TrumpWatch, Day 157: GOP Leaders Try to Rally Support for Healthcare Bill

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Doug Mills/New York Times)

More GOP Senators join the undecided, days ahead of planned vote on bill cutting Medicaid and coverage, while giving tax cuts to wealthy


Developments on Day 157 of the Trump Administration:

GOP Leaders Try to Curb Opposition to ObamaCare Repeal

GOP leaders in the Senate try to rally support for their version of the American Health Care Act, amid a narrow majority and opposition from several Republican Senators.

Donald Trump maintained his rhetoric in a friendly Sunday interview with Fox News: Health care is a very, very tough thing to get. But I think we’re going to get it. We don’t have too much of a choice because the alternative is the dead carcass of Obamacare.”

Four conservatives — Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Ron Johnson — have criticized the GOP bill for being “ObamaCare Lite”. Five moderates expressed concerns last week, with Dean Heller of Nevada the first to say publicly that he will not support unamended legislation.

See TrumpWatch, Day 156: Senate GOP Leadership Struggles for Healthcare Bill

More Republicans — moderates from states where Medicaid has been expanded and is now threatened by the GOP proposals — joined the ranks of the uncertain on Sunday. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, cited issues about his state’s high level of poverty and recent Medicain expansion: “There are things in this bill which adversely affect my state, that are peculiar to my state.”

Jerry Moran of Kansas, usually a reliable vote for GOP leaders, said on Fox News, “I just don’t know whether the votes will be there by the end of the week.”

And Johnson of Wisconsin took the challenge farther, first by reiterating on NBC:

There’s no way we should be voting. No way.

I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this for me to vote for a motion to proceed.

He then published an opinion piece in The New York Times: “A truly moral and compassionate society does not impoverish future generations to bestow benefits in the here and now.”

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska also declined to say Sunday how he would vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a vote by Friday and the July 4 recess. Susan Collins, of Maine said on ABC: “It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week, but that’s up to the majority leader. We could well be in all night a couple of nights.

The political network of billionaires Charles and David Koch are blasting the bill for being insufficiently conservative, not doing enough to cut Medicaid. On the other side, some Republican governors have joined doctors, hospitals, and patient advocacy groups in objecting to the legislation for stripping millions — possibly more than the 24 million projected in the House version of the American Health Care Act — of coverage.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway insists — against all evidence — that “these are not cuts to Medicaid”.


Kushner’s $285 Million Loan From Deutsche Bank in October

One month before Election Day, Jared Kushner’s real estate company completed a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank as part of a refinancing package for a Manhatten property.

The deal could be reviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, amid his examination of Kushner in the investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials.

Earlier this month it was revealed that Kushner might have discussed a loan, for a troubled project on 5th Avenue in Manhattan, with the head of the Russian state bank Vnesheconombank. That banker, Sergei Gorkov, is close to the Kremlin.

Democrats from the House Financial Services Committee wrote in March that they were concerned about the “integrity” of a Justice Department probe into Russian money laundering, “given the President’s ongoing conflicts of interest with Deutsche Bank” and “the suspicious ties between President Trump’s inner circle and the Russian Government.


Foreign Ambassadors: We No Longer Deal With State Department

Three foreign ambassadors — one from Asia and two from Europe — tell The New York Times that they have stopped tried to work with the State Department.

The ambassadors said they are now contacting the National Security Council because the State Department does not return their calls or does not offer substantive answers when it does.

Almost six months into the Trump Administration, the Department has numerous vacancies, including in high-level positions. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has shut down the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and has yet to appoint an Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, at a time when the Taliban’s return and Pakistan’s instability are major concerns.

During recent meetings on Afghanistan, Tillerson was accompanied by only his chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, who is a former US Patent and Trademark official and technology executive with no diplomatic experience.

The Asia policy job is also vacant with no prospect lined up, amid issues such as relations with China and a possible confrontation with North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs.

The Department’s approach to Middle Eastern affairs has been complicated by the attempt by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to take charge of matters, including the Israel-Palestine situation and Saudi Arabia’s break with Qatar.

The outcome has been a lack of clarity and even contradiction, notably when Donald Trump denounced Qatar’s support of “terrorism”, undercutting the approach of the State and Defense Departments for an easing of tensions and dialogue between the Gulf states.


Trump Ends 211-Year White House Tradition of End-of-Ramadan Dinner

Donald Trump ends the White House tradition of an iftar dinner to mark Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The White House first held the iftar dinner in December 1805 during Thomas Jefferon’s administration, but there has been no recognition this year by Donald Trump.

In late May, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly said the State Department would not host a Ramadan reception, breaking an almost-annual observance after 20 years.

The White House and Tillerson did issue short statements offering best wishes on Eid al-Fitr.

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