As some in Congress look to move past the Obamacare standoff, states offer a more bipartisan model

With interest growing among congressional Republicans and Democrats in modifying the Affordable Care Act to bolster the nation’s health insurance markets, states are emerging as potential models for bipartisan cooperation.

The political battling over the 2010 healthcare law, widely known as Obamacare, may not be over, especially with President Trump continuing to undermine the law.

But Republicans and Democrats in a number of states have worked together on fixes and modifications in recent years, charting a more pragmatic path that has focused less on whether the federal law should be repealed and more on how it could be made to work better for patients.

“I don’t think anyone here — Democrat or Republican — didn’t believe that we needed to make sure our residents could get healthcare,” said Lori Wing-Heier, Alaska’s nonpartisan insurance commissioner, who worked with state legislators from both parties last year to help control insurance premiums.

But like insurance market stabilization, Medicaid expansion has spawned several notable compromises around the country.

In Arkansas, for example, a state with historically high rates of uninsured, GOP leaders in the state Legislature backed a push by the Democratic governor to expand Medicaid coverage.

But they did it using commercial health plans in a nod to market-based principles traditionally championed by Republicans.

“It was obvious to nearly all of us that it was important to expand coverage,” said former state Senate President Michael Lamoureux, a Republican who worked with then-Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, to craft the state’s Medicaid expansion. “But it couldn’t be done by simply expanding the government program.”

As governor of Indiana, Pence championed a Medicaid expansion that requires poor patients to contribute to the cost of their medical care, a longtime Republican goal for the program.

Whether these models can be replicated remains unclear, but the Trump administration has expressed interest in letting states put more requirements on Medicaid patients, as Indiana does.

And though Democrats are wary, such changes to Medicaid may offer a path to expanding coverage in states that have historically denied such health protections.

Indiana state Rep. Ed Clere, a Republican who chaired a health committee in the Legislature and supported Indiana’s Medicaid expansion, said compromises would be good for the law and the country.

“The fact is, Obamacare isn’t all good or all bad,” Clere said. “It’s sweeping legislation that requires major ongoing work.… I hope someday there will be more appreciation for that.”

noam.levey@latimes.com

@noamlevey

latimes.com

The Martyring of Colin Kaepernick

On the afternoon of June 23, a civil rights activist sent an email directly to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, hoping to save the league from making a colossal PR blunder.

Dr. Harry Edwards, a trained sociologist, had been an adviser to sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith when they raised their fists on the medal podium at the 1968 Olympics. Last year, he was a regular sounding board for Colin Kaepernick when the then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback began to kneel for the national anthem to protest racial inequality last year and conservative pundits like Tomi Lahren raked him as a “whiny, indulgent, attention-seeking cry baby.” Now with a new season fast approaching, Kaepernick was still unsigned, even as scrap heap players who couldn’t match the record of a one-time Super Bowl quarterback were getting precious roster spots. Reporters had begun to openly suggest Kaepernick, good enough to sign a $127 million contract in 2014, was being blackballed—retaliation by a famously autocratic organization against a player who had dared to embarrass it.

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But Edwards saw the Kaepernick saga in a larger and more politically fraught context. He saw a mixed-race player who challenged a league in which some 70 percent of the athletes are African-American and all but one owner and more than 80 percent of the fans are white. Edwards also saw an increasingly divided country led by a president who seemed to relish stoking racial tensions. If the NFL could not find a way to put Kaepernick on a roster, Edwards reasoned, the league risked turning a workplace dispute into a full-blown and far more embarrassing racial controversy. In his email to Goodell, which he shared with POLITICO, Edwards spelled it out as clearly as he could: “DON’T MAKE HIM A MARTYR!”

And that’s exactly what happened. With the regular season scheduled to start in four days, Kaepernick remains unsigned. Nefarious or not, the league’s collective refusal to put Kaepernick on the field has backfired. After Charlottesville, what had been a steady drip of news inside the sports section became a front-page cause with national ramifications, and Kaepernick became the silent symbol of a sideline protest movement that has grown far beyond the league’s ability to contain it. A dozen Cleveland Browns players, white and black, knelt in a circle before one game; Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett told Jake Tapper on CNN that he would protest during the national anthem indefinitely. The NAACP sent a letter to Goodell demanding new protections for outspoken athletes like Kaepernick. More than 1,000 protesters gathered in New York outside the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters in support of the unemployed quarterback.

“For nearly a year, here was Colin Kaepernick talking about racism and inequality,” Edwards said. “It was like the mask was pulled off at Charlottesville. People watched and thought, ‘My god, Kaepernick’s right.’”
The verdict, it seemed, had been rendered—at least off the field. Josh Levin, in Slate, declared Kaepernick, jobless though he remains, the winner in his showdown with NFL owners. The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wondered whether the league might even see its own bottom line affected as a group of black pastors around the country discussed a boycott in Kaepernick’s name. “They took a backup quarterback on a 2-14 team and made him a martyr,” Edwards said. “I didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see this coming.”

