By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice- President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
September 22, 2017
THE SENATE PRIMARY RACE FOR BOB CORKER’S SEAT GAINS SPEED; REPEAL AND REPLACE GIVES IT ONE
MORE TRY; YET ANOTHER EVENTFUL WEEK IN TRUMPLAND; LOW UNEMPLOYMENT IN TENNESSEE
REIMPOSES WORK REQUIREMENTS; LOOKING BACK TWO YEARS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE NUMBERS
ARE GRIM AND GETTING WORSE
THE SENATE PRIMARY RACE FOR BOB CORKER’S SEAT GAINS SPEED
While incumbent Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker spent another week keeping his own counsel
about whether he will seek a third six-year term in office, his first, major primary opponent, conservative activist Andy Ogles, is wasting no time getting started.
He’s received the endorsement of Nashville radio talk show host, Michael DelGirono, and he told
reporter Tom Humphrey his work the last four years as head of the Tennessee chapter of the Americans for Prosperity group will give him “a grassroots army ready to go” against Corker.
“One of the great things about my previous role with AFP is I spent the last four years traveling the state talking to people, recruiting activists to fight on issues like health care, tax reform, defeating Common Core. To be able to leverage that that network and roll it right into a Senate campaign, no one else can do that,” he said.
Ogles adds he’s not afraid of the financial resources Corker has or the bad things he might say about
him. Indeed, for his own campaign funding, Ogles says he is creating a federal SUPER PAC, led by
Nashville conservative business leader and fund raiser Lee Beaman, to help his efforts:
From the Ogles campaign news release:
Tennessee is a deeply red state,” Beaman noted, “and we should have Senators who not only reflect
the conservative values of our state but who will aggressively fight for them on the floor of the Senate.”
Beaman pointed out that the SuperPAC is intended to help Ogles secure the nomination and win the
general election next November.
“There are donors who are already anxious to get involved in this race, and our plan is to raise and
spend $4 million over the next 13 months to provide President Trump with an ally in the U.S. Senate that he will be able to depend upon,” Beaman added. “The President needs a Tennessee Senator who will fight to secure our border, strengthen our national security capabilities, repeal and replace the failed Obamacare plan, and cut the taxes and regulations that are preventing businesses from putting America back to work and putting more money into the paychecks of their employees. Andy Ogles will be that Senator.”
But oddly, there are also news reports this week from the Associated Press and the WASHINGTON
EXAMINER that during their meeting at the White House last week, President Donald Trump urged
Senator Corker to seek re-election! I told you we all should have been flies on the wall during that makeup session between the two.
Reported THE EXAMINER: “Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Monday that the Trump administration has given him “no reason to believe” that it would encourage a primary challenge against him if he does seek re-election in 2018.
“I’ve always expected that if I run, that I’ll have a primary. I have no indications whatsoever that the
administration would encourage that … We see no evidence of it,” Corker told reporters in the Capitol
“I have no reason to believe the administration would encourage a primary. None,” he added, repeating the line multiple times.
Corker made these comments after it was reported that Steve Bannon, the former White House chief
strategist and current Breitbart News chairman, could target Corker as part of his plan to take out a
handful of Republican incumbents who’ve been critical of Trump, including Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Dean Heller, R-Nev.
“I’ve had no conversations with Bannon about it, and I don’t know that he’s actually specifically — I hear sources say that, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that,” Corker said.” But there are other news reports this week that Corker and Bannon are already on opposite sides in the special runoff election for the Republican nomination to replace now Attorney General Jeff Sessions in one of Alabama’s Senate seats. And Senator Corker is urging President Trump to further intervene in the
race by going to Alabama to campaign (which he is doing with a rally in the state today). Says POLITICO via a story from Tom Humphreys…
Finally, to further make you wonder still more about exactly who is on who’s side, Andy Ogles has now
hired President Trump’s 2016 political ad agency. From an Ogles campaign news release:
“Innovative Politics produced nearly 30 television ads for the (Trump)campaign, which spent more than $75 million dollars on television advertising. Jay Connaughton, chief media advisor with Innovative Politics, played a key role in Trump’s heavily covered Baton Rouge, Louisiana, trip following the devastating floods in the state, as well as in the President-elect’s headline making visit to Flint, MI.
