Democrats paper over rifts at ‘Medicare for All’ hearing

Rep. Jim McGovern | AP Photo

House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., joined at left by Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., leads a hearing on a “Medicare for All” bill for government-provided health care. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

House Democrats on Tuesday turned a potentially divisive “Medicare for All” hearing into a high-profile show of solidarity, making a forceful case for universal health care and casting Republicans as the main obstacle to improving the nation’s medical system.

The Rules Committee session, the first to examine single-payer health care in a decade, skirted the Democrats’ deep divisions over how far left to veer in pursuit of guaranteed health coverage.

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Instead, Democrats who’ve spent much of this year mired by infighting closed ranks to amplify the party’s broader ambitions on a critical political issue ahead of the 2020 elections — and blunt GOP attacks over Medicare for All’s cost and government expansion.

“We’re spending an awful lot on health care right now, and we’re not getting the services and the effectiveness that we’re all demanding,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern said at the outset of the hearing, which was briefly attended by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I’d like to think we all believe we can do better.”

The show of unity could be short-lived. National Nurses United — which is closely allied with the Congressional Progressive Caucus — quickly seized on the hearing to urge Pelosi to bring Medicare for All legislation to the House floor for a vote.

That rallying cry threatens to intensify in the coming weeks. The Congressional Budget Office will publish an analysis Wednesday on the single-payer concept, and House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth told POLITICO his panel will hold its own hearing on Medicare expansion proposals in late May.

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal on Tuesday promised Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal an eventual hearing on Medicare for All as well — marking a major win for progressive Democrats who have proven increasingly willing to flex their muscle in pursuit of liberal priorities.

And on the campaign trail, Medicare for All is taking on a heightened profile as competition within Democrat’s crowded presidential field heats up.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a top presidential contender, has vowed to jam a single-payer bill through Congress if he’s elected — dismissing more incremental coverage expansions as insufficient. Vice President Joe Biden, perhaps Sanders’ main Democratic rival, is embracing the more moderate concept of a public health insurance option that would keep the current system of employer-sponsored insurance intact.

House Democratic leaders have sought to keep the party’s broader focus elsewhere in the meantime, downplaying the significance of the Medicare for All hearing in favor of emphasizing more immediate health care goals. Leadership, wary of complicating life for dozens of swing-district members essential to retaining the majority, has no plans to hold a Medicare for All vote, even as it’s sought to assuage a growing progressive wing.

Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Vice Chairwoman Katherine Clark made no mention of Medicare for All at a press conference that coincided with the start of the hearing, instead focusing on the need to lower drug prices. They demurred when asked about the single-payer bill.

“Every single House Democrat supports the notion that we must strengthen the Affordable Care Act and protect people with pre-existing conditions,” Jeffries said.

“I think [Pelosi’s] placating some members of her own party,” said Rep. Tom Cole, the Rules Committee’s ranking Republican, noting the panel has little jurisdiction over health care legislation. “If it’s going to be a good faith effort on the speaker’s part, she’s going to have to let it go to the major committees.”

Still, progressive leaders, backed by an enthusiastic Pelosi, have made a show of tamping down tensions over single-payer ahead of a crucial few months for the party’s policy agenda. Jayapal, the lead sponsor of the Medicare for All bill, on Monday night disputed a report that liberal Democrats were unhappy with the lack of single-payer supporters testifying at the hearing. She later heralded the session as a “massive victory” in progressives’ bid to build popular support for Medicare for All.

And Pelosi — who has questioned the merits of Medicare for All on multiple occasions — accompanied high-profile health advocate Ady Barkan to the hearing. Barkan, who has ALS, became a late addition to the witness list after he texted Pelosi about his desire to testify.

Using a text-to-voice computer program, Barkan made repeated appeals in favor of the single-payer system, contending that there’s little economic or political reason to oppose a plan that guarantees health care to all Americans.

“No more half measures, no more health care for some,” he said. “We should instead have a rational, fair, comprehensive social safety net that actually catches us when we fall.”

Democrats on the committee used the bulk of the hearing to make moral arguments in favor of the broad goal of coverage expansion — litigating the policy specifics and financial tradeoffs needed to achieve universal health care rather than banging the drum for a single plan.

“I think all are improvements over where we are today,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who supports both Medicare for All and more incremental coverage expansions. “It’s a very important conversation for this nation to have.”

