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2 former Christie aides sentenced to jail time for their role in Bridgegate
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

One chapter closes, but the story is still unfolding almost four years later.

Credit: AP Photo

Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, two former senior officials in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, were given 24 and 18 month jail sentences respectively for their roles in the 2013 Bridgegate saga.

The shutdown of several lanes leading onto the George Washington Bridge, the most heavily trafficked bridge in the United States connecting Manhattan to northern New Jersey, was allegedly an act of political retribution against the city’s mayor Mark Sokolich for failing to endorse Christie’s reelection bid.

Kelly was the author of an infamous email that triggered the closures. “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” Kelly wrote, just before the shutdown caused a week of chaos on the surface roads of Fort Lee.

Baroni was appointed by Christie to serve as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Although Baroni was sentenced to a full two years behind bars by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton — six months longer than Kelly — both received shorter prison terms than the federal sentencing guidelines recommend. Both will remain free while they appeal the decision.

During their trial, Baroni and Kelly claimed they believed that the closures were part of a legitimate traffic study. During Baroni’s sentencing hearing, Judge Wigenton said she didn’t buy their ignorance.

“It was completely intended to wreak havoc,” she said. “It only served a punitive purpose. You clearly knew, and know today, that it was not” legitimate.

Their sentencing closes one chapter in the endless saga that’s come to be known as Bridgegate. But the legal and political battles are likely far from over. Lawyers for Baroni and Kelly made the case that their clients were simply fall guys for Christie himself, who continues to deny having any advance knowledge of the ordeal.

Texts Between Christie Senior Staff Show The Governor Lied About Bridgegate

During the trial, the defense presented evidence in the form of text messages exchanged between other senior staff suggesting that Christie lied when he publicly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing. A civilian complaint against the governor was twice allowed to proceed by a municipal court judge, who found enough probable cause of wrongdoing and forwarded the case to Bergen County prosecutors.

Christie’s political ambitions for higher office have so far been derailed by his proximity to the scandal. His 2016 presidential campaign was hobbled by constant questions about Christie’s involvement, and despite being one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters, he was passed over for any number of jobs in the new administration, presumably because of the liability he might be if more information were to be uncovered.

2 former Christie aides sentenced to jail time for their role in Bridgegate was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Trump’s executive order on climate is the opposite of good business practices
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Ironically, in private enterprise, the president has sought to protect his property from climate change.

Trump has sought to protect his investment in a golf resort in Turnberry, Scotland, from rising sea levels. CREDIT: AP Photo/Scott Heppell

President Trump issued an executive order Tuesday that cancels federal climate change risk management strategies — some of which the president himself is using to protect his own business investments.

Trump’s wide-ranging energy and environment directive rolls back Obama administration actions to safeguard federal assets and community infrastructure projects from the impacts of climate change, including skyrocketing rebuilding and repair costs in the face of more extreme weather and sea level rise. The rollbacks come despite proven financial benefits of preparing for climate change.

Meanwhile, the president is taking steps to protect his own business ventures from climate change threats. For example, the Trump hotel and golf course in Ireland has requested a permit to build a seawall to protect it from sea level rise, more extreme storms, and erosion driven by climate change.

“If farmers and resort owners and mayors and naval planners all build with an eye toward how the future might change, then those changes as they arrive won’t be so harmful or expensive,” the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass wrote Wednesday in an op-ed for FoxNews.

Many Trump voters supported his candidacy because of their desire to elect a president who would run the government like a business. By asking agencies to cast aside cost-savings and risk management strategies that his own company and other businesses employ, Trump is not meeting this expectation.

In fact, lots of companies recognize the benefits of reducing the risks of devastating and costly climate disasters. Even massive oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Total S.A., Statoil, and Royal Dutch Shell, are protecting billion-dollar infrastructure assets from rising sea levels, more severe storms and hotter temperatures, even as they publicly downplay the certainty of climate change science.

“American businesses know that profit and protecting the environment go together,” said Nigel Topping, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition. “We ask the U.S. government to reject a false choice between energy independence, job creation, and action on climate change.”

Like many risk management strategies, investing in resilience to climate change pays big dividends. Every $1 invested in disaster risk reduction and community resilience saves $4 in future disaster costs. The insurance company FM Global estimates that businesses that made a $7,400 investment to reduce extreme weather risk ahead of Hurricane Katrina averted an average of $1.5 million in losses. This cost savings was 200 times higher than the initial investment.

The Office of Management and Budget has estimated that climate change will drive up the annual cost of dealing with disasters in coastal areas by $19 billion by 2050 and by $50 billion by 2075.

