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Cruz’s fragile alliance with GOP leaders now pivotal in health-care push


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), far left, listens as President Trump speaks at a lunch meeting Tuesday to discuss health-care legislation. (Susan Walsh/AP)
The Republican attempt to reshape the nation’s health-care system has grown increasingly dependent this week on the fragile alliance between Senate GOP leaders and a man they have clashed bitterly with for years: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Senate leaders are struggling to build conservative support for their emerging bill, with GOP aides and senators voicing growing skepticism that hard-right Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) can be persuaded to back it. Conservative organizations, meanwhile, are complaining that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is offering proposals that would not sufficiently dismantle the law known as Obamacare.

But Cruz, after building a national brand stoking tensions with McConnell and his top deputies, is, in his own words, trying to “get to yes.” The former presidential hopeful has spoken positively about the negotiations, which he helped kick-start. His investment in the talks has generated cautious optimism among many Republicans that he won’t walk away from a delicate effort from which McConnell, with a 52-seat majority and Vice President Pence as a potential tiebreaking vote, can afford only two defections.

Cruz’s current role is one few would have predicted a couple of years ago for a man who once called McConnell a liar on the Senate floor and who, from his earliest days in the Senate, set aside the chamber’s customary politeness and built a foundation for his 2016 presidential bid centered on fighting the political establishment.

But the senator’s colleagues need him as much as he needs them, so it’s a role many are embracing — at least for the moment.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s current role is one few would have predicted a just a couple of years ago. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

“I’ve seen him come along and be pretty constructive,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who has been a Cruz critic.

Indeed, Cruz sounds much more diplomatic these days. He said Monday that “a lot of work remains,” but the talks in a working group that he started earlier this year with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) have been “productive.”

“I’ve said from Day One that I want to get to yes,” Cruz said. “The consequences would be terrible to fail.” Yet Cruz also promised not to pass a watered-down bill: “Even worse than not passing a bill is passing a bill that makes the problems worse.”

Some Cruz associates said that opposing a repeal bill would be very difficult for him to defend with his political base as he gears up for reelection in 2018, and that he has come under pressure from donors to collaborate more with his GOP colleagues. At the same time, some conservative activists are hoping that Cruz can help move the bill to the right.

For Cruz, the looming dilemma is the same one confronting many conservatives who, like him, rose to prominence during Barack Obama’s presidency in part on the promise of ripping up the president’s Affordable Care Act: Is it better to accept a final bill that falls short of the repeal they have long championed or walk away from it?

“There’s great pressure to get something done, but I think there’s an equal and opposite pressure that it be something that actually fulfills campaign promises,” House Freedom Caucus chairman and Cruz confidant Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said in an interview. “Just to check the box for political reasons, I don’t think Senator Cruz would ultimately support that.”

The dueling forces came into sharper focus Tuesday afternoon, when Cruz and other GOP senators participated in a health-care meeting with President Trump at the White House. At the Capitol, McConnell was expected to deliver more clarity and options to Republican senators on the bill that is taking shape. Leaders are racing to try to hold a vote as soon as this month, with some eying next month as a more realistic goal. Meanwhile, the contours of the Senate bill slowly are emerging. Last week, McConnell proposed a more gradual rollback of the expansion of Medicaid than a bill that passed the House, as many GOP senators have advocated. He also proposed maintaining some protections under Obamacare for people with preexisting conditions, another departure from the House bill. That last possibility, however, worried some conservative groups.

“The picture that was painted publicly is one of discussions that are moving further to the left,” said Dan Holler, vice president of communications and government affairs at Heritage Action for America.

The mood of the negotiations is not very upbeat, said Republicans familiar with the talks. McConnell has presented ideas in closed sessions and has closely guarded the Senate’s plans in the hope that they will not leak to critics or the media. Hatch struggled to project confidence about the process this week as he betrayed concerns. “There’s a difference between optimism about passage and optimism about getting it all put together the right way,” Hatch said, noting that senators have “a lot to work through.”

Paul has said he hopes he can make the bill “more acceptable,” even as others have predicted he will vote no. But he has also suggested a fallback plan of voting strictly on repeal. Lee has not said publicly what he will do, though there is not a high level of confidence among Capitol Hill Republicans that he will ultimately vote yes.

David McIntosh, president of the conservative group Club For Growth, recalled a conversation with Cruz last week in which he said the Texan’s message was “we’re making progress; hang tight” and “you’ll be happy” with the final product.

Those close to Cruz say his willingness to negotiate with GOP leaders is born in part out of political necessity. Mica Mosbacher, a fundraiser for Cruz’s presidential campaign, said Cruz was at risk of losing support from benefactors who worried about his combative posture.

“Donors want team players who unite, not fracture our party,” Mosbacher said.

