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House Democrats' new Obamacare strategy: Get out of the way


Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats are shifting strategies and hoping that Republicans will run their beleaguered plan aground on their own. | Getty

House Democrats have a new plan to tank Paul Ryan’s Obamacare repeal: Get out of the way.

Democratic leaders in the House know they’re powerless to stop the GOP’s health care bill. So instead, with a repeal vote looming Thursday, they’re executing a strategic retreat.

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After previously deploying a bevy of procedural tactics to delay the bill from reaching the House floor, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her Democrats are shifting strategies and hoping that Republicans will run their beleaguered plan aground on their own.

“Republicans now are dealing with the fact that they’ve built a castle on a foundation of lies,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who chairs the moderate New Democrat Coalition in the House, said in an interview. “The last thing we would want to do is get in their way.”

House Democrats will link arms with former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday for an Obamacare rally that looks more like an Irish wake, celebrating the health care law as they avoid even trying to amend Ryan’s bill.

To be sure, rank-and-file House Democrats will be making a lot of noise leading up to the House repeal vote Thursday. Democrats will be giving floor speeches blasting the Republican plan on a regular rotation. And members will have access to two “spin rooms” in the Capitol that allow them to talk to local media and record Facebook live videos opposing the GOP bill.

But Democratic leaders are discouraging members from offering amendments when the Rules Committee meets to debate the GOP health care bill on Wednesday. And on Thursday, Democrats don’t plan on offering a “motion to recommit,” the procedural move typically proposed by the minority to delay passage of a bill on the floor.

Their thinking, according to multiple sources, is that offering amendments to improve the bill, if adopted, would give wobbly Republicans cover to vote for the repeal — hampering Democrats’ chances of tanking the proposal before it even reaches the Senate.

Democrats have reason to be hopeful for an Obamacare collapse that could devastate Trump’s domestic agenda and put the GOP’s House majority at risk next year. Republican senators are openly split over whether to move the House bill to the left or right, and they may have only a week to consider it on the floor under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s jam-packed schedule.

One Republican whose state has expanded Medicaid under Obamacare — and thus stands to lose a lot of money under repeal — walked onto a senators-only elevator Tuesday unsure how to answer questions about “whether I would support the deal” on health care.

“How can I know what the deal is until we see the deal?” the GOP senator asked a Democratic colleague.

While Trump made a hard sell with House Republicans on Tuesday, warning them to fall in line or


GOP Takes Up Russia-Aligned Attack On Soros

A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros.

Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’s Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.”

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It’s an accusation that’s being fomented and championed by Moscow.

Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and fled after World War II when it was under Soviet control, has been long a bête noir of the Kremlin, which sees his funding for civil society groups in former Soviet satellite states as part of a plot to install pro-Western governments.

For years, those complaints had generally fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’s efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.

But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes. Politicians with nationalist constituencies in several former Eastern Bloc states have become increasingly aggressive in seeking international support for their crusade against Soros, and they seem to have found at least some takers in the GOP.

The particular focus of the letters from Lee, Smith and their cohort is spending by Soros’s foundations in Macedonia, a former socialist republic in the throes of a two-year political crisis, and to a lesser extent in its neighbor to the west Albania. In the former Communist country, which has struggled with allegations of corruption, one letter expressed concerns that “Soros-backed organizations” are pushing reforms “ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over judiciary power.”

The letters, which ask the State Department and the Government Accountability Office for information about U.S. foreign aid funding for Soros groups in the Balkans, came after lobbying from the right-wing party clinging to power in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE.

Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations, suggested that autocratic regimes see Trump’s rise as giving them carte blanche to resist reforms, and to dismiss those proposing them.

“Authoritarians, branded today as ‘illiberals,’ have long opposed George Soros and the vision of an open society, but they have been emboldened by Trump's victory to go even further,” Stone told POLITICO.

So far, the Republican lobbying against Soros’s efforts in Macedonia has not resulted in much. But the involvement of several high-profile Republicans, including Texas


Trump’s budget: Where’s the evidence?


President Donald Trump promised to run the government like a business, and the budget blueprint he released last week had one big business-inspired idea baked into it: Testing the evidence. The blueprint promised to figure out which government programs and agencies work, and eliminate the ones that don’t—“using real, hard data to identify poorly performing organizations and programs.”

Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, doubled down on that idea in a briefing last week, arguing that the Trump administration wasn’t going to ask for Americans’ money “unless we can guarantee to you that that money is actually being used in a proper function.”

Technocrats on the left and the right know this as “evidence-based policymaking,” and they love the idea. The vast majority of federal programs and agencies have never been rigorously evaluated, and only recently has the government started to get serious about trying to measure its results. Evidence-based policymaking has a lot of support in both parties: The Clinton and Bush administrations both tried to integrate evidence into policymaking, and the Obama administration went even further, reforming many grant programs so that projects that demonstrated effectiveness received more money. “It’s like a venture capital fund,” said Andrew Feldman, who worked on evidence-based policymaking in Obama’s budget office.

In theory, supporters should be cheered that Trump and his budget chief would take such a strong stand in favor of evidence. But how much did “evidence” really drive Trump’s budget? A POLITICO review of the cuts in the blueprint found a gap between its promises and what it really chose to cut and keep. Evidence-based policy is still rare in government, but the budget actually eliminates a handful of the few programs that have proven themselves cost effective. It also dodges evidence in some other ways, ignoring settled science or funding projects with low expected returns. In one situation, it proposes eliminating a program that’s right in the middle of getting a rigorous assessment.