Since 1980, U.S. communities have been hit by 203 extreme weather and climate disasters that have each caused at least $1 billion in damages. Together, these 203 disasters cost the nation more than $1.1 trillion.

By rolling back progress to reduce the risks and costs of climate change, the Trump administration will likely increase demands for federal disaster assistance, drive up infrastructure maintenance costs for federal, state and local governments, increase household financial instability, and burden private businesses’ bottom lines.

Until now, federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of Interior, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, have been taking action to reduce climate change risks to federal assets and communities.

The Department of Defense, for example, is reducing the risks from extreme heat, severe storms, and sea level rise to U.S. troops and military bases by installing flood protections, improving stormwater management, adjusting training schedules and locations, and improving energy efficiency.

After the Northeast suffered catastrophic damage from Superstorm Sandy, the Department of Interior invested $167 million in projects to revitalize communities while protecting them from future storms and sea level rise by restoring badly eroded beaches, removing storm debris, and repairing roads, buildings, and trails. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides data on projected sea level rise to help local leaders in coastal communities, such as Tybee Island, Georgia, protect drinking water, homes, and roads from flooding, and to lower flood insurance premiums.

Among the Obama-era climate actions that President Trump revoked is an executive order entitled, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” The order, which came in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 — a disaster that caused $65 billion in damages and killed 147 people — directed federal agencies to help states, communities, and tribes reduce the risks and costs of climate change.

It also called on agencies to improve their planning to protect federal infrastructure, community development projects, and their own operations, from more extreme weather driven by climate change. Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal assets are located in floodplains or in coastal areas that are threatened by more flooding from rising seas and heavy downpours.

Trump also canceled the Council on Environmental Quality climate change guidance to agencies. The guidance asked federal agencies to consider climate change in their environmental reviews for infrastructure projects — from permitting new pipelines and coal mines to new wind and solar energy projects. The guidance called on federal officials to weigh options to both curb greenhouse gas pollution, and to ensure that infrastructure projects are built to withstand more extreme weather and other climate change effects.

Experts suggest that tearing up the NEPA climate guidance will expose major infrastructure projects to litigation and delays — while also raising the risk that projects will be built without taking climate change into account.

Another now-defunct presidential memorandum from the Obama era called on federal agencies to take coordinated and significant steps to reduce climate change risks to U.S. national security. Cancelling the order will likely increase the risk that more frequent and severe extreme weather events will drive food and water shortages and escalate conflict in volatile regions of the world.

In 2014, the U.S. defense strategy defined climate change as a “threat multiplier,” and an August 2016 National Intelligence Council report concluded that climate change will pose “significant national security challenges for the United States over the next two decades.”

According to national intelligence experts, a growing number of conflict regions around the globe share a common thread: Their economic, political, and social instability is exacerbated by climate change. For example, Syria’s ongoing civil war, which has spawned one of the most severe refugee crises in recent history, started in part due to the impacts of climate change, according to the nonpartisan Center for Climate and Security.

Even current Sec. of Defense Mattis has said climate change “is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today” and that the military should “incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

Trump’s executive order made a lot of headlines for encouraging coal production, throwing the Clean Power Plan into jeopardy, and denying climate science. But rolling back this series of orders to build climate resilience and risk reduction into the government’s everyday management will have notable and costly long term impacts on the way the country operates. Infrastructure delays, elevated national security risks, and hefty disaster recovery and rebuilding bills are on the horizon.

Trump’s executive order on climate is the opposite of good business practices was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Supreme Court quietly handed some very bad news to anti-LGBT businesses
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Also, potentially some good news for unions.

CREDIT: Pat Benic/UPI /CNP/MediaPunch/IPX

Tucked within an obscure case involving credit card surcharges that the Supreme Court handed down on Wednesday is some good news for LGBT Americans, and potentially some good news for unionized workers as well.

On the surface, Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman has nothing whatsoever to do with LGBT rights or the right to organize. It’s a case challenging the state of New York’s unusual legal regime governing how merchants can treat customers that pay with credit cards.

Washington Supreme Court rules against florist who discriminated against same-sex couple

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion for the Court holds that a law prohibiting merchants from applying surcharges to credit card transactions is a speech regulation that can be challenged under the First Amendment. That’s a much less ridiculous decision than it sounds.

The law effectively prohibits merchants from upcharging customers who use credit cards, but does not forbid them from offering discounts to customers who pay with cash. So a business that wants to advertise “haircuts cost $10.30, but people who pay cash will get a 30 cent discount” are permitted to do so. But a business which wants to say “haircuts cost $10, but there’s a 30 cent surcharge for people who use credit cards” may not do so, even though there’s no economic distinction between these two pricing schemes.

