BREAKING: Senate Acts on Filibuster-Proof Budget Blueprint for $1.5 Trillion Tax Cut, 51-49

Finally, we have something Republicans legislators can hang their hats on. This budget “blueprint” makes possible the estimated $1.5 trillion tax cut and allows that to operate under budget reconciliation rules–meaning no filibusters.

It really protects the filibuster more than it protects the tax reform proposal, which has yet to be worked out. From the New York Times:

“This is the last, best chance we will have to cut taxes,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the Budget Committee, who warned that the consequences would be ruinous if the party failed.

Graham continued:

“That will be the end of us as a party,” he said, “because if you’re a Republican and you don’t want to simplify the tax code and cut taxes, what good are you to anybody?”

Well, yeah. That about nails it.

Now on to negotiations with the House, which passed its budget resolution on Oct. 5.

Republican Senators Try a ‘Hail Mary’ On Obamacare

After their embarrassing failure to repeal and replace Obamacare over the summer, Republicans in the Senate are gearing up for a “Hail Mary” attempt to at least make a modicum of reforms to the health care law. The Senate, where the previous attempt to rein in Obamacare died, may vote on the last-gasp effort by the end of September.

As explained previously in The Resurgent, Republicans cannot fully repeal Obamacare without 60 votes. The previous attempt at reforming Obamacare fell apart over details of how the law’s subsidies should be treated and how to handle medical care for the uninsured. Moderate Republican support for the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid also caused serious problems in crafting a replacement bill.

The new bill, written by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), is much more modest than the failed American Healthcare Act. The proposal doesn’t completely repeal Obamacare, but does replace Obamacare’s tax subsidies with state block grants, repeals the individual mandate and scales back the Medicaid expansion.

“It’s basically federalism where you just block grant the whole thing,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) told the Washington Examiner. “You block grant Obamacare back to the states. Just the whole thing.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated that he will bring the bill to the floor for a vote if at least 50 of the 52 Republican senators support it. At the moment, the bill is short of that mark, but Politico reports that it is gaining steam after Graham publicly lobbied President Trump and others. Estimates put Republican support for the bill at 48 or 49 senators.

The bill appears to be on a fast-track. The Washington Post reports that Republicans have already submitted it to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis. If the bill is not passed before the end of September, the Post notes that the authority to pass the legislation with a simple majority under budget reconciliation rules would expire. This would effectively kill any attempts to reform Obamacare until next year.

If the bill does pass the Senate, it faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives. The previous bill, which originated in the House, had to be finely tuned to pass by a slim majority. Under budget reconciliation rules, the House would have to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill with no changes.

No Democrats are expected to support the bill. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, “The Graham-Cassidy @SenateGOP ‘health care’ bill IS Trumpcare, & it will rip health care away from millions of Americans.”

As with the previous Obamacare reform bill, opposition to the bill is expected to come from the right as well as the left. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has announced that he will oppose the bill, calling it “Obamacare lite.” If Paul stands firm, the defection of any other Republican will doom the bill.

Paul’s stance against “Obamacare lite” begs the question of whether he and the Freedom Caucus would prefer the full version of Obamacare to an imperfect Republican reform bill. For the foreseeable future, those are the only two options.

When You’ve Lost Republicans On Fox News, You’ve Lost Middle America

President Trump’s comments about the Charlottesville riot have drawn condemnation from all quarters of the country. The true extent of the political damage to the president is not fully known at this point, but Fox News host Shepard Smith offered a clue. According to Smith, Fox News, a channel normally friendly to Trump and Republicans, could not find a single Republican to defend Trump’s statements on the air.

“Our booking team — and they’re good — reached out to Republicans of all stripes across the country today,” Smith said on his show Wednesday. “Let’s be honest, Republicans don’t often really mind coming on Fox News Channel. We couldn’t get anyone to come and defend him here because we thought, in balance, someone should do that.”

“We worked very hard at it throughout the day, and we were unsuccessful,” Smith continued.

