Political Animal

Quick Takes: Senate GOP Resistance to BCRA Grows

* Nicole LaFond reports that, since McConnell delayed the vote on BCRA (his Obamacare repeal bill), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Shelly Capito (R-WV) have joined Susan Collins (R-ME) and Dean Heller (R-NV) as moderates who are prepared to vote against the bill.

* Trump summoned GOP Senators to the White House today to talk over their healthcare bill. Who knows what they’re saying behind closed doors. But this is one of those pictures that’s worth 1000 words.

* As we await what the Senate Republicans will do on health care, I thought a couple of pieces of twitter wisdom were worth sharing.

* This story from David Fahrenthold is not major news. But it sure does speak to the lengths to which Donald Trump will go to lie in order to prop up his ego. This is NOT normal!

* Mark Joseph Stern isn’t holding back on what he thinks about the latest addition to the Supreme Court.

On Monday, Justice Neil Gorsuch revealed himself to be everything that liberals had most feared: pro-gun, pro–travel ban, anti-gay, anti–church/state separation. He is certainly more conservative than Justice Samuel Alito and possibly to the right of Justice Clarence Thomas. He is an uncompromising reactionary and an unmitigated disaster for the progressive constitutional project. And he will likely serve on the court for at least three more decades.

On the other end of the spectrum, Scott Lemieux writes that Sotomayor is one of Obama’s best legacies.

* Pew Research finds that, “U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership.”

Although he has only been in office a few months, Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. Trump and many of his key policies are broadly unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations. According to a new Pew Research Center survey spanning 37 nations, a median of just 22% has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64% expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.

* Finally, in case you don’t already know, I’m a huge fan of Jason Mraz. This is one of those songs where it helps to get comfortable, close your eyes and soak it all in.

It’s Painful to Watch Jonah Goldberg Try to Talk Sense on Health Care

It’s fascinating to see how Republicans talk to each other about health care. Over at the National Review, Jonah Goldberg tip-toes towards political reality, but always by jingling enough right-wing lunacy around to try to scare off the bears.

Here’s how he tries to inoculate himself against what he knows will be a fiery pushback from his conservative audience:

I’m just thinking out loud here. But it seems to me this is one of those moments in American politics where no one can simply say what they really think or want.

So, whatever the distinctions between rhetoric and reality might be on the right, it’s really no different from what the Democrats are doing, too. And what are the Democrats doing?

Meanwhile, the Democrats know that Obamacare has been a huge albatross for their party and understand that the best thing that could happen for them is if the Republicans agreed to keep Obamacare in name (i.e., abandon the rhetoric of “repeal”) but do whatever is necessary to make the thing work. But the GOP is doing the opposite. It’s largely keeping Obamacare in terms of policy (at least the really popular parts) but rhetorically its claiming to destroy Obamacare utterly. So, both the Democrats and the Republicans end up claiming this is a repeal of Obamacare when it’s not. It’s all a war for the best spin, not the best policy.

Of course, this isn’t even half true. While the Democrats would welcome a constructive effort to shore up the Affordable Care Act, they are actually protesting a bill that would undo all the gains in coverage that Obamacare created. And I mean that quite literally.

But Goldberg is really aiming to make a different point.

In different times, a Republican president might have come in and, like Eisenhower did with the New Deal, say, “We’re not going to throw away all that stuff, but we are going to fix it and shave the rough edges off.” A mend-it-don’t-end-it rhetorical approach to Obamacare would win over enough Democrats and moderate Republicans to pass a serious (albeit way-too-statist for me) health-care bill that gave Obama credit while reworking the whole thing.

Of course, that’s precisely what I’ve been saying from the get-go. Goldberg is saying the same thing because it’s obviously true and would make much more sense for a president who campaigned, as Goldberg notes, “vowing not to touch Medicaid.”

But Goldberg knows that he’s putting all his conservative credentials at risk by suggesting that Trump should have worked with the Democrats on health care, so he has to finish up by basically disavowing his entire point:

I’m not saying that alternative universe would be better. For instance, I wish Eisenhower had been more hostile to the New Deal. But I do think it’s an interesting example of how rhetoric and the logic of tribalism is driving the debate far more than policy is.

I think it’s pretty lazy to write something as vague as “I wish Eisenhower had been more hostile to the New Deal” while basically praising him for doing something sensible that could work both in practice and as a political matter. But I don’t expect anything more than this from a guy like Johah Goldberg.

As for the Republicans’ refusal to say what they mean and mean what they say, Goldberg is fairly honest:

As Yuval [Levin] noted yesterday, big chunks of the GOP-controlled Congress just don’t want to deal with health care or repeal Obamacare. As both the House and Senate legislation demonstrate, they’d rather tinker with it than tear it down. But they can’t say that.

And he has a lot of Trump supporters pegged, too.

So, in policy terms, the voters who believed Trump when he said he wouldn’t touch Medicaid are getting screwed, but it seems many of them — or their anointed representatives in right-wing media — don’t care, because they too want Trump to have a big political win more than a much more difficult policy win (and for the Democrats to have a big political loss).

It must be exhausting to try to tell the truth to the conservative base. You have to make so many caveats and create so many false equivalences just to gather the courage to open your mouth, and when you’re done you feel the need to disavow the implications of everything you’ve just said.

