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Donald Trump’s fundraising prowess keeps Republican Party close

Republican senators are bucking President Donald Trump’s calls to revive the health care debate. And Trump just ousted his only top White House aide with deep links to the Republican Party.

But the president and his party won’t be calling it quits anytime soon. They remain tightly linked by a force more powerful than politics or personal ties: cash.

Trump’s fundraising prowess is the engine of the Republican National Committee and a lifeline for every Republican planning to rely on the party for financial help during next year’s congressional races. Leaning heavily on Trump’s appeal among small donors, the party has raised $75 million in the first six months of the year, more than double what the Democratic National Committee had raised by the same point in President Barack Obama’s first year.

“The president is somebody who absolutely is an asset when it comes to fundraising,” RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said. Trump resonates with a base of Republicans who have been more willing this year than ever before to chip in. The party says it collected more cash online in the first six months of the year than in all of 2016.

In late June, Trump played star and host of a fundraiser for his re-election campaign and the RNC. The event at the Trump International Hotel, just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, raised $10 million to be divided between Trump and the party, the kind of bounty usually reserved for the final months before an election.

The fundraising numbers help explain why more Republicans — particularly those facing re-election next year — aren’t openly distancing themselves from a president whose approval rating hovers below 40 percent and whose White House has been wracked by public back-biting and legislative stumbles.

And while Trump hasn’t hesitated to call out Republicans who defy him, he’s largely come to appreciate the permanence the RNC offers a White House that has had to quickly staff up from nothing — a task that hasn’t always gone smoothly.

Trump’s dismissal last week of chief of staff Reince Priebus prompted a rush of concern from Republican lawmakers who’d gotten to know Priebus during his nearly six years as party chairman. Some wondered if Trump was losing his only link to the Republican Party.

Yet the well-funded RNC has been reformatted for the Trump era.

“The president likes the fact that the party is structured to help his agenda, and there’s not a question that this RNC is 100 percent loyal to him,” said Brian Ballard, one of the party’s lead fundraisers. “It’s not like the RNC he inherited as the party’s nominee; it’s his now.”

Party employees have led communication at key points of the investigations into whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russian interference in the presidential election.

And the RNC, realizing how important television is to this particular White House, has added employees to help book Trump proponents on cable shows.

There are awkward GOP moments, to be sure. Just this week, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, in his new book, called out Trump for his “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.” Trump over the weekend on Twitter ridiculed Senate Republicans for not passing a health care bill, saying Democrats were laughing at them and they “look like fools.”

McDaniel said the president has “every right” to engage with Republicans however he sees fit. “The American people put him in office to accomplish his agenda,” she said. She’s backed him up on Twitter: “I run into people every day who are hurting across the country under Obamacare,” she wrote recently. “Giving up is not an option.”

Priebus and others at the RNC were squeamish about their presidential nominee at various points during the 2016 campaign, but few if any detractors remain at its headquarters on Capitol Hill, where the hallways are lined with portraits of Trump and blown-up snapshots of him.

The RNC voted McDaniel in as party chair on Trump’s recommendation. As the Michigan GOP head, she’d been a staunch Trump supporter even as her uncle, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, expressed his own reservations about Trump during the campaign.

Trump also tapped Bob Paduchik, his campaign’s Ohio director, to serve as a deputy to McDaniel. The two remain close, and Paduchik traveled with Trump last month for a rally in Youngstown.

Trump’s family, including son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter-in-law Lara Trump, Eric Trump’s wife, are involved in the RNC’s strategy and fundraising and have grown close to McDaniel. Longtime Trump friend Steve Wynn, a fellow billionaire businessman, is the party’s chief fundraiser; the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among the RNC’s principal fundraisers.

His campaign’s trusted data and digital director, Brad Parscale, joined the board of Data Trust, the party’s data vendor, which keeps its voter files up to date.

Trump heaped praise on the RNC’s leadership team during the June fundraiser, calling them stars and winners. Bill Stepien, the White House’s political director, said relations between the party and the president are as good now as they were in the mid-2000s, when he worked at the RNC while George W. Bush was president.

Stepien said the White House and the party have “a strong relationship” and that Trump’s aides view the RNC as an “essential component” of his success.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Hillary Clinton lost, but Republicans still want to investigate her

Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Donald Trump, but some Republicans in Congress are intensifying their calls to investigate her and other Obama administration officials.

