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In Health Care Debacle, Trump’s Desperate Quest For Someone To Blame

Alas, poor Donald.

Unlike his personal hero Vladimir Putin, President Trump can’t have his political opponents thrown into prison, shot dead in the street, or flung off fourth floor balconies. In Moscow, Russian soldiers could have herded those women in stupid pink hats into stockades like cows. If a few opinionated heifers got roughed up, well, they asked for it, didn’t they?

Instead, Trump was reduced to making excuses for the failure of his farcical Obamacare “reform” by launching impotent attacks against just about everybody in Washington. Because the great man himself couldn’t possibly have bungled his oft-repeated vow to repeal and replace his predecessor’s signal political achievement. Not him.

Because nothing is Donald J. Trump’s fault — ever.

First it was Democrats — specifically excluded from having any input whatsoever into the GOP bill — whom the president tried to blame. His own party refuses even to vote on his brilliant plan and it’s the Democrats’ fault?

Next, he urged his Twitter followers to watch Justice with Judge Jeanine,  a Fox News program hosted by an abrasive New Yorker and longtime Trump pal. Jeanine Pirro obligingly opened her program by urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign. For all his “swagger and experience,” she argued, it was all Ryan’s fault that caused “our president in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that.”

That is, to use one of Trump’s favorite insults, as a big loser.

By Sunday morning, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus went on TV claiming it was all a big misunderstanding. Why, the president had no clue what Judge Jeanine would say. Trump, he said “thinks that Paul Ryan is a great Speaker of the House.”

Yeah, right. Sure he does. To Ryan’s face, anyway.  

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Pennsylvanian of the kind often derided as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by hardliners, said that Trump had privately accused him of “destroying the Republican Party.”

The “Republican Party,” in this formulation, signifying Trump’s massive ego.

What the big dope appears incapable of understanding is that for Northeastern Republicans in competitive districts, voting for the Trump/Ryan bill would amount to political suicide. With a Quinnipiac poll showing that only 17 percent of voters nationwide favor full repeal, all the threats and promises Trump could muster couldn’t bring Yankee Republicans around.

“Ryan and Trump,” explained veteran GOP operative Rick Wilson, “ran into the political version of advertising’s famous Bad Dog Food Test: you can’t sell bad dog food even with good advertising. The dogs won’t eat it.”

Writing in The Daily Beast, Wilson also blamed “Trump’s character, which is never pretty. Trump’s clumsy I’m-just-joking threats against members of Congress fell utterly flat, as did promises of his favor. His word means nothing and lawmakers know it. In Trump’s long, sordid life no deal, contract, agreement, or vow has ever been sacred and inviolable. Ask his wives, partners, contractors, and clients. He is a man without a single shred of regret at breaking even the most solemn commitments. In Washington, no matter how corrupt it looks from the outside, the only currency in a tough vote is trust.”

Gee, I wish I’d written that.

Then by Sunday morning, roughly 48 hours after the bill’s collapse, Trump finally settled upon more plausible villains. “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus,” he tweeted, “with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”

To the ideological purists of the House Freedom Caucus, no remaining vestige of Obamacare’s government-subsidized premiums would have been acceptable. Not even the Ryan/Trump bill, which would have stripped health insurance from a mere 24 million Americans. Not mean enough. These birds don’t merely want to return to pre-Obama health care. To them, the Confederate States of America would be a better model.

But see, here’s the thing: Completely unknown to Trump and Ryan—Trump because virtually everything is unknown to him, Ryan because he’s spent the previous seven years indulging in GOP performance art—the Affordable Care Act has greatly changed Americans’ views. Catch phrases like “socialized medicine” no longer frighten people.

By now, almost everybody knows somebody whose life and/or finances were saved by this imperfect law. Like citizens in virtually all functioning democracies, they’ve come to see health care as a right—not a consumer artifact available at a price.

In response to Trump’s petulant threat to let Obamacare “explode,” most agree with the Kansas housewife who told the AP that sure, the law needs adjusting: “But if your roof leaks, you don’t burn down the house to fix it.”

