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When Is It OK For Democrats To Work With Trump? A Handy Guide

Suddenly, Democrats are in demand. With the Republican caucus fractured and even moderate Senate Democrats feeling feisty, the road to legislation now runs through minority leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.

Senate Republicans have indicated that money for a border wall is a non-starter in next month’s keep-the-government-open spending bill, in order to avoid a certain filibuster. White House officials are suggesting that the timetable for an infrastructure bill will be moved up to coincide with tax reform, in hopes of wooing Democrats. And there’s an outside chance that Republicans lack the votes to muscle through Neil Gorsuch by ditching the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees, which would give Democrats a say in picking his replacement.

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But the Democrats’ newfound leverage brings with it a fresh conundrum: Should they seize the opportunity to shape legislation? Or are they better off sticking with full resistance?

Full resistance has paid off handsomely so far. Democrats have saved the Affordable Care Act. They have helped drive Trump’s approval numbers down into the 30s. All the grassroots energy outside the Beltway is with the left, which, if sustained and harnessed into a coherent strategy, could prove decisive in the midterm elections. Trump is drowning, and Democrats have no reason to throw him a lifeline.

And yet, absolute, 100 percent, no-quarter resistance to all things Trump will likely prove impossible.

With 11 Democratic senators hailing from states Trump won—10 of whom face re-election next year, some will want to avoid attack ads that claim they “voted with Chuck Schumer more than 90 percent of the time.” (Another nine members of the Senate Democratic Caucus represent states that Hillary Clinton won by six points or less.) And even blue-staters may find themselves tempted by legislation that could, at least in part, benefit their constituents.

In all likelihood, Democrats are going to have to pick their spots. But when is it OK to cooperate with someone who is viewed by most Democrats as the personification of bigotry and a tool of Vladimir Putin?

Here is a handy guide for acceptable bipartisanship in Trump’s tempestuous Washington:

1. Don’t Forget: Even Republicans Cooperated With Obama Sometimes

“We were a 10-year opposition party,” Speaker Paul Ryan sheepishly admitted last week. While it’s true that Republican leaders privately pledged on Barack Obama’s inauguration day to “challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign,” and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell famously vowed to make Obama a one-term president, it’s also true in executing that obstructionist strategy, there were times when Republicans, in groups large and small, found it necessary to cooperate .

In Obama’s first term, Republicans helped pass bills to regulate food safety and reduce crack cocaine sentences, mainly with voice votes. Eight Senate Republicans voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Three provided critical votes to not only pass but also shape the Recovery Act, as did Republican Sen. Scott Brown for Obama’s prized Wall Street reform.

Cooperation diminished

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Former Trump University student seeks trial

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Copies of "How To Build Wealth," a series of nine audio business courses created by Trump University, lie on display on Jan. 10, 2005, in New York City. | Getty

Judge Gonzalo Curiel will consider Thursday whether to let individuals press fraud claims outside Donald Trump's proposed $25 million settlement offer.

By Josh Gerstein

03/29/17 05:16 AM EDT

Days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, he did something he’d long vowed never to do: fork over $25 million to settle long-running fraud lawsuits over his Trump University seminar program.

But a former student in Florida is balking at the settlement and asking to be allowed to pursue her claims to trial—exactly what the president apparently wished to avoid.

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Overall, the settlement offer has won support among many former Trump University students, who are slated to get anywhere from about $1,200 to $30,000, about 80 percent of what they paid.

Those who aren’t satisfied with the offer include Florida bankruptcy attorney Sherri Simpson, who says she paid nearly $19,000 in 2010 for seminars and a mentorship program. She’s arguing that she should be able to continue the litigation in order to see Trump’s alleged fraud publicly exposed.

“She wants to hold Donald Trump accountable for this fraud—this racketeering activity is really what it is,” Simpson’s attorney, Gary Friedman, said in an interview. “Our position is we just don’t like seeing this swept under the rug and it shouldn’t be. This is the most base kind of fraud.”

Trump’s attorneys and the lawyers who backed the federal class-action lawsuits—who waived fees in the case—have suggested Simpson’s objection reeks of politics. Both sets of lawyers noted that she appeared in an anti-Trump political ad .

