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Republicans couldn’t muster enough votes to pass their TrumpNoCare bill. Mainly because the Freedom (to Die) Caucus doesn’t believe the bill takes health care away from enough Americans. And they don’t want to cover maternal health, mental health or preexisting conditions.

They urgently need to pass it so they can move on. Move on to cutting Social Security and Medicare. Move on to cutting taxes for the richest Americans and cutting services for average people.

There apparently is no urgency to passing the trillion-dollar infrastructure stimulus bill that actually might create jobs for Americans.

Trump promised that, remember. Plus better and cheaper health care for everybody.

So Democrats have two opportunities:

  • Propose their own stimulus bill. Bigger than Trump’s.
  • Insist that every American has a right to health care.

That would Make America Great Again!

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This looks familiar.

A President’s election campaign is investigated by the FBI for possible lawbreaking. The media is hot on the trail. Deep Throats are leaking all over Washington. Congress is asking questions.

A President, known for his paranoia and his disregard for the truth, lashes out at critics, reporters and leakers. His loyalists and his hapless press secretary attack the media. Allegations of wiretaps hurl and swirl around.

Meanwhile, the world gets more dangerous every day – in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. What dictator might be tempted to push the nuclear button? Would the President himself manufacture a crisis to save his skin?

And America grows more divided every day.

The President’s critics worry about his emotional and mental stability. They worry about dark forces in the White House that might resort to authoritarian measures. They smell a cover-up in the White House, the Department of Justice and the Congress.

The President’s defenders see him under siege by a hostile media and political Establishment. They believe a hostile elite is trying to win what they lost in the election. They press him not to give an inch.

But there are differences from Watergate.

Then, there was a political center in Washington. There were politicians who put country above party, the Constitution above politics. On both sides of the aisle.

There was a conservative Southern Democrat named Ervin. A moderate Southern Republican named Baker. And more. 

After Watergate, Americans said our system worked. The system upheld the principle that no one, not even the President, is above the law.

Trump might be the ultimate test of our system and that principle.


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It’s peculiar: My memory is far from perfect but I can’t recall either Jesse Helms or Jim Hunt spending taxpayers’ money to sue another politician – but these days it happens all the time: We’ve got packed courtrooms where one group of government lawyers are battling another group of government lawyers in front of judges all paid by taxpayers.

In one lawsuit Governor Cooper’s government paid lawyers are arguing with the General Assembly’s government paid lawyers over who gets to appoint the Elections Board. In another lawsuit two groups of lawyers are arguing over whether the State Senate gets to confirm Governor Cooper’s Cabinet Appointments. And, up in Washington, there’s a lawsuit that takes the cake.

Awhile back Republican legislators passed a law to require Voter IDs. Democratic federal judges threw that law out. And a team of government paid lawyers (for Governor McCrory) headed to the Supreme Court to appeal.

 Then Roy Copper and Josh Stein were elected and, suddenly, Governor McCrory’s lawyers found themselves working for Roy and Josh. Who decided to drop the appeal.  

At that moment it looked like one group of government lawyers were about to be out of business but then the General Assembly stepped in, hired another team of lawyers, and said the legislature should replace Cooper and Stein in the case.

That didn’t sit well with Attorney General Stein who pointed out that the Constitution says the Attorney General and the Governor are supposed to represent the state in court – not the legislature.

The General Assembly’s lawyers pooh-pooed that idea then told the Supreme Court that Stein ought to be removed from the case because he had conflict of interest.

Stein shot back that even if – for some reason he couldn’t fathom – the General Assembly had a right to be in the case, legislators couldn’t go out and hire and pay their own lawyers with state money. Hiring lawyers and arguing cases was the Attorney General’s job under the Constitution so he, Stein, would have to represent the legislators.

We had Republican lawyers trying to kick Democrats out of the case. And Democratic lawyers arguing Republicans had no place in the case and adding that, even if they did, the Republicans had to be represented by the Democratic Attorney General.  

