Corruption and the Fate of Obamacare

The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 37 – Happy Labor Day to all our readers.

This week:

  • Trump’s pending action on DACA
  • Menendez trial an underestimated potential game-changer
  • Another special House election likely coming soon

DACA: President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on immigration is really less surprising that you might expect. It’s not a final policy decision. He is actually doing just what House Speaker Paul Ryan asked — giving Congress a chance to make immigration policy going forward instead of relying on constitutionally dubious unilateral executive action.

Trump has repeatedly shown signs that he is willing to make a deal to let those brought to the U.S. as children before 2007 receive legal status. But with this latest action, he has put the ball in Congress’s court. And that’s really as it should be, but it also puts some pressure on Democrats. Congress needs to make policy on immigration and naturalization, as Article I of the Constitution demands. Trump is now forcing them to do it, and perhaps pressuring Democrats to bargain legislatively for a policy they promised to defend.

President Obama made a lot of last-minute political moves — DACA being just one among them — that are hard to justify from the perspective of the balance of powers that the Constitution demands. The courts have frowned upon DACA consistently since its creation for this very reason. But they won’t if Congress adopts such a policy as part of a deal for immigration enforcement — again, something Trump has repeatedly signaled he is open to.

Senate 2017

Alabama: The White House has not officially backed away from its endorsement of Sen. Luther Strange in this month’s GOP primary, but it has done so in practical terms by refusing to follow through. Recall how big a role Trump’s late endorsement played in getting Strange through the first round of the primary. If Trump has dropped him like a hot rock, what then?

A new poll by Harper suggests that Strange’s might not be the lost cause that it appeared to be earlier. He may trail only by single digits — by just two points in this poll. Still, there is not one poll showing Strange with a lead, and that’s not good for an incumbent senator in his own party primary.

Strange can’t be counted out, but if he really can’t count on Trump’s full-throated support in the final stretch, then his days in the U.S. Senate may well be numbered.

New Jersey: Here’s a fun thought-exercise. Let’s say Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial, for which a jury has now been seated, results in a felony conviction and his expulsion or resignation from the Senate between today and January 16, 2018, Gov. Chris Christie’s last day in office.

Christie would then be empowered to appoint an interim senator — perhaps Jeffrey Chiesa again, or a member of the state’s Republican congressional delegation, but perhaps even himself. At which point the U.S. Senate could suddenly bring to the floor and pass the Obamacare repeal bill that it came within one vote of passing this summer, thanks to a new New Jersey Republican in its ranks.

In this scenario, Democrats could try to avoid this fate by circling the wagons around a convicted Menendez. But it won’t look good, and it’s anyone’s guess how long they can actually hold out. Assuming that a conviction does occur, a lot of it depends on the timing. For example, if he is convicted on corruption charges in early October, it’s very difficult to imagine him clinging to his seat until mid-January, but he could try to do just that.

Again, this is just a thought experiment. Menendez could well be exonerated. But can you think of a crazier possible end to Christie’s political career? To Menendez’s? To Obamacare?

This really could all happen, depending on the strength of the government’s case against Menendez. The trial begins on September 6. No one seems to be taking this possibility too seriously, but it’s staring everyone in the face right now. It looks a heck of a lot more likely today than Trump’s election as president ever was in June 2015.

House 2018

Pennsylvania-10: Earlier this year, it appeared that Republican Rep. Tom Marino had given up any thought of an appointment in the Trump administration. Turns out it isn’t so.

Marino will in fact be Trump’s Drug Czar, so long as the Senate is willing to confirm him. That would open up his northeast and central rural Pennsylvania seat — a Republican seat that Democrats (specifically, former Rep. Chris Carney) managed to seize in the 2006 wave and hold until 2010.

The opening up of a solid Republican House seat like this one would normally be unremarkable, except that Republicans have fought hard and had a devil of a time with House special elections throughout 2017. To be sure, they have won every single defensive race they faced, but it has become clear that they face an environment in which even an apparently easy victory can be extremely expensive and is not guaranteed even in normally solid Republican constituencies.

Assuming Marino is confirmed, Pennsylvania law dictates that the governor must issue a writ within ten days, and an election will follow 60 days or more after the writ. Depending on how quickly Marino’s nomination moves, there could be a special election at year’s end or sometime early next year.

Look out for whether this race gets traction among Democratic activists. If Democrats can find a decent candidate, and they are still spoiling for an opportunity to keep their base engaged in the fight, they might well try to make this a marquee contest, like the Ossoff-Handel race in suburban Atlanta earlier this year.

But note that the electorate in this district is very much unlike that of the seat where that epic confrontation played out. Pennsylvania’s Tenth has a heavy non-college-white demographic, and it went 66 percent for Trump — two factors that make it very much unlike Georgia’s Sixth District. If Democrats contest this one, it is because they are eager to win this demographic back and trying hard to find the message and tactics that could do it for them. If they are smart, they will not pass up a chance to turn this special election into a proving ground for their 2018 strategy, even if their chances of winning are not very good.

New York-11: Former Republican Rep. Michael Grimm is out of jail after a seven-month tax fraud sentence, has been writing opeds in D.C. publications defending President Trump. Now he possibly angling to run for his old Staten Island-southwest Brooklyn congressional seat.

Recall that in 2014, Grimm won re-election despite being under indictment for seven months. He won without official Republican Party support over an astoundingly incompetent Democratic candidate, but then resigned and pleaded guilty just a few weeks after his victory.

Grimm has attacked the current Republican incumbent, Dan Donovan, for failing to be sufficiently supportive of President Trump. He’s making it pretty obvious that he would run as the Trumpist candidate.