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D.C. Memo: The heart-iest of heartland memos

photo of amy klobuchar speaking
REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been touting a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan on the presidential campaign trail.

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

Welcome to the latest edition of the D.C. Memo, which — much like Fred Trump — wasn’t born in a very wonderful town in Germany. This week, Trump’s latest health care effort has the lifespan of a mayfly; the White House had “only” four or five very serious security clearance problems, and Kloby pitches infrastructure to Iowa.

So let’s get to it.

Three big things

Welcome to The Party of Health … nevermind: This week, President Donald Trump announced Republicans would not, in fact, engage in political hara-kiri by trying to replace Obamacare with “something great” before the 2020 election. After being told by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the Senate had zero appetite for taking on the issue, Trump issued a series of tweets Monday night making it clear that Republicans would have an awesome plan … in 2021:


“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare,” wrote Trump.

“In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare,” he said. “Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”

Translated: the only way there will be another attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act is if 1.) Donald Trump wins a second term, 2.) Republicans hold on to the Senate in 2020, and 3.) Republicans manage to take back the House in 2020. So: Easy!

For a host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that health care was the single biggest reason Democrats gained 40 seats and took control of the House in 2018, a whole bunch of Republicans weren’t exactly bummed out by this development. Indeed, as Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur and Laura Litvan explained: “Most congressional Republicans … are in no mood to return to that battlefield. Although they had fiercely opposed the law since 2010, it gradually became more popular with voters … In the House elections, health care ranked as the top issue for voters. Those voters preferred Democratic candidates by a striking margin of 75 percent to 23 percent, according to exit polls published by CNN. Democrats won 40 seats and captured the majority after eight years.”

Which hardly means Obamacare is out of the woods, exactly, since there is still the lawsuit being led by the state Texas pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a suit that argues the ACA is unconstitutional and should be struck down. And though legal experts say the lawsuit is something of a long shot, the Justice Department, after initially saying the law should be partially overturned, changed its position last week and said Obamacare should be fully invalidated, a move that kicked off this whole policy walkabout.

Surely you can’t be very serious: The same day McConnell told Trump the Senate wasn’t going anywhere near health care, the staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released a 10-page memo highlighting testimony given to them by whistleblower Patricia Newell, an 18-year veteran of the White House’s Personnel Security Office. In late March, Newell had told the committee that senior Trump officials had given security clearances to at least 25 people whose applications had been flagged for “disqualifying issues” by career personnel employees.


As the Times recounts: “Ms. Newbold told the committee’s staff members that she and other career officials had denied the 25 applications for a variety of reasons, including ‘foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct,’ the memo said. The denials by the career employees were overturned, she said, by officials with more seniority who, by her account, did not follow the normal procedures meant to mitigate security risks and generally adhered to by other administrations.”

Which, when you put it that way, seems kinda bad, especially since among the 25 are two current senior White House officials (spoiler: one of them is Jared) as well as contractors and other employees working for the office of the president.

But never fear, say the Republicans on the oversight committee. “In a nine-page memo of their own, Republicans presented Ms. Newbold’s concerns about the office’s leadership as overblown and, in some cases, typical of a disgruntled federal employee,” recounts the Times. “They said she had told the committee that ‘only’ three of the 25 individuals on her list were ‘senior-level’ White House employees, and ‘only’ four or five prompted ‘very serious reasons.’”

Whew. That certainly makes us feel better.

Yet it seems like not everybody feels that way. In fact, in USA Today, Kurt Bardella, a Republican-turned-Democrat who once worked for Rep. Darrell Issa, offers an assessment of the story that’s a downright downer:

Every single person who lives in this country and claims to care about our national security should be terrified by the idea that people who are trusted with our nation’s most sensitive secrets were initially rejected to receive a security clearance. This concern with keeping our secrets safe was one of the primary justifications for the House Republicans’ prolonged multiyear investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the creation of the Benghazi Select Committee.

As someone who spent five years working for Republicans on the House Oversight Committee during the Obama presidency, I can tell you that what Trump has done with these security clearances is a far bigger scandal than “Hillary’s emails,” Benghazi, Fast & Furious, IRS “targeting” of conservative groups or any of the other so-called scandals Republicans obsessed over under the guise of transparency and security.

