In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Under President Obama, Obamacare’s open enrollment period typically kicked off with a bang—appearances by the President on late night TV and in viral videos, social media blitzes led by the secretary of Health and Human Services, press conferences highlighting Americans getting health insurance for the first time, daily conference calls between government and outside advocacy groups, and barrages of emails to millions of Americans reminding them to sign up for coverage or risk paying a tax penalty.

This year, when the first full open enrollment period of the Trump administration began on Nov. 1, things looked very different.

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Democrats are nervous about how they’re concluding the biggest election of 2017, with some growing increasingly concerned that missteps and internal feuds are hurting their chances of winning Virginia’s crucial gubernatorial election Tuesday.

The last week of the race has thrown Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) campaign on the defensive, as he’s struggled to grapple with blowback from a charged ad from an allied outside group, overreacted with a promise to ban sanctuary cities if needed and took a beating from some progressives.

Democrats still think they’re likely to hang on and win the race. But the back-biting and finger-pointing has distracted Northam and helped unite Republicans as he looks to grind out a win against GOP nominee Ed Gillespie’s racially charged campaign in the biggest test so far of Democratic organizing ability and electoral strength since Trump’s 2016 victory.

“Everyone’s just scrambling to shit the bed at once,” one longtime Virginia Democratic strategist told TPM, slamming the chirping from left-wing groups while calling Northam’s waffling on sanctuary cities “bizarre.”

“It’s difficult to watch as a Virginian who really doesn’t want Ed Gillespie as governor.”

The Democrat strategist — and most Democrats — still think Northam will hold on to win the race in a state Hillary Clinton carried last fall. But many are frustrated at the infighting that’s taken place in the race’s last week, with progressives furious at Northam’s caution and moderation and Northam allies maddened by unhelpful liberal bedwetting.

“People are screwing up,” said another Democrat who’s working on Virginia races, warning a Northam loss would “signal that the wave is not what we think it is, it cool a lot of fundraising and enthusiasm and really force people to reevaluate 2018.”

There has been grumbling on the left for months that Northam wasn’t doing enough to boost minority and progressive turnout. But it came to a head in recent days when the Latino Victory Fund, a Hispanic outside group worried that Northam hadn’t done enough to gin up Latino turnout, launched a controversial ad tying Gillespie’s racially charged ads to Donald Trump and the Charlottesville white supremacist violence. Conservatives jumped on the ad, in which a white man driving a pickup with a Confederate flag and Gillespie sticker chases down minority children, saying it implies all Gillespie supporters are racists.

The spot was quickly pulled down, but not before it triggered a backlash on the right that Republicans say has helped galvanize their supporters behind Gillespie. Northam didn’t help himself any as he sought to clean up the mess, declaring for the first time that he’d sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities in the commonwealth if any were established.

“If that bill comes to my desk, Andy, I sure will,” he told a local news anchor on Wednesday. “I have always been opposed to sanctuary cities.”

That’s a new position for Northam after months of him dismissing Gillespie’s attacks on the topic as racially charged scare-mongering since no sanctuary cities exist in the commonwealth — and after he cast the deciding vote to block a sanctuary cities bill in the legislature that Gillespie’s allies had cooked up to force him to vote on it.

Many liberals were apoplectic. And to make things worse, the national liberal group Democracy for America responded by un-endorsing Northam while calling him a “racist” for his stance.

“After seeing Northam play directly into the hands of Republicans’ racist anti-immigrant rhetoric on sanctuary cities, we refuse to be silent any longer and even remotely complicit in the disastrous, racist, and voter-turnout-depressing campaign Ralph Northam appears intent on running,” DFA Chairman Charles Chamberlain said in a statement Thursday.

Democrats say DFA is more bark than bite, and rarely helps in big ways in close races. Even the group’s founder, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), blasted the move:

https://twitter.com/GovHowardDean/status/926255630532382721

Democrats are concerned that a Gillespie win or even a close finish will encourage Republicans to replicate Gillespie’s dog-whistle campaign across the country next fall and pour fuel on the fire of the establishment-progressive battle within the Democratic Party. That battle is already raging once again in the wake of former Democratic National Committee interim chair Donna Brazile’s recent charges of “unethical” interactions between the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the primary.

“I watch Virginia with great worry in part because of [Gillespie’s] dog-whistle politics … but also because the Democrats, the top of the ticket … are not able to run on big political and economic change,” Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, a Clinton campaign veteran who says Democrats must embrace left-wing populism more, told TPM during a Thursday conference call. “It doesn’t feel like they have learned the lessons from ’16.”