As investigations into Russian meddling and possible links to Trump’s campaign have escalated on both sides of the Capitol, some Republicans argue that the investigations should have a greater focus on Democrats.

Democrats who have pushed the election probes “have started a war of investigative attrition,” said GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Several officials from former President Barack Obama’s administration and Clinton’s campaign have appeared before or been interviewed by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as part of the Russia investigation, along with Trump campaign officials. The GOP-led committees are investigating whether Trump’s campaign had any links to Russian interference in last year’s election.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has continued a separate investigation into whether Obama administration officials inappropriately made requests to “unmask” identities of Trump campaign officials in intelligence reports.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has declined to investigate the Russian meddling, approved a resolution this past week to request documents related to the FBI’s now-closed investigation of Clinton’s emails. In addition, Republican on that committee wrote the Justice Department on Thursday and asked for a second special counsel, in addition to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to investigate “unaddressed matters, some connected to the 2016 election and others, including many actions taken by Obama administration.”

“The American public has a right to know the facts — all of them — surrounding the election and its aftermath,” the lawmakers wrote.

Republicans want to investigate the unmasking issue and also Clinton’s email scandal that figured prominently in the campaign. They also frequently bring up former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony that she told him to call the Clinton email investigation a “matter” instead of an investigation during the campaign.

Nunes wrote his own letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last week, saying that his committee has learned that one Obama administration official had made “hundreds” of the unmasking requests.

Even though he remains committee chairman, Nunes stepped back from the Russia investigation earlier this year after he was criticized for being too close to the White House. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, took over the leading role.

The committee has conducted bipartisan interviews of witnesses; Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner appeared on Tuesday, a day after talking to Senate staff. But partisan tensions have been evident.

GOP Rep. Pete King of New York, who’s on the House Intelligence Committee, said after the Kushner interview that the committee investigation into Russian meddling is a “sham.”

“To me there is nothing to this from the beginning,” he said of his committee’s own probe. “There is no collusion … it’s the phoniest investigation ever.”

Both the Senate and House committees have interviewed or expressed interest in interviewing a series of Democratic witnesses, including Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power — both of whom Republicans have said may be linked to the unmasking. Rice met with staff on the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month, and Power met with the panel Friday.

“Ambassador Power strongly supports any bipartisan effort to address the serious threat to our national security posed by Russia’s interference in our electoral process, and is eager to engage with the Senate and House committees on the timeline they have requested,” Power’s lawyer, David Pressman, said in a statement.

Dennis Ross blasts GOP Senate in wake of ACA debacle

A day after an attempt by Senate Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act crashed and burned, Lakeland GOP Congressman Dennis Ross blasted members of his own party, saying he’s “sick of the excuses.”

“The Senate has failed the American people and abandoned voters who were promised that they would repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare. The House did its job. We honored our pledge and passed legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare in early May. There is no need to sugar coat this: I’m very upset with the Senate,” Ross said Wednesday.

Referring to the fact that Congress has been in session for nearly seven months with little to show for their efforts, Ross said both he and the American people “are sick of the excuses from Senators.”

Like Rand Paul, Ross says he doesn’t understand why 52 GOP Senators were willing to vote on a bill to straight up and repeal the ACA in 2015, but now suffer from cold feet now that they know Barack Obama isn’t going to veto that bill.

Regarding the upcoming August summer break, Ross says that the Senate should stay in the nation’s capital for “all of August, September, October and however long it takes to pass legislation that repeals and replaces Obamacare.”

“If they don’t repeal and replace Obamacare, like they promised and were voted to do, they are going back on their word and have some serious explaining to do when they go back home and face those who sent them to Washington to protect and help them. They will be held accountable,” Ross vowed. “When premiums and deductibles continue to skyrocket, when more and more insurers flee the exchange, when increased health care taxes and mandates shut down local businesses and leave Americans with nothing to keep their families afloat, the Senate will be taking the blame. Not the House, and not the President.”

POLITICO reported Wednesday that Texas businessman Doug Deason, a backer of President Donald Trump, said he and other major GOP donors were warming to the idea of funding primary challenges to senators who had opposed the health care bill.

