Before your coffee gets cool, here’s what you need to know on January 12, 2017:
The United States Senate held at least 24 votes last night on amendments and passage of the first step in the incoming repeal of the “Affordable” Care Act (Obamacare). The Senate is using a budgetary measure called reconciliation to force through the repeal and only required a simple majority of the Senate in order to secure passage. Senators offered 180 different amendments, most of which came from Democrats attempting to blunt the impact of the Republican push to defund Obamacare.
The vote on final passage was 51-48. California Senator Dianne Feinstein was absent because she was getting a pacemaker installed and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul broke with Republicans to oppose final passage.
Rand Paul’s objection is an important one. Senator Paul’s biggest concern is that the repeal provisions do nothing to address structural deficits the government is running. Senator Paul had proposed his own version of the Obamacare repeal that would also bring the federal budget under control, but the measure only got 13 other Senators to support it. Paul noted that his objection, which didn’t change the ultimate outcome of the final vote on passage, wasn’t in favor of keeping Obamacare, but was rather a protest against the Republican-led government continuing to endorse spending policies that were contrary to fiscal conservatism.
We should applaud Senator Paul’s principled stand. There has been a real tendency in the recent past, when Republicans have controlled government, for Republicans to fall into the same big government spending models that they criticize Democrats for employing. While the “big government Republicans” still have more power than the “Paulites,” there are a growing number of younger, fiscally-minded Republicans looking to challenge the status quo.
The House of Representatives is set to vote on their own version of the defunding bill in the next several days with a “replacement” bill goal date of January 27. It remains to be seen just how flexible this date is for Republican leadership.
You’re Fake News
For the first time in nearly half a year, Donald Trump held a press conference. It was already clear that it would be contentious when, at least from the video stream, it didn’t appear that any members of the press corps (reported to be about 250 reporters) stood as Mr. Trump made his way to the podium. The situation didn’t improve much for either Mr. Trump, who was his normal, boisterous, self, and the press, who constantly tried to talk over the elected leader of the free world.
One particularly egregious example of the disrespect from the press came from CNN’s James Acosta who, after Mr. Trump had alleged CNN ran a fake story about him (which, they did), Acosta attempted to call on himself and began yelling questions at the President-Elect. Rather than be the kind of milquetoast Republican that many Americans are used to, Mr. Trump promptly called CNN fake news and declined to let Mr. Acosta ask a question.
Despite the contentious nature of the press conference and the seeming continuous disrespect of Mr. Trump by members of the “objective” media, there were some important points and newsworthy items that came from the event (note: it is important to point out that in President Obama’s final press conference at the White House, there was also some attempt by reporters to shout or talk over the President. That is wildly inappropriate to do to a Democrat or to a Republican. There is a degree of decorum that should be employed by the political press, especially given the constant criticism, by the press, of the political climate in America).
The newsworthy items from the Press Conference were that Mr. Trump was appointing Dr. David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs Secretary. Dr. Shulkin is currently undersecretary of health at the VA. The Veterans Affairs department has been the subject of major criticism in its mishandling of treatments for ex-soldiers and scandals.
Another important takeaway from the Press Conference was that Mr. Trump has created a trust for the management of his vast business holdings that relieves any potential appearance of conflicts of interest. While the President, legally, is exempted from the conflicts of interest laws, Mr. Trump, rightly, was concerned about the appearances of impropriety. Now, the Trump Organization will be run by his sons, appoint an ethics adviser with power over deal-making, and decline to do any deals outside the United States. Moreover, all proceeds from foreign governments at Trump properties will be donated to the US Treasury to prevent any emoluments issues. While anything short of torching his properties and salting the earth wouldn’t have been enough for his opponents, Mr. Trump’s decision is legally sound and crafted by some of the finest lawyers in the world. It’s likely that the plan they’ve created will get challenged by the left, but it looks like a solid plan.
‘Lil Marco Strikes Back
Following his stinging defeat at the hands of Donald Trump, Marco Rubio decided to grandstand on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during the confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson. Tillerson, who was CEO of Exxon, one of the largest companies on the planet, has drawn some criticism from hawkish Republicans for his business relationship with Russia. Because Senators like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and now, apparently, Marco Rubio have decided that the Cold War is their security blanket, they are endeavoring to either bloody the President Elect’s nose over his nominees, or provoke the Russian Federation into a new Cold War.
The Foreign Relations Committee only has one more Republican than Democrat. This means that, if Senator Rubio decided to vote against Mr. Tillerson as Secretary of State (and no Democrats voted for him), the nomination would be unfavorably reported to the Senate. This would require Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to specially bring Tillerson’s nomination to the floor of the Senate for a vote. However, with Rubio voting against him, there is a strong chance Cold War hawks McCain and Graham would join him on the full Senate vote. Given the Republican majority is only two seats, this would be enough to stop Tillerson’s confirmation. There is a chance that some vulnerable Democrats may acquiesce to support some of Mr. Trump’s nominees, but, if there are Republican defections already, and if the nominee is not recommended favorably from committee, the chance of getting support from across the aisle isn’t likely.
It remains to be seen just how far “ ‘Lil Marco’s” power play will extend. There’s a chance he was grandstanding and will, having proved his point, vote to confirm Tillerson. However, if Rubio sees himself as the “anti-Trump Republican,” he may do everything he can to enrich his own power for a future run for the White House.
Baltimore Rushes Out Consent Decree
Lame Duck Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Democrat Baltimore Mayor Catharine Pugh will outline a consent decree to be foisted on the Baltimore City Police Department. The Decree, the contents of which will be made public later today, is the product of the Department of Justice’s report accusing the Baltimore City Police Department of civil rights abuses following an investigation after the Baltimore Riots. The DOJ and the City, concerned that incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not be as concerned with politicizing policing, are rushing forward with a binding, judicially enforced mandate for the Baltimore City Police Department to change. The Department, which has seen record-setting retirements and record-low morale over the past two years, is likely to see more as the Decree, which is likely to cost the City millions of dollars to implement, is slapped onto officers.
The bright spot for the Baltimore Police Department is that Jeff Sessions, in his confirmation hearing, was non-committal about whether he’d seek to actually enforce consent decrees negotiated by the Obama Administration. Moreover, there was some suggestion that an AG Sessions may seek to renegotiate existing Consent Decrees in a way that will help bring police out from under the fist of politicians and political correctness. However, this is only speculation at this time.
As always, there are more things going on in the world, but these should get you through the morning.