Northam pushed back on that characterization Friday afternoon.

“I have fire in the belly, too, to bring civility and leadership to Virginia,” he said on MSNBC.

Democrats admit it’s a tight race.

“I think it’s going to be close,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) told TPM last week before the Democratic infighting broke fully into the open.

Scott said Gillespie’s attack ads on removing Confederate monuments and accusing Northam, a pediatrician, of protecting a child predator were “despicable” — but worried they might be working.

“They wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t taken a poll,” he said.

It almost worked for Gillespie three years ago, when he surged to almost upset Sen. Mark Warner (R-VA) with late-in-the-race culture warrior ads defending the Washington Redskins’ team name.

Northam’s campaign insists everything’s fine, pointing to strong early vote numbers in Northern Virginia.

“We have seen historic levels of volunteer activity, small donor donations, and primary turnout,” Northam spokesman David Turner told TPM. “We are confident going into Election Day because the Democratic ticket is resonating with Virginians.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told TPM last Thursday that Northam had a “solid, steady lead” but not a “spectacular” one, and reiterated his longtime prediction that the race would be close.

Kaine said a Northam win “would send a good signal to Democrats going into 2018 that in a bellwether state people are embracing quality over demagoguery” and “bode well for the politics of 2018.”

But what if Gillespie wins?

“Ask me when it’s over.”

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More than a month after Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers to lapse, sending states scrambling to find emergency funding, the House of Representatives voted Friday on a bill to reauthorize the programs. Almost every Democrat voted no because the bill pays for CHIP by cutting more than $10 billion from Obamacare’s public health and prevention fund, and by raising Medicare fees for higher-income senior citizens.

The bill also cuts the grace period for people who miss a payment on their health insurance premiums from 90 days to 30, a change expected to cause about 700,000 people to lose their insurance.

The bill’s lead author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), blasted Democrats Friday morning, accusing them of “voting against kids and their doctors.”

“We’re fully funding CHIP for five years. We’re fulling funding Community Health Centers for two years. We’re asking the wealthiest seniors in America to pay $135  more for their Medicare,” Walden said, casting withering looks at his Democratic colleagues preparing to vote against the measure. “How ironic. How cynical.”

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Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) once brought an avowed neo-Confederate secessionist she’d known for decades to deliver the opening prayer for the House of Representatives.

Blackburn, who is currently running for the Senate, invited the Rev. David O. Jones, a Tennessee pastor and Christian home-school program head who says he’s known her since the late 1970s, to give the opening prayer for the House in 2004.

Jones, who has long advocated southern secession, told TPM this week that while slavery was abhorrent it was “basically cradle to grave security” for many southern blacks. His decade-old homeschooling curriculum includes a high school course on the South designed to refute “propaganda imposed from everywhere else” about slavery and the Civil War. Required reading:  “Myths of American Slavery” and “The South Was Right.”

When Blackburn invited him to Congress, Jones was in the middle of a long tenure heading the Tennessee chapter of the League of the South — an explicitly secessionist group that has been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2000 because of leader Michael Hill’s racist comments as well as its ties to co-founder Jack Kershaw, best known for serving as the lawyer for Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin and erecting a statue outside Nashville of the Ku Klux Klan founder, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Rev. David O. Jones poses with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Courtesy of Rev. David O. Jones.

The League has grown increasingly militant and became explicitly white supremacist in recent years. It was a main organizer of the bloody Charlottesville protests in August and recent “White Lives Matter” rallies in Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Tennessee, last weekend that spurred at least one violent confrontation in its wake.

Jones left the organization in 2015 because of its full embrace of white supremacism, he told TPM, though watchdogs said the League began making the turn towards hardline militancy as early as 2008.  He also continued to run a non-profit founded by Kershaw that funded both his homeschooling program and the League of the South (including for “self-defense” gun training classes). His involvement with the non-profit ended this summer after local TV news investigated its ties to the League of the South.

Blackburn praised Jones as an influential figure in the state’s homeschooling movement as she introduced him on the House floor in 2004.

“Reverend Jones has a long and distinguished history of dedication to his faith and to his community. He is a pioneer in the home-school movement who has made a real difference in the lives of thousands of Tennessee children and their families, and has worked to ensure that we protect the sanctity of life as an example to each and every one of us,” she said, according to a transcript on the House Clerk’s website.