Republicans have pressed top Democrats to fully embrace Medicare for All, hoping to drive a wedge through the caucus over a plan that envisions a massive restructuring that could cost more than $30 trillion over a decade.

“The speaker has elevated this,” said Rep. Michael Burgess. “This is what the speaker wants us to be talking about.”

But with the plan having no chance in the Republican-controlled Senate, Yarmuth said the point of these hearings is to look ahead past the elections.

That’s not going to stop the GOP from highlighting the Democratic momentum behind Medicare for All, with lawmakers and the Trump administration eager to brand it as a socialist scheme that risks collapsing the nation’s health system.

Republicans during the hearing vowed to fight the plan, and slammed its supporters for trying to upend the current system in the space of just a couple years.

“This is a very partisan bill and I’m sure you know that most, if not all, Republicans in the House are going to vote against it,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko. “I don’t know why we’re doing this.”

Even some centrist Democrats expressed some reservations about political ramifications of pursuing another major health care overhaul.

“People are just afraid of change — they want to know how it’s all going to work and what it’s going to mean personally for them,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Rules Committee member who flipped her Pennsylvania district last year and favors strengthening the ACA. “I think we should put energy into getting things done that we can pass now, because people are hurting now.”

Progressives, though, pointed to the hearing as evidence that Democrats can juggle Medicare for All alongside shorter-term efforts to defend Obamacare without tearing apart its fragile caucus.

“I believe we can do great things here if we want to,” McGovern said. “We don’t have to be picking and choosing.”

Just 2 lawmakers have seen less-redacted Mueller report

Lindsey Graham

Sen. Lindsey Graham (shown) and Rep. Doug Collins have seen the less-redacted version of the special counsel’s report. | Alex Edelman/Getty Images

On the eve of Attorney General William Barr’s testimony on a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, only two lawmakers have set eyes on the secret information that Barr withheld from public view.

Barr offered access to a less-redacted version of the report to just 12 members of Congress — six Democrats and six Republicans. But as of Tuesday afternoon, only Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opted to view it. A third, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned to review the report later Tuesday.

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Collins and Graham told POLITICO that what’s underneath the redactions had no bearing on what Mueller ultimately concluded: that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge any American with conspiring with Russians to influence the 2016 election, and that Justice Department guidelines prevented Mueller from reaching a legal conclusion on whether President Donald Trump obstructed Justice.

“It didn’t change anything,” Collins said. “Some of the redactions could actually be implied from other parts of the report that were not redacted.”

Graham, whose committee will hear from Barr on Wednesday, said he wasn’t clear why some of the information was redacted at all. Like Collins, Graham said that after viewing it, “nothing changed for me.”

“I don’t know why they redacted half of what they redacted,” he added.

Collins declined to discuss the specifics of the redacted portions of Mueller’s report or to characterize the nature of the 12 ongoing matters that Mueller referred to other prosecutors. He also swiped at Democrats for refusing to view the less-redacted report.

The six Democrats whom Barr offered access to the report boycotted en masse, complaining that Barr should have provided a fully unredacted report to a broader set of lawmakers investigating Trump’s conduct. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler has subpoenaed Barr and the Justice Department for the full report as well as Mueller’s underlying evidence. The deadline for compliance is May 1.

When Barr released the public version of Mueller’s report earlier this month, he withheld four categories of material: classified information, material related to ongoing investigations, information that could damage the reputation of “peripheral third parties” and evidence collected by Mueller’s grand jury. Barr’s less-redacted report for the 12 lawmakers allowed them access to each category except grand jury material.

Under the terms offered by Barr, each lawmaker granted access would also be allowed to designate one staff member to view the report. The report was made available at Justice Department headquarters last week and is available for lawmakers and aides to review in a secure room on Capitol Hill this week. Information could not be shared with other lawmakers.

“While the Department will permit notetaking, the Department asks that all notes remain at the Department in its secure facility,” assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd wrote to lawmakers earlier this month, outlining the terms of their access. “Department officials will transfer notes to and from Capitol Hill for in camera review sessions that take place there.”

Barr is slated to testify to the Senate Wednesday and the House Thursday on the findings in Mueller’s report and his handling of its release, which has infuriated Democrats who say he misrepresented the damaging evidence Mueller found that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation.