The most important passage from Roberts’ opinion, however, could be a section explaining that the Court’s decision is narrow and does not give businesses broad license to challenge regulations they would prefer not to comply with on free speech grounds.

Imagine, Roberts writes, “a law requiring all New York delis to charge $10 for their sandwiches.” This law would not raise First Amendment issues, even though it would have some impact on the delis’ speech. Roberts goes on:

To be sure, in order to actually collect that money, a store would likely have to put “$10” on its menus or have its employees tell customers that price. Those written or oral communications would be speech, and the law — by determining the amount charged — would indirectly dictate the content of that speech. But the law’s effect on speech would be only incidental to its primary effect on conduct, and “it has never been deemed an abridgment of freedom of speech or press to make a course of conduct illegal merely because the conduct was in part initiated, evidenced, or carried out by means of language, either spoken, written, or printed.”

This explanation by Roberts — that a law does not raise First Amendment problems simply because it has some incidental impact on people’s speech — may seem obvious, but it hasn’t been obvious at all to conservative litigators seeking to transform the First Amendment into a weapon against business regulation.

The most comic example of this genre of cases was a suit filed by conservative superlawyer Paul Clement, which claimed that Seattle’s minimum wage law violates the First Amendment because it forces employers to spend money on wages that they could otherwise spend on advertising. That suit did not fare well.

Anti-LGBT discrimination

Two other suits seeking to weaponize the First Amendment, however, are more likely to be taken seriously by the Supreme Court. The first, as ACLU LGBT rights attorney Joshua Block notes on Twitter, are a series of lawsuits claiming that the First Amendment gives anti-LGBT business owners a right to discriminate.

Last month, for example, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously ruled against a florist who claimed a free speech right to discriminate against LGBT customers. If she was not allowed to discriminate, she claimed, then she would have to sell flowers to same-sex weddings, and that would somehow convey a message that she endorses such marriages.

Similar cases are common in the lower courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to feel compelled to weigh in on them if the conservative legal groups bringing these suits eventually find a lower court that is willing to hand them a victory. But Roberts’ opinion in Expressions Hair Design should shut these suits down.

Just as a hypothetical law requiring deli owners to charge a certain price for their sandwiches does not create First Amendment problems even if it does have some incidental impact on speech, Washington’s anti-discrimination law is primarily about preventing discrimination, and any impact it has on people’s speech is merely incidental to that primary effect.

The right to unionize

The other suits that Expressions Hair Design should shut down — at least in a world where precedents actually matter in politically charged cases — are a series of suits seeking to hobble public sector unions.

Shortly before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court heard Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an effort to strip public sector unions of much of their funding. Friedrichs involved a common provision in union contracts intended to prevent non-union members from enjoying the benefits of being in a union without having to pay their share of the costs.

Public Sector Unions Just Got Brutalized In The Supreme Court

By law, unions must bargain on behalf of every worker within a bargaining unit, regardless of whether each individual worker actually joins the union. That creates a risk that non-members will gain the higher wages and other benefits that come from unionization — according to one study, workers in unionized shops enjoy a wage premium of nearly 12 percent — while free-riding off the dues their co-workers who join the union pay for these benefits.

Eventually, so many workers could they want something for nothing that the union will lack the funds it needs to adequately represent the bargaining unit, and the entire system collapses.

To prevent this outcome, union contracts often provide for “fair share service fees,” which require non-union members to pay their share of the costs of collective bargaining. The plaintiffs in Friedrichs made a fairly byzantine argument claiming that these contracts violate the First Amendment.

Essentially, they argue that public employers cannot enter into a contract that provides for fair share service fees, because these contracts require employees to pay the union even when they may object to the positions the union takes at the bargaining table — and that is a kind of free speech violation.

But this impact on free speech is, like the speech compelled by Roberts’ hypothetical sandwich law, merely incidental to the union bargaining process. The primary effect of this process is to empower workers, to provide higher wages and better benefits, and to allow employers to negotiate with their employees as a single unit rather than having to reach numerous individual arrangements regarding work conditions. It’s hard to see how the plaintiffs in Friedrichs could prevail under the framework Roberts announced in Expressions Hair Design.

