TOWOIT #67

March 24, 2017… Day 64

My day started with a picture of John Lewis holding a puppy. The way he is holding the puppy is tender, and the fact that he shared this photograph on Facebook is cute.

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Moved on to hearing a coworker tell another coworker that the way Trump said that “we’re done negotiating the health care bill” was “kind of AWESOME.” Jesus. Easily impressed.

“And, obviously, later today the House will be voting on the American Health Care Act.”

—Sean Spicer, today

Then the White House Press Briefing, in which reporters repeatedly pressed Sean Spicer to say whether or not Trump would take responsibility for the failure of the AHCA. At that point there was still expected to be a vote on the healthcare bill later that afternoon. Spicer dodged the questions in a way that suggested that perhaps Trump and his entire staff genuinely do not understand what leadership is. Sean Spicer actually said, “At the end of the day, this isn’t a dictatorship” as part of his answer to one reporter asking “Will the buck stop with the President?”

“At the end of the day, this isn’t a dictatorship.”

—Sean Spicer, today

Now I’m losing the order of things. I think next, the bill got pulled and the vote delayed indefinitely, maybe forever.

Devin Nunes canceled Tuesday’s open hearing with several witnesses including fired holdover AG Sally Yates. In response, Adam Schiff gave another fiery press conference. He manages to sort of smolder. He alway seems eminently reasonable. He gave a chronology of the week, and said that he figures Nunes was responding to pressure from the White House.

“We are so uncompetitive when it comes to our otherworldly competitors”

—Sean Spicer today

Listening to Rachel Maddow from last night: she outlines grim Russian state murders.

Bernie gets on the show and calls Democrats feeble. One tweet I saw about it said, “Bernie never has a plan to defeat Goliath that doesn’t seem to involve kicking David in the nuts.” You know what, Bernie? You call Democrats feeble in private. You say it to your friends. You write it in your diary. You don’t get on on live TV, at a crucial moment, when Trump is against the ropes, and say “Democrats are feeble.” Also, what are YOU really doing besides running your mouth (and holding TV events that involve reassuring the white working class that they are still more important to you than the non-white working class)?

Screwing up my courage to listen to Pod Save the World. The latest episode is on North Korea and its nukes. I’d kind of like to be able to sleep tonight.

Largely overlooked story today:

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Questions reporters asked Sean Spicer today:

