Politico reports that there's been some grumbling on Capitol Hill about Defense Secretary James Mattis:

Republican lawmakers and senior congressional aides said in recent interviews they’re running out of patience with Mattis' staffing decisions, which have disappointed Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee hoping to see their ideological allies elevated to senior levels in the Defense Department.

....The defense secretary has also rankled Republicans with his efforts to hire veterans of Democratic administrations, pushing unsuccessfully to bring on Michèle Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration, as his deputy.

....Defense Department veterans say the White House has put Mattis in a nearly impossible position given that a large swath of the Republican foreign-policy establishment was openly critical of Trump during the campaign. Some say that has left Mattis with little choice but to turn to Democrats and to those without a political background to fill senior posts.

Michèle Flournoy! Mattis can't possibly have been naive enough to think that would fly, can he? She's practically an icon of the failed, weak-kneed, won't-say-radical-Islamic-terrorism Democratic national security establishment. Plus she has one of those chi-chi French accents in her name!

But I guess I feel a little sorry for Mattis. On the one hand you have Democrats. On the other hand, you have Republican foreign policy pros who almost unanimously disparaged Donald Trump during the campaign. On the third hand you have Republican hacks. Congress hates the first, Trump hates the second, and Mattis won't tolerate the third. Who's left for the poor guy?

Hardline conservatives in the House aren't happy with AHCA, the Republican health care bill. It's just Obamacare with a fresh coat of paint. And they have a point:

  • When they say that AHCA tax credits are the same thing as ACA tax subsidies, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's community rating with a 5:1 age band is the same thing as ACA's community rating with a 3:1 age band, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's continuous coverage provision is the same thing as ACA's individual mandate, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions is the same as ACA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they're right.
  • When they say AHCA's reliance on Medicaid for the very poorest is the same as ACA's reliance on Medicaid for the very poorest, they're right.

But moderates aren't too happy either. And they also have a point:

  • When they say that AHCA tax credits are far stingier than ACA tax subsidies, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's community rating with a 5:1 age band punishes old people compared to ACA's community rating with a 3:1 age band, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's continuous coverage provision is a pretty clunky way of implementing ACA's individual mandate, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions is less rigorous than ACA's ban on turning down people with pre-existing conditions, they're right.
  • When they say that AHCA slashes Medicaid support for the very poorest compared to ACA's Medicaid expansion, they're right.

You can see the problem. Hardline conservatives object to Obamacare in principle, but AHCA mostly adopts the same principles. Moderates don't care so much about how it gets done, but they object to voting for a bill that's likely to produce big electoral blowback when people figure out just how crappy it really is compared to Obamacare. There's really nothing here for anyone to like.1

Paul Ryan has tried to tap dance around this, but Andrew Prokop is the latest person to mention that Donald Trump isn't even bothering:

When Trump talks health care in public statements and in accounts of his private meetings, he keeps making the following four pretty simple points:

  1. Obamacare is a disaster that’s falling apart.
  2. If Republicans don’t pass the bill, they’ll do badly in the next election.
  3. Republicans have to pass the bill so they can move on to tax cuts.
  4. He — President Trump — and the Republican Party need this “win.”

There is no case for the American Health Care Act itself there. It’s all either political or a rote condemnation of Obamacare.

I give Trump points for having the right approach here. There's almost nothing about AHCA that would earn it passage based on the merits. There's just too much disagreement. Except about one thing: sticking it to liberals and Obamacare. Appealing to that kind of tribalism is literally the only thing that has a chance of producing enough emotional energy to overcome conservative fear of selling out and moderate fear of voter blowback.

It's likely to work, though it's encouraging that AHCA is (probably) going to pass only barely in the House. That was supposed to be the easy part. But if it's a nailbiter in the House, what chance does it have in the Senate? Probably not much, though appeals to tribalism, vindication, and party loyalty are, once again, the only plausible path to victory.

Mitch McConnell, savvy old warhorse that he is, knows this perfectly well, and that's why he wants to speed AHCA through the Senate in record time. It's either going to pass or it's not, and either way, time is not on his side. The longer AHCA festers, the more outrage and opposition it will generate. The justification for doing health care before tax reform is already gone, so if it's not going to pass, best to find out quickly and move on to the real business at hand.2

1Except for AHCA's big tax cuts for the rich, of course. Both moderates and conservatives agree about that.

