What Republican Senators Are Thinking

Cracks may be developing in Congress’s support for the president. Fred Kaplan of Slate writes about the silence of Republican senators regarding recent statements by fellow Republicans to the effect that the president needs round-the-clock supervision and isn’t playing with a full deck:

It is a hair-raising fact that though few Republicans have seconded [Senator Corker’s] or [Secretary of State Tillerson’s] appraisals of Trump, still fewer have spoken out in their president’s defense. The day after Corker’s interview in the Times, CNN staffers phoned all 52 Republican senators to see if any of them would come on Wolf Blitzer’s show to discuss politics that day. Not one assented.

They chose not to protest that one of the party’s leaders in the Senate likened Trump to a patient in an “adult day care center.” They don’t seem to mind that the nation’s top diplomat called Trump a “fucking moron.” And no one has as yet rebutted the latest report on Trump’s appalling cluelessness about nuclear weapons. The Republicans don’t deny any of these indictments, yet they do nothing about them; they do nothing to address the clear and present danger.

Elsewhere, Robert Reich, an economist who was the Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration and now teaches at Berkeley, posted this on Facebook. I can’t vouch for its accuracy, of course, but it does give one hope:

This morning I phoned my old friend, a Republican former member of Congress.

RR: So what’s up? Is Corker alone, or are others also ready to call it quits with Trump?

He: All I know is they’re simmering over there.

RR: [Senators] Flake and McCain have come pretty close.

He: Yeah. Others are thinking about doing what Bob did. Sounding the alarm. They think Trump’s nuts. Unfit. Dangerous.

RR: Well, they already knew that, didn’t they?

He: But now it’s personal. It started with the Sessions stuff. [Attorney General Sessions] was as loyal as they come. Trump’s crapping on him was like kicking your puppy. And then, you know, him beating up on [Majority Leader McConnell] for the Obamacare fiasco. And going after Flake and the others.

RR: So they’re pissed off?

He: Not just that. I mean, they have thick hides. The personal stuff got them to notice all the other things. The wild stuff, like those threats to North Korea. Tillerson would leave tomorrow if he wasn’t so worried Trump would go nuclear, literally.

RR: You think Trump is really thinking nuclear war?

He: Who knows what’s in his head? But I can tell you this. He’s not listening to anyone. Not a soul. He’s got the nuclear codes and, well, it scares the hell out of me. It’s starting to scare all of them. That’s really why [Corker] spoke up.

RR: So what could they do? I mean, even if the whole Republican leadership was willing to say publicly he’s unfit to serve, what then?

He: Bingo! The emperor has no clothes. It’s a signal to everyone they can bail. Have to bail to save their skins. I mean, Trump could be the end of the whole goddam Republican party.

RR: If he starts a nuclear war, that could be the end of everything.

He: Yeah, right. So when they start bailing on him, the stage is set.

RR: For what?

He: Impeachment. 25th amendment.

RR: You think Republicans would go that far?

He: Not yet. Here’s the thing. They really want to get this tax bill through. That’s all they have going for them. They don’t want to face voters in ’18 or ’20 without something to show for it. They’re just praying Trump doesn’t do something really, really stupid before the tax bill.

RR: Like a nuclear war?

He: Look, all I can tell you is many of the people I talk with are getting freaked out. It’s not as if there’s any careful strategizing going on. Not like, well, do we balance the tax bill against nuclear war? No, no. They’re worried as hell. They’re also worried about Trump crazies, all the ignoramuses he’s stirred up. I mean, Roy Moore? How many more of them do you need to destroy the party?

RR: So what’s gonna happen?

He: You got me. I’m just glad I’m not there anymore. Trump’s not just a moron. He’s a despicable human being. And he’s getting crazier. Paranoid. Unhinged. Everyone knows it. I mean, we’re in shit up to our eyeballs with this guy.

Will Congressional Republicans stick with this monster to the bitter end? If only they were brave enough and clever enough to get rid of him and put Vice President Pence in the Oval Office. They have to be looking for an excuse to dump Trump, since their lives would be so much easier with President Mike Pence. Before Pence became governor of Indiana, he served in Congress for 12 years. He’s a standard right-wing religious fanatic they could work with!

