CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The HKonJ protest this past weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina, may have been the largest such event, but it wasn’t the first time that thousands, with causes as diverse as the citizen-marchers themselves, showed up. For 11 years, with messages for both Republicans and Democrats, the faithful gathering at Historic Thousands on Jones Street have persisted.
There is a lesson for the dissatisfied, new to activism, who are now crowding town halls and filling the streets: Victories may never come, or may be incremental, at best. Each goal accomplished could be followed by a setback.
Are the protesters of 2017 in it for the long haul?
The Trump administration is certainly giving opposition movements incentives to keep going, from turmoil throughout its national security team to a clump of advisers with white nationalist ties skulking around the Oval Office or surfacing on talk shows to repeat falsehoods about “illegal” voters skewing election totals.
At their recent congressional forum in Baltimore, Democrats, reeling from losses and hoping to exploit GOP problems and harness the energy of Trump opposition for party gains, were presented with different strategies from some of those running for Democratic National Committee chair.
In North Carolina, what has been called the “Moral Movement” already has a face, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, head of the state NAACP chapter, which estimated Saturday’s Raleigh crowd at about 80,000.
The issues that get people in the streets once focused on broadening voting rights, and have come to also embrace health care availability, environmental justice, immigration and criminal justice reform, reproductive freedom, racial equality, redistricting and more.
Before the weekend march, Barber said, as reported in The News & Observer: “A loud majority is outraged and the whole world is in turmoil asking what can we do. Well, we know we’ve got a hard fight ahead, but we know how to win.”
Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, affirmed the marchers’ right to protest, but countered their effectiveness by saying that “the agenda items they support have been soundly rejected at the ballot box by the people of North Carolina.”
He has a point. Trump, helped by numerous rallies by the candidate, surrogates, family members and friends, won North Carolina on Election Day, despite visits from Hillary Clinton and her own team of supporters. Voters returned Richard Burr to the U.S. Senate and Republican majorities to the state legislature. However, GOP incumbent governor Pat McCrory was defeated by Democratic challenger Roy Cooper. While McCrory’s support for an unpopular toll road project and HB2, the controversial bill over LGBT rights, certainly hurt him, political engagement from a persistent opposition no doubt also played a part.
When he delivered a thundering address at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia last year, Barber’s national prominence rose. He has followed up with columns and TV appearances. But North Carolina’s activism was never just about his leadership, in the same way that the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s was not only the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., despite efforts since his death to elevate him to not just iconic but superhuman status.
While Barber’s visibility has made him both an admired and vilified figure, he will not hesitate to form an unlikely alliance if it could advance a cause. For example, the NAACP joined with Adam O’Neal, the Republican mayor of Belhaven, North Carolina, in a so-far unsuccessful fight to re-open the town’s local hospital, which was shut down after state lawmakers decided not to expand Medicaid coverage. All the while, the movement is working to register voters and fight laws it considers unjust in the courts — small steps, perhaps, but significant ones.
That’s what those who oppose policies embodied by the Republican Party and Trump administration should see in their future — long hard work in the states, with results that are not always successful or easy to see.
Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.
BY JOE WILLIAMS AND ERIN MERSHON
CQ ROLL CALL
This article originally appeared on CQ.com.
Senators are warning that major changes to the Medicaid program may not survive the upper chamber, despite an aggressive push from House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to include a substantial overhaul of the program in the Republican measure to repeal the health care law.
In the House, Ryan and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden are pushing their colleagues to consider major Medicaid changes on a repeal bill this spring. Those include funding mechanisms like so-called block grants and per capita caps or a cap on Medicaid enrollment for states that expanded the program under the health care law, according to House aides.
Others on Walden’s committee, including Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess said the issue would be the focus of the panel’s work this week. The full GOP conference is expected to discuss the issue Thursday.
The House is taking the lead on the repeal efforts while the Senate focuses on confirmation battles. But several Republican senators are already skeptical that a major overhaul of Medicaid, which covers 73 million low-income individuals, could gain traction in the upper chamber.
“I doubt that there is the political will to do that. I think there is enough internal indigestion people have about [the replacement] of Obamacare,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse told CQ Roll Call.
If the House passes a complex bill overhauling Medicaid, the Senate could retreat on those changes and consider a pared-down version of repeal. Republican leaders are already hinting at the possibility of such an outcome.
