Open Thread: Mr. Pence Cannot Be Trusted

Not even by his “boss”…

Mr. Pence has been the pacesetter. Though it is customary for vice presidents to keep a full political calendar, he has gone a step further, creating an independent power base, cementing his status as Mr. Trump’s heir apparent and promoting himself as the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration.

The vice president created his own political fund-raising committee, Great America Committee, shrugging off warnings from some high-profile Republicans that it would create speculation about his intentions. The group, set up with help from Jack Oliver, a former fund-raiser for George W. Bush, has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s own primary outside political group, America First Action, even raising more in disclosed donations.

Mr. Pence also installed Nick Ayers, a sharp-elbowed political operative, as his new chief of staff last month — a striking departure from vice presidents’ long history of elevating a government veteran to be their top staff member. Mr. Ayers had worked on many campaigns but never in the federal government…

Mr. Pence has made no overt efforts to separate himself from the beleaguered president. He has kept up his relentless public praise and even in private is careful to bow to the president.

Mr. Pence’s aides, however, have been less restrained in private, according to two people briefed on the conversations. In a June meeting with Al Hubbard, an Indiana Republican who was a top economic official in Mr. Bush’s White House, an aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, said that they wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020 and that Mr. Pence would need Mr. Hubbard’s help, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting. Reached on the phone, Mr. Hubbard declined to comment.

Mr. Ayers has signaled to multiple major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready…

Since Mr. Pence is such a self-advertised Godly man, I’m praying for injuries.

But he’s already consolidating his real constituency:

In a sign of an expanding alliance between the Trump administration and one of the most well-financed forces in conservative politics, Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to speak to a gathering of the billionaire Koch brothers’ advocacy network this month.

Mr. Pence will deliver the keynote address on Aug. 19 in Richmond, Va., to the annual meeting of activists and donors organized by Americans for Prosperity, the group announced on Friday. The nonprofit advocacy group is financed by the industrialist brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, and their allies.

The Koch brothers steer a network of groups that spent between $720 million and $750 million to bolster conservative policy positions and politicians in the run-up to the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the spending. Yet the groups withheld support from President Trump’s campaign out of distaste for his populist and protectionist rhetoric, which clashed sharply with the Kochs’ support for free-market policies.

But in recent weeks, the Kochs’ groups — as well as other deep-pocketed conservative outfits — have expressed increasing support for Mr. Trump’s plans to overhaul the tax code…

Bookmark this, libs!

(And of course, lest we forget…)

World’s Greatest Negotiator in Action

WaPo just posted a scoop using leaked transcripts of calls Trump had with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto shortly after taking office. The conversations reveal Trump to be a peevish, vain weakling who’s more concerned with his image than how policy affects Americans. Hoocoodanode, right?

Trump’s negotiating strategy appears to consist of whining and begging foreign leaders not to publicly pants him for telling cynical lies during the campaign. An excerpt:

Both calls centered on immigration-related issues with high political stakes for Trump, who built his campaign around vows to erect new barriers — physical and legal — to entry to the United States.

But there was little discussion of the substance of those plans or their implications for U.S. relations with Australia and Mexico. Instead, Trump’s overriding concern seemed to center on how any approach would reflect on him.

“This is going to kill me,” he said to Turnbull. “I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country. And now I am agreeing to take 2,000 people.”

The agreement reached by the Obama administration actually called for the United States to admit 1,250 refugees, subject to security screening. A White House readout of the Trump call, issued at the time, said only that the two leaders had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship.”

Trump spent much of his call with Peña Nieto seeking to enlist the Mexican president in a deal to stop talking about how the wall would be paid for. Two days earlier, Trump had signed an executive order mandating construction of the wall, but funding for it remains unclear.

“On the wall, you and I both have a political problem,” Trump said. “My people stand up and say, ‘Mexico will pay for the wall,’ and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language.”

Trump seemed to acknowledge that his threats to make Mexico pay had left him cornered politically. “I have to have Mexico pay for the wall — I have to,” he said. “I have been talking about it for a two-year period.”

