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Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Senate Republicans are deliberately crafting legislation in complete secret. And it’s not just any legislation. This is a sprawling social policy bill that would directly impact the welfare of tens of millions of Americans.

The bill represents the hallmark legislative promise that the Republican Party has been making for seven years: to repeal and replace Obamacare. For Republicans, it’s arguably their most important piece of lawmaking this century.

Spooked by the prospect of mass public resistance to the legislation, Republicans are strategically keeping it under wraps from the press and the public so they don’t know exactly what’s being planned. (And who’s in charge of drafting the bill? According to press reports the secret bill is being negotiated by a core group of 13 men.)

Note that what the public does know of the bill, it hates — a lot. (Here’s one small reason why.)

The idea that a major party in American politics is going to try to pass landmark health care legislation without scheduling a single hearing, without listening to testimony from any health care experts, without allowing the other party to offer up amendments, and most importantly, without letting the American people know what’s in the bill in a timely manner is the antithesis of an open democracy.

Thankfully, some voices in the media have been loudly ringing alarm bells:

But in terms of the day-to-day newsroom coverage of this secretive spectacle, reporters seem to be nonplussed by the GOP’s highly unusual — and completely private — approach to overhauling the health care system, which represents roughly 20 percent of the U.S. economy.

Too often, the Beltway press’s reaction to the Republicans’ extreme maneuver has been remarkably subdued and almost nonchalant.

Here’s how a recent Politico update on the health care bill briefly dealt with the issue of secrecy: “A public copy of the bill or the CBO score are not expected until just days before any vote, minimizing the ability of opposition to mobilize, aides said.”

Later, the article noted:

Senators said no draft bill has been completed, and aides said the party is fearful of leaks of the party’s plans falling into the hands of conservative or liberal activists who would seek to scuttle the GOP’s negotiations. Those factors are leading to a secretive and opaque process that Republicans say is the only way to have a chance at success without the party’s ideological divides bringing down any early draft.

“This is typical with the process,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “We’re under pressure with the rules of reconciliation and everything else. This is not that unusual.”

That was it.

There was no context about how completely unheard of it is to a try to create a nationwide health care bill in secret; instead, the piece offered up Republicans’ excuses for why they are proceeding with major legislation in secret. Also of note, the article quoted four Republican senators by name and no Democrats.

Even articles that have done a good job of highlighting some of the negative impacts of Republicans’ proposed health care overhaul have dropped the ball on explaining the absurdity of the legislative process.Last month, at very end of an article about the bill, the Los Angeles Times inserted this brief mention (emphasis added):

What effect the [CBO] report will have on the Senate Republican discussions remains unclear, however: All the debate is taking place behind closed doors.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is leading the effort, has elected not to develop healthcare legislation through the traditional process of holding public hearings and debating amendments in committee.

McConnell “has elected”? That’s it? That seems to wildly downplay the situation. It makes it sound like McConnell just woke up one day and said to himself, “I think I’m going to tear up congressional precedent and try to pass a bill in total secret.” (If it’s that easy, why did Democrats bothering holding hundreds of hours of hearings for Obamacare?) By the way, McConnell in March promised a “robust” amendment process on the health care bill. That turned out to be a lie.

Meanwhile, on June 12, the New York Times published a granular article about the Republican attempts to finish the bill. But only in passing did the Times acknowledge that the bill was being written “behind closed doors.” Nowhere did Times reporters note that the GOP is refusing to hold any hearings or allow Democrats to offer amendments. (In a sign Republicans’ secrecy may finally be breaking through into news coverage, on Thursday afternoon the Times did publish an extensive article focusing on the extreme secrecy surrounding the bill.)

Same with a detailed article on June 8 in the Washington Post: “Senate Republicans consider keeping parts of Obamacare they once promised to kill.” It contained no reference to the fact that Republicans were refusing to make the bill public. Also, the Post article quoted eight Republican senators and one Democrat.

There was a detailed CNN article from June 12 about the bill and it also failed to mention that Democrats and the public are being completely locked out of the process. It’s true that on that same day another CNN health care article addressed the elephant in the room, noting, “This is all being done behind closed doors.” But again, there was no context to explain just how completely unheard of that is in the United States Senate.

On Tuesday during a closed door White House lunch, President Trump allegedly called the House passed healthcare bill

What does important, helpful context look like for this story? From Fortune:

Not only will the draft bill text not be released to the public—it won’t even go through the regular Senate committee process. By contrast, the debate over the Affordable Care Act spanned more than a year after former President Barack Obama’s inauguration and involved more than 100 hearings, as well as adoption of multiple GOP-sponsored amendments.

According to data compiled by Media Matters, from June 1-14, Republicans’ health care bill received scant attention on the nightly broadcast news shows, comprising just three minutes of coverage combined. The secrecy of the bill earned only one passing mention during that time period, when NBC’s Kristen Welker noted on June 13 that “Senate Republicans have come under fire for trying to hammer out a health care bill behind closed doors and without a public hearing so far.”

The same study found that outside of MSNBC, evening programming on cable news networks also didn’t devote much attention to the secretive process:

Another problem is that when journalists have addressed the GOP’s historic secrecy, it’s too often presented in the context of a partisan battle. For instance, Axios this week reported that Republicans “have no plans to publicly release” a draft of the health care bill, presenting the significance this way:

Why it matters: Democratic senators are already slamming Republicans for the secrecy of their bill writing process, and this isn’t going to help.

But from a news perspective, that’s not why this really “matters.” It matters because the way Republicans are attempting to overhaul the health care system is unprecedented.

That’s why it matters. That’s why this ought to be treated as very big news.

IMAGE: FILE PHOTO – House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) signs a bill repealing Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

 

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

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