When you consider the many details about the Trump family finances and entanglements that have been kept secret from the American people, the potential for conflicts of interest is extremely troubling and dangerous. There are legitimate questions about what people are doing with state secrets and why. Are some of them putting their financial interests ahead of our national security? What is the motivation behind the president’s decision to overrule his own security and intelligence experts?

This is why the Cummings investigation is so important. It’s not just that 25 or so people received clearances who probably shouldn’t have. We need to know why their clearances were denied or rejected.


Chasing Amy, the “heartland economics” edition: “Grit.” “Heart.” “Unglitzy.” Yes, these are the sort of cliches traditionally used to describe backup infielders or literally anyone from Detroit. But this week they’re buzzwords from the latest media profiles of hometown Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who continues to sharpen her presidential pitch as a no-nonsense midwesterner who understands the needs of the “heartland.”

The Washington Post followed Klobuchar through Iowa to focus on the centerpiece of that pitch, her new trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. From Pacific Junction, Klobuchar heard from a family who lost everything to Missouri River flooding after a levee failure. “The infrastructure plan seemed aimed squarely at waterlogged Iowans, who saw 57 of their state’s 99 counties flooded last month and who are crucial to Klobuchar’s attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination,” wrote Post reporter Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

Over in The Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere sat down with Klobuchar to delve into what exactly her “heartland economics” concept means, and whether it’s sound strategy or a swipe at misplaced nostalgia. Klobuchar told him the phrase means, in part, a “focus on rural economics,” from infrastructure to broadband and clean drinking water. Those efforts, Klobuchar maintains, are key to winning rural voters that Trump used to pick up states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa in 2016. Dovere pointed out that cities and suburbs sent Tony Evers to the governor’s mansion in Wisconsin last year, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton got 75,000 fewer votes in Detroit’s county than Barack Obama and lost Michigan by 10,704.

Regardless, the week can only be seen as a positive for Klobuchar, who spent more time talking about her ideas and less time defending her record as Hennepin County Prosecutor or her pitching arm. (Klobuchar also released 12 years of tax returns, which did not appear to yield anything particularly notable.)

Elsewhere in the 2020 fray, it was not such a good week for presumptive front-runner Joe Biden, who vowed to better respect the personal space of women after seven women said he had touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable. “Social norms have begun to change,” he said in a video on Twitter. Debate has ensued over whether the statement was an adequate apology.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren continues to employ the odd strategy of talking about policies, and this week it was all about a bill that would make it easier to ferry corporate executives off to jail when their companies break the law. Also: Sen. Kamala Harris said she wants immigrant Dreamers to work in Congress, and Mayor Pete talked about Scripture and grace.

The week in takes

Your weekend read

“Planet Fox: How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World”

As we’ve long said around Memo HQ, the media finds nothing more fascinating than the media itself. And there is no media organization in the world more fascinating than that of Fox News, which explains not only the buzz over this story, but also its Ulyssian length. The New York Times devotes three reporters and three parts to telling the dynastic drama facing Rupert Murdoch’s empire, assuming that the man himself will, you know, actually die one day:

Over the last six months, we have spoken to more than 150 people across three continents about the Murdochs and their empire — some who know the family intimately, some who have helped them achieve their aims, some who have fought against them with varying degrees of success. (Most of these people insisted on anonymity to share intimate details about the family and its business so as not to risk retribution.) The media tend to pay a lot of attention to the media: Fox News is covered almost as closely as the White House and often in the same story. The Murdochs themselves are an enduring object of cultural fascination: “Ink,” a play about Rupert’s rise, is opening soon on Broadway. The second season of HBO’s “Succession,” whose fictional media family, the Roys, bears a striking resemblance to the Murdochs, airs this summer. But what we as reporters had not fully appreciated until now is the extent to which these two stories — one of an illiberal, right-wing reaction sweeping the globe, the other of a dynastic media family — are really one. To see Fox News as an arm of the Trump White House risks missing the larger picture. It may be more accurate to say that the White House — just like the prime ministers’ offices in Britain and Australia — is just one tool among many that this family uses to exert influence over world events.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for sticking around. Until next week, feel free to send tips, suggestions, and sound advice to: feedback@minnpost.com. And don’t forget to become a MinnPost member.

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