The President Had Quite the Morning at the UN

The President’s speech to the UN General Assembly this morning was basically a modified rally speech. He started off with his usual vigorous patting himself on the back, which was received well…

So that went well. But as the speech went on, it went someplace weird. And not just weird, but obscurely weird.

We already know that globalism is the code that Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon use to refer to not just the current global system of international trade, international relations, and international security agreements, but to Jews. It is intended to be understood, if I may, literally by the majority of people who aren’t anti-Semites or anti-Semitic curious and figuratively by the President’s supporters who are. But what is this Doctrine of Patriotism? The Doctrine of Patriotism was proposed by Charles Spurgeon a mid to late 19th Century Calvinist Baptist from London.

Specifically, Spurgeon wrote (emphasis mine):

Patriotism is an instinct which is found, I think, in every true Englishman. And most of the other nations of the earth can also boast of their patriots. Let it never be said that the Church of God has no feeling of patriotism for the Holy City, for the Heavenly Land and for her glorious King enthroned above. To us, Christian patriotism means love to the Church of God, for—

“There our best friends, our kindred dwell, There God our Savior reigns.”

Let us have loyalty, by all means, but, chiefly, loyalty to Christ! Let us have true patriotism, but, especially that patriotism which consists in love to “the land of the living” of which Christ is the one King and Ruler.

So here too we have the President using a phrase that is going to either just get a “hmm, that sounds a bit odd” or “what does he mean by that” from most listeners, including scholars of international relations and security and national security professionals and that is going to be heard and understood differently by a very specific group of the President’s base: white Evangelical Christians. Moreover, this concept dovetails with a lot of Putin’s attempts to use and leverage the Russian Orthodox Church to promote himself to white American Evangelicals, as well as a variety of American and European white supremacists, neo-NAZIs, neo-fascists, and neo-nationalists. The President’s use of the doctrine of patriotism, like his use of the term globalist, is meant to be taken figuratively by his base and fellow travelers, but literally by everyone else who doesn’t speak in this coded jargon.

Aside from the fact that realism can’t really be principled by its very nature, neither of these two things – principled realism and the doctrine of patriotism – are actually the Trump Doctrine. The Trump Doctrine, as we’ve discussed here extensively, is “I will be treated fairly or else and only I can ensure that America will be treated fairly or else and only I can ensure that the forgotten men and women of America will be treated fairly or else.”

I’m sure tomorrow’s UN Security Council meeting is going to go very smoothly…

Open thread.

The dog that has not barked

Charles Gaba is projecting that the average, population weighed rate hike for the individual market for 2019 to be 3.3%. This is due to a lot of variables:

Price Hikers

  • No Individual Mandate
  • Short Term Plans
  • Association Health Plans
  • Normal medical expense trend

Price Cutters

  • 2018 rates are way too high (this is a 5th grade percentage change math problem issue not an actuarial issue — denominator is too big)
  • 1332 waivers for reinsurance
  • Far fewer monopoly counties
  • No Health Insurance Premium Tax (HIT) for 2019

Baked in

  • CSR Termination
  • Low outreach
  • Negative messaging


The big thing, in my opinion, is that the 2018 rates were set very high and right now insurers are running very low Medical Loss Ratios.

This means that the denominator for the percentage change equation (New-Old)/Old is too high so a lot of the price increases that people expected due to the repeal of the individual mandate penalty and the new rules on limited duration, short term plans, was baked into the 2018 pie.

Now there is a very interesting political point that Kimberly Leonard is picking up on:


Almost no Republican is claiming credit for inflation level price increases on a national basis or even local premium decreases.

The following ad could easily pass a Polifact fact check**:

“10% increases, 15% increases, 35% increases —
Middle class families were getting hit with massive premium increases on their health insurance because of Obamacare.

now that we’ve taken action and gotten tough on the insurers to get a better deal for you, people in this fine state of East Wobegon are seeing their monthly premiums decrease by 10%… vote for Generic Republican Incumbent as I’ll fight for you…

I’m Generic Republican Incumbent and I approve this message”

Now there is a long explanation about the denominator being too big because of the 2018 rate hikes being too high so under the right counterfactual (assume 2018 was priced accurately for an 82% MLR), the proposed 2019 rates are still much higher than they would have been given 1/19/17 policy … but my eyes are glazing over as I write that.