Even When You Want To Back Away From It

I’ve been working on a post that explains why I want to back away from our political crisis, but it’s been slow going. Meanwhile, an exchange that appeared on Brian Wilson’s community forum might be of interest.

First, some background. Brian Wilson (my favorite musician, who is best known as the creative force behind the Beach Boys) has a website that includes a forum mainly intended for fans to discuss his music and other aspects of his career. Occasionally, however, other topics come up.

A few days ago, a person who apparently lives in Germany and goes by the name “Cantina Margarita” (a reference to the song “Heroes and Villains”) announced that he or she was leaving the board after 10 years of participation:

I’d like to thank you all for some 10 years of being allowed to be a part of this community. Now it’s time to say goodbye because I feel I can’t continue having musical discussions on a US music forum, suspecting all the time to be talking to Donald Trump voters.

I can’t go on discussing music and concerts, trying to ignore the subject. It’s a very ugly and dangerous fly [???], and I’m used to expressing my opinion quite frankly. I can’t do this here without spoiling BW’s board, and this is not something I want this forum to suffer….

Keep having a nice time here, I just don’t feel like being in any longer.

My account is just being cancelled.

Maybe, only maybe, I’ll return after the next POTUS election, under a new nick. American politics is just too important to the rest of the world to ignore it.

[wave]

As you’d expect, there were a variety of responses to this post. Some people thought it was an overreaction. Why stop communicating with Americans in general just because millions of us voted a certain way? For example:

I am puzzled by this too.  I don’t like the way your election went, so I cannot talk to an entire country’s people?

I’m trying to look for an interpretation of this that does not seem like holding your breath until your face turns blue, or ‘cutting off your ear to spite your face’, etc., but I am failing.

Since Cantina Margarita was no longer available, well, it was a dirty job, but somebody had to…

How about this interpretation:

It matters to the whole world when America chooses a new president. Yet millions of Americans chose a person who is manifestly unfit for the job and whose presence in the White House constitutes a clear and present danger. I am so damned angry and worried about this that it’s hard to keep quiet about it, especially when I communicate with Americans. And since Americans who post here are probably among those responsible for putting this person in office, I’d rather not interact with them. Sadly, since I don’t know how people here voted (or if they chose not to vote, even in such an important election), I’m going to leave this board rather than have pleasant discussions with these people about Brian Wilson, given how I feel about the decision they made. Maybe I’ll be back when your country comes to its senses and it’s reasonable to assume that the person I’m communicating with didn’t make such a horrible decision, putting themselves and others around the world at serious risk.

I know this may sound extreme, but this person being the American president is far more extreme. None of us should accept this situation and go about our business in the usual way.

By the way, a powerful member of the president’s party expressed deep concerns about the president this week:

Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.”

In an extraordinary rebuke of a president of his own party, Mr. Corker said he was alarmed about a president who acts “like he’s doing ‘The Apprentice’ [a TV show] or something.”

“He concerns me,” Mr. Corker added. “He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”

… All but inviting his colleagues to join him in speaking out about the president, Mr. Corker said his concerns about Mr. Trump were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.

“Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here,” he said, adding that “of course they understand the volatility that we’re dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes by people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

So far, other Senate Republicans have declined Sen. Corker’s implied invitation to share their thoughts. However, a Republican congressman, Mark Meadows, did say “it’s easy to be bold when you’re not coming back”, referring to the fact that Sen. Corker won’t seek re-election in 2018. I suppose that Rep. Meadows does want to be re-elected, so being bold is out of the question.

Now back to backing away from the current crisis.

American Carnage

The carnage in Las Vegas is shocking, but it’s what we should expect when powerful weapons are easy to acquire and we live in a gun-crazy country.

We stand alone in civilian ownership of guns.

guns_per_capita

Compared to other rich countries, we commit more murders with guns (we also commit more suicides with guns — they’re very efficient for that purpose). 