In addition to Collins, Graham and McConnell, Barr offered access to the report to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer.

Others granted access include the top Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committee, Nadler and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.).

Burr told POLITICO Tuesday morning he hadn’t seen the less-redacted report. And McCarthy said he had no intention of viewing it.

“I trust what Barr put forward,” he said. “I’m satisfied right now with what I know.”

Cummings to ex-White House official: Answer our questions or face prison

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings issued a subpoena for Carl Kline to testify last week, but the White House urged him to skip the deposition, prompting Cummings to threaten to hold Kline in contempt. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is threatening fines or even imprisonment for a former White House official if he refuses to satisfactorily answer questions when he appears for a closed-door interview on Wednesday.

“There is no tool in our toolbox that we should not explore,” Cummings (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday, warning that he could move to hold former White House Personnel Security Director Carl Kline in contempt of Congress.

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The committee is investigating the White House security clearance process, including allegations from a whistleblower that Kline overruled career national security officials in approving security clearance applications that were initially denied.

Some administration officials who applied for clearances were flagged for potential foreign influence risks, according to Tricia Newbold, who has worked at the White House for nearly 20 years under administrations of both parties. Newbold also alleged that Kline retaliated against her when she raised concerns about the clearance process.

The White House has permitted Kline to only answer general questions about the security clearance process, something Cummings said the committee has already been briefed on. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone has also demanded that a lawyer from his office be present during Kline’s transcribed interview. Cummings initially rejected that demand, but said he would allow it for Wednesday’s interview in the interest of fairness.

“I’m going to make it clear — and my staff will make it clear — that if he comes in there tomorrow and if all he wants to talk about is process, which we already know, and does not want to talk about his actions with regard to retaliation and what happened in these cases, then we will move forward to take whatever action we have to take to enforce our subpoena,” Cummings told POLITICO.

“I’m going to make that clear: don’t waste my time,” Cummings added. “We can’t afford to have any stalling.”

Cummings issued a subpoena for Kline to testify about those allegations last week, but the White House urged him to skip the deposition, prompting Cummings to threaten to hold Kline in contempt. The chairman briefly backed off his contempt threat over the weekend when he agreed to a request from the Republican side of the committee for Kline to appear for an interview.

But Kline’s Wednesday appearance is likely the last straw for Cummings.

“We will do everything in our power to enforce our subpoena,” Cummings said. “I refuse to be in a situation where we are unable to use every tool that we have in our toolbox to do that.”

According to Cummings, the White House has not turned over any documents in response to the committee’s requests for information about the security clearance process. The panel began investigating the issue after reports emerged that President Donald Trump ordered his then-chief of staff to issue a security clearance for Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, despite unfavorable recommendations from career national security officials.

The White House has refused to turn over information to Congress on a number of fronts, and the president has personally filed lawsuits in an effort to block congressional subpoenas for his financial records.

The sanctification of Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of President Donald Trump: “I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president.” | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

white house

‘Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation,’ campaign manager Brad Parscale says, echoing recent comments from other top aides.

For his closest advisers, President Donald Trump is a godsend — literally.

Trump’s campaign manager says the president was sent by God to save the country. The White House press secretary thinks God wanted Trump to be president. And the secretary of state believes it’s possible that Trump is on a holy mission to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Iran.

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Forget the allegations of extramarital affairs, the nonstop Twitter insults and the efforts to close off the border to migrants. Trump’s allies insist that his presidency is divinely inspired.

“There has never been and probably never will be a movement like this again,” Brad Parscale, the president’s campaign manager, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter. “Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation and only God could allow me to help. God bless America!”

Parscale’s tweet, the latest example of a Trump adviser casting the president as a savior, comes as the White House is preparing to host religious leaders on Wednesday and Thursday for the National Day of Prayer, an annual event in which people of all faiths are encouraged to “pray for the nation.“

The president, who doesn’t regularly attend church services, has emerged as an unlikely ally of the evangelical right, building close relationships with influential conservative religious figures. The White House screened a controversial anti-abortion documentary earlier this month, part of a broader strategy to energize evangelical voters ahead of the 2020 election by amplifying false claims about late-term abortions.

But for observers of American history and advocates for the separation of church and state, the assertions that Trump’s presidency is endorsed by God are alarming.

