Bill Clinton lauds cities upholding Paris agreement at mayors’ summit

Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday praised mayors from across the country for signing on to uphold the goals of the Paris climate accord while also pushing cities to "deliver" on its aims.

While speaking at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 85th Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Clinton spoke about President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement and how cities could help maintain its standards.

“You can get out of it or [stay] in it, but the water keeps rising,” Clinton said of the Paris climate accord. "Politics has almost no influence on science, in case you haven’t noticed, or nature."

Trump withdrew from the deal earlier this month, arguing it put the country at an "economic disadvantage."

Since then, however, hundreds of mayors have committed their cities to their own climate agreement aimed at continuing "to support climate action to meet the Paris Agreement."

"This is something the mayors can talk about with facts, no rhetoric, no attacks on anybody, this is good economics," Clinton said. "You can … and I applaud … everybody else who is gonna sign on to the Paris agreement, but remember, if you sign, you got to seal and deliver."

Clinton noted that not every city can put the same amount of resources forward but each should try to "find the way" to meet the Paris agreement’s goals.

"Everyone of you has different budgetary constraints, everyone of you has different options," he said. "Look I wish you’d all sign it. Trust me we can make the deal we can make the goal, just in the cities, but you have to find the way to do it."

Clinton also gave examples of the benefits of renewable energy, saying that "Texas would be by next year the 4th biggest wind provider in the world if it was a separate country" and that the "cheapest electric rates are in Iowa," due to their wind energy. He also said Pittsburgh has 13,000 jobs in clean energy.

"Solar is getting very cheap," Clinton added. "We have got to do more to accelerate this transition because it is good economics."


Week 5: Out With Collusion, In With Intrusion

In a heavily cited column this week, the New York TimesDavid Brooks yawned that despite the endless sleuthing by the press and investigators to unearth evidence that Trump presidential campaign colluded with the Russians to monkeywrench the November election, there just isn’t very much there. Detecting “little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred,” Brooks compared the collusion story to the overblown Whitewater scandal, which he covered as a Wall Street Journal op-ed editor. Headlining his piece “Let’s Not Get Carried Away,” Brooks joined an entrenched rump consensus of Russia-collusion doubters, which include Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone), Glenn Greenwald (the Intercept), former acting CIA Director Michael Morell, Harvard law professor emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Joshua Holland (The Nation), and of course, President Donald Trump.

The rumpers got an indirect boost at week’s end from an 8,700-word tick-tock in the Washington Post, “Obama’s Secret Struggle to Punish Russia for Putin’s Election Assault,” which mentions collusion only in passing. It makes the more solid case—doubted not even by the collusion doubters—of how the Russians applied torque to the November election. Laying the election perfidy directly at the feet of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, the story unfolds like a horror movie, as the Obama administration discovered the Russian efforts and began to take defensive and offensive measures.

The Post piece could shift the political debate from its current Trump-Russia emphasis to a Putin-Russia one, and reframe the scandal. Perhaps Trump’s involvement was of the unwitting kind, where he didn’t collude as much as let the waters of the scandal help wash him to victory in a passive manner. This doesn’t mean no collusion took place, or that those probes should cease. After all, numerous Trump associates got cozy with Russians: There’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, with his banqueting with Putin and unreported phone calls with the Russian ambassador about lifting sanctions. There’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his unreported meetings with the ambassador. Son-in-law to Trump and top aide Jared Kushner also had undisclosed contacts with the ambassador as well as a Russian banker. And former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort has enjoyed multiple and interlocking business connections with fishy Russians, as has Trump.

The debate’s reframing won’t necessarily be good news for Trump. Read in its entirety, the Post piece throws a darker shroud over the Trump presidency as it shows how the Russians mounted an electronic invasion of our political process to help Trump, cripple Hillary Clinton, and otherwise undermine public faith in the electoral process. The FBI suspects that Russians tried to penetrate election systems in 21 states, the Post reports. The invasion panicked the senior levels of the Obama administration privy to the intelligence behind the attack: Deep sourcing into the Russian government by U.S. intelligence captured direct monkeywrenching instructions from Putin, the Post reports, and moved President Barack Obama to authorize the deployment of “implants” in Russian networks.

Presumably, everything stated by the Post has been presented in a more vivid classified package to President Trump. The Russians were coming, the Russians were coming, then they came and poured a big mess of disorder into the election. So knowing what he must know, why is he joshing with Russian diplomats in the White House and defaming former FBI director James Comey as a “nut job” to them? The republic is in peril, and instead of confronting the Russians, Trump is busying himself by driving his golf cart onto a green?

What did Trump know about Russian interference and when did he know it could become the investigation’s new battle cry. The question seems inescapable, no matter what kind of horse halters Sarah Huckabee Sanders straps to the White House press corps to nullify their inquiries. The Republican leadership has questions to answer, too. According to the Post, Republicans resisted Obama administration efforts during the campaign to phrase a bipartisan warning about the Russian raid: When a convoy containing the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, as well as the president’s homeland security adviser voyaged to Capitol Hill to brief leadership, the “meeting devolved into a partisan squabble,” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) rejecting the findings. Somewhere, Putin had to be chortling over the discord he had injected in Washington.

The collusion story is far from dead, thanks to the hot gases emanating from Michael Flynn’s broiling case. Prosecutors appear to have a solid case against him for lying to federal investigators about his Russian trips, filing misleading and incomplete reports about his business dealings and accepting foreign payments. Has he rolled and started to cooperate with the FBI? That’s what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a former U.S. attorney, surmised on June 19 during a CNN chat with the excitable Wolf Blitzer.

“If you draw conclusions as a prosecutor about what we can see from the Flynn investigation, all the signals are suggesting that he’s already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time,” the senator said. “He’s like the hole in a donut of subpoenas.” Whitehouse finds Flynn’s silence as a further signal that he’s singing. “That’s what prosecutors strongly encourage cooperating witnesses to do,” he said.