2Tax cuts for the rich reform, of course.

 

The New York Daily News has often hit Trump hard on their front page.

A sample:

Which brings us to today's funny one:

Erin McPike was the only journalist allowed to accompany Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his recent trip to Asia. Dan Drezner points out this snippet from the profile of Tillerson that she filed:

After watching the contortions of my face as I tried to figure out what to say next, he humbly explained that he had never met the president before the election. As president-elect, Trump wanted to have a conversation with Tillerson “about the world” given what he gleaned from the complex global issues he dealt with as CEO of Exxon Mobil.

“When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned.”

In other words, Trump had never met Tillerson before and knew nothing about him. Then, at the end of a single short conversation, he immediately offered him the job. I guess that shows how important Trump considers the Secretary of State. He had already interviewed a bunch of other people, he was tired of the whole thing, and people were on his case for not filling his cabinet. So he chatted with this Tillerson guy who had been sent his way and figured, sure, what the hell. He'll do.

McPike also passes along this tidbit:

Tillerson is spending his early days in Foggy Bottom “whiteboarding,” a businessy term for mapping out and remapping out org charts, strategies, and plans. And that’s one area where he believes he can make an impact.

Maybe I'm a little hypersensitive about this, but it sets off my alarms. I've always thought that big reorgs were the last refuge of weak business leaders who couldn't think of anything else to do but wanted to look like they were doing CEO-ish things. But even if I'm being too harsh about this, doing it as your first course of action before you even settle in and learn anything about the organization you're heading is definitely dumb. Nor is this the only evidence we have that Tillerson was not a great business leader:

Nine years is a long time to go without any improvement in your stock price.

Poor Donald. The other kids are always picking on him:

This is from the guy who repeatedly said the real unemployment rate was 42 percent.

Donald Trump is gonna bring back the coal:

President Trump is poised in the coming days to announce his plans to dismantle the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate change legacy....In an announcement that could come as soon as Thursday or as late as next month, according to people familiar with the White House’s planning, Mr. Trump will order [EPA chief Scott Pruitt] to withdraw and rewrite a set of Obama-era regulations known as the Clean Power Plan, according to a draft document obtained by The New York Times.

....At a campaign-style rally on Monday in the coal-mining state of Kentucky, Mr. Trump told a cheering audience that he is preparing an executive action that would “save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work.”

This is part of Trump's plan to repeal all of Obama's "stupid" climate change policies. "We’re not spending money on that anymore," Trump's budget director told reporters. No more funding for climate change science; no more worrying about carbon emissions; no more auto mileage standards; and lots and lots of beautiful, black coal.

Except for one thing:

This is from Lazard's most recent energy analysis. Coal just isn't competitive anymore. Oh, existing plants will keep going for a while, and maybe Trump's executive orders—if they ever go into effect—will keep them in operation longer than otherwise. But there's nothing on the horizon that's likely to reduce the cost of coal, whereas wind and solar continue to drop every year. Gas is also likely to stay cheap for a long time thanks to fracking.

None of this is a secret. Everyone knows that Trump isn't going to save any coal jobs, but the coal miners like to hear him say that he will. Based on previous reporting, I gather that even they know it's mostly blather, but they still appreciate it. They give Trump an A for effort.

Back in the early part of last year, there was a mini-upwelling of comments from liberals suggesting that Trump might actually be better from a progressive point of view than more conventional conservatives like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. That was never true, and climate change is an example of why. Cruz or Rubio would have both tried to get rid of Obama's Clean Power Plan, but I don't think they would have literally tried to defund every bit of research into climate change or just flatly deny that carbon even mattered. They're too conventional. But with Trump there's always the danger that a combination of his signature ignorance and his rabid vengefulness will motivate him to go nuts. That's what's happening here. On the bright side, maybe his well-known incompetence will also keep him from being effective. But then again, maybe not.

