Donald Trump

Feds rescind effort to lock in Medicaid changes made by Trump administration

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A little over two weeks before President Donald Trump left office, the Republican administration sent out a letter to states like Tennessee to declare it was locking in any approved changes to Medicaid programs for a period of at least nine months. Democratic President Joe Biden is now rescinding that guidance, meaning that previously approved demonstration projects or waivers could be withdrawn at any time.

The most immediate effect of the move could be a cancellation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients that had been approved in several states. But Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation block grant could also be on the chopping block.

“We’re the first state in America that just got a federal waiver for Medicaid that allows us to share savings with the federal government,” Gov. Bill Lee told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of partisan squabbling about that, but that was a business deal that was negotiated over a year-and-a-half that will allow Tennessee to have more money to spend on its Medicaid population than it would have underer a traditional Medicaid agreement.”

Read the full letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to TennCare Director Stephen Smith below.

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Tennessee Dems send Medicaid block grant objections to Biden

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State House and Senate Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to halt a Medicaid block grant for Tennessee.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration approved the block grant shortly before he left office. Republican state lawmakers rushed to OK the waiver before Trump left office last week.

Here is the full letter:

Dear President Biden,

We, the House and Senate Democrats of the Tennessee State Legislature, are writing you to request that you rescind the Medicaid block grant waiver that the Trump Administration granted, and our Republican colleagues in the General Assembly hastily voted to approve.

This waiver gives Tennessee more control over spending Medicaid dollars, in exchange for a cap on those funds. There’s a number of significant problems with this approach.

First and foremost, the state has proven themselves unable to handle the responsibility of being given more control over federal dollars. In addition to refusing to expand Medicaid for nearly a decade, our state government allowed a $732 million surplus of TANF funds to accumulate, rather than spend that money on what it was intended for – helping families in need.

The waiver allows for reducing the population of the 1.4 million Tennesseans eligible for Medicaid if there are problems re-registering beneficiaries. It also hands near-total oversight of the funds over to TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program), which has a history of disfunction and unnecessary barriers to enrollment.

Since the outgoing administration first introduced the block grant proposal in 2017, Tennessee has been the only state to take up the offer. Even the most conservative legislatures across the country knew this was a bad deal. The New York Times referred to Tennessee’s undertaking of the block grant as a “structural experiment,” and the test subjects are working Tennesseans, families, and seniors.

The state GOP, which pushed the approval of the block grant through at the Eleventh Hour prior to Inauguration Day, refused to work with Democrats to ensure the proposal would be fair, legal, and appreciated by all Tennesseans. If they did, we would have pointed out the issues we saw with the deal, including the fact that it might not even be legally sound. Had they consulted with us, we could have come to a solution that better served people of Tennessee.

We know that they don’t want this program for the purpose of serving Tennesseans: they want this program for future political campaign purposes. Millions of Tennesseans will remain uninsured, this program will end up costing our taxpayers hefty legal fees, and the end result will likely be that a court will overturn it – unless your incoming administration can stop this waiver before it starts.

Thank you for your consideration.

Former commissioner reports Rep. Weaver to DC police

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A former commissioner in then-Gov. Ned McWherter’s administration has reported state Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) to law enforcement for taking part in Washington protest that turned into a riot.

“I respectfully inform you that Terri Lynn Weaver… was a participant,” Dudley Taylor wrote to D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee. “She posted photos and informed The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville, that she was ‘in the thick of it.’ She claimed to be a ‘patriot,’ of course.”

Contee in an email thanked Taylor for his report.

“I will ensure our FBI partners have this information,” Contee wrote.

Taylor is a Knoxville attorney who served as revenue commissioner for McWherter. He is also a former member of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance and was the Democratic nominee in the open 2nd Congressional District won by Republican Jimmy Duncan in 1988.

Taylor wrote in his letter that if his report qualifies for a $1,000 reward, he will donate it to the family of the U.S. Capitol Police officer who was killed in the riot.

Blackburn and Hagerty issue statement on Capitol riot

Tennessee Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty have issued a joint statement on Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol:

Yesterday was a shocking day of lawlessness. We watched in horror as rioters breached the security of both Houses of Congress and inflicted significant property damage upon those historical halls.

Our Republic will rise above the chaos that ensued yesterday in the Capitol. These violent assaults on our democratic processes threaten to unwind the fabric of this country. As Americans, we must unite in our commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.

We are grateful for the heroic law enforcement officials who helped restore peace, allowing us to complete our work. Last night we reconvened with our Senate colleagues to fulfill our constitutional duty to certify the 2020 election results and prepare for a peaceful transition of power. On January 20th, we will prove to the world that America is still the shining city on the hill.

Tennessee congressional delegation recoils at Capitol incursion

U.S. Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Nashville), who called for active duty troops to be activated to quell social unrest during last year’s campaign, is denouncing the breach of the U.S. Capitol by demonstrators supporting President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his electoral loss.