To be sure, it would be naive to assume that Expressions Hair Design will matter if Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed to the Supreme Court and a case similar to Friedrichs makes its way to the justices. All four of the Supreme Court’s conservatives, including Roberts, are already on record supporting the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, and Gorsuch is all but certain to provide them with the fifth vote if he is confirmed. Indeed, it is likely that the Friedrichs plaintiffs would have prevailed before the Supreme Court last year if not for Scalia dying before he could provide them with the fifth vote.

But Roberts’ Expressions Hair Design opinion will prove to be quite an awkward embarrassment if Roberts votes to defund public-sector unions in a Friedrichs-style case.

The Supreme Court quietly handed some very bad news to anti-LGBT businesses was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Spicer says Trump ‘feels great’ about spending millions on Mar-a-Lago trips
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

The cost of Trump’s trips already could’ve provided thousands of kids with college scholarships.

U.S. Coast Guard patrol watch Lake Worth Lagoon as President Donald Trump returns to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach on March 19. The federal government pays for costs associated with added patrols. CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

President Trump visited a Trump-branded property for the eighth consecutive weekend last weekend, but he didn’t make it down to Mar-a-Lago. During Wednesday’s White House news conference, FOX 5 DC’s Ronica Cleary asked Press Secretary Sean Spicer if the president’s decision not to travel to his private club in Florida was “in any way in response to some of the pushback he’s received about the cost associated with those trips.”

When the cost of Air Force One, Coast Guard expenses, security staffing, and other expenditures are factored in, each Trump trip to Mar-a-Lago costs the federal government about $3.3 million, according to a Washington Post analysis. And that doesn’t account for the money local West Balm Beach and Palm Beach County taxpayers are forced to dole out for law enforcement overtime costs. It also doesn’t factor in revenue local businesses lose because of the disruption caused by Trump’s travels.

On Tuesday, Joint Economic Committee Democrats released an analysis finding that “taxpayer money spent on Donald Trump’s vacations since January 2017 could have paid for child care for 2,338 kids in Mississippi (with the lowest child-care costs) or 521 kids in the District of Columbia (with the highest child-care costs). Instead of paying for President Trump’s vacations, taxpayers could have sent 3,140 students to college in Wyoming (with the lowest in-state tuition) or 815 students to college in New Hampshire (with the highest in-state tuition) this year.”

Those numbers are conservative, as they only include Trump’s first three trips as president to Mar-a-Lago and not his most recent one during the first weekend in March.

Trump to spend 7th consecutive weekend at Trump-branded property, at enormous cost to taxpayers

But Spicer said Trump isn’t worried about it.

“The president wanted to be here last weekend, he wants to be here this weekend, he’ll be here, and then I’ll have updates on where he’ll be going going forward,” Spicer said.

When Cleary tried to follow up by asking if Trump is “concerned about pushback,” Spicer quickly dismissed the question, saying, “No, he feels great.”

Spicer might not be concerned about the president’s needless and expensive Florida getaways, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the GAO will review “whether Secret Service agents subject Mar-a-Lago guests to any security screening, and evaluate the expenses incurred by government employees who travel with Trump to Mar-a-Lago, according to a letter” the agency sent lawmakers.

Security concerns surrounding Trump’s Mar-a-Lago trips were heightened after he and Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dealt with a North Korea missile crisis in full view of diners at the resort last month, with sensitive documents illuminated by aides’ cell phones.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the congresswoman whose district includes Mar-a-Lago wrote a letter to Trump asking him to do something to relieve the nearly $2 million burden his four visits have already placed on local taxpayers.

“While we want the fullest protection for your visits, we hope you would be responsive to the losses of small businesses and residents of Palm Beach County,” Rep. Lois Frankel (D) wrote. “If compensation is not assured of being forthcoming, we respectfully ask that you curtail your visits until such time as that matter is resolved favorably to our area.”

Spicer says Trump ‘feels great’ about spending millions on Mar-a-Lago trips was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Trump’s Interior Secretary says ‘clean energy’ is a hoax
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Zinke was eager to defend the administration’s approach to fossil fuels on Fox News Radio.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is seen at the Interior Department, March 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Molly Riley

Secretary of the Interior and former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke joined Fox News Radio’s Kilmeade & Friends on Tuesday to discuss the Trump administration’s wave of actions related to energy and the environment.

Zinke praised President Donald Trump’s sweeping order to roll back Obama-era policies designed to mitigate and prepare for climate change and defended his agency’s move to lift the temporary halt on new coal leases on federal lands — a reversal that will come at a significant cost to taxpayers — by claiming “there’s no such thing as clean energy.”

“I understand you are today rescinding a ban on coal leasing on federal lands… are you hurting the environment to help jobs?” the host asked.

