November 27, 2022
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The week’s most fascinating unorthodox politics story (and three more)

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Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1973, at a meeting of Associated Press editors in Florida, President Richard M. Nixon declared: “People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I’m not a crook.”

The week’s most fascinating unorthodox politics story (and three more)

Here’s our weekly roundup of pieces that have major political dimensions at the local, national, or global level but fewer of the trappings of what passes for “a political story” inside the Beltway (voters, campaigns, polling, anonymous backstabbing).

Please send me a link via my author page if you see something in your regional media that might fit the bill for this feature. Be sure to let me know whether I can use your first name and last initial and where you live.

This week: Toledo’s groundbreaking (and fascinating) action on medical debt; California’s water problems; a crazy tale of what may be major political grift; former president Donald Trump’s new deal with Saudi investors — right as he announces for reelection.

Ohio shows how (maybe) to wipe out up to $160 million in medical debt

There are a lot of questions about implementation, reach, and whether this experiment in Ohio can be duplicated, but boy is it intriguing: Toledo’s city council and Lucas County have teamed up to direct a total of $1.6 million to wipe out medical debt for their residents.

The city and county will work with RIP Medical Debt. Andrew Bailey of Toledo’s WTOL quoted the non-profit’s president and CEO, Allison Sesso, as saying “[o]n average, Sesso said $1 buys about $100 in medical debt. At Sesso’s estimated rate $1 million would buy $100 million in medical debt.”

My colleague Rachel Roubein, whose The Health 202 is a must-read (subscribe here) recently noted that roughly four in 10 American adults “have some form of health-care debt, which disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic adults, women and lower-income Americans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. Simply having health insurance doesn’t shield someone from being saddled with medical debt.”

The politics: There’s the obvious benefit to voters/citizens. Implementation could be a local political challenge. But imagine candidates making this a platform.

Tempest in a water bottle in California

Regular readers know The Daily 202’s position that water shortage stories are profoundly political, crossing state and national boundaries and affecting everything from drinking water to commercial traffic to agriculture.

This week, my colleague Joshua Partlow filed a dispatch from California about Central Valley residents relying on trucked and bottled water to survive because so many wells have run dry in severe drought conditions.

“Amid rows of almond and orange trees, entire communities are relying on deliveries of bottled water to survive. More than 2,400 homes in the region keep their taps running with emergency plastic water tanks installed in their yards by the nonprofit group Self-Help Enterprises. It sends around a fleet of trucks to fill the tanks, which hold 2,500 to 3,000 gallons, at least every two weeks. More than half of the tanks are new this year.”

The politics: It is going to be harder and harder for politicians to not take aggressive action on climate change when its effects keep hitting their constituents harder and harder.

Do not go griftly into that good night

Will Sommer of the Daily Beast has chronicled the apparent implosion of what he calls a “leading COVID pseudoscience group,” America’s Frontline Doctors or AFLDS, over allegedly extravagant spending by its founder, Simone Gold, who is a physician.

“AFLDS is tearing itself apart in a fight over what Gold’s rivals describe as her extravagant spending using the group’s funds. The alleged purchases include $100,000 on a single private jet trip and $50,000 a month in Gold’s personal expenses. Much of the controversy has centered on AFLDS’s purchase of a $3.6 million mansion in Naples, Florida, where Gold lives with her boyfriend: a much younger underwear model and fellow Capitol rioter.”

The politics: Modern politics is awash in people and organizations that want to make a quick buck off your political passions. Be careful out there.

Trump’s new Saudi deal. And his old hotel deal.

This week brought a fresh reminder of how Trump benefited financially from sitting in the Oval Office, as my colleague Jacqueline Alemany reported six foreign governments — China, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates — spent more than $750,000 at his DC hotel as they tried to influence his administration.

Even as Trump was on the cusp of announcing his candidacy in 2024, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman and Ben Protess of the New York Times reported a new Trump family deal with a Saudi-based real estate company, the first international licensing deal the Trump Organization has cut since he left the White House. 

Trump “had close ties with the Saudi government during his tenure in the White House, authorizing billions of dollars in weapons sales and defending the government there after the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the Saudi crown prince six months after leaving the White House,” they noted.

The politics: OK, this one is obvious. Trump never divested himself from his businesses before or after taking office, raising questions about whether and how much his business interests affected his decisions as president. And might again.

Pelosi address expected shortly after noon Eastern time

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will announce her ‘future plans,’ her spokesman said, sharing a decision that has major implications for Democrats as they prepare to operate in a House next year in which Republicans will have a narrow majority,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

Dutch court convicts three of murder in MH17 jet downing over Ukraine

“A Dutch court on Thursday convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian national who commanded pro-Russian separatists in Donbas of murder in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014, in which all 298 passengers and crew on board were killed,” Mary Ilyushina reports.

