Where were we? Ah, yes – the baseball metaphor – it’s the bottom of the ninth for the Republicans, now at bat, with two outs, with the game on the line. They can’t pass any major legislation for President Trump. In the House, they finally passed a healthcare bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, a bill that everyone hated – even Donald Trump, who called it “mean” – and sent that off to the Senate. Maybe the Senate could fix it, but it was so awful that Mitch McConnell grabbed a dozen old Senate white guys and wrote a new bill, behind closed doors, in secret, so no one would bitch about things and slow down the process. That didn’t work out. The new bill was even meaner, and McConnell couldn’t even whip up the votes for a motion to proceed – that bill never made it to the Senate floor for debate, much less for a vote. Conservative Republicans – from strict libertarians like Rand Paul to the no-to-everything Tea Party crowd, now the Freedom Caucus – hated it. It kept too much of Obamacare. It didn’t get rid of everything. Moderate Republicans – or at least those from states with lots of people on Medicaid – saw the massive cuts to Medicaid and would have nothing to do with that. The idea that at least twenty-two million Americans would be losing health insurance bothered them a bit too. McConnell’s bill was dead too. The Republicans were now down a run and likely to lose the game.
They were down to their last out. They were down to their last vote, but there was no way to pass the McConnell bill. The only thing they could do was force the game into extra innings. Anything can happen in extra innings. The Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings, two teams from the Triple-A International League, played the longest game in professional baseball history, thirty-two innings over two days, April 18 and April 19, 1981, at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island – and the final inning was played on June 23, 1981 – and Pawtucket finally won. Anything can happen in extra innings.
Bad things can happen in extra innings too. Mitch McConnell forced extra innings, and the New York Times’ Thomas Kaplan and Robert Pear report that the bad thing happened:
The Senate voted narrowly on Tuesday to begin debate on a bill to repeal major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but hours later, Republican leaders suffered a setback when their most comprehensive plan to replace President Barack Obama’s health law fell far short of the votes it needed.
The Tuesday night tally needed to reach 60 votes to overcome a parliamentary objection. Instead, it fell 43-57. The fact that the comprehensive replacement plan came up well short of even 50 votes was an ominous sign for Republican leaders still seeking a formula to pass final health care legislation this week.
That was the McConnell bill, developed in secret over many weeks, with its surprising massive cuts to Medicaid and all the rest. It was gone. Things went bad fast:
For Republicans, the failure ended the day on a sour note, hours after a more triumphant scene on the Senate floor. Lawmakers from both parties had risen to their feet in the afternoon and applauded when Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, showed up in the chamber despite his diagnosis of brain cancer. He cast a crucial vote in favor of opening what promises to be a freewheeling, hard-fought debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act.
The 51-50 vote to start debate, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie, came only a week after the Republican effort to dismantle a pillar of Mr. Obama’s legacy appeared all but doomed. It provided an initial win for President Trump, who pushed, cajoled and threatened senators in recent days to at least begin debating the repeal of the health care law.
But the victory could be fleeting: Senate Republicans still have no agreement on a repeal bill that they can ultimately pass to uproot the law that has provided health insurance to millions of Americans.
They won the vote to force the game into extra innings, but no one knows why. No one knows what they want to pass:
The Senate is now moving ahead with debate, amendments and ultimately a final vote in the coming days on legislation that would have a profound effect on the American health care system – roughly one-sixth of the United States’ economy. But it is entirely possible that by week’s end, the senators will have passed nothing.
“Now we move forward towards truly great health care for the American people,” Mr. Trump said from the White House Rose Garden, where he was holding a news conference with the visiting prime minister of Lebanon. “This was a big step.”
No, this was stalling for time, but one thing did go right, sort of:
The successful procedural vote was a moment of redemption, at least temporarily, for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who just last week appeared to have failed in his effort to put together a health bill that could squeak through the narrowly divided Senate.
That said, it remained far from certain whether Republicans would be able to agree on a bill in the days to come – and what exactly the contents of that bill would be. Mr. McConnell promised an “open amendment process” in which members of both parties could propose changes.
That’s starting from scratch, after seven years of saying they had a better plan all along, which they would reveal after they won it all – the House and the Senate and the White House. They won it all. They had nothing.
All they had were bad ideas:
For weeks, Mr. McConnell has been promoting and revising a comprehensive bill that would repeal the health law while also replacing it, but he has struggled to nail down the support needed to pass that measure. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has yet to assess the most complete version of that legislation, which includes the proposals by Mr. Cruz and Mr. Portman.
Without that assessment, the measure needed 60 Senate votes, and it failed that test on Tuesday night.
The Senate is also expected to vote on a measure that would repeal the health law without putting in place any replacement, but that approach does not appear to have enough support to pass, either.
That proposal resembles a bill passed by the Senate in 2015 and vetoed by Mr. Obama in early 2016. But it would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 32 million in 2026, the budget office said.
No good will come from all this, but John Cassidy does note this:
The vote [to start debate] was marked by the dramatic appearance of John McCain, who returned to the Senate for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer. After receiving a standing ovation from his colleagues, McCain cast a vote in favor of McConnell’s motion, and then spoke from the floor of the Senate with great passion.
