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Roundtable: Replacing Obamacare, New Immigration Ban, Pulpit Politics

Roundtable: Replacing Obamacare, New Immigration Ban
Roundtable: Replacing Obamacare, New Immigration Ban, Pulpit Politics
Health Care, Immigration, Religion & PoliticsPANELChris Jennewein, CEO, Times of San Kate Morrissey, immigration reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Elliot Spagat, reporter, Associated Press Peter Rowe, writer, The San Diego Union-Tribune

MS: Paul Ryan place defense as they attack the Republican healthcare format. Refugees are unhappy about the latest try at the immigration ban. The border patrol proposal exempts detectives from taking a lie detector test. Should pastors be able to and desk does -- and doors or opposes political parties from the pulpit? MS: Welcome to our discussion. I am Mark Saur. We have Chris. Hello. CJ: It is good to be here. MS: Kate is here. KM: Hello. MS: And Elliott is here of the Associated Press. ES: It is good to be here. MS: Peter is here. Hello. PR: It is great to have you here. MS: It is the Republicans dream come true according to Paul Ryan. They can repeal Obamacare with control over Congress and the White House. It may turn out to be a nightmare. A coalition of Democrats and right wing and moderate Republicans will what doctors and nurses and the AARP are lined up against in. Here is President. Trump on Obamacare and the replacement. Trump: It is a disaster. The insurance companies are fleeing. There are some states over 100% in costs. The deductibles are through the roof. You do not even use it. We will do something greater. I am proud to police -- support the replacement plan. I think both parties, we're going to have something that is more understood and more popular than people can imagine. MS: Here is Paul Ryan and the reason for the bill and the fight to get past. Paul Ryan: Let's not forget, Obamacare is collapsing. Obamacare is not sustained. If we did nothing, it would collapse and leave everybody without affordable healthcare. We are doing mercy by repealing the law and replace and it with reforms that we have been arguing and fighting for years. MS: An act of mercy. Kris, is a collapsing? CJ: Obamacare has some problems. It has needed fixes for a while. I do think this is a case where the cure is worse than the disease. What they are proposing is it is better if you are young and healthy and if you have a stable job that if you are older, pore, or out of work, you were going to pay more for health insurance. MS: What are the key changes with Obamacare that the Republicans are billing? CJ: The biggest change is the end of the mandate, which is a requirement that all Americans have health insurance or pay a premium. It provides a way to subsidize your insurance, but not through direct subsidies, through tax credits on your taxes. Are there changes? Employers are not required to offer health insurance. Probably the thing that is felt the most by older people is higher premiums. Obamacare set the limit at three times what insurance companies could charge younger people now it is five times. MS: A lot of the people that came onto Obamacare, it was because they expanded Medicaid? CJ: Medicaid was increased with the coverage area from those people who were at 100% to the poverty level. That caused a big increase in the number of people who were covered through Medicaid. They will be covered through 2020 but the money is cut back and they will drop off the insurance roles. MS: There is a big change in 2020. The states say they can pick it up and they can pick up the federal share but the reality is, states are in trouble themselves in terms of the budgets and the ebb and flow of the economy. CJ: It is a big problem for many states and certainly for California. A Republican governor has said this plan will not work for you state. There are number of those web expressed concern. Casey had lunch with Trump this week and talked about the problems that will occur if the Medicaid expansion is not continued. MS: You said the parties have to work together. [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] PR: Despite what the president said, I do not know of any Democrats in Washington or in California who are on board with us. MS: That is a good point. Of you go back to Obama were they debated Obamacare in 2009 and 2010, Obama, he tried hard to get the Republicans on board. I do not think they are attempting to get Democrats there. CJ: This is moving very fast. They have not had an opportunity to provide the official estimate on what impact this will have. MS: That is unusual right? Here's the cost CJ: They do. This may be a case where the scoring comes out days before the first of a series of votes. It is moving extremely quickly and probably the Democrats will vote for. It will probably pass the house but it is probably going to have trouble in the Senate. You can see Senators who are in states that have large numbers of Democrats not voting for it and can make it to 60? That is going to be hard. MS: That is what they have to do. I will set this up from the Democratic leader. I want to say this does keep popular parts of Obamacare right? CJ: There are three popular parts that have not change. The first is that parents can keep children on their insurance until they turn 26. The second is, there are no lifetime caps on how much the policy can pay out. If you have a catastrophic disease like cancer, you remain covered. Also, we have the coverage for pre-existing conditions. You cannot be denied coverage because you have a history of severe back problems or cancer. There is a mandate in that. If you let your insurance lapse for more than two months, there is a 30% premium. You can gain the system. You can be sick and if you are willing to spend more than it would typically cost you, it can cost you. MS: Let's hear from Nancy Pelosi. Here's what she said. NP: The goal in the affordable care act was to reduce cost, expand benefits and to a large access for insurance and affordable care for all Americans. It is predicated on the idea that health care is a right for all and not just a privilege for few. Read the Republican bill is the largest transfer of wealth for working families to the richest people in our country. It is Robin Hood in reverse. MS: That is the biggest complaint that this is a big tax break for the wealthiest. CJ: It is a tax break. The way that the healthcare is being funded for individuals is through tax credits. That is great if you can make up to $75,000 and you with our older, you can get a tax break but if you are poor, instead of the subsidy, you get a tax credit. