Email #304: “62%”?

According to Suffolk University-USA Today polling, last March the GOP had a 48% unfavorable rating. According to Real Politics poll averages, President Trump had the same. In June, the President’s and the GOP’s unfavorable ratings both rose to roughly 55%. The President later peaked at 57% and now has settled back to its current 55%. But the GOP’s unfavorable rating has continued to rise, now hitting 62%.

That’s not the GOP’s worst polling news. According to the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, last April 47% wanted Democrats to control Congress while 43% wanted Republicans. Now 57% of those polled by USA Today want the next Congress to stand against President Trump while only 33% want a Congress that shares his agenda.

The 4% gap of six months ago has widened to 14%.

Fortunately for the GOP, you and the rest of the House of Representatives are not up for reelection this November. You have a year to correct course. You could heed the public and move toward a moderate, bipartisan agenda. Or you could continue on the path you’ve been on, pushing legislation that appeals to your far-right base.

As a Democrat, I’m torn too. A part of me would like to see you continue exactly what you’ve been doing because it raises the already high probability of a mid-term landslide in 2018. But I also wish to see our two parties work from the center together. Democracy is possible only through compromise. Our current political climate is anti-compromise, and I sincerely believe that political polarization is damaging our country. Prioritizing that principle, I can see that achieving a unifying centrist agenda would do more overall good right now–even though it would fall short of and at times violate my own progressive preferences.

You have a cynical reason to support moderate legislation too. It’s the best chance you and your party have of remaining in power. But you have no interest in my opinions, and so you will almost certainly continue promoting a divisive, right-wing agenda. Though that short-sightedness will benefit Democrats in November 2018, I regret the long-term damage it inflicts on our country as a whole.

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Email #298: “bi-partisan solution”?

You said last December: “I am working towards a bi-partisan solution to solve the problem of unaffordable health care.” That was ten months ago. Have you made any progress on that solution? For it to be bi-partisan, you must have been working with at least one Democrat. Could you name who that was?

After the Senate failed to pass the AHCA in July, you said: “I will keep working towards a solution to increase access to care and deliver affordable health insurance options.” What happened to the “bi-partisan” part? Did you abandon what you had been working on before supporting the highly partisan AHCA?

Now the GOP has again failed to pass a partisan healthcare bill. Despite controlling 52 seats in the Senate, they could not reach even a 50-vote majority, let alone the 60 votes needed without the procedural manipulation of so-called reconciliation. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that latest partisan bill would have cut Medicaid by a $1 trillion, raised the number of uninsured Americans by millions, and eliminated federal protections for pre-existing conditions by turning over all control to the states. Little wonder it didn’t attract a single non-GOP vote and even lost at least three key Republican senators.

Now that the September 30 reconciliation deadline passed yesterday, will the GOP move to a centrist position on healthcare? If so, this would be a great moment to reprise that “bi-partisan solution” you were “working towards” last fall. Can you describe anything about that bill? Or, if it was only something still in its earliest stage, can you describe some of the process? What specific steps had you taken? Who else was involved that made the process “bi-partisan”? Or what aspects of the bill were designed to attract Democrats?

If you can’t answer any of these questions, then there’s no sense in which the solution could be called “bi-partisan.” Except perhaps in a Orwellian sense. George Orwell defines his 1984 term “doublethink” as telling “deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them.” Were you aware that you were lying when you claimed to be “working towards” a “bi-partisan solution” on healthcare or is your rhetoric so empty that you don’t register your own fabrications?

Email #286: “health insurance in 2018”?

Last month, Anthem announced it would be leaving the Virginia ACA market because the President would not guarantee the federal subsidies that let poor enrollees afford deductibles. As a result, 70,000 Virginians were going to lose their health insurance next year, over 30,000 in your own district.

Fortunately, Anthem changed its mind, announcing last week: “Since learning that 63 counties and cities would not have access to individual health plans, Anthem has been engaged in further evaluation and discussion with regulators to ensure that no bare counties or cities exist in Virginia.”