DLJ9t9nXUAAgpGV

As any rational person would predict, the more guns in your state, the more gun deaths you’ll have.

gun_ownership_states

At the same time, it’s off the front pages temporarily, but the carnage continues in Puerto Rico. Our government’s response has been lacking because of who lives there.

This country accepts an incredible amount of gun violence and still has colonies in the Caribbean and Pacific. America is truly exceptional.

Whither the Grand Old Party?

Jennifer Rubin writes a blog for The Washington Post called Right Turn. It’s advertised as “Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”. But in recent months she’s been churning out articles with titles like today’s “Americans as a Whole Haven’t Lost Their Minds, But the GOP Has”. That makes perfect sense, of course, because the Grand Old Party is no longer “conservative” in the traditional sense. It’s become the party of radical reactionaries and know-nothings.

Citing an opinion poll that contains bad news for the Republicans, she writes:

Voters say 47 – 38 percent, including 44 – 32 percent among independent voters, that they would like to see Democrats win control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 Congressional elections.

Americans, it turns out:

  • Are not bamboozled by his NFL and flag histrionics;
  • Do not think it’s all the media’s fault;
  • Know he is not making America great (stressed and anxious maybe, but not great);
  • Have figured out he’s botching most policy matters — and is a bad person to boot; and
  • Don’t buy into his race-baiting act.

Americans are neither brain-dead nor moral vagrants. In voting for him many probably hated Hillary Clinton more, engaged in wishful thinking about Trump and/or figured incorrectly a rich guy and his friends must know how to do things. But they do not like him now, and that speaks very well of the American people.

The bad news is Republicans overwhelmingly like him, his policies, his distractions, his character, his racial appeals, etc. Among Republicans 79 percent approve of his performance, 79 percent think he is honest (!), 85 percent think he cares about ordinary Americans, 62 percent think he is level-headed (!!) and perhaps worst of all, 78 percent think he shares their values.

Now, it’s possible that having voted for him these Republicans don’t want to admit he is, as LeBron James eloquently put it, a bum. But it’s also possible that a declining share of voters identify as Republicans but that those who do, by and large, live in a Fox News-created political universe in which Trump is just the best. They refuse to see Trump as a bigot or an incompetent narcissist. They believe what he tells them about immigrants, the world and the “liberal elites.”

The question that many #NeverTrump Republicans or now former Republicans face is whether that GOP base has become so divorced from their own world view that they cannot consider themselves Republicans any longer. To be a Republican these days is to be at the very least an apologist for Trump and at the worst a cultist. Maybe these Trump fans were always there in the party, but now they are the dominant voice…. [Note: Crazy right-wingers, now known as “Trump fans”, have indeed always been there.]

It doesn’t seem possible that logic or experience will change the minds of the 75 percent to 80 percent of the GOP who remain in Trump’s quarter…

Rubin concludes that “distressed Republicans and ex-Republicans” have three options, because “the GOP that was, is no longer”:

(1) “Recruit new non-Trumpkins to the GOP (but which Americans would want to join?!) to out-vote Trump’s base” 

(2) “Start a new center-right party (with an invitation out to moderate Democrats)” 

(3) “Set up shop across the aisle as [conservative] Democrats”.

Option (1) is clearly a non-starter, so it’s not worth thinking about. Option (2) could happen if a conservative billionaire or two gave up on the Republican Party and made a serious, highly-publicized effort to recruit candidates and get them on ballots nationwide, although finding a significant number of Republican politicians with the courage to suddenly leave their party sounds highly unlikely.

That leaves option (3). Rubin thinks this would depend on “the direction the Democrats take (will it be the party of Sen. Bernie Sanders or the party of Truman/JFK/Bill Clinton — policy-wise, that is)”. If the Democratic Party moves further to the left, it will make it more difficult for Republicans and ex-Republicans to switch. On the other hand, if conservatives move to the Democratic Party in serious numbers, the party won’t move to the left. It will stay where it is or move to the right. 

In the meantime, Democrats continue to do well in special elections at the state level. Maybe some Republican voters are already switching:

Democrats on Tuesday flipped two seats in special state elections in Florida and New Hampshire.

Earlier this month, Democrats flipped State House seats in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, replacing Republicans in two districts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections….