The Presidential race was only one of the many significant achievements for Innovative Politics during
the past few national election cycles. The firm’s impressive national work, particularly in battleground
states, helped the Republican Party maintain control of the U.S. Senate with victories in the critical U.S. Senate elections in North Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, Iowa, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Florida.
“Andy is true leader and conservative that Tennesseans can count on to drain the swamp,” said
Connaughton. “We’re very excited and ready to get to work to help Andy win the primary, and
ultimately go to Washington, and fight for the values that Tennessee families believe in.”
“Innovative has a long and successful track record of helping conservatives win and holding traditional
politicians accountable,” said Ogles. “No one is going to outwork our campaign. The winning team that
we’re building should give pause to anyone thinking there will be an easy path to victory, especially if
your views are not in line with the conservative values of our great state.”
Others are looking at running for the Tennessee Senate seat including former state representative and
frequent recent candidate for federal office, Joe Carr, and now, controversial radio sports talk show host Clay Travis. He was recently kicked off a CNN interview after some remarks he made. Click the link below to learn about his possible independent bid to run. http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/cnn-boobs-guest-clay-travis-mulling-run-for-bob-corkerssenate-seat-in-tennessee/article/2635037
Travis also told THE HILL he would not run if former University of Tennessee football All American
Peyton Manning decided to get into the race.
This civil war within the Republican Party is quite something to behold, if sometimes a bit hard to
understand or identify who is really on what side.
REPEAL AND REPLACE GIVES IT ONE MORE TRY
Just when you thought efforts by congressional Republicans and the Trump White House to “repeal and replace Obamacare” were gone for good in 2017, a fourth bill to accomplish that goal is being
resurrected in the Senate. Its prospects are uncertain, but it appears the new bill may have some chance for passage. In fact, sponsors are predicting it, even while they admit they don’t have the Senate votes just yet.
The time to act is short. If the measure isn’t passed by the end of the month, under congressional rules it can no longer be done using the reconciliation budget process which requires just 50 votes for
approval in the Senate (plus Vice President Mike Pence voting yes). Beginning in October, any repeal and replace effort would require at least 60 votes just to end debate and that isn’t happening in the Senate.
The rise from the dead one more time for “repeal and replace” legislation also means bi-partisan efforts led by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to keep Obamacare going temporarily through keeping the insurance exchanges alive while a more complete overall of national health care policy is passed has collapsed. POLITICO says that message was first sent to Senator Alexander through the GOP Senate leadership:
“Alexander is “stealing our jurisdiction,” Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch told POLITICO,
referring to the turf split between his panel and Alexander’s HELP Committee. “It’s pretty hard to get
excited about what he’s doing.”
…(Hatch has called Alexander’s plan) a “bailout” of insurance companies that “would do little more than shore up the bad policies already in place with another slate of bad policies.”
..The dispute tracks the GOP philosophical rift on Obamacare: Alexander argues the GOP has a
responsibility to protect Americans from a collapsing health care market. Hatch, in a sentiment echoed by Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, are skeptical of repairing the Democrats’ faulty law without significant structural changes.
“He’s got a very broad jurisdiction but it isn’t as broad as he sometimes thinks,” the Utah Republican
said of his colleague. “That doesn’t mean he can’t do legislation that’s outside of his jurisdiction — he
can. But if he’s doing it, it ought to at least be something he runs by us.”
Alexander argues the policy is more important than the jurisdiction.
“The jurisdiction, I think, should be of secondary importance to the people of this country who can’t
afford a $1,000 or $1,500 increase in their premiums,” the Tennessee Republican said. “The Finance
Committee is free to deal with these same issues if it would like to. And they could have a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy bill if that’s a better option.” But the battle got still more uphill for Senator Alexander as THE HILL reports the Trump administration is “all in” for this new Obamacare repeal effort and against any effort to “prop it up:”
And so, Senator Alexander gave up his bi-partisan push to keep the insurance exchanges going, although his explanation for why varies significantly from his Democratic co-sponsor.
