Trump puts points on the board

The Briefing, Vol V., Issue 15 – This week:

  • Moderates now holding up Obamacare repeal
  • Republican challenges in House special elections
  • Romney for Senate?


Supreme Court: Points on the board: That’s what Trump needed, and he gets just that with the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as the newest Supreme Court justice.

For many, many conservative voters, the high court’s composition was the issue that swung the 2016 election. For so many conservative and Republican voters who weren’t sure about Trump, his straightforward promise on judges brought them home at the eleventh hour, confounding the pollsters and pundits and making Trump presdient.

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016 had brought conservative hopes and dreams to a modern low point. But his replacement by Gorsuch, all parliamentary issues aside, suddenly revives them. Many crucial precedents on issues such as gun rights and state abortion restrictions, hung in the balance. And questions about property rights (particularly with respect to civil forfeiture), congressional and state legislative redistricting and immigration law remain to be decided, and will now be shaped with Gorsuch’s voice on a fully staffed court.

Republicans may wonder at this point whether they have done something unwise in pushing Gorsuch’s nomination through with the so-called “nuclear option,” overriding a filibuster by the Democratic minority. They can rest assured, based on the words of the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee, that Democrats were prepared to do exactly the same thing the moment they took power to push through President Hillary Clinton’s first Supreme Court nominee. Sen. Tim Kaine, who would have become president of the Senate, said so just days before the election he expected to win. So not only did they merely extend the precedent that former Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., created, but they did so in the knowledge that Democrats were about to do the same.

In the end, Gorsuch was so well qualified that the Democrats’ filibuster against him signals that they would filibuster any nominee that a Republican president could get away with appointing — that is, anyone with respect for the Constitution as written and adopted. Their decision to fire that bullet on this nomination means that if Trump gets to replace, say, Justice Kennedy, Justice Ginsburg, or Justice Breyer during his term, it will be a lot easier than it might have been otherwise, simply because there are no bullets left in the chamber.


Obamacare: As members of Congress and the Trump administration work to hash out Obamacare Repeal 2.0, it seems that an impasse has been reached once again — not with the recalcitrant Freedom Caucus, but with GOP moderates.

The moderates have decided that they can’t accept an opt-out for the states to mandates to cover certain medical condition. These objections may seem to match the politically correct view that all insurance should cover everything, but it is not actually that reasonable.

Were a state to opt out of a mandate, it would not mean that insurance would no longer cover certain conditions. It would merely mean that it would no longer be illegal to sell insurance policies that don’t cover it.

The refusal of some Republicans to accept a situation in which insurers and the insured can agree for themselves on what sort of coverage to buy and sell is a sign that President Obama won a significant debate point in passing Obamacare, regardless of how much of the law ultimately survives. The idea that government mandates and penalties are the only thing holding America back from becoming one of Charles Dickens’ nightmares is a central assumption of Democratic rhetoric, evincing lack of faith in economic actors to choose what is best for themselves.

And this debating point appears to have infected moderate Republicans as well.

Once again, President Trump’s dealmaking skills will be tested to their absolute limit whenever the GOP chooses to bring this issue back to the House floor. Which it will not, unless and until it has a workable deal that can pass.

House 2017

Georgia-6: Republicans continue to fight for their lives in what promises to be the decisive House special election of 2017. At stake in the jungle primary between Democrat Jon Ossoff and his 17 opponents from both parties: Can Republicans retain control of the wealthy, well-educated suburbs in the Trump era, when the white working class seems to be the up and coming demographic of the Republican base?

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s SuperPAC and the NRCC have spent heavily here on the Republican side. Planned Parenthood ($150,000) and ($260,000) are among the bigger Democratic partisan groups making independent expenditures in the race, but the DCCC hasn’t directly intervened just yet. They may simply be waiting for the general election, since Ossoff is all but guaranteed a spot in the June 20 runoff, assuming he doesn’t win the April 18 election with 50 percent or more.

Kansas-4: Before they have a chance to start worrying about the Georgia race in earnest, Republicans are already getting last-minute jitters about what should be a slam-dunk House special election in an even deeper Red district.

The NRCC has spent more than $100,000 on this race in the last seven days. Vice President Mike Pence recorded get-out-the-vote calls and Sen. Ted Cruz has been called in to campaign for the Republican candidate, whose efforts to date have been sharply criticized by Republicans in Kansas. The concern is that anything could happen in a low-turnout special election. It would be a terrible sign going forward if Republicans were to let an easy win like this one slip from their grasp.

Even if Republican Ron Estes prevails on Tuesday night, it makes sense that, in the current environment and led by a president with low approval ratings, House Republicans wouldn’t take any chances with this one. The current moment may well pass as President Trump gets his sea legs and puts some legislative accomplishments on the board (perhaps health care, but already he got Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court). Until then, though, it’s safest to treat this period like the one in the late Bush era, when Republicans felt they were fortunate to hold on to Ohio’s solid Red Fifth District House seat.

Trump carried Kansas-4 by nearly 30 points in November. The seat opened up when Rep. Mike Pompeo, R, became Trump’s CIA director.

Montana-At Large: There’s finally at least one poll showing Republican Greg Gianforte the clear double-digit favorite to keep this seat in Republican hands. Trump’s approval rating in Montana, it suggests, is at 50 percent.

Senate 2018

Utah: We noted previously that Sen. Orrin Hatch was interested in the idea of bowing out of his re-election in favor of Mitt Romney. But it seemed like a theoretical. Last week, signs became to pop up that Romney for Senate is more than a theoretical.

Assuming Romney runs and Hatch does retire as he hinted, it would pretty much settle the succession questions that had been brewing among Utah Republicans, to the satisfaction of no one on the bottom rungs of the ladder. The ambitious young GOP politicians like Jason Chaffetz, already frustrated by Sen. Mike Lee’s unexpected successful entrance onto the political stage in 2010, would have to wait longer still. And in the event of a Romney candidacy, there would also not be much of a market for an anti-Trump candidate like Evan McMullin, who had previously hinted he might run.

Governor 2018

Minnesota: Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan says he will run for governor more likely than not, with a decision coming in the next three weeks. Rep. Tim Walz has already declared he’s running.

It’s anyone’s guess at this point whether Republicans will field a credible nominee or be in strong contention, because no one has announced early. But the departure of Walz and Nolan from the House would create a massive opportunity for House Republicans, who came within a combined 5,000 votes of capturing both of their House seats in November amid the Trump surge that nearly turned Minnesota Red.