“We’re not hurting the environment,” Zinke replied. “If you look at — is there such thing as clean coal? Well there’s no such thing as clean energy — even wind comes at a cost if you want to talk about migratory birds and cutting through.”

“But coal, can we do it better? Absolutely,” Zinke continued. “But it is better to export cleaner coal overseas than to have China use low-quality, high sulfur coal. So if you want to look at how to protect the environment it is better to use cleaner grade coal, made in the U.S., than it is for China, which is building coal power plants as we speak. They’re reducing their nuclear power capability and expanding their coal fired power plants — we need to make sure we provide them the cleanest coal and invest in our technology here at home. Everyone wants clean air and water but we can do it better.”

Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change

Renewable energy is called “clean” because it is far less damaging to the environment than the combustion of fossil fuels, like coal, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. While wind turbines do pose a risk to birds, far more birds are killed each year by collisions with cell and radio towers and cats. And of course, bird fatalities have no impact on relative cleanliness of an energy source.

Trump, Zinke, and other administration officials have sought to characterize their recent assault on environmental protections as one grounded in economics — ending burdensome regulations and creating jobs. But as experts have repeatedly emphasized, the economics of coal are increasingly dim and, despite what Trump may claim, he cannot bring the industry back.

Energy experts give Trump the hard truth: You can’t bring coal back

Clean energy, on the other hand, continues to be a rapidly growing sector, with wind and solar jobs growing 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy. Nearly every state has more jobs in clean energy than fossil fuels, according to a recent analysis by the Sierra Club, with clean energy jobs outnumbering fossil fuel jobs by more than 2.5 to 1 and outnumbering coal and gas jobs specifically by a magnitude of 5 to 1.

Nonetheless, in a statement lauding the president’s order to reverse the halt on new coal leases on federal land, Zinke said, “We can’t power the country on pixie dust and hope.”

Zinke has touted an “all of the above” energy approach in the past, and did so again in the Fox News Radio interview, adding that “the market should play and the government needs to get out of picking winners and losers” — a statement that doesn’t square with the Trump administration’s apparent desire to prop up the coal industry despite market signals.

Like much of Trump’s cabinet, Zinke has misrepresented the science regarding human-caused climate change, falsely testifying in his confirmation hearing that there is ongoing debate over how much of an influence humans have had on recent warming (there’s not).

Trump’s Interior Secretary says ‘clean energy’ is a hoax was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

False friends and felonies
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM
CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The rollback of LGBTQ rights that Donald Trump promised wouldn’t happen is happening. The president has weakened federal safeguards against employment discrimination for queer and trans people — yet another sign that this administration isn’t going to be good for the community.

Not to be outdone, North Carolina Republicans are balking at a clean repeal of the infamously transphobic HB2 bill.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File

What goes around comes around — two anti-abortion activists have been charged with 15 felony counts over deceptively-edited Planned Parenthood videos.

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That time Bill O’Reilly was so racist towards Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that he finally had to apologize.

Climate change has a cost. The federal government isn’t acknowledging that.


“If we were truly serious about running a diverse operation and bringing more women into politics, we should give the office a basic level of comfort for them. Even if you had to pay a quarter, it would be better than menstruating all over the Oval.”

— Alyssa Mastromonaco, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama

False friends and felonies was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Divided as ever, Republicans say they will recommit to Obamacare repeal
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Speaker Ryan and President Trump said they aren’t done with a repeal of Obamacare.

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., joined by members of the GOP leadership, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. CREDIT: AP/J.Scott Applewhite

President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have publicly recommitted themselves to undoing Obamacare, days after they were forced to yank their original replacement plan in the face of bipartisan opposition. Members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus — whose influence over last week’s health care negotiations successfully pushed some relatively centrist Republicans into the “no” camp — is engaged in the process of creating a new proposal.

Shortly after canceling that vote on Friday, Ryan said Obamacare would be the law of the land for the “foreseeable future,” and President Trump said he would shift his focus to tax reform. But by Monday, Ryan was telling Republican donors that he would keep pushing for repeal. The following night, Trump told senators making a deal on health care would be “such an easy one,” and that there is “no doubt that that’s going to happen very quickly.”

But nothing has changed since Trumpcare 1.0 died on Friday. Freedom Caucus conservatives and moderate Republicans still disagree on the same issues they did a few days ago.