In fact, McCain said this:
I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us. Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them! They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.
Let’s trust each other. Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.
We’re getting nothing done… We’ve tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the Administration, then springing it on skeptical members, trying to convince them it’s better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition. I don’t think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn’t.
Everyone thought that was wonderful, but Cassidy didn’t:
These were stirring words, and they contained a lot of truth. But what good did this verbal tour de force do? In voting for McConnell’s motion, McCain participated in precisely the sort of cynical partisan political maneuver that he inveighed against. For months now, McConnell has been scheming to shove through a monumentally consequential reform without any hearings, markups, or efforts to reach out to Democrats. After last week, when this scheming looked destined to fail, he called for Tuesday’s vote on the “motion to consider” – even though he had not made clear what sort of measure the members would be taking up.
McCain supported McConnell’s motion. In doing so, he helped enable the Majority Leader to pursue his fallback strategy: getting practically any sort of measure passed and tossing the details of reform over to a Senate-House conference, which would deliberate in secrecy, with little input from anyone outside the GOP leadership.
Cassidy is not pleased:
If he had been following his own advice, McCain would have broken with McConnell and voted against the motion. If the motion had failed, the Republican leadership would have had little choice but to start talks with the Democrats about patching up the Obamacare insurance exchanges and, perhaps, making modest changes to Medicaid. Indeed, earlier this month, after McConnell’s repeal-and-replace bill failed to garner the support of fifty-one Republicans, Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate health committee, announced plans to convene bipartisan hearings on ways to stabilize the individual-insurance markets. Now that McConnell’s motion has passed, such plans are in abeyance.
That may be McCain’s fault – his vote to proceed nullified his “stirring” words – but it may also be that this is beyond anything McCain says or does now:
To be sure, this is only an interim victory for the Republican leadership: the ultimate outcome of their repeal efforts remains uncertain. Even if McConnell succeeds in punting the ball over to a House-Senate conference the full Senate will eventually have to vote on a final piece of legislation, which will have specific terms that can be analyzed and discussed. Getting a final bill passed won’t be easy.
For now, though, the GOP campaign against Obamacare is still alive, and it owes its life to subterfuge. In the House, Speaker Paul Ryan managed to assemble a majority for his bill only by persuading his colleagues that any flaws it contained would be fixed in the Senate. That didn’t happen. Instead, McConnell now wants to abdicate the Senate’s deliberative responsibilities and kick things back to the House.
Still, McCain should have known better:
As McCain noted, these “responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise in order to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.”
For his long record of service to the country, his bravery, and his acerbic streak, McCain is himself widely revered. It is a great pity, indeed a tragedy that he and many other Republican senators didn’t act upon his words.
Well, they may eventually act on his words. Mitch McConnell forced the game into extra innings. Anything can happen in extra innings. Pawtucket may win.
Let it ride, and curiously, there’s another tie game in extra innings in Washington. Devlin Barrett, Philip Rucker and Sari Horwitz provide the play-by-play:
The public standoff between the White House and the nation’s senior law enforcement official took another strange turn Tuesday as President Trump escalated his verbal attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was urged by fellow conservatives to stand his ground.
Trump won’t fire the guy, he’ll only insult and humiliate him, and the guy won’t quit, so there’s just this:
Trump was asked at a Rose Garden news conference if he would fire the attorney general, who angered the president by recusing himself from the criminal probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Trump – a potentially ominous choice of phrase, considering the president used the same expression when talking to FBI Director James B. Comey before he was fired.
“Time will tell, time will tell,” Trump added.
This could go one forever:
“I’m disappointed in the attorney general,” Trump said. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have picked somebody else. It’s a bad thing not just for the president, but also for the presidency. I think it’s unfair to the presidency.”
There’s been much talk about that. It’s not the job of the attorney general to protect the president or the presidency. The attorney general is the nation’s “chief law enforcement officer” – another matter entirely. Trump is a little hazy on how our government works, but he does have his priorities:
He said he wanted Sessions “to be much tougher on leaks in the intelligence agencies that are leaking like they never have before. You can’t let that happen.”
That’s the priority? Who knew? Everyone knew:
It is unheard of for a Cabinet-level official to be subjected to such visceral and public criticism, which has now gone on for a week. But Sessions showed no sign of buckling Tuesday, and in fact his position was bolstered by support from prominent conservatives taking his side in the fight with Trump.
This is a standoff of course, but for good reason:
Trump’s reluctance to act on his anger and fire Sessions may be based in part on the lack of an immediate plan for a successor at the Justice Department. While Trump has discussed potential candidates to replace Sessions, senior White House officials have not settled on anyone, and may not anytime soon, administration officials said. If Sessions were to be fired without even a temporary replacement lined up, the deputy attorney general who oversees the Russia probe, Rod J. Rosenstein, would assume authority over the entire Justice Department.
