Archive

November 25th, 2016

The messy politics of repealing Obamacare

    Donald Trump and Republicans are about to encounter a political nightmare: unraveling Obamacare.

    Already there are tensions between Trump, who's been shaky on the specifics of the 2010 health-care law and says he wants to keep the popular parts, and congressional leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan and conservative think tanks who ideologically, almost theologically, oppose anything associated with the Affordable Care Act.

    They're going to get squeezed in a political vise. The Republican base demands that the Affordable Care Act be repealed, but most voters have more nuanced ideas. Polls consistently show that while a plurality of voters disapproves of the law, big majorities want to keep some provisions and care more about issues like rising drug prices.

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For a better White House, have fewer appointees

    When President-elect Donald Trump visited the White House last week, he was reportedly surprised to learn that he'll need to replace nearly the entire staff. While Trump is said to have promised jobs to his small campaign team, research suggests that he should try a revolutionary approach to staffing his administration: replacing political appointees with civil servants.

    Today, an incoming U.S. president must fill about 4,000 jobs -- double the number from the mid-20th century. While political appointments remain a tiny fraction of the federal workforce, America stands in marked contrast to nearly every other mature democracy. For example, an incoming British prime minister, German chancellor or French president would make 100 to 200 appointments.

    The conventional wisdom among political operatives is that presidents should place appointees in key positions because they'll be more loyal than civil servants. But research suggests this isn't true.

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A political amateur hour

    As the Donald Trump transition team labors in secret toward creating the next national administration, the news media are groping (if you'll pardon the expression) to find out who the president-elect will be relying on to run domestic and foreign policy for the next four years.

    His selection of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to be his White House chief of staff tells us only that his choice will continue to be chief enabler, as he was in the campaign. Priebus accommodatingly soothed hurt feelings among the party doubters as Trump rode roughshod over them.

    More worrisome is Trump's choice as chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, late the boss of the Breitbart News website. It is the vitriolic ultraconservative voice of what Bannon has called "the platform for the alt-right," apparently as the alternative to the safe and sane old Republican Party now in shambles.

    Bannon, in contrast to Priebus, seems to be an enabler of Trump's darker side, encouraging him in using his arsenal of slurs and insults of women, blacks, Muslims and various other racial and ethnic minorities.

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Wishful thinking on the president-elect

    If they gave Pulitzer Prizes for pithiness, journalist Salena Zito's analytical couplet on the surprise winner of Campaign 2016 would get one. The press took Republican Donald Trump "literally, but not seriously," she wrote, whereas Trump's supporters took him "seriously, but not literally."

    Exactly. Hence it was disappointing, after a post-election week in which he had otherwise epitomized calm statesmanship, to hear that President Barack Obama doesn't get Zito's point.

    Of Trump, the president opined: "I don't think he is ideological. I think ultimately he's pragmatic in that way."

    In other words, Obama takes the president-elect neither literally nor seriously. Rather, he clings to the notion, or jumps to the conclusion, that Trump has no core policy beliefs, and therefore might be managed, or constrained, by political realities.

    This is a normal and, under the circumstances, perhaps inevitable - indeed, possibly correct - assessment. But what if Obama's take is erroneous?

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Welcome to the Trump kleptocracy

    "It's very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it," Donald Trump said back in 2000 when he was contemplating a bid that he never followed through on. And while he didn't actually turn a profit on his 2016 run, it's looking more and more likely that being president is going to be very lucrative for Trump. By the time it's over, he may even be worth as much as he has always claimed to be.

    The words "conflict of interest" don't begin to describe what the Trump administration is shaping up to look like - though there will be plenty of conflicts of interest with administration figures such as Rudy Giuliani, who made millions from foreign governments and corporations, some of which are hostile to the United States. But the real action is going to be in Trump's own family.

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Wanted: An Alliance for the Republic

    Our country needs a new era of bipartisanship -- but not the kind you are probably thinking of, and not, I fear, the kind we are likely to get.

