Politics | The Atlantic
Working Toward the Same Ends for Different Reasons
June 27th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown that the moral foundations that undergird the political beliefs of conservatives and liberals are different from one another––that liberals tend to care more about whether a policy crosses thresholds of fairness or harm, for example, while conservatives tend to care more about loyalty and purity.

For Matt Feinberg and Robb Willer, who study effective persuasion across ideological lines, one challenge the U.S. faces is that today’s Americans aren’t good at working with others toward shared ends if the reasons for pursuing them are different.

"There's this tricky difference between moral difference and the absence of morality,” Feinberg said Monday during a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “A Pew Research poll about a year ago asked Republicans and Democrats about the other side,” he explained. “And they found that about 50 percent of Republicans and Democrats thought that the people on the other side were immoral or amoral, that they didn't have morality. It's easy when you're in your bubble to think yours is the only morality. It's natural to think that the way you think about morality is the way that everyone either does or should, or else there must be something wrong with them.”

But experiments that Feinberg and Willer have collaborated on suggest that the exercise of trying to persuade others by understanding and appealing to their moral beliefs and concerns can help divided constituencies see merit in the same policies, even when underlying motivations for doing so remain as divided as ever.

Bear in mind that you needn’t agree with any particular position being advocated in the examples we consider to see the general potential for cross-ideological cooperation. Military spending is one issue the professors studied. As they explained:

We wanted to see if we could get liberals to be more supportive of military spending. The traditional argument from a conservative standpoint is all about patriotism and authority/respect. The military is what unites us at home and gets us respect abroad. We didn't think that would be too persuasive…

To get liberals to be more supportive of military spending we were curious if we could reframe it in terms of more egalitarian values. So we made an argument emphasizing that it's through the military that you can level the playing field, especially for the poor and minorities in the United States who get the raw end of the stick. By paying for the military you create a stepping stone for minorities to work their way into the middle class and beyond. And that was much more persuasive for liberals.

Another question they studied concerned making English the official language of the United States, a traditionally conservative position. “So we tested a traditional argument about patriotism and unity against a new message reframed to agree with liberal moral values––that learning English was helpful to the integration of society; for upward mobility, people would achieve higher wages; and minorities, especially Latinos, could do better and be less likely to get discriminated against.” Liberals confronted with reasons to support the policy that appealed to their moral foundations were more likely to support official English.

The tactic works on conservatives, too.

As my colleague Olga Khazan, who moderated the Aspen session where the professors spoke, has reported, they have found that “conservatives were more likely to endorse environmental protections when researchers activated their concerns about purity, rather than the more liberal concern about harm: A picture of a forest covered in rotting garbage, in other words, performed better with Republicans than a forest of tree stumps.”

And with respect to health care, the professors explained:

We were trying to get conservatives to be more supportive of universal health care and the Affordable Care Act. What we did is to have two randomly assigned conditions, either you read the more traditional argument of why you should have universal health care, about equality, how everyone desserves this, it's a right. Or for the morally reframed one, we tried to frame it in terms of purity. This time we emphasized that having sick people around us can be disgusting and impure and contaminated. That was effective in getting conservatives to be more supportive both of the Affordable Care Act and universal health care in general.

Again, I am not advocating for or against any of the particular positions that the professors chose to persuade people towards in their experiments. Rather, I am observing that for every position that ought to be adopted (however one determines that), there are likely people to whom it would appeal for very different reasons, themselves grounded in very different attitudes toward moral foundations.

Insofar as we value both living together in harmony and adopting good policies, we ought to relish opportunities to work toward the same ends for different reasons.

Planned Parenthood Still Believes It Can Win the Culture Wars
June 27th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The United States Congress is trying hard to defund Planned Parenthood, once and for all. For a period of one year, the proposed American Health Care Act would prohibit federal funds from going to non-profit organizations that provide family-planning services, including abortions, and get more than $350 million in reimbursements under Medicaid, which provides health insurance to the poor, the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with disabilities. When the Congressional Budget Office evaluated this clause of the bill, it “identified only one organization that would be affected: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates and clinics.”

If this bill goes through, it would represent an existential threat for Planned Parenthood. The organization would be less able to serve poor women who are covered by state Medicaid programs, and it would likely have to close clinics or reduce its services because of the loss of funding. The main motivation behind this provision—and others like it that have come up at the state level—is opposition to abortion. This has lead some, including Ivanka Trump, to wonder why Planned Parenthood doesn’t just spin off its abortion services into a separate organization.

Cecile Richards, the organization’s president, will have no such thing. “The minute we begin to edge back from that is the minute that they’ve won,” she said during an interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday. Despite the renewed push in Washington to stop the organization from getting government funding, Richards believes Planned Parenthood can win the culture wars and make abortion widely acceptable in America. “We’ve got to quit apologizing or hiding,” she said.

Technically, the federal government already prohibits funding for most abortion services. Under the so-called Hyde Amendment, first passed in 1976, organizations like Planned Parenthood can’t get reimbursed by Medicaid for performing elective abortions. But pro-life advocates often argue that Hyde doesn’t go far enough. Since Planned Parenthood can get public money for some of the other services it provides, taxpayer dollars still effectively go to fund abortions, they say.

This characterization is “completely inaccurate,” Richards said. Other health-care organizations, including many hospitals, provide abortions, she argued, and they, too, get reimbursed under Medicaid for their other services. “Somehow, Planned Parenthood is being held to a completely different standard,” she said.

Richards believes the political discourse around abortion has become toxic in recent years. “There was a time when the Republican Party embraced individual liberties,” she said. “In fact, many of our Planned Parenthood affiliates were founded by Republicans.” While more Republicans used to consider themselves pro-choice, she said, their ranks have been significantly been reduced—Richards name-checked Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski as the only two left in the Senate.

“We’ve got to pull the curtains back and be open and honest about this procedure.”

Even in the face of so much opposition, Richards isn’t willing to have Planned Parenthood separate abortion from the rest of its health-care services—quite the opposite. She believes Planned Parenthood can and will win the culture wars to end “the stigma of abortion.”

“It’s more important than ever that we stand loud and proud for the ability of any woman—regardless of her income, her geography, her immigration status, her sexuality, her sexual orientation—to access the full range of reproductive health care,” Richards said. “We’ve got to pull the curtains back and be open and honest about this procedure that one in three women will have at some point in their lifetime, and their right to make that decision.”

Richards cited the way pop-culture depictions of abortion have changed in recent years. “I’ll shout out Teen Vogue and Cosmo and Glamour—women’s magazines that are putting abortion stories into their magazines. That’s never happened before,” she said. Or abortion will show up on television: Shonda Rhimes, who recently joined Planned Parenthood’s board, featured abortion in an episode of Scandal, “dealt with not in hysterical terms,” as Richards put it.

Richards repeatedly claimed that “the vast majority of people in this country believe that abortion should be safe and legal,” and “that’s even more true today than it’s ever been.” The available polling does not necessarily back up this assertion. As of 2016, about 57 percent of American said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center—a level that has been roughly consistent over the past two decades, and slightly lower than what polls on this issue found in 1995.

Gallup found that half of Americans said abortion should be legal “only under certain circumstances” in 2016, and that 46 percent of Americans identify as pro-life. The numbers also don’t differ radically by generation: According to Pew, between 37 and 42 percent of all age groups said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases in 2016.

“I’ll fight until the end of my days for every woman to make that decision themselves.”

Richards sees the recent legislative efforts to end funding for abortion as the first battle in a long war. “A cautionary tale: These folks aren’t just against Planned Parenthood,” she said. “They’re against birth-control access. ... Anyone who thinks that … if we didn’t provide abortion services, somehow, they would quit this attack on women—I’m sorry. It’s just the beginning.”

Her answer is to commit to abortion: to stop “hiding,” de-stigmatize it, and most of all, keep performing the procedure. “Having been pregnant myself, my children are the joy of my life,” she said. “But that was my decision to make. And I’ll fight until the end of my days for every woman to make that decision themselves.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the people most likely to be affected by the AHCA’s one-year ban on reimbursement for family-planning services have low incomes and live in areas without a lot of health-care options. About 15 percent of this population would lose access to reproductive-health care, the CBO projected. Despite Richards’s confidence, a clear majority of the House has voted to defund Planned Parenthood. If the Senate follows its lead, the organization will struggle to survive.

CBO Analysis Endangers GOP Health-Care Bill
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Updated on June 26 at 7:35 p.m. ET

The Senate Republican health-care bill would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 22 million over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office found on Monday in an analysis that could determine the proposal’s fate on Capitol Hill.

The CBO’s highly-anticipated report projected just a slight difference in impact between the measure that GOP Senate leaders wrote in secret and a widely-criticized plan the House narrowly passed last month. A key group of undecided senators said the analysis by the non-partisan budget office could determine their votes this week, and the CBO’s finding of steep coverage losses and cuts to Medicaid over the next decade could make it even more difficult—if not impossible—for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to assemble the 50 votes he needs to pass the bill. Barely two hours after the report’s release, critics of the bill appeared to have enough votes to block McConnell from bringing it to the Senate floor barring a last-minute agreement on changes to the proposal.

Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Dean Heller of Nevada all indicated they would vote against a procedural motion to start debate on the bill, effectively stalling it. With 52 seats, Republicans can lose no more than three votes to advance legislation with a simple majority.

The Senate is beginning a potentially decisive week in the GOP’s long-running and arduous attempt to roll back the Affordable Care Act. McConnell and other GOP leaders have thus far rejected pleas from several Republican senators for more time to consider and revise the bill released last Thursday; they are determined to finish the bill before Congress breaks for a July 4 recess and are gambling that wavering Republicans will ultimately fall back in line rather than torpedo the party’s top legislative priority in a climactic vote.

“I am closing the door,” Senator John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican, tweeted on Monday morning after earlier suggesting a vote could wait until July. “We need to do it this week before double digit premium increases are announced for next year.”

In perhaps the most damaging finding for Republicans, the CBO projected that the number of uninsured people would spike by 15 million in a single year if the Senate bill, titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, became law. That number would grow to 22 million by 2026. Average premiums would also go up initially before dropping over time. They would be 30 percent lower in 2020 than under current law, the CBO found, and 20 percent lower in 2026.

Republicans can point to more favorable findings from the CBO in other areas. The legislation would reduce the deficit by $321 billion over a decade, as the steep cuts in government spending outweigh the elimination of taxes in Obamacare. That could give GOP leaders breathing room to add money sought by moderates, either to reduce the cuts to Medicaid or to bolster support for states combatting the opioid epidemic. Under Senate budget rules, the legislation cannot add to the deficit over a 10-year window.

As to the broader stability of the insurance market, the CBO saw the Senate bill as having less of an impact than either its critics or defenders have claimed. The budget office wrote that despite rising premiums and GOP assertion’s that Obamacare is “collapsing,” the individual insurance market remains stable in most part of the country. And the Senate bill would do little to change that. But it did warn that after 2019, “a small fraction of the population” would reside in areas where “no insurers would participate in the nongroup market or insurance would be offered only with very high premiums.” The CBO also found that even though average premiums would drop, out-of-pocket costs would rise for many people because plans would cover fewer services and have higher deductibles. “As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan,” the report predicted.

By comparison, the House’s American Health Care Act would have resulted in 23 million fewer people having insurance after a decade, the CBO estimated last month, with a large chunk of those losses resulting from a $834 billion cut to Medicaid. That finding—along with polls showing the bill to be deeply unpopular—prompted Republicans in the Senate to start over and write their own bill to partially repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. But the CBO on Monday confirmed that the proposal Senate leaders came up with was broadly similar to the House bill.

Some top Republicans have cast doubt on the CBO’s credibility and contested its coverage findings. Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, said Sunday during a forum hosted by The Atlantic at the Aspen Ideas Festival that the CBO’s projection of insurance losses was “not accurate.” Other Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have cherry-picked the analysis, highlighting more favorable projections on deficit reduction and premiums while disputing the rest. That’s the approach McConnell took on Monday afternoon. “The Senate will soon take action on a bill that the Congressional Budget Office just confirmed will reduce the growth in premiums under Obamacare, reduce taxes on the middle class, and reduce the deficit,”the majority leader said in response to the report. “The American people need better care now, and this legislation includes the necessary tools to provide it.”

But the Senate Republicans that McConnell now needs the most—Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Rob Portman of Ohio among them—have all said they would look to the CBO in assessing the bill’s impact on their constituents. And they did not like what they saw. “I want to work w/ my GOP & Dem colleagues to fix the flaws in ACA. CBO analysis shows Senate bill won't do it,” Collins tweeted, adding that she would vote against procedural motion to begin debate on the bill. Several other Republicans similarly voiced concerns with the CBO report, while Johnson and Paul appeared to intensify their opposition to a vote this week. Heller, who is up for reelection next year, came out against the proposal on Friday.

Conservatives have been more critical of the CBO’s analysis, but they, too, were looking to the report for clues as to whether the Senate bill would fulfill their stated priority of lowering premiums for most consumers. Senators Paul, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah are all pushing to move the bill further to the right so that it would eliminate or allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s prohibition on insurers charging higher rates to people with preexisting conditions. They blame that core protection in the current law for forcing companies to raise premiums across the board to compensate for the higher cost of covering sicker people. “At this point, we need to do considerably more to lower premiums,” Cruz said after the release of the CBO’s analysis, according to Bloomberg. “Significant work remains to be done.”