Last week, as Republican leaders sought to cobble together more Trumpcare votes, Freedom Caucus members demanded changes that would have pushed the bill further to the right, such as gutting the essential health benefits provision of Obamacare, which provided services such as maternity care, emergency room visits, and substance abuse treatment. Caucus members also wanted to give states the option to impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

Freedom Caucus Republicans won those additions. But they didn’t get two other changes they were looking for: the elimination of a provision mandating insurers cover people with preexisting conditions, and an end to the measure allowing parents to keep children on their plan until age 26. In the meantime, some moderate Republicans withdrew their support.

House vote on Trumpcare gets delayed after a wave of Republican defections

This week, some Freedom Caucus members vowed to keep working on an Obamacare replacement.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), a Freedom Caucus member, told CNN on Tuesday, “I think we have plenty of time. We can fix this.”

Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), who opposed Trumpcare, said an all-day GOP conference would help House Republicans get back on track.

But even within the Freedom Caucus, Republicans are divided, Politico reported. Some members have suggested forcing a floor vote that would repeal but not replace Obamacare. Others say they would rather work on finding agreement with moderate Republicans.

In the meantime, the Trump administration has the ability to sabotage some aspects of Obamacare without the help of Congress. There are a number of administrative levers Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price can pull to ensure the program works much less effectively.

On Wednesday, reporters asked Price if he would enforce Obama administration policies on Obamacare outreach. Price refused to give a yes or no answer. However, his department’s website speaks for itself: It has a page that lists all of the Trump administration’s actions to weaken Obamacare, and paints an unflattering picture of the law.

“But with skyrocketing premiums and narrowing choices, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done damage to this market and created great burdens for many Americans,” the site reads.

Divided as ever, Republicans say they will recommit to Obamacare repeal was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

House Republicans cancel all hearings on Russian investigation, blame Democrats
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Nunes and Gowdy say Democrats are obstructing things. They aren’t.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes arrives for a weekly meeting of the Republican Conference with House Speaker Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership on Wednesday. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

On Tuesday, House Intelligence Committee chair and former Trump transition official Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) made the extraordinary claim that Democrats are actually the ones obstructing his committee’s investigation into connections between President Trump and Russian officials.

Nunes — who abruptly cancelled all scheduled committee hearings last week, including one that was to feature testimony from Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general who alerted the White House to Michael Flynn’s deceptions about his communications with Russian officials and was fired for refusing to enforce President Trump’s Muslim ban — told NBC News that “it appears the Democrats aren’t really serious about this investigation.”

“They need to give us their witness list because we have no idea who they even want to interview,” Nunes said. “So, at the end of the day here we’re going to get to the truth, we’re going to find out who’s actually doing a real investigation… we’re going to do an investigation with or without them, and if they want to participate that’s fine, but the facts of the matter are pretty clear.”

Trump administration resists Sally Yates’ public testimony

But a source with knowledge of the situation tells ThinkProgress that Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee actually submitted a tentative witness list to Republicans on Tuesday and haven’t yet heard back. That information was corroborated by Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand, who reported that a “[c]ommittee aide tells me Dems provided witness list to Nunes yesterday and offered to schedule hearings next week, have not heard back.”

Nunes’ blame game is also being played by committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who went on Fox News this morning and said House Intelligence committee ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) needs to “give me your list of witnesses, tell me who you want to talk to, I’ll give you mine, let’s get started, let’s focus on the investigation.”

“This week’s been about politics,” Gowdy said, ignoring the fact that his Republican colleague is the one responsible for derailing the committee’s work. “Let’s go find facts and let’s do it together.”

Nunes might say “the facts of the matter are pretty clear,” but they’re not. Here’s what we do know. Last Wednesday, Nunes held a press conference where he appeared to try and clumsily validate Trump’s claim that Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower phones by saying he has “recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition.”

Instead of sharing that information with the intelligence community or his committee members, Nunes raced to the White House to brief Trump, whose campaign is under investigation for possible collusion with foreign agents. In the week since, Nunes has steadfastly refused to share what he claims to know about legal incidental collection at Trump Tower with his House Intelligence Committee colleagues.

Nunes hasn’t provided any evidence to substantiate his claim that legal surveillance of Trump transition officials occurred. He also hasn’t provided any substantive details. But in an interview that was conducted shortly after Nunes’ March 22 press conference, Trump told a Time Magazine reporter that Nunes’ claims “means I’m right.” That night, White House social media director Dan Scavino Jr. praised Nunes or his loyalty to Trump, characterizing the House intel chair as “a member of [Trump’s] campaign from the start.”

White House praises House Intelligence chair for his undying loyalty to Trump

On Monday, Nunes disclosed that he was on the White House grounds the night before he made his allegation to meet with an unnamed source. He said he was there because he needed a secure area to view the documents he received. But that explanation doesn’t make sense, as the US Capitol also has areas of that sort. Later that day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to rule out that the White House was complicit in providing Nunes with whatever information he has.