Bob Somerby has been oddly disparaging about people who say that Donald Trump is a liar. Today he explains why:

Is Donald J. Trump a liar? Or could an accurate diagnosis perhaps be more troubling than that?...Is it possible that Donald J. Trump truly is some version of unhinged/crazy?...When Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott told Richard Nixon he had to resign, Nixon succumbed to reality. What would Trump do in a situation like that?

A mere "liar" would know it was time to go. Do you feel sure that Donald J. Trump would react like that?

We don't feel sure of that at all.

Let's roll the tape. Trump is vain. He's peculiarly unwilling to learn anything new. He feels endlessly persecuted. His attention span can be measured in minutes. He's paranoid over the slightest sign of disloyalty. He is vengeful. He demands constant attention. He makes up preposterous fictions to sustain his worldview and shield his ego from the slings and arrows of reality. He desperately wants to be liked by everyone. He's domineering. His personal relationships are almost entirely transactional. He never laughs. He can't stand people poking fun at him. He's often unable to control his emotional outbursts. And he likes his steaks really well done.

Does that mean he's unhinged? I dunno. No single one of these things is debilitating, but what happens when you put them all together? Back when I was a kid there was a super-villain called the Composite Superman. He had the powers of, like, 30 different superheroes, and apparently that was enough to drive him mad:

Maybe this is Trump. Being, say, vain and domineering would make him a bit of an asshole, but nothing more. But put all of his bizarre personality traits together, stir in the pressure of being president, and that might be enough to qualify him as detached from consensus reality. Who knows?

Over at The Upshot, Margot Sanger-Katz catches something that any of us might have noticed if we'd had keen enough eyes. The CBO famously projected that the Republican health care bill would result in 24 million people losing health insurance:

But one piece of context has gone little noticed: The Republican bill would actually result in more people being uninsured than if Obamacare were simply repealed. Getting rid of the major coverage provisions and regulations of Obamacare would cost 23 million Americans their health insurance, according to another recent C.B.O. report. In other words, 1 million more Americans would have health insurance with a clean repeal than with the Republican replacement plan, according to C.B.O. estimates.

Here's what the CBO said in its January report. If only the individual mandate, the subsidies, and the Medicaid expansion are repealed, 32 million people will lose insurance by 2026. If, in addition, community rating, minimum coverage requirements, and the preexisting conditions ban are repealed—in other words, if essentially all of Obamacare is repealed and nothing put in its place—23 million people will lose insurance by 2026.

As it happens, the current Republican bill is similar to Option 1, which means the GOP is making progress. Under their old bill 32 million people would be kicked off the insurance rolls, while the new bill only kicks off 24 million. However, they could do even better by just repealing everything, full stop.

Their problem, of course, is that they can't do that. Democrats can filibuster all the additional stuff in Option 2. Nevertheless, Sanger-Katz is right: it's pretty remarkable that the Republican bill actually does more damage than repealing Obamacare and simply doing nothing at all. Not just any political party can pull off something like that.

Jeff Flake's son is about to be the most popular person on reddit.

Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses? This is a famous internet question. Hard to answer! Who knows! Large duck would be quite hard to fight! But also 100 mini horses would not be a walk in the park either. In reality, man is a delicate thing. Our flesh is soft. If it weren't for our opposable thumbs we'd have been eaten by venus flytraps long ago. What I'm saying is, no matter which answer you choose, you're going to lose that fight, my friend. Real question is how do you want to die? Both sound bad! Being eaten by a horse-sized duck seems awful, but being attacked and devoured by little duck-sized velociraptors horses? Well, that doesn't seem like the way I want to go out.

Anyway, I don't know the answer. Stupid question. Stupid internet. But it is a famous question! Obama said he'd fight the horse-sized duck.

Sen. Flake asked Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch the question on behalf of his son (who must be dying right now).

Watch:

Lunchtime Photo

This little girl looks...worried? Dismayed? Unsure? Maybe all those things. She had just been playing with her little sister and sort of "helped" her into a nearby fountain. Dad was nearby and didn't seem especially concerned about the whole thing, but she doesn't know that yet as she surveys the damage. She is not yet sure what the future holds for her.