The CBO released its analysis hours after Republicans added a provision that would lock people out from insurance coverage for six months if they were previously uninsured for more than 63 days. The change was designed as an incentive to replace Obamacare’s individual mandate forcing people to pay a tax penalty if they go without coverage. Without the provision, analysts predicted the bill would send insurance markets into a death spiral because younger, healthier people would take advantage of protections for people with preexisting conditions and wait until they got sick to purchase  coverage.

Prior to the report’s release, McConnell was already facing opposition that could prove insurmountable. The American Medical Association joined other health-industry organizations in opposing the bill, writing in a letter that it violates the central precept of medicine to “first, do no harm.” And Johnson, one of the more surprising Senate holdouts, embarked on a public campaign to delay consideration of the bill beyond this week.

“They’re trying to jam this thing through,” Johnson complained to the conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt in a combative radio interview, during which Hewitt begged the senator to support the bill in the name of party unity. Johnson outlined his concerns with the bill in The New York Times, saying it ignores the “plight” of people suffering under Obamacare, “relies too heavily on government spending, and ignores the role that the private sector can and should play.”

Johnson reportedly reiterated his concerns with the process after the CBO report came out, warning that he might vote against even bringing up the bill for debate if McConnell moved too fast. Another undecided Republican, Senator Bill Cassidy, said on CNN: “It certainly makes me more concerned.”

Republican leaders are also likely to face challenges persuading the Senate parliamentarian that some provisions in their bill pass muster under the chamber’s complex reconciliation process, which requires that legislation stick to taxes and spending rather than general matters of policy. The new waiting period along with measures aimed at restricting taxpayer funding of abortion could in jeopardy when the parliamentarian rules later this week.

Taken together, the criticisms levied by Johnson, Paul, Collins, Heller, and others would appear to be irreconcilable. McConnell can lose no more than two Republicans, and the seven or eight that have fundamental issues with the bill are attacking it from opposite directions. But none of them have yet ruled out supporting the proposal with changes, giving GOP leaders some hope they can win their support in the coming days.

The CBO’s finding on Monday, however, made that effort more difficult.

Why (Some) Historians Should Be Pundits
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The election of Donald Trump, and the early days of his presidency, have driven many Americans to rummage through history in search of context and understanding. Trump himself has been compared to historical figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Henry Ford, and from Andrew Jackson to Benito Mussolini. His steps have been condemned as unprecedented by his critics, and praised as historic by his supporters.

To place contemporary events in perspective, we turned to a pair of historians of the United States. Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society. Morton Keller is a professor emeritus of history at Brandeis University. He has written or edited more than 15 books, including Obama’s Time: A History. They’ll be exchanging views periodically on how to understand Trump, his presidency, and this moment in political time. —Yoni Appelbaum

Julian Zelizer: Harvard University’s Moshik Temkin published a provocative piece in The New York Times titled “Historians Shouldn’t Be Pundits.” Temkin offers a stern warning to those in his profession who participate in the news cycle that they should avoid the “rapid-fire, superficial way history is being presented” these days, “mostly a matter of drawing historical analogies.”

Temkin is a terrific historian but I wasn’t persuaded by the piece. To begin with, the article is somewhat odd, given that Temkin is making an argument about avoiding punditry, in an op-ed piece in the Times written by a scholar at the Kennedy School of Government (which teaches policymakers) that ends with recommendations about what kinds of conversations historians should be having in the media about the presidency. I suspect that the title—aimed at generating eyeballs—didn’t come from Temkin. Regardless, it ends up distracting readers from the substance of the piece.

The substance, however, is also problematic. Temkin underestimates the value that many historians do bring to the punditry table by focusing on poor analogies that have allegedly been made by historians over the course of the past year—Donald Trump was like the populist Louisiana Governor and Senator Huey Long; the president is like Adolf Hitler; or the Russia investigation will inevitably have the same outcome as Watergate, with the president paying a price for wrongdoing, because our system works. I agree wholeheartedly that none of these are very good arguments, but are they really arguments that came from the mouths and computers of historians? Did many historians claim that Trump’s populism was just like Long’s populism? Did many of them not see the very clear difference between the genocidal totalitarianism of Hitler and Trump’s brand of authoritarian politics? Are there many historians who have not pointed out that partisanship and the partisan media offer one obvious reason that the current investigation might not go the way of Watergate? Indeed, from what I have seen and read, I suspect that most of these claims emanated from persons who were not historians and who in fact could have benefited from having a little more academy in the conversations.

What contributions do historians make in our conversations about politics today? Echoing the argument put forth by Ernest May and Richard Neustadt many decades ago, Temkin rightly says that one role of the historian is to get out into the airwaves and online to punch holes in false analogies that mislead the public. This is certainly something that historians can do (I think we have tried to do that with this column) and often do very well.

Historians can do more than that, however. As he suggests toward the end of his piece, historians are particularly well positioned to place current events in longer time frames and to offer more perspective on the origins of a certain situation (another point that May and Neustadt made in their classic work). For my own part, I have spent much of my time on CNN and here in The Atlantic trying to explain how the Donald Trump presidency can only be understood within the context of the strengthened role of partisanship in Washington since the 1970s and the transformation of the news media. In other words, I have tried to show that President Trump is not a cause of our current political environment but a product of changes that have been building for years.

Sometimes comparisons with the past, even if imperfect, are very useful. Most of the good historical work in the media does not claim that Trump is President Nixon. Rather, the point is that the institution of the presidency creates certain incentives and opportunities for abusing power and that some people who have held these positions have done just that. That is crucial to remember, just like the ways that the institutional fragmentation of our political system perpetually creates huge amounts of friction between the president and Congress, as well as between the parties, despite the endless nostalgia about how things worked better in the past.

Historians have an important role in unpacking key elements of the ways that institutions operate over time to make sense of big trends and broader forces that move beyond the particular moment within which we live. We can’t become so blinded by our concern for particularity and specificity and nuance that we lose site of the big picture—something my friends in political science always remind me of. Claiming that we can’t look at these kind of continuities and similarities is in many ways moving in the opposite direction of what historians do. Some of the best books in American history, such as J.G.A. Pocock’s classic book on the history of Republican ideology, look over decades and even across national-lines to explain how history unfolds. It is possible for historians to take the long view and provide this kind of useful analysis in 800 words or even a five-minute television discussion. It has to be short, it has be to the point, but it can be as insightful and on point as anything said in the classroom.

At the same time, a majority of historians have done a good job outlining the differences within the common contexts. I recently watched NYU’s Tim Naftali, for instance, point out how despite the similarities between Nixon’s attempt to stymie Watergate and Trump’s efforts to obstruct the investigation, the former president was far more sophisticated, cagey, and careful in how he used his power.

I would argue that we need good historians, like Temkin, to participate in our public conversations when we are living through such uncertain times. Doing this requires being on television, online, in print, and on social media—otherwise our voices will be eclipsed. To urge fellow historians to withdraw would be a massive mistake. That would in fact leave the entire conversation about the present and the past to persons who really aren’t as familiar with what’s come before. That would fulfill the very worst fears that Temkin outlines in his piece about how these discussions can quickly disintegrate into false myths and misleading analogies.

Morton Keller: As is so often the case, we agree on a lot, and disagree on much.

I have little trouble with your definition of what historians are (or should be) up to, or with much of your discussion of the present topic: i.e., the deficiencies of Donald Trump. But I do differ in your (and even more with Moshik Temkin's) general perspective on the topic. The issue isn't so much Trump's resemblances to Huey Long, Richard Nixon, Adolf Hitler, or for that matter the Emperor Caligula. Analogy is a game without rules that any number can play—including those historians who have more taste for digging up equivalences than understanding complex historical processes.

This is not to say that analogism can't serve a historical purpose. It reminds us that current political “debate,” which consists almost entirely of two ships loaded with screaming partisans too loud to hear (or care) what the other side is saying, is as old as the Republic.

But it is the job of the historian to go beyond simple, and seductive, analogy, and focus on two questions: What is distinctive about the current variant of polarization? And what is the larger context—social, cultural, historical—out of which the current version has emerged?

Here I think that the perspective of those of us who don't think that this is the exclusive property of the Republicans may have something to offer. I could serve up some bromidic observations to the effect that in recent weeks the “fascistic” comments by talking heads, and, with the assault on the baseball-playing congressmen, action that might fit into the fascistic model, is hardly coming from the children of the Tea Party.

But I agree that this sort of observation doesn't get us very far. The gist of the matter is that the technology of the internet, the economics of the New Age, and today's mass popular culture have combined to foster a pervasive atmosphere of obscene, uncontrolled vituperation. Trump may be a particularly visible instance, but he is hardly the originator or the only example of this genre. Historians who talk solely about the Republican, or Trumpian, sources of the malaise are doing what, alas, has been hardly unknown in our profession: selectively selecting the other side's excesses, and ignoring their own side's transgressions. I recently read Yale historian Timothy Snyder's little book On Oppression. It collects some tells of authoritarianism in the 20th century, with wink-wink references to Trump falling within that tradition.

If we needed it, what better proof is there that historians are only human?

The Senate's Health-Care Bill Is Still Unaffordable for Poor People
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

First, some good news: Twenty-two million more uninsured people over the next decade is at least slightly better than 23 million.

The rest of the numbers from the Congressional Budget Office aren’t so rosy for a plan Republicans hoped would score much better on coverage than its House-made predecessor. On Monday, the agency released its evaluation of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate’s take on an Obamacare replacement plan. Perhaps to Republicans’ chagrin, the CBO didn’t find much difference between the Senate’s draft and the American Health Care Act passed by the House in May.

The analysis found that the Senate’s bill would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than current projections under Obamacare, and that it would decrease federal deficits by over $300 billion over that time. Those are both improvements over the AHCA’s final score of 23 million people losing coverage and a decrease in the deficit of $119 billion. But those differences don’t mean much for low-income people.

The largest structural difference between the two bills is how each deals with premium tax credits for purchasing insurance on the exchanges. The AHCA, which President Trump called “mean” earlier this month, maintained a much less generous credit than the ACA does and didn’t link it as strongly to income. At the same time, it allowed older people to be charged proportionally more—a dynamic the CBO suggested could cause intense market distortions and price-outs for older people with low incomes.

The BCRA’s credits, on the other hand, are more similar to those under Obamacare, and have stronger ties to both income and the cost of insurance than the AHCA’s. The BCRA also keeps Obamacare cost-sharing subsidies for the next two years, which also would offset some of the extreme price variation. Although the BCRA keeps the AHCA’s provisions allowing states to waive certain essential health benefits in exchange plans—like maternity care or mental-health coverage—the Senate plan adds an additional provision that ratchets down the actuarial value, or the amount of covered services, for benchmark plans so they become the equivalent of current bronze-level plans, which should reduce premiums.

Stronger credits and lower premiums would seem designed to make exchange plans more affordable and less volatile under the BCRA than under the AHCA, and the CBO found just that. But it also found that those changes don’t mean much for low-income people, since the higher deductibles that come with a bronze-level plan might make lower premiums moot. Accordingly, the CBO estimates that “despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan” under the BCRA’s tax-credit structure. And a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that for low-income people who attempt to select more comprehensive plans with lower deductibles, premiums will spike in almost every county.

If people with low incomes and without employer coverage can’t afford exchange plans under the Senate bill, their options will be limited. The BCRA, like its House predecessor, also sunsets Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion to low-income adults, and by 2020 would no longer provide enhanced federal funding for such enrollees. Both bills also restructure Medicaid financing to a per-capita cap system and restrict its per-person growth over time to a factor below its current expected growth rate. That, in turn, would force several states to restrict eligibility for Medicaid. Those changes to Medicaid combined would result in 15 million fewer enrollees by 2026.

Congressional Budget Office

One thing the CBO analysis does not measure is the effect of the BCRA provision that changes the inflationary rate of those yearly Medicaid caps to a less generous measure in 2025 and beyond. Despite a request from Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut to consider effects beyond 2026, this particular CBO analysis still sticks to its traditional decade-long forecast, which means that the long-term constriction of the Medicaid program does not fully factor into the coverage losses here. Still, it seems safe to say that even fewer people will be eligible for Medicaid in the decade after 2026.

In all, the CBO finds that a disproportionate number of the 22 million people who will lose health-insurance coverage under the BCRA will be people with low incomes. Their losses will come even as $700 billion worth of tax breaks also contained in the BCRA largely benefit the top quintile of earners, as an analysis from Howard Gleckman at the Tax Policy Center shows. In order to pay for that tax break, the BCRA cuts more than a trillion dollars from subsidies and Medicaid. Almost all of those cuts come from the people with the least. And that’s just in the next decade.

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Catch-22 Million
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Today in 5 Lines

The Senate Republican health-care bill would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Senate Republicans also proposed a provision to the bill that would punish individuals who go without coverage with a six-month waiting period before regaining coverage. The Supreme Court announced it will review President Trump’s travel ban in October, and will allow parts of the ban to take effect in the interim. And in a major church-state case, the Court also ruled that religious institutions cannot be denied public funds for secular purposes. President Trump met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House.

Today on The Atlantic

  • Try, Try Again: While he came impressively close to beating Republican Karen Handel in Georgia’s sixth district congressional special election, Molly Ball argues that Democrats will have to do a lot better than Jon Ossoff if they want to take back Congress in 2018.

