle.

.. They had also held their own town halls, and they knew the bills were deeply unpopular.

GOP senators threaten to kill their own Obamacare bill

Senate Republicans are threatening to tank their own Obamacare repeal bill if they don’t receive a guarantee from Speaker Paul Ryan that it will merely be a starting point for negotiations and not become law.

So Ryan (R-Wis.) seemed to provide the assurance they were looking for, but it’s not clear it will be enough.

 .. “The skinny bill as policy is a disaster,” Graham said, explaining it would cause a crisis in the insurance markets. “I need assurances from the House speaker … if I don’t [get them], I’m a no.”
.. McConnell made one last frantic plea to his Senate Republican members to advance the party’s scaled-back Obamacare repeal, assuring them at a private lunch that the vote is merely aimed at getting to conference with the House rather than preparing it to land on President Donald Trump’s desk.

Jared Kushner’s Got Too Many Secrets to Keep Ours

he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

.. Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

.. Kushner is set to be interviewed Monday in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first meeting with congressional investigators. I hope they grill him in particular about the attempt to set up a secret communications channel and whether it involved mobile Russian scrambling devices.

.. Similar issues arise with Ivanka Trump. The SF-86 form to get a national security clearance requires inclusion of a spouse’s foreign contacts

.. McClatchy has reported that investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation, which Kushner oversaw, colluded with Russians on Moscow’s efforts to spread fake news about Hillary Clinton.

.. the national security world fears that there is something substantive to the suspicions about the president and Russia. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.

  1. Why has Trump persistently stood with Vladimir Putin rather than with allies like Germany or Britain?
  2. Why did Trump make a beeline for Putin at the G-20 dinner, without an aide, as opposed to chat with Angela Merkel or Theresa May?
  3. Why do so many Trump team members have ties to Russia?
  4. Why did Trump choose a campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had been as much as $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests and was vulnerable to Moscow pressure?
  5. Why did he take the political risk of firing Jim Comey?
  6. Why is he so furious at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself?
  7. Why does he apparently contemplate the extreme step of firing Bob Mueller during his investigation into the Russia ties?
  8. If the Trump team is innocent and expects exoneration, why would it work so hard on a secret effort aimed at discrediting Mueller, as The Times reported?

  9. Why would Trump be exploring pardons for aides, family members and himself, as The Washington Post reported?

.. One thing you learn as a journalist is that when an official makes increasingly vehement protestations of innocence, you’re probably getting warm.

..  I sympathize with our counterintelligence officials, who chase low-level leakers and spies even as they undoubtedly worry that their commander in chief may be subject to Kremlin leverage or blackmail.


The Senate’s Flawed Health-Care Bill

The Senate Republican health-care bill would not repeal and replace Obamacare. The federal government would remain the chief regulator of health insurance. No state would be allowed to experiment with different models for protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Federal policy would continue to push people away from inexpensive catastrophic coverage. The bill also seems unlikely to stabilize insurance markets, even though their current instability is one of the main Republican talking points for passing it. The legislation gets rid of the “individual mandate” — Obamacare’s fines for not buying insurance — but keeps the regulations that made the mandate necessary. The result is likely to be that healthy people leave the market and sick people face much higher premiums.

.. From a conservative perspective, the chief selling point of the bill is Medicaid reform.

.. But the reform is delayed until after the 2024 presidential election.

.. We suspect that the Congressional Budget Office will find that most of the reduction in insurance rolls results from people’s choosing not to buy insurance when they’re not being threatened with fines.

.. The bill’s subsidies for people outside of Medicare, Medicaid, and the employer-based insurance system could simply be given to the states to distribute to that population without having to comply with Obamacare’s regulations.