Your Republican colleague Rep. Griffith expressed thanks: “I am appreciative that Anthem re-entered the market, ensuring that Southwest Virginians will have an option to purchase health insurance in 2018.” Griffith’s congressional district borders yours, and so you share the 40,000 residents of Roanoke and New River valleys who would have lost their insurance.

You, however, did not express thanks. Would you prefer that Anthem not provide healthcare for your neediest constituents? Do you want the ACA market to collapse regardless of the human price?

Last week the Senate Health Committee held its fourth and final hearing on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the ACA insurance markets. Republican Committee chair Senator Alexander and Democrat Committee member Senator Murray hope to introduce a new healthcare bill for a vote this month. It would fund the subsidies that Anthem needs to remain in Virginia. It would create a catastrophe-only coverage option for enrollees. And it would give states more freedom to control rates and plans.

Personally, I think catastrophe-only coverage is a terrible idea, but I understand that many conservatives feel it’s essential for any bipartisan deal. I therefore support it. I also fear that states will have the “freedom” to strip away protections for pre-existing conditions and other essential needs. Still, if the measure brings Democrats and Republicans together, I support it. I assume many conservatives will dislike the cost of subsidies. But that’s the nature of compromise. Both sides must move to the center.

Unfortunately, these bipartisan efforts are being halted by the GOP’s latest and last attempt to repeal the ACA before September 30th, the deadline for the filibuster-preventing reconciliation process. Senator Murray said yesterday: “Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan Trumpcare bill.”

I know you would prefer to repeal the ACA. But if the repeal fails and the Senate passes the Health Committee’s bipartisan bill instead, will you vote for it? I predict the President will describe it as “essentially” a repeal of the ACA anyway and so claim to have accomplished a campaign promise. As long as it gets insurance to the people who need it, I don’t care who takes credit. Do you?

Email #246: “civility in Washington”?

Republicans and Democrats have found something to agree about. An NPR poll last month asked how “the overall tone and level of civility in Washington between Republicans and Democrats” has changed “since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.”

73% answered: “Gotten worse.”

While that figure included 83% of liberals, 71% of moderates agreed, and even 69% of conservatives did too. Compare that to July 2009 when the poll asked the same question about Barak Obama. Then only a total of 35% thought civility had gotten worse. President Trump has doubled that figure even among Republicans.

Would you say partisan civility has gotten worse too? You said just days before the poll was taken that “we have seen a decline in civil discourse.” Why exactly do you think that is? Do you, like 73% of Americans, see it happening as a result of President Trump?

You also said: “it is more important now than ever that we as a nation work even harder to maintain a civil discourse.” So what hard work are you doing to achieve that important goal?

Email #234: “we all agreed”

I want to thank you for voting for the Russian sanctions bill that passed both the House and the Senate this week. Speaker Ryan said on Thursday:

“The message coming from Congress on a bipartisan basis is these are hostile regimes and sanctions are warranted — sanctions are called for. And we want to make sure that they’re tough sanctions and that they’re durable sanctions. It took us a while to figure this out and come together to get the policy right . . . and we all agreed we believe these tough hostile regimes deserve sanctions and this is the bipartisan compromise that produces that.”

When Speaker Ryan said “we” and “us,” for once he meant the entire House, not just its GOP members. In addition to twice using the adjective “bipartisan,” he even echoed the Hillary Clinton campaign slogan “Stronger Together.” And the rhetoric was accurate. The bill passed in the House 419-3 and in the Senate 90-2 where even its opposition was peculiarly bipartisan with Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders joining against it.

While it is easy for Democrats to defy President Trump, I am more impressed by how the GOP resisted White House efforts to weaken the bill, especially the absurd assurance that the President needs the freedom to “negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” Instead the bill increases Congressional review, requiring the President to notify Congress in advance of making any changes to the sanctions and giving Congress thirty days to block them.

This is Congress’ first, clear statement of distrust in President Trump’s ability to deal meaningfully with Russia after its interference in the election. In a form letter your office sent me last January, your assured me: “Our constitutional system of three co-equal branches of government and a Bill of Rights … prevent one branch from assuming too much authority without a challenge from the other branches of government.” This is the first instance of the GOP-controlled legislative branch challenging President Trump’s executive authority.

