I was asleep. Slumbering peacefully away, between sleep cycles, probably. And I heard a news alert beep on my phone. Rolled over, picked it up. And learned that the most recent Senate attempt to rescind and replace Obamacare had failed.
It was, of course, alwys an idiotic bill. They were calling it ‘skinny repeal’; repeal without ‘replace.’ Basically, it would get rid of the generally unpopular individual mandate part of the ACA, plus get rid of Planned Parenthood. The mandate is unpopular, but also essential; without it, it’s difficult to imagine the ACA surviving. The only way Mitch McConnell could sell this to his caucus was to promise that it would never become law. It would set up a conference with the House, where everything would get fixed. But could this be guaranteed? At least some Senators suddenly remembered their junior high civics classes, and realized that if they passed this thing, and the House voted for it too, it would, with the President’s signature, become law. Yikes. Paul Ryan was asked for guarantees that that wouldn’t happen; he couldn’t offer any. And so the vote became very dramatic. 52 Republican Senators, 48 Democrats. But with two known Republican defectors, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, it was really 50-50, with Mike Pence poised to exercise his one constitutional duty. It looked like it would pass; 51-50.
And then, riding in on his white horse, John McCain entered the chamber, said some things that made Chuck Schumer happy, said some other things that made John Cornyn less happy, shrugged off Pence’s last second lobbying, and voted against the bill. 49-51. It’s dead. Who knows how long it stays dead–Obamacare repeal and replace schemes have resembled political zombies; shambling and stupid, but hard to kill. But at least for now, McCain is our hero.
We have better heroes to thank for this. Murkowski and Collins have stood steadfastly against their party’s leadership for weeks, despite tremendous pressure. Murkowski was even threatened with a loss of federal funding for her state of Alaska. Of course, it was awesome to have McCain, diagnosed with brain cancer, make his dramatic return. But the real heroine of the night, to me, was another cancer patient, Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono. She has stage four kidney cancer, for which she’s undergoing treatment, but still, she flew in to vote on these measures. Having cancer tends to focus the mind, and Hirono decided she was going to do what she could to preserve health insurance for her constituents. It worked. Barely, but still.
It had been a crowded newsday anyway. President Trump’s new communications director, less than a week on the job, gave an unhinged interview with a New Yorker reporter, demanding to know the reporter’s source for a story he’d posted. In that interview, and later, on TV, Anthony Scaramucci came across as, like, the very caricature of a New Yorker tough guy. He has, I’ll admit, a creative way with the King’s English, and although his understanding of the legalities of news leaks is positively Trumpian in its ignorance, he did at least get his boss’s ideas across. He’s going to be an entertaining figure for the few weeks that he’s on the job.
In my opinion, though, yesterday also brought some small, almost overlooked news items that strike me as being of much greater consequence, Signs that, at least on the margins, Republicans are standing up to Trump.
Item: Congress just passed a bill that would have strengthened economic sanctions against Russia. The bill would also restrict the President’s ability to ease previous sanctions. Trump now has ten days to sign or veto. But it passed both the House and Senate with huge, veto-[roof margins. Also, how pro-Russia does Trump want to appear right now? And that’s where this gets interesting. Sanctions against Russia; fine. But if Putin owns Trump, this is exactly the kind of bill he wouldn’t want passed. Trump looks terrible if he vetoes, and Congress, at least for now, has the votes to override any veto anyway. We’ll see.
Item: Trump is clearly not enthralled with his Attorney-General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, and he’s been pressuring Sessions to resign. Specifically, he hates the fact that Sessions recused himself from dealing with the Russia scandal. Trump seems to regard Sessions recusal as, uh, disloyal. Apparently, Trump thinks the Attorney-General’s job includes shielding him, the President, from scandals. He doesn’t like being investigated, and thinks Sessions should head that off, and also, obviously, go after Hillary Clinton. Just for clarification, the Attorney-General of the United States is the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. He investigates crimes. He doesn’t work for the President, and no part of his job involves preventing the President from being investigated. Just to remind us of, you know, reality-land. Of course, Richard Nixon’s Attorney-General, John Mitchell, actually sat in meetings with Nixon’s campaign committee and helpfully discussed the various felonies they would all be committing. So that happened. But Mitchell went to prison for it, so maybe that’s not an historical example Trump wants to consult.
Item: In any event, Trump is clearly imagining a scenario in which he fires Sessions, get’s a more pliable AG confirmed, then gets the new guy to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently investigating him. And he wants to do it quickly, before Mueller can get his hands on Trump’s tax returns. Except that last night, the Chair of the Senate Judiary Committee, Chuck Grassley, sent out a tweet saying that there was just no way his committee could schedule hearings for a new AG until, at the earliest, January. Just no time for it, doncha know.
Item: best of all, this. Lindsay Graham, (R-South Carolina) and Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) have co-sponsored a bill that would make it impossible for a President to fire a special counsel without judicial review. As I understand it, their bill would require a three-judge panel to review whatever cause a President tried to use to fire a special counsel. Of course, the bill still needs to pass the House and Senate, and then Trump could always veto it. But it also enjoys pretty broad support, at least initially. Wouldn’t that be something?
For political reasons, Republicans are reluctant to challenge this President openly. But more quietly, in the background? They have to know what a train wreck he is. And how damaging to the institutions of American democracy.