As long as President Obama was there to veto the GOP’s 60 purely theatrical votes to repeal the law, Speaker Ryan didn’t actually need a workable replacement.

You’d think a fellow con man like Trump might have suspected that he never really had one.

Analysis: What The House GOP’s Abortion Bill About-Face Really Means

By Emma Dumain, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — A significant contingent of women and moderate members of the House Republican Conference prevailed Wednesday, convincing GOP leadership that the political blowback for voting to ban abortions after 20 weeks could far outweigh any favor curried with the anti-abortion base of the party.

It wasn’t clear Thursday whether the decision to swap out the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” for less controversial legislation to prohibit taxpayer funding for abortion services signaled a permanent shift back toward the middle for House Republicans.

But for one day — the same day thousands of anti-abortion protesters converged on Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life — GOP moderates held sway.

The Republican centrists had, for the past week, been pushing leadership to reconsider its plan to bring the bill up, or at least amend the measure’s exemption clause.

The original text would only have allowed a woman to have an abortion after the 20-week threshold in a case of rape, incest or danger to her life — with the caveat the woman would have to report the rape to the authorities first. Reps. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), and others argued it was an unfair burden, especially given statistics showing that the majority of rapes go unreported.

Ellmers, the chairwoman of the Women’s Republican Policy Committee who has a history of pushing male colleagues to be aware of how their actions could alienate voting bases of women and young people with whom they hope to make electoral gains, suggested bringing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was ill-advised. She removed her name from the list of co-sponsors, even though she said on Facebook she was prepared to vote for it.

In the lead-up to the vote on the bill to ban taxpayer funding for abortions, Ellmers, Walorski and other Republican women who opposed the original legislation made themselves scarce to reporters waiting for interviews outside the chamber, eager to ask whether they felt gratified that their efforts had paid off.

Another opponent, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), chose not to explicitly gloat, but said he wasn’t surprised Republican leaders had listened to members’ concerns.

“They had four options here,” Dent said of party leaders. “The first option was to run the bill as is with the problematic exemption language. Two, take out the exception language and just leave in life of the mother. Three, put in the traditional … language: Rape, incest and life of the mother. Or four, pull the bill. The only option that made sense was the pull the bill because every other option would not get the votes you needed to secure passage.”

Republican leadership sources insisted, however, that the decision to pull the original bill late Wednesday night had nothing to do with concerns about a shortfall of support, but was rather made in appreciation of members’ deep concerns with the language.

“These are complicated issues about awful, tragic situations,” one House GOP aide told CQ Roll Call in an email Thursday. “Our leadership team did the right thing by listening to Members and being responsive to their concerns. No one should be in a situation where they feel pressured to vote against their own conscience.”

Indeed, leadership did not poll members to see whether the legislation had the support to pass, keeping with the tradition of not formally whipping bills considered “conscience votes.”

Democrats appeared to think they had emerged with the upper hand. One by one they came to the floor Thursday to decry the bill up for consideration in scathing terms, sharing their criticism with a hint of glee over the GOP flip-flop: Republicans had, once again, miscalculated what they could — or should — pass.

“The bill that was supposed to come to the floor today … was so odious and destructive that some women of the Republican conference rebelled against it,” said Rules Committee ranking member Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY). “(It) caused such a meltdown in the Republican Conference that the House majority pulled it from the floor for fear that it wouldn’t pass, but something had to be done: Visitors were coming to town … to raise the clarion call against a woman’s right to choose.”

“If at first — you have heard the adage before — you don’t succeed, try something else again,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley, also of New York, taunted. “That’s clearly what the Republican colleagues are doing. … They have a long list of bills that attack health care and women’s access to care. so it’s easy for them to just swap it out for another extremist effort.”

“Get your priorities straight,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida added.

Democrats have enjoyed watching Republicans falter in the early days of the new Congress, from the 25 defections to John A. Boehner’s bid for a third term as speaker to the volume of “no” votes on an amendment to end a White House program granting stays of deportation to certain undocumented immigrants. And then there was Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) working the House floor to kill a GOP bill under suspension of the rules that would have rolled back certain financial regulations.