“We’re talking to the House and coordinating with them, but it may be that they pass something that we can’t pass over here. So we reserve the right to pass something and send it back,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told CQ Roll Call.
To repeal the health care law, the GOP is using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation that requires only a simple majority vote to pass. However, provisions passed through that process must comply with a strict set of Senate rules.
Republicans have recently coalesced around a plan to include aspects of their health care law replacement in the repeal measure, and House Republicans are pushing for a Medicaid overhaul as part of that effort. Aides say the provisions the House is considering have a much more uncertain future in the Senate.
Walden on Tuesday spoke to the House GOP conference broadly about his panel’s work on the health care law, including efforts to change how the federal government provides Medicaid funding to the states, according to lawmakers leaving the meeting.
“You’re going to see us move forward on the Energy and Commerce Committee looking at reforms, looking at a better way to provide help to those most in need in our states and the Medicaid population and to allow states to innovate,” Walden told reporters after the meeting. “There are great ideas out there among the states, but right now, they have to come back and beg permission from a federal bureaucrat to be able to do much of anything innovative.”
Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie, who chairs an Energy and Commerce working group on Medicaid, said the committee was still grappling with the issue of determining funding levels for the states that did not choose to expand their Medicaid programs under the health care law, compared with those that did. He referenced the nearly two dozen Republican senators whose states chose to expand Medicaid, many of whom have expressed interest in keeping that funding. Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia broadened Medicaid.
Republicans face immense pressure to outline their strategy to repeal the law, both from GOP voters who have been promised such an action for the past seven years and from the health care industry, which is concerned about the impact the policies — or even the underlying uncertainty — will have on the insurance markets.
But work on the repeal has blown past original Republican plans to pass a repeal bill as early as January. Lawmakers are now aiming to mark up legislation in early March. Any big disagreements could further delay that timeline.
Several House Energy and Commerce Committee members said the panel would release, as early as this week, a discussion document outlining its proposal to overhaul Medicaid. A committee spokeswoman declined to comment.
One House Republican lawmaker who spoke on background to be candid said the measure to repeal the health care law is complete except for work to change Medicaid.
“I think it’s going to per capita [grants] with flexibility for states to have a waiver for block grants,” the lawmaker told CQ Roll Call. “There will probably be some kind of incentive for states that didn’t expand.”
Burgess said his subcommittee could mark up its reconciliation instructions overhauling the law “in the next several weeks,” but that the week following the Presidents Day recess is “a little quick.”
The amount of people on Medicaid has greatly increased since the last time the GOP attempted to overhaul the program, due in large part to the health care law’s expansion. This presents a major challenge to Republicans, said Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown’s Center for Children and Families.
“If they do try to restructure the entire Medicaid program, that is going to be a huge battle,” she said in a recent interview. “This is the biggest formula fight Congress is ever going to have, period.”
President Donald Trump on Wednesday cast aside decades-old U.S. norms by saying any Middle East peace deal would not necessarily have to establish a Palestinian state.
“I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House’s East Room. “I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
Trump’s reply to a reporter’s question very much reflected his business background. The new U.S. president sees the decades-old plan for a Palestinian state existing peacefully beside a Jewish state as an unmet goal. The 45th U.S. president is eager to nudge both sides toward a deal, and to get one, he is willing to accept something that falls short of the idea of two countries.
“I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians -- if Israel and the Palestinians -- are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best,” Trump said.
So far, congressional GOP leaders seem content with giving Trump ample room to pursue a peace deal, and on his policy toward the Jewish state.
For his part, Netanyahu, who has strong support within the Republican caucus in both chambers, laid out his “two prerequisites for peace.”
“First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state,” he said. “They have to stop calling for Israel's destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel's destruction.
“Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don't, we know what will happen,” the Israeli leader said. “Because otherwise, we'll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.”
Another issue on which Republican leaders are giving Trump ample leeway is his campaign trail pledge to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since taking office, Trump has backed away from the pledge, saying it is complicated.
On Wednesday, he said his administration is “looking at it very, very strongly,” adding, “and we'll see what happens.”
Netanyahu took Trump off guard by announcing the duo intend to seek more than just an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact.
“I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our new found Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians,” he said.
A moment later, Trump said he “didn't know you were going to be mentioning that,” while also throwing his weight behind the deal: “I think it's a terrific thing and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never, ever have even thought about doing this.”