  • Trinity Lutheran v. Comer: The Supreme Court’s decision on a relatively mundane case concerning a playground in Missouri could have big implications on other policy fights related to the separation of church and state. (Emma Green)

  • A Useful Villain: President Trump frequently references MS-13, a gang mostly made up of young people with Central American roots, to make a case against illegal immigration. But his fixation on the group is statistically difficult to justify. (J. Weston Phippen)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House in Washington. Carlos Barria / Reuters

What We’re Reading

The New Watergate: Frank Rich writes that careful examination of the Watergate scandal will give anti-Trumpers “reason to hope that the 45th president’s path through scandal may wind up at the same destination as the 37th’s.” (New York)

Face Time With Putin?: President Trump is reportedly looking forward to meeting with the Russian president next month at a summit in Germany, but several administration officials think he should keep his distance. (Vivian Salama, AP)

Trump and the Tabloids, a Love Story: Jeffrey Toobin explains why The National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid, has “embraced Trump with sycophantic fervor.” (The New Yorker)

Crossing the Border for Health Care: If the new Republican health-care bill becomes law, one California woman might have to go to Mexico to see a gynecologist and receive birth control. (Elizabeth Cohen, CNN)

‘America’s Mayor’: With his continued campaigning and public feuding with rivals, Donald Trump is governing like a big-city mayor. The problem is, the presidency is nothing like a mayorship. (Jack Shafer, Politico)


The Next Flint?: This short video highlights the challenges facing residents of a public-housing complex in East Chicago, Indiana, who are living on contaminated ground and facing displacement. (Leah Varjacques, The Atlantic)

Question of the Week

On July 4, 2008, former President George W. Bush presided over a naturalization ceremony at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation in Virginia. Eight years later, former President Barack Obama gave a speech honoring military families after a performance by artists Kendrick Lamar and Janelle Monáe.

If you were president, how would you celebrate Independence Day?

Send your answers to hello@theatlantic.com and our favorites will be featured in Friday’s Politics & Policy Daily.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

The newsletter dated June 23, 2017 incorrectly referred to Representative Steve Scalise as a senator. Our apologies for the error, and thanks to a reader for pointing it out.

Trump's Limited Travel Ban Victory
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The Trump administration finally got some good news from a federal court  Monday. In the twin cases challenging the president’s executive order barring entry into the U.S. by nationals of six majority Muslim countries, the Supreme Court handed the government a genuine but very partial victory, with a hint of more to come.

But the victory was limited in a way that anyone who has ever been 12 years old  will understand. The court didn’t say the government could never have a pony. But it didn’t say the government could have a pony either. Instead, it said, “If you still want a pony next October, we’ll see.”

The ambiguity arises because, as Georgetown Law professor Martin Lederman pointed out within minutes of the decision, the court merely granted review, and delayed actual consideration of the case until the opening of next October’s term—by which time the specific issue will most likely be moot. At the same time, the interim order preserved the important victories won by many of those actually harmed by the travel ban—family members of American citizens or residents, foreign students at American universities, and potential foreign employees of American corporations.

The administration had been losing badly at every turn in the lower courts—before district courts in Maryland and Hawaii and appeals courts in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits. The Fourth Circuit contemptuously rejected the administration’s claims of good faith and the Ninth argued that the order exceeded the president’s statutory authority. Both opinions were, to say the least, acerbic.

So the dispassionate tone of Monday’s per curiam opinion must have been soothing to administration ears. Dryly the court summarized the arguments and the lower courts’ conclusions—that the ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment (Fourth Circuit) and the Immigration and Nationality Act (Ninth Circuit). It then gave a respectful nod to the government’s claim that the order is a matter of national security rather than religious bigotry: “The interest in preserving national security is ‘an urgent objective of the highest order,’” the opinion said.

But the per curiam formally expressed no opinion on the issues. Instead, it ordered the full case to be heard “during the first session of October Term 2017”—four months from now. The court clearly hopes—and strongly hints—that the case will be moot by then.

The order, remember, was issued on March 6 and was to take effect March 16. It proposed to bar any entry—whether as visitors or immigrants—of nationals of six majority Muslim countries. It also slashed the number of authorized refugees who could enter to 50,000 a year, from the previous ceiling of 110,000, and barred admission of any and all refugees from Syria.

The rationale for the order was that the named countries were hotbeds of terrorist activity. Thus, the U.S. could not be sure that their nationals would not commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. The order, however, was strictly temporary—for 90 days after the order took effect, just long enough to allow the Department of Homeland Security to determine whether the U.S. had the information it needed to screen immigrants and visitors from the named countries. If not, the U.S. would ask those countries to supply the information it needed and assess their response.

The order never took effect; within hours, lower courts had stayed it in its entirety. The administration was forbidden to bar entry of nationals of the six countries; could not reduce the number of refugees admitted from 110,000 to 50,000; and could not bar refugees from Syria. The district court in Hawaii even stayed the provisions requiring an internal review of immigration procedures—a restriction of extraordinary breadth that was removed by the Ninth Circuit on June 12.

As they came to the court, the cases posed issues of great importance and startling novelty. Does the Establishment Clause even apply to issues of immigration and claimed national security? Can foreign-born Muslims lawfully inside the U.S. invoke the Constitution when an order harms family members outside it?  Can a reviewing court actually consider political campaign statements—or presidential tweets—to determine discriminatory intent in a seemingly neutral order? Does the INA truly require the executive to make detailed formal “findings” before restricting entry of a class of aliens? Does the Refugee Act of 1980 really require the president to notify and formally consult Congress before changing the previously announced total of refugees to be admitted in a given year?

These issues would be difficult enough in a normal year. But we are living in 2017, and the president issuing the order is Donald Trump, who is decidedly not a normal president. Trump’s racist and Islamophobic rhetoric, his threats against judges and the federal courts generally, and his remarkable tweets contradicting assurances made to the court by his own lawyers, all may combine in the justices’ minds to make the possibility of a wrong decision, and bad law flowing from it, seem even greater.

So maybe the whole thing could just ... go away? That’s the wish expressed by the court. For one thing, the per curiam noted that the order, by its own terms, became effective March 16, and thus “expired” on June 14. On June 14, Trump issued a memorandum stating that the “effective date” should be read to mean the day on which courts allow the order to take effect. The court, however, rather pointedly added a “question presented”: “Whether the challenges ... became moot on June 14.”  

The opinion also noted that the executive branch is now, courtesy of the Ninth Circuit, free to complete the promised studies. In Section 2(b) of the order itself, the study is supposed to be completed “within 20 days of the effective date of this order.” Said the Court Monday, “the executive review directed by that subsection may proceed promptly, if it is not already underway. [The order] instructs the Secretary of Homeland Security to complete this review within 20 days, after which time foreign governments will be given 50 days further to bring their practices into line with the Secretary’s directives. … Given the Government’s representations in this litigation concerning the resources required to complete the 20-day review, we fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of 2(c).”

In other words, by October there may be no case, no order, and no national-security rationale, and we can all get a beer.

No one believes the underlying dispute is really going away. But if the ban was only imposed to allow studies, it can’t persist once the studies have been done. If it is to be continued on the basis of what the studies showed, then the case will be so different that both sides will probably have to start over.

As for entry between now and October, the per curiam split the baby. Both lower courts had frozen the order altogether—meaning the government has had to allow visitors and immigrants from the six countries, and Syrian refugees, to apply for and obtain visas as if the order had never been issued. Monday the Court gave the government a genuine if limited win. The order can now take partial effect.

But part of the order is still blocked, and that part is quite important: The ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2.” To me, as to Lederman, that seems like a remarkable win for the challengers.

This means, as the Court made clear, that visas—and refugee admissions—must still be issued for eligible family members of foreign-born residents of the U.S.; foreign-born students accepted by American universities; and employees of U.S.-based businesses. The reduction in refugee numbers, as well, cannot be enforced against refugees who have such a “bona fide” relationship with persons or entities in the United States. This represents a significant part of the potential visitors, immigrants, and refugees the order purported to bar.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote a partial dissent suggesting that the entire stay, not just part of it, should be lifted at once, and the order allowed to take full effect. The court’s decision to grant cert. and narrow the stay, Thomas wrote, represents an “implicit conclusion that the government has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits” when the case is heard. That is probably true as a matter of court doctrine, and it provides an unsubtle hint that the administration has three votes in its pocket for whatever it wants to do; but, again, the case most likely won’t proceed to judgment on the merits.

In the meantime, the challengers have won a different, potentially important “implicit” recognition by the court’s majority—plaintiffs living in the U.S. may have standing to raise claims of discrimination by relatives, students, or employees living abroad.

Remember, this is 2017. We have no idea what the world will look like, and what sort of orders the White House will be issuing in the name of national security, by the fall. The court may never decide this particular case; but challengers to those future orders may find that this opinion opened a door they can walk through.

The Supreme Court Strikes Down a Major Church-State Barrier
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the state of Missouri cannot deny public funds to a church simply because it is a religious organization.

Seven justices affirmed the judgment in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, albeit with some disagreement about the reasoning behind it. The major church-state case could potentially expand the legal understanding of the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is also the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that governments must provide money directly to a house of worship, which could have implications for future policy fights—including funding for private, religious charter schools.  

Trinity Lutheran is a big case that hinges on mundane facts. In 2012, when Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri applied for a state grant to resurface its playground, it was ranked as a strong potential candidate for the program. Ultimately, though, Missouri denied the funding under a state constitutional provision that prohibits public money from going to religious organizations and houses of worship. “There is no question that Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his decision for the majority. “A church.”

The case focused on whether this decision conflicts with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and specifically whether Missouri was violating the free-exercise clause by preventing Trinity Lutheran from participating in a secular, neutral aid program. On Monday, the court overwhelmingly agreed that the answer was “yes.”

“In this case, there is no dispute that Trinity Lutheran is put to the choice between being a church and receiving a government benefit,” wrote Roberts. “The rule is simple: No churches need apply.” While this case concerns Missouri, many states have their own versions of the constitutional provision Missouri used to deny money to Trinity Lutheran—they’re often referred to as “Blaine amendments,” based on their historical grounding in suspicion toward Catholics. This decision could open the way to widespread challenges to the application of these provisions.

Even though the facts of the case may seem inconsequential—the difference between a few knees scraped on a rough pea-gavel playground—the stakes of the decision were high, Roberts wrote. He compared Missouri’s actions to 200-year-old efforts in places like Maryland to prohibit certain individuals from running public office simply because of their faith. “The result of the State’s policy is nothing so dramatic as the denial of political office,” he wrote. “But the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”

This was the key  argument of the majority opinion: Trinity Lutheran faced discrimination because of its identity as a church. Joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan, Roberts included a caveat intended to limit the scope of the decision—it’s about who is getting the money, not how the money is used. “This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing,” he noted in a footnote. “We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.”

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas were skeptical of this distinction. “The Court leaves open the possibility a useful distinction might be drawn between laws that discriminate on the basis of religious status and religious use,” Gorsuch wrote in a brief dissent to the footnote. “Respectfully, I harbor doubts about the stability of such a line. Does a religious man say grace before dinner? Or does a man begin his meal in a religious manner? Is it a religious group that built the playground? Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?” Outside of their “modest qualifications” to the majority decision, though, Thomas and Gorsuch both affirmed the majority.

“Its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state.”

While Justice Stephen Breyer concurred with the judgment of the court, he was eager to limit its finding. The court had previously ruled that governments can’t deny general services like police and fire protection to houses of worship, he wrote. “Here, the State would cut Trinity Lutheran off from participation in a general program designed to secure or to improve the health and safety of children. I see no significant difference.” He agreed that the court should find in favor of Trinity Lutheran, but “I would leave the application of the Free Exercise Clause to other kinds of public benefits for another day,” he said.

Breyer seemed to be anticipating the floodgate of legal challenges that Trinity Lutheran may invite. This is the first time the court has said the government is required to provide public funding directly to a religious organization. That decision could have implications for a host of other policy fights—especially the debate over public funding for private religious schools. In her dissent to the majority’s decision, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor wrote that this was her great fear about this decision.  

“This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state,” she wrote.

The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.

While her colleagues may see this about nothing more than tire scraps on a church playground, Sotomayor argued that the decision undermines years of court precedent and legal history in the United States. She walked through case after case of the early American states limiting the flow of public money to houses of worship.

“Those who fought to end the public funding of religion based their opposition on a powerful set of arguments,” she wrote. “The civil government, they maintained, could claim no authority over religious belief. For them, support for religion compelled by the State marked an overstep of authority that would only lead to more.”

Early legislators also argued that religious groups would start competing for public money, she wrote. “Religion was best served when sects reached out on the basis of their tenets alone, unsullied by outside forces, allowing adherents to come to their faith voluntarily.” Missouri wasn’t being “anti-religious” in denying money to Trinity Lutheran, Sotomayor argued. It was choosing to remain secular.

“If this separation [of church and state] means anything, it means that the government cannot … tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.”

As Sotomayor predicts, Trinity Lutheran is likely the beginning of a new wave of legal challenges about government funds and the free-exercise clause. A little case about tire scraps and playgrounds just set the stage for a new way of thinking about the separation of church and state.

The Highest Form of Disagreement
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

For Joshua Johnson, the host of 1A, an NPR talk show inspired by the First Amendment, Americans can better thrive despite their differences and disagreements by taking inspiration from the courageous lead character in a modern classic.

“In Westside story, our Romeo, Tony, intervenes in a fight between two gangs who are literally ready to rumble with an all out, knock down, drag out, winner-takes-all fight,” he recounted. “Tony convinces them to replace the rumble with a fair fight: the best two brawlers from each gang would duke it out.” He sees himself in an analogous role.