Cruz, unlike Paul and Lee, faces reelection in 2018 and is potentially vulnerable to attacks that he has spent his first term fighting with colleagues and running for president rather than delivering for his state. Cruz has been a louder Obamacare critic than most Republicans, embracing a fight against the law that led to the 2013 government shutdown.

For those reasons, his allies see few benefits to opposing the Senate repeal bill even if it’s less than ideal. Voting no would be complicated to convey to the conservative base he needs to turn for him, some say.

“You have to be able to explain in a tweet,” said a Cruz associate who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe strategy.

One Cruz adviser likened his approach to a baseball umpire with “a big-strike-zone mentality right now,” meaning he is giving his GOP colleagues and their ideas the benefit of the doubt in the ongoing talks.

In an interview this week, Cruz said he was “not remotely” compelled to vote for just any GOP health-care bill to protect his image.

“We’ve got to solve the underlying problem,” Cruz said. “In my view we must, number one, honor our commitment to repeal Obamacare and, number two, implement reforms that lower premiums.”

One potential stumbling block for Cruz and other conservatives is the increasing possibility that GOP leaders will not repeal all of the Obamacare taxes. Rank-and-file members have discussed keeping or delaying some of the taxes to help pay for such costly programs as banning insurers from charging more for patients with preexisting conditions and extending federal payments to states that accepted Medicaid expansion under the ACA, according to several GOP aides familiar with the talks.

Several senators have suggested that the GOP bill should keep at least some of the taxes, perhaps even including the widely panned tax on high-value employer plans known as the “Cadillac tax.” The logic, according to aides, is that senators could delay the implementation of some taxes or promise to repeal others later, when they take up their next big agenda item: tax reform. But GOP leaders do not have a clear path forward on that, and conservatives are anxious about leaving any of the ACA taxes in place.

Part of McConnell’s strategy in trying to get to 50 votes is an effort to line up support from the many Republicans who come from states where Medicaid is expanded and want to see a softer blow against Obamacare than Cruz. The Republican leader’s proposal for a three-year wind-down of the expansion last week — many of them are pushing for seven — reflects this.

The question is whether he can pair such ideas with concessions to the right that would make the broader deal acceptable to enough senators. One possibility conservatives have identified is to use a different index to calculate how Medicaid should be funded, which would mean deeper spending cuts to the program.

Other factors beyond Cruz could scuttle the Senate talks. Opposition by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to a measure that blocks funding to Planned Parenthood is among them.

Trump Rakes in $10 Million at First Re-Election Fundraiser

President Donald Trump was whisked a few blocks from the White House to the Trump hotel on Wednesday night for his first re-election fundraiser, where he raised an estimated $10 million behind closed doors.

Some 40 months ahead of the 2020 election, the president held court for about two hours at a $35,000-per-plate donor event at the Trump International Hotel. About 300 people were expected to attend the event, which was expected to raise about $10 million, said Lindsay Jancek, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Security was tight at the hotel, where guests in long gowns and crisp suits began arriving around 5 p.m. But the event also drew critics. The president’s motorcade was greeted by dozens of protesters, who hoisted signs with slogans like “Health care not tax cuts” and chanted “Shame! Shame!”

Among the fundraiser’s attendees: Longtime GOP fundraiser-turned television commentator Mica Mosbacher and Florida lobbyist and party financier Brian Ballard were among the fundraiser’s attendees.

Breaking the tradition of his predecessor, Trump didn’t allow reporters into the event — despite an announcement earlier in the day that a pool of reporters would be allowed in to hear the president’s remarks.

“It’s a political event and they’ve chosen to keep that separate,” White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when asked why the event is closed to the media.

Protesters hold signs as US President Donald Trump arrives at the Trump International hotel in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2017 to attend a fundraiser for his 2020 campaign.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
Protesters hold signs as US President Donald Trump arrives at the Trump International hotel in Washington, DC, on June 28, 2017 to attend a fundraiser for his 2020 campaign.

After reporters complained, Sanders announced that the president’s remarks would be opened to the press — only to reverse herself hours later.

Sanders said there was nothing unusual about raising political cash so early.

“He’s raising money for the party,” she said. “I don’t think that’s abnormal for any president.”

Sanders’ statement that Trump is raising cash for the GOP told only part of the story, though.

The first cut of the money raised goes to Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. The rest gets spread among the RNC and other various Republican entities. Having multiple beneficiaries is what allowed Trump to ask for well above the usual $5,400 per-donor maximum for each election cycle.

Those contribution limits are likely to change because this fundraiser is so early that new donation limits for 2020 have not been set by the Federal Election Commission.

rump’s hotel has become a place to see and be seen by current and former Trump staffers, as well as lobbyists, journalist and tourists. Several Washington influencers popped into the hotel’s lobby even though they didn’t plan to attend the event.