Neither Trump nor Netanyahu identified which countries would be involved in such an initiative.
The U.S. president looked directly at Netanyahu at one point and urged him to temporarily stop building settlements on the West Bank. The Israeli leader held tight to both sides of his podium and stared back at Trump, stonefaced.
In another remarkable moment Trump pinned blame for his decision to fire his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on the media. In doing so, he contradicted his own top spokesman, Sean Spicer, who on Tuesday said the president asked Flynn to step down because he had lost “trust” in him.
“Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases,” Trump said. “And I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.
“I think in addition to that from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it's criminal action,” he said, referring to Flynn’s conversations with a top Russian diplomat.
“It's a criminal act and it's been going on for a long time before me but now it's really going on,” he said, next repeating a morning Twitter rant by saying the Flynn-Russia narrative is meant to “cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.”
Utah Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has launched a new push for a bipartisan Senate alternative to the contentious House Republican tax plan, as President Donald Trump begins to frame administration priorities.
The Senate Finance chairman said last week he was meeting with Democratic tax writers one-on-one and hoped there would be leeway for deals, after bitter debates over Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin riled the Senate and exposed deep partisan fault lines.
“I don’t think you can pass a tax bill, unless it’s bipartisan,” Hatch said in an interview.
After rolling over Democrats who boycotted a committee markup to get both nominations to the Senate floor, the top tax writer said political pressure as the 2018 midterm elections approach could eventually help to bring lawmakers together on taxes. “It may be the reason we finally do something,” Hatch said.
He referred to the fact that 23 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them — including nine Finance members — will be up for re-election in 2018, compared to just eight GOP senators.
Hatch, 82, is among the Republicans whose terms end in 2018, and he is weighing another campaign — even though he indicated in 2012 this would be his last term.
The seven-term senator said the House GOP plan would not pass the Senate, even if it moves under reconciliation instructions that would allow passage with 51 votes. He pointed to disputes over parts of the House plan, including a proposal for border adjustments to apply business income taxes to imports but not exports.
To develop a tax measure, Hatch has pointed to several legislative models, including the permanent and temporary tax breaks in the fiscal 2016 omnibus bill, a regular-order measure enacted without revenue-raising offsets. Other prototypes include two tax cuts enacted as reconciliation measures under President George W. Bush, and the 1986 tax overhaul.
Hatch’s vision for compromise drew support from former Texas Republican Sen. Phil Gramm, a consultant and longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Gramm said in an interview that he encouraged GOP senators to follow the course that led to the 1986 law, which was largely written in the Senate.
“We ought to do what we did … in 1986, when we reduced subsidies, simplified subsidies and lowered rates,” he said.
For now, leaders of both parties said any Senate talks would face a deep partisan divide over across-the-board individual rate cuts in the current House GOP and Trump tax plans.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune said he and other senior Republicans would insist on sweeping rate cuts, while Democrats such as Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dianne Feinstein of California would push against tax cuts for wealthy families.
“Rich people don’t need more tax breaks,” Brown said.
Both sides will be looking for areas of potential common ground in a tax outline that Trump’s team plans to unveil in several weeks.
Brown said any deal would need a number of sweeteners to attract liberals like him. For example, he wants indexing for the earned income tax credit and child tax credit.
Feinstein said any bipartisan compromise likely would need to focus on “middle-income people, who live paycheck to paycheck.” She said she voted for Bush’s first tax cut in 2001 with 11 other Democrats because it expanded the child tax credit and “was not a millionaire’s bill.”
With or without a broad bipartisan deal on his panel, Hatch and other senior Republicans said they will be looking to woo Democrats if a bill gets to the floor. “That doesn’t mean you have to have everybody on both sides,” Hatch said.
Top targets for the GOP charm offensive include several centrists up for re-election, including Democrats Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, as well as Angus King, the independent senator from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.
Even a few Democratic allies could help Hatch and other GOP leaders deal with procedural hurdles, and make up for potential defections from the 52-seat GOP majority.
In 2003, Bush narrowly won Senate passage for his second tax cut on a 51-50 vote. Three GOP “no” votes were offset by the “aye” votes of two Democrats and Vice President Dick Cheney.
With that precedent in mind, Hatch said he plans more huddles with Democrats in coming days to gauge their interest.
“We’re not ignoring their needs. … We’ll have to see. There’s a lot of bitterness around here,” he said.