The GOP in Sickness and Ill Health
The day after Republicans pulled the plug on Trumpcare (or was it Ryancare?), the front-page headline of the tabloid New York Post asked: “Is There a Doctor in the House?” None were in sight, but there were plenty of quacks wielding butcher knives instead of scalpels as they turned the body politic into a bloody mess and left it gasping for life on the floor of the House. Based on the howls emitting from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, you might have thought they had amputated the president’s ego. But that would have required a chainsaw while Arnold Schwarze- negger held him down. No, the bellowing and barking from the Oval Office was just the president at his King Kong worst, hurling gorilla dust at Democrats for refusing to self-destruct by voting for the monster of a health care bill the Republicans had engineered in the House, only to turn on their own creation and at the last minute drive a stake through its heart.
Two days later, Trump was at it again, beating his chest and tweeting like a vengeful god who bruises easily, this time directing his tirades at the real villains—his fellow Republicans, right-wing think tanks and especially the roughly three dozen members of the so-called “Freedom Caucus,” the most extreme conservatives in the House.
When they vote as a bloc these guys—all of them are male—can hold the House hostage and stop any legislation they abhor, and believe me, they always abhor legislation that might enhance freedom for women. In their House, “freedom” is chronically masculine. Look closely at the group photo Vice President Pence proudly tweeted when he met with them recently: not a single woman in it. So in a country where women are in the majority, we have a Freedom Caucus that is defiantly and boastfully unrepresentative in its power over the House of Representatives. The Freedom Caucus was out in force like a SWAT team as the House passed the first bill of the Trump era, a sweeping anti-abortion act making the procedure more expensive and harder to achieve. The bill rewards private health insurers if they drop abortion coverage. It bans abortion coverage in multi-state health insurance plans except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. And it denies women and small businesses tax credits if they choose health plans that cover abortion. Get the picture? These guys loathe subsidies that help the poor obtain health care, but they lavish benefits on businesses that willfully deny women their reproductive rights.
These lovers of freedom-up-to-a- certain-point objected to the entirety of Paul Ryan’s compromise health care plan. They simply don’t want government health care, period, but they especially were foaming at the mouth over its coverage for pregnancy, newborn babies and maternity care. These happen to be among the 10 “essential health benefits” that under Obamacare all health insurance plans must provide. But the soviet of pale, male and stale in the Freedom Caucus wanted all 10 provisions removed, as if they were mere vestigial, appendix-like polyps instead of life-saving, health- encouraging measures for the mothers of all our children. The caucus also wanted to end support for a woman’s reproductive rights so hard-won by Planned Parenthood and other groups. In this, Trump, of course, has proved a kindred spirit with the right-wing band of brothers on Capitol Hill. In one of his first acts as president he signed an executive order withholding U.S. foreign aid from any international organizations that tolerate family planning options that include abortion. He also appointed two delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women who believe access to birth control is “antithetical to the values and needs of women worldwide.” This, when an estimated 225 million women worldwide wanting to avoid pregnancy “lack access to safe and reliable contraceptives.”
Given this common contempt for women’s freedom, it wasn’t surprising when Trump, desperate for a compromise bill that would pass and hoping to appease the Freedom Caucus, yielded and agreed to remove the essential 10 benefits of health care from the Republican bill. But still no deal. Speaker Ryan then pulled it off the table, ahead of what would have been a losing vote, sparing his party the further humiliation of Ryancare (or was it Trumpcare?) going down to defeat as people across the country watched on television. Better to beat the critter to death behind the barn than make a public spectacle of its cruel end out in the open.
A short detour here: On the morning following Bloody Friday, the New York Times did a helpful analysis of the role of this Freedom Caucus. But, alas, the writer failed to take us down the money trail. It would have led to the three largest caucus donors: The Club for Growth, a gaggle of megadonors whose idea of “good government” is one that vows secrecy for offshore tax shelters; Koch Industries, the vast empire run by right-wing oligarchs Charles and David Koch; and the American Bankers Association, reputedly the largest financial trade group in the country. Get this: The Koch network even went so far as to assure members of the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives who wanted to vote against the GOP plan that the brothers had their backs if they bucked Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan. The Kochs wanted an all-out repeal of Obamacare, and were willing to pay for it. As Kevin Robillard reported for Politico, they promised a “seven-figure” slush fund—sorry, a reserve fund—to provide financial aid to conservative rebels if a vengeful Trump or Ryan comes after them with an opponent in the next Republican primary. One top Koch hireling put it this way: “We want to make certain that lawmakers understand the policy consequences of voting for a law that keeps Obamacare intact. We have a history of following up and holding politicians accountable, but we will also be there to support and thank the champions who stand strong and keep their promise.”
Promise to whom—the public or the plutocrats? Chris Carson, the president of the League of Women Voters, was outraged when she heard about the Koch brothers’ offer. The League opposed the Republican health care plan, though for different reasons than the Kochs. Said the disgusted Carson: “The American people have long believed that campaign contributions from big money and special interests are bribery, and today’s action shows how true it is. ‘You give me your vote, and we’ll give you the money.’ That’s just not right.”
But back to Bloody Friday. Trumped, so to speak, by his own party, the president by Sunday was once again his berserk self, tweeting his followers to watch a certain news show whose host, Jeanine Pirro, called on Speaker Ryan, the man who was Trump’s ally to resign. Hail, Trump; we can only imagine the sweet pleasure it would have given his festooned head if he had been a real Roman Caesar, rather than a fake one—rising up in the coliseum, turning thumbs up on one gladiator, thumbs down on another, and then, just for the sheer sadistic glee of it, reversing his choices. Who knows if the debacle wasn’t what he wanted all along? The man thrives on chaos, cruelty and circus, and the hated Obamacare lives on, namesake of his predecessor, the Kenyan interloper who rose to the presidency without even a passport. How better to satisfy Trump’s insatiable need for spectacle than for him to fiddle as Obamacare crashes and burns, bringing pain and suffering to millions?
He made his inclinations clear when he told the Washington Post, “The best thing politically is to let Obamacare explode.” Democrats would then take the blame and Trump could go off to Mar-a-Lago to contemplate where to wreak havoc next.
As was said of an earlier president, he has, after all, the “peculiar powers as an assailant, and almost always, even when attacked, gets himself into that attitude by making war upon his accuser; and he has, withal, an instinct for the jugular and the carotid artery, as unerring as that of any carnivorous animal.”
That was President John Quincy Adams, as described by Massachusetts congressperson Rufus Choate. But Choate noted a quality Adams possessed that Trump does not: “untold treasures of facts, and they are always at his command.” Trump’s slippery grasp of “alternative facts” doesn’t count. Not that it ever stops him. Meanwhile, the best line of the week went to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Republican health plan, she said, would have made “being a woman a preexisting condition.”
Bill Moyers is a journalist and political commentator. He also served as White House press secretary from 1965-