What to Know in Washington: Trump Eyes ACA Replacement Post-2020

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President Donald Trump said Republicans would wait until after the 2020 election to hold a vote on a replacement for Obamacare, abruptly halting a push he began just last week and guaranteeing that the issue will take center stage in his re-election campaign.

He made the shift in a series of Twitter posts last night, saying that the “Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”

The posting ended a week-long rush by GOP lawmakers to come up with an Obamacare alternative after the administration unexpectedly changed its position in a lawsuit by arguing that Obamacare should be entirely struck down. Trump’s Justice Department had previously said that it should be only partly overturned.

A final court ruling in that case is likely to come before June 2020. If Trump wins in court, there could be swift and widespread chaos and uncertainty in American health care — at least until an alternative system is put in place — as the array of changes to industry regulations, subsidies for low-income individuals and delivery system reforms would be undone.

Trump rekindled the long-running political conflict over health care last week when he ordered his Justice Department to shift its position on a Texas lawsuit seeking to invalidate parts of the Affordable Care Act, agreeing with U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling that the law itself is unconstitutional and should be scrapped entirely.

Most congressional Republicans, however, are in no mood to return to the battlefield. Although they had fiercely opposed the law since 2010, it gradually became more popular with voters and was considered a chief factor in last November’s Democratic victories that cost the GOP control of the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Democrats will continue to pressure the administration over health care policy, as the House plans to vote today on a resolution that would condemn Trump’s actions in Texas v. United States. The Democratic leadership will also hold a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court today to highlight their resolution. Democrats will “turn up the pressure on Congressional Republicans” who back the president’s health care moves by introducing such measures this year, said Henry Connelly, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Sahil Kapur and John Harney have the latest.

BGOV Podcast: On the latest episode of Bloomberg Government’s “Suspending the Rules,” BGOV legislative analyst Danielle Parnass and senior health-care reporter Alex Ruoff break down the potential implications if Obamacare is struck down and the next steps in Congress. Listen here.


Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Demcorats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), last week unveiled legislation to shore up Obamacare.

Happening on the Hill

Democrats Block Disaster Relief Bill: Senate Democrats blocked a $13.5 billion Republican disaster aid measure, contending it lacks enough aid for Puerto Rico, leaving the Senate without an immediate path forward to provide relief for areas hit by recent Midwest floods, Hurricanes Florence and Michael, and California wildfires.

The aid package, amended last week by Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), would give Puerto Rico $600 million in nutrition assistance, but it doesn’t contain the same funds the House authorized to bolster flood protection and repair the electrical grid. The Senate failed to advance its version of the bill yesterday on a 44-49 vote. Senators then voted on the House version, which was blocked by Republicans on a 46-48 vote. Read more from Erik Wasson.

After the vote, Trump renewed attacks on Puerto Rico’s government via Twitter. “The people of Puerto Rico are GREAT, but the politicians are incompetent or corrupt,” Trump tweeted. “Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess – nothing works.”

Trump said Democrats killed the disaster bill “despite the fact that Puerto Rico has already been scheduled to receive more hurricane relief funding than any ‘place’ in history.”

Democrats Punt on Budget: House Democrats shelved a budget resolution for fiscal 2020 over squabbling within the party over expensive progressive policies and how to address the U.S.’s growing annual budget deficit. Absent agreement among Democrats on a 10-year budget, the House Budget Committee this week plans to consider just the top-line discretionary spending numbers that will have to be negotiated with the Senate for 2020 and 2021.

Progressive House Democrats sought to decrease defense spending and use tax increases to balance much higher spending on social programs, while moderates argued for a modest boost for defense funds and new revenue to lower the deficit. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (R-Ky.) said last week the main sticking point for his party was how much to increase non-defense discretionary spending. He said Democrats agree the increase for discretionary funds should be bigger than the increase for defense, but they are still arguing over how much. Read more from Erik Wasson.