To solve that problem, Trump pressured Peña Nieto to suppress the issue. When pressed on who would pay for the wall, “We should both say, ‘We will work it out.’ It will work out in the formula somehow,” Trump said. “As opposed to you saying, ‘We will not pay,’ and me saying, ‘We will not pay.’ ”

Peña Nieto resisted, saying that Trump’s repeated threats had placed “a very big mark on our back, Mr. President.” He warned that “my position has been and will continue to be very firm, saying that Mexico cannot pay for the wall.”

Trump objected: “But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that, and I cannot live with that.”

What a fucking disgrace. There’s really nothing else to say except this: I’m ashamed to be an American every day this buffoon is in office.

In other news, there’s no further point in commentary on the Stephen Miller “Statue of Liberty poem sux” kerfluffle as a gentleman on Twitter posted the perfect rejoinder last night:

The end.

New information is all that matters

The Senate revised draft of their tax bill paid for by Medicaid cuts is due to drop sometime this afternoon. So I want to talk about a possible future path where the bill fails. Doing nothing is a plausible option that will not make things significantly worse or more expensive. Sabotage and neglect have been priced into premiums for the individual market and Medicaid will be at risk due to regulatory rule making and active localized monkey wrenching but that is a plausible baseline in a future where the BCRA is defeated.

I think Matt Fuller is reading this wrong.

CSR ceases to be a leverage point on 12/31/17. After that almost every insurer that is on the Exchange will have priced their products as if CSR was not to be paid. If CSR is paid, they’ll pocket large profits. If it is not paid, it is business as usual. The threat of yanking CSR funding has an even more limited life span than the end of the year:

More subtly, let’s imagine that CSR has been paid through November 30th. If they were not paid in December, the carriers would have to use their reserves to cover the expenses but insurers would not flee the market before the end of the policy year. They might be able to reprice their 2018 policies based on the lack of the regular, early notification of accounts payable that they get before the CSR money is actually transferred in mid-December. They would take a hit, but it would not be a show stopper.

Moving to payment through Halloween but no payment for November and December, most insurers would have sufficient reserves to eat the loss and re-adjust their prices for 2018 while their lawyers get warmed up. Moving back another month, thinly capitalized insurers will start being in trouble as they may be hitting a Premium Deficiency Reserve (PDR) event that threatens their Risk Based Capital (RBC). At that point, some state regulators would be forced to either shut down insurers or allow insurers to terminate the CSR policies immediately. Well capitalized insurers could survive longer and jack up their rates for 2018 with state support.

CSR threats are valid through the end of August and then weaken quickly by Thanksgiving.

More importantly, chaos and sabotage is old information. Many insurers have pulled out of the ACA individual markets because of the cost of uncertainty due to sabotage that has been ongoing since 1/20/17. But that is old news.

Only new and unexpected monkeywrenching would increase the level of chaos in the individual market.

Russiagate Thread: 400-Pound Guy on A (Beauty Pageant) Bed

With the Trump crime cartel, sooner or later, it always comes back to dirty money. Kudos to the Washington Post, “Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyer during presidential campaign after being promised information helpful to father’s effort”:

In his statement, Trump Jr. said he was approached about the meeting by an acquaintance he knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.

He did not name the acquaintance, but in an interview Sunday, Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who is friendly with Trump Jr., told The Washington Post that he had arranged the meeting at the request of a Russian client and had attended it along with Veselnitskaya.

Goldstone has been active with the Miss Universe pageant and works as a manager for Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is a wealthy Moscow developer who sponsored the pageant in the Russian capital in 2013.