The vote on the new health care bill in the Senate is set for next week. You can expect both Tennessee Senators to vote for it reports THE NASHVILLE SCENE:
“From the beginning of this debate, I have said that I want to generate an outcome that is better for the
American people than what is in place today, and at present, I am very encouraged by the fact that the
Graham-Cassidy legislation repeals the core elements of Obamacare and its one-size-fits-all approach
and provides the flexibility governors across our country have been seeking for years,” Corker said in a statement to the Scene.
If passed, the legislation would lift protections for preexisting conditions and would get rid of Medicaid
expansion, which Tennessee never accepted anyhow. The plan would also dole out those funds to states to spend as they wanted on health care.
“I would like to vote for Graham-Cassidy because I like block grants and it appears to be good for
Tennessee," Alexander says.
If Republicans can't get the votes they need to ram the legislation through before Sept. 30, procedural
rules say they'll have to have 60 votes thereafter, which would mean getting support from Democrats —
something highly unlikely to happen. If it gets the needed votes now, it could be a short-term win for
the GOP, but it could also mean long-term negative consequences for the party.”
Governor Bill Haslam says he supports the new GOP health bill, and I strongly suspect all 7 of the state’s Republican congressmen will vote for it as well, if the new measure passes the Senate and then comes to the House floor. Here’s the Governor’s explanation for his support (more money for Tennessee at least temporarily) as reported by the TIMES FREE PRESS:
“We would take all of the money from the Affordable Care Act and reapportion it on a per-capita basis
to all of the states. Because Tennessee didn’t take any of the Medicaid expansion money [from Obamacare], we’ll actually probably bring in about five times as much money out of the Affordable Care Act as we would before,” Haslam said after a speech to the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s flat-out good for Tennessee,” said Haslam, who earlier this week joined 14 fellow GOP governors in a letter supporting the legislation. But other governors oppose the new plan and other studies show that, long term, Tennessee and others states will lose billions of dollars, especially since all the current Medicaid and subsidy monies stop abruptly in 2026.
Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper is very much opposed to the new GOP bill. His office
issued a strong denunciation of the plan and offered plenty of criticism of Governor Haslam and
Senators Corker and Alexander for supporting it.
“The latest Republican attempt to pass a ‘health’ bill (their fourth) is the worst yet. Although it can be
painted to look good in the next few years, the bill makes false promises that will hurt at least 32 million Americans, and hurt them very soon. How many hundreds of thousands of those victims are
Tennesseans?” Rep. Cooper said. “Almost everyone who knows anything about health care is strongly
against this bill. Why? This bill is a cynical attempt to buy barely enough Republican votes by bribing
Southern states to overlook the horrific national damage the bill will cause with $4 trillion in overall cuts. Southern states will suffer, too. To call this a ‘states’ rights’ approach to health reform is a lie. It is a race to the bottom, with each state competing to be crueler to its citizens by denying them health insurance and health care. America deserves better, much better, and I am working to persuade enough Republicans with a soul to stop this devastatingly partisan attack on all Americans.”
It appears the final vote in the Senate will come down to the three GOP Senators who voted against the last GOP health plan (plus Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who is now opposed because he doesn’t think the new measure goes far enough to repeal Obamacare). If two of those Senators (Snow, Mulkowski, McCain) vote no, “repeal and replace” will die again finally….at least for 2017. LATE BREAKING: Senator John McCain issued a statement Friday afternoon saying he will vote no while Senator Susan Collins says she is leaning against the bill.
“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal. I believe we could do better
working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried," McCain said in a
statement, referring to the legislation spearheaded by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C), perhaps
McCain’s closest friend in the Senate), and Bill Cassidy (La.). Meanwhile in Tennessee, the 2018 ACA health insurance rates will see more massive double-digit increases (21% to 42%). That was approved this week by the State’s Insurance Commissioner, and blamed on the continued indecision in Congress.
YET ANOTHER EVENTFUL WEEK IN TRUMPLAND
President Donald Trump and his administration have wanted to be like bulls in a china shop (“drain the
swamp”) ever since they came into power. And so it was in the foreign policy area again this past week.
After making his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, two major controversies ensued.
The President reignited the bellicose war of words between himself and the leader of North Korea. Mr.