The White House did not respond to questions about why it wanted to cut specific programs, and many in the evidence-based policy community suspect that the administration is using “evidence” as a fig leaf to cut whatever they wanted to cut in the first place. “Government definitely needs a haircut, but it doesn’t need the head lopped off,” said John Bridgeland, a lawyer who served as head of George W. Bush’s Domestic Policy Council. He and others worry that the Trump administration’s loose use of “evidence” could ultimately undermine support for an idea that is still gaining ground in Washington, turning a rare area of bipartisan agreement into yet another political battlefield.

A look at a handful of cuts in the budget gives a sense of how evidence is starting to percolate into federal policymaking in different ways—and how the Trump budget, for all its surface commitment to evidence, steers around it when convenient.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a small agency (a budget just north of $1 billion) that funds


Democrats crank up the heat on Gorsuch at marathon hearing


Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch speaks Tuesday on Capitol Hill during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. | AP Photo

The Supreme Court nominee also called Trump's attacks on the judiciary 'disheartening.'

By Seung Min Kim and Josh Gerstein

03/21/17 10:17 AM EDT

Updated 03/21/17 07:11 PM EDT

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch repeatedly brushed off Democratic attempts Tuesday to nail down his position on issues spanning abortion to gun regulations to voting rights — while also pledging that he would have no problem ruling against the man who nominated him, President Donald Trump.

Gorsuch also leveled his most significant rebuke of Trump yet when he repeated in public what he had told senators privately: He was dismayed by Trump's attacks on the judiciary.

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"When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or motives of a judge, I find that disheartening," Gorsuch told senators. "I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth."

When pressed whether that included Trump's comments, Gorsuch responded: "Anyone is anyone."

Facing a marathon grilling session before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch dodged multiple questions by saying he didn't want to compromise his impartiality should he be confirmed to the high court.

"The first thing I'm doing [by answering] is, I'm signaling to future litigants that I can't be a fair judge in their case because those issues keep coming up," Gorsuch said. "All these issues keep coming up. Issues around all these precedents will be continued to be litigated."

When pressed again on a controversial topic — this time, by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on the Supreme Court's Shelby County vs. Holder decision curbing the Voting Rights Act — Gorsuch simply responded: "I admire the various ways" senators try to pin him down.

Gorsuch also dodged on whether he would vote to uphold Trump's controversial travel ban if the beleaguered executive order, now largely on hold, makes it to the Supreme Court.

“I’m not going to say anything that gives anybody any idea how I’d rule in any case like that that could come before my court,” Gorsuch told Leahy. “It’d be grossly improper to do that.“

His comments did little to mollify Democrats, who have been eager to dissect his lengthy legal record both on the bench and as a top lawyer in the George W. Bush administration's Justice Department where he worked on anti-terror policies.

Gorsuch's views on judicial independence were also a hot topic early on and throughout the hearing, in light of Trump's attacks on multiple judges during the campaign and in the White House.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley attempted to head off those criticisms from Democrats early on by asking Gorsuch about his independence and whether Gorsuch would struggle to rule against the president who picked him for the Supreme Court.

"That's a softball, Mr. Chairman," Gorsuch told Grassley. "I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party other than based on what the law and facts and the particular case


Trump, GOP leaders lack votes to pass Obamacare repeal

Despite a frantic lobbying effort, President Donald Trump and House GOP leaders are still short of the votes they need to pass their Obamacare replacement bill, just two days before the legislation is set to be taken up on the floor.

Conservative hard-liners from the House Freedom Caucus are threatening to derail the legislation, saying revisions announced on Monday night don’t go far enough. A handful of moderate Republicans are also balking at the Trump-backed measure. They’re worried about damaging themselves politically by voting for a proposal that will never make it through the Senate.

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The upshot is that Trump, Ryan and other GOP leaders are dealing with a legislative balloon — whenever they push on one side, it pops out somewhere else. Every concession or revision they make has the potential to cause more problems for the other end of the conference.

White House officials and Republican leaders remain optimistic that they will get the 215 votes they need, but it will very tight.

Hours after being singled out by Trump over his opposition to the Republican health care plan, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said his group of conservatives still have the votes to block the bill. Freedom Caucus insiders say the group has 27 members who are firmly against it or leaning "no."

House GOP leaders can only afford to lose 22 members on the bill.

Trump, eager to stave off an embarrassing defeat that could hobble his legislative agenda for the rest of the year, has dramatically stepped up his efforts to shift votes.

After personally calling out Meadows during a GOP Conference meeting Tuesday, Trump held a series of face-to-face meetings with lawmakers later in the day. At a bill-signing ceremony in the West Wing Tuesday afternoon, Trump pulled aside a number of Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), to try to cajole them to support the package.

Later in the afternoon, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) escorted a group of more than 15 moderate members to the Oval Office to meet with Trump later. And the president will continue to buttonhole GOP members at a high-profile fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee Tuesday night.

“I think these group meetings are great,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “[Members] can explain, they get the one-on-one, members get to talk about what the concerns are. The president’s really become very versed in it. I was really impressed by it … He’s been very flexible with his time.”

Yet GOP leaders and White House officials privately admit they’re still short of the votes they need.

“We’re not there yet,” said a top House Republican. “I think we’ll get there, especially with Trump working it, but we’re not there right now.”

Freedom Caucus sources said the group is planning to hold a news conference early Wednesday to trumpet their opposition to the bill, despite Trump's pleas for support. They're hoping to have all 27 members who oppose or are leaning against

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