***

Football culture is different than other sports. Players wear helmets, hiding their faces, and large rosters make the vast majority of them anonymous. Particularly in the NFL, short careers—they average around three years—facilitate constant roster churn, and contracts are not guaranteed. The NFL’s logo—the stars and stripes studded shield—is spoken about in reverence, while the league cracks down on even the most modest displays of individualism, like touchdown celebrations. (And certainly no league bathes itself in patriotism quite like the NFL.)

The NFL has a history of minimal tolerance for players who want to test its boundaries. The first player to face an alleged blackball was Bill Radovich, a Detroit Lions offensive lineman who returned from World War II and wanted to play closer to his cancer-stricken father in California. When he opted out of his contract, he was warned he would never play another down in the league—and he didn’t. (Radovich sued the league on antitrust grounds and won.) Years after NBA and MLB players had earned free agency rights, the NFL went to federal court in the early 1990s to block its own players from being able to determine their value on the open market (the league lost).

Through this lens, the NFL’s response to Kaepernick could be viewed as more about power than politics, although a former NFL executive told me it was wrong to think that there was any concerted effort to keep Kaepernick unemployed. “You have 32 teams making 32 individual decisions,” he said. “Politics is probably a reason for some—one team has a conservative fan base. Then there’s the calculation that he is mildly politically radioactive, but that’s not the determining factor. The determining factor is he’s not what a team needs to win.”

Meritocracy is a popular theory for Kaepernick, espoused by the likes of ESPN’s Sage Steele and Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. It explains why Kaepernick is out of work but players with lengthy rap sheets regularly get second chances: coaches and owners care about wins above all. Yet it’s impossible not to raise an eyebrow when quarterbacks like Austin Davis, who didn’t throw a pass in an NFL game last year, or David Olson, who suited up in arena football last year, have jobs; and Kaepernick, statistically better than 18 backup quarterbacks according to a Washington Post analysis, can’t find one.

Edwards told me that Goodell is “a good dude” who he thinks would like to see Kaepernick signed. But as the former league executive told me, the commissioner has no control over the owners who are free to think for themselves. “What was Roger supposed to do?” he asked. “He doesn’t have any say in personnel decisions for teams. In hindsight, you wish a team had signed him, and either kept him or cut him to diffuse this. Now it’s a situation where it looks political, but it’s driven not as much by the NFL side of things as by the outside politics.”

Indeed, the outside politics. When Kaepernick began his protest, Barack Obama was president and Hillary Clinton was a shoe-in to replace him, which made Kaepernick easier to dismiss as an isolated malcontent by his critics. But that changed with Trump’s ascendancy.

White identity politics have been central to Trump’s presidency, and he has had plenty to say about Kaepernick. Earlier this year, the president reveled in a report that some teams were shying away from Kaepernick because they feared public shaming from him. “They don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump,” he said. “Do you believe that?” (Kaepernick, for his part, said he did not vote in the presidential election and had harsh words for both Hillary Clinton and Trump. “It was embarrassing to watch that these are our two candidates,” Kaepernick said after a presidential debate last September.)

After Charlottesville, and Trump’s widely rebuked equivocations about where blame lay for a street melee that left one woman dead, it is unlikely that the on-field protests would have ended even if Kaepernick had been signed. The issue had simply become much bigger than the fate of one quarterback’s career. But the NFL had inadvertently made Kaepernick a symbol of the moment. Not only was he unsigned, but league officials made inane comments that tried to couch his unemployment in moral terms. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti actually asked fans to pray for the organization while they considered signing Kaepernick. (Anonymous quotes from league executives using coded racial language don’t help, either.)

As corporations and their CEOs ran from Trump, the NFL presented a far more ambivalent front. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced they would donate money to relocate a Confederate statue in downtown Tampa, news leaked recently that the New England Patriots gave Trump a Super Bowl ring. (NFL owners also contributed $7.25 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.) Meanwhile, the league’s 32 stadiums—or at least their sidelines—became even more central to the national debate about race. New statistics were tallied: How many players were kneeling? How many of them were white? How many players stood by with their hands on another player’s shoulder?

As Hakeem Jeffries, a Democratic Congressman from New York, told me, “My constituents want to talk about Colin Kaepernick. It’s obviously not the main issue on people’s minds, but here’s a quarterback who should have a job. He’s perceived as a victim of the divisive atmosphere that the president has created.”

I asked Jeffries what role the NFL had in that perception.

“The NFL’s in a difficult situation,” he answered, adding, “I hope they would do the right thing.”