“The circumstances surrounding her objection suggest it is attorney-driven,” the class-action lawyers wrote. They also pointed out that one of Simpson’s lawyers, Ilann Maazel, was a top attorney for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s “failed election-recount campaign.”

Asked how Simpson’s case is related to Stein’s political efforts, Friedman said: “What’s the connection? Zero.” (The ad Simpson was featured in was run by a conservative, free-market-focused super PAC, the American Future Fund.)

What happens next with Simpson’s objection is in the hands of someone Trump repeatedly attacked during the presidential campaign—often in crude racial terms: U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel. He’s set to hold a hearing Thursday on whether the proposed settlement is fair to thousands of people who paid anywhere from about $1,500 for a three-day seminar up to about $35,000 for the “gold elite” mentorship.

Curiel gave preliminary approval to the deal last December, after encouraging both sides to reach a settlement that averted the spectacle of a civil fraud trial at which the president-elect was expected to take the witness stand as a defendant. In an order, the judge said he’d “determined the proposed Settlement to be fair, reasonable, adequate, and within the range of possible approval.”

From a financial point of view, the proposed settlement is an unusually

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Trump could blow up Obamacare with one move

President Trump says that Obamacare is going to explode.

But if that happens, it is likely because his administration supplies the spark that detonates the marketplaces.

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The White House could decide at any time to eliminate subsidies relied upon by insurers to lower costs for Obamacare’s poorest customers, as a result of a court win by House Republicans last spring.

“It’s one thing to say we’re going to watch Obamacare collapse,” said Kathy Hempstead, who oversees coverage programs for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “It’s another to shoot it in the head.”

Eliminating the subsidy program would be the most dramatic maneuver but also the highest-risk. House Republicans had sued the Obama administration to block funding for the subsidies that cover out-of-pocket costs for poorer Americans, arguing that administration had paid for it without congressional authority. That argument prevailed in a lower court last year, but was appealed by the Obama administration. The lawsuit has essentially been put on hold while the House and the Trump administration decide how to proceed.

If the White House drops the appeal, that $7 billion a year would likely disappear almost immediately. Insurers would still be required to pay the bills of poorer participants, but with no way to get reimbursed. That could trigger a mass exodus of insurers and lead to the collapse of the marketplaces that Trump and many other Republicans have long predicted.

But the GOP might not escape blame for the resulting chaos.

“They now own these markets because they control the government,” said Dan Mendelson, CEO of consulting firm Avalere Health, who served in the Clinton administration. “That’s very plain to see.”

But Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) disagrees with that assessment. “We just attempted to change the law and were not successful in doing so,” he said Tuesday. “So it’s going to be current law which causes these markets to explode,” he argues.

The Trump administration hasn’t said whether it will continue the cost-sharing subsidies. HHS said it does not comment on pending litigation, in response to questions from POLITICO.

Greater clarity may come Wednesday when Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price testifies before a House appropriations subcommittee. Lawmakers are likely to ask about his department’s plans on the health law.

Price has sent mixed signals about his approach to the Obamacare marketplaces. On the one hand, HHS canceled up to $5 million in outreach advertising during the crucial final days of the open-enrollment season, which Obamacare’s allies have blamed for a drop-off in signups. It could also stop enforcing the law’s unpopular individual mandate, which would inject additional turmoil into already fragile insurance markets.

But Price has also proposed new regulations designed to stabilize the markets. The proposal, which is expected to be finalized soon, would crack down on special enrollment periods, requiring Obamacare customers prove their eligibility before they can get coverage outside of the standard enrollment window.

That may not be enough to reassure anxious insurance executives, though.

Insurance consultant Robert Laszewski

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Trump serves as rocket fuel for Democratic fundraising

Democrats are on a torrid fundraising pace in the first months of the Donald Trump era, powered by enraged small donors who are plowing millions of dollars worth of online contributions into campaign and committee treasuries.

A POLITICO analysis of new federal disclosures suggests many Democratic Senate incumbents — particularly those who have been most outspoken in their resistance to Trump — are on a trajectory to raise more money online than ever before in a non-election year. That could help level the fundraising playing field at a time when Republicans are poised to reap the financial rewards of holding all the levers of power in Washington.

