In a conversation with a constituent last week, U.S. Senator Susan Collins at first flatly denied she had accepted money from both the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, and drug company giant Eli Lilly. The Sacklers have admitted to misleadingly pushing the addictive painkiller OxyContin and are currently being sued by Maine and other states over their role in the opioid crisis. Eli Lilly has dramatically hiked the price of insulin and faces a class action lawsuit for their alleged price gouging. Collins has, in fact, received contributions from both sources. The constituent with whom Collins was speaking, Amy Halsted, knew all of this. She serves as co-director of the Maine People’s Alliance, and has worked extensively on issues related to the opioid crisis and pharmaceutical price gouging. “I got this random chance of being upgraded to first class and being seated next to someone Mainers have been pleading to talk with and answer their questions and I felt the weight of that. I knew I had to ask her something,” said Halsted, who recorded a video of her conversation with Collins on her phone as they talked just after their airplane had landed at Reagan National Airport. Collins said that even if she had received contributions (which she did), she wouldn’t be returning them or giving the money to charity. “I’m not influenced by the contributions that my campaign receives,” said Collins. Halsted, who has family members who have struggled with addiction and diabetes, said she was “dumbfounded” by Collins’ “flat-out denial of facts.”
Maine's Collins Least Popular U.S. Senator
Maine’s Susan Collins has highest disapproval rating of any senator in national survey. Bangor Daily News: "A national survey released Thursday found U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine had the highest disapproval rating of any senator in 2019’s last quarter as she enters a campaign for a fifth term in which she is one of national Democrats’ top targets. The Republican once polled as Maine’s most popular politician and won her 2014 race with more than two-thirds of votes, but her 2018 vote for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh kicked off a massive Democratic campaign against her and the news comes amid impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump that will be high-stakes for Collins. Collins’ approval rating has sunk sharply since Trump took office in the first quarter of 2017, when the Maine senator registered a 67 percent approval rating, according to Morning Consult. In the final quarter of 2019, the firm said her rating stood at 42 percent. Her disapproval rating of 52 percent in Maine during that period was highest among senators. Collins overtook Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the only senator who had a higher rating than her in 2019’s third quarter."
States Sue Trump Over Food Stamp Restrictions
14 states sue Trump administration over food stamp rule. Politico: "A coalition that includes attorneys general in 14 states, the District of Columbia and New York City are suing the Agriculture Department over a plan to impose stricter work requirements on millions of food stamp recipients. The lawsuit, filed Thursday by mostly Democratic-led states, argues that USDA unlawfully limited states' discretion to exempt certain adults from work requirements for an extended period of time based on local employment conditions. 'Under well-settled law, the executive branch does not get to go forth with policies that Congress specifically rejected,' District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said in a call with reporters. He and New York State Attorney General Tish James are leading the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. After a bitter partisan fight over the 2018 farm bill, congressional leaders agreed not to include sweeping changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that were pushed by a Republican-led House. But last year, the Trump administration began its own effort to rein in the program, arguing that the government should promote self-sufficiency when the U.S. economy is strong."
Insurers Donate Big To Dem Candidates
Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations. The Hill: "The health insurance industry is donating big to Democrats even amid criticism of the industry and growing calls for “Medicare for All” from the progressive wing of the party. Four big insurance companies — Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health and Cigna — and their employees have given about $4.5 million collectively in campaign contributions in the 2020 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Just more than half — about $2.3 million — of that has gone to Democrats, including to some of the party’s top-tier presidential contenders. The Center for Responsive Politics totals are based on Federal Election Commission data through the third quarter of 2019 and include money from the companies and their PACs, owners and employees and their immediate families. These companies and employees have been giving big, on both sides, in recent cycles. Historically the industry has given to both sides of the aisle, but the contributions to Democrats are a troubling issue for some progressives and health advocates, who want the party to do more to rein in private insurers and reform the health care market. They worry the contributions will make it harder for Democrats to take a tougher line on insurers despite calls for change. 'Insurance companies are using their money to try and influence not only Republicans but Democrats as well. The problem is that they control the whole system,' Paco Fabian, director of campaigns at the progressive group Our Revolution, told The Hill."
Trump Signs China Trade Deal
What grade does Trump’s China trade deal deserve? Incomplete. NYT: "Perhaps the most valuable feature of the skeleton trade deal that the United States and China signed this week is simply that both sides have agreed to suspend tit-for-tat escalation. That alone is enough for people on both sides of the Pacific to breath a sigh of relief. The bad news is that the deal doesn’t do much to address the longstanding problems in the economic relationship between the United States and one of its largest trading partners. Notably, it does not address China’s practice of subsidizing its state-owned enterprises. The deal also leaves Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods substantially intact. The average tariff on Chinese imports will stand at 19.3 percent, compared to 3 percent when Mr. Trump took office, according to Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. A new analysis of data from 2018 and 2019 finds that Americans are paying the full cost of the tariffs. The key deal terms are straightforward: China has promised to buy a heaping pile of stuff from the United States over the next two years, and to make it a little easier for American companies to do business in China. The United States has promised to stop raising tariffs. But China has a long history of writing promises that look good on paper, only for foreign companies to discover they cannot depend on the regular enforcement of those commitments. The value of the new promises therefore rests on a new enforcement mechanism that allows either side to impose tariffs if it identifies a problem that is not promptly rectified. Will it work? One reason for doubt is that the Trump administration already is concerned that any further increase in tariffs would cause significant problems for the American economy."
Senate Impeachment Trial Begins
Trump impeachment: Chief Justice John Roberts and senators sworn in as trial begins – as it happened. The Guardian: "The Senate opened the impeachment trial of Donald Trump today. The supreme court chief justice, John Roberts, was sworn in to preside over the trial. Senators also swore an oath to 'do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws.' The trial is now adjourned until 1pm ET on Tuesday. Trump and Mike Pence denied knowing Lev Parnas, who said he carried out a campaign to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden on behalf of the president. Parnas alleged that Pence and other White House officials including attorney general William Barr and former national security advisor John Bolton. Ukraine is investigating possible surveillance of former US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch following the release of texts between Parnas and an associate."
FBI Raids Home Of Giuliani Ukraine Conspirator
FBI visits home of Robert Hyde, Trump donor at center of Ukraine ambassador spy scandal. NBC: "FBI agents on Thursday visited the Connecticut home and business of Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate whose purported surveillance of the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine last year has become an issue in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The visits came on the same day that Ukrainian officials said they had opened an investigation into Hyde’s claims to Lev Parnas, a then-associate of Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that he was tracking the movements of American ambassador Marie Yovanovitch last year when she was still posted in Kyiv. Parnas and Giuliani last year were engaged in an effort to oust Yovanovitch as part of a broader push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Senate on Thursday began its impeachment trial of Trump. The House of Representatives a month earlier impeached the president in connection with his withholding of congressionally appropriated military aid to Ukraine while he was pressuring that country’s new president to announce a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. An FBI spokesman in New Haven confirmed the visits to Hyde’s home in Simsbury, and to his business office in Avon on Thursday morning, after they were first reported by CNN."