As Max Boot put it in Foreign Policy, special counsel Robert Mueller has been “assembling a hunter-killer team of crack investigators and lawyers.” He has recruited attorneys Andrew Weissmann, an expert in flipping witnesses, and Elizabeth Prelogar, who is fluent in Russian. The team appears to be rooting around for evidence of financial crimes, according to earlier reporting by the Post, specifically money laundering by Trump associates.

As our current scandal without a name matures—remember, we’re only six months or so into this one—it is beginning to resemble previous political scandals like Watergate, the Bert Lance affair, BCCI, Iran-Contra, Whitewater and the Clinton sex affair. As investigators peel back the turf looking for criminal evidence, they invariably find an unexpected ecology of voles and moles, white grubs and chinch bugs, sod webworms and mole crickets, spittlebugs and armyworms. The variety causes the investigation to expand from the lawn to the field, from the field to the forest and oceans, from the forest and oceans to the city, and in this case, perhaps, all the way to the man in the Trump Tower. Collusion might not have taken place, but as long as the special prosecutor is on the case, time is not on the president’s side.


Help name the scandal. Send your suggestions (your name will be used) to This week’s suggested names: “Trumpocchio” (Thomas Schwartz), “A Nesting Doll Rot” (Franklin Liu), “Trumpstruktsion” (Lee Hwang), “TrumpleThinSkin” (Steve Wilson), “Orangewater” (Josh Rumbut, Doug Darrow), “Alt-indict” (Josh Rumbut), “Bull-shitvic Solution” (Chris Titus), “Comey Island” (Dan Gealt), “Cohny Island” (Dan Gealt), “TrumptyDumpty’s Fall” (Tom David), “Humpty Trumpty” (Ross Asselstine), “Trumpsterfire” (Robert Fisher),“DeepVote” (Gil Glover), “Tower of Babble” (Ross Asselstine), “The Rusky Ring” (Josh Rumbut), “Russia-colluza” (Louis Soloff), “ScamAlot” (Richismo), “Tiffany’s Revenge” (John Earnhardt), “The Gulag Archip-A-Lago” (Paul Spinks), and “Orange is the New Red” (Gary Soucie). My email alerts mowed the lawn last night, my Twitter feed fertilized, and my RSS feed conspired with the spider mites.


Trump defends GOP health care bill, blasts Obamacare

President Donald Trump on Saturday criticized the Affordable Care Act and Democratic opposition to the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill as he continues to push for its passage.

"Democrats slam GOP healthcare proposal as Obamacare premiums & deductibles increase by over 100%. Remember keep your doctor, keep your plan," the president wrote in an early morning tweet.

Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to repeal Obamacare — the Better Care Reconciliation Act — on Thursday. The bill needs 50 votes to pass but lacks the support of Senate Democrats and several Republican lawmakers.

According to new analysis released last week by Oliver Wyman Health, an actuarial firm, premiums could increase by 40 percent by 2018 under Obamacare.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders initially would not commit the White House to endorsing the plan during a Thursday press briefing. But Trump tweeted his support for the bill Thursday evening.

“I am very supportive of the Senate #HealthcareBill. Look forward to making it really special! Remember, ObamaCare is dead,” Trump wrote Thursday night.


Republican governors could be secret weapon against health care bill

A handful of GOP governors opposed to their party’s proposals to overhaul Medicaid could potentially kill Mitch McConnell’s effort to repeal Obamacare.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican moderate who has hammered the repeal efforts for months, helped to deliver Sen. Dean Heller to the “no” column Friday. He stood next to Heller in the governor’s conference room in Las Vegas as the Nevada Republican announced he could not vote for the Senate repeal plan as written.

“I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans,” said Heller, becoming the fifth senator to go public with a threat to vote against the bill since it was unveiled. “It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes.”

Other GOP governors, including Ohio’s John Kasich and Arizona’s Doug Ducey, are pressing their own lawmakers — including Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — to oppose or alter provisions the state executives fear would cut billions in Medicaid funding to their budgets over the next decade.

Governors have no authority over their lawmakers, of course, and their sway is as much about personal relationships as it is about state politics. But even a handful of strongly opposed Republican governors could provide political cover for their senators to oppose the legislation.

And that could be a problem for McConnell, who can afford to lose only two of his 52 members to pass the bill, which could see a floor vote as soon as next week.

Kasich, for instance, whose state expanded Medicaid, has spearheaded much of the opposition to GOP plans to restructure Medicaid, but it is unclear yet whether he has persuaded Sen. Rob Portman, the state’s one GOP senator.

"Gov. Kasich is going to speak out every day until the vote is taken," said John Weaver, a Republican political strategist who advises Kasich. “What influence that has on Rob Portman? I have no idea."

Portman is among the moderates also being wooed by McConnell. A co-leader of a group of GOP senators from states that expanded Medicaid, the Ohio senator has sought a longer phase-out of that program and wants more money to address the opioid crisis since many substance abusers have gotten treatment through Medicaid. He has not said how he plans to vote.

Ducey, meanwhile, wrote a letter to McCain obtained by POLITICO expressing support for repealing Obamacare, which he called "a policy disaster," but outlining his objections to the Senate draft: He complained about a three-year phase-out of Medicaid expansion funding, saying he would not have enough time to plug holes in the state’s budget. He asked for more explicit Medicaid flexibility — and he said that federal funding for the program needs to grow at a rate exceeding that of medical inflation.

“Medicaid must be able to pay for the real-world costs of providing care,” Ducey wrote. Arizona’s Medicaid agency on Friday released an analysis that the draft Senate bill could cost the state roughly $7 billion between 2018 and 2026.

McCain, who has said he would consult Ducey and other state leaders, has not said how he will vote.

With only two days since the text of a bill written in secret was released publicly, most senators have declined to say how they will vote. But several say they are consulting with their governors and other state leaders before they make a decision.

After the release of the bill, Heller said he would share it with Sandoval to help determine whether it is good for his state. “As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not – I won’t,” he said in a statement.