He donated more than $1,000 to her in 2005 and 2006 — his only contribution to a federal candidate in the last three decades.

Jones’ prayer can be seen below (C-SPAN apparently cut to Jones after Blackburn’s introduction):

Blackburn’s campaign told TPM Thursday that she had no idea about Jones’ controversial views and ties and hasn’t seen him in a long time, but declined to say whether or not she plans to return his campaign donations or discuss their earlier relationship.

“Marsha is appalled by saddened by the actions and words of these hate-filled organizations. Marsha has not seen Rev. Jones in over a decade and was not aware he was affiliated with this organization,” Blackburn spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told TPM in an email.

Blackburn walked away and ignored TPM’s question about Jones after saying hello as she entered the House floor on Wednesday afternoon.

Jones agreed it was possible, even probable, that Blackburn wouldn’t have known about his views, and while he thought he had last seen her six or seven years he agreed  a decade might well have elapsed. But his description of their “moderately close” earlier relationship suggested closer ties than Blackburn wants to acknowledge now.

Jones said he and Blackburn had been “friends for a long time, since 1979,” when they were involved with the Williamson County Young Republicans. In the early 2000s, back when she was first a congresswoman, her district office was across the street from his, and they’d pop in to visit each other every few weeks — “I’d walk in on her, she’d walk in on me, that kind of thing.”

At one point, Jones said Blackburn called him with a favor to ask.

When her sister got married she called me to officiate the wedding,” recalled Jones, saying he’d wedded her sister Karen to Nashville news anchor Dan Miller. He said that years later he also performed the wedding ceremony for Miller’s daughter.

Around the same time, he recalled, he told Blackburn it was a dream of his to give the opening prayer to Congress, and she happily obliged.

“At the time I did the invocation, the time Ms. Marsha invited me to do that, the League was a whole different ballgame. It’s not what it is now,” he said, stating both he and the League of the South were “secessionist” but not racist and saying he’d long argued with Hill to stress the Christian rather than white roots of southern pride. 

Blackburn’s campaign didn’t push back on Jones’ description of their relationship.

Jones wrote a piece about his prayer in Congress for the Southern Patriot, The League of the South’s newsletter, saying he’d been asked not to mention Jesus on the House floor but ignored that request.

Jones’s article in Southern Patriot, courtesy of the Anti-Defamation League’s Mark Pitcavage.

Jones’ prayer was fairly innocuous, but many of his other views are considerably more controversial.

Jones told TPM Martin Luther King Jr. was a “devout womanizer” who “had no morality,” while Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were “good, righteous men” — why his homeschool program gives off a day for Lee-Jackson Day but not King’s birthday. He blamed the north for starting the Civil War — “Lincoln kind of set up the firing on Fort Sumter to make it look like the South fired the first shot” — and said while he opposed segregation, “resolving Jim Crow laws would have been a lot better if the individual states and localities had been encouraged to make the adjustments rather than forced to a one-solution-fits-all type adjustment” by the federal government.

His most controversial views are about slavery, which he said was an immoral practice but described as “basically cradle to grave security” for many southern blacks.

“You go to an antebellum historical site up in Nashville and they say, ‘The slaves lived in these little one-room cabins and all they had to play with was a hoop and a stick…’ They don’t mention the fact that the white sharecroppers lived exactly the same way, had exactly the same deprivation of substance,” he told TPM. “It’s like they’re trying to paint slavery as this wrong, this burden.”

Jones said most slave-owners treated their slaves well and provided them medical care.

I’m not going to to defend slavery. But I say look at the historical facts, don’t paint something with such a broad sweeping brush,” he said.

Jones says he feels “really bad” about the SPLC’s view that he was part of a “hate group” — “I am not a hater” — and talked about his efforts to create an integrated church and allowing non-Christian families to join his home-schooling program.

I realize my views aren’t necessarily in the mainstream but they’re not caused by any animosity or hatred towards anyone. They’re views I think can legitimately reconcile people with one another. Christ has called us to a ministry of conciliation and that’s what I hope to do with my life,” he said.

Blackburn, who in her Senate campaign launch video declares she’s “politically incorrect — and proud of it” — has long taken some controversial stances of her own on charged racial and religious issues, though nothing like Jones’ comments.

Her early Senate campaign has hit hard on attacking the NFL players who’ve knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality against black people. A member of the Trump presidential transition team executive committee, she says she believes in Trump’s “immigration ban” and wants to “build the wall.”