Throughout his short political career, the president has never had trouble finding Republicans to defend him. On issues from his connections to Russia to the Access Hollywood tape, there were always people willing to go on record to back Donald Trump and excuse his behavior.

While few, if any, Republicans are defending Trump, several are now condemning him by name. On Wednesday, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement, “Through his statements yesterday, President Trump took a step backward by again suggesting there is moral equivalency between the white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members who attended the Charlottesville rally and people like Ms. Heyer. I, along with many others, do not endorse this moral equivalency.”

“Many Republicans do not agree with and will fight back against the idea that the Party of Lincoln has a welcome mat out for the David Dukes of the world,” Graham continued.

In a tweet, John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, “There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate& bigotry. The President of the United States should say so.”

Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) launched a series of tweets in which he said that the white supremacist organizers of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville are “100% to blame for a number of reasons.”

“Mr. President,” Rubio tweeted, “you can’t allow White Supremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain.”

The list of other Republicans breaking with Trump on the issue is growing. CNN reports that it now includes Corey Gardner (R-Col.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and John Kasich (R-Ohio).

While Republicans have largely stood by the president since his nomination, Trump’s behavior is increasingly becoming a liability to Republicans who must face voters themselves. This is especially true when Trump veers into the emotionally charged world of race.

One of the few things that unites almost all Americans is a hatred for racism and Nazis. With his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides,” Trump has put his administration and the Republican Party firmly on the wrong side of the issue.

The proof is the lack of Republicans willing to back the president on Charlottesville. When Republicans won’t go on Fox News to defend President Trump, he is in serious trouble.

Lindsey Graham Says He Was Surveilled By Obama Administration

Government surveillance of American citizens has been a controversial issue for years. It became more so this year when President Trump tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.” Trump never provided evidence of his claim, but now another Republican is coming forward to claim that he too may have been the subject of surveillance by the Obama Administration.

In an interview with Fox News, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he had “reason to believe” that he may have been surveilled and unmasked by Obama Administration officials. Graham believes that the surveillance was incidental and possibly resulted from his meetings with foreign leaders in his role as a senator.

“I have reason to believe that a conversation that I had was picked up with some foreign leader or some foreign person and somebody requested that my conversation be unmasked,” Graham said. “I’ve been told that by people in the intelligence community. All I can say is that there are 1,950 collections on American citizens talking to people that were foreign agents being surveilled either by the CIA, the FBI or the NSA.”

“Here’s the concern,” Graham continued. “Did the people in the Obama Administration listen in to these conversations? Was there a politicizing of the intelligence gathering process? So, what I want to know: Of the 1,950 incidental collections on American citizens, how many of them involved presidential candidates, members of Congress from either party and if these conversations were unmasked, who made the request? Because I want to know everything there is about unmasking, how it works and who requested unmasking of conversations between foreign people and American members of Congress.”

If the Obama Administration was conducting purposeful surveillance on members of Congress, there is a possible violation of the separation of powers under the Constitution. Surveillance of political opponents could be used gather inside information on political strategies or even for blackmail.

“Now if you’ve got a reason to believe that a member of Congress is committing a crime, then you go get a warrant to follow us around like you would any other citizen,” Graham said. “But I meet with foreign leaders all the time. And I would be upset if any executive branch agency listened in on my conversations, because I’m in another branch of government.”

Graham said that he was not sure if his conversations were unmasked by Obama Administration officials. The senator sent letters to the FBI, CIA and NSA requesting the details of any surveillance that involved him.

Graham is not the only Republican other than Trump who believes that he may have been under surveillance. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote in a letter to President Trump in April, “An anonymous source recently alleged to me that my name, as well as the names of other members of Congress, were unmasked, queried or both in intelligence reports or intercepts during the previous administration.”

The common thread among Trump, Paul and Graham is that all three were Republican presidential candidates in 2016. In May, Paul told the Washington Times, “There are rumors about other people who ran for president as well. I’m concerned not only for myself but for Americans in general.”