Roughly 24 hours later, Heller stood alongside Sandoval announcing his opposition. “I think we can do better,” said Sandoval, a moderate who is term limited in 2018. “If you don’t have access to meaningful healthcare and you can’t get the care that you need, nothing else really matters.”

The issues for most Republican governors relate to how the GOP plan treats Medicaid, a federal-state program that provides health coverage to the poor, the elderly and the disabled — approximately 74 million in all. Sixteen red states expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

The Senate bill would phase out that expansion over three years — a longer window than allowed for in the House legislation but one that moderates say isn’t long enough. It also proposes to eliminate Medicaid’s status as open-ended entitlement, a sweeping change that some argue could threaten care for tens of millions of children, pregnant women, the elderly and disabled individuals.

In addition, the plan would cap federal Medicaid funds to states based on the number and type of enrollees, with the funds growing in sync with medical inflation until 2025, after which they would drop to the lower rate of general inflation. That has caused alarm among many state officials in both parties, who say those types of spending reductions are not tenable.

Aware of the huge role that Medicaid plays in their states, most senators say they’re consulting with their colleagues back home.

"I have to tell you that I try to respect and respond to the elected leaders in my home state," McCain said Thursday during his weekly Facebook Live town hall. "In this particular case, because Arizona is a Medicaid-expansion state, it is even more important."

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, whose state has a Democratic governor but a GOP-controlled state Legislature said he planned to be talking with state legislative leaders this weekend.

“As complex as it is, there are really only a handful of levels you need to look at and see how it affects your state,” he said.

Jennifer Haberkorn contributed reporting.


‘Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas’

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for Politico endorsing Donald Trump for president. It was a tongue-in-cheek effort—I “supported” Trump only because I thought he would lose to Hillary Clinton, disastrously, and that his defeat would cleanse the Republican Party of the extremism and nuttiness that drove me out of it. I had hoped that post-2016, what remained of the moderate wing of the GOP would reassert itself as it did after the Goldwater debacle in 1964, and exorcise the crazies.

Trump was a guaranteed loser, I thought. In the Virginia presidential primary, I even voted for him, hoping to hasten the party’s demise. In the weeks before the November election, I predicted a Clinton presidency would fix much of what ails our country. On November 8, I voted for Clinton and left the ballot booth reasonably sure she would win.

Needless to say, I was as dumbfounded by the election results as Max Bialystock was by the success of “Springtime for Hitler.” For two months after Trump won, I couldn’t read any news about the election, and considered abandoning political commentary permanently. It wasn’t just that Trump disgusted me; I was disgusted with myself for being so stupid. I no longer trusted my own powers of observation and analysis.

Almost everything that has happened since November 8 has been the inverse of what I’d imagined. Trump didn’t lose; he won. The Republican Party isn’t undergoing some sort of reckoning over what it believes; his branch of the Republican Party has taken control. Most troubling, perhaps, is that rather than reassert themselves, the moderate Republicans have almost all rolled over entirely.

Trump has turned out to be far, far worse than I imagined. He has instituted policies so right wing they make Ronald Reagan, for whom I worked, look like a liberal Democrat. He has appointed staff people far to the right of the Republican mainstream in many positions, and they are instituting policies that are frighteningly extreme. Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Scott Pruitt proudly denies the existence of climate change, and is doing his best to implement every item Big Oil has had on its wish list since the agency was established by Richard Nixon. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is actively hostile to the very concept of public education and is doing her best to abolish it. Every day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions institutes some new policy to take incarceration and law enforcement back to the Dark Ages. Trump’s proposed budget would eviscerate the social safety net for the sole purpose of giving huge tax cuts to the ultrawealthy.

And if those policies weren’t enough, conservatives—who, after all, believe in liberty and a system of checks and balances to restrain the government to its proper role—have plenty of reason to be upset by those actions Trump has taken that transcend our traditional right-left ideological divide. He’s voiced not only skepticism of NATO, but outright hostility to it. He’s pulled America back from its role as an international advocate for human rights. He’s attacked the notion of an independent judiciary. He personally intervened to request the FBI to ease up on its investigation of a former adviser of his, then fired FBI Director James Comey and freely admitted he did so to alleviate the pressure he felt from Comey’s investigation. For those conservatives who were tempted to embrace a “wait-and-see” approach to Trump, what they’ve seen, time and again, is almost unimaginable.

And yet as surprising as this all has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics. Trump is what happens when a political party abandons ideas, demonizes intellectuals, degrades politics and simply pursues power for the sake of power.


In the wake of Goldwater’s defeat, many conservatives concluded that their philosophy was insufficiently well-grounded in the social sciences and lacked an empirical foundation. For example, Goldwater talked about privatizing Social Security, but had no plan whatsoever for how to do it. Hearing his rhetoric on the subject, those receiving Social Security assumed, not unreasonably, that they would just be cut off.

Conservative leaders like William F. Buckley, the editor of National Review, the leading conservative publication, took to heart progressive historian Richard Hofstadter’s critique of widespread paranoia on the right. Buckley purged the extreme libertarians like Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, anti-Semites like Willis Carto of the Liberty Lobby, and the conspiracy-obsessed John Birch Society. And he made peace with the civil rights movement, as historian Al Felzenberg has documented.

In the 1970s, the conservative movement became receptive to moderate conservatives, called “neoconservatives,” such as Irving Kristol (father of Bill, the prominent anti-Trump conservative), who had been turned off by the anti-intellectualism of movement conservatism in the Goldwater era. Irving Kristol established an important journal, The Public Interest, which brought intellectual rigor and sophisticated policy analysis to the conservative table. Politicians like my former boss, Representative Jack Kemp, began reading it religiously. Others, like Rep. Dave Stockman, wrote for it and made names for themselves in the process. Eventually, this crowd found a powerful leader in Reagan, who appointed important neoconservatives like Stockman and Jeane Kirkpatrick to high-level positions.