“My job as the host of 1A is basically what Tony did in Westside story,” he explained. “To convince people to stop rumbling and just fight fair. If we don't do that, our democracy is in trouble.” He understands the contrary temptations and risks. “A good rumble feels good,” he acknowledged. “It feels good to see somebody take down those SOBs who you blame for all the problems in this country.”

And Tony’s plan was ruined “when the gang leaders fell back on their old ways, pulled out their knives, and killed themselves.” Still, he persisted in his exhortation:

Democracy is a contact sport. Everyone gets bruises. Even the winners. And the kind of bickering we see today is not only unproductive.

It's cowardly.

If you don't have the guts to focus on ideas and stop tearing down individuals, you belong in the stands, not on the field. I want more leaders who are brave enough to focus on ideas and not ad hominem attacks. I want more leaders who are willing to say, “I hate everything she stands for, but I do not hate her. And neither should you."

And I want more Americans who demand these kinds of debates for the sake of our democracy. Just ideas against ideas, let them fight it out, and if you lose, come back with better ideas.

Tony was right. A rumble can be clenched by a fair fight if you've got the guts to risk that. Are millions of Americans ready to start fighting fair for the sake of our democracy? For the sake of solving common problems we all face?

Listening to those remarks Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by The Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, I shared the speaker’s frustration with attacks on people rather than ideas, which pervade so much of today’s political discourse.

And yet, I would add something to his analysis: ad hominem is a problem, but if you watch cable news, or follow Twitter, or reflect on the way that Donald Trump engages with Democrats, or Democrats with other Republicans, you notice a style of argument every bit as pernicious. It consists of constantly elevating the very worst of the other side, attacking only the weakest rather than the strongest part or version of the ideas held by the other political party or ideological tribe or cultural identity group. As Scott Alexander puts it, “The straw man is a terrible argument nobody really holds, which was only invented so your side had something easy to defeat. The weak man is a terrible argument that only a few unrepresentative people hold, which was only brought to prominence so your side had something easy to defeat.”

Tucker Carlson is a master of the weak man––as was Jon Stewart.

And America would benefit if our culture of argument elevated the opposite approach, steel-manning, “the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument, even if it’s not the one they presented.” Here’s Chana Messinger extolling it in one of those great old-school blog posts that I am honored just to honor:

We probably know best which arguments are most difficult for our position, because we know our belief’s real weak points and what kind of evidence we tend to find compelling … use that information to look for ways to make their arguments better, more difficult for you to counter. This is the highest form of disagreement. If you know of a better counter to your own argument, say so. If you know of evidence that supports their side, bring it up. If their argument rests on an untrue piece of evidence, talk about the hypothetical case in which they were right... Because if you can’t respond to that better version, you’ve got some thinking to do, even if you are more right than the person you’re arguing with.

In short, she says, “Think more deeply than you’re being asked to.” And bear these fruits:

First, people like having their arguments approached with care and serious consideration. Steelmanning requires that we think deeply about what’s being presented to us and find ways to improve it. By addressing the improved version, we show respect and honest engagement to our interlocutor. People who like the way you approach their arguments are much more likely to care about what you have to say about those arguments…

Second, people are more convinced by arguments which address the real reason they reject your ideas rather than those which address those aspects less important to their beliefs.

Coming full circle to our NPR host’s project, Messinger argues that “steelmanning makes you a better person. It makes you more charitable, forcing you to assume, at least for a moment, that the people you’re arguing with, much as you ferociously disagree with them or even dislike them, are people who might have something to teach you. It makes you more compassionate, learning to treat those you argue with as true opponents, not merely obstacles. It broadens your mind, preventing us from making easy dismissals or declaring preemptive victory, pushing us to imagine all the things that could and might be true in this beautiful, strange world of ours. And it keeps us rational, reminding us that we’re arguing against ideas, not people, and that our goal is to take down these bad ideas, not to revel in the defeat of incorrect people.”

It’s only just out of reach.

The Compounded Pain of Contamination and Dislocation
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

EAST CHICAGO—Until Carmencita Robinson received a letter last July stating that her public housing complex would need to be evacuated due to toxic levels of lead and arsenic in the soil, she’d had no idea she’d been living on contaminated land for nearly a decade.

“I felt betrayed,” she said. “They knew that there was lead, and they misled the families that were there because they continuously accepted our rent and gave us no notice of lead.”

A month later came the second blow. When Mayor Anthony Copeland learned the extent of the damage, he directed residents to evacuate the West Calumet Complex and announced plans to demolish it. Residents received Section 8 housing vouchers and were told they had 60 days to secure housing.

“I felt like I was just pushed out of some place that I took a lot of pride in,” says Robinson, who had planned to grow old in her apartment. “Nobody said, ‘We apologize for putting you all through this,’ or ‘I am sorry that this has to be done that way.’ No remorse, no anything. That hurt. I could have lost my life there. My kids could have gotten sicker there. How can you do people like that?”

Robinson was one of thousands of residents of West Calumet whose homes were sitting on top of the USS Lead Superfund Site. But her East Chicago complex is hardly a unique case. Studies dating back decades show waste sites, landfills, and hazardous facilities are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods. And with continuous slashes to Superfund’s budget over the years (it gets $1.1 billion a year, about half of what it did in 1999), cleanups have moved at a glacial pace.

East Chicago fits the pattern. The city is host to dozens of refineries, coal plants, gas storage tanks and other industrial facilities. The majority of its 30,000 residents are black or hispanic, with nearly a third living below the poverty line. “This is a low-income community of color and officials chose to neglect this community, there’s no getting around it,” said Debbie Chizewer, an attorney at Northwestern University’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic representing residents in proceedings with EPA.

The West Calumet Complex was built in 1972, just north of a USS Lead refinery and directly on top of a different demolished lead smelter and an old metal-processing plant that were never properly cleaned up. The Indiana State Department of Health first flagged the site as contaminated in 1985 and forced the USS Lead facility to close. Representative Pete Visclosky asked the EPA to initiate a hazardous waste removal action under the Superfund law, which secures funding from polluters to pay for the cleanup of the most contaminated sites in the country.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana Department of Health and EPA conducted lead screenings and soil sampling in the area, slowly gathering alarming evidence of elevated levels of lead and arsenic in children’s blood and people’s homes. The site was finally added to Superfund’s National Priorities List in 2009, joining 1,322 others. Only then did the EPA formulate a plan to secure funding, investigate, and execute remediation, or cleanup, of the site.

“The health department recommended [EPA] do something [throughout those decades], but it didn't and there's no explanation for why,” Chizewer said.

The EPA did not fully grasp the magnitude of the contamination at the USS Lead site until it began undertaking more extensive testing, between 2014 and 2016. The data revealed some areas of the site had lead levels as high as 91,000 parts per million of lead in the soil, and 32,000 ppm indoors. The EPA’s action-level for cleanup is 400 parts per million of lead in the soil.

Lead ingestion affects IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement, and effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. “I had to read up on lead and how that affects me and my children,” said Robinson, who has three children that grew up in the public housing complex, one of whom has a diagnosed learning disability. “There are just so many things that I look at now that I know that we had lead—I had no clue that it was just that bad.”

Those risks are what led the Mayor to decide to evacuate the complex. The housing authority eventually extended the 60-day move-out deadline to April 2017. But for many residents, the dislocation came as an additional trauma, compounding the difficulties they faced.

“On the one hand, it was a decision that potentially prevented residents from being further contaminated,” says Chizewer. “On the other hand, it put residents in a situation that may have led to more contamination because they were moving in a rush to other homes that are contaminated with lead or arsenic. Or to homes where there might be gang violence and their children would be at risk.”

Robinson was especially concerned about moving away from her doctors—her breast cancer is in remission—and her local school, where her daughter receives services for her special needs. “I didn't look at it like a low-income complex,” she said. “I looked at it like home.” While Robinson was ultimately able to find a small two-bedroom house nearby, many were not as lucky. Some residents left for places as far-flung as Las Vegas and Houston. Others had trouble finding a place to move, and stayed in the contaminated complex beyond the April deadline.

Demetra Turner’s family was among the last remaining. For months she unsuccessfully tried to secure safe housing while working the night shift at a gas station and taking care of her two children. She said she runs on two to three hours of sleep a day, which she squeezes in after picking up her daughter from school, cooking dinner, and looking for apartments.  

“I have an account with every apartment website you can think of,” Turner said in April. “When I call it’s always the same thing: They don’t accept Section 8. You know, I want to leave, I don't want to stay here. But the only thing I'm asking is, allow me to find somewhere to go, and allow my kids to finish school.”

The city had already begun fencing the place off and turned off the street lights by the time Turner left in early June. The housing authority helped relocate her family to the other side of town, in an area known as the Harbor that she says has a long-standing rivalry with the Calumet neighborhood. She is still looking for permanent housing, and fears for her 18-year-old son’s safety.

Meanwhile, the cleanup of the East Chicago site drags on, eight years after it was formally added to the Superfund list, and three decades since Visclosky’s initial complaint. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently issued a new directive to prioritize Superfund cleanups and established a Superfund task force. But President Trump’s budget proposes to cut the program’s funding by 30 percent. Residents of East Chicago and other places home to contaminated sites are skeptical Pruitt’s efforts will lead to results.

“When you think about this case and the number of impacted residents and the money that it takes to clean this up and then you look at the possibility of EPA not having funding to do this kind of work at this site or around the country, it's extremely upsetting,” Chizewer said. “We would continue to have cases like East Chicago for many decades to come.”    

Democrats Will Have to Do Better Than Ossoff
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

In the wake of last week’s special congressional election in Georgia, on which Democrats spent more than $30 million only to come up short, some on the left have taken solace in the idea that the result was nonetheless a good portent—a sign that Democratic candidates are poised to win the House next year.

The Georgia race, they point out, took place in a “very Republican district”—one that went for its Republican representative, Tom Price, by a 23-point margin last year. (Price triggered the special election when he took the job of health and human services secretary in the Trump administration.) Republican Karen Handel, by contrast, won by just 4 percentage points, 52 percent, compared to 48 percent for the Democrat, Jon Ossoff.

By that calculation, Ossoff knocked 19 points off the normal Republican margin, a staggering swing. If Democrats could knock 19 points off every Republican representative’s winning margin in 2018, they would win a huge majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans, by this logic, shouldn’t be celebrating Handel’s win; they should be quaking in their boots.

It is, of course, not that simple. While Ossoff did come impressively close, Democrats are going to have to improve on his showing nationally if they hope to take the House next year.

For one thing, Georgia’s Sixth District isn’t nearly as Republican as Price’s margin of victory suggests. He was a popular incumbent who had represented the district for more than a decade; his Democratic opponent in 2016 was someone named Rodney Stooksbury, who got there by being the only person to file papers for the Democratic nomination. Stooksbury spent $0 on the race and ran no perceptible campaign. A local TV station that tried to track him down found that not even his neighbors had heard of him, and concluded, “Voters question if Stooksbury even exists.”

We can assume, then, that the 38 percent of the vote won by Stooksbury reflects the proportion of the district’s voters who would vote for a ham sandwich if it had a D next to its name.

Meanwhile, at the top of the ticket, Donald Trump also won the district, but by a much narrower margin: He took about 48 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent. That means Ossoff performed only a point better than Clinton did, while Handel overperformed Trump by 4 points.

Could Democrats win the midterms by getting about the same proportion of the vote as Clinton did last year? She did, after all, win the popular vote. But because of uneven population distribution and the way the House districts are drawn, this would not be enough: Trump won 230 out of 435 congressional districts, more than the 218 required for a majority. (Because so many Republican candidates, like Price, did better than Trump, Republicans actually won 241 seats.)

By this metric, it’s clear that Democrats must do more than simply match Clinton’s vote share to win the House.

Clinton did unusually well in Georgia’s Sixth, which is home to a disproportionate number of the sort of voters Trump struggled with: affluent, college-educated white professionals. These kinds of districts, where otherwise Republican-leaning voters were turned off by Trump, are precisely the ones Democrats will be targeting in 2018. But in many of them, they will be up against popular, conventional Republican incumbents—candidates like Tom Price—making it all the more of an uphill battle.

There are more nuanced ways of looking at a given district’s partisan tilt, such as the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, which gives the Sixth District a rating of “R+8.” By that measure, Ossoff overperformed more significantly, though he still didn’t exceed expectations as much as the Democratic candidates in the other three, less-hyped special elections held this year, as David Wasserman explains. The PVI calculation, which takes more than one presidential election into account, may be more accurate in assessing a given district’s baseline—or it may fail to account for the degree to which Trump will be a factor next year.

All of this math is a bit apples-to-oranges. Turnout in a presidential election is different from turnout in a midterm election, which is different from special-election turnout. It’s always a mistake to read too much into special elections; they are thermometers of the current political climate, not predictors of what’s to come.

But there’s one unavoidable fact: Democrats cannot win Congress in 2018 unless a substantial proportion of Trump’s 2016 voters either switch their votes or decide to stay home. In Georgia, that didn’t happen.

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The Supreme Court Partially Unblocked Trump's Travel Ban
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Updated at 2:57 p.m. ET

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a series of lower-court rulings blocking the Trump administration’s controversial travel ban on Monday, setting up a major showdown over presidential power and religious discrimination.

In an unsigned order issued on the Court’s last day before its summer recess, the justices scheduled oral arguments in the case for when they return in October. They also partially lifted the lower courts’ injunctions against Section 2(c) of President Trump’s executive order, which temporarily suspended visa applications from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as Section 6, which froze the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and halted refugee entry into the United States.