In a text message referring to three senators who played a role in sinking the bill — Susan Collins, Jeff Flake and Shelley Moore Capito — Deason ripped “the spineless Republican members from Maine, Arizona and West Virginia who seem to believe that Obamacare is actually succeeding.”

Ross was an enthusiastic supporter of the American Health Care Act, the GOP House bill to repeal the ACA which was not very popular with the public. As Senior Deputy Majority Whip, his job was to corral the votes to support the measure, which was no easy feat. “If we don’t pass this out of the House, this is the beginning of the end for us as a Republican Party,” Ross told the Tampa Bay Times Alex Leary back in May.

The Lakeland Republican has not faced a serious challenge in his Polk/Hillsborough/Lake County seat since being elected in the Tea Party-wave election of 2010. Five Democrats and one Republican have filed to run against him in 2018.

Analysis: Donald Trump unlikely to avoid blame for health care loss

It was a far cry from “The buck stops here.”

President Donald Trump, dealt a stinging defeat with the failure of the Republican health care bill in the Senate, flipped the script from Harry Truman’s famous declaration of presidential responsibility and declared Tuesday, “I am not going to own it.”

He had tweeted earlier, “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans.”

This is the same president who thundered night after night on the campaign trail that it would be “so easy” to repeal and replace the Obama health care law on Day One of his administration.

Try and tweet as he might, Trump can’t now avoid a share of the blame for the stall-out of that repeal effort.

It’s a president’s burden to shoulder the nation’s problems whether they are inherited or created in real time. Barack Obama took office with the American economy facing its worst crisis since the Great Depression. John F. Kennedy accepted responsibility for the failure of the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, ordered on his own watch.

“That’s the nature of being elected president: You own the policies, the economy and the government,” said presidential historian Julian Zelizer, a professor at Princeton University. “You own the positives and negatives of the job whether you think it’s your fault or not. You live in the White House: You can’t disassociate yourself from what happens if you don’t like it.”

Trump took office armed with Republican control of both houses of Congress and an ambitious agenda that would begin with the repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Six months later, the collapse of the GOP plan was a sharp rebuke for the president, who was unable to cajole or threaten Republicans to stay in line and who exerted little of his diminished political capital to see through a promise that had been at the core of his party since Obamacare became law seven years ago.

The president’s disjointed support for the health care plan did little to persuade Republicans to support it, and the fact that his approval ratings had dropped below 40 percent didn’t help either.

Trump never held a news conference or delivered a major speech to sell the bill to the public. He never leveraged his popularity among rank-and-file Republican voters by barnstorming the districts of wavering GOP senators. And he never spearheaded a coherent communications strategy — beyond random tweets — to push for the plan.

“The best way to motivate members is talk to their constituents and at no point did he try to talk to Americans about health care reform in any sort of serious way,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “His attention seems to drift with whatever is on cable news on any given moment as opposed to what is on the Senate floor any given week.”

Sounding almost like a bystander during his brief Oval Office remarks Tuesday, Trump six times expressed “disappointment” that the Republican effort had failed. And he insisted the fault rested with Democrats and suggested Obamacare should be left to fail on its own.

“I’m not going to own it,” Trump insisted. “I can tell you that Republicans are not going to own it.”

Democrats blasted Trump’s blame game, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying his refusal to accept responsibility demonstrated “such a lack of leadership.”

“That is such a small and petty response,” Schumer said. “Because the president, he’s in charge. And to hurt millions of people because he’s angry he didn’t get his way is not being a leader.”

Despite Trump’s efforts to shift blame across the aisle, the White House made little effort to court Democrats.

Instead of initially pursuing an infrastructure plan — which would have likely received support from unions and blue-collar workers, making it hard for Democrats to oppose — Trump opted to tackle the far more polarizing issue of health care first. He outsourced most of the work to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It became a strictly Republican effort which, due to the party’s slight advantages in the House and Senate, had little margin for error. And it was conservatives from Trump’s own wing of the Republican party who thwarted him.

The conservative House Freedom Caucus defied him and ignored his Twitter threats. The two senators who withdrew their support Monday night, effectively killing the bill, didn’t even give the White House a heads-up before announcing their decisions. And even though Trump allies have threatened to aid primary challengers to a pair of on-the-fence senators — Jeff Flake of Arizona and Dean Heller of Nevada — the Republicans did not cave, potentially setting a worrisome precedent for the White House as it tries to move ahead with the rest of its stalled agenda.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, believes that both Congress and the White House share blame after seemingly forgetting that “opposition parties pass press releases that get vetoed, while governing parties pass bills in which every paragraph gets scrutinized.”