The Heritage Foundation, established in 1973, was formed in part to provide policy analysis that was conservative, deeply studied and concisely digestible. When I worked there in the mid-1980s, it was a genuine think tank, an intellectual institution that did academic-quality research. We saw our job as putting policy flesh on the bones of Reagan’s conservative rhetoric, helping plow the ground for conservative initiatives too radical to be proposed by the administration just yet. In this era, important work was done at Heritage on reforming the tax system, welfare, Social Security and the health system—work that has stood the test of time.

When I became active in the Republican Party in the mid-1970s, it was the party of thoughtful men and women who were transforming America’s domestic policies while strengthening its moral leadership on the global stage. As Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in a July 1980 New York Times article, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.”

And then, everything began to change.

Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years). In power, Republicans decided they didn’t need any more research or analysis; they had their agenda, and just needed to get it enacted. Only a Democratic president stood in their way, and so 100 percent of Republicans’ efforts went into attempting to oust or weaken Bill Clinton and, when that failed, elect a Republican president who would do nothing but sign into law bills passed by the GOP Congress.

President George W. Bush didn’t realize he was supposed to just be a passive bill-signing machine; he kept insisting that Republicans enact his priorities, which, often, were not very conservative—No Child Left Behind Act, steel tariffs, a tax cut with few supply-side elements. His worst transgression, for me, was the budget-busting Medicare Part D legislation, which massively expanded the welfare state and the national debt, yet was enthusiastically supported by a great many House conservatives, including Congressman Paul Ryan, who had claimed to hold office for the purpose of abolishing entitlement programs. Republican hypocrisy on the issue caused me to become estranged from my party.

In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog. Conservative magazines like National Review, which once boasted world-class intellectuals such as James Burnham and Russell Kirk among its columnists, jumped on the bandwagon, dumbing itself down to appeal to the common man, who is deemed to be the font of all wisdom. (For example, the magazine abandoned the ecumenical approach to immigration of Reagan, who granted amnesty to undocumentedimmigrants in 1986, to a rigid anti-immigrant policy largely indistinguishable from the one Trump ran on.)

One real-world result of the lobotomizing of conservative intellectualism is that when forced to produce a replacement for Obamacare—something Republican leaders had sworn they had in their pocket for eight years—there was nothing. Not just no legislation—no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage. You’d think that House Speaker Ryan could have found a staff slot for one person to be working on an actual Obamacare replacement all these years, just in case.

With hindsight, it’s no surprise that the glorification of anti-elitism and anti-intellectualism that has been rampant on the right at least since the election of Barack Obama would give rise to someone like Trump. Anyone who ever read Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here,” which imagined a fascist dictator taking power in 1930s America, recognizes that Trump is the real-life embodiment of Senator Buzz Windrip—a know-nothing populist who becomes president by promising something for everyone, with no clue or concern for how to actually accomplish it. Windrip was “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic,” Lewis wrote. “Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only the wings of a windmill.”

Conservatives are starting to accept that Trump is not the leader they had hoped for and is more of a liability for their agenda than an asset. They are also starting to recognize that their intellectual infrastructure is badly damaged, in need of repair, and that the GOP and intellectual conservatism are not interchangeable. The Heritage Foundation recently fired its president, former Senator Jim DeMint, in part because he had allowed its research capabilities to deteriorate. The journal National Affairs aspires to be the serious, conservative policy-oriented journal that The Public Interest was. And some leaders, like Bill Kristol, have courageously stood up against the GOP’s pervasive Trumpism (“I look forward to the day when American conservatism regains its moral health and political sanity, and the David Horowitz center is back on the fringe, where I’m afraid it belongs,” Kristol recently told the Washington Post).

These are small steps, and promising—you have to start somewhere, after all—but what conservative intellectuals really need for a full-blown revival is a crushing Republican defeat—Goldwater plus Watergate rolled into one. A defeat so massive there can be no doubt about the message it sends that Trumpian populism and anti-intellectualism are no path to conservative policy success. In the meantime, there are hopeful signs that the long-dormant moderate wing of the GOP is coming alive again. In Kansas, Trumpian Governor Sam Brownback was recently rebuked when a Republican-controlled Legislature overrode his veto to raise taxes after the cuts previously enacted by Brownback proved disastrous to the state’s finances. And although their efforts have been modest thus far, moderate Republicans in Congress have helped soften Republican initiatives on health, the budget and gays.

The implementation of long-term, successful policy change cannot be short-circuited, it must be built on a solid foundation of thinking, analysis and research by smart, well-educated people. Listening to the common man rant about things he knows nothing about is a dead-end that leads to Trump and failure because there is no “there” there, just mindless rhetoric and frustration.

Having so badly miscalled the 2016 election, I’m not going out on a limb here and predicting a 1974-style defeat for GOP members of Congress next year, and I am fully aware that Democrats are always capable of seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. But the preconditions are falling into place for a political transformation between 2018 and 2020 that could result in the type of defeat that I think is necessary for my old party and the conservative movement to rebuild themselves from the ground up.

Ideally, I’d like to see an intellectual revival on the right such as we saw after the Goldwater defeat and the Watergate debacle. Freed from the stultifying strictures and kowtowing to know-nothing Trumpian populists—perhaps building on new outlets and institutions that celebrate intellectual rigor and reject shallow sound bites—a few conservative thinkers can plow a path toward sane, responsible conservative governance, just as people like Irving Kristol and Jack Kemp did during the Carter years. (Some conservative thinkers, such as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, speculate that Mitt Romney may emerge as the leader of a sane, modern, technocratic wing of an intellectually revitalized GOP.) If a leader doesn’t emerge, moderate Republicans—many of whom did not and will not support Trump—could be lost to the Democratic Party for good.

If the Republican Party and the conservative movement abandon populism, mindless appeals to the electorate’s lowest common denominator, and the pursuit of power for the sake of power and instead pursue a fully formed policy agenda based on solid analysis and research, then I don’t think it will take very long for a Republican revival. If it takes a Trump debacle to make that happen, it will have been worth it.