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, the prospect of a credit at your end is not a compelling thing to make you rush out and buy insurance and less you budget carefully, that is not helpful for you. It is a major transfer. MS: Some analysts say maybe 15 million Americans have insurance and they will lose it under the Republican plan and we have not seen the budget office on that. CJ: There is a hard estimate. This is the raging agency that is trustworthy. They are estimating the additional six 6 million to 10 million people will lose coverage. There is some argument that younger people will be more inclined to buy insurance because the cost might be less but out of the current 20 million that came on with Obamacare is a big change. MS: President Trump says he is all in and if we do not pass this, it will be a bloodbath. You agree to? CJ: I think so. They are secretly hoping it does not pass. He was elected with swing votes with older Republicans that decided to vote for him. When they see premiums going up and they are out of work, we might see a change in 2018. The Democrats could sweep the midterm elections. MS: There is lot to watch as we move forward. MD: After the federal courts first and on travelers blocked his, he issued a new one with little fanfare. The new ban leaves Iraq off the list but it targets refugees from Sudan and Yemen. There are visa holders were unaffected and no priority is given to Christian refugees. John Kelly introduced this. JK: This order is for focus on preventing the new foreign nationals from the six designated countries, is important to note that nothing affects existing lawful permanent residents or persons with current authorization to enter the homeland. MS: They reported the analysis in a show little evidence with citizens from these countries pose a terrorist that. What is the reason? ES: That is right. They retained an intelligence report. It said the citizenship is an unlikely indicator of terrorist threat. They responded by saying this was a single source and it is not -- it is based on public information and there could be classic dish -- classified information that could say differently. If you read through the executive order, there is a lot of real estate to conditions in these countries and how they are having trouble with terrorist organizations or they are failed states or they lack good vetting procedures. That conclusion would run counter to this. MS: There was a campaign promise. I want to ask you, what are the immediate problems caused by the ban? KM: His first ban took effect right away, within hours of him signing is a you had people who thought they had permission to be in the country whether they were a green card holder and they were being told they could not come. There were people in this limbo place and they were being held by border protection at airports and you have lawyers in the baggage claim places trying to reach them and they are telling them they are handling things differently so change your flight to go there. There wasn't uniform enforcement when it first came out which caused chaos. MS: That was the word. MS: What is the response this time? KM: A lot of people are calling this the Muslim ban 2.0 There has been a lawsuit brought by Hawaii and the others that were brought against the first ban and they are being turned towards this one. MS: Washington State in the others? KM: Yes. They are same this still has provisions that were in the first one and we have gotten temporary restraining orders or injunctions against those, is still applies in this case. MS: More of the same? CJ: In San Diego, there is an outpouring of support for refugees. This is a leading settlor of refugees in the United States. There are gatherings; there is a Jewish congregation a month ago. There is one this week. There is a lot of activity locally. MS: You wrote about that didn't you? About immigration efforts and advocacy groups that are mobilizing against this? KM: There have been different movements, individuals deciding what can we do to support refugees and how can we support people here in terms of the other immigration related orders that he assigned, people are looking at ways that they can create a response network to help protect the undocumented population in San Diego. There are different activists activities going on. MS: What about the Trump supporters? KM: They support him in it. The people I talked to say, they want the courts to leave him alone and do those -- let him do what he said he would do in a support them. We have a clip from a reporter who had a reaction with a refugee on this new order. The Council of American Islamic Relations. It is unconstitutional. It is wrong. You cannot discriminate based on religion and He said they challenge this in court. This is repackaging. It is the same Muslim ban. This is not making America any greater or safer. MS: We will hear the outrage in protest. KM: I think so. The fact that the overall number of refugees that we are bringing in has been reduced drastically and we will hear pushback on that. I had a conversation with Rodriguez who is the head of the CAS and he said these countries that are listed, they may have a larger effect than what it says. And they say you cannot come in for 90 days but they will review policies with those countries in say you need to provide information for your citizens comment. And for governments like Syria, that is not going to happen given their current state. ES: Do you have a sense of when this will be orderly when it takes a fax? The courts could block it but will it be chaotic? KM: I think people