  • Sean, is it your understanding that you don’t have the votes to pass the healthcare legislation? Is that the message that Speaker Ryan delivered today? And if so, what lessons do you draw from this process?
  • Thank you, Sean. We’re hearing that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell wanted to do a clean repeal and then replace over time. In retrospect, would that have been a better approach? And in general, do you think Paul Ryan has handled this well?
  • And, in general, is the White House happy with how Paul Ryan has handled this?
  • Thank you, Sean. What is the White House’s view if this does not pass and there aren’t the votes? What does this mean going forward for other pieces of the President’s agenda — tax reform being the big one?
  • Just to be clear, I mean, if this fails today, is the President done with healthcare?
  • That’s what we’re hearing.
  • But is the President comfortable then with Obamacare continuing? And what does he say to his supporters?
  • I mean, they voted for him with the promise that he would repeal this.
  • Some months ago at the Republican National Convention, the President said — “I alone can fix it.” Throughout the entire campaign, his message to his voters, the American people, was, he’s a businessman, he knows how to get deals done, he knows how to break the gridlock in Washington. He’s the “closer” is what you said earlier this week. If this vote does go down, what does this say about the President? Is the President humbled by this process?  And will he readjust — how will he readjust the administration going forward?
  • Sean, is it under any consideration to pull the bill at all between now and then?
  • Well, there’s reports out there that —
  • Take me through some of the — if you don’t mind — the thinking yesterday when the bill was pulled and then the President had made the decision — or his team, they went to the Hill saying, there’s going to be a vote today. At what point did he make that calculation? Why did he make that calculation? Can you bring us through some of that thinking?
  • How important is a live vote to the White House and to the President to see who’s on his side and who’s not?
  • The President and the Speaker are meeting right now. Do you know — can you tell us anything about the character of that meeting, or what exactly they’re looking at going forward?
  • If the bill doesn’t pass —
  •  Okay, well, do you want to have a briefing right after the vote?
  • Okay.  (Laughter.)
  • If the bill doesn’t pass, does the President still have confidence in the Speaker?
  • Well, does he think that he should step down if it doesn’t get a vote?
  • And then, logistically today, after the vote, whatever happens, how will we get a response from you all?
  • Thank you, Sean. This is the President’s first foray into, let’s say, the sausage-making process, so to speak. Has he reflected at all on the experience? I mean, how does he feel it differs from, for example, negotiaing a real estate deal, a business deal? Is it more complicated? Is it trickier?What’s his feeling about this?
  •  Thanks. Without prejudging the outcome of the vote —
  •  — does the President in any way regret pursuing healthcare first, given how complicated it has been?
  • Understood. Just to put a fine point on it, though, was it his initial ask to do healthcare first, or did House Speaker Paul Ryan say, I think this is —
  • Wouldn’t it have been wiser to try to work with the Freedom Caucus, for example, on something like infrastructure reform to build up some goodwill with that caucus, and then come back to something more complicated?
  • And just finally, does the buck stop with him on this?
  • Non-healthcare question for you. Regarding these documents that Devin Nunes says show incidental intelligence collection of identifying information about people associated with the Trump campaign, can you categorically rule out that Chairman Nunes received or was alerted to these documents from someone at the White House?
  • Can you rule out that it came from the White House?
  • So if the President has done everything he can possibly do, and the Speaker has done everything he can possibly do, the team has put everything on the table, who is to blame right now for this hold-up, in your eyes?
  • Well, but you wanted a vote even last night or this morning, so there is a stall. So from last night to this morning —
  • Initially, you were asking for one yesterday, and there was a statement from your press office that asked for one this morning.
  • So who is to blame for the stall right now? Is it the Freedom Caucus? Is it —
  • But you put this ultimatum out there. Is the President, right now, still confident that he can see this bill through — that you will repeal and replace Obamacare?
  • Thank you, Sean. Without prejudging the outcome of the vote today, but focusing on your comments and the President’s, saying this would be a vote against life if people vote against it —
  • — several Republican members said they did not want the vote on Planned Parenthood in this particular bill. Congressman John Faso of New York was particularly outspoken. Did anything come up in the negotiation or from the White House saying they guarantee a separate vote on Planned Parenthood and leave it out of the bill?
  • The White House — from your tone and the President’s, the White House wanted the Planned Parenthood vote in?
  • The other thing I wanted to ask was that the last two members who announced they were no — Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo, Republicans of New Jersey — both cited the number of Medicaid recipients in their district as their premier reason. Congressman LoBiondo said in three counties, 30 percent of his constituents were on Medicaid, and he wanted no damage. Was there anything discussed on Medicaid? Was it on the table in the negotiations?
  • Thanks, Sean. The stock market has been largely looking at this as a proxy for how you’re going to do on your tax cut proposal. Would you be able to say what the lessons learned here are about how this was handled that might apply to the tax cut proposal?
  • Is the President going to just simply wash his hands of this today if this doesn’t go his way?
  • The central campaign promise of the President of the United States —
  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin was talking this morning about doing tax reform by the August recess. Do you think that that’s a reasonable timeline?  And why the rush? Are there any lessons learned from this healthcare debate?
  • Sean, how much credit will the President take for the outcome of this healthcare bill?
  • Quick follow-up?  Is the White House still as confident as they were earlier in this week, and is the President still as confident as he was earlier in the week that this healthcare bill will pass?
  • — level of confidence remain?
  • Sean, the President can order every surveillance transcript that mentions himself or his associates in regards to Russia for the investigation that he called for to be brought to his desk at any time. Has he done that?
  • So yesterday you were asked specifically — you said that the concerns should be less about the process and more about the substance. I asked because that would be one way to get directly to the substance. On the substance, Devin Nunes said initially that he — there was evidence that “clearly showed that the President-elect and his team were at least monitored.” Then today he said — asked if Trump or his associates were monitored or mentioned, he said, we don’t know. We won’t know until we actually receive all the documentation. The President said he’s somewhat vindicated. So given the fact that Devin Nunes doesn’t actually know if the President was monitored or whether he was even mentioned, what is he vindicated by?
  • They could have exclusively been foreigners, Devin Nunes concedes.
  • Well, what is the President vindicated by?
  • But he said we don’t — we won’t know.
  • Thank you, Sean. A couple questions. First about Keystone. What changed?  It seemed like it took forever in covering the Obama administration for this thing to finally get over the finish line. It never did. And relatively quickly — less than 65 days in — it’s finally made its way over the finish line.  What changed, especially with respect to the State Department’s view of the Keystone XL pipeline? And is it your opinion that it would be good to hear from the President — win, lose, or draw — after what we learned today vis-à-vis healthcare reform?
  • Sean, as a dealmaker, why does the President feel that this take-it-or-leave-it approach is the right one on healthcare?
  • But isn’t there a political cost to a collapse, potentially?
  • If there’s a collapse, though, isn’t there a cost that the President will, at some point, have to pay for?  If it’s either —
  • The collapse that you have been predicting —
  • Besides the upcoming election in 2018, I’m talking about economic impact, all the impact on the states — there will be a cost.
  • So if you know what the vote counts are right now, and there’s no discussion of pulling the healthcare bill, and it gets closer to 3:30 p.m. and you still don’t have the votes, why vote?   
  • But you see what I’m saying, right?
  • If you know what the votes are and you know that you don’t have the votes for it to pass, why vote?
  • You talked about all the work that the President and his team have put into this — the early-morning calls, late calls. The other day, one of the members of Congress who was here to meet with the President — Congressman McHenry — called — said, we’re bringing him to “the closer.”  You embraced that nickname from the podium. Whatever happens today, do you still feel comfortable calling the President “the closer” when it comes to deal-making on all this?
  • And to be very, very clear — this has been addressed a few times, but I want to get a clearer answer. You talked a lot about how this is the chance, this is an opportunity for Republicans to make good on campaign promises. I asked the President a couple days ago, what happens when you keep pushing if this fails today. And he said, we’ll wait and — we’ll have to see what happens. Are you saying right now that there will be no future attempts to comply with that campaign promise if today’s attempt fails?
  • And last one. If it does pass today — you’ve talked a lot about this being done in three phases, today being phase one. Phase two and phase three, one of the problems, I think, is that this is not information that is in score-able form — the steps that Secretary Price might take, and then what may end up in this final bill. Is there any attempt being done —
  • Can you put the administrative steps that Secretary Price —
  •  Is that something that’s being attempted to be done? Because that’s the kind of information I think members want.

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