How Nixon Would Have Tweeted Watergate

As President Donald Trump continues to mouth off about the Russia investigation on Twitter—he recently admitted that he’s the target of an obstruction of justice probe—some have cracked wise on Twitter about what President Richard Nixon’s Twitter account might have looked like during Watergate, had social media existed in the 1970s. “The Jews,” surely—they’d show up a lot. Not to mention Teddy and that poor drowned girl, and those goddamn hippie bums.

Really, though? Nixon liked a drink, and he’d call people in the middle of the night for company and reassurance. I even believe Henry Kissinger’s account of him talking to paintings of his predecessors. But Nixon was once the Navy’s best poker player, and my sense is that he’d sooner die than show his cards like Trump does nearly every day.

Based on my years running the @dick_nixon Twitter account, I’ve imagined how Nixon might have tweeted during the scandal that brought him down. Some of the “tweets” below are imagined, but others adapt things Nixon actually said about Watergate, in public and in private.

You’ll see a president who is often angry and vindictive, full of absurd jealousies and justifications. But he’s also capable of introspection, and is never overmatched. Nixon’s temper flares worst at the time of the Pentagon Papers—but in his darkest days he’s cool, sometimes self-pitying, the boxer determined not to fall before the bell.

Of course, in the end, he did.


In June 1971, the New York Times and Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers, which revealed America’s political and military involvement in Vietnam 1945-67. They were leaked by military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. Nixon isn’t named in them; he simply hated leakers.

Several “Plumbers,” as members of Nixon’s political espionage team were called, break into the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, under orders by top domestic aide John Ehrlichman. This was not major news at the time.

Five “Plumbers” are caught attempting to wiretap the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex. They are later indicted by a federal grand jury, along with their handlers, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. There is no evidence Nixon ordered the break-in or knew of it beforehand.

The Washington Post reveals Watergate burglar James McCord’s connection to the White House.

The Washington Post reveals former Attorney General and current Nixon campaign chief John Mitchell controls a secret fund devoted to political espionage.

The Washington Post reveals the Watergate break-in is part of a massive political espionage campaign.

Liddy and McCord are convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident. The five burglars plead guilty. Nixon schemes to buy their silence.

Nixon tells the nation that White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and domestic aide John Ehrlichman let him down over Watergate. But he alleges no wrongdoing by them, and they are allowed to resign. Attorney General Richard Kleindeinst resigns because he is close to many in the case. White House Counsel John Dean is fired.

An obviously upset Nixon—possibly drunk—said this in a late-night telephone call to Haldeman.

Attorney General-designate Eliot Richardson appoints former Solicitor General Archibald Cox as Watergate special prosecutor.

The Washington Post reports former White House Counsel John Dean told Senate investigators he discussed the Watergate cover-up with Nixon 35 times, and Nixon tried to buy his silence.

Deputy White House Chief of Staff Alexander Butterfield reveals the White House taping system to Senate investigators. He was not prepared to lie for Nixon—not least, as he revealed later, because Nixon was rude to him.

Nixon refuses to furnish the Senate Watergate Committee and special prosecutor with subpoenaed tapes.

In a hectoring speech to the nation, Nixon says the Watergate probe has gone on too long.

During the “Saturday Night Massacre,” Nixon orders Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus refuse, and are fired; Cox is fired by Solicitor General Robert Bork.

Still claiming executive privilege, Nixon proposes that infamously hard-of-hearing Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis listen to the tapes and summarize them for Cox.

Nixon tells newspaper editors he is “not a crook.” The statement is largely concerned with charges that he profited from public life, which is not true. But he also claims he didn’t obstruct justice.

An 18 ½ minute gap is discovered on a subpoenaed tape. White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig can only explain that a “sinister force” is responsible.

Nixon’s personal secretary Rose Mary Woods takes blame for the erasure, claiming it accidentally occurred while she answered the phone during transcription. Woods later testifies she may have accidentally erased up to five minutes of tape, but examination reveals up to nine separate erasures.

Nixon releases edited tape transcripts to investigators, but not the tapes.

The U.S. Supreme Court rules 8-0 that Nixon must deliver tapes and other subpoenaed materials.

The House Judiciary Committee passes three Articles of Impeachment, charging Nixon with obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

Sens. Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott visit the White House with House Minority Leader John Rhodes. They tell Nixon the Senate will vote to convict.

Nixon announced to the nation at 9 p.m. that he would resign at noon the following day.

Nixon leaves the White House.


The other treaty on the chopping block

A fierce debate is brewing inside the Trump administration over whether to withdraw from another international treaty — this one a cornerstone disarmament pact with Russia banning an entire class of nuclear missiles.

The Russian military in February was accused yet again of violating the 1987 Intermediate Range Forces Treaty, which eliminated U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, by deploying a battalion of banned weapons on Europe’s periphery. The Obama administration first reported in 2014 Russia had tested the banned missile.

Leading Republican hawks are pushing legislation to compel Trump to take steps to develop new missiles in response — the first steps to jettisoning what is known as the INF treaty, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mihkail Gorbachev. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who chairs a key oversight panel on nuclear weapons, told POLITICO he thinks it is “irresponsible for us to continue to adhere to a treaty when the only other participant has long moved on from it.”

But there are serious questions inside the Pentagon, State Department and the White House National Security Council — and loud warnings from the architects of the pact — about the consequences of such a move, which some say could spark a full-blown arms race.

Spokespeople for the Defense and State Departments told POLITICO the INF Treaty remains "in the national security interest of the United States" and called on Russia to return to full compliance. The Pentagon, in a previously unpublished report to Congress last year, explicitly cautions against pulling out of the treaty, saying Russia’s compliance "remains the preferable outcome, which argues against unilateral U.S. withdrawal from or abrogation of the INF Treaty at this time."

But as the Trump administration undertakes a review of the entire American nuclear posture, one focus is whether the U.S. should remain in the treaty. “There’s a growing concrete threat that’s being presented to us, to our forces, to our allies and friends … by this new system,” Christopher Ford, senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counter-proliferation on the National Security Council, recently told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to the prohibited Russian missiles. “We need to do more to ensure … that Russia doesn’t obtain a military advantage from its violation.”