White House Pressured on Security Clearances: The House Oversight Committee is scrutinizing how a number of senior aides, including Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser John Bolton, obtained security clearances after a whistle-blower in the White House Personnel Security Office told House Democrats that top-secret clearances were handled improperly. The panel plans to meet today to subpoena a former official in that office.

Meanwhile, Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior adviser to the president, said in an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham yesterday that he’s “been accused of all different types of things, and all of those things have turned out to be false” when asked about concerns over security clearances.

“We’ve had a lot of crazy accusations, like, that we colluded with Russia. I complied with all the different investigations, whether it be the Senate, the House, the special counsel. I’ve sat for nearly 20 hours of interviews with them,” Kushner said. Asked whether he would testify on Capitol Hill if asked, Kushner said he’d decide on case-by-case basis “if there are nonsense harassment investigations.”

Green New Deal Defectors: The Green New Deal calls for shifting to 100 percent clean power within 10 years, upgrading all U.S. buildings and providing health care and housing for all. It’s captured national attention but has also been used by Republicans to label Democrats as socialists who want to ground air travel, ban hamburgers and pay people who aren’t working. The Green New Deal would do none of those things, but its still only supported by 39 percent of House Democrats — 92 out of 235 Democrats. In the Senate, the plan is backed by all six of the chambers presidential hopefuls, but only 12 out of its 49 Democrats.

A group of Democratic Green New Deal defectors are rejecting the progressive package. Among the ideas some defectors are considering are measures that would impose a national mandate for the use of cleaner power sources or implementing a carbon tax. Ari Natter checks in on their push.

Net Neutrality Legislation: The “Save the Internet Act,” a bill from Democrats to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission, is set to be considered by the Energy and Commerce Committee tomorrow. The measure would undo the FCC’s 2017 repeal of its net neutrality rules and revive the 2015 decision to treat internet service providers under common carrier rules, which are similar to those used to regulate utilities. BGOV legislative analyst Adam M. Taylor provides an overview of the net neutrality debate, including what the term means, the history of the FCC’s regulation of ISPs, the Save the Internet Act, and House Republicans’ proposals to enshrine net neutrality rules without imposing common carrier requirements. Read the full analysis here.

Movers and Shakeups

Bolton Test Boundaries: White House National Security Adviser John Bolton is expanding his influence in increasingly visible ways, pursuing his own longstanding foreign policy priorities at the risk of tensions with top administration officials — and even Trump himself. Since joining Trump’s White House, Bolton has pursued an agenda that includes trying to break Iran financially, oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, shield Americans from the reach of the International Criminal Court and toughen the U.S. posture to ward Russia. He coordinated with key lawmakers, U.S. diplomatic and defense officials and the Israelis to compel Trump to slow an abrupt withdrawal of American forces from Syria.

Bolton’s blunt, unapologetic divide-and-conquer methods don’t surprise anyone who’s watched him in government roles since the Reagan administration or as a pundit on Fox News. He’s always been a deeply ideological thinker who believes the U.S. plays by a unique set of rules and doesn’t mind — or even sometimes relishes — clashing with others to accomplish his goals. He’s beloved by a loyal cadre of aides while chafing many others inside the administration. Margaret Talev and Jennifer Jacobs take a closer look at Bolton’s role in the administration.

GOP Whip Noncommittal on Moore for Fed: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said Trump’s pick for the Federal Reserve deserves to go through the process, but was noncommittal on his stance on Stephen Moore’s nomination. “We’ll give him fair consideration. He’s the president’s nominee and he’ll get the same I’m sure treatment that every other nominee gets and that’s a chance to answer any of those questions that might get raised in a confirmation hearing,” he said. Read more from Laura Litvan.

CFTC Pick Approved by Senate Panel: Heath Tarbert, a Treasury Department official tapped to lead the futures and derivatives market regulator, took a step forward in his nomination process after the Senate Agriculture Committee approved him yesterday by voice vote. Read more from Lydia Beyoud.