Several bar patrons also expressed enthusiasm about the unusually lucrative fundraiser so soon after the last election.

Trump’s decision to hold a fundraiser at his own hotel again raised issues about his continued financial interest in the companies he owns. Unlike previous presidents who have entirely divested from their business holdings before taking office, Trump moved his global business empire assets into a trust that he can take control of at any time. That means that when his properties — including his Washington hotel — do well, he stands to make money.

Trump technically leases the hotel from the General Services Administration, and profits are supposed to go to an account of the corporate entity that holds the lease, Trump Old Post Office LLC. It remains unclear what might happen to any profits from the hotel after Trump leaves office, or whether they will be transferred to Trump at that time.

Under campaign finance rules, neither the hotel nor the Trump Organization that operates it can donate the space. It must be rented at fair-market value and paid for by either the Trump campaign, the RNC or both.

First-time candidate Trump got a late start on fundraising in 2016, holding his first big-ticket donor event only five months before Election Day. This time, he’s started unusually early.

Trump’s historically early campaigning comes with benefits and challenges.

In the first three months of this year, the Trump campaign raised more than $7 million, through small donations and the sale of Trump-themed merchandise such as the ubiquitous, red “Make America Great Again” ball caps.

The RNC also is benefiting from the new president’s active campaigning, having raised about $62 million through the end of last month. The party has raised more online this year than it did in all of 2016 — a testament to Trump’s success in reaching small donors.

Trump’s re-election money helps pay for his political rallies. He’s held five so far, and campaign director Michael Glassner says those events help keep him connected to his base of voters.

The constant politicking, however, means it is challenging for government employees to avoid inappropriately crossing ethical lines. Some watchdog groups have flagged White House employee tweets that veer into campaign territory. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters says the employees work closely with lawyers to avoid pitfalls.

Walters also says the White House takes care to make sure that Trump’s political events and travel — including the Wednesday fundraiser — are paid for by the campaign and other political entities.

Listen to CBC Radio One’s U.S. presidential inauguration special

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LIVE coverage w/ @SusanBonner & @TheCurrentCBC‘s Anna Maria Tremonti | LISTEN NOW: (link: http://bit.ly/2jfWznh) bit.ly/2jfWznh #Inauguration

Mica Mosbacher interviews US Marine Michael Jernigan. Honoree Vetty’s Ball -2017 Inauguration

‘President for all Americans’: Women voters react to Trump’s win

 

Read story transcript

In an election where expectations ran high that the glass ceiling for a woman in the White House would be shattered — it remains intact.

A deeply divided America has Donald Trump as their newly-elected president pledging to the country “to come together as one united people.”

Clinton supporter and women’s right activist Jaclyn Friedman just can’t do that.

“I do not plan to ever unify under a President Trump. That’s anathema to everything that I believe in, ” Friedman tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti.

Victoria Claflin Woodhull

Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in 1872. (Mathew Brady/Wikimedia)

“Donald Trump has run a campaign based on hate and divisiveness,” says Friedman.

“I am greatly afraid for the future of our country.”

“I have profound concerns about the future of press freedom in our country. I have concerns about climate change. I have concerns for my friends who are Muslim, who are immigrants. For myself as a Jew, and a woman. He is a serial sexual predator. I could continue to go on.”

“I have great faith that our country will come back together, Republican National Committee Finance co-chair Mica Mosbacher tells Tremonti.

She has campaigned and supports Donald Trump because she says he represents real change and frustration in the U.S.

“Unless you live in the States you don’t understand that people are feeling disenfranchised. They are feeling left behind,” says Mosbacher.

“Their wages are going down and cost of living going up … people have felt like that they had no voice.”

In Mosbacher’s view, “the Republican playbook was not working” until Trump came along. She sees a promising future ahead where Trump will bring back jobs to America, and bring back hope to decaying communities like Ohio and other Rust Belt states where he brought in so many votes.

USA-ELECTION/TRUMP

In Trump’s victory speech he vowed to be an inclusive leader – a ‘president for all Americans.’ (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Lawyer Anoa Changa voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein but expected a Clinton presidency.

She tells Tremonti that Trump’s campaign invigorated “a very nasty, insidious side of America” — but it’s a side of America that exists.

“Everyone who’s running around sad and scared and worried, we’ve already had issues of racism and terrorism and we’ve already had issues with deportations.”

Changa sees Trump’s win is an opportunity to continue the work that many have started.

“I’m a black mother living in an urban area and the dangers that may face my children today or yesterday or a year from now are not going to change at all,” says Changa.

“I never had any delusions that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would somehow save or ratify or change my life.”

Listen to the full segment.

This segment was produced by The Current’s Idella Sturino and Kristin Nelson.

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