4 stories that really mattered this week

The political week commenced with Donald Trump embroiled in a multi-front war against an array of professional athletes and NFL franchise owners, but substance quickly took center stage. Yet another effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act lived and died, the island of Puerto Rico plunged into darkness, the GOP establishment took a major blow in Alabama, and Republicans set the stage for the next great legislative battle by releasing a rough sketch of their proposed tax cut.

Here’s what you need to know.

Obamacare repeal died again

Graham-Cassidy, the GOP’s last (and in some ways most radical) proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act worked up a large head of steam before falling short of obtaining the nearly unanimous support among Senate Republicans it would have needed to pass. “We don’t have the votes,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) announced on Tuesday.

  • Trump’s hospital theory: Donald Trump, oddly, has said repeatedly that the bill did have the support of 50 senators but couldn’t pass because one of them is in the hospital. (No senators are in the hospital.)
  • Bipartisan stabilization is up next: With repeal dead again (at least for now) Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are back to working on a bipartisan deal to stabilize Affordable Care Act exchanges.
  • Executive branch destabilization is happening: Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services continues to discourage ACA enrollments, abruptly dropping out of events and even shutting down the signup website.

Puerto Rico is in crisis

The aftermath of Hurricane Maria has turned into a disaster for the island of Puerto Rico, with massive power outages the biggest proximate problem.

  • Puerto Rico gets a 10-day Jones Act waiver: The Jones Act, an obscure protectionist measure for American shipbuilders that raises costs on the island, was finally waived on Thursday after days of inaction from the White House.
  • No inland transportation: The immediate issue as of week’s end, however, wasn’t getting aid onto Puerto Rico’s docks but off the docks and into the country. Poor communications and fuel shortages are making it extremely difficult to actually transport goods.
  • Trump administration is satisfied: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elizabeth Duke told reporters Thursday that she’s satisfied with the federal response, which Americans should see as a “good news” story.

Republicans rolled out a tax cut plan

Republican congressional leaders from both the House and Senate teamed up with the Trump administration to release a “framework” for tax reform that, while punting on many key issues, provides more detail than earlier GOP plans.

  • Plenty of tax cuts for the rich: Rich people get elimination of the estate tax, a discount tax rate on income derived from partnerships, a lower top marginal tax rate, and some big cuts in the corporate income tax.
  • Unspecified help for middleclass parents: The framework also calls for a “significant” expansion of the Child Tax Credit, which would put money in the pockets of middle-class parents. Of course, to know how much money you’d have to know how big the expansion is.
  • GOP leaders say there’s no tax cut for the rich: Trump promised that rich people like him won’t benefit from this tax plan. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said the same. It’s not true.

Roy Moore won the GOP nomination in Alabama

When Jeff Sessions was appointed to serve as attorney general, former Gov. Robert Bentley appointed his state’s attorney general, Luther Strange, to fill the vacancy on a temporary basis until it could be filled in a special election scheduled for November. Tuesday night, Strange lost the primary for the GOP nomination in that election to Roy Moore, the notorious state judge who’s twice been removed from office for violating federal court orders.

  • A strange appointment: A Republican governor appointing a Republican attorney general to fill a vacancy sounds pretty normal. But in this case Bentley appointed Strange, who at the time was in the midst of leading an investigation into Bentley that later ended with Bentley’s impeachment and removal from office. Accepting the appointment looked to many Alabamians on the surface like some kind of shady deal.
  • All the majority leader’s horses: Mitch McConnell pulled out all the stops for Strange, who he saw as a reliable ally and who he didn’t want to see replaced by a potential loose cannon in the mold of Ted Cruz or Rand Paul. He even convinced Donald Trump to campaign for Strange even though Moore was running on Trumpy themes. In the end, McConnell’s support may not have helped much since he’s increasingly unpopular with almost all segments of the electorate.
  • Democrats have a longshot candidate: Democrats’ odds of winning a statewide election in Alabama are always bleak. But not only have Republicans nominated a weak candidate, Democrats seem to have an unusually strong one in the form of Doug Jones, a former US attorney who prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan. Jones is an underdog, but up against Moore there should be a real campaign at least.