Donald Trump’s pattern of backing off

President Donald Trump speaks at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner in Washington, April 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

His border shutdown went from imminent to uncertain. A major health care push was declared and then delayed. Funding cuts were inserted in his proposed budget and just as quickly taken out.

President Donald Trump has been exploring the art of the climb-down.

Trump pivoted on two big policy fronts this week, easing up on his threats to quickly close the southern border and deciding that a fresh effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act should wait until after the 2020 election.

The moves came as Republicans, outside groups and aides expressed anxiety about the potential economic and political fallout from Trump’s proposals.

The president’s swift backpedaling underscored his off-the-cuff style and suggested that more such drama is likely ahead as he tries to sync his policymaking with his re-election campaign.

To many, the Washington whiplash was another reminder that Trump tweets first and governs later.

“Most presidents and even most CEOs, when they make a decision that is going to have financial impact or personnel impact, you seek a lot of input,” said Republican strategist Rick Tyler. “He doesn’t do that. Even his own communications staff says he goes by his gut.”

President Donald Trump told House Republicans on Tuesday that they need to embrace health care reform and make it the first thing they vote on after the 2020 election. Trump spoke at a Republican fundraiser. (April 3)
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The president’s pronouncements and social media blasts are often surprise attacks. They can vanish as quickly as they emerge if political expedience warrants a different tack.

His announcement last week that the GOP was going to take on health care again despite a bruising and unsuccessful effort in 2017 stunned most in his own party and seemed driven in part by a lingering desire to fulfill his oft-repeated 2016 campaign promise to repeal “Obamacare.”

He surprised his own education secretary with the declaration that he was reversing a plan to ax federal aid for the Special Olympics after the proposed cuts sparked a public outcry.

Few working for him ever want to get out in front of a Trump announcement for fear it will change at the last minute.

Trump’s latest policy twists come after the conclusion of the special counsel’s Russia investigation and as the president is turning his attention to his 2020 campaign.

His loose style also reflects his current leadership team. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is viewed as a less-controlling figure than previous chiefs, seeking to provide Trump with analysis and information, but not trying to restrict his conversations or steer his decisions.

After threatening last week to seal the border if Mexico did not immediately halt all illegal immigration into the U.S., Trump on Tuesday appeared to be laying the groundwork for a delay, saying he was happy with steps taken by Mexico and that he would like to see Congress pass legislation revising the immigration system. Still, he held open the possibility of a border shutdown, saying: “I’m totally ready to do it.”

Trump has been threatening the closure privately for months, but his staff has been trying to slow him down with data about the economic impact and suggestions on ways to lessen the financial hit.

The president acknowledged the economy was on his mind Tuesday but played down those concerns, saying, “Let me just give you a little secret: Security is more important to me than trade.”

On health care, Trump plunged into the fight again last week, prompted by a court deadline. But his motivations were always as political as they were legislative, with the president not wanting to cede a 2020 campaign issue to Democrats. And allies stressed Tuesday that the president had never laid out a timeline for legislation.

With his tweet Monday night, Trump made clear there would be no vote until after the 2020 election, though he insisted a GOP plan still was in the works.

His downgrade came after pressure from congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said he told Trump “we were not going to be doing that in the Senate.”

Asked if he was acting at McConnell’s behest, Trump insisted: “I wanted to delay it myself.”

Heading into 2020, Trump sees border security and health care as key issues for his political base and he is expected to keep pushing them even if he dials back specific threats.

Speaking Tuesday night at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s spring dinner, he declared that Republicans “should not run away from health care.”

“If we stay away from that subject, we’re going to lose,” Trump said.

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Donald Trump’s House of Lies

Reading the news on this Sunday morning shows a lot of attention by the media president Donald Trump calling his tribe the “party of health care” when neither he nor his party have any proposed program to replace the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.

Trump’s Republicans are running for cover on this one.

Report Seung Min Kim and Josh Dewey of The Washington Post this weekend:

Republicans have no intention of heeding President Trump’s urgent demands for a new health-care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, fearing the potential political damage that such a proposal could cause in 2020 and hoping he will soon drop the idea, according to interviews with numerous GOP lawmakers, legislative staffers and administration aides.

Not only is there no such health-care overhaul in the works on Capitol Hill — there are no plans to make such a plan.

In other words, more lies from a president who has no allegiance to truth.

Trump used to call up newspapers and magazines and claim he was a “press agent” named John Miller or John Barron.

Reported The Washington Post in 2016:

A recording obtained by The Washington Post captures what New York reporters and editors who covered Trump’s early career experienced in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s: calls from Trump’s Manhattan office that resulted in conversations with “John Miller” or “John Barron” — public-relations men who sound precisely like Trump himself — who indeed are Trump, masquerading as an unusually helpful and boastful advocate for himself, according to the journalists and several of Trump’s top aides.

The Post detailed calls like the one Sue Carswell, a People magazine reporter assigned to do a story on Trump’s affair with Marla Maples, who became his second wife after he divorced Ivana, received after she left a message requesting an interview.

