It is hard to know which bouncing ball to watch in the nation’s capital – the just released GOP replacement for Obamacare, a new and narrower immigration order signed by President Trump or the tweeter-in-chief’s charge that his predecessor illegally bugged Trump Tower.
And that doesn’t count continuing calls for an investigation – and maybe a special prosecutor – into potential ties between the Trump campaign team and Russian agents, and the recusal of the Attorney General from any role in an investigation because of his own contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Or rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea dispatched five ballistic missiles, four of which landed in the Sea of Japan, to protest annual joint US-South Korean military training exercises. There were news reports that the United States has deployed its Thaad anti-missile defense system in South Korea in response to the missile launches.
Lost in the swirl of charges, counter-charges and conspiracy theories is that just a week ago Trump delivered what a huge swath of Americans viewed as a presidential address to a joint session of Congress. Some observers called it a reset for Trump after his tumultuous first month in office. That may have been a premature judgment.
The Republican Obamacare replacement surfaced from a locked cabinet in the Capitol and drew immediate, expected fire from Democrats – and even from liberal and conservative Republicans. There was even an argument over whether the GOP bill repeals Obamacare or just amends it.
The main features of the bill, which the Trump team says it supports, are eliminating the individual health insurance mandate, replacing subsidies with refundable tax credits, raising the annual contribution limits on health savings accounts and axing taxes on high-income taxpayers. Popular Obamacare provisions remain such as barring pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny insurance coverage and allowing children to stay on a parent’s health plan until they turn age 26.
The most likely Achilles heel of the GOP proposal is what it does – or doesn’t do – to Medicaid. The proposal allows the Medicaid expansion for people just over the poverty line to continue until 2020, then shifts more of the burden and decision-making onto states to pay for health care coverage for lower-income people, families and children. Protests and fiery rhetoric have already begun.
Protestors hit the streets to object to what some refer to as Trump immigration order light. Administration spokesmen say the new order, which Trump signed with little fanfare, was crafted to respond to successful court challenges that blocked implementation of the original executive order. However, the changes are unlikely to deter new legal challenges.
The Trump tweet storm over the weekend seemed to arise out of media commentary involving an allegation last October that a FISA warrant was granted to monitor select transactions between Trump Tower and entities linked to the Russian government. Trump interpreted that to mean former President Obama wiretapped his phones. Obama spokesmen denied the explosive charge. The person who originally reported the existence of a FISA warrant said she never said Trump was wiretapped.
Apparently caught off guard by the tweets, White House spokesmen said the White House would have nothing more to say about the claim, but demanded that Congress investigate it, apparently as part of the just starting congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Trump campaign ties to the Russians.
Some observers speculated Trump’s tweet storm was sparked by his disapproval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation. Apparently Sessions made the decision without letting his boss know first.
This all played out as Trump faces the first international threat of his presidency in the form of North Korean belligerency. To put teeth behind his pledge to stand with South Korea and Japan, Trump ordered installation of an anti-missile defense system, despite severe warnings from the Chinese. Ordinarily, this kind of standoff would command top-of-page headlines, but the story has been buried under the banter over health care, immigration orders and presidential insults (including one aimed at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who quit after one year as the top terminator on Celebrity Apprentice.)
The political banter focused on Trump’s tweets also has obscured a wave of administration actions to roll back regulations, especially ones related to climate change, implemented by the Obama administration.