On Wednesday, CBS reporter Major Garrett grilled Spicer about the still-unexplained fact that Nunes was on the White House grounds the night before his press conference.

Nunes “hasn’t told his own committee members what he knows, how he learned about it, and what the substantive importance of that is,” Garrett said. “So we are also curious about that. And among the things that might shed light on that is how he got [to the White House], who he met with, and what he learned.”

Spicer replied by saying “we can’t cherrypick every time that you decide that a piece of information is relevant to what you want.” But Garrett pushed back.

“When you say a process is going on, and the members of the very committee themselves say they don’t know what is being discussed, how is the process going forward? How is that a workable process?” Garrett said.

Spicer dodged the question, telling Garrett he should ask Nunes instead of him.

Nunes’ handling of national security information may have opened him up to an ethics probe, and at least two House Republicans have already called for him to recuse himself. But if his conduct is really meant to distract from the underlying Trump-Russia scandal, it appears to be working.

According to a new CBS poll, 74 percent of Republicans now believe Donald Trump’s offices “were wiretapped, or under government surveillance during the 2016 presidential campaign.”

That’s a remarkable finding considering Trump hasn’t provided any evidence for the accusation he made during a March 4 tweetstorm — a claim that has been denied by both the FBI and NSA — and neither has Nunes.

Schiff, meanwhile, indicated he’s just as confused about Nunes’ position as everybody else.

The aforementioned CBS poll finds that 50 percent of respondents don’t believe that Trump was under government surveillance. Meanwhile, 59 percent believe Trump associates had improper communications with Russian officials.

UPDATE: ThinkProgress received the following statement from a Democratic House Intelligence Committee spokesperson in response to Nunes’ comments earlier Wednesday.

The Minority submitted a list of witnesses to the Majority yesterday. This list represents only the first of many witnesses we believe should be called to testify. Additionally, the Minority proposed days ago that two hearings be scheduled for next week — both the closed hearing with Comey and Rogers requested by the Majority and the open hearing with Yates, Clapper and Brennan that had been previously agreed to by both parties and cancelled abruptly and unilaterally by the Chair. We have yet to receive a response.

House Republicans cancel all hearings on Russian investigation, blame Democrats was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

After fearmongering about Ebola, Trump proposes slashing the agency working on a vaccine
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

Trump tweeted about Ebola 100 times.

President Donald Trump listens in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Donald Trump spent the summer of 2014 tweeting obsessively about the deadly Ebola virus that ravaged several West African countries and advocating for a travel ban for people from that region (which scientists and health researchers said would only make the Ebola crisis worse).

Now, as president, Trump has control over the agencies responsible for dealing with crises like Ebola and working on a vaccine to counter Ebola, such as the CDC and the NIH. And he’s using his power to drastically slash these agencies’ budgets.

Trump Twitter Archive has a searchable database of Trump’s tweets. In 2014, he tweeted about Ebola 100 times, including retweets.

He advertised appearances on Fox and Friends where he would be discussing Ebola. He slammed President Obama’s response to the epidemic. He called Obama “nuts,” a “hypocrite,” and a “delusional failure,” and criticized him for playing golf during the outbreak (Trump, despite promising to never play golf during his presidency, has hit the course almost every weekend since his inauguration). He advocated for a visa ban and even speculated that Obama should resign.

But now — as the NIH is in the midst of developing an Ebola vaccine — Trump appears to be much less concerned.

Trump’s budget proposal for next year proposes slashing $5.8 billion of the NIH’s funding, 20 percent of the agency’s budget. His proposal would also eliminate the NIH’s Fogarty International Center, which supports research on global health and facilitates international health research partnerships. The Fogarty Center’s research touches on a wide variety of global health struggles — including modeling of global pandemics like Zika and Ebola to help policymakers figure out the best ways to combat them, and working on responses in the countries where the pandemics take root.

And that’s not all. On Tuesday, multiple outlets reported that Trump is proposing to cut $1.2 billion from the NIH’s budget this year, too — funding that would have to be taken from programs already in action.

According to STAT news, the cuts would take $50 million from grants designed to help spread biomedical research throughout the U.S., and swipe the rest of the money from research grant funding.

Trump is also proposing to cut the CDC’s budget by $314 million by slashing occupational safety and public health preparedness grants and HIV and AIDs programs. According to NBC, his proposal also eliminates the $72 million Global Health Security fund at the State Department, and cuts other global health and family planning funds.