***

So how does it all end? As more NFL players protest the anthem, and others are compelled to talk politics—“Telling me to keep (quiet) on political issues and ‘just’ focus sports is like me telling you to commit suicide instead of focusing on living,” tweeted Lions running back Ameer Abdullah recently—is there an off-ramp for the league? Or are anthem protests, and the attendant monitoring of who’s standing and who’s sitting part and parcel of a new NFL experience?

Charles Grantham, a former leader of the NBA players association, suggested to me that the league could throw some money at the players to placate them. He thought guaranteeing a quarter of a percent of league revenue to social justice causes, like funding the sports programs at the public schools in the 32 NFL cities, would be a good place to start. “That’s how you go from protesting to making a difference in communities,” he said. But whether players want to go to the mat in collective bargaining is its own high hurdle.

Edwards is convinced that as long as Trump is president, it does not matter what the league does. Trump, he said, will continue to stir racial controversy at every turn—and football players, like other Americans, will respond. “You look out at the football field, and it might as well be Ghana versus Nigeria out there,” Edwards said. “Trump was just on the cover of how many magazines tied to the KKK? These players, and an increasing number of white players, are going to push back if this keeps happening.” He added that signing Kaepernick would have little effect on the protests at this point.

Most people I spoke to believe Kaepernick will get a shot to play this season. Quarterbacks get hurt with regularity and Kaepernick remains, according to many observers, the most talented passer still available. But if and when he does land a job, look out for the claims that it was either a) only because of the sustained public pressure or b) simply to appease the left’s liberal agenda.

As for whether any of this will have a lasting effect on league business, I am reminded of something a smart NFL reporter once told me: fans care about the issues that surround the game only so much as they affect their team’s record. Indeed, for all the noise made by fans who claimed they were offended by Kaepernick’s protest last year, only a small percentage say they watched less football because of it. And after the reams of bad press over the handling of domestic violence incidents in recent seasons, few turned off the game.

That won’t keep this from being a season of protest, though—and one on a larger scale than last year. Some fans will grumble about the politics; others will cheer the players. It all starts Thursday night when the Patriots host the Chiefs. The game will be broadcast on NBC and, and the network has promised to air the national anthem in its entirety.

Ben Strauss is the co-author of Indentured: The Inside Story of the Rebellion Against the NCAA, winner of the 2017 PEN/ESPN award for literary sports writing.

http://www.politico.com

Obama team’s 2020 signals spark chatter among Dems

Democrats are expressing concern that advisers and aides to former President Obama have already begun signaling which candidate they might support for the White House in 2020. 

Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest confidantes, and David Simas, the CEO of Obama’s foundation, have sent smoke signals urging former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to enter the race.

Simas, who once served as a top aide to Patrick, is an ardent supporter of the former governor, sources tell The Hill, while Jarrett has privately told friends that she would do what it takes to support him.

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And Politico reported last month that Jarrett believes a President Patrick is “what my heart desires.”

At the same time, friends of Jarrett’s say that while she would love for Patrick to run, she is also open to other candidates. 

Others in Obamaworld have quietly been buzzing about the excitement behind a potential Patrick run. 

Axios’s Mike Allen mentioned Patrick as a favorite in Obamaworld in his popular newsletter on Friday. 

Other former aides close to Obama say they would support a run by former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill’s 12:30 Report Book tours are testing ground for 2020 race Detroit mayor: I’ll chair Biden’s 2020 campaign if he wants to run MORE, if he decides to launch a bid in 2020.

Obama has not weighed in publicly on the next presidential race, and those around him have said he isn’t looking to tip the scales and believes it is too early to back any one candidate. 

But the reports of Jarrett’s and Simas’s interest in Patrick have left people wondering what the former president is thinking.

One top Obama fundraiser, however, said it’s clear the inner circle has a clear favorite in Patrick and that it’s no coincidence they’ve put that storyline out there. 

“It’s blatantly overt,” the fundraiser said told The Hill. 

The fundraiser speculated that one reason Obama’s circle is putting out smoke about Patrick is to take away oxygen from Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe Hill’s 12:30 Report Bernie Sanders thanks Kamala Harris for endorsing single-payer Kamala Harris announces she will co-sponsor single-payer healthcare MORE (D-Calif.). 

“A lot of people in our world see Deval as the one who will carry the Obama legacy. Kamala has labeled herself as the female Obama, but Deval was Obama before Obama was Obama,” the fundraiser said. 

Obama’s office did not comment for this story. Jarrett declined to comment. Simas did not respond to a request for comment.

Democratic insiders are expressing worry about some of the talk, and they say it’s much too early to be pushing one particular candidate.

“There is little appetite in the party to settle on a candidate early,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. 