Within five minutes, Carswell got a return call from Trump’s publicist, a man named John Miller, who immediately jumped into a startlingly frank and detailed explanation of why Trump dumped Maples for the Italian model Carla Bruni. “He really didn’t want to make a commitment,” Miller said. “He’s coming out of a marriage, and he’s starting to do tremendously well financially.”

Miller turned out to be a remarkably forthcoming source — a spokesman with rare insight into the private thoughts and feelings of his client. “Have you met him?” Miller asked the reporter. “He’s a good guy, and he’s not going to hurt anybody. . . . He treated his wife well and . . . he will treat Marla well.”

In typical Trump fashion, he called the Post report “Fake News” and claimed he never pretended he was his own publicist.

In 1990, however, Trump testifying in court under oath, said: “I believe on occasion I used that name.”

A voice analyst used the Post verified that the voice of “John Miller” on that interview tape was, in fact, Trump.  The same conclusion from examination of other tapes of phone interviews with both “John Miller” or “John Barron.”

In 2016, 44 minutes into a telephone interview with Trump about his finances, a Post reporter asked: “Did you ever employ someone named John Miller as a spokesperson?”

Trump hung up without saying anything.  Attempts to call him back went to his secretary, who said: “I heard you got disconnected. He can’t take the call now. I don’t know what happened.”

Stunts by this president includes fake Time magazine covers posted in his golf clubs with his photo.

Donald is not the only Trump who lies.  At the Republican National Convention in 2016, Melania Trump, the former nude photographer’s model who is the president’s third wife, told the crowd she graduated from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia with a degree in architecture.

Her website said the same thing.  So did her biography on Trump’s campaign website.

The University, however, says she finished just one year of studies at the school and left to pursue her modeling career.  With her lie discovered, her website went dark and her biol disappeared from the campaign site.  She also came under fire for using lines from Michele Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention in 2008.

Trump blamed the plagiarism on speechwriter Meredith McIver.  Before that revelation, Melania claimed she had written the speech.

Lies, misinformation and exaggerations have become routine in Washington nowadays.  In January, the Fact Checking service of The Washington Post found 8,158 “false or misleading” statements by the president in his first two years in office.  On Feb. 17,  the count was 8,718.  It will top 10,000 by year’s end.

In 2018, Trump issued an average of 16.5 lies a day.

In a heated discussion with a Trump supporter over coffee recently, he said Trump “is the only president who gives Americans the truth.”

I asked for an example.

“The tax cut,” he said.  “Trump delivered the largest tax cut in American history.  He promised to do it and he did.”

Although Trump claims his tax cut is “the largest ever in this country, data from the U.S. Treasury Department says otherwise.  Trump’s tax cut amounts to 0.9 percent of Americans Gross National Product, which ranks it eighth largest since 1918.   His tax cut ranks behind two of the tax reductions of previous president Barack Obama , two by Harry S. Truman or cuts by Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget ranks modern era tax cuts this way:

Our current president should call himself the “Liar in Chief.”  Of course, he would claim that is “fake news” but the real fake news coming out of Washington these days comes out of the diarrhea mouth of Donald John Trump.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Another court loss for Trump on health care

President Donald Trump at rally n Grand Rapids, Mich.. (Cory Morse/MLive.com/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

A federal judge has struck down a small-business health insurance plan widely touted by President Donald Trump, marking the second setback in a week for the administration’s health care initiatives.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wrote in his opinion late Thursday that so-called “association health plans” were “clearly an end-run” around consumer protections required by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, another federal judge blocked the Trump administration’s Medicaid work requirements for low-income people.

The plans at issue in Bates’ ruling Thursday allow groups of small businesses and sole proprietors to band together to offer lower-cost coverage that doesn’t have to include all the benefits required by the ACA, often called “Obamacare.” They also can be offered across state lines, an attempt to deliver on a major Trump campaign promise.

Trump, a Republican, has eagerly talked up the plans, saying they’re doing record business by offering “tremendous health care at very small cost.” But the Labor Department regulation authorizing them only took effect last summer, and they don’t seem to have made a major impact on the market. Initial estimates said 3 million to 4 million people eventually would enroll, compared with more than 160 million Americans covered by current employer plans.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined other Democratic state officials in suing the Trump administration, said the judge “saw past the Trump administration’s transparent effort to sabotage our health care system and gut these critical consumer protections in the service of its own partisan agenda.”

Many state officials see federal insurance regulation of small-business plans as infringing on their own traditional authority.

The Trump administration, unable to repeal “Obamacare” in Congress, has tried to use its rule-making powers to open up a pathway for alternatives. In the case of small-business plans, the administration’s regulation granted them similar flexibility on benefits as enjoyed by big companies. Most large employer plans are not subject to state regulations, and the Obama law did not make major changes to them either.

But Bates wrote that treating small businesses and sole proprietors similarly to major employers “creates absurd results.”

Bates was nominated to the federal bench by then-President George W. Bush, a Republican. His ruling seems to signal limits to how far the Trump administration can advance with its strategy of relying on regulations to transform health care.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the Trump administration would respond, but officials have said they will keep moving ahead with the president’s agenda.

