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Thursday, March 23, 2017
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Thursday, March 23, 2017 11:18 AM
By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

1. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show on Capitol Hill

Your Moose and Squirrel talking points before your power lunch today. We may be witnessing the Rocky and Bullwinkle presidency. There’s President Bullwinkle, who tells us amazing things we didn’t know, like the Republican Party is the “party of Lincoln.” Or that nobody knew that health care reform could be “so complicated.” And there’s Vice President Rocky, the sweet flying squirrel, beloved by all on Capitol Hill. He never passed a bill of his own during 12 years in Congress, and this past week he’s been the Capitol Hill point man seeking passage of what is universally seen as a flawed, flawed RyanCare package. Even when President Bullwinkle asks us to watch him pull a rabbit out of his hat, often times a scary creature turns up. In today’s Washington, the reality presidency of Donald Trump and Mike Pence face a daunting hurdle. And at this writing, they don’t have the votes.

The reality is palpable. NBC was reporting 29 “no” votes this morning, though Kristen Welker was reporting President Trump is “confident” and “optimistic.” In Politico’s coverage this morning, we’re getting quotes like, "If this goes down, we're all screwed," said one Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity. Or this after a Freedom Caucus event: “Everybody’s frustrated. Some moved; some stayed the same.” Ditto for the more centrist Tuesday Group, which counts U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks as a member. As Bullwinkle and Rocky move to appease the right, the moderates worry about exposure and inevitable changes in the Senate. Axios reports this morning: The bill could still be brought down by moderates, worried that they could lose their seats over the real-life effects of a bill that has no chance of passing the Senate. The Koch organization last night announced a "seven-figure fund" to sink the bill. (Axios' Caitlin Owens: "Trumpcare gives more money to the rich, less to the poor.") And David Nather writes in Axios on the Trump/Pence tweaks: Will it be enough? Or will they have to pull the bill? We're still going with "they'll squeeze it out at the last minute" – but even the most seasoned House observers aren't sure. With the Koch brothers against it on one side, and Republican moderates pulling away on the other, we've got actual suspense, not fake suspense.

2. Then there’s Boris and Natasha Badenov

The lurking silhouettes in the shadows of the Bullwinkle administration are the devious Boris and Natasha Badenov. The reality TV President Trump can’t seem to shake them. Just as the White House tries to sell RyanCare with threats and intimidation (“if this doesn’t pass, you’ll lose your seats in 2018”) the 2005 Paul Manafort memo pops up by the Associated Press. The former Trump campaign manager (and not a fringe character) offered to tidy up the thug Russian President Putin’s western exposure. Then CNN reported last night this explosive nugget: FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.
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    MUNCIE – President Trump sits in the White House today because, in part, Democrats ceded rural Indiana and rural America. The Hoosier State is barely functioning in a two-party system. I asked Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody for a list of county chairs elected on March 3. According to a party spread sheet, Daviess, Gibson, Martin and Henry counties listed no chair. Mine down a bit further and you see Donald Trump won Daviess County with 79.6 percent of the vote, 71.6 percent in Gibson, 69.2 percent in Henry and 76.9 percent in Martin. This is all relevant because during the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Trump vowed repeatedly and vociferously to repeal and replace Obamacare. In January, Trump promised “terrific” coverage “for everybody.” The new Health and Human Services Sec. Tom Price vowed that “nobody will be worse off financially” with the plan proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan and is being pushed by Vice President Mike Pence.

    INDIANAPOLIS - Historic preservation never interested me. Public television’s Antique Roadshow is a farce about the monetization of memory. Junk shops, occupying valuable downtown space throughout Indiana, only trumpet our economic and social decay. Nostalgia, to me, is a disease of the mind. I delight in seeing the past transformed into a promising future. Reuse of a beautiful building, restoration of landmarks pointing to tomorrow is inspiring. Today, communities are falling all over themselves to attract imaginary young adults. It’s like seeking a new factory instead of working to retain and develop existing businesses. Indiana’s many small towns and older urban neighborhoods deteriorate when businesses and families leave. Disinvestment, the neglect of maintenance and rotting of physical assets, creates open wounds and ugly scabs. Instead of wondering how to attract unknown businesses or workers, we might try improving the assets we have.
    SOUTH BEND - Jason Critchlow was re-elected without opposition as St. Joseph County Democratic chair. So, why would he want four more years in a job without a salary, where expectations are seemly unrealistically high and where losing candidates often blame the chairman, while winners say they did it all by themselves with their own political skill and personal charm?  Critchlow is coming back for more, even after St. Joseph County, that supposed bastion of Democratic strength, gave the party’s presidential nominee a margin of a mere 288 votes out of nearly 112,000 cast in 2016. He says it’s because of a passionate belief that politics is important. The election of Donald Trump proved that, he says, and gives him more incentive now, not less. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Critchlow says of determination he sees in party ranks and with new volunteers, packed in “elbow to elbow” in meetings at the small Democratic headquarters in downtown South Bend.
    INDIANAPOLIS – We really are living in two different countries, if you watch the cable television shows every night. The good thing is most people have better things to do.  When I got home Wednesday night, Fox News showed the headline, “FBI on Hunt for CIA Mole after Secrets Are Leaked.”  At the same time, CNN’s headline read, “Pence Dodges Questions on Trump’s Wiretapping Claims.”  The contrast in stories tells the story right there.  A few minutes later, Fox ran a report of an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times with over 20 arrests since 1990, who was intoxicated and smashed the car in which he was fleeing another accident. He also crashed into the car driven by Sandra Duran, a California woman who was a mother, daughter and sister, killing her instantly.  This five-minute story could never paint the true tragedy so many family and friends must now live with forever.  Flip the channel and you would have found CNN covering the “A Day Without a Woman” event, like there is now a national holiday to bash the president. I couldn’t even bring myself to switch over to MSNBC.
    INDIANAPOLIS – People from the beginning of recorded time have noted that human intercourse, sex, can feel really good. It usually doesn’t cost anything, and people have been doing it for years, in fact, this is how we have populated the planet. It is going to continue to happen, even when circumstances are less than ideal. Yet our attitudes toward it can be very impractical and public policy can actually bring harm. In Indiana, sexual education can only be taught in public school through the lens of abstinence. Abstinence only for disease prevention. Abstinence only for pregnancy prevention.  While well-intentioned, this strategy leaves out a great deal of necessary information, like how to protect yourself from or get help after violent encounters in an age-appropriate way. These good intentions, intentions presumed to cut back on promiscuity, lead to all kinds of problems.  
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  • Gov. Holcomb says RyanCare changes could avert special session


    INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Eric Holcomb had warned Indiana legislators last December that the Trump administration could throw a mid-session curve ball. With a potential repeal of Obamacare coming tonight, Holcomb told Howey Politics Indiana on Wednesday that a potential special session might have been put off due to action in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that delays Medicaid changes that could impact the Healthy Indiana Plan until 2020.

  • Atomic: Pence's epic vote; Messer's list; Chamber and Joe
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. Pence faces vote of his career: Vice President Mike Pence spent 12 years in the U.S. House and never got one of his bills passed. But on Thursday, he faces the biggest vote of his political career on the American Health Care Act, with the credibility of the Trump administration hanging in this deal-make-or-break balance. Both NBC and CBS are reporting that at least 27 House Republicans are voting no even after President Trump told them, “I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don't get this done.” The New York Times is reporting it could be up to three dozen, including U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, who told Elizabeth Beilman of the News & Tribune, “Any viable plan needs to ensure that coverage is actually affordable and embraces a free market system where providers compete for our business.” The rest of the Indiana GOP delegation appears to be in the fold and united with Pence and whip counter Luke Messer.

  • Atomic: Trump cloud; Messer & Pences; RyanCare whip counts

    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. FBI and Trump presidency under a cloud: Three times in the television age of American politics we’ve witnessed an FBI investigation of a presidency: President Nixon and Watergate, President Reagan and Iran/Contra and President Clinton and the Lewinsky scandal. Two of the three ended on a hard track toward impeachment. So Monday’s testimony by FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers was explosive on several fronts. He confirmed that the FBI began probing a link between the Donald Trump campaign and the Kremlin last July, just as Gov. Mike Pence was coming on board, thanks to the Indianapolis airport intervention of then campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was far more than the bit player “Baghdad Bob” Spicer portrayed.

  • FBI Director Comey confirms Trump/Kremlin probe
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Indianapolis

    1. A sensational week builds in Washington: FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency head Adm. Michael Rogers are testifying before the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference this morning. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings get underway, and the U.S. House is expected to vote on the epic American Health Care Act on Thursday. How’s that for a high-stakes week? The RyanCare bill is the first big congressional test not only for President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and legislative liaison Marc Short, but also for Speaker Paul Ryan, who has a lot at stake. The White House is squeezing hard line conservatives.
  • IU searches; JD Vance moves home; Medicaid slashed
    By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

    1. A Hoosier basketball dilemma: As an IU alum (BA History, 1978), here are my two cents after the firing of basketball coach Tom Crean. I understand why AD Fred Glass made the move, but I still don’t like it for a reason I stated the other day: Paying coaches not to coach. I also believe in redemption after a season like this one. Crean resurrected this program to a respectable level after the Kelvin Sampson debacle and a full decade would have been proper. I thought Crean deserved another year to coax game out of stars like Thomas Bryant and O.G. Anunoby. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both go pro, and perhaps that figured into Glass’s decision. Perhaps they were gone anyway, Crean was facing a tough rebuilding without that talent and a contract extension. That’s the scenario for a program tailspin. Where to go now? I am intrigued by bringing back UCLA’s Steve Alford. My second choice would be Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, though the Koch Brothers will make him a potentially expensive acquisition. My third choice would be Creighton’s Greg McDermott.
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  • Sen. Lanane warns of HIP 2.0 trigger and the Obamacare repeal
    “HIP 2.0 is a critical piece of public health policy for the state, and it is being put at risk under the Republican healthcare plan due to a ‘trigger’ in our state law. We are here today to urge our Republican colleagues in the Statehouse to remove this trigger, and work to safeguard Hoosiers’ health care coverage should the AHCA become law. HIP 2.0 health coverage is put at risk due to Indiana law automatically triggering a repeal of HIP 2.0 should federal funding be reduced. Without the enhanced federal matching funds for HIP 2.0, Indiana would have to allocate an extra $500 million per year in state funding to maintain the current program.” - Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, on the Obamacare repeal and a potential reduction of Medicaid funding that is part of the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0. Some 430,000 Hoosiers get health coverage through HIP 2.0.
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  • Trump and truth
    The Obamacare repeal is teetering in the House. Why? Remember the old story of the boy who cried wolf? President Trump’s penchant for lies is beginning to take such a toll that NBC reporter Kasie Hunt said this morning that some members wonder if he’ll even be around in a year. So when Trump threatened retribution against recalcitrant House members on Tuesday, its impact was dubious. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today: “If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. The latest example is Mr. Trump’s refusal to back off his Saturday morning tweet of three weeks ago.” The other emerging dynamic is that the Pence/Marc Short legislative team hasn’t done the legwork on the RyanCare bill. It could all come down to Vice President Pence, HHS Secretary Tom Price and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to round up about eight votes and keep Republicans like Rep. Hollingsworth in the fold. - Brian A. Howey, publisher
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