know that it is coming so if they are traveling, they have a chance to change travel plans. There could be people stuck but green card holders are not affected. It will be different but it is hard to say. MS: I want to talk about a related issue. The changes with the border patrol in order to meet the plan of 5000 agents. What is going on? ES: This is an aspect of his immigration play because of the travel ban and the construction of the wall in the border. He wants to hire 5000 agents, which would be a 25% increase, and also hire 10,000 IDE agents and it will double that agency. This is a big price. They are estimating the cost of the border patrol agents at $1.9 billion next year. MS: Is it hard finding people with clean records, right? ES: They did a story in January that said two thirds of the applicants which includes the border patrol; they failed the polygraph which is twice that. It sounded high to me. They said that is twice the average of -- and San Diego had a 20% failure rate. This is twice that. It has been a tremendous problem with hiring people. There are questions raised about that. One guy who was a pilot, a retired Marine pilot, he flew President Bush around the capital. He failed the polygraph. PR: Go ahead. Isn't this history repeating itself? Last time there was a big push to hire border patrol agents, they were found to have questionable backgrounds. MS: Can they hire the agents? ES: First of all, I want to backup. This is a proposal to allow waiving the polygraph for more veterans and current law enforcement that has not taken effect. History, this is about history. The border patrol doubled in size during the Bush administration and then the Obama administration. A lot of the police chiefs, and even homeland security, they are concerned about growing an organization that fast. The risk is that you lower the training standards and the training cannot catch up with the staff. MS: We look forward to more reporting. It is interesting to see how that plays out. It is said it is best to avoid discussions with politics and religion. We violate that all the time. This topic has come up recently because of a piece of legislation that has been introduced called the free-speech fairness act. What is that about? PR: This has been introduced in the House and Senate. It takes the Johnson amendment, which is the amendment to the tax code and rules of back as it concerns churches. The Johnson amendment affected all nonprofits within the 501C3 category, which would cover churches. Right. And interesting thing about the industry, people who oppose it and people who supported agree that it was an unintended consequence that the purchase were swept up in his. This was a freshman senator from Texas. It was Johnson. He was coming into an election year. He was being hammered by two publications that were put out by nonprofits in Texas, calling him a communist sympathizer. This was at the height of the McCarthy era. He wanted to get rid of this. He came up with this amendment which band the discussion of politics don't -- it was narrower than that. These organizations could not open toes or endorse political candidates. MS: This is interesting. This goes before Lyndon Johnson. It goes before the founding of the country as far as the separation? PR: Right. It has come up for centuries, going back to the 1600s. We have in our history, we have residents of different colonies and they were taxed to support the established church of that colony, depending on where you lived. And you could be an atheist and you could be a believer in another creed and you were going to pay the tax. Madison wanted to get rid of that with the first amendment and he wrote the establishment lawless. MS: You are free to worship or not worship and you will not tax or support any particular religion. Trump ran on that with a Muslim ban and now we will favor the Christians. That is an argument but they are going after this Johnson amendment. Right this? PR: A key supporter of this movement has been the pastor of the skyline church, makes the point; this is a clear violation of my or any preacher's First Amendment rights. Why are we being told we cannot say certain things from the pulpit? MS: It is simple for him but what about the other side? You have interviewed some religious figures. PR: Actually, Bishop McElroy has been outspoken. He is the Roman Catholic vision and he is outspoken on numerous local issues ranging from abortion to immigration and refugees. All the time, he talks about this. He will not endorse or condemn political figures. MS: Specific candidates? PR: Right. MS: Go ahead. CJ: He had a challenge with one of his own ministers if I'm not mistaken. PR: It was very embarrassing behind the scene and they say this was a mess within the diocese. There was a pastor of a church who twice in church bulletins laid out a case against Hillary Clinton and he said if you were a Catholic in good standing and you voted for her, you were going to help. That is incentive. [OVERLAPPING SPEAKERS] PR: This probably is. The Johnson has been challenged numerous times. The IRS has rarely risen to the debate. MS: They do not force it? PR: Enforced only a few times. In fact, this is a member of the group that makes the point of challenging it every year. They have political sermons that go after or support candidates. PR: They send it to the IRS with a note saying you might be interested in the IRS responds by saying thank you. MS: We have a few seconds left. How likely can Trump and Republicans remove this aspect of the law? PR: I am not a political reporter. I think when you predict something a politics, you are generally wrong but it looks as though there is not a lot of appetite to take this on. MS: They have so many other things. There are lots of headlines and this is maybe down the list. Great stuff. I look forward to see what happens on that and that wraps up a week of stories at the KPBS Roundtable. Kate is here with that Union Tribune. Elliott is here with the Associated Press and Peter Rowe is here. We have a reminder that the stories are available on our website at Thank you for joining us.