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While comprehensive campaign finance data for both parties in the first quarter of 2017 won’t be released until next month, February figures reported to the Federal Election Commission by ActBlue, the left-leaning online fundraising platform, suggests both members of Congress and many progressive groups are harnessing the energy of town halls and marches and translating it into a surge of online fundraising well in advance of the 2018 election season.

Jon Ossoff, the Democratic candidate for an open House seat in Georgia, raised nearly $2.1 million online last month for his April special election. That’s more than Tom Price, the Republican who held the seat until his appointment as HHS Secretary, spent over the course of his entire 2016 campaign.

“Being in opposition tends to mobilize people, and being in opposition to a President Donald Trump tends to really mobilize people,” said Teddy Goff, a top digital aide to both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, noting that online donors are often repeat contributors. “The heartening thing for the party — our candidates and incumbent office-holders, as well as new groups like Indivisible — is people aren’t just angry. They want to go out and do things, like marches around the country, and the fundraising numbers [reflect that]."

In February alone — and just online — Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a top GOP target in 2018, brought in over $212,000 in donations of under $200 through ActBlue. That’s over four times as much as she raised in small donations across all platforms — online or through more traditional fundraising means — in the first quarter of 2011, the comparable period in her last re-election campaign.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, meanwhile, raised at least $637,000 in small online donations last month — over six times more than she raised in total small-dollar contributions in the first quarter of 2011. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy has been informing his constituents that he’s getting close to receiving as many individual contributions as he did during his entire 2012 campaign, when he got 64,704. He earned nearly $650,000 online in February.

“The 2016 election was humbling for Claire, and she is doubling her efforts to travel to every corner of the state to listen and show her respect for Missouri voters. She’s way more focused on that than on raising money,” said Erika Brees, the

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Reeling Republicans desperate for a win on Gorsuch

Mitch McConnell told his leadership team in private this week what’s becoming increasingly obvious on Capitol Hill: Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch probably won’t get 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

But the Senate majority leader had an equally pressing message: Republicans should have no compunction about pulling the trigger on the “nuclear option” — with Democrats resisting a high court nominee as well-pedigreed as Gorsuch.

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“Feel no guilt,” McConnell said, according to attendees.

McConnell’s attempt to buck up his GOP ranks, relayed by three sources in attendance, underscores the high stakes of the Gorsuch battle as the Senate barrels toward a likely nuclear showdown next week: His confirmation is, to put it mildly, a can’t-lose for Republicans.

That was true after Senate Republicans waged a yearlong blockade of Merrick Garland that positioned the GOP to pick someone else now. But the spectacular collapse of the Obamacare repeal effort last week makes Gorsuch all the more urgent for President Donald Trump and reeling Hill Republicans.

McConnell is so confident that Republicans will win the Gorsuch fight that the Kentucky Republican predicted he’ll be confirmed by a week from Friday.

“It will be the kind of victory that I think a lot of our people who support us want to see,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview. “They want to see us get things done. We’ll get that done, so hopefully we’ll get an accomplishment.”

Aside from Gorsuch, there’s no obvious candidate on the horizon for the GOP’s first big congressional achievement of the Trump presidency.

A rewrite of the tax code is months away under the most optimistic timeline. Averting a government shutdown next month would be a meager accomplishment, even by Congress’ low standards. And while some Republicans don’t want to give up on health care reform, there’s nothing to indicate a magical compromise will materialize.

More Senate Democrats are putting the onus on the GOP to install Gorsuch on the Supreme Court without their help. Several swing Democratic votes this week came out in opposition to the federal judge from Colorado, even after he got through his confirmation hearings last week without any big blunders.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) announced Tuesday that she will not only vote against confirming Gorsuch, but will also filibuster him. That made her the fifth of 10 Democrats from states that Donald Trump won last November to oppose the president’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Though Gorsuch’s path to 60 votes keeps narrowing, at least one Democratic senator who plans to oppose the judge — Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland — is still evaluating how he will come down on invoking cloture, which will determine whether Gorsuch gets an up-or-down confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

While whip counts continue to fluctuate, Republicans are trying to deflect pressure back on Democrats.

“There are a lot of people that voted for President Trump because of the Supreme Court. So I think it’s very important for that and other reasons,” Senate

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