“I hope the president learns that do something really, really big, you need to be disciplined and focused and sort out your communications program,” said Gingrich. “So far, they are clearly not capable of doing that.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Six Florida congressional Democrats now support single-payer health care system

As Senate Republicans return to Washington this week, looking to salvage their attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, support grows among Democrats for a single-payer health care system.

The co-sponsor count for Michigan Democrat John Conyers‘ “Medicare for All” bill now stands at 113, nearly twice as many as last year. One of those new Democratic co-sponsors is Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

Castor signed on to the legislation in April, joined by five other Florida Democrats this year: Alcee Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Ted Deutch. 

In a brief interview Monday after speaking with health care officials in Tampa on the opioid epidemic, Castor said that while she knows that such legislation won’t be passed anytime soon in a Republican-controlled Congress, she thinks now is the time to look for alternatives to bring down escalating costs of health care in America.

Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP health care plan.

Republicans believe support for the issue can hurt Democrats at the polls.

Although Florida Senator Bill Nelson doesn’t support such a plan, the fact that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren does was enough for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to run a Facebook ad last week linking the two lawmakers.

Citing Warren’s recent comments on getting behind a single-payer plan, the ad’s narrator says such a system “would be absolutely devastating for Florida families and businesses.”

Castor noted that she has previously supported a government public-option plan.

The idea of a public option is to create a separate, government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchanges. President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders included versions of the public option in their proposals in 2009 when they first began working on health care reform. But they dropped the idea relatively quickly.

Democrat Patrick Murphy embraced the idea during his unsuccessful Senate run last year, as has current gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

Support for a single-payer health care system has never been higher.

In the June Kaiser Health Tracking poll, 53 percent of respondents now favor such a system, with 43 percent opposing.

That’s the highest level of support in the 19 years since Kaiser began polling on the issue. However, Kaiser Health officials point out that “a prolonged national debate” on the issue could easily shift the public’s attitudes.

According to the Kaiser Health website“For example, when those who initially say they favor a single-payer or Medicare-for-all plan are asked how they would feel if they heard that such a plan would give the government too much control over health care, about four in ten (21 percent of the public overall) say they would change their mind and would now oppose the plan, pushing total opposition up to 62 percent.

“Similarly, when this group is told such a plan would require many Americans to pay more in taxes or that it would eliminate or replace the Affordable Care Act, total opposition increases to 60 percent and 53 percent, respectively.”

 

Rick Scott on GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare: ‘They can’t stop’

Gov. Rick Scott said federal lawmakers need to keep their word, and continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“They can’t stop,” said Scott following a stop in Fort Myers on Monday. “They all promised they were going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they got to do it.”

The Naples Republican’s comments come as Congress returns to an unresolved debate over GOP proposals to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called off a pre-recess vote on the Senate’s measure, when it appeared it would fail.

Scott has been vocal in his opposition to the current health care law, and has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to talk with federal lawmakers about repealing and replacing the law. He was last in the nation’s capital to talk with lawmakers about health care on June 27, the same day McConnell announced he would be delaying a vote on the bill.

“The way I always look at it is … until you get results, you’re just working hard every day,” said Scott when asked whether he thought his discussions with federal lawmakers were productive. “It’s like the legislative process this session. We worked hard to get the money for Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida, the money for schools. You work every day. Until it’s all done, you always wonder.”

The future of the GOP health care plan remains unclear. The Associated Press reported that at least 10 Republican senators have expressed opposition to the initial bill, drafted by McConnell. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, and Democrats are united against the bill. That means just three Republican votes against it will doom it.

Last week, McConnell said he would introduce a fresh bill in about a week, but he also acknowledged that if the broader effort fails, he may turn to a smaller bill with quick help for insurers and consumers and negotiate with Democrats.

The governor said what is important to him is that “Florida is treated fairly” under whatever legislation ultimately clears Congress. Scott also said it’s important that, whether someone has a pre-existing condition, they have the right to buy the plan they want.