In 2015, she called a Tennessee state curriculum for seventh graders that includes a section in Islam “reprehensible” and warned of “indoctrination.” And in 2009, she helped lead the charge against President Obama’s openly gay safe-schools chief partially, signing a letter from House Republicans that claimed he was “pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools.”

But those views aren’t nearly as controversial as Jones’.

Those who have long monitored the League of the South were split on whether Blackburn should have known about Jones’ ties.

“I have no idea how ignorant Marsha might be but there’s many public references to the League and what they stood for that predated her invitation,” The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich told TPM. “I don’t know why she brought him in but it’s abhorrent that she did.  … It’s completely unacceptable she’s showered him with this high honor. You have to wonder about Blackburn’s own views.”

Jones remains a leader of the Southern National Conference, a group that wants “Southern State governments creatively solving our own problems without interference or dictates from sources outside our respective States.”

While Jones said he doesn’t oppose a weak federal government, he wants the South to have significantly more sovereignty. “Let communities, let states figure out for themselves what will work for their community. That’s where secession comes in,” he told TPM.

 

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The Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Trump administration over its refusal to share documents about President Donald Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel.

“This hotel is not just a building with Donald Trump’s name on it,” House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings said in a statement announcing the lawsuit Thursday. “It is a glaring symbol of the Trump Administration’s lack of accountability and a daily reminder of the refusal by Republicans in Congress to do their job. This may be standard operating procedure in foreign countries—but not here. Not in America.”

“We regret that we have to go to court to obtain these basic documents, which are clearly within our Committee’s jurisdiction,” Cummings added. “We would not be here today if Chairman Gowdy and his Republican colleagues would do their jobs. In my opinion, House Republicans are aiding and abetting President Trump’s ongoing abuses. Republicans are essentially walling off President Trump from credible congressional oversight.”

In the lawsuit, 17 Democratic members of the committee asked the court to compel the Trump administration to turn over the documents they have requested about the hotel’s operation and the General Services Administration’s oversight of the lease.

Since Trump took office, his hotel in Washington, D.C. has come under scrutiny from Democrats and outside groups who charge that the hotel presents a conflict of interest for the President. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have sought information on payments to the hotel from foreign entities, which may violate the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. Democrats have also argued that the hotel presents a conflict of interest for Trump since the lease appeared to prohibit an elected official from being a party to the lease, but the GSA ruled otherwise in March.

Democrats on the committee have sought documents on the Trump hotel from the GSA, but the administration has refused to comply with the requests, according to the complaint. The Obama administration provided minority members of the Oversight Committee with documents, including information on the Trump hotel. But the Trump administration has taken a different tack, the Democrats on the committee allege in the complaint.

In the lawsuit, the Democratic members argue that they have a right to obtain this information under the “Seven Member” statute, which states the federal government must turn over requested documents to any seven members of the House Oversight Committee. The statute has not been used frequently since it became law in 1928, but a district court judge ruled in 2002 that the Bush administration were required to turn over data to Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, based on the “Seven Member” rule. The federal government appealed the ruling, but the matter was resolved in a separate Freedom of Information Act case.

As the Democrats noted in their complaint, they have requested information from the GSA on the Trump hotel’s operating costs, the GSA’s correspondence with Trump’s company and information on the President’s potential conflict of interest as a party to the hotel lease. However, the GSA declined to share the documents several times, and ultimately told the committee Democrats in July 2017 that it would only comply with requests from the full committee or chairman, according to the complaint.

This decision from the GSA came after the administration said it would comply with a request from seven members of the committee in February 2017, per the complaint.

In the complaint, the Democratic members argue that they need the documents from the GSA in order to evaluate the GSA’s oversight of the lease, determine whether Trump is benefitting from the lease, and determine whether the Trump hotel has received payments from foreign entities.

Read the complaint:

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Republican lawmakers confirmed to TPM Thursday morning, hours before the rollout of the long-awaited GOP tax bill, that contrary to President Trump’s demands, the legislation would not include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

But many lawmakers, including the head of the large and influential Republican Study Committee, said despite fears of tanking the entire bill over the controversial health care provision, they still may fight for its inclusion in the weeks to come.

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House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on Wednesday afternoon called out the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for their failure to fully respond to the committee’s document requests regarding air travel by Trump administration officials.