ACA premiums are a quiet dog sleeping in the corner right now. Interesting…..

** I should never write ad copy for anyone

Tuesday Morning Open Thread: Soldiering On

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Rosenstein Update

Not to step on Dave’s post, but this is a fast moving story. Here’s the most recent reporting:

What does this exactly mean? Here’s a quick explainer on the Vacancy Act that Steve Vladek at Lawfare did when VA Secretary Shuklin was either fired (according to Shulkin) or resigned (according to the White House):

One of the obscure federal statutes that has come to prominence in the Trump administration is the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (FVRA), a statute designed to increase the president’s flexibility with respect to filling vacancies within the executive branch on a temporary basis. Most discussion of the FVRA has centered on the Justice Department, and whether President Trump could use the statute to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, or both, with someone from outside of the Justice Department. But the real action with the FVRA has largely involved the Department of Veterans Affairs—with respect to which the White House has now completely bungled matters, twice.

Let’s start at the beginning: When a federal office becomes vacant, the default is usually that the “first assistant” to that office is entitled to exercise the functions of the office (but does not formally ascend to the office) on a temporary, or “acting,” basis. But both because numerous positions don’t have obvious “first assistants” and because sometimes there’s no one holding that position, either, Congress in 1998 sought to provide a bit more flexibility to the president when filling many—if not most—vacancies in federal offices.

Thus, as the FVRA provides, when an executive branch officer whose position requires Senate confirmation “dies, resigns, or is otherwise unable to perform the functions and duties of the office,” the default is still the “first assistant,” but the president can override that default—and choose any other executive branch officer holding a Senate-confirmed position, or some senior, non-Senate-confirmed officers from the relevant agency, to exercise the functions of the office for no more than 210 days. The two big questions that the FVRA raises but does not answer are whether (1) it overrides all agency-specific succession statutes, such that the FVRA process is always available; and (2) even if it does, whether it applies when the vacancy is created by the president—i.e., when the prior permanent officeholder is fired, rather than dies or resigns.

The former question is hypertechnical. (With regard to the Justice Department, at least, the Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that it can be used in lieu of the more specific DOJ succession statute.) The latter question is much more important—and much less clear. Although the text of the statute could be read to encompass allvacancies (and at least one senator said on the floor that it would apply to firings), there are strong prudential and contextual arguments militating in the other direction—including that the purpose of the FVRA is to give the president flexibility to deal with unexpected vacancies, not to create vacancies himself and then sidestep existing succession schemes. Indeed, if the answer to both questions is “yes,” then the president would have the power not only to create vacancies in every executive branch office, but to fill them on a temporary basis with individuals who were never confirmed by the Senate either to that specific position, or, in some cases, at all. It’s easy to see, then, why the FVRA has loomed large in the repeated rumors over succession at the Department of Justice.

But for all of the focus on the Justice Department, the real flashpoint for the FVRA lately has been the Veterans Affairs Department (with an honorable mention to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau). In late March, President Trump fired the VA Secretary, David Shulkin, and named a Pentagon undersecretary, Robert Wilkie, to serve as acting secretary under the FVRA. (The VA has its own succession statute, but that statute expressly incorporates other authorities.) Thus, Wilkie raised the big FVRA question: Does it apply when the vacancy is created by the president firing the incumbent? (Veterans’ groups brought a lawsuit arguing that the answer was no.)

Shortly after Shulkin was fired, however, the White House began arguing—loudly—that Shulkin had not been fired, but that instead, he had resigned. The only reason why this could have mattered is the FVRA: If the statute does not apply to vacancies created by the president, then Wilkie could not have been named to serve as acting VA secretary—and any actions he undertook in his capacity as acting VA secretary were subject to legal challenge. Thus, the White House, at least, seemed wary of the second FVRA question. (President Trump also ran into different statutory problemwhen he nominated Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor, to hold the position on a permanent basis, but that issue was mooted by Jackson’s withdrawal.)

This brings us to the latest VA-based FVRA kerfuffle: Last Friday, President Trump surprised everyone (including the putative acting secretary) by announcing at a public event that he was nominating Wilkie to hold the position of VA secretary on a permanent basis. Small problem: The FVRA expressly prohibits such a move. Although the FVRA allows lots of folks to hold an office on an acting basis, one of the few exceptions is an individual who has not been the “first assistant” to the office for at least 90 days who is then nominated by the president to hold the office permanently. Put another way, Wilkie’s formal nomination, by dint of the FVRA, disqualifies him from continuing to serve as acting secretary. This is not an open question about the FVRA; it’s compelled by the plain text.

