Here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know today:
1. Let the Repealing Begin!
Yesterday, the Senate took the first step towards repealing large portions of the “Affordable Care Act” (Obamacare). The repeal has been the centerpiece of Republican plans for a united Republican government. Obamacare has caused spiking premiums across the country and has led to insurers fleeing the artificial marketplaces set up by the Administration. New Republican initiatives are aimed at reducing costs while preserving some of the politically popular elements of the law.
The Senate voted 51-48 to agree to a budget resolution, basically a map forward that would allow the Senate to move quickly to repeal large parts of the law. The President-Elect has been a strong supporter of the repeal movement but cautioned on Twitter that, politically, the Democrats need to bear the burden of blame for the failure of Obamacare. The Republican plan, at the moment, looks to be a gradual but purposeful transition period where the law would be wound down and replaced with a better system.
Both outgoing lame-duck President Barack Obama and incoming Vice President Mike Pence were on the Hill to lobby their respective Party members with regard to the law. In all, this was the first shot in a larger, longer slog that will consume much of the legislative calendar in 2017.
2. Target: Moscow
Two major Senate Committees begin hearings today about allegations of Russian interference in the American political process. The Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will both be hearing from intelligence services. The former is public while the latter is closed-door.
It’s important to note that the Armed Services Committee is led by John McCain, the staunchly anti-Russian Senator who has made his radical hawkishness part of his appeal in the past. He has been directly critical of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for, what McCain has called, interfering in the US Elections. While this contention is hotly debated with very little information actually having reached the public, McCain, who has taken a vehemently anti-Russian stance in foreign affairs, has made his conclusions. Expect to see him try to bloody the nose of the Kremlin and the President-Elect, who has taken a more skeptical approach to the “consensus” being pushed by the intelligence community.
The hearings, while having no real power to change anything or make new information public, will likely be political tools for Senators to show that they are “trying” to do something about the allegations of Russian tampering. There may be some political grandstanding against the President-Elect from Democrats and hawkish Republicans, but there aren’t likely to be any fireworks.
3. In the “Racism Remains a Bad Thing” File…
Today in the “Racism Remains a Bad Thing” File, we have a case coming out of Chicago that has people angry online. A group of young black teenagers allegedly kidnapped a mentally challenged white teenager and hurled just disgusting epithets related both to his race and related, for some reason to Donald Trump. The attack was broadcast live on Facebook because the perpetrators were clearly idiots who wanted to get caught.
The reaction has been all over the place on social media with, basically everyone, over-reacting in one way or another. There’s been limited media coverage because, frankly, any coverage would be fraught with pitfalls and accusations. Of course, “White Nationalist” Twitter has decided that this hate crime, which, let’s be honest, singling out someone’s race, regardless of the race, and hurting them because of it is definitely a hate crime, is the responsibility of the Black Lives Matter movement. Liberal Twitter has snapped back against this, and, you get the idea of the flame war on the internet this morning.
Apparently the teens who committed the assault have been arrested, so, I’m more than happy to leave it in the hands of competent law enforcement professionals (even though we know that something like this quickly devolves into competing political stunts).
4. A Question of Intelligence
President-Elect Donald Trump has made no secret that he is skeptical of the conclusions of America’s clandestine services and intelligence community. There’s a debate over whether this is a healthy skepticism or a true disregard by Mr. Trump of traditional sources of information. Certainly, whichever is true, Mr. Trump is already upending the intelligence landscape (much to the chagrin of hawks in his own Party).
News is now out that Mr. Trump intends to revamp and restructure America’s top spy agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Basically, after 9⁄11, there have been layers and layers of redundancy and oversight put on the intelligence community. It seems as if Mr. Trump’s plan, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, would involve cutting bureaucratic positions and putting more assets in intelligence gathering roles, is designed to cut administrative bloat and focus on on-the-ground information.
This restructuring is entirely consistent with Mr. Trump’s frequent criticism of the intelligence community and, frankly, makes a lot of sense. The President-Elect is clearly concerned that the intelligence community, given its levels of bureaucracy and intertwined nature with the political class in Washington, has become politicized. If Mr. Trump sees the aims of intelligence to be “getting the facts,” his message of “draining the swamp” would certainly be consistent with cutting administrative bloat.
While Mr. Trump’s plans will certainly draw fire from the “intelligence industrial complex,” many of the changes that may be coming are ones that the President can make without much consultation with the Congress. Given Mr. Trump’s already expressed misgivings, expect him to take these actions quickly.
There are, of course, a lot of other things happening in the world, but these are four that give you some sense of what’s up and what folks are talking about. Be sure to check back for more