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On the roster: Ryan goes for bite-sized bills to replace ObamaCare - Power Play: Hoeven talks next steps - FBI director’s 2016 maneuvers to be investigated - Chaffetz warns watchdogs on trump criticism - Ka-ching!
RYAN GOES FOR BITE-SIZED BILLS TO REPLACE OBAMACARE
House Speaker Paul Ryan says that Republicans will “definitely” put a replacement for ObamaCare on Donald Trump’s desk before the end of April.
Or perhaps we should say “replacements.”
The biggest mystery in Washington these days isn’t Russian spies or who Trump will tap for the Supreme Court. The real head-scratcher: how Republicans will replace ObamaCare.
Initially, the GOP was planning to eat dessert first. They were going to repeal the law, bringing the political and tax benefits at once, but delay the actual elimination of benefits for at least two years while they worked out a plan.
But an uproar among conservatives who sensed danger from creeping repeal and Trump’s apparent agreement sent Congressional policy wonks back to the drawing board.
“Repeal and eventually replace” seems to be dead, at least for the time being.
Slow-walking the repeal had obvious political benefits. First, it would have allowed Republicans to avoid major disruptions in coverage as they built consensus around a new plan. Second, delaying the fight over what to put in its place would have left lots more bandwidth for Republicans to take up other policy priorities like taxes, border security and infrastructure. Third, and perhaps most importantly, twinning repeal and replacement is risky business.
Remember our analogy about choosing a restaurant. If a group is trying to decide where to dine and is given three options, say the new Indian place, Applebee’s or “something else,” “something else” is an easy winner. That’s because everyone in the group believes their preferred outcome still might be obtained.
Ryan’s initial plan was, essentially, just to get Republicans to agree that they wanted to go out to dinner in the first place and then start the debate about where to go once everyone was in the car.
Once you start talking about the specifics of ObamaCare’s replacement, you start jeopardizing votes for the repeal itself. Maine moderate Sen. Susan Collins and Nebraska conservative Sen. Ben Sasse both want the law repealed, but do not necessarily agree on the replacement. The GOP can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate on repeal, and running a concurrent replacement dramatically increases the chance of defections.
Ryan has finally showed his hand.
In what would be one of the most ambitious legislative undertakings in memory, Ryan and his team planned to put forward not one “comprehensive” plan, but rather a suite of related bills as a replacement package.
This is a reversal of decades of congressional practice in which important or complicated legislation, like ObamaCare itself or two failed bids to reform immigration are heaped into enormous piles. Republicans had good fun with Democrats over the length of ObamaCare: some 2,700 pages of indecipherable Beltwayeze.
But both parties knew the secret to passing unpopular or controversial things was size. Written correctly and with enough stuffing you could hide a black bear in one of these bills.
In the old days, bills were crafted in legislative backrooms and delivered with no time to be reviewed by the members or the public. Lawmakers could vote for one of these nasties and then go home and tell the good people of their district the story they wanted.
Now, there is scrutiny at every stage. Closed-door meetings turn into leakfests on social media. Activists and journalists pore over draft language and voters respond in real time to various outrages they see in the plans.
In a nod to the new reality, Ryan is proposing a series of smaller bills passed one at a time. It’s also a nod to the fact that Republicans can act alone to repeal, they will need Senate Democrats’ help to replace.
The risks are still substantial. Democrats will have many more opportunities to obstruct the majority so the possibility of a legislative quagmire is real. The safety net here is that if Democrats and dissident Republicans succeed in blockading key components, the leadership can fall back to delayed replacement.
Whatever happens, though, the next three months promise to bring a wild, wide-ranging fight over the law. Ryan and his Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell are tasked with avoiding what happened eight years ago where early momentum for ObamaCare stalled and eventually turned into a politically bruising slog.
But like they say in Triadelphia: You know how you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
POWER PLAY: HOEVEN TALKS NEXT STEPS
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., talks with Chris Stirewalt about repealing Obamacare, set in motion by a key Senate vote this week, and reveals who he hopes will be tapped to fill Trump’s last open Cabinet post: Secretary of Agriculture. WATCH HERE.
THE RULEBOOK: SOLO ARTIST
“I proceed to lay it down as a rule, that one man of discernment is better fitted to analyze and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to particular offices, than a body of men of equal or perhaps even of superior discernment.” – Alexander Hamilton, writing on the power of the president to make appointments in Federalist No. 76.