Since Trump’s election, Democrats have flipped eight GOP-held seats at the state level, and Republicans have yet to flip a seat in 27 special elections.

These results suggest that the Democrats may make even more significant progress in statewide legislative races in Virginia and New Jersey in November, less than six weeks from now.

The Grand Old Party Today

Once again, the bastards failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A few Republican senators refused to go along with the herd. No doubt they’ll keep trying to kill it, no matter how many people suffer as a result.  

Until this latest repeal effort took precedence, Sen. Alexander, a Republican, and Sen. Murray, a Democrat, were working on a bipartisan set of improvements to the ACA. They were making progress, but the Republican leadership ordered Sen. Alexander to end the discussions. When the repeal effort quickly fizzled, the Democratic leadership called for Alexander and Murray to resume their work. Here’s what the Republican leader, Senator McConnell, said:

Senate Ds have 2 thoughts on how to fix #Obamacare 1. Do nothing 2. A fully gov-run system that would take away even more of their decisions 4:45 PM – 25 Sep 2017

McConnell stopped Alexander and Murray from working together on a set of mutually agreeable fixes to the ACA. Then he claimed the Democrats weren’t willing to work with the Republicans. He knew this was totally false, but said it anyway.

Now the Republicans have pivoted to what they’re calling “tax reform”. As usual, the changes they have in mind are skewed to benefit the rich:

The tax plan that the Trump administration outlined on Wednesday is a potentially huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans. It would not directly benefit the bottom third of the population. As for the middle class, the benefits appear to be modest.

The administration and its congressional allies are proposing to sharply reduce taxation of business income, primarily benefiting the small share of the population that owns the vast majority of corporate equity….

The plan would also benefit Mr. Trump and other affluent Americans by eliminating the estate tax, which affects just a few thousand uber-wealthy families each year, and the alternative minimum tax, a safety net designed to prevent tax avoidance [by people with high incomes].

The precise impact on Mr. Trump cannot be ascertained because the president refuses to release his tax returns, but the few snippets of returns that have become public show one thing clearly: The alternative minimum tax has been unkind to Mr. Trump. In 2005, it forced him to pay $31 million in additional taxes. [The New York Times]

In addition, the Republicans want to cut taxes for “pass-through” businesses from as high as 39% down to 25%. The Trump Organization just happens to be a pass-through business.

So there are at least three big changes that would almost certainly benefit the president and his family, assuming any of them pay income tax. Yet last night he had the nerve to deny it:

President Trump unveiled his long-awaited tax plan Wednesday during a speech in Indiana. He asserted without qualification that the proposal — still only roughly outlined — would be good for middle-class Americans and not the wealthy.

“Our framework includes our explicit commitment that tax reform will protect low-income and middle-income households,” Trump said. “Not the wealthy and well-connected. They can call me all they want; I’m doing the right thing.”

He then added: “And it’s not good for me, believe me.” [The Washington Post]

Meanwhile, our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in a horrible situation, having been subjected to two major hurricanes, but the Republicans who control the government aren’t responding to the crisis as urgently as they did when Texas and Florida suffered similar but less serious problems. And the Midwest and Northeast have been experiencing an unprecedented heatwave — “Late-September heat wave leaves climate experts stunned. ‘Never been a heat wave of this duration and magnitude this late in the season’ reports NOAA” [ThinkProgress] — while the Republicans deny that global warming is real and are running yet another religious fanatic (who doesn’t believe in evolution and thinks homosexuality should be a crime) for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Years ago, Republicans weren’t as bad as they are now. Back then, I wondered whether they were mostly selfish or mostly ignorant. Those are still factors, but what’s still known as the Grand Old Party has deteriorated to the point where mere selfishness and ignorance aren’t enough to explain its awfulness. The fundamental problem is that Republicans are immoral. They don’t observe norms of human behavior that the modern world requires: caring about the lives of strangers; intellectual honesty; respect for scientific inquiry; the willingness to cooperate for the common good; long-term thinking; promoting equality of opportunity.

There is no excuse for being a Republican today. The Grand Old Party has become evil and deserves to die.

