It is a huge week in American politics, and in particular for President Donald Trump, and the FBI just kicked it off with a public confirmation that it is investigating whether the president’s campaign or his associates coordinated with a foreign power to interfere with the 2016 election.
Reports of this investigation have been swirling about for months, but it was still remarkable to hear it from FBI Director James Comey’s mouth at the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing Monday morning. The FBI is “investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey testified.
The existence of an investigation doesn’t mean there was any wrongdoing or lawbreaking. Still, it’s a rough start to what may be a crucial week of Trump’s presidency, with the House planning a vote on the Republican health care bill and the Senate holding hearings on Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination.
As Ezra Klein writes, “Passing an unpopular law that blows up insurance for millions to help a president under FBI investigation seems like a bad midterm strategy.” So it sure seems that the revelation of an investigation into such a serious matter could put Trump’s agenda in serious peril.
But that might not be the case. The Republican Party has proved fantastic at compartmentalizing with respect to Trump. When there’s Trump-related news Republicans don’t like — whether it’s an offensive tweet or something much more consequential — party leaders in Congress who aren’t running interference for him either offer some criticism or avert their eyes. But they don’t let it interfere with the big picture.
That’s because Republicans in Congress really want to work with Trump to achieve the things they do want — among them, Obamacare repeal, tax cuts, and the nomination of conservatives to the Supreme Court — and so far, they haven’t been letting controversies or scandals get in the way of those priorities.
Still, Comey’s testimony makes clear that, contra Trump’s tweets earlier Monday morning, the FBI’s Russia investigation is neither “fake news” nor in the rearview mirror. We don’t yet know what this investigation will turn up, but it is clear that it will continue to hang over the administration for some time.
Where we are with the health care bill, in six bullet points
- Republican leaders have professed optimism that they can pass the AHCA through the House, and are planning a vote this Thursday.
- However, we don’t yet know what will actually be in the bill — Speaker Paul Ryan is revising it in an attempt to satisfy holdout Republicans’ concerns.
- The new version will reportedly include Medicaid changes that conservatives want (including a state block grant option and work requirements), and increased assistance for older low-income people on the individual market (compared with the completely inadequate assistance they got in the earlier draft, at least).
- Amazingly, Republicans are currently signaling that they won’t wait for a new CBO score. If true, they’ll be voting to pass the bill without knowing how much it would cost or how many people might lose coverage.
- All that said, right now, narrow passage of the AHCA in the House is a definite possibility. Another possibility: GOP leaders postponing or canceling the planned Thursday vote if they conclude the votes aren’t there.
- No one has any idea how this thing can get through the Senate.
Tweetstorm of the day: How Paul Ryan is running the House
Josh Huder, a senior fellow at Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute, puts the House GOP’s very unusual process for the AHCA in perspective:
House AHCA debate has been an entirely closed process. No hearings. Pro forma committee markups. Basically the opposite of regular order. |2— Josh Huder (@joshHuder) March 20, 2017
In other words, on this bill Ryan is running the House like an autocrat. He is dictating policy to his conference and the House. |4— Josh Huder (@joshHuder) March 20, 2017
Indeed, Ryan’s willingness to run this whole show behind closed doors has been striking to me. Perhaps he’s right that keeping a strong hand and avoiding public deliberation is his best chance to get things done.
But there are costs: If members of Congress don’t feel their opinions are being adequately taken into consideration, they may well be less invested in the bill and less likely to take a tough vote in favor of it. Head over here and scroll down to read Huder’s whole tweetstorm.
The big Supreme Court question: Can Neil Gorsuch get eight Democratic votes for cloture?
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing begins Monday, and, barring some truly shocking revelation about him that would transform the political math, the real question appears to be whether his confirmation goes down the easy way or the hard way.
As a result, at least 50 Senate Republicans are expected to stick together and back Gorsuch. However, unlike Trump’s other nominations, Senate rules still require a Supreme Court nominee to win 60 votes to beat a filibuster. That would mean that Gorsuch needs eight Senate Democrats to vote in favor of cloture on his nomination, or it could be blocked.
The Gorsuch nomination is important enough to Republicans that it’s widely expected that if there is a filibuster, Senate Republicans will try to pass a Senate rules change that would allow Gorsuch to be confirmed with a simple majority vote.
But that would be ugly, and it could take some time. The short-term question is about whether enough red-state or traditionalist Senate Democrats will support cloture for Gorsuch and avert that fight.
Number of the day
“Four senior Trump advisers.” That’s the sourcing for one anecdote in a juicy report from the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa on how a group of White House advisers dubbed “New York moderates” are sparking “infighting and suspicion”:
Some of his New York-linked aides urged [President Trump] to go to the play [Come From Away on Broadway] with Trudeau and Ivanka Trump, according to four senior Trump advisers. But Trump opted instead to follow his gut and heed Bannon’s counsel.
The story doesn’t specify just who, exactly, committed the sin of recommending Trump see “a musical that showcases the generosity of foreigners,” but it posits that there is an increasingly influential axis of “New York” advisers led by National Economic Council chair Gary Cohn and newly minted Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell.
They’re purportedly close to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and are making both the Reince Priebus–aligned Republican establishing wing and the Steve Bannon–led nationalist wing of the White House nervous.
The point is that when “four senior Trump advisers” tell reporters something, that’s designed to send a message. In this case, the message appears to be that these “New York–linked aides” just don't get Donald Trump — as opposed to Steve Bannon, who does.