Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1344, (11 - 17 May 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Back to Russia

Trump’s victory against Obamacare in the House proved a short-lived high as the “Russia-gate” scandal resurfaced this week

Back to Russia
Back to Russia

US President Donald Trump hardly started celebrating the victory he achieved at the US House of Representatives, gaining narrow approval for a bill repealing Obamacare, when new facts emerged over the forced resignation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, raising more embarrassing questions on his relationship with Russia and the role Moscow played in his victory in the November US elections.

The vote to repeal former president Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, which enabled 20 million more Americans to get health insurance, was Trump’s biggest legislative win since he took office in January, putting him on a path to fulfilling one of his key campaign promises as well as a seven-year quest by Republican lawmakers.

It marked a reversal of fortune for the Republican president who suffered a stunning defeat in late March when House Republican leaders pulled legislation to scrap Obamacare after they and the White House could not resolve the clashing interests of Republican moderates and the party’s most conservative lawmakers.

Trump has called Obamacare a “disaster” and congressional Republicans have long targeted the 2010 law, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, calling it government overreach.

But despite holding the White House and controlling both houses of Congress, Republicans have found overturning Obamacare politically perilous, partly because of voter fears, loudly expressed at constituent townhall meetings, that many people would lose their health insurance as a result.

With Thursday’s 217-213 vote, Republicans obtained just enough support to push the legislation through the House, sending it to the Senate for consideration. No Democratic House members voted for the bill. Democrats say it would make insurance unaffordable for those who need it most and leave millions more uninsured. They accuse Republicans of seeking tax cuts for the rich, partly paid for by cutting health benefits.

The new legislation, called the American Health Care Act, is by no means a sure thing in the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slender 52-48 majority in the 100-seat chamber and where only a few Republican defections could sink it.

As Republicans crossed over the vote threshold to pass the bill, Democrats in the House began singing “Na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye,” a rowdy suggestion that Republicans will lose seats in the 2018 congressional elections because of their vote.

Within an hour of the vote, Trump celebrated with House lawmakers in the White House Rose Garden. “I went through two years of campaigning and I’m telling you, no matter where I went, people were suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare,” Trump said. “We are going to get this passed through the Senate. I am so confident.”

However, Trump’s celebration of this narrow victory proved to be short lived, as new facts emerged over the forced resignation of his first choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

On Monday, the White House confirmed that former US president Barack Obama warned newly-elected Trump against hiring Flynn. This warning came less than 48 hours after the November election, during a conversation in the Oval Office, former Obama officials said.

Flynn’s contacts with a Russian envoy left him vulnerable to blackmail, a Senate panel heard Monday. He was fired in February for concealing the nature of these contacts.

Flynn, a retired army lieutenant-general, misled the Trump administration about discussing US sanctions against Russia with the country’s envoy, Sergei Kislyak, before the inauguration.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the daily briefing Monday: “It’s true that president Obama made it known that he wasn’t exactly a fan of General Flynn’s.”

But Spicer said that should not come as a surprise “given that General Flynn had worked for president Obama [and] was an outspoken critic of president Obama’s shortcomings, specifically as it related to his lack of strategy confronting ISIS and other threats around that were facing America”.

The Obama administration fired Flynn from his role as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, citing issues of mismanagement and temperament.

Obama’s warning to Trump came before concerns emerged about Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador, a former Obama official told NBC News.

The Democratic president reportedly thought Flynn was not suited for such a high-level position.

In hindsight, Trump would have been better served heeding his predecessor’s advice, as the ensuing scandal over contacts with the Russian ambassador quickly ended Flynn’s controversial posting.

The timing of this revelation, just hours before former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified on Flynn’s Russian ties, and her own efforts to warn the Trump administration, was no fluke.

Trump took a shot at the woman he fired as acting attorney general via Twitter, and Obama’s team came — anonymously — to her defence.

It’s yet the latest evidence of an ongoing feud between the past and present presidential administrations, as well as tension between Trump’s inner circle and the US intelligence community.

The stakes are high, and there’s no indication anyone is backing down.

But on Monday, Spicer questioned the former president’s objections to Flynn. “If Mr Obama was truly concerned about General Flynn,” the White House press secretary told reporters, “why didn’t he suspend General Flynn’s security clearance, which they had just reapproved months earlier?

“Additionally, why did the Obama administration let Flynn go to Russia for a paid speaking engagement and receive a fee?”

Yates testified for the first time in public Monday before a congressional panel about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak.

A 27-year Justice Department prosecutor, she was fired in January by Trump after she refused to uphold the administration’s travel ban.

Yates told the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee she had warned White House counsel Don McGahn about Flynn during an in-person meeting 26 January.

She said she told McGahn she had seen statements regarding Flynn’s contacts with the Russian envoy “that we knew not to be truth”.

Yates said Flynn had “lied” to the US vice-president, and the Russians were aware of this. “That created a compromised situation,” she said, “a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by Russians.”

She added: “To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security adviser compromised with the Russians.”

Yates said she could not disclose whether her knowledge derived from intercepted US intelligence communications between Flynn and the envoy.

Flynn’s links to Russia are being scrutinised by the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees, as part of wider investigations into claims Moscow sought to tip the election in favour of Trump, and into contacts between Russia and members of the president’s campaign team.

President Trump on Monday appeared to accuse Yates of leaking information to the media, which she denied during the hearing.

After her testimony, Trump tweeted: “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

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