Trump has made a sharp turn back to health care this week, with the administration joining the side of Texas and other GOP-led states seeking to completely overturn “Obamacare” as unconstitutional. At the same time, Trump has been promising a new health care plan that would be much better than “Obamacare,” tweeting that Republicans will become “the Party of Great HealthCare!”

But there’s no indication that the White House, executive branch agencies like Health and Human Services or Republicans in Congress are working on a comprehensive plan. Many congressional Republicans see the Texas lawsuit as a political land mine. If “Obamacare” is overturned Republicans would be on the hook in the 2020 election year to come up with an alternative.

The GOP turmoil over health care has come as a boon to Democrats, who are looking to change the subject from special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government to sway the 2016 election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week joined in unveiling legislation that would shore up and expand the ACA, allowing many more middle-class households to qualify for assistance paying their premiums.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump promotes inadequate health insurance programs

The HealthCare.gov website main page. (HHS via AP)

The Trump administration is clearing the way for insurers to sell short-term health plans as a bargain alternative to pricey Obama-law policies for people struggling with high premiums.

But the policies don’t have to cover existing medical conditions and offer limited benefits. It’s not certain if that’s going to translate into broad consumer appeal among people who need an individual policy.

“For many who’ve got pre-existing conditions or who have other health worries, the Obamacare plans might be right for them,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday. “We’re just providing more options.”

Officials say the plans can now last up to 12 months and be renewed for up to 36 months. But there’s no federal guarantee of renewability. Plans will carry a disclaimer that they don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirements and safeguards. More details were expected Wednesday.

“We make no representation that it’s equivalent coverage,” said Jim Parker, a senior adviser at HHS. “But what we do know is that there are individuals today who have been priced out of coverage.”

Unable to repeal much of the Obama-era law, Trump’s administration has tried to undercut how the law is supposed to work and to create options for people who don’t qualify for subsidies based on their income.

Officials are hoping short-term plans will fit the bill. Next year, there will be no tax penalty for someone who opts for short-term coverage versus a comprehensive plan, so more people might consider the option. More short-term plans will be available starting this fall.

Critics say the plans are “junk insurance” that could lead to unwelcome surprises if a policyholder gets sick, and will entice healthy people away from the law’s markets, raising premiums for those left. Under the Obama administration, such plans were limited to three months’ duration. Some states do not permit them.

President Donald Trump has been enthusiastic. “Much less expensive health care at a much lower price,” he said, previewing the plans at a White House event last week. “Will cost our country nothing. We’re finally taking care of our people.”

The administration estimates that premiums for a short-term plan could be about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage. A standard silver plan under the Obama law now averages $481 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker. A short-term plan might cost $160 a month or even less.

But short-term insurance clearly has fewer benefits. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of current plans found none that covered maternity, and many that did not cover prescription drugs or substance abuse treatment — required under the Obama law. They can include dollar limits on coverage and there’s no guarantee of renewal.

At a hearing Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the administration’s anticipated action “a new sabotage step that will do even more to let insurance companies offer junk plans.”

Short-term plans have been a niche product for people in life transitions: those switching jobs, retiring before Medicare eligibility or aging out of parental coverage.

“It may not cover every condition, but it’s a really important option for a lot of people in transition between jobs, those gig economy workers who work on their own as independent contractors or the folks who are struggling with three part-time jobs and don’t get insurance through any one employer,” Azar said.

Some in the industry say they’re developing “next generation” short-term plans that will be more responsive to consumer needs, with pros and cons clearly spelled out. Major insurer United Healthcare is marketing short-term plans.

Delaware insurance broker Nick Moriello said consumers should carefully consider their choice.

“The insurance company will ask you a series of questions about your health,” Moriello said. “They are not going to cover anything related to a pre-existing condition. There is a relatively small risk to the insurance company on what they would pay out relative to those plans.”

Nonetheless, the CEO of a company that offers short-term plans says they’re a “rational decision” for some people.

“It’s a way better alternative to not being insured,” said Jeff Smedsrud of Pivot Health. “I don’t think it’s permanent coverage. You are constantly betting that for the rest of your life you won’t have any health issues.”

Smedsrud said most plans restrict coverage for those who have sought treatment for a pre-existing condition over the past five years.

Short-term plans join “association health plans” for small businesses as the administration promotes lower-cost insurance options that cover less. Federal regulations for association health plans have been approved. Such plans can be offered across state lines and are also designed for self-employed people.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 6 million more people will eventually enroll in either an association plan or a short-term plan. The administration says it expects about 1.6 million people to pick a short-term when the plans are fully phased in.

About 20 million are covered under the Obama law, combining its Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance for those who qualify.

Enrollment for the law’s subsidized private insurance is fairly stable, and HealthCare.gov insurers are making money again. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina just announced it will cut Affordable Care Act premiums by 4 percent on average next year.

But a recent Kaiser Foundation analysis found turmoil in the unsubsidized market.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved