Newsletter: Essential Politics: Trump dashes to Rome, slashes federal spending

Essential Politics

While news about President Trump has been dominated for weeks by accusations of scandal, there’s a new thread to talk about as the week reaches its midpoint: his plan to make major cuts in a slew of domestic spending programs.

And that’s gotten the attention of state lawmakers, too. You won’t be surprised as to how many of them feel.

Good morning from the state capital. I’m Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers, and while we’ve got a lot to cover with Trump’s overseas trip and important news in the saga that is the Russian election meddling investigation, let’s begin with dollars and cents.



The new president’s first at-bat when it comes to the federal budget came while he was more than 4,000 miles away on his first foreign trip.

It might have been better that way. After all, it seems Trump’s $4.1-trillion spending plan didn’t impress anyone on Capitol Hill. Republicans said they’ll write their own, while Democrats decried many of its proposed cuts.

Military spending? Trump would raise it. Border security? Up. Medicaid? Down. Taxes? Down.


The proposal also failed to win applause from a number of economists, who were skeptical about the promise to reduce the deficit while also cutting taxes.

“You can’t use the same money twice,” said Marc Goldwein, a senior vice president for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Our graphics team has a sharp look at the big winners and losers in Trump’s budget plan. And again, it’s worth remembering that we’re a long ways off from any of this becoming law.

Still, there’s a worry in California that it could provide a template for what’s ahead.


In Sacramento, the details of the president’s plan reinforced the idea that the only alternative for leading Democrats is to fight.

The proposed cuts to health and human services, if enacted, would have far-reaching impacts on the Golden State. And it would leave Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders in a pickle: either try to subsidize some of the programs being cut or watch Californians most vulnerable struggle to find the help they need.

“Our budget is fairly robust,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) of the state’s own finances. “But I can’t see being able to plug billions of dollars of cuts from the federal government.”


Tops on the nothing-we-could-do list would be replacing the billions of dollars that could be lost in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.


By the way, stay tuned for today’s big news on the healthcare front: the long-awaited analysis from the Congressional Budget Office of the cost and coverage impact expected by the version of the American Health Care Act passed by House Republicans three weeks ago.

We’ll have the early details on our Essential Washington news feed.


The healthcare frenzy explains the intense demand by liberal activists these days for California to create a single-payer system that would provide health coverage for all of its citizens — a replacement of private and public insurance.

A bill to do just that finally was affixed with a price tag this week: $400 billion per year.

For some context, keep in mind the state budget is only about $183-billion.


The legislative estimate released Monday immediately served as a political Rohrschach test. Detractors noted that half of that sum would have to come from new revenue, such as possible 15% payroll tax on employers. Proponents pointed out that the system would save employers and workers between $100 billion and $150 billion that is currently being spent on the private insurance market.

Melanie Mason has a rundown of the key takeaways from the report. And keep in mind that the bill, which will almost certainly clear the state Senate’s appropriations committee this week, doesn’t offer any specifics on the taxes needed to pay for it. That’s very unusual, a clear sign of how white-hot the politics are for Democrats right now.


The president met privately with Pope Francis on Wednesday for 30 minutes. Trump declared the meeting a “great honor” despite their past public dissension. Remember that Francis seemed to take issue in 2016 with Trump’s signature campaign promise.

“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” he said at the time.

As Brian Bennett and Tracy Wilkinson report, both men have a reputation for disrupting the status quo — for being, in the words of one scholar, “loose canons” in their respective circles.

And from there, the president’s visit with European leaders could get more uncomfortable. How Trump handles the pressure will be important.


He may be overseas, the president hasn’t been able to completely escape the tempest back in Washington. Trump’s visit to Israel, and hints of the tough work that lies ahead should he try to broker a peace deal, eventually veered back to allegations surrounding his recent meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office.

Specifically, allegations that he told the Russian diplomats that classified information had been provided by Israel. It didn’t happen, said Trump as he sat next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” the president said.


A trio of intelligence chiefs made their way to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, in three more tense question-and-answer sessions with members of Congress on the Russian election interference investigation.

The most riveting may have been the testimony by former CIA Director John Brennan, in his first public discussion of the investigation that began while he was still on the job.

“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee.

Testimony also came from National Intelligence Director Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.


And then there’s the question of what happens next for Trump’s former national security advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Flynn’s attorneys said on Monday that a daily “escalating public frenzy against him” and the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel have created a legally dangerous environment for the embattled general to cooperate with a Senate investigation.

And then, Flynn invoked his 5th Amendment privilege against the production of documents.

On Tuesday, subpoenas were issued to Flynn’s businesses, and senators didn’t rule out the possibility that all of this results in a contempt of Congress charge against the former presidential advisor.


President Trump’s standing in national polls has consistently declined since the end of last month. His approval rating now sits at the lowest point of his presidency.

David Lauter offers a few answers about what the polls do — and don’t — tell us.


-- Congressional Democrats have asked the Trump administration for information on any link being made between the health insurance industry’s political support for GOP healthcare efforts and financial aid for low-income Americans who rely on Obamacare.

-- The Trump administration has settled on a narrow definition of what it means to be a “sanctuary city” and limited the potential financial consequences for local governments.

-- Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is seeking hundreds of millions in new funding to pay for an immigration crackdown on the border and a surge in resources to fight violent crime.

-- On Thursday, the political world will look to Montana’s special congressional race for a test of Democratic strength and Republican resilience in the age of Trump.

-- Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle raised concerns Tuesday that Brown’s state budget plan relies on a faulty calculation of a spending limit imposed by voters in 1979.

-- Supporters of Kimberly Ellis, who lost her bid to lead the California Democratic Party by a razor-thin margin last weekend, started sifting through convention delegate ballots on Tuesday to see if there were any voting irregularities.

-- By a 7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld limits set in the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002, with a dissent by the new arrival, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

-- The high court also struck down two congressional districts in North Carolina on Monday, because they had been gerrymandered along racial lines.

-- The U.S. Transportation Department released $100 million in funds for the electrification of the Bay Area’s Caltrain transit system after California’s Republican House members tried to stop it.

-- Democrats have added Reps. Devin Nunes and Duncan Hunter to their list of 2018 targets.

-- A conservative group is running ads thanking the California GOP for their healthcare vote.

--The left flank of the Assembly Democrats is looking to boost its clout by forming an official Progressive Caucus in the state Legislature.


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