Under the Court’s order, the Trump administration can enforce the ban to block “foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States” from the six targeted countries while the case proceeds. It’s unclear how broad or narrow that restriction will be in practice.

“In practical terms, this means that §2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” the Court said. “All other foreign nationals [from the six targeted countries] are subject to the provisions of EO–2.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to say he would have granted the Trump administration’s request to block the lower court injunctions in their entirety while legal proceedings unfold. “Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding—on peril of contempt— whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” he wrote. Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch joined his opinion.

In addition to the underlying issues at stake, the Court also asked both sides to file briefs on whether the second executive order expired on June 14. When Trump signed the order on March 16, it included a provision that Section 2(c)’s visa suspensions would only last for 90 days “from the effective date” of the order. Once Section 2(c) expires, legal challenges to it become moot.

The lower courts did not suspend that provision or even acknowledge it, meaning the 90-day clock theoretically kept ticking. Trump signed a memo on June 14 that claimed to amend the provision until legal proceedings conclude. “The Government takes the view that, if any mootness problem existed previously, the President’s memorandum has cured it,” the Court noted. But the justices nonetheless ordered both sides to weigh in on the question.

If the Court rules on the merits, the case is likely to result in a major precedent on the scope of the presidency’s national-security powers. It will also be Trump’s first showdown with the Supreme Court after months of battles in the federal appellate courts over his first and second executive orders on the travel ban. Presidents of both parties often find themselves stymied by the Court at some point during their administrations. But Trump will face a high-profile judicial test of one of his core policies far earlier than most of his predecessors.

In a statement shortly after the announcement, the president said he was “gratified” by the Court’s move. “Today’s unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security,” Trump said. “It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”

The Department of Homeland Security said it would begin enforcing the ban after reviewing the ruling with the Justice and State departments. “The implementation of the executive order will be done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry,” the department said in a statement.

The president signed the first iteration of his travel ban in January with little warning, leading to chaos and protests at major U.S. airports. Multiple federal courts soon blocked the government from enforcing the order pending judicial review. After a three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals approved a nationwide injunction against the ban in February, the administration said it would rewrite the order.

Trump signed the revised order on March 6 and scheduled it to go into effect on March 16. The second version removed Iraq from the list of targeted countries and included more exemptions to the freeze on visa applications. But federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland issued injunctions against the order less than 24 hours before it went into force. In June, a frustrated Trump castigated the Justice Department and railed against the order he signed as a “watered down, politically correct version.” He also attacked the courts as “slow and political.”

Two federal appeals courts subsequently ruled against the second ban. The Fourth Circuit upheld the injunction in Maryland on constitutional grounds in May, citing the president’s campaign rhetoric to conclude that the executive order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” In the Ninth Circuit, a three-judge panel left most of the injunction in Hawaii intact on statutory grounds, ruling that the administration had not sufficiently proven the order was necessary for national security. The Justice Department vowed to appeal both cases to the Supreme Court.

Civil-rights groups challenging the orders have assailed them as vehicles to implement the Muslim ban that Trump once proposed on the campaign trail. “President Trump’s Muslim ban violates the fundamental constitutional principle that government cannot favor or disfavor any one religion,” Omar Jadwat, the director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement Monday. “Courts have repeatedly blocked this indefensible and discriminatory ban. The Supreme Court now has a chance to permanently strike it down.”

A New Penalty for the Uninsured in the GOP Health-Care Bill
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Republicans are trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate forcing nearly all Americans to pay a tax if they don’t have health insurance. But they’ve just proposed a new penalty of their own for people who go without coverage: a six-month waiting period.

Under a provision added Monday to the Senate GOP’s health-care bill, an individual who is uninsured for more than 63 days would have to wait half a year to gain new health coverage. Like Obamacare’s mandate tax, the waiting period is a punishment designed to encourage people to maintain insurance coverage rather than wait until they get sick to purchase a plan and drive up costs for everyone else.

Republicans have assailed the Obamacare mandate as a punitive and even unconstitutional government dictate, but the need to incentivize people to voluntarily purchase insurance and discourage so-called “free riders” who rely on hospitals and the government to pick up emergency-room bills they can’t pay has long been a bipartisan pursuit. It’s not clear why Senate GOP leaders didn’t include what’s known as a continuous coverage provision in the discussion draft they released on Thursday, but policy analysts quickly pointed out that the omission, combined with other elements of the bill, could lead to a “death spiral” in the individual insurance market. Because the Senate bill maintains Obamacare’s requirement that insurers cover and offer an equal premium rate to people with preexisting conditions, analysts predicted that companies would have to charge higher premiums to stay profitable if there was no incentive for younger, healthier people to purchase coverage.

The House-passed American Health Care Act included a different provision with the same goal. Under that proposal, people who went more than 63 days without coverage would have to pay a premium surcharge of 30 percent. That provision, however, drew criticism from both liberals and conservatives, who argued that Republicans were simply forcing people to pay a tax to insurance companies instead of the government as in Obamacare. Under the Senate plan, people who are uninsured wouldn’t have to pay a penalty, but they’d be locked out of the market—even if they contracted a serious illness in the meantime.

“The likely biggest effect of a 6-month waiting period would be to prevent some sick people from getting care immediately after signing up,” tweeted Larry Leavitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Senators are awaiting an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office of the GOP bill later Monday afternoon, which reportedly will include the new waiting-period. Leavitt said the provision could lower average premiums and reduce federal costs for the tax credits in the bill.

The late addition offers fodders for critics of how fast Republicans are moving to pass their health-care bill without hearings and with limited debate. And if the bill is to advance this week, it almost certainly won’t be the final change. Senators on both ends of the Republican conference have demanded amendments to the proposal in exchange for their votes that go well beyond a continuous coverage requirement. Whether McConnell can thread the needle to get the 50 votes he needs from his 52 members is unclear, but it’s possible that more changes will come at the last minute and without an updated analysis from the CBO.

How to Reawaken a Sense of Solidarity in America
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

For Michele Moody-Adams, a professor of political philosophy and legal theory at Columbia University, ensuring continued peace and prosperity in the United States depends not only on our ability to restore trust in government and the officials who run it. It is just as critical “that we figure out how to reawaken a sense of solidarity with each other as citizens, and to revive the belief that solidarity is best expressed by a commitment to shared sacrifice and an openness to constructive compromise.”

How to rebuild that sense of solidarity that has defined American life in moments of shared crisis, like World War II, and appears to have waned in more recent decades?

The sacrifices and compromises that matter are not just those associated with the demands of war or other national crises.  We must learn, for instance, to relinquish resentments towards the ‘opposition’ when we lose out in a political contest and to refrain from smug self-righteousness when we win.  

We must encourage our political leaders to be open to constructive compromise when political consensus is out of reach.  We must also be more willing to tolerate the public expression of attitudes with which we disagree, and we must accept that even the best-designed legal institutions and practices may yield decisions which many believe to be mistaken. Democratic cooperation will always produce what John Rawls called the “strains of commitment,” and our continued flourishing as a democracy depends upon a readiness to acknowledge and accept these strains.

Moody-Adams added that “if we are to sustain the solidarity that encourages acceptance of the strains of democratic cooperation, we must learn to more fully appreciate those contexts in which our common humanity is more important than our differences,” for example, “by admitting that it is often possible to recognize and respect the moral integrity of others even when we disagree with them about matters of moral and political significance.” What’s more, we must remain open  “to the possibility of empathizing with the concerns—and especially the suffering—of those whose experiences and values are different from ours.  Contemporary life erects many barriers to respect and concern for our common humanity, but the future of our democracy demands that we learn how to transcend them.”  

Moody-Adams is speaking on the panels “How to Live a Moral Life” and “Has Democracy Run Its Course?” this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Email conor@theatlantic.com with your own answer to the question of how Americans can live together in peace and prosperity despite our many differences in values, political beliefs, ideologies, and temperaments.

Finding Faith in Democracy at Moments of National Conflict
June 26th, 2017, 04:00 AM

For David Moss, author of Democracy: A Case Study, history provides a guide for coping with disagreement in a nation as vast as the United States. “Robust faith in the democracy itself has the power to transform our differences from a potentially grave weakness into a precious source of strength,” he writes, drawing on an insight that great American statesmen have expressed from the beginning:

In 1776, not long after the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin plucked the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” from the cover of a literary magazine and recommended them as a motto for the nation. E Pluribus Unum – out of many, one.  

It was a remarkable aspiration for a collection of colonies perhaps more notable for their differences than for what they had in common. But Franklin was, as usual, extraordinarily insightful – and foresightful. He saw from the republic’s first breath that the unique promise of America lay in harnessing difference toward a common purpose through self-governance.

Fraught eras are not new.

“Across the nation’s history, the practice of democracy has always been rooted in conflict, including plenty of bare knuckle politics stemming from intense partisan, ideological, and sectional differences,” Moss observes. “The critical question is what makes this conflict productive rather than destructive. How can we distinguish the political conflict of the late 1850s that ultimately deteriorated into the violence of the Civil War from the political conflict of so many other periods that allowed for the peaceful resolution of differences and fostered immense progress over time?”

As he ponders the present moment, he urges a renewed faith in what he calls democratic values:

In the past, political conflict has often proved productive when citizens shared a strong common faith in the democracy, along with a deep commitment to sustaining and strengthening their democracy. This common faith and commitment—what might be called a vibrant culture of democracy—has long been the glue that held Americans together, despite their many differences. Sadly, common faith in national democratic governance had largely broken down by 1860, ripped apart by the evils of slavery, as intense political conflict quickly descended into rancor and violence. This was a rare moment of political collapse in America, but also a potent warning of how dangerous our differences can become when they overwhelm our common commitment to democratic principles.

Today, there is mounting evidence that our culture of democracy has atrophied over recent decades. Although the problem is sharply different from that of 1860, there is still reason to be concerned.  What’s needed is not less political conflict, but rather more productive conflict; and that means strengthening our culture of democracy, even as we continue to do battle—peacefully—in the political arena.  Fortunately, Americans have revitalized their culture of democracy many times before, and we can do it again.  

But we can’t lose sight of the fact that a strong culture of democracy—a profound and unwavering commitment to republican values and processes—is the foundation of productive political conflict and, in turn, the essence of a healthy republic. Ultimately, it is what’s most needed to ensure that Franklin’s noble vision of E Pluribus Unum remains alive and well in America.

David Moss is the Paul Whiton Cherington professor at Harvard Business School. He is speaking about James Madison this week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. Email conor@theatlantic.com with your own answer to the question of how Americans can live together in peace and prosperity despite our many differences in values, political beliefs, ideologies, and temperaments.

Sage, Ink: Disorder in the Court?
June 25th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Pondering How to Live Together
June 25th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Last year, while preparing to cover the Aspen Ideas Festival, I chose a question to pose to invited speakers, whose areas of expertise span so many different fields, in hopes that their varied insights would shed new light on thorny matters that confront us. I asked, what debates are Americans not having that we ought to be having?

An answer that remains with me was offered by John Dickerson, the CBS News anchor and political journalist, who felt that the country ought to have a debate about restraint. “I am a fan of restraint,” he explained. “I think we've lost the ability to restrain ourselves and that leads to boorish behavior, bad outcomes, cruelty, and the forfeit of reason … Restraint allows conversation between different kinds of people. Artists will tell us that some of their best work came from when they were given limits. Most any religious figure could make the case for restraint if for no other reason than generosity and compassion require a pause in self-obsession. Thinking of others requires restraint particularly in a world where we're being offered this, that, and the other thing to self-sooth, distract, or please ourselves.”

For the next week, I’ll try, along with a group of my colleagues, to bring to your screens the most compelling ideas and insights that we hear on this gorgeous Colorado mountaintop, wishing that you could be beside us and striving to deliver the next best thing. A recurring theme will be work that scientists, scholars, artists, and public servants are undertaking in the belief that doing so will improve the world in some way, at times with accompanying debates about what is actually the best way forward.

To augment that theme, I wanted the question I posed this year to focus, as John Dickerson did, on the distinct good of getting along in the world that we already inhabit.

After all, we must live together—and I worry we’ve neglected that good too much.

I hope you’ll return this week to participate remotely in the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, and features ideas from many of our staffers. (A landing page that will aggregate our dispatches can be found here.)

While doing so, you'll encounter answers to the following question:

The United States is a tremendously diverse country of 320 million. It will always encompass people with conflicting value systems, political beliefs, ideologies, and temperaments. How do we live together in relative peace and prosperity?

Should readers be inspired to offer their own answers by email to conor@theatlantic.com, I will share a selection of your most insightful responses, too.

How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland
June 25th, 2017, 04:00 AM

In spring 2011, the six Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegations tasked Eric Hawkins with two key jobs: Draw new district lines that get us re-elected easily for another five terms, while also taking direct aim at the state’s last two Republicans.

Behind closed doors, Democratic insiders and high-ranking aides referred to it as “the 7-1 map.” Hawkins—an analyst at a Beltway data firm called NCEC Services—not only made it happen, but imagined an 8-0 map that might have shut Republicans out of power altogether. That, however, would have required spreading Democratic voters a little too thin and made some incumbents slightly less safe; these congressmen were partisans, sure, but they were also reluctant to risk their own seats.