Trump threatened to “completely destroy” North Korea if it attacked the U.S. or its allies. North Korea,
in turn, issued its own threats (including most recently of an atmospheric test a hydrogen bomb).
Meanwhile President Trump instituted still more sanctions against the communist country to get it to
drop its nuclear and missile plans. The verbal exchanges also degenerated into a rather odd name calling contest (Rocket Man versus Dotard), sending folks to the Internet for definitions (dotard means an old lunatic), or pulling out their old Elton John CDs.
Hopefully, somewhere behind all this rhetoric, some diplomacy and negotiations (through back channels or third countries) are underway.
President Trump also ignited another simmering foreign policy dispute he seems to have been itching to deal with since he took office. He told the U.N. that the nuclear agreement negotiated by the previous Obama administration with Iran is “an embarrassment to the United States” and that the world would soon hear more about it. That raises the specter the Trump administration will cancel the agreement and seek better terms. But many in the U.N. (including allies and other countries like Russia and China who negotiated and co-signed the agreement) don’t believe that is a good idea, which, of course neither does Iran. President Trump says he has already “made up his mind” about what he’s “going do” But like the good reality TV star he is, he’s not telling that until at least the next episode. Iran’s leaders say the U.S. will regret any action to end the deal because it will convince other nations the U.S. can’t be trusted to keep its word.
An interesting way to put it, coming at the same time, the U.S. wants North Korea to negotiate an
agreement over nuclear weapons and missiles.
But Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the influential Foreign Relations Committee issued two statements this week backing the President, both in his U.N. speech and his new sanctions imposed by executive order:
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S SPEECH TO THE UNITED NATIONS:
“President Trump sent a very clear signal yesterday about what America stands for and who and what
the world must stand against,” said Corker. “After years of ambiguous messaging, the president’s direct approach was a welcomed change, and I shared that with him when we spoke this morning.”
“I support and appreciate President Trump’s strong action today against North Korea and his efforts to
work closely with the leaders of South Korea and Japan to address this growing threat.” said Corker.
“We will continue to work with the administration in its efforts to further isolate the Kim regime while
strengthening missile defenses and empowering our allies and partners in the region.”
It was also another eventful week in the ongoing Trump/Russia investigations with further details on an apparent “no-knock” raid conducted this past summer on the home of Paul Manifort. The former Trump campaign manager is reportedly the target of greatly increased scrutiny by investigators including record requests to the Trump White House for ANY records concerning Manifort, as well as disclosures that he was the subject of wiretaps by the FBI, both before and after the 2016 election and including his office at Trump Tower in New York.
There were disclosures this week as well that the legal defense expenses for President Trump and some members of his family are being covered by the Trump 2020 re-election campaign and by contributors to the Republican National Committee.
All these are developments are that are unprecedented in past presidential investigations from
Watergate to Iran Contra to Whitewater. But exactly what it might all mean in the long run or when we
might know that, remains unclear.
One final item to note: the latest MSNBC-WALL STREET JOURNAL poll shows President Trump’s job
approval rating increasing by three points (up to 43%). Why? Well the poll also says there is a 70%
approval among its respondents that they like the President reaching out and making a deal with
Democrats concerning the debt limit, the stop-gap appropriations bill and Hurricane Harvey relief.
LOW UNEMPLOYMENT IN TENNESSEE REIMPOSES WORK REQUIREMENTS
Tennessee continues to enjoy the lowest unemployment rate in its history at 3.3% for the month of
August. In fact, that is the best jobless number in the whole southeast sector of the United States. The
latest reports also show unemployment declined last month in all 95 counties in Tennessee, including in the rural areas which often lag behind.
This prosperity is also leading Governor Bill Haslam to reinstitute some work requirement rules for just
over 50,000 able bodied Tennesseans who don’t have dependents. They will no longer be able to
receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food stamps benefits unless they also
work 20 hours a week or are in an approved education or volunteer program. By the way over 1 million
folks are SNAP recipients across Tennessee. They are largely families, seniors and low wage workers).
The work rules were waived some years back when economic times were hard and they still won’t apply to 13 Tennessee counties that remain economically disadvantaged. There are some counties, mainly in the Greater Nashville area, where the work rules have already been re-instituted because the economy has been better there for some time.