However, many leading arms control advocates from both parties say that responding in kind could have even more dire consequences.

“It can only lead to greater danger,” former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who is a member of the Pentagon’s high-level Defense Policy Board, told POLITICO, noting that the type of weapon the treaty outlawed was considered particularly destabilizing.

“The chance of blundering into a nuclear conflict is greater [with such missiles] than with long- range missiles because they are not based on our shores,” said Perry, who now runs an educational campaign on nuclear dangers in partnership with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

More broadly, Perry said a U.S. move to pull out of the pact — even if it was not followed by a decision to match the Russian weapons — “means we are giving up on treaties.”

It is a worry shared by veterans of Republican administrations as well.

“We are at an inflection point,” said Ambassador Richard Burt, who served as the lead arms control negotiator during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and oversaw the deployment of the now-retired Pershing missile, the last intermediate-range nuclear launch system in the American arsenal, when he worked for Reagan. “The whole structure of the arms control regime is in danger of falling apart and we are going to find ourselves in a nuclear arms race. Before pulling out of the INF Treaty we need to take a deep breath.”

The INF Treaty stands as a landmark in arms control not just because of the reductions it achieved — removing thousands of nuclear weapons from the European continent — but also because it for the first time eliminated a whole category of nuclear weapons.

“To some the zero option was impossibly visionary and unrealistic; to others merely a propaganda ploy,” Reagan said at the treaty’s signing. “Well, with patience, determination, and commitment, we’ve made this impossible vision a reality.”

Russia has denied violating the treaty. In February, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia “remains committed to its international obligations, including under the INF Treaty.”

But senior U.S. military and intelligence officials strongly disagree. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that Russia likely developed the banned cruise missile in part because the INF Treaty does not prohibit U.S. allies from possessing such weapons.

“Moscow probably believes that the new [ground-launched cruise missile] provides sufficient military advantages that make it worth risking the political repercussions of violating the INF Treaty,” Coats said.

Now a growing number of Republican lawmakers and national security specialists are calling for the U.S. to deploy intermediate-range missiles in response — and tear up the treaty.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill this year that would declare Russia in material breach of the treaty — the first step to withdrawing.

“Declaring Russia in material breach of the treaty is an option the President should absolutely consider,” a spokesperson for Cotton told POLITICO. “In the meantime, the United States needs to begin researching and developing similar systems.”

The bill would also authorize transferring intermediate-range systems to allied countries, establish a new program for ground-launched missiles within the banned ranges, and provide $500 million to fund countervailing-strike options.

Those provisions are carefully designed to stay within the limits of the treaty but send a strong signal to Russia that it should come back into compliance, according to Tom Karako, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Defense Project.

“Rules are being broken,” Karako said. “It’s way too late to still be twiddling our thumbs."

"Withdrawing sends a strong signal to the Russian Federation that there will be consequences for violating international agreements," added Michaela Dodge, a senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. "I think that signal is very important."

House Armed Services Strategic Forces Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) has introduced a companion measure — but his would fund the development of new missiles by slashing money for nonproliferation programs.

But while many others agree that the Russia violations are deeply troubling and require more forceful action, they blasted calls for the U.S. to withdraw from the treaty and develop its own banned missiles, concerned it could spark a new arms race in Europe.

“These missiles are highly destabilizing, they’re capable of reaching Moscow within 15 minutes,” Alexandra Bell, a former State Department official who is senior policy director for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said. “Withdrawing from the INF Treaty would be a terrible mistake.”

Instead, the U.S. should first pursue all possible diplomatic measures to bring the Russians back into compliance, beginning with providing the Russians with evidence of the violation, opponents of jettisoning the treaty say.

Tom Countryman, who stepped down in January as assistant secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation predicts such a move would send a dangerous signal, especially in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States will exit the Paris climate deal — and his reluctance to voice support for NATO’s principle of collective security.

“It would undermine our perception in the world that the U.S. honors its obligations,” he said. “We’re already under suspicion because of NATO and the climate agreement.”

Furthermore, withdrawing from the treaty could give Russia cover for deploying even more missiles in violation of the treaty. It also could spark a backlash from European allies within reach of the banned weapons, argues Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a leading disarmament group.

“It would be insane for the United States to withdraw from a treaty that eliminated thousands of nuclear weapons that threatened us and our allies,” Cirincione said. “If you think relations between the Europeans and the U.S. are bad now, just start deploying nuclear weapons and see what happens.”

And even with the new missile deployed by Russia, the U.S. does not have a compelling security reason to redeploy its own version, stressed Burt, who is now is co-chair of the Nuclear Crisis Group at the non-artisan advocacy group Global Zero.

“Our requirement for an intermediate-range capability is much less than theirs,” he said, pointing out that Russia “is stuck in the middle of Eurasia with nuclear powers surrounding them” — in Europe, China and the Indian subcontinent. “We are not worried about the Canadians or the Brazilians.”

Perry says the risk is bigger than just one class of atomic arms. On the line may be the entire nuclear arms control regime, including the 2012 New START Treaty that mandates deep cuts in both side’s deployed nuclear missiles

“It is hard to see a how we could negotiate a follow on to the New START Treaty if we just pulled out of the INF treaty,” he said. “It is pretty hard to ignore those [Russian] violations but I’d find a way not to pull out.”


California activist Tom Steyer adds health care to his brand

SAN FRANCISCO — California billionaire activist Tom Steyer made his name as an environmental activist, worked with Democratic groups to register a million new voters and redefined green politics with high-profile campaigns on climate change and clean energy.

Now as he weighs a run for public office, he’s adding health care — specifically drug prices — to his brand.

“Health is becoming the lens for seeing a lot of policy issues, including addiction, including climate,” Steyer told POLITICO in an interview in the San Francisco offices of his environmental policy advocacy group, NextGen Climate.