New court depositions and previously unseen emails uncover just how determined Maryland Democrats were to take a seat from the Republicans and knock 10-term veteran Roscoe Bartlett—an idiosyncratic conservative who after losing his seat retired off the grid in the mountains of West Virginia, issuing dire warnings about the vulnerability of our power grid—out of office. They also reveal the partisanship with which Democrats approached redistricting in Maryland: As former governor and 2016 Democratic presidential primary candidate Martin O’Malley explains, he and other Democrats wanted to use their party’s control of the governor’s office to secure a  7-1 majority.

“Yes,” said O’Malley, in a deposition. “Part of my intent was to create a map that, all things being legal and equal, would, nonetheless, be more likely to elect more Democrats rather than less.”

Nationally, Republicans not only dominated the decennial redistricting that followed the 2010 census, but reinvented the partisan gerrymander. The GOP executed a strategy called REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project. They successfully targeted control of state legislative chambers in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin and many other states, earning total control of the new lines even in bluish swing states. The GOP emerged from 2010 with unilateral power to draw 193 U.S. House seats while the Democrats fully controlled merely 44. REDMAP cost just $30 million and went a long way to ensuring GOP control of the House and state legislatures nationwide. In 2012 when Democratic congressional candidates received 1.4 million more votes but Republicans maintained a 33-seat majority. It was the biggest bargain—and perhaps the most audacious heist—in modern politics.

Nevertheless, the untold story of Maryland’s sixth congressional district—unfolding now in documents before a U.S. District Court in the Benisek v Lamone partisan gerrymandering case—illustrate just how fiercely Democrats, as well, have fought to rig the system in their direction when presented with the opportunity. Republicans controlled redistricting in many more states in 2010. But these court records show that Democrats were also eager to maximize a fundamentally broken redistricting process to their advantage, and to the detriment of democracy.

Both Democrats and Republicans used the same weapons. Armed with sophisticated mapmaking software, census data, and detailed partisan voting algorithms, NCEC’s Hawkins got busy tilting Maryland’s seats toward the Democrats. There were one-on-one meetings with nearly every Democrat in the delegation. Aides to powerful congressmen communicated with the firm from personal email accounts. Little was kept on paper: No agendas, no minutes, not an even a contract could be found between the Democrats and NCEC.

Maryland’s constitution requires the governor to take the lead on redistricting, conduct public hearings throughout the state, and then introduce maps before the general assembly. The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee did meet, and in tightly scripted public events, barely budged from talking points. Depositions and the documents revealed during discovery showed the truth: It was all a charade. NCEC and the incumbent Democrats were doing the real work—and taking care of themselves—in rooms where no one else was watching.

Their goal, however, was clear: Flip Maryland’s sixth congressional district, a red seat for the previous two decades, into azure blue. The state’s delegation had always tilted Democratic, appropriately enough, since Maryland is a reliably blue state. But when O’Malley and the delegation embarked on the 2011 redistricting, a 6-2 edge and 75 percent of the congressional seats was not enough. They were determined to score seven of eight.

Hawkins, in his deposition, admits that he drew maps with the intention of “see(ing) if there was a way to get another Democratic district in the state.” It took somewhere before 10 and 20 different drafts, shared amongst leaders, before the final lines could be set.

O’Malley, in his deposition, does not hide that the “intent” was to draw a map that would “create a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.” The Democrats had two GOP seats to target for extinction, but ultimately selected the sixth, because tilting the first district toward the Democrats would have necessitated ugly lines that jumped the Chesapeake Bay.

“Was a decision made? I suppose in the sense that we decided not to try to cross the Chesapeake Bay, that a decision was made to go for the sixth,” he mused. “I don’t know that there was any meeting. It’s a pretty big body of water … so we didn’t go in that direction.”

Just before Election Day in 2010, the sixth district included 208,024 registered Republicans and 159,715 Democrats. Break down the percentages and that’s 46.7 percent Republican and 35.8 percent Democratic. The new sixth was turned inside-out: Just before Election Day in 2012, it contained 145,620 Republicans and 192,820 Democrats. Almost 70,000 Republicans were exited from the district.

It’s rare for a 10-term incumbent to be knocked from office; even more rare for him to lose by upwards of 20 percent. But in 2012, Bartlett lost to Democrat John Delaney by some 75,000 votes.

The new sixth district, as drawn by Haskins, looks like a fire-breathing dragon. Its northern border is the one solid line, but as it turns southeast toward Washington, D.C., picking up liberal voters in suburban Montgomery County, it’s all juts and wild turns, taking the shape of a hideous beast directing hellfire upon the capital. It’s a frightful district, but the perfect metaphor for the damage it inflicts on representative democracy.

O’Malley and other Democrats defended the sixth district by arguing that it created representation for the growing “I-270 corridor” of commuters from Frederick into Washington. But that patchy argument disintegrated under oath. Hawkins, asked if he considered I-270 as a community of interest when drawing the lines, replied simply and honestly: No. The speaker of Maryland’s lower house and the chairwoman of the governor’s redistricting committee said the same.

According to court documents, Jason Gleason, a top staffer for Representative Sarbanes, wrote a colleague that  the I-270 explanation was “ painful to watch.” He continued: “I’m not sure I buy the themes they are selling. Hopefully they have some better ones for the public face of it.”

O’Malley didn’t have much better to offer in his deposition. He has become a reformer, of sorts, since leaving office, advocating for non-partisan redistricting commissions as well as ranked-choice voting. But in these court documents, he suggests that voters in Maryland understood redistricting to be a partisan exercise. As such, he argued, voters knew that electing a Democrat to serve a term that included the drawing of new legislative lines meant that they supported Democrats having a leg up in the process. He referred in his answers to voters he met on the campaign trail who encouraged him to lead a partisan redistricting effort.

It’s not a particularly convincing argument. Most voters pay little attention to redistricting, which is why politicians have been able to manipulate it so effectively for so many years. Indeed, if O’Malley believed that his election also brought a mandate for a shadow process designed to push Maryland’s congressional delegation from 75 percent blue to just under 88 percent,  why hide the process in the shadows? And if O’Malley and the Democrats genuinely felt that a census-year victory also delivers a mandate to tilt maps in the winner’s direction, they don’t have much of a case against  much more effective Republican gerrymanders in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina.  

Now the Maryland gerrymander only added one seat to the Democratic column. Republicans managed to turn so many blue seats red that after 2012 they took a 12-4 edge in Ohio, a 9-5 advantage in Michigan, a 13-5 bulge in Pennsylvania and a 9-4 margin in North Carolina. Over the course of three very different elections on these maps, only one district would change color in these swing states: a North Carolina seat that turned to the Republicans. A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law suggested that some 70 percent of the GOP’s advantage in the House is based on gerrymandering in Texas and six swing states alone. Democrats grabbed an extra seat in Maryland, but it’s one seat in a blue state, unlike the GOP gerrymanders, which scored up to a half-dozen extra seats in some states where Democrats got more votes.

So why does the story of Maryland’s sixth matter so much? It’s a really simple reason: Neither party can be trusted to be honest brokers in drawing congressional districts. Both sides will maximize every advantage and claim it as a mandate, as their due. Right now, Democrats have mobilized under the leadership of former Attorney General Eric Holder to develop a BLUEMAP of their own. The answer, however, is not turning every zero-year election into a gerrymandering arms race to determine which side gets to turn district lines over to their well-paid GIS experts and data nerds.  

In the end, Americans are the real losers. Congressional elections become less competitive. Voters, outside maybe three-dozen swing seats, don’t really affect any outcomes. Congress becomes more polarized, more dysfunctional, and less effective. Members from safe seats have little incentive to compromise. American politics spirals deeper into toxicity with no bottom in sight. There are solutions, but they must be structural. One of the most comprehensive reforms will be introduced before Congress this month by Representative Don Beyer of Virginia. His Fair Representation Act combines ranked-choice voting with multi-member districts. It’s one approach among many to tackling the three-headed democracy-slaying hydra of gerrymandering, geographic clustering, and modern map-making technology.

O’Malley says that he understands all this now. He made redistricting reform part of his 2016 presidential campaign, and has joined the parade of politicians, who, once comfortably out of office, finally speak out about the rot within the system. The corruption of Maryland’s sixth congressional district might be a wake-up call others, as well. There are no redistricting angels. The structure changes—or nothing does.

The Kabuki Theater of the AHCA
June 25th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The United States has never had a Senate leader as ruthless, as willing to bend, distort and break the rules, traditions and precedents of the Senate as Mitch McConnell. And the Senate has probably never had a majority leader as effective at accomplishing his goals as Mitch McConnell—making even Lyndon Johnson look like a neophyte in comparison.

That is why no one should believe that the McConnell-crafted health-policy bill is dead, despite the growing opposition and the fact that the overwhelming majority of health-policy analysts and health providers say the bill is a walking disaster. It eviscerates Medicaid—a program widely misunderstood as simply insurance for poor people, but which uses most of its money for long-term care for the elderly, and basic protection for the disabled and mentally ill populations. The overall Medicaid cuts, while spread over a longer time frame, are more severe than the draconian House bill.

The McConnell bill removes the protection of lifetime and annual limits, meaning someone with a serious illness like cancer could be cut off in the middle of chemotherapy. It also fails the so-called “Kimmel test,” named for Jimmy Kimmel after he faced the horror of a newborn son born with a devastating heart ailment. With this bill, a newborn with a major problem requiring weeks in intensive care and multiple serious surgeries would pass both the annual and the lifetime limit within his or her first few months of life. And because the bill allows for insurers to charge much more to those with pre-existing conditions, a newborn who leaves the hospital without exceeding the lifetime limit might be unable to afford insurance for the rest of his or her life.

More generally, the bill is structured so that essential coverage provisions can be dropped, and insurers will be able to offer barebones plans with low premiums—and sky-high deductibles, far greater than those imposed by plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Many people could have insurance that would be faux-insurance, something appearing great until they actually needed it, and discover that their ailment, or pregnancy, was not covered, or if it was, requires them to pay $7,500 out of pocket before it pays a dime.

Those are just a few entries in the parade of horribles in a bill written in secret by a handful of staff without input from providers, patients, the committees that know health policy, or nearly all senators of both parties. Of course, a major reason for that unprecedented process was that the bill is more about tax policy than health policy.

The big tax reform will have to wait for another budget resolution and another reconciliation bill. But without this “health” bill, a massive tax cut under the guise of tax reform faces an almost insurmountable obstacle—the requirement that it not increase deficits or debt after a 10-year window.  That is why getting a health bill that provides half the desired tax cuts and has them paid for by Medicaid cuts is so important for McConnell and his allies.

To be sure, the McConnell bill looks to be in desperate straits. With 52 Republicans in the Senate, McConnell can only lose two and still rely on a vice presidential tie-breaking vote to put the bill over the top. Already, though, there are five announced “No” votes, including four arch-rightists (Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee) and the not-quite so-radical Dean Heller. And there are numerous others, including Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Joni Ernst, Bob Corker, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain, who have complained openly about the secret process or fretted about the vulnerability of their constituents on Medicaid.

So why do I think this bill could well pass? First, remember that when a senator says he or she is opposed to the bill “in its current form,” that is code for, “change the current form, and I may no longer be opposed.” For an individual senator, this gives double cover. You can show your independence and mollify skeptical voters—and then proudly declare victory, that you have protected those voters, when you succeed in winning a concession.

McConnell knows this, and that is why the “draft” bill that emerged earlier this week was in many ways both tougher and weaker than observers expected. The bill was projected to phase out the Medicaid expansion with a seven-year window, compared to the three years of the House bill; it had a five-year phase out. The bill was supposed to protect states like Ohio and West Virginia with serious opioid epidemics that have expanded Medicaid; instead it provided a paltry $2 billion cushion. And the bill protected other parts of Obamacare, providing, for example, more support for poor and older individuals than the House bill.

All of this may be part of the McConnell kabuki theater. Toughen up the latter provisions and Paul, Johnson, Cruz, and Lee will likely declare victory, saying that their early opposition forced McConnell to give in and further eviscerate the hated Obamacare and a large government role in health. Add $40 billion for the opioid epidemic, matching the number Ohio Senator Rob Portman said was needed to cope with the problem, and you may get Portman and his fellow skeptic, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, to declare victory, proclaiming that they have saved their voters (and a core of Trump’s base) from disaster. Agree to the seven-year timetable to phase out Medicaid expansion, and you provide a rationale for Heller, along with Cassidy and others, to say they are now satisfied that Medicaid is sufficiently protected. If you can’t get Heller, who is the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection next year, maybe you can win over Murkowski to replace him, perhaps with promises of something additional for Alaska. And give some money and incentives to insurers to go back into exchanges in places like Tennessee and Iowa which they have abandoned, and you may nail down the votes of Lamar Alexander, Bob Corker, and Joni Ernst.

With such a slim margin for error, this bill could still easily fail—and given that it is wildly unpopular and would likely create a major backlash in many parts of the country, and was put together without any real input from most of the stakeholders including the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate, it should and would fail under normal circumstances.

But we do not reside in normal times, McConnell is not a normal leader, and the contemporary Republican Party—one contemptuous of normal standards of behavior or representative process—is itself anything but a conventional American political party. With the drive for a historic tax cut in the balance, make the odds 6-5 in favor of McConnell snatching victory from the jaws of defeat—to the detriment of millions of Americans who count on a health-care safety net, and who will end up paying with their health and money to give another $7 million a year on average to the Forbes 400 richest Americans.