Meanwhile, in a separate announcement from his office this week, Governor Haslam says he plans to
propose a 20% increase in welfare benefits in the state, an amount that hasn’t been increased since
1996. About 25,000 families are on welfare in Tennessee. Reports THE TIMES FREE PRESS:
“Payments technically are tied to the state’s Standard of Need, providing 20 percent of the average
costs of raising a family based on family size. It’s calculated annually for the state by the University of
Tennessee. But because lawmakers haven’t raised the standard since 1996, the amount given is far less than 21 years ago given inflation. Therefore, Haslam said, he is proposing providing a boost.
For example, Tennessee now provides $185 for a family of three, whereas the average for surrounding states is $262.
Haslam said he will have a bill that would provide about 20 percent of the standard to a family of three.
The result would be $277, or $92 more than they now receive.”
Haslam’s welfare increases will require approval by the General Assembly, and in an election year, I
suspect that will be difficult to achieve. Even if benefits haven’t been raised in over 20 years (and will
remain among the lowest in the Southeast), the gas tax hadn’t been increased in over 25 years before
the ACHIEVE ACT was approved last session. We all remember what a knock- down, drag- out fight that was.
You might like to think the basic welfare of our neediest citizens would be an important priority in our
state, but I predict there will be lawmakers trying to put still more restrictions and limitations on the
program (even kill welfare in Tennessee) if federal law allowed it.
LOOKING BACK TWO YEARS ON INSIDE POLITICS
Next Monday, September 25 will mark the two- year anniversary of Metro Mayor Megan Barry taking
her oath of office and assuming her duties as the city’s Chief Executive.
So, now, halfway through her first term, we thought this would be a good time to give an encore airing
of the interview we had with the Mayor last month (the weekend of August 11).
As it is with all mayors two years into their terms, Mayor Barry has a lot of things going, including several projects about to get Metro Council review and (she hopes) approval. That includes her major mass transit plan that will also require a referendum next May for voters to approve the funding. There are also plans for a new major league soccer stadium for Nashville. It would be built at the Fairgrounds through a public-private partnership with the new Nashville team, although with me Her Honor made a great emphasis on the private sector picking up a lot of the cost. And there is also the growing controversy over the Cloud Hill development involving the old Greer Stadium site adjoining historic Ft. Negley.
Even though it’s got a few weeks of age on it, our interview is still timely, not only concerning all her
current projects, but also looking back on her first two years as mayor. The conversation was one of her first interviews following the tragic drug overdose death of her son, Max. As she and her husband,
Bruce, have done throughout this difficult time, she handled things very well. I must say that portion of
the interview was one of the most difficult I have ever had to prepare for and conduct.
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THE NUMBERS ARE GRIM AND GETTING WORSE
One of the issues I discussed with Mayor Barry was the opioid epidemic ravaging our nation. The latest numbers for Tennessee, released this week, are bad and getting worse.
Here’s the news release from the State Department of Health, via Tom Humphrey’s blog:
I am reminded that when I interviewed Mayor Barry it was right after President Trump declared the
opioid situation to be a “national emergency.” Not to specifically criticize him (you’d be amazed how
many other national emergencies have been declared over the years), but I haven’t seen a news story or even a headline since it was announced in August, about what is being done through this declaration to combat this scourge.
These are not just number being reported, these are people’s lives, our sons, daughters, parents, even grandparents. Something must happen to deal with this crisis.
THE TENNESSEAN reports (September 20) the state’s Attorney General is joining several of his
colleagues across the country to try and address one part of the issue.
“Tennessee's attorney general is spearheading a coalition of 41 states that is demanding documents
from several prescription painkiller manufacturers and distributors as it investigates the companies'
practices regarding opioids.
The states served subpoenas Tuesday on global pharmaceutical giants Endo International, Janssen,
Allergan, and Teva, which bought Cephalon, as part of an investigation into whether the companies
"engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of opioids," according to a release from the state.
“The opioid crisis impacts all of us, and is a threat to families in every community in Tennessee and
across the country,” said Herbert Slatery, the state's attorney general. “We will use all resources
available to identify and hold accountable those parties responsible. There is too much at stake not to
attack this problem from all sides.”