Cummings said in a letter to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) that the White House has failed to respond to the committee’s request by the Oct. 31 deadline and said that HHS did not completely fulfill the committee’s document request.

“By now, the White House and HHS should have produced complete manifests with lists of all passengers who joined these flights, as well as the full costs of each flight,” Cummings wrote. “Unfortunately, the White House has provided no response whatsoever to the Committee’s bipartisan follow-up request on October 17, 2017. We have received no manifests, destinations, dates of use, purposes, or costs of trips. We have received no information on why the White House has failed to respond to this Committee’s second request for these documents.”

Without documents from the White House, the Oversight Committee cannot determine how often White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined former HHS Secretary Tom Price on non-commercial flights, Cummings said. Conway joined Price for several flights on private planes, according to Politico.

While HHS did submit documents to the Oversight Committee, the documents were “so highly redacted that it is impossible to tell which other government officials or non-government officials joined Secretary Price on his charter flights,” Cummings wrote.

“For example, if Ms. Conway in fact joined any of these trips, it appears that her name has been intentionally concealed from these documents to eliminate any public reference to her participation,” Cummings said in the statement.

In the letter to Gowdy on Wednesday, Cummings called on Gowdy to issue subpoenas to the White House and HHS for the documents requested by the committee.

After several Cabinet officials came under scrutiny for using non-commercial planes, the Oversight Committee asked the White House and all departments to turn over their air travel records to the committee. Gowdy threatened to subpoena the Justice Department and Agriculture Department for not complying with the request, extending the deadline until the end of October. It’s not clear if those two agencies have yet to comply with the request. Gowdy also warned several agencies, including HHS, that they had not fully complied with the request.

Price pledged to repay the government for his seats on the non-commercial flights, but Cummings said in his Wednesday letter that neither HHS nor the Treasury Department have provided the committee with a copy of the check.

Check out an example of the documents redacted by HHS published by Cummings:

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday night called for the suspect in Tuesday’s attack in New York City to face the death penalty, continuing his calls for the perpetrator to face harsh consequences for the attack that left eight dead and 11 injured.

Since the attack, Trump has been quick to call for changes to immigration procedures, as well as swift punishment for the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the U.S. legally from Uzbekistan in 2010.

On Wednesday afternoon, Trump told reporters in the White House that there should be “punishment that’s far quicker, and far greater, than the punishment these animals are getting right now.” Asked if he would consider sending the suspect to Guantanamo Bay, Trump said he would “certainly” consider it.

The President was also quick to blame the attack on the immigration system in the U.S., targeting the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. He called for an end to that program and has called several times for more intense “vetting” of immigrants.

Trump’s speedy reaction and calls for harsh punishment and policy changes differs from the tack he took in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting. In that instance, Trump often focused on the law enforcement response to the attack that left nearly 60 people dead. The White House also said it was “premature” to discuss changes to gun control policy a few days after the shooting.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting

President Donald Trump’s Twitter demand Wednesday morning that a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate be inserted in the Republican tax bill came out of the blue—and it’s going over like a lead balloon on Capitol Hill.

The lead author of the tax plan, set to be unveiled on Thursday, as well as moderate Republicans whose votes are crucial for its passage and conservative allies of the President, say they’re opposed to adding in the mandate repeal this late in the game, and warn that doing so could put the entire bill in jeopardy.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning suggested using the tax reform bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, echoing comments Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) made earlier this week.

A spokesperson for Cotton confirmed to TPM that the senator spoke with Trump about the proposal over the weekend and that Trump indicated support for the measure.

Cotton told reporters Monday night that he is leading a push to use the tax bill to nix the individual mandate, working with the House and Senate committees leading the process. The senator said that several lawmakers are supportive of the provision.

The senator claimed that repealing the individual mandate would save the federal government $300 billion over 10 years without causing any Americans to lose their health insurance. As TPM has pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office found in 2011 that nixing the individual mandate would save the government money because fewer people would purchase health insurance. Healthy people would leave the insurance market, causing premiums to rise and leaving insurance coverage unaffordable for sicker Americans, that same report found.

Trump published the tweets on nixing the individual mandate on the first day of open enrollment during his presidency. The administration plans to promote open enrollment by sending notices and text messages encouraging people to enroll or re-enroll and staffing call centers at the same level the government did last year. However, the administration has axed partnerships with outside groups to promote open enrollment and has made significant cuts to the Health and Human Services’ overall budget for Obamacare promotion and education.

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