Watergate Lawyer: The Trump Administration Would Fire Mueller 'At Their Peril'
June 25th, 2017, 04:00 AM

When Rufus Edmisten was 31 years old, he delivered a subpoena to the president of the United States asking for tape recordings from the Oval Office. It was July 23, 1973, and “it had to be the hottest day in the world,” he told me last week, 44 years later.

Edmisten had recently been appointed deputy chief counsel on the Senate’s newly formed Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, also known as the Watergate Committee. Its chairman, North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin, was leading an investigation into the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters, which had occurred the year before in the midst of President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign.

It would take another year of firings, cover-ups, and claims of executive privilege, but the committee’s evidence-gathering would ultimately lead to the indictment of 40 administration officials and the first-ever resignation of an American president.

I spoke with Edmisten, now an attorney in North Carolina specializing in government relations and litigation, about what it was like to play a part in one of the most tumultuous periods in modern American politics—and how he feels like he’s reliving some of that period in 2017. Our conversation, which took place over the course of two phone calls, has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Elaine Godfrey: Tell me about your role on the Watergate Committee.

Rufus Edmisten: I guess you might say I’m now one of the oldest hands around. All the members of the committee are dead, except [Republican] Senator [Lowell P.] Weicker. [Chief Counsel] Sam Dash is dead, [Minority Counsel] Fred Thompson is dead.

My role was deputy chief counsel of the Watergate Committee. I like to describe it this way, as Fred Thompson once did: “Everybody knew that Rufus was Ervin’s man.” I appreciate that because who wouldn’t want to be Ervin’s man?

Godfrey: When people think of Senator Ervin, they think of Watergate. But you had known him for a long time before that.

Edmisten: There’s a lot about Senator Ervin that was way before anything called Watergate even occurred. Ervin was big into the privacy issue. He was extremely interested in [the 1970 revelation that the U.S. Army was conducting domestic investigations on U.S. civilians]—it just infuriated him. He was the unheralded leader of those that thought the government had no business snooping on people.

Godrey: Before all of this, you worked with him as counsel on Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, which focused on civil rights and constitutional amendments. Then, when Ervin became chairman of the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, he named you chief counsel. What was that like?

Edmisten: Unknown to me—and, of course, the senator—we were doing a rehearsal for Watergate. We were studying separation of powers, executive privilege, impoundment of funds. Senator Ervin had been having a battle with Nixon since he was first elected in 1968, battling what he called excesses of executive power. [Ervin] referred to “the imperial presidency,” where the president would say things like “the president can do whatever he wants to do.”

These are all the principles that came up during Watergate. Before, nobody would attack a president, but it didn’t bother Senator Ervin. And ironically, he had been sworn in in 1964 by then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

Godfrey: In 1973, the Watergate Committee was formed, and Ervin asked you to come on. Why?

Edmisten: Everybody was vying around Capitol Hill to get a piece of this thing called Watergate, because it was in The Washington Post every day. [Senate Majority Leader Mike] Mansfield named Senator Ervin [chairman of the panel] because he wanted a man that everybody trusted. I think everybody would agree [Ervin] was the perfect man to lead the hearings.

Ervin asked me to be the deputy chief counsel, because he said “Rufus knows Capitol Hill.” I had been with him since 1964. He said, “I got to have somebody I can depend on to help me get this stuff done.”

Godfrey: What was it like working on the committee when the hearings came around?

Edmisten: I was in charge of press credentials, lining up that stuff. I was helping prepare witnesses, helping interrogate them, in what I called the “interrogation dungeon.” Before anybody went public, we interrogated them in this little windowless room down in the basement of the Dirksen building. Dash brought some bright people on [staff], and I brought some qualified people on from North Carolina, some people from George Washington University Law School.

Godfrey: What stands out to you from those interrogations?

Edmisten: During a hearing, I remember one time asking L. Patrick Gray, the acting FBI director, a question: “How in the world did you get yourself in such a fix?” [Gray, who had resigned in April 1973, admitted to destroying documents he received from a White House official a few days after the Watergate burglary.] He said: “I was in the Navy, and there were bombs exploding around me, but I have never run into a buzz saw like this thing called Watergate.”

I kept thinking, ‘How could these people, who were well educated, fall to the hypnotism of thinking that they were doing something for their country?’ You know that breaking into a building is as wrong as wrong can be. All these folks involved with Watergate were blindly following their leader. They were doing this to impress the president, to curry favor with him.

I’m having déjà vu all over again in recent weeks. There’s so much attention being given to Watergate. Everytime I turn the TV on, somebody’s talking about Watergate, and most of those people weren’t even born yet.

Godfrey: Do you see similarities between your investigation on the Watergate Committee and the investigations now, into Donald Trump and Russia?

Edmisten: I’m not making judgments yet on President Trump. As my mother used to say, “Son, before it’s cooked, don’t talk about it.” This thing’s not cooked enough yet. But eerily, you have so many of the same things going on. You have presidents who seem to believe in the theory of the imperial presidency. You have a president asserting that he can do just about anything, and it not be against the law. This has all been brought on by a very active press. The press has been very active in this to keep it in the minds of the American people. Both presidents had a very strong dislike for the press.

Godfrey: Another North Carolina senator, Richard Burr, is leading the Senate investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well asand allegations of collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. How do you think that is going?

Edmisten: I think they’re doing it the right way—quietly, deliberately. I told him some of the things that we did in the Watergate committee, and I think he is very well capable of doing what’s right.

Senator Burr has been a friend of mine for many years. While I’m a Democrat and he’s a Republican, I don’t want to see a North Carolinian head up a major committee and make a flop of it. The Watergate Committee worked because of the very closeness of Senator Ervin and the vice chair, Senator Howard Baker. I was in the room when [Ervin and Baker] agreed that they would not publicly disagree on anything. [Burr’s] staff had asked to draw from my experience, and I just gave him advice like that.

There seems to be a wonderful relationship between Senator Burr and [Vice Chairman Senator] Mark Warner. I really think they’re doing their homework.

Godfrey: Do you see parallels in how the two investigations unfolded?

Edmisten: When Watergate got to a crescendo, you had people speaking out that were of the same party as President Nixon. We’re not to that point yet. This thing with Nixon had been boiling over for five years.

We’re not far enough into this yet to know exactly where it’s going to lead. But [the Trump administration is] doing some very fine copying, early on, of some of the things that brought down some perfectly sound people in Watergate.

Godfrey: What do you mean?

Edmisten: The old adage, which I know is hackneyed, is: “We study history so we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past.” It occurs to me that the Trump administration has read Watergate and used the worst things about Watergate as a playbook—asserting their executive powers [for example]. Some witnesses are going on Capitol Hill and asserting all sorts of things, like: “We’ve had a conversation with the president, and we can’t talk about it.”

Godfrey: Right, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers all said something similar in recent congressional testimony, though they didn’t invoke executive privilege specifically.

Edmisten: I have no idea where that came from. If there is a legal basis for that, I want somebody to show it to me. If [White House Counsel] John Dean [who was involved with the Watergate coverup] had said, “Well, I can’t talk about anything I said with the president” ...

Ervin threatened everyone—he told them: “If you don’t talk to me, we’ll hold you in contempt.” He said we’re not going to put up with it.

Godfrey: What about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry? What do you think about the suggestion floating around that Trump might fire him?

Edmisten: The special counsel here is a creature of the Department of Justice. If anybody were to try to touch Robert Mueller, they would do so at their peril. This man’s reputation is sterling. I just can’t imagine anybody even thinking about firing him. I think it would fire up the nation again.

Godfrey: When you said earlier that the Russia investigation isn’t “cooked” yet, what did you mean? How do you know when it’s cooked?

Edmisten: If [and when] you find people lying under oath.

We’re just not to any stage yet where you can say [with certainty] that we’re well along the way to some sort of a copycat of Watergate. But, while there never may be a charge in this whole thing, they’re certainly not giving the impression that all is well at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Sometimes impressions are killers, almost as much as the actual act.

The Kremlin's Election Meddling Is Paying Off
June 24th, 2017, 04:00 AM

Fifty-four years ago this month, former President John F. Kennedy delivered the “Strategy of Peace,” a powerful address that captured America’s indispensable leadership at the height of the Cold War. Kennedy knew that our country could not guard against the Soviet Union alone, for he believed that “genuine peace must be the product of many nations, the sum of many acts.”

Incredibly, the man who now leads the United States seems to find himself locked in an alarming and perilous embrace with the Russian government. These ties threaten to weaken a system of alliances that have held Russia—and countless other threats to the international community—at bay since the conclusion of the Second World War.

In his Senate testimony two weeks ago, former FBI Director James Comey affirmed a disturbing suspicion: that Donald Trump first undermined Comey, by leaning on him to drop his investigation of former National Security-Adviser Michael Flynn, and then removed him from his post. Since then, events have escalated at a dizzying pace: Trump accused Comey of lying under oath about their interactions earlier this year, even as he cheered Comey’s public assertion that the president wasn’t under FBI investigation. Soon, reports emerged that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating obstruction-of-justice allegations against the president—revelations Trump was none too happy about. And all the while, rumors have continued to swirl that Trump may fire both Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing the special counsel inquiry.

But Trump’s reckless handling of these events should not distract from a startling reality: As the president faces accusations of colluding with the Russians during last year’s campaign, his policies in office have aligned almost perfectly with the Kremlin’s goals. If Moscow wanted its interference in America’s election to yield dividends, it could hardly have hoped for more.

Just as importantly, while Trump has expressed concern over the “cloud” the Russia investigation generated, he has seemed indifferent overall to Russia’s direct attempts to interfere with the American democratic process. According to Comey’s testimony, Trump never asked him about the meddling, or how to prevent similar interference in the future. Not once.

Trump himself has seemingly courted the favor of Russian President Vladimir Putin since the 2016 presidential campaign. He’s repeatedly praised Putin’s leadership, refused to condemn Russian efforts to disrupt the U.S. system of free elections, and openly encouraged Russian hacking of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Friday’s explosive report from The Washington Post confirmed that Putin was deeply and directly involved in an operation to hurt Clinton’s candidacy and help elect Trump.

What’s more, in every way he can, Trump has deferred to Russia on matters of foreign policy. After Russian forces deployed their hacking tools during the recent French presidential election, Trump invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the White House and failed to repudiate the attack against a vital American ally. Instead, during his meeting with Lavrov, Trump divulged highly sensitive classified information provided by Israel, another crucial U.S. partner. (That May 10 meeting also came a day after Trump removed Comey, who was leading the inquiries into collusion; Trump told the Russians that the director’s dismissal had alleviated “great pressure” on him.) Even more recently, the Trump administration has reportedly taken steps to return two diplomatic compounds that former President Barack Obama stripped from Russia following its actions during last year’s election.

To make matters worse, Trump has done far more than just extend open arms toward the Russian government. He wavered on the United States’ commitment to defend its fellow members of NATO; his aides have reportedly tried to undermine the European Union; and he himself has alienated key partners by lashing out at individual leaders and pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

When Americans step back and consider this stunning series of actions, they should be left with unsettling questions: What are Donald Trump’s reasons for doing this? What exactly does he have to hide?

In the “Strategy of Peace,” Kennedy described his belief that peace “must be dynamic, not static, changing to meet the challenge of each new generation. … We must all, in our daily lives, live up to the age-old faith that peace and freedom walk together.”

Today, it is the responsibility of this generation of Americans to help preserve international peace, to honor the allies who have stood by their side for decades, and to maintain the United States’ place as the leader of the free world.

The American system of checks and balances is only as strong as the leaders who have the character and courage to enforce them. Unless they denounce and punish any attempt to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, demand accountability from the administration, and put their duty to their country over their duty to any political party, those checks and balances won’t protect America’s democracy.

Do Right-to-Carry Gun Laws Make States Safer?
June 24th, 2017, 04:00 AM

The question of whether armed citizens deter violent crime or exacerbate it has been controversial in academia since at least the mid-1990s—not to mention the debate it continues to fuel in American politics. Conflicting studies have informed polarized lawmakers in the parallel battles over gun regulation.

The case for less restrictive gun laws generally boils down to this: Law-abiding citizens have a right to protect themselves and their communities, full stop. The academic backing for this argument can be traced to a 1997 study by University of Chicago economists John Lott and David Mustard. After analyzing the impact of “right-to-carry” laws, the umbrella term for various legislation that allows citizens to acquire a concealed-carry gun permit, the authors concluded that these regulations were “the most cost-effective method of reducing crime thus far.”

In the roughly two decades since, additional academic studies have strongly suggested that the opposite is true: that these laws lead to higher rates of violent crime. The latest—and, at least according to one of its authors, most comprehensive—was released earlier this month by the non-partisan National Bureau of Economic Research. Like the Lott and Mustard report, the new working paper analyzes the laws’ effect on violent crime rates. But researchers used an unusual method to imagine what crime trends would have looked like in right-to-carry states had they not adopted those policies.

The researchers built fictional, or “synthetic,” states as near-identical counterparts to the 33 that passed right-to-carry laws between 1981 and 2014. Using the states’ crime rates prior to the laws’ adoption, as well as national crime data from before and after, they created an algorithm to estimate what trends would have been prevalent had these areas never passed right-to-carry. The researchers then compared crime in the real states with findings from their synthetic versions.

“Ten years after the adoption of RTC laws, violent crime is estimated to be 13 [percent to] 15 percent higher than it would have been without the RTC law,” the authors concluded. Just five years after, it’s about 7 percent higher. “There is not even the slightest hint in the data that [these] laws reduce violent crime,” they write.