The state, he said, should also have “flexibility in our Medicaid program to figure out our own benefits, reimbursement rates and things like that.” The federal government also needs to “reduce the amount of regulations” states need to deal with.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said criticized Scott’s call for lawmakers to pass a bill, saying Scott is “only ever looking out for himself.” Scott is largely believed to be mulling a 2018 U.S. Senate run.

“First Scott bragged that he helped craft the toxic GOP health care plan that spikes costs by 20 percent, imposes an age tax on older Floridians and strips coverage for pre-existing conditions — all to give himself a big tax break. Now he’s demanding to ram this unpopular plan through Congress, even though the consequences for middle-class Floridians would be expensive and horrific,” said Bergstein in a statement. “It’s just another reminder that Scott is only ever looking out for himself — while Floridians who actually work for a living are paying the price.”

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to hold re-election fundraiser in Sarasota July 23

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine visits Florida this month for a fundraiser in support his 2018 re-election bid.

Kaine will hold a cocktail reception beginning 5 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at The Francis, a special event venue in downtown Sarasota. Tickets for the cocktail reception start at a suggested contribution of $250, going up to $5,400 for a spot as event chair.

The former Democratic National Committee chair was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016 on a ticket that won Virginia by a larger margin than Barack Obama did in 2012. After Clinton’s loss, Kaine has remained a popular figure in state politics, previously serving as governor and mayor of Richmond. Since 2012, he has represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

Kaine serves on the Armed Services; Budget; Foreign Relations and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees.

Since the election, Kaine has been outspoken figure against Donald Trump, particularly on issues of education, climate change, and LGBTQ rights. He has referred to some of Trump’s antagonistic relationships with U.S. allies as “amateur hour stuff,” and decrying the president’s proposed Muslim travel ban as ineffective in easing America’s tensions with Iran and Iraq.

Last month, Kaine accused Trump of being “jealous” of former President Obama’s accomplishments, citing that as the reason he pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

“Why did Trump really walk away from #ParisAgreement? He’s surrounded by science deniers and fossil fuel junkies,” Kaine tweeted. “POTUS jealous of Obama accomplishments. But in the end, American innovative spirit is stronger than his insecurities.”

On Thursday, the Virginia Democrat was one of nearly 30 senators signing a letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, urging him to reinstate resources that protect LGBTQ people from housing discrimination. Those resources, which the Trump administration recently cut, help ensure enforcement of HUD nondiscrimination policies.

While Kaine’s popularity in his home state is holding firm — with a comfortable lead in most polling — he could face any one of several possible Republican contenders, including local and national figures such as former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, former Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Last weekend, state’s divided Republican Party narrowly voted to select Kaine’s Senate challenger through a primary process, which is friendlier to centrist voters, instead of what the Richmond Times-Dispatch called “a rowdier convention driven by conservative activists.”

RSVPs for the Sarasota event are with Renzo Werner at rwerner@cornerstone-strategic.com or (305) 308-8878. The Francis is at 1269 N Palm in Sarasota.

Tampa Bay residents passionately urge Bill Nelson to keep fighting for Obamacare

Ten days ago, South Tampa resident Karen Clay told a national cable audience on MSNBC about how Medicaid is more than just a lifeline for her severely disabled son, Mike Phillips. “It’s been a life.”

Clay and her family have been able to take care of him at home through a federal waiver, which would go away if massive budget cuts to Medicaid goes through as proposed in legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

“It is amazing this at this point in time, that we are fighting to spend less money. That’s what we just cannot understand,” Clay told Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and reporters gathered at his Tampa district office Monday afternoon. “It’s unconscionable that we are having this occur.”

Clay and her son were part of a small group of citizens in attendance whose lives have been enhanced through the Affordable Care Act. The told the senator to continue fighting Republicans attempts to replace and repeal Obamacare, which they are able to do if they can muster the 51 votes in the Senate in support.

At the end of last week, there were approximately 8-9 Republican Senators reportedly balking at the plan, however, as currently drafted.

The Congressional Budget Office predicted last week that the Senate Republican bill to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act would reduce federal spending on Medicaid by a total of $772 billion.

At the age of 40, Elizabeth Isom was hit with a hard-to-diagnose ailment that ultimately forced her to leave her job and lose her health insurance. The St. Petersburg resident was forced to get care at health care clinics, which she said could never invest in researching what was actually wrong with her. Ultimately, the clinic discovered a tumor in her sinus cavity, where it remained for another year.