Many Democrats and Republicans believe the 2020 race will be wide open and that a couple dozen Democrats could even run for the party’s presidential nomination. 

It’s difficult to see either Patrick or Harris becoming a frontrunner in the race, particularly with Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSanders returning to Colbert next week The Hill’s 12:30 Report Democrats need a roster like the Patriots to make waves in 2018 MORE (I-Vt.) signaling his continued interest. Sanders will attend two events on Monday in New Hampshire.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill’s 12:30 Report Wells Fargo: Nearly twice as many potentially fake accounts than originally thought Warren criticizes think tank for ousting scholar who ripped Google MORE (D-Mass.) is another potential favorite and frontrunner should she choose to enter the race. 

“I want to see a wide-open a process where there are no front-runners,” Democratic strategist Jim Manley said. “The idea that anyone is out there pushing for one person or another is a mistake.”

While the 2020 election is still more than three years away, potential candidates must already prepare for the possibility of a race. 

The fight for key staff members and donors will not be delayed. 

One former aide to Clinton said there’s danger in Obama heavyweights being seen as aligning with a candidate, because it could deepen factions within the party. 

The fight between the Sanders and Clinton wings from the 2016 primary has left scars, with supporters of both candidates blaming the other, at least to a degree, over President Trump’s victory. 

Still, some strategists say even if the Obama allies have their favorites, it won’t matter much in the end. 

“Party insiders don’t have a great track record of picking successful Democratic nominees,” said Simmons. “They didn’t pick Jimmy Carter, Bill ClintonBill ClintonTrump learned from his health care fight and offered a winning tax plan Trump civil rights official listed Clinton attacks as qualification on resume: report Book tours are testing ground for 2020 race MORE or Barack ObamaBarack ObamaSenate panel expected to hold hearing on immigration visas Sotomayor spotted in ‘Judge’s Chambers’ section at Yankees game Trump learned from his health care fight and offered a winning tax plan MORE.” 

“The best idea is to wait and see who Dem voters feel some affection for and rally around that person to help them win,” Simmons said.  

Manley agreed. 

“I’m not so sure it’ll matter at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re looking at a long slog. 2020 is a long ways away.”

http://thehill.com

Trump’s decision on the ‘Dreamers’ is personal for some Californians in Congress

After President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, a cousin approached Nanette Barragán and asked her if it was safe to apply.

Barragán remembers telling the young girl, “When the government tells you that your information is not going to be used against you, you take the government at their word.”

Her answer to that relative five years ago weighs heavily on the freshman congresswoman today as the nation awaits President Trump’s decision on whether he’ll allow the program to continue.

“Before the message was: If you are good, if you are under the radar, you are paying your taxes … if you are a good person, they are not going to come after you,” Barragán told The Times. “Who would have imagined that you would have Donald Trump be the president.”

Denham and Valadao represent districts with large Latino populations and are among the Republicans that Democrats want to oust from office in 2018 as they attempt to win back control of the House. The congressmen also sent a letter to Trump recently requesting he keep the program in place, and are co-sponsors of legislation aimed at finding a fix.

Ryan told radio station WCLO in Janesville, Wis., his hometown, on Friday that he didn’t think Trump should end DACA and that a legislative solution is needed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco sent her own letter to Ryan on Friday, calling his remarks “heartening” and asking him to meet with House Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about possible legislation when Congress returns next week from the August recess.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

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latimes.com

Trump’s DACA decision is personal for some in the California delegation

After President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, a cousin approached Nanette Barragán and asked her if it was safe to apply.

Barragán remembers telling the young girl, “When the government tells you that your information is not going to be used against you, you take the government at their word.”

Her answer to that relative five years ago weighs heavily on the freshman congresswoman today as the nation awaits President Trump’s decision on whether he’ll allow the program to continue.

“Before the message was: If you are good, if you are under the radar, you are paying your taxes … if you are a good person, they are not going to come after you,” Barragán told The Times. “Who would have imagined that you would have Donald Trump be the president.”

Denham and Valadao represent districts with large Latino populations and are among the Republicans that Democrats want to oust from office in 2018 as they attempt to win back control of the House. The congressmen also sent a letter to Trump recently requesting he keep the program in place, and are co-sponsors of legislation aimed at finding a fix.

Ryan told radio station WCLO in Janesville, Wis., his hometown, on Friday that he didn’t think Trump should end DACA and that a legislative solution is needed.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco sent her own letter to Ryan on Friday, calling his remarks “heartening” and asking him to meet with House Democrats and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about possible legislation when Congress returns next week from the August recess.

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics

ALSO:

California Republicans are urging Trump to support DACA

California Republicans ask House Speaker to consider bill to help ‘Dreamers’ as nation awaits Trump DACA decision

Updates on California politics

latimes.com