A senior House Republican aide acknowledged to CQ Roll Call it had been an unfortunate couple of weeks and not a great way to start the new year, especially with a new GOP-controlled Senate to ostensibly make the legislative process run more smoothly. Ultimately, however, the aide brushed aside concerns it would have reverberations outside the Beltway microcosm: A few months from now, voters would remember that Republicans took an important vote on federal funding for abortion services, not that they pulled a bill banning the practice after 20 weeks, the point at which some studies suggest a fetus can begin to feel pain.

Republican leadership aides stressed they would continue working to address concerns so the bill could be brought up again. House Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins of Kansas told CQ Roll Call that she hoped the legislation would go through the relevant committees before being scheduled for floor consideration, suggesting perhaps that would have prevented the controversy and bad feelings.

“Naturally, I would have preferred we go through regular order so we could vote on this today,” Jenkins said.

An identical version of the bill went through the proper channels in 2013, when it also ran into some trouble.

The sponsor of the bill in the 113th Congress, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), made a comment during the markup in the Judiciary Committee suggesting that pregnancies resulting from rape were rare, resulting in a leadership decision to add in exception language where before there had been none and move to prevent Franks from managing floor debate on his own bill.

A lead sponsor of the bill in the 114th congress along with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Franks couldn’t say why the measure met a different kind of opposition today than it did two years ago.

Dent suggested that maybe people had read the bill more carefully this time around; Jenkins said that there were new members of the House Republican Conference who prompted a new level of scrutiny, even though Ellmers and Walorski were around during that time.

Franks told reporters that it wasn’t a question he could answer.

“You will have to ask someone else on that point because we made the most desperate attempt to avoid these kinds of …” Franks gave a long pause, choosing his words carefully.

“These kinds of surprises,” he continued, “by making sure that the bill that we introduced was exactly, word for word, letter for letter, the same as the one we passed last time.

“To say anything other than that I was profoundly disappointed would be disingenuous,” he said.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

GOP Congressman Breaks With Party On Marriage Equality

In Pennsylvania, the tide is turning on same-sex marriage. Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent (R), who represents Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district, announced his support of same-sex marriage in a statement released by his office.

“I suspect that that view will prevail over time, so much so that I suspect that in a few decades people will look back on all this and say, ‘what was all the fuss about?’” Dent told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Dent’s announcement comes a week after U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. After the decision, Governor Tom Corbett (R) — an outspoken opponent of marriage equality — declined to challenge the court’s decision.

Dent, a moderate whose district includes the city of Allentown, often breaks with the rest of the GOP. In January 2013, for example, Dent bucked the more extreme members of the Republican Party and voted to raise the debt ceiling. He has also expressed timid support for raising the federal minimum wage, as long the bill is paired with other job-creating measures (he previously voted for a minimum-wage hike in 2007).

Dent previously backed Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Law, and similar measures in Congress. But now, the congressman argues, his position on the issue has shifted to reflect the opinions of his constituents.

“The American public’s views on this issue have shifted. So have mine,” he said in the statement.

Dent’s evolution on the issue may better align him with young people and women, two voting blocs that have been elusive for GOP candidates in recent years.

A recent Quinnipiac poll shows that Pennsylvania voters support same-sex marriage by a 57 percent to 37 percent margin. Women in the state support marriage equality in larger numbers, 60 percent to 34 percent. And voters aged 18 to 29 expressed overwhelming support: 80 percent back same-sex marriage, while just 15 percent oppose it.

Aside from political pragmatism, Dent argues his conservative ideology also explains his decision to evolve on same-sex marriage. For Dent, it is a small-government issue.

“Life is too short to have the force of government stand in the way of two adults whose pursuit of happiness includes marriage,” Dent said.

He further expounded on this idea in his interview with the Inquirer. “At the end of the day, it struck me that it’s important that we protect individual liberty and there should be a more limited role of government in these types of matters,” Dent told the paper.

Photo: Fight Colorectal Cancer via Flickr

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