So far, there is no firm evidence that the Obama Administration acted improperly in conducting surveillance, but the claims by Trump, Paul and Graham do raise serious questions about surveillance technology and the oversight needed to prevent its abuse. The subject of surveillance of presidential candidates and members of Congress may come when former FBI Director James Comey testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week.

Republicans say Sessions Should Recuse Himself From Russia Probe, Call for Special Prosecutor

Russia ties may be about to claim another member of the Trump Administration. New reports by the FBI indicate that Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meetings with the Russian Ambassador when directly questioned on the subject during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Sessions was asked by Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

“Senator Franken I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it,” Sessions replied unequivocally.

Subsequent revelations from the FBI revealed Sessions’ answer to be untrue. The Wall Street Journal reports that Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on at least two occasions. The first meeting was in Cleveland, Ohio during the Republican National Convention where then-Senator Sessions spoke at a Heritage Foundation event attended by several ambassadors. Kislyak and several other ambassadors approached Sessions after the speech for what a Sessions spokesperson called a “short and informal” conversation.

The second meeting occurred when Kislyak visited Sessions’ Senate office for an in-person meeting. A specific date for the meeting was not given, but it occurred sometime in 2016.

Sergei Kislyak was the same Russian official who had been in contact with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Flynn was forced to resign in February after it was revealed that he had lied about his communications with the Russian ambassador.

After reports of the meeting broke, Sessions released a short statement on Twitter saying, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” The most recent statement is a subtle change from his earlier categorical denial of any meetings at all with the Russians.

As the revelations mount, Republicans are becoming more critical of the Trump Administration’s handling of the Russia investigation. Over the weekend, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a Trump supporter during the campaign, called for a special prosecutor, telling CNN, “You are right that you cannot have somebody, a friend of mine — Jeff Sessions — who was on the campaign and who was an appointee. You’re going to need to use the special prosecutor’s statute and office … not just to recuse. You can’t just give it to your deputy. That’s a political appointee.”

Now Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is echoing that call. “There may be nothing there, but if there is something there, that the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor,” Graham told The Hill.

Graham added, “If there were contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, they may be legitimate; they may be OK. I want to know what happened between the Trump campaign, the Clinton campaign and the Russians.”

Earlier this morning, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) tweeted, “AG Sessions should clarify his testimony and recuse himself.” Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

As a senator on the Armed Services Committee, Sessions had legitimate contacts with numerous foreign officials. Nevertheless, it is troubling that he would deny meeting with Kislyak at a time when there is heightened sensitivity about contacts with the Russian government. Simply disclosing the meetings would have led to fewer questions than failing to do so has done.

There are now two big questions to be answered. First, why did Sessions meet with Kislyak in the first place? Second, why did he lie about it?

As with Flynn, Sessions’ obviously false statement cuts to the core of his credibility and leaves his integrity in question. Can America trust an attorney general who lied about meeting with the representative of hostile foreign power?

It is possible that Sessions misspoke in his answer to Franken or forgot about the meeting, but these explanations have their own problems. Given Flynn’s problems with Russia, Sessions had a duty to make himself clear on his own meetings with Russia, whether or not they involved the campaign. Knowing that the subject was sure to come up, he should have researched his own contacts to refresh his memory. Instead, Sessions volunteered the information, beyond the scope of Franken’s question, that he had never met with the Russians. Even if it was an innocent mistake, his integrity and honesty are now seriously questioned.

The scandal of contacts between the members of the Trump campaign and the Russians is growing larger rather than going away. Loss of trust can be especially damaging for an administration that has promised to fight corruption and “drain the swamp.” Members of the Trump Administration should learn a lesson that Hillary Clinton never seemed to understand: The cover-up is often more damaging than the act itself.

Immigration Ban Could Be Expanded, Even As Resistance Grows

Reince Priebus suggested on Sunday that President Trump could expand his immigration ban to other countries, even as resistance to the initial order grew. The White House Chief of Staff said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that the president could issue new Executive Orders that might include restrictions on such countries as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Egypt.