The tumor then penetrated her skull, resulting in optic neuritis, aneurysms, and lesions throughout her body and mouth.

When insurance became available on January 1, 2014, Isom was finally able to access coverage through the ACA.

“If it wasn’t for the ACA, I don’t know if I would be alive, truthfully, ” she told Nelson.

Sarasota resident Olivia Babis was born disabled without arms and later contracted two autoimmune disorders. Because of her pre-existing health conditions, the only insurance company who would offer her insurance (pre-ACA) would have charged her $1,800 in monthly premiums.

Babis has been able to get affordable insurance through the ACA and doesn’t want it to go away.

“If they repeal it, there’s no insurance company that’s going to insure me,” she told Nelson. “My prescriptions are $1,500 a month without insurance. There’s no way that I can afford that,” she said, as her voice cracked.

“I’m not going to let them eliminate the ACA,” Nelson responded immediately. “I’m going to do all in my power, and I believe we will be successful because I think that stories like yours and Elizabeth’s, I think these stories are finally going to go through to them [congressional Republicans].”

Regina Hebert of Sun City has had severe arthritis, resulting in joint replacements over the years.

Stressed by a corporate job, Hebert quit to launch her own business, thereby losing employer-based health care insurance. Taking the independent route, Hebert went without coverage until the fall of 2013, when she signed up immediately as the government began allowing people to register for the health care exchanges.

Later, Hebert was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, resulting in chemotherapy and radiation treatment she was able to access through participation in the ACA exchanges. “The ACA saved my life. Absolutely saved my life,” she vowed.

“The ACA saved my life,” she vowed. “Absolutely saved my life.”

Nelson admits the ACA has legitimate problems, and he has offered two proposals that could save billions of dollars.

One would create a reinsurance/catastrophe fund for the health care insurance companies, which Nelson says would lower the premiums in Florida by 13 percent.

The other would be to allow Medicaid to be able to buy prescription drugs in bulk, as in Medicare, thus reducing overall drug costs (Nelson offered that proposal as an amendment to another piece of legislation, which was ultimately defeated).

“What we ought to be doing is fixing the existing law, instead of repealing it,” Nelson said, adding that the partisan politics in Washington when it comes to health care is a “sad commentary, but that is what we’re facing.”

While the citizens in Nelson’s office praised the senator fulsomely for acknowledging their stories, they had a decidedly different attitude toward Florida’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Marco Rubio.

“Marco Rubio’s office won’t even talk to us,” Hebert said.

Clay said she was denied an opportunity to speak with Rubio during a visit to Washington last week.

GOP ponders whether Donald Trump helps sell health care

It was a platform most politicians can only hope for: A captivated, 6,000-person crowd and more than an hour of live, prime-time television coverage to hype the Republican vision for a new health care system.

But when President Donald Trump got around to talking about the Republican plan — about 15 minutes into his speech — he was wildly off message. Instead of preaching party lines about getting the government out of Americans’ health decisions and cutting costs, he declared: “Add some money to it!”

The moment captured a major dilemma for Republicans as they look for ways to jumpstart their stalled health care overhaul. A master salesman, Trump has an inimitable ability to command attention, and that could be used to bolster Americans’ support for Republican efforts and ramp up pressure on wavering lawmakers. But some lawmakers and congressional aides privately bemoan his thin grasp of the bill’s principles, and worry that his difficulty staying on message will do more harm than good.

“You know, he’s very personable and people like talking to him and he’s very embracing of that, so there will be certain people he’d like to talk to,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “But I’d let Mitch handle it,” he continued, referring to the lead role Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has played thus far.

McConnell delayed a vote on the health legislation this week after it became clear he couldn’t muster enough Republican support to offset the unanimous opposition from Democrats. GOP leaders are now hoping to pass a bill in the Senate and reconcile it with an earlier version approved by the House before lawmakers head home for their August recess.

Trump has largely ceded the details to McConnell, deferring to the Kentucky lawmaker’s legislative expertise. He has spent some time talking privately to wavering senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, testing his powers of persuasion. But he’s invested no significant effort in selling the American people on the impact the Republican bill would have on their health care coverage, beyond making sweeping declarations about how wonderful he expects it to be.