It’s one more example of politics rolling downhill. But, ironically, this one time relief may be around the corner: If the General Assembly wins we’ll be shed of the Democrat’s lawyers. And if Josh Stein wins we’ll be shed of all the lawyers.

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It’s one of the oldest temptations walking around on two legs: A man will try most anything to get his hands on a dollar – and the other morning 122 professors proved they’re no exception.

Over in Chapel Hill at a Board of Governors meeting one of the trustees stood up and said it was time to stop the university’s Civil Rights Center from suing school boards and everyday people and working hand in glove with the ACLU and the NAACP to file political lawsuits.

The News and Observer then published two editorials and a letter to the editor (from the 122 professors) saying each of those lawsuits had been a fine high sounding public service and, what’s more, the Center hadn’t spent one dollar of “state funds.”  

Which was odd.

Because just like the History Department the UNC-Center is part of the university – it’s not a private institution. It’s not independent. And the money it spends – sitting in university bank accounts – is state money.

The Center filed one lawsuit – that lasted four years – accusing Pitt County of re-segregating its schools. It filed three legal actions against the Wake County School Board. It opposed charter schools, school vouchers, defended Moral Monday protestors and pretty much served as a pro bono law firm for the ACLU and the NAACP.

But even after the trustee explained the problem the professors didn’t budge: Instead, compounding one vice with another they tried a little sleight of hand by claiming the Center didn’t spend state money.

 It’s more than likely the professors will flamoozle the Board of Governors. They usually do. But that won’t be the end of the story: Because next the Board has to face the General Assembly and convincing Phil Berger and Andy Wells money sitting in state bank accounts aren’t isn’t money may be a short conversation.

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When the average two-legged creature adds the title ‘Congressmen’ to the front of his name it can turn out to be humorous – but expensive.

Last week at 10:30 in the morning House Republican Leaders rolled out their plan to repeal Obamacare; twelve and a half hours later the forty Congressmen sitting in the Ways and Means Committee had barely managed to debate two of the bills five subtitles.

The fifty-five Congressmen over in the Energy and Commerce Committee weren’t doing any better: They spent twelve hours debating the Democrats first amendment – to change the name of the bill.

During the hearings Democratic Congressmen, who rarely ever give a thought to how much they spend, raised Cain saying Republicans hadn’t waited for the ‘CBO’ projections to tell them how much the bill would cost; at the same time Republican Congressmen, who always say they want to cut spending, argued spending didn’t matter so they ought to go ahead and pass the bill.

The doctors and hospitals came out against the bill and, oddly, so did a group of conservative Congressmen.

President Trump invited the conservatives over to the White House for a round of bowling (who knew the White House had a bowling alley) and a little social persuasion: “This is going to be great. You’re going to make it even greater,” Trump said. Then, unexpectedly, he began to explain his fallback plan if the Republican bill failed: In that case, Trump said, we’ll just sit back and allow ObamaCare to fail and let the Democrats take the blame.

Huh? With Republicans in control of the White House, the Senate and the House, Trump figures voters will blame Democrats if the health care system collapses?

Back over in the House, the Democrats had discovered a provision buried in the bill that cut taxes on health insurance companies $400 million – getting down to brass tacks one Democratic Congressman announced the CEO of the United Health made $66 million last year and asked what kind of sense did cutting taxes on insurance companies make?

Another Democratic Congressman said that wasn’t the only tax cut in the bill – Republicans, he said, were also handing the ‘very, very wealthy’ a $600 billion tax cut.

Around 4am the next morning the House Ways and Means Committee passed the Republican Leaders’ bill and, a few hours later, the Energy and Commerce Committee did too. For one moment the day looked brighter for House Republican Leaders – then two Republican Senators announced the House Plan was dead on arrival in the Senate.

Later that day, as the sun set, a reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan why the Heritage Action, Freedom Works, Club for Growth and the Conservative Congressmen in the House Freedom Caucus had all turned thumbs down on his bill.

Well, Ryan said, the problem was “growing pains.” The conservatives had never been in office at a time when Republicans controlled the White House, House and Senate. So, unlike other Republicans, they still had to learn how to govern.

