Trump Changes His Tone, If Not His Policy, On Iran Deal

Officially, the Trump administration certified this week that Iran has complied in the strictest terms with the requirements of the nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But as President Donald Trump indicated in a Thursday press conference with Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, the United States government is hardly pleased with the regime in Tehran.

“As far as Iran is concerned, I think they are doing a tremendous disservice to an agreement that was signed,” Trump said. “It was a terrible agreement. It shouldn’t have been signed.…They are not living up to the spirit of the agreement, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully and we’ll have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future. But Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement.”

For a president defined by his glibness, Trump is choosing his words carefully here. Gone are the campaign-era promises to “rip up” the Iran deal, but the overall sentiment—that the Obama administration’s agreement to ease economic sanctions in exchange for toothless concessions that will do little to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions—remains.

Restoring sanctions and ultimately getting Tehran to change its behavior will require more than tough talk about negotiations. A public campaign to demonstrate Iran is not, in the president’s words, “living up to the spirit of the deal,” may do more to convince European partners that the deal needs revisions and stricter enforcement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is already doing his part to argue against the current deal and Iran’s problematic activity in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) the weakness of the deal.

What’s Happening With North Korea?

The president was a little more cryptic Thursday about another bad foreign actor who already has nuclear weapons: North Korea. Trump spoke about the positive relationship between he and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president with whom he is trying to work more closely on containing the Kim regime.

Trump seemed to confirm, for instance, that China’s orders to turn away ships carrying coal from North Korea was a result of his talks with Xi when the two leaders met at Mar-a-Lago two weeks ago. What else has Beijing been doing to pressure Pyongyang? “Many other things have happened,” Trump added. “Some very unusual moves have been made over the last two or three hours.”

The White House won’t say what the president meant by “unusual moves” made “over the last two or three hours.” “Don’t know,” said one White House official when asked.

Health Care Ambitions vs. Reality

When House Republican leadership scrapped a vote on the American Health Care Act, the White House-backed Obamacare repeal-and-replace bill, last month, the administration was pretty clear in saying it was done with health-care legislation in the near term. “We’re moving on,” one senior White House aide told me at the time.

At his Thursday press conference, however, Trump claimed there was “never a give-up” on health care, saying he would want to see Congress pass a revised version of the bill as early as next week. “We’re doing very well on health care,” he said. “We will see what happens, but this is a great bill. There’s a great plan, and this will be great health care. It is evolving.”

Talk in Washington is that some Capitol Hill Republicans are approaching a kind of compromise on certain details of the AHCA. House leadership is reportedly skeptical there will be a vote next week, and Trump himself was noncommittal on whether that was his expectation. “We have a good chance of getting it soon. I would like to say next week, but it will be, I believe we will get it, and whether it is next week or shortly thereafter,” he said last week.

Pence “To the Rescue” on Obamacare Repeal

My colleague Chris Deaton, in the new print issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, has details on how Republicans on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue have been trying to solve a problem that led to the collapse in support for the original House bill:

Take the legislation’s treatment of health care consumers with a pre-existing condition—which has come to mean anyone with an expensive medical issue who might be denied insurance if they weren’t already insured. The original text authorized money for the creation of a “stability fund” for states to directly subsidize such individuals, as well as the insurers who cover them. State governments could use the money to establish reinsurance programs and high-risk pools, with the goal of sequestering costly patients and their premiums from the broader coverage pool. By design, the burden for subsidizing those with pre-existing conditions would be transferred from younger, healthier consumers to taxpayers en masse.

House Speaker Paul Ryan touted this plan during a 23-minute presentation about the bill in March. “We want to protect people with pre-existing conditions. We think that that’s very important. That has actually been a cornerstone of Republican health care proposals all along,” he said. All well and good. But the fund contains just $100 billion over nine years, much less than what policy experts, including those like James Capretta and Tom Miller on the right, have said would be necessary for such an approach to “function properly.” And the AHCA left in place Obamacare’s mandates on insurers for covering those with pre-existing conditions, making the fund appear like a supplement to the current law. The former issue could be enough to make moderates uneasy. The latter was evidently enough to make many conservatives oppose the bill.

To the rescue came four GOP lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence, who has been a facilitator for conversations about the legislation. Prior to the two-week Easter recess, Reps. Gary Palmer and David Schweikert, both of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, proposed a federal risk-sharing program to further offset the cost of insuring pricey individuals. It’s a $15 billion yearly expense from 2018 through 2026, and it could be supplemented by leftover resources from the stability fund. It would come under state control starting in 2020. The idea has party-wide support, according to Republican leadership; it was adopted in the Rules Committee before members flew back home for the recess.

Song of the Day

“What May Seem Like Love,” Whiskeytown.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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