The ban on the initial seven countries has caused as uproar as visitors to the US with valid visas were detained at ports of entry. A federal judge issued a ruling temporarily preventing the Trump Administration from deporting these detainees

The Wall Street Journal reported that the ban was enacted suddenly and secretly to prevent terrorists from circumventing the new security measures. Many immigration officials did not see the Order until after it was signed.

There were reports that several of the countries in the initial travel ban were considering retaliatory measures. CNN reported that Iran intended to take “reciprocal measures” to protest the Trump policy. An Iraqi investment magazine, the Baghdad Investor, reported that Iraq had implemented a policy similar to Mr. Trump’s on US citizens entering Iraq.

In many cities around the country, protesters took the streets to protest the policy. The Wall Street Journal reports that the State Department is taking the unusual step of drafting a cable to be signed by dissenting officials. The cable has not yet been released but reportedly has been signed by more than 100 mid-to-high level officials both in Washington and posted abroad.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a joint statement criticizing Trump’s ban. “It is clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted. We are particularly concerned by reports that this order went into effect with little to no consultation with the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security.”

The senators note that the ban also applies to Iraqis who fought alongside American soldiers against ISIS and al-Qaeda and that the policy may backfire. “This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country,” they write. “That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”

Fortune lists a growing number of Republicans who have gone on record as opposing Trump’s ban. Currently the list includes 18 Republican senators and congressmen from across the country.

Polling on the immigration ban has not yet been released, but Gallup’s daily approval rating showed a sharp uptick in disapproval of President Trump since the announcement of the ban last week. Disapproval of Trump now stands at a majority, 51 percent, while 42 percent approve.

Cruz Wants To Show The UN Who’s In Charge, Defund Until 2334 Is Repealed

We’ve had enough of Imperial Presidents. Congress is in charge of the purse, and can set policy based on that. If the UN doesn’t like it, they can do what Congress demands or live without American taxpayers’ money.

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on H. Res. 11, which calls for the United Nations Security Council to repeal or “fundamentally alter” the one-sided and anti-Israel Resolution 2334. To give this teeth, Sens. Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham plan to introduce a Senate bill to defund the UN until the Congressional demands are satisfied.

The most important response is legislation that I’ll be introducing along with my colleague Lindsey Graham, that will cut off United States tax payer funds to the United Nations unless and until the U.N. reverses this anti-Israel resolution. I think the only way to get the United Nations’ attention is to go after the money. And I am hopeful and optimistic that were going to take up and pass that legislation to get this resolution reversed.

Cruz continued, stopping short of our own Josh Hammer’s call to destroy the UN:

…I don’t think we should just be writing a blank check for a bunch of radical policies—a bunch of anti-Semetic, anti-Israel policies, a bunch of anti-American policies to simply spew out with our funding. I think we should use our power, use our influence, use our dollars to focus the United Nations on issues that are in our common interest and not issues that undermine the interest of the United States.

However, the United States funds over a quarter of the UN’s general and peacekeeping budget. Defunding the UN makes it very clear that the will of the U.S. is not expressed by the man currently sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, but by the elected representatives of the people.

Congress should not delay in passing H.R. 11, and in acting to defund the UN. It’s unlikely Democrats would waste a filibuster on this, given how President Obama acted against the will of both houses of Congress in abstaining on 2334.

This bill should be on President-elect Donald Trump’s desk on January 20th. He should sign it.

Lindsey Graham Endorses Jeb Bush

How does Lindsey Graham look at Jeb Bush’s polling or debate performance last night and say to himself, “I’m going to vote for that guy”?

Heck, how does Lindsey Graham look at his own polling within the GOP and say, “I’m running for President”?

And for that matter, why the hell would Lindsey Graham think this is anything other than a detriment to Jeb Bush’s campaign? Is Graham thinking that his endorsement might be the final blow to end Jeb Bush’s candidacy? That would be the only smart thing Graham has done this Presidential season.

The only people who will care about this are the people who do not like Jeb Bush.