The Most Honest Thing Trump Said

I was a debater in high school. That’s probably why the most frustrating thing about our current political environment is that rational arguments don’t matter anymore when it comes to the kind of political polarization that has taken hold.

That’s why I have come to the conclusion that this is the most honest thing Trump has said since he kicked off his political career with birther lies.

It’s true. One of the reasons that facts and rational arguments don’t matter any more is because Trump can say/do anything and his most ardent supporters won’t budge.

As much as Trump would like to take credit for that himself, I don’t think it has anything to do with him. The reason he can say/do anything is that there is a whole network of right wing news outlets who would come up with an excuse for why he shot someone on Fifth Avenue. Because they’ve done such a good job of demonizing anyone who doesn’t adhere to their views, Trump supporters are safely ensconced in an epistemically enclosed bubble where the justifications for what the president says/does are handed out like candy on Halloween.

Imagine this scenario with me for a moment: a sitting president shoots someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight. We all watched it happen on national television. But his supporters continue to cheer him on because a whole crew of pundits are willing to back up his lies and wild accusations about how someone else is really to blame.

That’s essentially what happened. Trump fired the man who was in charge of investigating his campaign for possible coordination with Russia to influence the election. Afterwards, he went on national television to say that he did it because of the investigation. He even went so far as to brag about how it took the pressure off of him when he met with the Russian foreign minister.

But his supporters continue to cheer him on because the only thing they hear about it are Trump’s lies combined with the twisted reasoning of folks like Sean Hannity and Mark Levin who suggest that it’s all really Obama’s fault.

This kind of cover is exactly what Vladimir Putin has relied on to maintain his power in Russia. The whole concept of “fake news” has been hijacked to pretend that both sides do it in this country. But various other words have been used to refer to how it is employed by Putin: kompromat, zersetzung and dezinformatsiya. Here is how those terms have been described:

Kompromat serves the interests of the powerful, which is why it is often a tool of autocrats. By eroding the very idea of a shared reality, and by spreading apathy and confusion among a public that learns to distrust leaders and institutions alike, kompromat undermines a society’s ability to hold the powerful to account and ensure the proper functioning of government…

The means of Zersetzung include character assassination and, through the spreading of lies and fake news, the creation of a gray zone of doubt in which facts struggle to survive…

What the Russians are doing (via desinformatsiya) is building narratives; they are not building facts… The underlying narrative is, ‘Don’t trust anyone.’

The “gray zone” created by this kind of corrosion is why the most honest thing Trump has said is that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters.

McConnell Gives Up and Delays the Health Care Vote

CNN’s Senior Congressional Reporter Manu Raju just made a tweet announcement that I’ve been anticipating for months and months now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can’t get the votes from his own caucus to repeal Obamacare.

I’ve written piece after piece about how Trump miscalculated when he made the decision (if it really was a “decision” at all) to try to govern with zero Democratic votes. In a last ditch effort to win over wavering members of his caucus, Mitch McConnell finally said something approximating the truth:

Mitch McConnell is delivering an urgent warning to staffers, Republican senators and even the president himself: If Obamacare repeal fails this week, the GOP will lose all leverage and be forced to work with Chuck Schumer.

Working with Chuck Schumer should have been Trump’s starting point because he promised to protect Medicare and Medicaid. He promised not to leave people dying on the streets. He promised people would get excellent and even more affordable access to health care. If he wanted those things, the last people to rely on would be ideological conservatives.

Trump was too stupid to understand this up front, so he went along with a plan that not only would break some of his more important campaign promises, but which is polling just above the Ebola virus. Maybe Trump doesn’t realize it, but one major reason he won over so many Obama Democrats is because he distinguished himself from ordinary Republicans like Paul Ryan who have built their entire careers around destroying the safety net.

But his strategy was idiotic for another reason, which was that it should have been obvious that the Republican Party can’t operate as a unified borg anymore. They basically ran John Boehner and Eric Cantor out of town because they couldn’t get behind their leadership and forced them to go running to Nancy Pelosi for help over and over again.

I know Josh Marshall can’t quite believe his eyes, but this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Mitch McConnell is a master legislative tactician, but he isn’t a wizard. There never was a way to square the circle between Trump’s campaign promises, the needs of moderate Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, and the unhinged anti-Obamacare rhetoric of Trump and the hard right.

Marshall is correct to caution that this isn’t the end and that McConnell will keep working. He may cobble together something in the end. But unless he comes up with a plan that won’t strip 15 million people of their health care next year that still does pretty much everything the House Freedom Caucus would like to see in a repeal bill, he isn’t going to be able to reconcile any Senate bill with the House version. And if that were possible, he would have presented that bill already.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have succeeded in doing real damage to the health care exchanges, to the point that they can’t just give up and move on to other things. That’s why he’ll need to start talking to Schumer. And the Republicans will discover, once they start exploring that route, that the Democrats have all the leverage because they’ll be expected to provide almost all the votes.

McConnell tried using this stark reality as his final cudgel to beat his caucus into line, but they wouldn’t budge.

They’ll go into their recess and have to endure the fury of pretty much everyone who is engaged on health care, regardless of what angle they’re taking on it.

Trump has an opportunity now to recalibrate how he wants to govern, but it’s probably far too late for him to provide an olive branch to the Democrats. As I predicted, his presidency is going to crash and burn this summer.