The Bastards Are At It Again

It’s been 51 days since Republican Senator John McCain cast the dramatic “No” vote that sunk the bill that would have sunk the Affordable Care Act. Most of us assumed that was the end of the story. Even Sen. McConnell, the evil Majority Leader, said it was time for the Republicans to “move on”.

But we were wrong. They’re making one more attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have until September 30th, because the Senate rules say that’s the last day they can pass a bill with only 50 senators, plus the Vice President, voting “Yes”.

Sarah Kliff of Vox calls the latest bill, released by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham on Wednesday, “the most radical” repeal effort yet:

Work on Cassidy-Graham began in the midst of the chaotic Obamacare repeal effort in July….

The senators are selling this idea as a compromise plan and say it is a way to return power to states, giving local governments more control over how they spend federal dollars….

But the plan does much more than that. The proposal would eliminate the health care law’s subsidies for private insurance and end the Medicaid expansion. States could allow for waivers that let insurers charge sick patients higher premiums and stop covering certain benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care or prescription drugs. The health insurance marketplaces would no longer exist as they are envisioned to continue under other Republican proposals.

The federal government would convert some (but not all) of that spending into a lump-sum payment to states. States could choose to spend this money on providing insurance — or they could use it to fund high-risk pools, or do other activities to pay the bills of patients with high medical needs….

The plan hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office yet, but analysts who have studied Cassidy-Graham estimate it would cut deeply into federal funding for the health law programs, likely resulting in millions losing coverage.

Cassidy-Graham would arguably be more disruptive, not less, to the current health care system than the plans that came before it. It would let money currently spent on health insurance go toward other programs, providing no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act programs individuals rely on today would continue into the future.

Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post quotes Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“This bill is far more radical [than previous repeal bills] in that it envisions going back to the pre-ACA world, where the federal government wasn’t in the business of helping low-income adults or moderate-income people without employer coverage get health insurance at all… Compared to pre-ACA, there would be some extra state grant money floating around ― but it would have virtually no requirements attached to it at all and, since the funding wouldn’t adjust based on enrollment or costs, it would be hard for even well-intentioned states to use it to create an individual entitlement to coverage or help.”

Cohn continues:

Oh, and the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and do so right away ― destabilizing insurance markets and causing premiums to rise right away, according to official projections….

It’s difficult to say where this is all going. After all, the idea that repeal could get another look now, despite its unpopularity, in the form of a proposal that in some respects is more radical than its predecessors, is difficult to fathom. And yet here we are, fathoming it.

So it looks like we need to speak up again. Republican senators need to hear from their angry constituents again. Facebook and Twitter need to heat up again. Activists need to get arrested again, because this is a matter of life and death for many of our fellow citizens and nobody knows if three Republicans will still vote “No”. McCain, who provided the crucial third “No” in July, has changed his tune from day to day (he’s 81 and has a brain tumor). People are saying he might vote “Yes” this time because he and Sen. Graham are very good friends. 

In November 1932, the German government was in disarray. Hitler was demanding to be made chancellor. He had many supporters, but others feared he would immediately institute a murderous dictatorship if given the chance:

Yet it was entirely unclear who would succeed [Franz von Papen] as chancellor or whether a way out of the political crisis could be found. The only thing that was clear, [a German count named Harry Kessler] noted … was the absolute impenetrability and uncertainty of the situation: “Everything more or less depends on chance and the good or bad moods of four or five individuals”.

Hitler became chancellor two months later. 

A Smart, Informed Journalist Interviews Hillary Clinton

Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of Vox, interviewed Hillary Clinton for 51 minutes this week. I thought she avoided answering one question. It was something like, how would you rate American voters in general? Aside from that, I was tremendously impressed. It is a tragedy that she lost.

A few topics discussed:

16:00  How the media handled the presidential campaign

17:45  Healthcare, including the important distinction between universal care, which should be our goal, and single-payer, which is only one way, and probably not the best way, to get universal care

26:30  American politics today

36:00  The 2016 election

42:00  How women voted

44:50   The effect of the Comey letter plus the Electoral College, voter suppression and dangers ahead.