    Barely a week after Donald Trump secured his Electoral College majority, we are confronted with a series of abuses that would be unacceptable from any other president-elect, Republican or Democrat. In the coming months and years, members of both parties who honor our constitutional rights and our shared ethical standards need to band together in what you might call an Alliance for the Republic to defend basic norms and resist their violation.

    Trump's defining down of what we have a right to expect from our leaders is already obvious. Begin with his naming of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior adviser. The press release announcing the appointment listed Bannon above Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman who was made chief of staff. Typically, the chief of staff would come first, but the ordering was a clear indication of which of the two has Trump's ear.

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Trump terrifies me. Should I rent my house to his supporters for the inauguration?

    Over the past couple of years, I've come to depend on my home as a source of income. I'm a freelance journalist, and renting out my basement (and, sometimes, my entire house) on sites such as Airbnb alleviates a lot of pressure.

    For people like me, Inauguration Week can be lucrative. During busy tourist seasons, most hosts charge two to four times more per night than usual. I could make thousands of dollars -- a windfall.

    But I'm no longer planning to rent out my home then. Because I don't want to bring a certain kind of Donald Trump supporter into my neighborhood. Of course, I believe those coming to D.C. to celebrate Trump's victory have every right to do so. They had every right to vote for him, and every right to free speech. This isn't about being a sore loser. It's about fear.

    I am concerned about renting to the wrong kind of Trump celebrant, the kind of Trump supporter for whom hate trumps decency. The type who would rip off a Muslim woman's headscarf, spray a swastika with the message "Make America white again," or write "#go back to Africa" and "Whites only" on a high school bathroom door.

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Trump could easily be more transparent with the media. Here's how.

    President-elect Donald Trump did something unusual last week, barely a day after he'd won. On Thursday, according to the Associated Press, he "refused to allow journalists to travel with him to Washington for his historic first meetings" with President Obama and congressional leaders.

    It wasn't an anomaly. This week, he did it again: On Tuesday evening, he took his family to dinner in New York without informing a press pool or allowing reporters to trail along and wait outside the restaurant.

    To those who don't follow politics and the media closely, this might sound inconsequential. But it's an enormous departure from a long-standing practice -- one meant to ensure the public is kept informed as to what its leader is doing. Trump has now broken with that tradition, choosing opacity over transparency.

    But that's not all.

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The scary reality of Trump's promises to Israel

    Many of us American expats living in Israel for years or even decades woke up early last Wednesday to watch the presidential election returns. Not obscenely early, of course, because the result was not really in doubt. The idea was to be awake for the moment that the networks declared the winner.

    As we sat in shocked silence listening to the newscasters question whether Hillary Clinton "still has a path to the presidency," Israeli radio reported that others, also American immigrants, had gathered in a celebratory rally in downtown Jerusalem. "Lock her up! Lock her up!" they chanted, echoing one of the uglier memes of the bitter campaign just ending.

    Putting aside the sadness that the meanness had reached Israeli shores, the belief that Donald Trump's shocking victory augurs well for Israel or American Jews is also simplistic and dangerous. Trump's election, in fact, represents a danger to the world's largest Jewish communities.

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The heart of U.S. economy is weaker than it looks

    A few years ago, I was among the many people arguing that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy were strong. I believed that the slow recovery from the Great Recession wasn't a new normal, and that the U.S. would return to something close to the steady levels of growth it enjoyed during the 20th century.

    I'm now reconsidering that position. Some fundamentals look considerably weaker than they did a decade ago. Others are now uncertain, and depend heavily on what President-elect Donald Trump does once he takes office.

    The U.S.'s greatest strength has always been immigration. Because of the country's extraordinary willingness to take in newcomers, the U.S. population has grown by a factor of more than 120 since 1776. The U.K.'s population, in contrast, has grown by only a factor of 10. More recently, a relatively young U.S. population helped the country avoid many of the economic problems that plague Europe and Japan.

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