Wholly apart from what this whole mess says about how seriously the Trump administration takes the VA (which is to say, not), it also suggests two important, related points about the FVRA: First, the White House is at least outwardly wary of the open question concerning its application in cases in which the vacancy is created by firing. It might therefore be a bit gun-shy about relying on the FVRA in a higher-profile case going forward. Second, the White House (or, at least, the president) doesn’t seem to fully understand the FVRA—as evidenced by the Wilkie mess. Neither of these conclusions is earth-shattering, of course. But both could be important markers for the vacancy fights to come.

This is going to be an ongoing, fast moving story. Expect it to change several times over the next few hours until all the details are nailed down. And then expect that regardless of those actual details, the White House will claim that Rosenstein resigned, so they can just use the Vacancy Act to slide someone already approved by the Senate into the position. They’ve done this several times now – at VA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – to circumvent the rules.

I think it is also important to note that once again the President is trying to fire or force out by pressuring a senior appointee to resign and he can’t bring himself to actually do it. He either has someone else do it, as was the case with Comey and now, potentially, Rosenstein or he does it by passive-aggressive tweet.

Update at 12:15 PM EDT

Here’s what I think happened, someone called up Jonathon Swan at Axios, and leaked that Rosenstein was resigning, in order to create a fait accompli by boxing in the President Swan, like The New York Times‘ reporters on Friday, appears to have been manipulated and used by their sources for those sources’ own interests.

We are off the glass and through the map.

Happy infrastructure week!!!

Open thread.

Monday Morning Open Thread

If it weren’t for persistent Repub thimble-rigging, I’d say November was ours to lose. But least we’re doing our best to make it harder for them to steal another election!

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, in the New Yorker, “Is the G.O.P. Actually in Trouble in the Midterms?”:

There are just forty-eight days until the midterm elections. The primaries are finished, and the slate of candidates is set. Republicans are alarmed. Their own internal polling suggests that, on the so-called generic ballot for the House of Representatives, American voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by nine percentage points…

… Paul Ryan is leaving Washington, and his libertarian brand of conservatism has lost its vogue. Trump’s Presidency has been full of warlike gestures but devoid of strategy: having promised a politics that would elevate those left behind, he has crafted tax policies that favor the rich and a failed health-care plan that would gut protections for working-class Americans. And, having won by slim margins in 2016 in the upper Midwest, he has imposed an aggressive tariff program that has meant chaos for farmers, who are struggling to sell their products overseas. The Republican Party is out of ideas...

Parties remake themselves by winning. Victories bring new talent to Washington. The Democratic primaries this summer were widely said to have moved the Party to the left, but the mechanism for this shift was a succession of charismatic young candidates, each presenting a different version of the Party’s future. There was the working-class pugnacity of Randy Bryce, in Wisconsin; the sunny millennial socialism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in New York; and the historic turn promised by two talented black progressive politicians in the South—Stacey Abrams, in Georgia, and Andrew Gillum, in Florida. These candidates’ base, and maybe the future of the Democratic Party, has hinged on the increasing progressivism of cities across the United States and the idea that the politics of Brooklyn are no longer so out of place in Atlanta, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, or Phoenix—and that a forthrightly progressive politics has a chance in the states where those cities dominate…

Avenatti Drops a Bomb on the Senate Judiciary Committee

Michael Avenatti has released his email correspondence with Mike Davis, who is Senator Grassley’s Chief Counsel for Nominations for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

So you don’t have to squint, here’s the email correspondence that Avenatti tweeted:

As I’ve been saying in comments for several days, there is a lot of time between now and when Dr. Blasey testifies on Thursday for more shoes to drop, let alone between now and the following week, which is most likely when Senator McConnell will try to schedule the floor vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination. And Avenatti is just beginning his campaign of death by a thousand twitter cuts.

Open thread.

You Did It! Now Let’s Go For More!

Woooo! $5k. I kept my word and threw in another 50.

Goal Thermometer

She’s a good candidate and WV deserves better.