Open Thread

The Open Thread for May 20, 2018

“Three months before the 2016 election, a small group gathered at Trump Tower to meet with Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. Another was an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Republican donor with a controversial past in the Middle East as a private security contractor,” the New York Times reports.  “The meeting was convened primarily to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged relationships between the men and Trump insiders that would develop over the coming months — past the election and well into President Trump’s first year in office.”

“The meetings, which have not been reported previously, are the first indication that countries other than Russia may have offered assistance to the Trump campaign in the months before the presidential election. The interactions are a focus of the investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who was originally tasked with examining possible Trump campaign coordination with Russia in the election.”

So, that’s it, right?  We can all go home now.  Collusion with more foreign powers proven.   Collusion with Russia proven.

“Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is looking more closely into Middle Eastern involvement during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as it is now exploring the role of an Israeli entrepreneur with ties to a Gulf monarchy,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Mueller has been conducting interviews about the work of Joel Zamel, an Australia-born Israeli businessman with experience in social media and intelligence gathering… Mr. Zamel met with Donald Trump Jr. , Mr. Trump’s eldest son, at Trump Tower in the months before the 2016 election along with George Nader, a top adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, to discuss an offer to help boost the campaign. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense contractor who specializes in the Middle East and had close ties to the campaign, also attended the meeting, which was first reported by the New York Times on Saturday.”

“Following Mr. Trump’s election, Mr. Nader made a payment to Mr. Zamel of $2 million, which a person familiar with the payment described as unrelated to the campaign.”


Bloomberg: “While equities have added $22 trillion in value since 2009, wages stagnated and workers’ share of business income remained near record lows.”

“House Republicans are at each other’s throats after the Freedom Caucus delivered a shock to party leaders on Friday by killing a key GOP bill over an unrelated simmering feud over immigration. Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team were sure the group of three dozen rabble-rousers would cave. The partisan farm bill, after all, includes historic new work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries that conservatives have demanded for years. Plus, President Trump leaned in, tweeting his support for the bill Thursday night to up the pressure on the far right,” Politico reports.

“But Ryan’s team sorely miscalculated. In an embarrassing show of weakness, the bill went down on the floor after a last-minute leadership scramble to flip votes.”

“Almost immediately, Republicans pointed fingers at each other.”

Playbook: “Blame who you’d like. This is a House Republican Conference that is limping toward Election Day, unable to do something as simple as pass an all-Republican farm bill.”

In her article, “Democratic candidates are focused on issues such as health care, despite what pundits say” at, Emily C. Singer notes that “A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll from early April found that health care is the top issue for voters in the midterm elections. Nearly a third, or 30%, of voters said health care is their top issue, while guns and immigration tied for second place, with 25% each…“In the polling, when you ask people what’s the most important issue, health care comes up at the top or near the top,” Peter Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster who helps conduct the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, said in an interview.”

“The White House said Saturday morning that the first lady, Melania Trump, had returned home after spending almost five days at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering from a procedure for a kidney condition,” the New York Times reports. “Medical experts have puzzled over why Mrs. Trump would have remained in the hospital for almost a week when the recovery for the kind of procedure she underwent — an embolization that cuts off the blood supply to the kidney — is typically a day.”

Dahlia Lithwick: “In other words, if you work in media, you would be well within your rights to have had a tequila shot with your breakfast every day this week. It’s all just terribly sick and sad and the constant stream makes it hard not to be sick and sad all the time. We’ve long since stopped describing news consumption as drinking from a firehose. It went from firehose to tidal wave a year ago. Nevertheless, we’ve persisted.”

“Perhaps the most common refrain journalists hear from strangers is ‘I feel bad for you. I feel sad that following all this is your job.’ The truth of the matter is that there is not enough hazard pay in the world. It’s hard not to want to shut it all off and just hope that some combination of Michael Avenatti, Bob Mueller, and the 2018 elections might restore normalcy. Normalcy would be nice, because weeks and months of being the head/desk emoji is hazardous to one’s mental health. Our brains, messed up from all that banging, still know something is amiss. It feels like the only way to exert any control at all over the insanity would be the capacity to turn it off.”

“And, of course, turning it off is exactly what a president who wants to kill the news is hoping for.”

Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera make a persuasive case that “The gaming of Hatch-Waxman is one of the two most important reasons why drug prices are so out of control. The other reason is that drug company executives — like executives in every other industry — began kneeling at the altar of “shareholder value.” And the easiest way to boost profits, and thus the stock price, was to raise prices relentlessly…

But the single best way to get drug prices under control would be to put the teeth back into Hatch-Waxman. It would not be a particularly difficult thing to do. First, shorten the patent exclusivity period to 10 years. (Drug companies say they need the longer time to recoup their research and development costs, but the truth is most companies spend more on marketing than R&D.).

Second, outlaw the practice of paying companies to keep generics off the market and similar forms of gamesmanship. Third — and most important of all — don’t allow companies to extend the period of exclusivity beyond the original 10 years.”

Democrats should do all of the above, while also making a strong case for “allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with the drug companies over pricing. Given that Medicare spends over $400 billion on drugs, it would have tremendous negotiating power, that could yield billions in savings. Of course, that is exactly what the Republicans are afraid of, and why they persuaded the president to take it off the table.”

Washington Post business writers Erica Werner and Carolyn Y. Johnson note that “Democrats are trying to take back an issue Donald Trump effectively stole from them during the 2016 presidential campaign: the high cost of prescription drugs…

Democrats are also promising to appoint a “price gouging” enforcer who would fine drug companies if their price increases surpassed certain thresholds — another piece they believe will show voters that Democrats are prepared to tackle the issue in a way Trump hasn’t…“There’s no question that it provides an opening for us,” said Rep. Richard E. Neal (Mass.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee…A Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in March found that 52 percent of Americans said passing legislation to lower prescription drug prices should be a “top priority” for Trump and Congress. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said pharmaceutical companies have too much influence in Washington, a view shared by both Democrats and Republicans.”

Powerpost’s Sean Sullivan and Seung Min Kim report that “Trump’s improved standing, energized GOP voters worry Democrats,” and note “After months of confidence that public discontent with President Trump would lift Democrats back to power in Congress, some party leaders are fretting that their advantages in this year’s midterms are eroding amid a shifting political landscape…

Driving their concerns are Trump’s approval rating, which has ticked upward in recent weeks, and high Republican turnout in some recent primaries, suggesting the GOP base remains energized. What’s more, Republicans stand to benefit politically from a thriving economy and are choosing formidable candidates to take on vulnerable Democratic senators.” Fair enough. But Dems should not do too much handwringing. The sky is more likely to fall on Republicans than Dems in the coming months, as the Mueller probe zeroes in on the Trump Administration’s unprecedented level of corruption, dragging Trump’s approval ratings downward.

The blue wave may be smaller than expected a few weeks ago. But the smart money is still on Dems winning a House majority, with gains in state legislatures. Moreover, “Republicans still have messy intraparty fights to navigate in Mississippi and Arizona, with polarizing Senate candidates who party officials believe could lose to Democrats. They are plotting ways to elevate the more electable ones…If Democrats can flip one or both of those seats, their path to the majority will be easier, contingent on holding seats. Democrats also have a plum opportunity for a pickup in Nevada.”

“Democrats hoping to wrest congressional seats away from diehard repeal-and-replace Republicans are campaigning on an unlikely issue for Texas — single-payer health care,” Politico reports.

“Across the country, many Democrats are trying to minimize internal battles on health care. But Democrats in this deep red state have also watched closely races where single-payer advocates have upset centrist primary opponents. And some believe that moving left on health care will mobilize new voters in primaries —and offer a shot at winning come November.”

“A retired American professor in 2016 began working as a secret informant for the FBI as it investigated Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential campaign, and he contacted three Trump advisers in the summer and fall of that year,” the Washington Post reports.

“The role played by the source is now at the center of a battle that has pitted President Trump against his own Justice Department and fueled the president’s attacks on the special counsel investigation. The Washington Post has confirmed the informant’s identity with multiple people familiar with his role but is not reporting his name following warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that exposing him could endanger him or his contacts.”

New York Times: “The role of the informant is at the heart of the newest battle between top law enforcement officials and Mr. Trump’s congressional allies over the F.B.I.’s most politically charged investigations in decades. The lawmakers, who say they are concerned that federal investigators are abusing their authority, have demanded documents from the Justice Department about the informant.”

“The company controlled by the family of the White House adviser Jared Kushner is close to receiving a bailout of its financially troubled flagship building by a company with ties to the government of Qatar,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Kushner earlier this year lost his top-secret security clearance amid concerns that foreign governments could attempt to gain influence with the White House by doing business with the Kushner Companies.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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