Allen Weisselberg expected to testify at Trump Organization’s N.Y. fraud trial

“Prosecutors intend to show that the tax schemes Weisselberg orchestrated for himself and other Trump Organization executives were beneficial to the former president’s namesake company,” Shayna Jacobs reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Once a ‘Young Gun,’ McCarthy weathered threats from right on potential path to speaker

To his allies, McCarthy’s journey to potentially becoming speaker is a testament to his ability to navigate the political shoals at a time when the party has been buffeted by challenges from the right, all while keeping Trump in his corner,” Michael Kranish reports.

Others see something less savory — a shape-shifting politician willing to quickly abandon his initial condemnation of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, to advance his own standing and to avoid the fate of [former congressman Eric Cantor] and former speaker Paul D. Ryan, the third Young Gun, who left his job under pressure from the right.”

Before FTX collapse, founder poured millions into pandemic prevention

“While Sam Bankman-Fried’s spending had evoked comparisons to public health champions like Bill Gates and political kingmakers like George Soros, some commentators and former allies now suggest other parallels — such as to disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who vowed to revolutionize health care, but became enmeshed in scandal,” Dan Diamond reports.

Republicans lost the races where they spent the most

Republicans lost three of the five most expensive Senate races, per CRP data, with Democrats clinching the top three—Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. (The Georgia contest, where Sen. Raphael Warnock received the most votes, is headed to a runoff,)” the Daily Beast’s Roger Sollenberger reports.

“While Republicans are now projected to win a slim majority in the House—far below their expectations—Democrats took all five of the most expensive races, according to CRP data.”

With the U.S. out of Afghanistan, China comes calling

With the West focused on Ukraine and the U.S. refusing to deal with a Taliban-led state, China sees an opportunity to extend its influence in its backyard, using commercial ties to help forge a stable regional order and demonstrate that its brand of economic diplomacy — buttressed by a steadfast policy of noninterference in domestic affairs — can achieve success where Washington’s 20-year misadventure in Afghanistan could not,” the Los Angeles Times’s Nabih Bulos reports.

With GOP House win, Biden faces added curbs on foreign policy

Perhaps the most immediate concern for Biden and his advisers is the potential for a Republican-controlled House to impose new obstacles on his desire to continue the extensive military and economic support his administration has provided to Ukraine. Security aid to Ukraine has topped $18 billion since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, the largest such annual sum since the end of the Cold War, and with Ukrainian forces claiming victory in the strategic city of Kherson, there are few signs the war will conclude anytime soon,” Missy Ryan and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

Top U.S. general argues Ukraine may be in a position of strength to negotiate Russian withdrawal

“Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said the Russian military was ‘really hurting bad’ after nearly nine months of war in which the Kremlin has failed to achieve any of its goals. The Ukrainians have racked up ‘success after success after success,’ Milley quipped, while the Russians ‘have failed every single time,’” CNN’s Oren Liebermann reports.

Those failures, Milley suggested, which come on top of Ukraine’s recent liberation of Kherson, may even allow Ukraine to push for what it is unlikely to achieve militarily: a withdrawal of Russian forces.”

On foreign trip, Biden meets with dictators he has criticized

“Biden has repeatedly pledged to put human rights at the forefront of his foreign policy, but that vow has sometimes run up against geopolitical reality, and rarely more so than on this trip. Biden prides himself on personal connections with foreign leaders, and it can be hard to avoid meeting with leaders who are hosting a summit,” Matt Viser and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

How Republicans won the House but fell short of a red wave, visualized

“The Republicans’ tally could grow as counting continues, but they will end up with a small majority. That unexpected result belies a broader movement to the right when comparing votes in each district to the presidential vote there two years ago,” Dan Keating, Harry Stevens and Nick Mourtoupalas report.

We already have laws to stop crypto fraud

“It would be great if the FTX debacle was somehow unusual, and not just a badly run version of the kind of scams we’ve seen throughout financial history, particularly in the crypto space. A lot of focus is now going into how to properly regulate crypto, as if it’s a legitimate financial instrument that we need to standardize. The better way to look at it is as a vice or a deliberate fraud scheme, like cigarettes, illegal drugs, multilevel marketing operations, or gambling,” David Dayen writes for the American Prospect.

Key allies are inching away from Trump

“Three billionaire donors have moved on and others are actively weighing their options. A number of former allies are staying on the sidelines. A long list of potential rivals — from popular governors to members of Congress — are seriously assessing their chances for 2024. Even his own daughter has declined to get involved,” the NYT’s Reid J. Epstein, Lisa Lerer and Jonathan Weisman report.

At noon, Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing at the White House.

Michael Gerson, Post columnist and Bush speechwriter on 9/11, dies at 58

“Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush who helped craft messages of grief and resolve after 9/11, then explored conservative politics and faith as a Washington Post columnist writing on issues as diverse as President Donald Trump’s disruptive grip on the GOP and his own struggles with depression, died Nov. 17 at a hospital in Washington. He was 58,” Brian Murphy writes.

More: Opinion | Michael Gerson followed his faith — and America was better for it

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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