The former hedge fund executive, 59, is backing a California effort to force drug manufacturers to give notice of price increases, a move Steyer sees as a first step to reining in drug costs and curbing the power of corporate interests.

Taking on the pharmaceutical industry could broaden his appeal if he opts to join the crowded Democratic field competing to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown next year. But even if he doesn’t run himself, adopting drug prices as a cause — soon after pushing a successful initiative to raise tobacco taxes — enhances his already substantial role as a counterweight to conservative donors such as the Koch brothers. Steyer himself has already emerged as the single biggest individual campaign donor in the last two election cycles.

Asked directly how close he is to deciding whether to run for governor, he demurred. “I’m going to be working on these same issues, no matter what,” he said. “The question is, what can I do that is going to have the best value, the most impact?”

Drug prices resonate with voters in both parties.

The drug price battle is playing out in legislation passed last month by the California Senate that is slated to be heard June 27 in the Assembly health committee. It comes at a time when 86 percent of Americans are in favor of requiring drug manufacturers to release more information about how they set prices, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month. Sixty percent of respondents said lowering drug costs should be a “top priority” for the president and Congress.

Steyer first took up health care last year, pushing to raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 a pack and use the more than $1 billion in annual proceeds to help finance the state’s Medicaid program. He’s come to see the interconnections between his signature issues, among them climate, clean energy, health care and children’s well-being.

“We talk about climate in terms of the impact on people’s air quality and ability to breathe,” he said. “That is a lens through which you can get a lot of positive outcomes and positive policies.”

Outrage over the cost of drugs became a potent campaign issue in 2016, as lawmakers on both sides excoriated "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli and Mylan’s price hikes for its EpiPen. Since then, Trump seems to have softened his stance to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, though, and Congress seems unlikely to make substantive changes, leaving room for states like California to act.

That’s created an opening for Steyer, who, despite a public demeanor sometimes described as stiff and scripted, relishes a big fight.

Steyer stepped down from his firm, Farallon Capital Management, in 2012 to focus full-time on political and philanthropic interests. He has since led a push to register 1 million new voters nationwide, partnering with local Democratic party chapters and groups such as Planned Parenthood. And he used his personal fortune to push back the Republican tide that consumed Washington, spending more than $166 million in 2014 and 2016 on Democratic causes and candidates.

In March, Steyer joined a coalition of California health advocates to throw his weight behind S.B. 17, authored by state Sen. Ed Hernández, who chairs the health committee and is running for state lieutenant governor next year. In addition to requiring drug manufacturers to give purchasers 90 days’ notice before significantly raising prices, the bill would also make health plans report the percentage of premiums they spend on prescription medications.

“Until Steyer came around, there was no one who was an offset to the Kochs,” said Chris Lehane, a longtime Democratic strategist who’s served as Steyer’s political adviser. “He has had an incredibly successful career, and now he wants to use resources, his time, his energy and talent to energize different issues out there. … He’s at a place in his life where he is really looking at how he can make the biggest impact on the things he really cares about.”

Steyer grew up on New York’s Upper East Side. A graduate of Yale, he moved west to get his MBA at Stanford. While he talks passionately about topics such as income inequality, he’s widely seen as lacking the charisma that’s propelled so many politicians to the forefront, including his potential Democratic rival and frontrunner in the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. And as former eBay CEO Meg Whitman’s 2010 gubernatorial bid showed, Steyer is playing in a state that’s been traditionally cool to wealthy political neophytes.

Steyer is “not a guy who comes in and grabs the room,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State University. McCuan said concentrating on issues like drug prices makes sense as Steyer weighs his options.

“California clearly is a model and laboratory for what direction the Democrats could go,” he said, irrespective of whether Steyer is interested in public office “or just remaining an ATM.”

Jessica Levinson, who teaches politics and ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said Steyer’s push into health care makes him a more well-rounded candidate. “He doesn’t want to be known as the environmental guy who spends a lot of money,” she said.

Lehane, who is now head of global policy and public affairs for Airbnb in San Francisco, describes Steyer’s personality as authentic, and counters that he’s already been working on a range of issues for years.

Steyer made his mark through California’s oft-used ballot initiative process. He helped draft the tobacco tax measure and poured $11.5 million of his own money into what ultimately was a $35.5 million campaign to support it. Tobacco companies spent roughly twice as much in a bid to kill the proposition, which passed with more than 64 percent of the vote.

In 2010, Steyer teamed up with former Reagan administration Secretary of State George Shultz to oppose a state proposition that would have suspended California’s landmark climate-change laws. Voters soundly defeated the measure, which was backed by out-of-state oil interests, by a 21-point margin.

Steyer was also the force behind a 2012 state measure that closed a tax loophole for multi-state corporations and diverted some of the recovered revenue to fund clean energy. (An Associated Press report three years later found job growth from the effort was slower than anticipated.)

His bid to be a Democratic kingmaker have been less successful. Three of the six NextGen-backed candidates for the U.S. Senate lost in 2016. His backing of green-friendly candidates in 2014 also met failure, including in the Colorado governor’s race and a House contest in Iowa. Steyer and NextGen also spent millions in Florida trying unsuccessfully to oust Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

This week, Steyer announced he will put more than $7.5 million into an effort to register and turn out young voters in eight states ahead of the midterm elections.

Steyer said in the interview he’s frustrated that issues like the environment can’t be more bipartisan. But he’s confident California can be a laboratory for a progressive agenda.

Though the drug bill Steyer backs doesn’t set prices, it would shed light on manufacturers’ strategies by requiring advance notification of cost hikes and more information from insurers about how much they spend on drugs.

“The first step to fairness is transparency,” Steyer said. “The patents on drugs give them an effective monopoly. You’re getting a monopoly price where they don’t even want to tell you the costs. They don’t even want to tell you in advance when they’re going to be changing the price. That seems pretty outrageous to me.”