As a loyal Republican, you voted with your party because your party was voting against the President. While this makes you nothing like the Republican Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski who joined with Democrats to defeat all of the flawed health care bills in the Senate last week, it does mean you place party loyalty above Trump loyalty. While I would hope for more from you, this does suggest that as the GOP turns increasingly against the President, at least you will not block their efforts. You are no leader, but you are an obedient follower, and so you are bipartisan when your party tells you to be bipartisan.

Email #231: “partisan rhetoric”?

After receiving an outpouring of bipartisan praise and condolences after being diagnosed with brain cancer last week, Senator McCain said yesterday on the Senate floor: “What have we to lose by trying to work together to find solutions? We keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. We are getting nothing done, my friends, we are getting nothing done.”

You also wrote to me recently about “the need for elected leaders to put the interests of the country ahead of politics,” assuring me that you strongly agree “that Congress must rise above the partisan rhetoric that threatens to debilitate us and do what is right for the country in these trying times.”

While I appreciate your bipartisan rhetoric, it seems to be only that: talk. I looked up your rating by the Lugar Center, a non-profit organization led by former Republican Senator Richard Lugar and “committed to thoughtful analysis and civil dialogue that facilitate bipartisan governance.” They give you a bipartisan rating of 37%.

While that is better than Senator Bernie Sanders’ 3% or your Republican colleague Rep. Steve King’s 13%, it is far below the Senate’s top four most bipartisan members: Republican Senator Collins (100%), Democratic Senator Donnelly (91%), Republican Senator Grassley (76%), and Democratic Senator Manchin (76%). Your score is also far below the House’s top four most bipartisan members: Republican Rep. Pete King (91%), Democratic Rep. Simena (90%), Democratic Rep. Waltz (85%), and Republican Rep. Donovan (81%).

Appropriately those top eight bipartisan members of Congress divide equally between Republicans and Democrats. They are rising above partisan rhetoric by rising above partisan action. They are doing what you say needs to be done and actually putting the needs of the country ahead of politics.

Your fellow Virginians, Democratic Senators Warner and Kaine, both scored better too. Warner, who is co-chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee, received a 64%, and even Kaine scored 44%. How can you be more partisan than the Democrats’ nominee for Vice President?

Unlike the “partisan rhetoric” you claim to oppose, your partisan actions aren’t merely a threat to our country. Your hypocrisy is actively debilitating us.

Email #229: “our shame”?

Congressman Caldwell Butler represented Virginia’s District 6 from his special election victory in 1972 to his retirement ten years later. Like you, Butler was a Roanoke lawyer and a loyal member of the Republican party. According to the Washington Post: “if anyone could be counted on during the agonies of Watergate, it was surely Rep. M. Caldwell Butler.”

But then Butler surprised his party and his country, announcing that he would vote for President Nixon’s impeachment: “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct … But Watergate is our shame. I cannot condone what I have heard, I cannot excuse it, and I cannot and will not stand still for it.” Butler was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and his vote received national attention because it signaled a shift in the GOP away from their own President. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

Butler made his announcement on July 24, 1974—forty-three years ago today. You now occupy his Congressional seat. You are not only a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you are its chair. And if anyone has been counted upon so far during the agonies of the Trump scandals, it’s certainly been you.

And yet you have campaigned against corruption and misconduct too. Speaker Ryan complimented you in 2012 for working hard “to keep watch over the executive branch.” The first House Speaker you served under, Newt Gingrich, said your “basic approach is to try to bring everyone together to get to a solution.” You also weild far more power and responsibility than your predecessor. As Gingrich said: “As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has a lot of influence because he really does run the committee. In Bob’s case there’s no question he is in charge.”

When Butler died, he was eulogized as a maverick. While there’s little chance that you will be remembered similarly, there is still a chance you will be remembered well. But your reputation will rise or fall based on your actions toward the Trump administration. History will either record you as a Representative who upheld the honor and independence of Caldwell’s congressional district seat or as a party toady who buried his head at the moment of his career when his nation needed him most.

Will you use your influence to continue the Republican party’s shame or to end it?