“We’re looking at a health care that will be a fantastic tribute to your country,” Trump said during a White House event Wednesday. “A health care that will take care of people finally for the right reasons and also at the right cost.”

His approach is a contrast to former President Barack Obama, who delivered an address to Congress on health care and held town halls around the country about the Democrats’ legislation in 2009. The Obamacare measure barely cleared Congress and became a rallying cry for Republicans, something Obama blamed in part on a failure by his party to communicate its virtues clearly to the public.

At times, even Trump’s largely generic health care commentary has left Republicans fuming. Some lawmakers were particularly irked by Trump’s assertion that the House bill — which he robustly supported and even celebrated with a Rose Garden ceremony — was “mean.”

One Republican congressional aide said that comment left some lawmakers worried that the president — who had no real ties to the GOP before running for the White House — could turn on them if a bill passes but the follow-up becomes politically damaging. The official insisted on anonymity in order to describe private discussions.

Newt Gingrich, the former GOP House speaker and a close Trump ally, said Republicans have struggled to communicate about the complexities of health care policy because “nobody has served as a translator.” He said Trump is well-positioned to take the lead, but acknowledged that the real estate mogul-turned-politician would need some help from policy experts in formulating a sales pitch.

“Trump will be able to repeat it with enormous effectiveness once somebody translates it,” Gingrich said.

The White House disputes that Trump isn’t steeped in the details of the Obamacare repeal efforts. Economic adviser Gary Cohn and other officials on the National Economic Council have convened several meetings with him to explain differences between the House and Senate bills. One senior White House official described the president as “fully engaged” in the process.

During a private meeting Tuesday with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is strongly opposed to the current Senate bill, Trump said his priority was to increase the number of insurance choices available to consumers and lower monthly premiums, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the discussion. The official said the president also specifically highlighted the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection that average premiums would be 30 percent lower in 2020 if the Senate bill took effect.

To some Trump allies, more public engagement on a substantive policy debate like the future of the nation’s health care system would also be a welcome reprieve for a president whose approval ratings have tumbled amid the snowballing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

“I think his numbers would go up if he had a couple of addresses,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “If he communicates directly with the American people, he cuts through the noise.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Linda Geller-Schwartz: Donald Trump should act on Florida’s bipartisan support for judicial nominees

Linda Geller-Schwartz

Donald Trump has been mired in controversy his first few months in office, and by his own admission, the job of being President is harder than he thought. But Trump has an opportunity to get something meaningful done quickly and in a bipartisan fashion for Floridians. He can act on an appeal from our two Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to fill vacant seats in our federal courts.

These two senators have jointly asked the president to renominate three of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida’s federal courts who had been vetted and approved by both Senators, but left waiting for hearings (along with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland) when their nominations expired in January.

Sens. Nelson and Rubio’s rare show of bipartisanship couldn’t come at a better time for Florida’s federal courts. There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies,” meaning there simply are not enough judges to handle the growing caseload. As judicial vacancies remain unfilled, Floridians who rely on our court system are the ones who suffer.

Last year, the watchdog group Integrity Florida issued a report detailing the myriad ways that lengthy judicial vacancies delay and deny justice for Floridians. Prolonged judicial vacancies inevitably result in case delays, higher caseloads, increased administrative stress and judicial burnout. Such judicial vacancies “threaten the timely administration of justice in both criminal and civil cases” according to the report.

In their letter, the senators asked the president to renominate Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for vacancies in the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District. With our courts already stretched razor thin, it only makes sense to move these qualified bipartisan nominees through the process rather than starting over from scratch. To underscore this point, Nelson and Rubio make clear in their letter that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”

The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress.” In addition to the highly publicized blocking of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans in recent years have refused to act on numerous lower court vacancies, causing the number of judicial vacancies to skyrocket.

As a result, President Trump now faces the daunting task of filling more than 120 federal court vacancies. Where there are qualified, bipartisan candidates available to be renominated, it makes sense for the president to act quickly. Failing to address these vacancies threatens the stability and fairness of our justice system and delays justice for Americans seeking their day in court.

Floridians expect and deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system, and that requires our courts to be working at full capacity. Sens. Nelson and Rubio should be commended for setting aside partisan politics for the sake of our judicial system and the public interest. For his part, President Trump should take notice and heed their advice.

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Linda Geller-Schwartz is Florida State Policy Advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women.

 

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