Supporters of a drug price ballot initiative that failed last year question whether Steyer’s late arrival to the game is motivated by political convenience. Proposition 61 would have limited some state health programs from paying more for drugs than the negotiated prices paid by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Voters rejected it by a 6-point margin, 53 to 47 percent, after drug interests spent more than $111 million fighting the bid, making it the most expensive ballot measure in U.S. history.

“It’s a little ironic somebody could be out there raging against high drug prices, but played no role [whatsoever] as a supporter of Prop. 61 when we were getting carpet-bombed by the drug companies,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic consultant and lead strategist for the campaign. “You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”

Steyer said he was focused on the tobacco tax at the time. The drug bill he’s backing this time has already drawn the ire of manufacturers, but battles over bills in the legislature are less expensive than ballot-box fights. Steyer said he didn’t know how much he might invest to get the bill to the governor’s desk.

Drug companies don’t want to lose any ground and are expected to push back.

Hernández, the bill’s author, pulled a similar measure last year after it was watered down in the Assembly under pharmaceutical industry pressure. He’s hoping for more success this time due to changes in the makeup of the Legislature and increased public angst over drug prices.

Priscilla VanderVeer, spokeswoman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said the group is willing to work with lawmakers on “solutions that have a meaningful impact on affordability.

“Unfortunately, this bill captures just one sliver of the larger drug supply chain and fails to shed light on other parts of the system, including its failure to explain why insurers aren’t paying full list price for medicines but patients often are,” she said.

The legislation has drawn support from health insurers, hospitals and labor and consumer groups who could emerge as allies in future Steyer battles.

“This doesn’t seem to me to be a very controversial bill,” Steyer said, referring to the price-hike notification requirement. Drug manufacturers “obviously did these major price increases without telling anyone that were completely unsupportable. … They’ve been justifying their behavior, and when the real truth comes out, their justifications are going to fall apart.”


The surprising GOP holdout on the Senate’s health bill

Ron Johnson stormed Washington in 2010 by railing against Obamacare, becoming one of the law’s harshest and most persistent critics. Now, with the Senate on the brink of repealing the law, he’s one of the surprise holdouts threatening to block the bill.

The Wisconsin Republican says Senate leaders are rushing the vote before he and the public can analyze it and are not doing enough to actually bring down premiums. He joined with a trio of Senate conservatives on Thursday who say they’re open to negotiation but can’t support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bill as it is.

“It’s not a bluff,” Johnson told POLITICO. “Until I have the information where I am certain this is … in the best interest for the folks in Wisconsin — that this puts us in a better position tomorrow than we are today — I’m not going to be voting yes.”

By joining with Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, Johnson has significant leverage. McConnell can only lose two of his 52 Republicans for the bill to still pass — so he’ll have to pick off at least two conservatives, depending on whether he can keep every other Senate Republican on board. McConnell’s job got tougher Friday when Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said he would oppose the bill for being too conservative — because it doesn’t protect states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

The opposition from Paul, Cruz and Lee was somewhat expected. And even the opposition from Heller was not surprising, given that he is facing the Senate GOP’s toughest reelection race next year.

But Johnson is rarely such a thorn in the side of GOP leaders.

Johnson’s chief concerns are ensuring there is enough time to analyze the bill, driving down premiums and protecting states that refused Medicaid expansion as Wisconsin did. His opposition did not come as a surprise to Republicans working on the bill, who said he has been extremely vocal in closed-door GOP conference meetings. Johnson, a former business owner and accountant, has argued that Republicans need to rely less on politics and more on policy experts such as actuaries and insurance executives to craft their bill — a request that leadership tried to meet by bringing them to meetings.

Johnson, as well as the other Senate conservatives opposing the original draft, have been careful to leave wiggle room for negotiation, honoring McConnell’s request to not publicly slam the door shut. Republicans working on the bill believe they can win over the Wisconsinite by connecting him with experts and officials who can address his concerns, such as CEOs of insurance companies or Wisconsin institutions.

“I’ve been voicing this repeatedly throughout the process,” Johnson said of his need for information. After Thursday’s meeting where Senate leaders unveiled the legislation, “I had a number of staff members come over offering to provide whatever information I need, which is good.”

GOP leaders say the strongest argument they have for winning over Johnson — or any other Republican on the fence — is that they all promised to repeal Obamacare.

“Everybody needs to be thinking about voting no and particularly if you’re the vote that takes it down,” a Republican senator said of the leadership strategy. “We can afford to lose a couple but after that,” the senator said, trailing off.

That argument may carry more resonance with Johnson — or embolden him to ensure the GOP bill goes as far as possible to repeal Obamacare. Johnson had made a mark in Washington by opposing Obamacare. Much of his 2010 Senate race against the Democratic incumbent, Russ Feingold, was focused on disparaging the recently passed health care law. Since then, Johnson has sponsored many anti-Obamacare bills and even tried to take an Obamacare legal challenge to the Supreme Court.

But Johnson is beholden to few in Washington. He largely self-financed his 2010 race as a political neophyte. In his reelection race last year, establishment Republicans largely gave up on Johnson’s reelection chances and sent precious campaign dollars elsewhere in the country.

Johnson says he wants to see a CBO score on the health bill, which is expected early next week — just days before McConnell plans to hold a vote. He said he needs time to analyze the bill’s impact on the health system, doctors and hospitals.

“I have a hard time believing I’ll have that information prior to when leadership may want to vote on this,” he said Thursday.

Johnson raised his concerns about Medicaid funding levels with President Donald Trump at a White House meeting with other lawmakers last week. His other major beef is that the bill won’t do enough to reduce premiums — a chief complaint among Cruz, Lee and Paul. They would like the bill to repeal Obamacare’s requirement that insurance companies accept everyone regardless of a pre-existing condition — a political non-starter with many other Republicans. The Senate conservatives say there are other ways to protect people with medical problems, such as high-risk pools.

“The primary driver of premium increases is guaranteed issue,” Johnson said, referring to the Obamacare protection for pre-existing conditions. “We really should be talking about providing individuals the freedom to purchase the kind of health care products they want to buy not being dictated by the federal government.”