Republicare dead in Senate; McConnell humiliated; Priebus returned to puzzle box

The Senate Republican Caucus

Good news for freelancers with trick shoulders: Senate Majority Leader Mitchell “Mitch” McConnell has declared that there will be no vote on the Senate bill to replace Obamacare. This turn of events is a blow to the Republican agenda and, frankly, satisfying comeuppance after listening to them rail againast the Affordable Care Act for the last seven years. It is easy to find fault. It is not so easy to find workable solutions, as McConnell discovered over the past few weeks. He lamented the phenomenon in this statement, which also proposes a terrifying idea:

“Make sure to emphasize that Obamacare is the real failure,” he told his staffers. Also note the appearance of the word “immediately” in the established phrase “repeal and replace,” like a guest star who comes on in the last episode of a long-running drama to take the fall. So we failed to replace Obamacare immediately. We’re still going to replace it. What do you say we just repeal it now and replace it later?

Fortunately, the New York Times reports that plan dead on arrival. The same Republican senators who did not want to take health insurance from millions and give them savings accounts also did not want to take health insurance from millions and give them a timeline. For now, at least, the effort to repeal Obamacare has failed decisively—even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the executive branch when “Watters’ World” isn’t on.

What does it all mean? I don’t think we can call this a triumph of Democratic opposition. Various operatives, particularly Andy Slavitt, have kept up a steady drumbeat against the Republican plan, but it’s hard to argue they stopped it. McConnell scratched his vote because a handful of Republican senators wouldn’t go along. They were the usual moderate naysayers: Murkowski and Collins, plus Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia. Their persistent refusal could mean a few things:

  1. The GOP has drifted so far to the right on issues of social welfare as to lose the moderate members of its caucus.
  2. The bill under consideration was so particularly bad for women that these three women objected.
  3. Contemporary Republican politics is vigorous as a critique of liberalism but morbid as an approach to governance.

Guess which explanation I favor. The Republican lifestyle brand as we know it today was forged in opposition to Barack Obama. He was the smooth-talking biracial latte drinker atop the pyramid of liberal power, and they were the Real Americans who said no. Over the last nine years, the outlines of this coalition have become remarkably clear. You can guess whether someone votes Republican by their car, their facial hair, their music and TV habits, their religion—any number of cultural signifiers. This cultural coalition is the one that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, but it is not a coalition of political interests. Once you have to start making concrete policy choices, the Republican coalition falls apart.

How many interests do a West Virginia coal miner and a Chicagoland hedge fund manager have in common? What health care policy goals does Peter Thiel share with Ted Cruz’s dad? All four of these people are likely to agree on the issue of President Obama, but it’s harder to think of what else might bring them together. Right now, the GOP base consists of whites with high school diplomas, the investor/rentier class, evangelical Christians and libertarian idealists. A parliamentary system would put these demographics in at least three different parties. The contemporary Republican coalition has brought them all together, but it is not well suited to governance, because it is not an alignment of natural political interests.

It’s a great way to get a bunch of people all watching the same TV network or voting against the same lady. But it has yet to be fully tested as a machine for solving the country’s problems or even passing substantive legislation. After nine years of tenacious opposition, the need to cooperate may be what finally shakes the modern GOP apart.

Daines ducks constituents, complains too few in DC drive pickup trucks

US Senator from Montana and convicted goblin Steve Daines

Steve Daines’s first six weeks as a senator have not been easy. He happened to be presiding over the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instructed him to gavel down Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). That got him on the news. Then he cast the deciding vote to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, despite calls to recuse himself after she gave $48,000 to his campaign. Last week, he came home.

He was supposed to address the state legislature last Tuesday, but a crowd of protestors that gathered at the capitol caused him to reschedule at the last minute. He spoke to the legislature Wednesday, after protestors had safely gone home. The very next day, he went on Twitter. “Montanans can do a better job than D.C. bureaucrats who’ve never driven a pick-up and have a hard time finding Montana on a map,” he wrote.

Root toot ‘merca truck, you guys. This kind of pandering was my least favorite thing growing up in Iowa, where the performance of hick-ness was integral to public life. But the politicians of Montana take it to new heights. The day after Daines complained that the failure of bureaucrats to drive trucks left them unable to operate the US federal government, he posted a video from Big Sandy, in which he claimed to be “getting all over Montana” to talk to his constituents.

The senator didn’t have to drive the back roads to find constituents; they had come to him 48 hours earlier, and he contorted his schedule to avoid speaking to them. Daines has never been a dynamic public speaker. Although he gets +1 to night vision and can be dangerous in groups, his main political advantage is that he is a party man. If you need someone to do what his superiors in the GOP say, Daines is your boy. It is therefore distasteful for him to pretend that he is some salt-of-the-earth type fed up with Washington, DC. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which we speculate on his truck-drivin’ bona fides and his life as a freshman in the senate dorms. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

McConnell to block Supreme Court appointments until Trump is president

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Normally Combat! blog does not stoop to publishing on federal holidays, and today our great nation honors its longest-armed and woodiest-toothed presidents. But this weekend was so exciting that one must remark. On Saturday, the Republican candidates tore into one another like a sack of weasels, raising the question of which one of these men, exactly, could lead his party through its most fractious historical moment since the Grant administration. Will Trump unite monied interests, neoconservative hawks and alienated tea party voters with his platform of turning red and calling people losers? Maybe the GOP will rally behind Ted Cruz, the most hated man in the Senate. Your fallback option to heal the party is Marco Rubio, who would like to dispense once and for all with this idea that Obama SYNTAX ERR 403 REBOOT? Y/N. Meanwhile, Jeb is betting on the overwhelming popularity of his brother. The question of who might win this contest of undesirables seemed academic until Saturday, when Antonin Scalia was found dead at a west Texas resort.

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Read the Inspector General’s report on the IRS/Tea Party scandal

This image of Conan the Barbarian provided as a public-service alternative to pictures of inspectors, hearings or tax forms.

This image of Conan the Barbarian provided as a public-service alternative to pictures of inspectors, hearings or tax forms.

Congressional hearings into news that the IRS singled out conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status is either a tempest in a teapot or a tempest issuing from the mouth of a tyrannical socialist dragon, depending on which news outlet you read. Mitch McConnell says that the heightened scrutiny of Tea Party organizations reflects a “culture of intimidation” in the Obama administration, which is kind of a weird assertion in light of claims that the President also covered it up. As often happens in our brave modern news cycle, the question of what the IRS did has been elbowed aside by questions of who knew what about what the IRS did, whether what the president might have known they did constitutes an impeachable offense, and how “so many Americans knew this was happening,” as Sarah Palin claims. Now you can know what’s happening, too, simply by reading this 55-page report.

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Friday links! And so it begins edition

And so it begins

Perhaps ironically, the beginning of something only exists in retrospect. We remember some series of events as a thing that happened and identify their leading edge, but that edge is by definition nothing when we first experience it. You can only see the beginning when you know the rest, and you don’t know the rest at the beginning. The exception to this rule is events we were expecting. We knew those would happen all along, and their beginnings are eerily recognizable, as if we were reading the third act of a novel instead of the first draft of history. Today is Friday. We all knew it was coming. The week is over, but one thing is paradoxically certain: it begins. Won’t you say you knew it all along with me?

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