Millions of Californians – and millions more in other states – would lose their health insurance under the House GOP bill to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Several provisions in the new bill, dubbed the American Health Care Act, will cost Californians their insurance, most particularly the repeal of the Medicaid expansion, set for 2019.


California receives more than $15 billion annually from the federal government to fund that expansion for 3.7 million residents. It is questionable whether the state could afford to kick in its own funding.

The provision in the new bill to remove the mandate that everyone must buy insurance or face a penalty means the young will probably opt out. Insurers will be stuck with the older and sicker.

The subsidies the government provides to buy insurance through the markets would be based on age under the new bill, not income level.

Democrats believe subsidies will be reduced or eliminated for those who need them most.

The bill also repeals all the taxes associated with Obamacare, including a surcharge on the wealthy ($346 billion over 10 years).


The American Health Care Act is running into blistering headwinds. The turbulence is bi-partisan, coming from Democrats on the left, who want more coverage, and Freedom Caucus Republicans on the right, who want far less.

Related: KPBS News: California Consumer Groups Blast Obamacare Repeal Plan

SDUT: Millions of Californians likely would lose coverage under GOP Obamacare replacement, experts say


Last weekend, President Trump signed another executive order banning many foreign travelers from the U.S.

His earlier attempt didn't go well. Chaos prevailed as travelers were detained and deported, and demonstrations sprang up at many airports, including Lindbergh Field. Federal courts halted the whole process.

The new order is a scaled-down version of the first one, issued five weeks ago, designed to avoid the instant turbulence, multiple lawsuits and public outrage that accompanied the February ban.

This order bars new visas for would-be visitors and immigrants from six (instead of seven) Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Syria – and temporarily shuts down America’s refugee program.

Current visa holders are not impacted, and there is no priority granted to Christian refugees, as in the earlier order.

The order takes effect March 16.

Members of the local Iraqi community are vocal about their unhappiness with the new order. Iraq may be off the list, but the order halts the refugee program, and most local Iraqis are refugees.

Several states, including Hawaii, Washington and Minnesota, are challenging the order in court.

Meanwhile, in order to meet Donald Trump’s executive order to add 5,000 agents to the Border Patrol, Customs and Border protection may exempt job applicants who are veterans and law enforcement officers from the hiring requirement to take a lie detector test.

Currently, about two-thirds of applicants fail Customs and Border Protection's lie detector test. Trump has ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which requires no polygraph test, to hire 10,000 people.

Related: KPBS News: Trump's Revised Order Affects Six Muslim-Majority Countries, Suspends Refugee Program

SDUT: Refugee advocates remain skeptical of Trump's 'travel ban 2.0'

Associated Press: Border Patrol May Loosen Lie Detector Hiring Requirement


The doctrine of separation of church and state has been around longer than most American traditions.

Canonized by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 by way of a 1644 pamphlet by non-conformist Puritan Roger Williams, it is currently expressed in this country through the 1954 Johnson (LBJ) Amendment to the tax code.

The law prohibits tax-exempt churches and non-profits “from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office," says the IRS.

A pastor endorsing a candidate from the pulpit could say goodbye to his church's tax-exempt status.

Jefferson and Johnson notwithstanding, Donald Trump has declared that he “will get rid of and totally destroy” the law, thereby allowing “our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”

The tool of destruction is the Free Speech Fairness Act introduced this year by Republican sponsors to do away with bans on political speech

Two local religious leaders exemplify the debate over this law. San Diego's Roman Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy is very critical of Donald Trump’s policies, particularly of his immigration ban. But he supports the Johnson Amendment and will not call for Trump's defeat if he runs again.

James Garlow, pastor of La Mesa’s Skyline Church, believes the Johnson Amendment stomps on the clergy’s freedom of speech and wants to be rid of the “pulpit police.”

Related: SDUT: Does politics belong in the pulpit?