One Republican close to the White House said a number of senior aides, including newly hired communications director Anthony Scaramucci, have urged Trump to sit down with Sessions and work through their differences. So far, there has been little enthusiasm for that suggestion, the Republican said.
And there’s this:
One informal adviser to the Trump White House said there is another reason Trump has yet to fire Sessions: “The president doesn’t want to be seen as firing another law enforcement official.”
After Trump fired Comey, one unintended consequence was the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.
That means that all that Trump can do is hurl insults:
Earlier Tuesday, Trump had tweeted that Sessions was “very weak” on investigating Hillary Clinton’s “crimes” and had not aggressively hunted those who have leaked intelligence secrets since he has been in office.
The president’s insistence that Clinton be investigated runs contrary to his own past statements, and to the decision by the Justice Department and the FBI last year to close the investigation into her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. Sessions has recused himself from Clinton-related matters, citing his involvement with the presidential campaign as one of Trump’s major advisers.
It looks like Trump will not be able to do what all presidents have, to jail the person who ran against them and lost. No, wait. This isn’t a South American banana republic. Trump is a little hazy on how our government works, and there was push-back:
On Tuesday, Republicans publicly rallied to Sessions’ defense. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Sessions “is among the most honorable men in government today. I have full confidence in Jeff’s ability to perform the duties of his office and, above all, uphold the rule of law.”
And Breitbart, the conservative website, posted an article saying the president’s public attack on Sessions “only serves to highlight Trump’s own hypocrisy” and it warned that the president’s stance could “fuel concerns from his base [which sees] Sessions as the best hope to fulfill Trump’s immigration policies.”
Even among Democrats, Trump’s treatment of Sessions raised concerns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “What’s happening is just terrible. The attorney general did the right thing. The attorney general was nothing but loyal to Donald Trump. He took an oath of office to represent the Constitution, the law and the people.”
Trump is getting hammered on this, and forcing the opposite of what he seems to want:
Current and former Justice Department officials said they hope Sessions holds out, refusing to resign as a means of defending the department’s independence.
One former Justice Department official said the president’s anger seems to stem from a misunderstanding about how the department actually works. The White House, he said, should not be interfering with criminal investigations.
“For those of us that want this administration to succeed, this is incredibly self-destructive behavior,” the official said.
Justice Department employees said the president’s comments are damaging the reputation and morale of the department.
“It’s just insanity,” said one employee who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Another official said there was still hope in the building that Sessions could survive, and that Trump’s fury might abate. “This might be the one instance where everyone else just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on,” the official said.
Everyone just kind of rolls their eyes and moves on these days. Baseball is slow. Extra-innings baseball is even slower, but Betsy Woodruff reports this:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no plans to leave office, as friends say he’s grown angry with President Donald Trump following a series of attacks meant to marginalize his power and, potentially, encourage his resignation.
“Sessions is totally pissed off about it,” said a Sessions ally familiar with his thinking. “It’s beyond insane. It’s cruel and it’s insane and it’s stupid.”
It’s this stupid:
Sessions’ allies say the president’s criticism of the attorney general is counterproductive. Perhaps more than any other member of Trump’s Cabinet, Sessions has been an uncompromising advocate for Trump’s agenda. The attorney general has worked methodically to dismantle Obama’s legacy at the Justice Department: reconsidering the department’s efforts to make troubled police departments change their practices, changing the DOJ’s stance on voter-ID lawsuits, and rolling back former Attorney General Eric Holder’s sentencing guidelines that were aimed at reduced incarceration and balancing out drug-crime-related punishments.
Every pick for a U.S. Attorney’s office that Sessions has made has underscored the administration’s focus on border security. He’s visited the border twice to emphasize a desire to prosecute undocumented immigrants. He’s passionately defended Trump’s so-called travel ban and threatened to withhold funding from “sanctuary” cities.
In the process, he’s become Public Enemy No. 1 for progressives, which makes his targeting by Trump so baffling to those close to him.
Trump is baffling everyone now, and he may not have accounted for this:
Rather than quit, Sessions insiders predict the attorney general will call Trump’s bluff. And unlike other members of Trump’s Cabinet, he has political wiggle room to do so. Trump’s base of support – immigration restrictionists, rank-and-file law-enforcement officials, and states’ rights conservatives – were Sessions’ fans before they flocked to the president. They may very well scoff at the idea that the administration would be better off without its attorney general. Sessions also enjoys continued support in the Senate, where he served for a decade. On Tuesday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) pushed back on Trump’s attacks and called the president’s encouragement that Sessions prosecute Hillary Clinton over her email use “highly inappropriate.”
Trump won’t fire the guy, he’ll only insult and humiliate him, and the guy won’t quit, he’ll gather his allies. We’re going to extra innings. Mitch McConnell won the vote to force the repeal-and-replace healthcare stuff into extra innings and no one knows why. None of what they came up with would work. Anyone have any ideas? That could go on forever too.
Baseball is a slow game. Some find it tedious. This is like that, except all of this is deadly serious. Everyone cannot just kind of roll their eyes and move on. This ain’t Pawtucket after all. And something else rhymes with Pawtucket.