Goldstone would not name the client. He said Veselnitskaya wanted to discuss ways that Trump could be helpful about the Russian government’s adoption issue should he be elected president…

Veselnitskaya’s client roll includes individuals and companies close to the Kremlin. She has for the past several years been a leading advocate around the world to fight Magnitsky Acts, sanctions intended to rebuke Russia for human rights abuses. The acts are named for Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died under mysterious circumstances in a Moscow prison in 2009 after exposing a corruption scandal…

That evening, a film critical of the Magnitsky sanctions — and the story behind them — showed at the Newseum. On June 15, Veselnitskaya was featured on the Sputnik News website criticizing the sanctions and its leading advocate, William Browder, a financier who left Russia a decade ago amid concerns about corruption, including that exposed by Magnitsky, the lawyer and auditor he had hired.

Browder led the lobbying for the Magnitsky Act’s passage in 2012, a vote that infuriated Putin, leading the Russian leader to retaliate by halting American adoption of Russian children. The adoption issue is frequently used as a talking point by opponents of the Magnitsky Act, Browder said.

It’s all D-list infotainment until some “enemy of the state” dies while in custody…

This Weekend’s Blockbuster Newsdump: “Trump Team Met With Lawyer Linked to Kremlin During Campaign”

And here we were, wondering if the Trump crime cartel’s G20 shenanigans had preempted the weekly #Russiagate revelations. Thank you, NYTimes:

Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.

The previously undisclosed meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to interviews and the documents, which were outlined by people familiar with them.

While President Trump has been dogged by revelations of undisclosed meetings between his associates and Russians, this episode at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. It is also the first time that his son Donald J. Trump Jr. is known to have been involved in such a meeting.

Representatives of Donald J. Trump Jr. and Mr. Kushner confirmed the meeting after The Times approached them with information about it. In a statement, Donald Jr described the meeting as primarily about an adoption program. The statement did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed….

The Russian lawyer invited to the Trump Tower meeting, Natalia Veselnitskaya, is best known for mounting a multipronged attack against the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged Mr. Putin that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.

The adoption impasse is a frequently used talking point for opponents of the Magnitsky Act. Ms. Veselnitskaya’s campaign against the law has also included attempts to discredit its namesake, Sergei L. Magnitsky, a lawyer and auditor who died in under mysterious circumstances in a Russian prison in 2009 after exposing one of the biggest corruption scandals during Mr. Putin’s rule…
Read more

Maybe Men Just Don’t Have the Temperament to Be Secretarys-of-State…

I don’t remember such stories when Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, or Condolezza Rice held this position, she said piously. (And we couldn’t help remembering, because Fox News would bring any such “explosion” up approximately every other hour, 24/7/365.)

On the other hand, those women didn’t have Jared ‘Son-in-Law’ Kushner trying to undercut them:

The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.

Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano’s office to “have any role in staffing” and “expressed frustration that anybody would know better” than he about who should work in his department — particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation…

The encounter, described by four people familiar with what happened, was so explosive that Kushner approached Peterlin afterward and told her that Tillerson’s outburst was completely unprofessional, according to two of the people familiar with the exchange, and told her that they needed to work out a solution

Just in case Ragin’ Rexy wanted to know who was spreading the story around. There’s this MBA misconception that a good assassin always signs his work.

… It was the loudest manifestation yet of how frustrated Tillerson is in his new role. He has complained about White House attempts to push personnel on him; about the president’s tweets; and about the work conditions in a West Wing where he sometimes finds loyalty and competence hard to buy. Above all, the former ExxonMobil CEO, accustomed to having the final word on both personnel and policy in his corporate life, has balked at taking orders from political aides younger and less experienced than he is…

Read more

Open Thread: Some Happy News, for Non-Revanchists

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III made his career using the full weight of “Law & Order” to abuse unruly people of color, uppity women, young people and poor people with ever-more-restrictive drug laws, capricious enforcement of petty regulations, and statutes restricting the lives and freedom of ex-felons. He was an earlier rider on the ‘Trump train’ because he saw, in a Trump administration, a cushy future where he would be able to enforce his eighteenth-century prejudices on even more people over a wider range.

Were he to end up bankrupted and emotionally broken due to the application of those expansive “Law & Order” codes… well, it wouldn’t improve my estimate of the Trickster God’s script-writing abilities, but I would enjoy the final act.