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Angry because Jeff Sessions wouldn’t run the Justice Department’s investigation into the Russians meddling in our election, Trump erupted at the White House staff then flew to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend. The next morning, up before dawn, holding his Twitter machine he pressed send and struck out at Obama.

Some people figured Trump meant to set a clever trap: He’d accuse Obama, wait for Obama’s denial, then produce proof Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.

Others saw the early morning tweet as proof of a troubling Trump habit: He didn’t care whether his tweets were true or untrue. He didn’t think it mattered. If a tweet made him look good he pressed send.

Other people, remembering Trump’s promises to make their lives better, knew the tweet wasn’t true but decided they didn’t care.

Finally, a handful of people saw Trump’s tweet as a clever chess move: He’d set out to get the press to stop writing about the Russians – and he got what he wanted: Obama wiretapping Trump Towers filled the headlines.

But then the story took a quirky turn – Senator Lindsey Graham made a chess move of his own: He wrote the head of the FBI and Trump’s Justice Department and said: Send me copies of any warrant applications and court orders to wiretap Donald Trump or Trump Towers – so I can proceed to investigate.

Trump supporters, Trump haters, the fake media, Congressmen, Senators all held their breath: Would Trump escape Graham’s trap?

The story took another odd turn.

With Trump egging them on Republican Leaders in the House launched their bill to repeal Obamacare – and the earth shifted again: Democrats started hollering about Republicans cutting taxes on insurance companies and the 24-hour news cycle moved right past wiretapping.

But truth can be buried but not destroyed.

Amid the clamor a TV reporter stopped Lindsey Graham in the corridor outside his Senate office and asked: If Jim Comey and the Justice Department don’t answer your question, will you subpoena them? Graham gave a one-word answer: Yes.

So next week when Lindsey Graham gets his answer we’ll learn whether, at 6:35 in the morning when he pressed send, Trump figured he’d fool everyone in sight with a tweet.

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A Democrat watches Trump and wonders, “How did Hillary lose to this guy?”

A political pro wonders, “How did Hillary lose to this guy after running so many more TV ads than he did?” She ran 200,000 ads to his 76,000.

Was it Twitter? Comey? Putin?

Or was it the ads themselves?

A new study – by the Wesleyan Media Project at Wesleyan University in Connecticut – found two things:

First, “Clinton’s unexpected losses came in states in which she failed to air ads until the last week.”

In Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – three big and surprising wins for Trump – he ran more ads up until the last week. In Wisconsin, Clinton didn’t run any ads until the final week.

Second, “Clinton’s message was devoid of discussions of policy in a way not seen in the previous four presidential contests.”

Most of Clinton’s ads attacked Trump personally, not on policy. Her main message: Trump is unfit to be President. Voters got that. But they didn’t get why Clinton wanted to be President. Or what she wanted to do as President.

The study has a lot more good stuff:

  • “The impact of advertising may depend on the larger media environment and knowledge of the candidates.”
  • “Message matters. A message that is repeated endlessly does no good unless it resonates with a sufficient number of the right voters.”
  • “What happens at the presidential level does not always follow down ballot.”
  • “Change may be afoot in how political advertising reaches voters, and the 2016 presidential race may be the harbinger of dramatic change to come in political advertising.”
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Phil Berger can take away Roy Cooper’s powers. But he can’t take away his microphone. And he can’t match the Governor on TV.

Democrats will happily take the contrast every day through the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Last night, the Governor was smiling, positive and optimistic. The unshaven Senate boss was dark, negative and partisan.

Cooper talked about promise, cooperation and common ground. Berger talked about liberals, the left and the cursed media.

Cooper focused on the future – and what North Carolina can do. Berger boasted about the past – and what he claimed Republicans had done.

Really? How many North Carolinians believe their taxes have been cut? How many teachers believe his claims about pay?

Cooper was smart to tackle HB2 early. He talked about jobs lost. He didn’t mention that Pat McCrory can’t get a job because of HB2.

McCrory says people think he’s a “bigot.” Exactly, Pat. Because of HB2, they think North Carolina is full of bigots.