TIME OUT: ‘PASS BOLDLY INTO THAT OTHER WORLD’
The best-known Irish writer, James Joyce, who died on this day in 1941, is buried in Switzerland. Why? The story involves Joyce’s Nazi sympathies and resentments for the country that reveres him now. Irish Central: “By the time the Germans marched into Paris, Joyce was already residing in the non-occupied Vichy section of France…As he had during the First World War, Joyce turned to Switzerland for safe haven…Joyce had had a duodenal ulcer for well over a year…it perforated and he was rushed to hospital…Brian Cosgrove in his ‘An Irishman’s Diary’ column in the Irish Times on January 10, 2012, noted that Nora Joyce offered to the Irish government to repatriate James’ body. ‘It is still shocking to learn,’ wrote Cosgrove, ‘that apparently our then government under [Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera] instructed the Irish chargé d’affaires in Zurich not to attend Joyce’s funeral.”
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FBI DIRECTOR’S 2016 MANEUVERS TO BE INVESTIGATED
WaPo: “The Justice Department inspector general will review broad allegations of misconduct involving FBI Director James B. Comey and how he handled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email practices, the inspector general announced Thursday. The investigation will be wide-ranging, encompassing Comey’s various letters and public statements on the matter and whether FBI or other Justice Department employees leaked nonpublic information, according to Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz. The inspector general’s announcement drew praise from those on both sides of the political aisle and again put a spotlight on Comey, who emerged as a controversial figure during the 2016 race.”
Comey briefed Trump on potential Russian efforts to blackmail, bribe - The Hill: “FBI Director James Comey briefed President-elect Donald Trump on a two-page summary of an unverified dossier claiming Russia had compromising information on the real estate mogul, CNN reported Thursday. That contradicts claims by members of Trump’s transition team and other news outlets that intelligence officials never briefed Trump on the two-page addendum to a classified report given toPresident Obama and leaders in Congress about Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election.”
Ignatius: Flynn phoned Russian ambassador ‘several times’ as hacking report dropped - WaPo: “According to a senior U.S. government official, [Donald Trump’s pick for National Security Adviser Michael Flynn] phoned Russian AmbassadorSergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.”
CHAFFETZ WARNS WATCHDOGS ON TRUMP CRITICISM
NYT: “The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued a stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation, to the federal government’s top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-electDonald J. Trump’s commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest. In an unusual action against the independent Office of Government Ethics, RepresentativeJason Chaffetz of Utah accused the office’s director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., of ‘blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.’ He cited a bizarre series of Twitter posts that the office made in late November congratulating Mr. Trump for divesting from his business — even though Mr. Trump had made no such commitment… Mr. Chaffetz’s letter made no mention of Mr. Shaub’s airing of doubts a day earlier about Mr. Trump’s ethics plan, which includes retaining his own stake in his business empire and putting it in a trust managed by his two adult sons.”
“I think [President-elect Trump’s] going to keep doing this, and I think he’s going to be probably a little more restrained in his tweets probably, but it’s all relative.” – House Speaker Paul Ryan at a CNN town hall answering if he thought Trump would continuing tweeting as president.
Trump’s Labor secretary, CKE CEO Andrew Puzder confirmation hearing delayed likely into next month - The Hill
Trump approval rating declines to new low as inauguration approaches - Gallup
Eliana Johnson reports that Christie plans comeback on Trump team - Politico
Carson pushed by Warren to assure that ‘not one dollar’ of HUD money will go to Trump - Boston Globe
C-SPAN broadcast interrupted by Russian propaganda channel - NYT
Obama ends “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban refugees - AP
Obama blames policy defeats for inability to win “the PR battle” - CBS News
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said to be the buyer of the biggest house in Washington - WaPo
Trump tweet on L.L. Bean shows dangers for other brands in political crosshairs - NYT
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
Vice President-elect Mike Pence joins Mr. Sunday to lay out the incoming administration’s agenda ahead of next week’s inaugural festivities. And outgoing CIA Director John Brennan discusses his tenure as head of America’s top intel agency amid all the recent scandals. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.
#mediabuzz - Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.
FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I’ve always wondered, if BC is used to indicate ‘before Christ,’ then why is his birth usually stated as @ 4 - 3 BC? Seems to me that the day of his birth would begin AD. I know there was no 0 year but I’ve never read where Christ’s birth was in 1 BC, it’s always been earlier and I’ve never really understood that. Thanks, you and Dana keep up the good work!” – Don Ripley, Floresville, Texas
[Ed. note: Here, of course, you are referring to the newly instituted Bokosky Rule, so named for our loyal correspondent Geno Bokosky, a West Virginian transplanted to the West Coast. The rule states: Halftime Report will correct the use of the terms “CE” and “BCE” when quoting other outlets. As for the actual first “year of the Lord” we don’t know exactly. The best historical record suggests that Jesus of Nazareth was probably born in what we would now call about 5 AD, but we will never know for sure. We owe the starting point of our current 2,017-year count to a 6th century Scythian monk called Dionysius the Humble, who was working backwards to try to establish dates for Easter observances. How he settled on the date he did we can’t be exactly sure. The influential English monk known to history as the Venerable Bede popularized Dionysius’ count in the 8thcentury and we have been marking time that way ever since.]
“Please tell me that the study on baboon farts is not being financed by tax payers. It could make a smelly mess in Congress.” – Ron House, Clyde, Ohio
[Ed. note: Pretty ripe, Mr. House…]
“The whole business of who is and is not a ‘war criminal’ is one that we have always treated with a great deal of circumspection lest (as has been attempted numerous times) one of our Presidents or Generals or others be branded a ‘war criminal.’ Who is or is not a war criminal depends on who has the power or who has won the war.” –Bill Bilyeu, Reno, Nev.
[Ed. note: Not to be too cynical about it, Mr. Bilyeu, but war criminals only come from the losing side. History rightly remembers the lengths to which our nation went in the wake of WWII to hold fair trials for Nazi and imperial Japanese war criminals. I watched “Judgment at Nuremberg” just the other day and was reminded of the powerful example we set for the world. Justice Robert Jackson’s service as a chief prosecutor stands with John Adams’ defense of the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston massacre as towering testaments to the American belief in the rule of law. I recommend to you “A Train of Powder” by Rebecca West, who reported on the trial. Her excellent writing and sense of history is a gift for subsequent generations. But we also know that had the Axis powers prevailed, Allied commanders would have no doubt been called war criminals themselves. And in some cases they might have even been guilty. The bombing of Dresden, Germany, for example, far exceeded any military purpose. But the 25,000 civilians perhaps needlessly killed are mostly forgotten as part of a war effort that succeeded in defeating a genocidal tyrant who sought to enslave the continent. For 100 years, the international community has sought to regulate war. While there has been arguable success in preventing conflicts, or at least their expansions, the truth about preventing and prosecuting atrocities remains: If Americans want to see American-style justice for war crimes, we must always first win the war.]
“As further correction to the issue of Franklin Roosevelt, His first inauguration was on March 4, 1933. The twentieth amendment to the U.S. constitution, which changed the inauguration to January 20th was passed in 1933, but did not take effect until his second term. Hence his first term ran from 3/4/33 to 1/20/37.” – Marshall Morris, Portland, Ore.
[Ed. note: I want you to know, Mr. Morris that Dana Perino has already offered her thorough apologies for the erroneous answer. I have asked for a tribute of various smoked meats for reparations. You and other readers who have pointed this out have reconfirmed what I have always known: we enjoy one of the smartest readerships in the business. Thank you.]
Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.
Bristol [Va.] Herald Courier: “LEBANON, Va. — After carting the fifth and final wheelbarrow of pennies into the Lebanon Department of Motor Vehicles Wednesday,Nick Stafford could feel the burn in his arms. Winded, Stafford took a smoke break in the DMV’s parking lot…The 300,000 pennies the Cedar Bluff, Virginia man took to the DMV Wednesday morning to pay sales tax on two new cars weighed in at 1,600 pounds… Back in September, he wanted to know which of his four houses spanning two Virginia counties he should list when licensing his son’s new Corvette. He attempted to call the Lebanon DMV, but was routed to a call center in Richmond… When Stafford called the number he was given, he said the employees at the DMV told him the phone line wasn’t meant for public use… Stafford filed three lawsuits in Russell County General District Court: two against specific employees at the Lebanon DMV and one against the DMV itself. On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the lawsuits at the request of the state…”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“All of a sudden, as we have seen, [Democrats have] gotten interested in Russian cyber warfare, which the administration appeared to be extremely nonchalant about until they lost the November election.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with BretBaier.”
Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.