Trump’s initial budget did call for the establishment of a Federal Emergency Response Fund for unexpected public health disasters like Ebola and Zika, which is something that health experts have long advocated for.

It didn’t go into detail, however, as to where that money would be coming from. And by drastically cutting existing agencies and federal funding to university researchers who monitor diseases and perform basic biomedical research, Trump’s budget priorities would undercut the basis on which any emergency response would build.

Trump’s disingenuous attack on the FDA highlights the precarious future of medical research funds

Congress ultimately decides on funding levels, and Trump’s drastic cuts to science are unlikely to be included in full. But his budget is a statement of priorities — one which massively cuts American science.

If Trump’s budget actually went into effect, scientists say it would result in a lost generation in American scientific progress — research that protects us from global health pandemics and helps us respond, but which also provides millions of high-paying jobs and sets the foundation for the next generation of advancement, both scientific and economic.

“One of our most valuable natural resources is our science infrastructure and culture of discovery,” said Joy Hirsch, a professor of psychiatry and neurobiology at the Yale School of Medicine told The Atlantic about Trump’s budget proposal. “It takes only one savage blow to halt our dreams of curing diseases such as cancer, dementia, heart failure, developmental disorders, blindness, deafness, addictions—this list goes on and on.”

After fearmongering about Ebola, Trump proposes slashing the agency working on a vaccine was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

North Carolina Republicans balk at clean repeal of anti-transgender law HB2
March 29th, 2017, 10:56 PM

They really, really, really want to discriminate against transgender people.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R) at Tuesday’s press conference. Berger held up emails he says confirm that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) supported the compromise. CREDIT: News Observer/Screenshot

North Carolina is mere hours away from losing out on hosting any NCAA event over the next six years because of HB2, the state’s law mandating discrimination of transgender people in state buildings and public schools. Politically, the picture hasn’t really changed since December, with Republicans in the legislature still resisting any clean repeal of the law. But the theatrical finger-pointing continues.

On Tuesday, there was another kerfuffle as House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R) announced at a press conference they had agreed to a repeal compromise offered by Gov. Roy Cooper (D). Berger even provided copies of emails from Cooper’s office that he said demonstrated the governor had actively promoted the compromise. Immediately after the press conference, however, Cooper denounced the plan, which incidentally has no support from Democratic lawmakers.

The compromise Berger and Moore were excited about — which at this point does not exist in the form of an actual bill, and may never — would still be extremely anti-LGBT despite technically repealing HB2:

  • The state would still dictate which bathrooms transgender people could use, such that — as Berger described it — “women and girls should not have to share bathrooms with men.”
  • Cities would only be allowed to implement employment and public accommodation nondiscrimination protections for the classes already protected under federal law. Since federal law doesn’t protect sexual orientation or gender identity, municipalities would still be prohibited from extending those protections. This is akin to “preemption laws” passed in other states like Tennessee and Arkansas that similarly prohibit cities from implementing or enforcing LGBT protections.
  • It would also create a new “right of conscience,” so that anyone accused of discriminating against an LGBT person would have a stronger case so long as they argued that they were acting on their conscience. This is nearly identical to the expansive Religious Freedom Restoration Act that Indiana put forth in 2015 and that other states have also considered.

Given how weighted the compromise would still be against LGBT people, “compromise” may not even be an accurate word to describe it. It’s certainly not clear that it would assuage the NCAA, which has threatened to pull all events from North Carolina until 2022 if the law isn’t repealed. When asked at the press conference whether he thinks the compromise will be enough for the NCAA and others that have pulled their business from the state, Berger replied, “I would say it should, but again, I have had no specific conversations with them about this.”

The NCAA has supposedly given lawmakers a deadline of Thursday to address HB2 before it starts determining NCAA championship locations without considering North Carolina. Given the theater around the supposed compromise and the fact that no bill even exists, it seems unlikely at this point that any legislation will move forward within that deadline.

The latest back-and-forth echoes the last round of political machinations that took place in December. Republicans in the legislature refused to accept a clean repeal bill, Cooper tried to broker a compromise, the whole thing fell apart, and the Republican leadership tried to blame everybody but themselves that HB2 remained law. They promptly resumed lying about the nature and fate of HB2 to avoid taking responsibility for it.

HB2 remains one of the most discriminatory anti-LGBT laws on the books in any state. The state Republican leadership refuses to consider any clean repeal of the law, insisting that some mechanism for discriminating against transgender people must remain.

North Carolina Republicans balk at clean repeal of anti-transgender law HB2 was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.