And Berger’s defense flops.

If Republicans have the votes to strip the Governor’s powers, they have the votes to repeal HB2.

Let’s make Roy vs Phil a regular thing.

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“Tired of winning yet?”

That’s the question from a TAPster who sent this excerpt from a story about millions of Americans who could lose health insurance under the Trump/GOP NoCare plan:

Martha Brawley of Monroe, N.C., said she voted for President Trump in the hope he could make insurance more affordable. But on Tuesday, Ms. Brawley, 55, was feeling increasingly nervous based on what she had heard about the new plan from television news reports. She pays about $260 per month for a Blue Cross plan and receives a subsidy of $724 per month to cover the rest of her premium. Under the House plan, she would receive $3,500 a year in tax credits — $5,188 less than she gets under the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m scared, I’ll tell you that right now, to think about not having insurance at my age,” said Ms. Brawley, who underwent a liver biopsy on Monday after her doctor found that she has an autoimmune liver disease. “If I didn’t have insurance, these doctors wouldn’t see me.”

But the Republicans are rushing through their Repeal-Obamacare-and-Screw-You bill. Maybe making the same mistake President Obama and the Democrats made in 2009: focusing on health care instead of jobs.

The harm Trump and the GOP will do to millions of Americans is incalculable. But the political gift to Democrats could also be incalculable. The 2018 and 2020 election cycles could shift politics just as hard left as 2010 and 2016 shifted politics hard right.

Trump complains that nobody told him how complicated health care is.

But the politics is very simple.

During the campaign last year, a big North Carolina newspaper was interviewing candidates for editorial endorsements. The editors, sensitive to their reputation as knee-jerk Democratic, desperately searched for a Republican to endorse. Fair and balanced, you know.

They were interviewing one Republican, and things were going swimmingly. Then an editor asked a simple question: “Do you believe every American has a right to health care?”

The Republican paused a second. Then replied: “No.”

There you have it. To Trump and the Republicans, you have a right to health care if and only if you can afford it. If you can, you get the best care in the world. If you can’t, tough.

Maybe Democrats should put that proposition before the voters.

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Politics has been so bad that for four months – ever since Election Day – I’ve meant to write about something good. But never got to it.

Thanks, Trump.

So now the good news: Attorney General Josh Stein.

After the carnage of Election Day, one veteran Democrat said, “If you’re going to win just three statewide elections, Governor, Supreme Court and Attorney General are three good ones.”


Republicans tried to gut the AG’s office when Roy Cooper was there, but Josh shows there’s plenty still there. He and the Governor refused to defend North Carolina’s voter-suppression law. Josh joined other state AGs to challenge Trump’s Muslim ban.

Josh has gone to work on, as he says, “a host of issues including confronting the opioid epidemic, protecting our kids from sexual predators, standing up for voting rights and clean energy, protecting consumers from fraudulent business practices, and speaking out against the unconstitutional travel ban.”

Josh will be a great AG. He has brains, guts and strong principles. I know because I’ve known him for 20 years.

He’s scary-smart: Dartmouth ’88, Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School ’95.

He has worked in public interest law, the U.S. Senate, the N.C. Justice Department under Cooper and the General Assembly.

He comes from a family that has a long-time commitment to justice, fairness and opportunity. His father Adam is a pioneering civil rights attorney and plaintiffs’ lawyer.

Josh won a tough race by 24,000-plus votes. He beat Buck (“make North Carolina straight again”) Newton.

Josh was one of only two Democratic AG candidates nationally to buck the Trump wave. The other is Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania. (It was a good year to be Josh.)

His fundraising was strong. It overcame the millions spent by the Republicans’ national AG machine. His messaging and ads were some of the best of the cycle.

Josh isn’t afraid to take on Republicans when they’re wrong, or work with them on the rare occasion they’re on the right side (opioids). In the Senate, he proved he can more than hold his own with the GOP. He eviscerated them in debates.

His future is unlimited. His ceiling is not his roof. At the right time, he would make a great Governor or Senator.

Just writing about him makes me feel better.

Thanks, Josh.


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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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