“Christians should beware of a political use of the word savior, which goes to the very heart of our faith. This particular statement is a gross expression of Christian nationalism, which I define as equating Christian and American identities,” said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Washington-based Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “People of faith know that God is much larger than any one candidate, party, election or country.”

Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian, said: “What these political lieutenants are saying to the faithful is that you have no choice; God has told you how you must vote.“

He continued: “Republican administrations historically have talked about individual rights, the autonomy of the individual, preventing government from dictating political choice. By bringing the sacred into politics, they are actually imposing a view onto his followers and depriving them of a freedom of choice.”

And even some of Trump’s most vocal evangelical backers have some qualms with the notion that God wanted him to win the presidency.

“If you give God credit for a good president, than you’ve got to blame God when you have a bad one. So I don’t think that’s the way to look at it,” Jerry Falwell Jr. told POLITICO, adding later: “I don’t think you can say that God gives us good leaders. What do you do when you get a bad one, say God messed up? That’s silly.”

Falwell, the president of Liberty University, has long maintained that he and other evangelicals support Trump because they agree with his policies, often seeming to dismiss allegations of marital infidelity and mistreatment of women. “I don’t think he needs to come forward. I think everyone knows his past,” Falwell told CNN last year when asked about allegations of past affairs.

“God called King David a man after God’s own heart even though he was an adulterer and a murderer,” Falwell said in 2016 after endorsing Trump. “You have to choose the leader that would make the best king or president and not necessarily someone who would be a good pastor.”

Falwell said he would be among the attendees at a National Day of Prayer dinner at the White House on Wednesday night with the president and first lady Melania Trump.

Parscale, who did not respond to a text message seeking comment, isn’t the first Trump ally to make the case that Trump is carrying out God’s will.

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times, and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network News earlier this year. Sanders did not comment on this story.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested in March that Trump might have been sent to protect the Jewish people from the threat of Iran.

“Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” a reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo during a visit to Israel.

“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo replied.

Sanders was raised Southern Baptist, and Pompeo, according to a Washington Post article last year, often attends Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Kansas, which is affiliated with the conservative Evangelical Presbyterian denomination.

Trump’s allies might have some backing from many Republicans. A Fox News poll released earlier this year found that 45 percent of Republicans believe God wanted Trump to be president. That figure is even higher among evangelicals.

Campaign advisers think evangelicals will be crucial to Trump’s reelection chances. And the president’s defenders argue that his opponents dismiss them at their peril.

“Liberals may have gotten a few chuckles out of Sanders’ remark, but they don’t seem to realize that the joke is actually on them,” Paula White, a pastor who leads Trump’s evangelical advisory board, wrote after the press secretary came under fire for her comments.

“No matter how much they try to deride religion in the news and popular culture, the vast majority of Americans are believers,” she added. “Furthermore, when you consider everything that President Trump has done for people of faith since taking office, it’s easy to see why so many of them agree with Sanders that Donald Trump is doing God’s work.”

Federal judge rejects Trump request to dismiss Democrats’ emoluments clause lawsuit

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected President TrumpDonald John TrumpOnly one way with Huawei — don’t let it control 5G Japan’s emperor is first to abdicate throne in two centuries Air Force secretary warns against European military force MORE’s request to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the more than 200 Democratic senators and members of Congress behind the lawsuit had reason to seek an injunction in the case and that their request is constitutional.

In his ruling, Sullivan, an appointee of former President Clinton, found that Trump had disregarded “the ordinary meaning” of the term “emolument” as intended in the Constitution by claiming that it should apply to any profits he earns directly through his own work.


In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Democrats allege that Trump has violated the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause whenever he profits from foreign governments without Congress’s approval.

The lawmakers point to Trump’s vast range of businesses around the world and his declining to fully give up those holdings as evidence that he has violated the clause.

Trump’s attorneys argue that the clause does not apply to the commercial transactions with foreign governments, but only goes into effect if Trump directly profits or receives a gift from a foreign government in exchange for an action that he has taken as president.

The president is facing a similar lawsuit from the District of Columbia and Maryland over the alleged Emoluments Clause violations.

And the ruling comes as Trump has recently turned to the courts in an attempt to spurn Democratic investigations into him, his family and his private businesses.