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What About the Other Calls?

Overnight articles from the Washington Post and New York Times report that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did more than speak to Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak the day before then-President Obama imposed a series of punitive sanctions on Russia. We knew that. He also appears to have lied when he claimed that he didn't discuss those sanctions. Not only he but also Vice President Pence - apparently conveying Flynn's denial - denied this. Both papers have multiple sources who say this is not true. Flynn told Kislyak that anything that Obama could do could be undone by Trump in a matter of weeks. Hold tight, Flynn apparently insinuated. Help was on the way.

Published reports also suggest Flynn may have violated the Logan Act, which bars private citizens from carrying on unauthorized diplomacy with foreign powers. But I think this specific legal question is a distraction. The Logan Act is seldom enforced and possibly unenforceable - all the more so with an incoming top national security official who is not simply an ordinary private citizen. Indeed, I don't think it's the lying or even the late December calls themselves that are the biggest part of these new revelations.

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Remember Your History

We are hearing again now that the repeated protests and aggressive questioning at Republican townhalls is Democrats taking a page from the Tea Party playbook of 2009 and 2010. People have short memories. The real reference is to 2005 when Democrats turned out at Republican townhalls to protest President Bush's plan to partially phaseout Social Security. Those protests (or in many cases simply turnout) helped kill the plan by scaring off congressional Republicans. They also presaged the Democratic blowout in the 2006 midterms. It was 2005 that Tea Partiers (and the GOP pressure groups organizing them) explicitly referenced in 2009.

Rule By Decree

We're not three weeks into the Trump presidency. It remains difficult to piece together the trends above the chaos and tergiversations of each successive day. But one trend should be in the process of becoming clear. Going into the Trump presidency the President and congressional Republicans promised an ambitious legislative agenda. And fast. At one point Paul Ryan suggested that Obamacare repeal and Medicare phaseout might start on inauguration day. In any case, few needed to be convinced. Republicans had unified control of the federal government and almost a decade of pent-up appetite for dramatic change - Obamacare repeal, corporate tax reform, a major income tax cut, repeal of Dodd-Frank, possibly privatization of major social insurance programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and more. And yet less than a month in, progress on Capitol Hill has slowed dramatically. President Trump meanwhile seems almost entirely focused on a steady stream of executive orders. These two developments are not unrelated. It looks very much like President Trump has found his presidential comfort-zone: rule by decree.

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Strange Bedfellows Alert

Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings – not exactly known for teaming up – are preparing a letter to the White House and the Office of Government Ethics expressing bipartisan alarm over Kellyanne Conway promoting Ivanka Trump's product line on TV from the White House.

Don't Go Wraith, Folks

This morning President Trump went on Twitter to claim that Sen. Richard Blumenthal was essentially lying when he repeated Judge Gorsuch's critical comments about the President.

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What The GOP's Obamacare Debate Is Really About

The key thing to understanding the debate over health care policy in the United States is that it's not really about health care policy, it's about money.

This may sound weird on first read, but there's actually not a lot of disagreement about the basic contours of health care policy. It seems like there is. But most of the policy debates are proxies for the underlying disagreements over whether and how much government should spend on health care.

The political challenge for Republicans has always been how to mask their ideological preference not to spend much (or any) on health care. To do that, they've mounted a sustained decades-long attack on any reform efforts as too costly, inefficient, unworkable, and a threat to liberty. At the same time, they've had to come up with a proposals of their own to make it sound like they actually have a workable health care policy: tax credits, health savings accounts, high risk pools, etc.

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The Gorsuch Confirmation Just Got Much More Interesting

Let me start by saying that I fully expect that if Democrats filibuster President Trump's nomination of Judge Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, Republicans will abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees and confirm him on a party line vote. I do not see this as a surprise or even necessarily a bad thing inasmuch as the filibuster was effectively abolished in 2005. Back then Democrats entered into an agreement with Republicans not to filibuster now-Chief Justice John Roberts in exchange for not abolishing the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments. In other words, the Supreme Court filibuster has only existed as a mirage for more than a decade. So absent some disqualifying revelation I fully expect Gorsuch to be confirmed.

But something happened today that will make his confirmation process considerably interesting than I'd anticipated.

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Three Dimensional Integration

I've been saying for months that the language of 'conflicts of interest' for President Trump is entirely inadequate and frankly silly. The concept of a conflict of interest is one that speaks to a situation in which an overlap or conflict between an individual's personal and professional or public interests makes it impossible for that individual to act in an ethical manner or to appear to be doing so. It has no meaning when the actor - in this case, the President - is openly using his office for personal profit. In other words, it has no meaning when the President refuses to recognize any difference between his public responsibilities and his personal and familial business interests, the state and himself. He recognizes no conflict. Indeed, there isn't one. President Trump is openly using his office to become the billionaire he always wanted to be. And now his Press Secretary has said as much.

Just a few moments ago, Sean Spicer said that Nordstrom's decision to drop Trump's daughter's eponymous clothing line constitutes a political attack on the President and he is within his rights to retaliate.

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