“What is happening at the U.S. Capitol right now is not peaceful, this is violence,” Hagerty said in a tweet. “I condemn it in the strongest terms. We are a nation of laws and this must stop.”

Fellow Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) soon followed suit:

Other members of the Tennessee delegation have also been tweeting about the events:

Year in Review: The most viewed TNJ blog posts of 2020

Republican Bill Hagerty speaks to a reporter before casting his early vote in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are the Top 10 most viewed stories on the TNJ: On the Hill blog this year.

1. June 11: Sethi seeks to make political gain out of coronavirus pandemic.

2. May 11: Things get interesting in the open 1st District race.

3. Aug. 5: Hagerty does some creative accounting to obscure Romney donation.

4. March 30: Lee’s stay-at home order in detail.

5. April 20: Protest leader demands free refills.

6. April 20: The lockdown ends.

7. July 16: Hagerty launches the negative ad barrage.

8. Dec. 15: We’re No. 1.

9. Jan. 19: In like Flinn.

10. Nov. 13: Most signed, some didn’t.

Slatery joins states’ legal effort to overturn presidential election

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is joining an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the result of the presidential election to sway it in President Donald Trump’s favor.

“The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has consistently taken the position that only a State’s legislature has the authority to make and change election laws,” Slatery said in a statement. “This Office pressed that argument in cases defending Tennessee’s election laws against pandemic-related challenges and in amicus briefs in cases involving similar challenges in other courts. This is not something new.”

Slatery’s office this year fought efforts to allow anyone afraid of contracting COVID-19 to cast absentee ballots. The state lost at the chancery court level, allowing the looser restrictions on mail-in balloting to take effect for the primary. The state Supreme Court later overturned the the decision, but only after the AG’s office reversed course to say anyone with an underlying health condition making them more susceptible to COVID-19 (or anyone living with someone who did) could cast absentee ballots.

A Trump-appointed federal judge also ruled Tennessee couldn’t enforce its rules this year requiring first-time voters who registered online to cast their ballots in person.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) called Slatery’s move a “low point in the history of the office of the Tennessee Attorney General. “

“Here’s the context: The Attorney General in Texas is under FBI investigation and widely assumed to be fishing for a pardon” Yarbro said on Twitter. “Now the Tennessee Attorney General is spending Tennessee resources to help?”

Check out these precinct-level maps of the presidential election in Tennessee

Our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson has put his considerable talents to work with these maps of the presidential election in Tennessee based on the results certified by the state this week.

The level of support of for Republican Donald Trump is through the roof in much of the state. But the relatively small blue areas signifying support for Democrat Joe Biden still make up 1.14 million votes, showing how concentrated the state’s urban population is.

Here is another set of maps showing the changes in presidential party voting:

Keep up the good work, Don!

Alexander: 40,000 Tennesseans could receive COVID-19 vaccine in December

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) speaks at a Tennessee Titans event in Nashville on Dec. 13, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee, says Tennessee is in line to receive enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 40,000 people in December.

Alexander tells The Tennessee Journal he received a briefing from Moncef Slaoui, the head of the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, who said Tennessee could then receive enough doses for 50,000 people in the following month, and more beyond that. Slaoui told Alexander the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the summer.

“It’s a spectacular achievement, which the president should be taking credit for — in a way that convinces people,” Alexander said. But the ongoing dispute over the presidential election results could hamper the rollout of the vaccine, he said.

“You don’t want to lose a day or an hour getting those 40,000 doses to Tennesseans because the transition was sloppy,” Alexander said.

Alexander expanded on his comments last week that Trump should be allowed to examine any claims of impropriety in the election results, noting that it took Democrat Al Gore 37 days to concede in 2000. But Alexander said there’s a limit to the strategies Trump should pursue in his effort to turn the tide against Democrat Joe Biden.

“There’s a right way to contest the election — others have done it — and there’s a wrong way. And the wrong way is this business of trying to get state legislators to send a substitute slate of electors,” Alexander said. “That really crosses the line.”

Alexander: ‘Very good chance’ Biden will be president

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) attends an event at the state Capitol in Nashville on Dec. 17, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) says the Trump administration should unlock transition resources for Democrat Joe Biden.

“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement. “That especially should be true, for example, on vaccine distribution.”

Alexander’s former Senate colleague, Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga), also weighed in on Friday, saying Republicans have an obligation to “challenge demagoguery and patently false statements” in Trump’s election challenge:

Here’s the rest of Alexander’s statement:

Recounting votes and resolving disputes after a close election is not unprecedented and should reassure Americans that election results are valid.

Al Gore finally conceded 37 days after the 2000 election, and then made the best speech of his life accepting the result.

My hope is that the loser of this presidential election will follow Al Gore’s example, put the country first, congratulate the winner and help him to a good beginning of the new term.

The prompt and orderly transfer or reaffirmation of immense power after a presidential election is the most enduring symbol of our democracy.