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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) blamed the far-right House Freedom Caucus for costing Republicans control of the chamber in a private call with his donors  specifically, he said, by forcing the GOP to include an end to pre-existing condition protections in their Affordable Care Act repeal bill:

“When we couldn’t pass the repeal of Obamacare the first way through, an amendment came because the Freedom Caucus wouldn’t vote for” the original House bill, McCarthy said. “That amendment put [the] preexisting condition campaign against us, and so even people who are running for the very first time got attacked on that. And that was the defining issue and the most important issue in the race.”

McCarthy’s account accurately describes the dynamics of passing the American Health Care Act, the Republican ACA alternative, in 2017: After an initial version of the bill was withdrawn due to opposition from both the Freedom Caucus and GOP moderates, Meadows and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) crafted an amendment that would give states the ability to waive protections for people with preexisting conditions.

These comments effectively reiterate a key point that Republican leaders admitted on the day after the midterm election: their attempts to repeal Obamacare are dead and buried. The party recognizes how reviled this policy is with the public, and now the only thing left is to assign blame for having the thought in the first place.

The Freedom Caucus, which took a drubbing in 2018 with the loss of members including Reps. David Brat (R-VA), Rod Blum (R-IA), and Mark Sanford (R-SC), promptly hit back, with chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) calling McCarthy’s remarks “very troublesome” and an “us-versus-them mentality.”

In fairness, the Freedom Caucus can’t take all the blame for making health care repeal toxic. While health care was indeed the key issue that swung the election, the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) was broadly hated even before Republicans inserted the “MacArthur Amendment.”

Moreover, it is not exactly like the GOP leadership was in any way reluctant to help the Freedom Caucus undermine Obamacare’s signature provision. Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) touted the MacArthur Amendment, saying it “strengthens” the repeal bill. McCarthy himself reportedly inspired GOP House members to vote for the bill by projecting an image of George Patton, and gleefully celebrated on the White House lawn with President Donald Trump and other Republicans after the House passed the measure.

That being said, it is certainly true that the Freedom Caucus has been a thorn in the GOP’s side for years, withholding votes from key bills in order to force more draconian spending cuts to discretionary spending. McCarthy has long had bad blood with them he had been next in line to replace former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) after his 2015 resignation, but the Freedom Caucus’ refusal to back him was what ultimately led to Ryan getting the job.

If there is one silver lining for the Republican Party leadership in losing the House, it is that the Freedom Caucus no longer has the power to hold anyone hostage. For the first time since their founding in 2015, they are facing a Democratic majority that neither needs nor wants their votes for anything. And if not the entire cause, the Freedom Caucus surely bears some of the credit for this state of affairs.

IMAGE: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Capitol Hill in Washington. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Actor as Donald Trump in Russia Today video ad

Screenshot from RT's 'Trump is here to make RT Great Again'

Russia Today, the network known in this country as RT, has produced a new "deep fake" video that portrays Donald Trump in post-presidential mode as an anchor for the Kremlin outlet. Using snippets of Trump's own voice and an actor in an outlandish blond wig, the ad suggests broadly that the US president is indeed a wholly owned puppet of Vladimir Putin– as he has so often given us reason to suspect.

"They're very nice. I make a lot of money with them," says the actor in Trump's own voice. "They pay me millions and hundreds of millions."

But when American journalists described the video as "disturbing," RT retorted that their aim wasn't to mock Trump, but his critics and every American who objects to the Russian manipulations that helped bring him to power.

As an ad for RT the video is amusing, but the network's description of it is just another lie. Putin's propagandists are again trolling Trump and America, as they've done many times over the past few years –- and this should be taken as a warning of what they're doing as Election Day approaches.

The Lincoln Project aptly observed that the Russians "said the quiet part out loud" this time, (Which is a bad habit they share with Trump.)