Elections and Politics

Biden’s 2020 Challenges Pile Up: The first controversy of Joe Biden’s prospective 2020 campaign is just a slice of the multiple challenges the former vice president will face if he jumps into the race. Allegations by former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores that she was unnerved by Biden smelling her hair and kissing the back of her head at an event five years ago have been followed by a second accusation, made by a Connecticut woman, of inappropriate contact. That’s forcing some Democrats to confront head-on the question of wh ether Biden is the right person to be the party’s 2020 standard-bearer in the “Me Too” era. Read more from Sahil Kapur.

2020 Hopefuls on Corporate Power: Democratic presidential contenders are competing to offer the strongest proposals to reduce corporate power in the U.S. through ideas such as restrictions on lobbying and stricter antitrust enforcement. Several were questioned by a crowd at a gathering of progressives yesterday whose demands reflected Democrats’ growing appetite to sharply limit corporate influence in government. It’s becoming one of the top policy tests facing 2020 hopefuls seeking to capture the nomination to take on Trump.

Sahil Kapur reports on the “We The People” forum’s speakers, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas).

Harris Draws $12M in Q1: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) raised $12 million from more than 218,000 individual contributions in the first quarter of 2019, according to a statement from her campaign, Ben Livesey reports. Of the contributions to Harris, 98 percent were under $100 with an average online contribution of $28, the campaign said. Presidential candidates must release their first quarter fundraising totals for the period between January 1 and March 31 no later than April 15.

What Else to Know

Trump Welcomes NATO Chief: Trump will meet today at the White House at 1:45 p.m. with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Trump has repeatedly questioned the utility of NATO to his “American First” foreign policy and regularly complains that the U.S. is being short-changed because few other members meet the goal of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

This evening, Trump will attend the National Republican Congressional Committee Annual Spring Dinner at the National Building Museum.

EU-U.S. Trade Talks Said to Face Delay: European Union governments are struggling to reach consensus on a mandate to begin trade talks with the U.S., risking a delay that would further provoke Trump’s ire after the bloc’s refusal to include agriculture in the negotiations. At a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels tomorrow, France is expected to resist giving the European Commission the green light to start negotiations to eliminate industrial tariffs between the regions, according to two officials familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Failure to get France on board would mean the EU’s executive arm won’t be given a mandate to negotiate. Read more from Viktoria Dendrinou and Nikos Chrysoloras.

Lobbyist Criminal Disclosure Database Goes Live: The framework for lobbyists to come clean about previous convictions, required by a law inspired by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has now been set up and the House and Senate released guidelines yesterday for how to comply. The Justice Against Corruption on K Street (JACK) Act went into effect on Jan. 3. Congressional lobbying databases now include search functions to find JACK Act-spurred disclosure forms.

The JACK Act requires registered lobbyists to disclose federal and state convictions for certain ethics-related crimes, such as bribery, extortion, embezzlement, and violating conflict of interest laws — even if those convictions occurred prior to the measure becoming law. Both state and federal convictions must be disclosed on every lobbying registration and quarterly disclosure. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

Pentagon Said to Delay Turkey’s F-35s: The Pentagon is delaying delivery of two F-35 fighter jets intended to help train Turkish pilots at an Arizona base because of Turkey’s plan to buy a Russian missile defense system, according to U.S. defense officials. The advanced fighters, built by Lockheed Martin, were to join two F-35s previously delivered to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training before the planes were supposed to be sent to Turkey.

The U.S. has vigorously protested Turkey’s plan to buy the S-400 defense system from Moscow, with Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan calling it “incompatible” with the sale to Turkey of the F-35. The U.S. has sought to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to buy the U.S. Patriot defense system instead. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Alaska Oil Drilling Outlook: The Trump administration’s best hope to overturn a lower court decision Friday shutting down oil and gas drilling off the Alaskan coast may lie at the U.S. Supreme Court, environmental lawyers said. All five conservative justices on the high court have shown skepticism about agency claims of authority where Congress hasn’t clearly delegated it — the core issue in the Alaska case. A federal district judge struck down an executive order from Trump that opened Arctic waters to oil and gas drilling . Read more from Stephen Lee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brandon Lee at blee@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com

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