I spoke with one of the lead authors, Stanford Law School economist John J. Donohue III—who personally supports stricter gun-control laws—about the report and its implications. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Maura Ewing: Could I sum up your new study with the phrase “fewer guns, less crime”?

John J. Donohue III: It’s probably too general a statement. But if states are contemplating, “Should we move to the more permissive regime of allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns?” I do think we can say that it’s not a good idea. That will lead to higher levels of violent crime.

Ewing: Why didn’t you focus on states that don’t require a gun permit at all?

Donohue: I could have done that, although it’s a very recent phenomenon that states have moved in that direction. Usually we’d like to have 10 years of data after a [legislative] change gets made. Most of the states that have eliminated permits have done so just in the past couple of years.

Ewing: So you’re specifically tracking the loosening of gun laws, which is the predominant trend among states?  

Donohue: Indeed. When John Lott wrote his paper, there were just a handful of states that had adopted these permissive [right-to-carry] laws. Over time, more and more states have moved in that direction. Clearly the trend is in the direction that the National Rifle Association wants.

Ewing: Why was your study necessary? A 2004 National Research Council report essentially debunked Lott and Mustard’s claim that these laws reduce violent crime.

Donohue: It did. I was probably the first one, with various co-authors, to come down hard on the Lott study [in previous papers]. The NRC report essentially adopted all of our criticism on the Lott study, but was much more muted in their expression of what they actually thought the effect of these laws was. The authors essentially said: “There are no statistical supports for the claims that Lott has made, but we are not drawing any inference as to whether they are good or bad or crime goes up or down.” So it was essentially a dismantling, but not an affirmative statement.

This paper, I think, will change the literature. It is the most thorough documentation of a violent-crime increase associated with the adoption of these laws.

Ewing: To be clear: It wasn’t a definitive increase—it was a lesser decrease. Is that correct? Broadly speaking, crime went down across the country, but to a lesser degree in states that have a right-to-carry law?

Donohue: It depends on the state. There was a downward trajectory in crime in the ’90s due to a number of other factors. We are documenting how much a difference it made that states had this law.

In this study, we compare what things would have looked like using two different approaches. One is called the panel-data evaluation, which is what Lott initially used [and which compares trends over time]. And the second is this new synthetic-controls approach. What was nice for me is that they both seem to point in the same direction of higher violent crime.

Ewing: The synthetic-controls approach is what differentiated your study from the 2004 NRC study, is that right?

Donohue: One factor [that makes our research different] is that the 2004 study data ended in 2000, so I have 14 more years of data and 11 more states adopting the right-to-carry laws. The other thing is that we used this new statistical technique. No one that I know of has looked at the question of the impact of right-to-carry laws using synthetic controls.

Ewing: So using a synthetic-control methodology, you predicted what a state’s violent crime rate would have looked like if it had not adopted right-to-carry laws?

Donohue: In a sense. We can look at every state that adopted these laws—we know what happened before they were adopted, we know what happened after they were adopted.

Let’s say the state is Texas. The synthetic control will match what happened in Texas prior to its right-to-carry law in 1996, and then we can see what happened in Texas [after the law’s adoption] compared with this synthetic Texas. That difference dictates whether the particular intervention elevates crime or reduces crime.

Ewing: Is the general takeaway that gun owners in these states are more likely to commit crimes because they are allowed to be armed all the time?

Donohue: The one thing that the paper puts most of its focus on is estimating what the net impact is. There could be some beneficial use of these guns, but overall the harm outweighs the benefit. And the harm comes in many different forms.

For example, the Philando Castile case in St. Paul, Minnesota. [After he was stopped by police,] he immediately told the officer that he was a right-to-carry holder and had a gun, which you’re advised to do. And then the officer shot at him seven times. It scares the hell out of people when they think someone has a gun. Obviously, that right-to-carry holder wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he ended up getting killed anyway.

When more people are carrying guns, things can get more heated. There are times in which the gun could be involved in a way that thwarts a crime, but for the same reason that the officer shot Castile, guns tend to escalate the situation.

The NRA offers a very simplistic view to the public in the way in which the world works, which is: There are all these bad guys out there, but now we’re going to give you a gun, and that means you’re going to be able to be the good guy who saves your life and the lives of other people.

But [with more] people carrying around guns—they’re going to be losing them, they’re going to be stolen, there are going to be more criminals with guns, and the criminals are more likely to carry guns because they know there are guns out there. For a whole array of reasons, more concealed-gun-carrying outside the home pushes up violent crime.

The Atlantic Politics & Policy Daily: Heller High Water
June 23rd, 2017, 04:00 AM

Today in 5 Lines

Dean Heller became the fifth Republican senator to oppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's health-care bill. President Trump signed a bill that will make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire employees, as part of an effort to overhaul the agency. A Cincinnati judge declared a mistrial in the retrial of former Officer Raymond M. Tensing, who fatally shot Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black motorist, in 2015. The leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to review allegations of abuse at prisons in Yemen, “including U.S. support to the Emirati and Yemeni partner forces that were purportedly involved.” Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot earlier this month in an attack at a congressional baseball practice, has been transferred out of the intensive care unit and is in fair condition.*

Today on The Atlantic

  • What Now?: Trump aides say President Trump is focused on the job, even as evidence mounts to show that Russia interfered in the presidential election to help elect him. David Frum argues that business cannot—and should not—happen as usual.

  • ‘The National Brand Is Toxic’: Despite efforts to rebuild, the Democratic Party has so far been defeated in four special elections this year. Why? (Clare Foran)

  • A Warning for Trump: A Watergate prosecutor weighs in on the parallels between the scandal surrounding Richard Nixon and the controversy over the White House’s alleged ties to Russia. (Richard Ben-Veniste)

Follow stories throughout the day with our Politics & Policy portal.


President Trump reads the “VA Accountability Act” after signing it into law as attendees leave the East Room of the White House in Washington. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

What We’re Reading

‘The Crime of the Century’: In August 2016, the CIA showed then-President Barack Obama intelligence detailing the Russian government’s plan to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. The Washington Post describes what happened next. (Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous)

Couldn’t They Just Cut Taxes?: The new Republican health-care proposal doesn’t actually address conservatives’ biggest concerns about the Affordable Care Act, argues Ezra Klein. Instead, “it takes what everyone else hates about Obamacare and makes it much, much worse.” (Vox)

Fresh Blood: Even though Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff lost in Tuesday’s special election for Georgia’s sixth congressional district, his campaign manager, Keenan Pontoni, will likely be in high demand in the Democratic Party. (Simone Pathe, Roll Call)

They Can’t Quit Nancy: Some Democrats are concerned that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has become a bogeyman on the right. But if they ousted her, the party would have some big shoes to fill. (Eric Bradner and Deirdre Walsh, CNN)

Relying on Ralph: Former President Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail to support Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, the easygoing pediatric neurologist running for state governor. (Sam Stein, Huffington Post)


Y or N?: Senate Republicans revealed their health-care proposal this week, and to pass, it needs 50 votes. Here’s who plans to vote “yes” on the bill—and who plans to reject it. (Alicia Parlapiano and Mercy Benzaquen, The New York Times)

Question of the Week

Since early June, Representative Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has been calling for Congress to cancel its summer recess in order to pass a few key items on the GOP agenda, like health care and tax reform. But lawmakers are reluctant to give up their summer breaks, partly because the recess gives them time to meet with their constituents back in their home states.

This week, we asked you whether you think lawmakers should go on recess or stick around to focus on work. The responses were mixed. Check out our Notes section to see the range of responses, but for now, here’s a sample:

From Jenette Settle:

If there were ever a time when Congress needed a recess to return home, it’s now. The country and party is so divided over health care, tax cuts, congressional salaries, immigration … Now more than ever our elected officials need to hear from their constituents.

Conversely, J.B. Johnston hopes the Republican-led Congress will stay in town, and stay focused on President Trump’s agenda: “We need the health-care bill passed and tax reform done. Every day is a loss of the benefit they will produce.”

Thanks to everyone who submitted responses, and stay tuned for next week’s Question of the Week.

-Written by Elaine Godfrey (@elainejgodfrey)

* This newsletter originally referred to Steve Scalise as a senator. We regret the error.

GOP Senator Dean Heller Won’t Support Senate Healthcare Bill
June 23rd, 2017, 04:00 AM

The recently unveiled Senate healthcare bill is running into the kind of opposition that could imperil its passage—and that opposition is coming from Republican senators.

Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the most politically vulnerable Republican senators facing re-election in 2018, announced on Friday that he will not support the Senate GOP healthcare bill in its current form.

“This bill would mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans, and many Nevadans. I’m telling you right now, I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans, and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said on Friday during a press conference.  

Heller is the fifth Republican senator to voice opposition, following a joint statement from conservative Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Mike Lee on Thursday. The statement said that the bill did not “accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two Republican votes and still pass the legislation, although some have questioned how firm the opposition of the Republican dissenters actually is. Heller hedged on Friday, and said that he could not support the bill “in this form” leaving open the possibility that alterations to the bill would earn his backing before the expected vote next week.

The same holds true for the bill’s more conservative critics—who said explicitly that they were “open to negotiation.” But it’s unclear what kind of changes GOP leadership might be willing to support, and whether those changes would jeopardize support for the bill from other lawmakers.

While the the four conservative senators who have announced opposition appear to be disappointed that the legislation does not go far enough to repeal former President Obama’s signature healthcare law, Heller’s chief concern appears to be that the bill would go too far in cutting Medicaid.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about Medicaid expansion, and making sure that somehow, someway we make sure that these individuals who now have this health insurance will continue to have health insurance,” Heller said. “You have to protect Medicaid expansion states. That’s what I want,” he added.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a ‘yes,’” Heller noted.

In 2012, Republican governor Brian Sandoval announced that Nevada would expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As my colleague Vann Newkirk wrote on Thursday, the Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act, which the House passed in May, “restricts and slashes Medicaid funding deeply over the next decade.”

Heller’s Nevada Senate seat is viewed as one of the few potential pickup opportunities for Democrats looking to expand their ranks in the Senate in the upcoming midterms. Democratic Representative Jacky Rosen is reportedly planning to challenge Heller in 2018.

The Risk of Rushing Through Legislation
June 23rd, 2017, 04:00 AM

After weeks of secret drafting and backroom negotiations, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled Senate Republicans’ health-care bill on Thursday to a cold reception. If it becomes law, the 142-page bill will overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy and change how many Americans make life-and-death decisions. Senators will have little time to digest its full impact: McConnell says he wants a vote on the bill next week.

An unusual legislative blunder by his fellow Republicans in the New Hampshire state legislature earlier this month might serve as a cautionary tale for such excessive haste—especially when crafting and voting on one of the most far-reaching pieces of domestic legislation in a generation.

New Hampshire Republicans rushed last week to urge Governor John Sununu to sign a fetal-homicide bill called Senate Bill 66. Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives had hastily revived and passed the bill at the beginning of June before sending it to Sununu’s desk. (The state Senate approved it in February.) Like similar legislation in two dozen other states, the bill would amend the state’s definition of manslaughter and murder to include “viable” fetuses. The expanded definition would allow prosecutors to bring harsher charges against defendants who injure or attack pregnant women and cause them to miscarry.

To avoid clashing with Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights, the bill included an exception for pregnant women and medical professionals. But the phrasing of the legislation had unintended consequences. Under its original wording, pregnant women and medical professionals would be entirely exempt from the state’s homicide statutes, effectively giving them legal cover to commit murder with impunity.

“The bill as drafted allows for physician-assisted suicide and allows a pregnant woman to commit homicide without consequences,” State Representative J.R. Hoell told the Concord Monitor, adding that such an outcome was “never the intent” of the bill’s drafters.

Legislators noticed the error before the bill could be signed into law and quickly drafted an amendment. The state legislature approved the revised version on Thursday. By noticing the change in time, Republican lawmakers saved New Hampshire’s residents from the potential threat of pregnant women roaming the state with de facto licenses to kill.

The Senate health-care bill also deals in life-and-death matters, and one need look no further than the law it seeks to dismantle to find examples of how dangerous drafting errors can be. Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, nearly collapsed the law during Barack Obama’s second term by seizing on a drafting error at the heart of the vast, complex legislation.

A central feature of the ACA was the creation of state and federal health-care exchanges where patients could buy health insurance. To prop up those exchanges, the ACA also provided tax credits to Americans who bought plans through them. But a small problem arose. The language of the statute itself specified that the credits were available to plans bought from an “exchange established by the State.”

In the case King v. Burwell, a group of plaintiffs challenged the law in federal court by arguing that the key provision meant the subsidies applied only to the state exchanges and not to the federal one, which covered almost three dozen states. If they had prevailed, the hole in subsidies would have pushed the American health-insurance industry into a “death spiral.” Most observers agreed Congress meant to extend the tax credits to plans bought from both the federal and state exchanges, but the plaintiffs, who were supported by conservative groups opposed to the ACA in its entirety, argued the law must be followed to the letter.

The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed and sided with the Obama administration to interpret the law as applying to both federal and state exchanges. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a 6-3 majority. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

Others disagreed. “The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘Exchange established by the State’ it means ‘Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government,’” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in dissent, joined by Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. “That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.” To underscore his frustration with the Court’s refusal to strike down the law on multiple occasions, he quipped that people “should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”

The Senate health-care proposal isn’t as vast or complicated as the ACA, reducing the likelihood of major errors like the one that threatened Obamacare’s survival two years ago. But the extreme haste and unprecedented secrecy that went into so consequential a bill raises the chances that unintended consequences could spring from it.