Sunday, July 30, 2017

Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins Are the Real Heroes in GOP Repeal Fail


Yes, technically speaking, John McCain was the senator who cast the deciding vote that torpedoed Mitch McConnell's "skinny" repeal bill, the one that supposedly no Republican, save for maybe Ted Cruz, wanted to pass and that, for some peculiar reason, all of them seemed to believe Paul Ryan would prevent from going to a vote on the floor of the House, which only goes to show that they are as gullible as they are uncaring.

But here's the thing: had it not been for Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine senator Susan Collins, McCain's vote would've been meaningless. That's because their two "no" votes brought the whole thing to a head early Friday morning and set the stage for McCain's dramatic moment of truth. If either of them had succumbed to the pressures exerted by their colleagues - and in the case of Murkowski, to the threats by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke towards her entire state - then the House at this very moment would be attempting to reconcile the Senate and House bills and we would be days, perhaps hours, away from the Affordable Care Act being history.

I won't mince words here [do I ever?]: there aren't a lot of "moderate" Republicans left in the Senate, and even fewer in the House. And those that are left choose their spots very carefully, lest they feel the wrath of their colleagues. For instance, when both Collins and Murkowski joined forces with West Virginia senator Shelley Moore Capito a week ago to prevent a GOP repeal bill from even making it to the floor for debate, all three were viciously attacked by conservative pundits who called their action traitorous.

One of that harshest attacks came from Texas congressman Blake Farenthold, who said he'd like to challenge all three to a duel. "Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are female senators from the Northeast ... If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style." Apparently, Farenthold doesn't know that a) dueling is illegal, and b) West Virginia and Alaska are not in the Northeast. At least not the last time I checked a map.

But Collins and Murkowski, to me, are more than just "moderates"; they are the last of a dying breed. While both are Republicans, neither has been all that shy about challenging their party's orthodoxy when they felt it needed challenging. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the states they represent. Maine has always been something of square peg in a round hole. It has elected Republicans, Democrats and Independents. It's even elected aliens - e.g., Paul LePage. Sorry, I just couldn't resist. I've vacationed in the state several times and it defies categorization, which means that conservative attempts at intimidating Collins are likely to fail. If anything, her courage, in the face of stiff opposition, has probably earned her more, not less, respect among her constituents.

As for Alaska, while it is most assuredly a conservative state - Trump won it by 15 points - by no means is it an ideologically driven one. Let's remember, Murkowski won a three-way race as an independent after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller in 2010. Also, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson got almost 6 percent of the vote last year, a considerably higher percentage than he got in most other states. It appears Alaskans also don't like being bullied around.

Not only do they not take kindly to intimidation tactics, when threatened they respond in kind. After Zinke's little stunt failed to force Murkowski to change her vote, she reciprocated by announcing that, as Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she would be "delaying" hearings for several Trump Administration appointees to the Department of the Interior. A spokesperson for the Committee said the delay was "due to uncertainty of the Senate schedule." Yeah, that's it: uncertainty. I'm going with that. Ain't payback a bitch? Put that in your pipe, Ryan, and smoke it.

Bottom line is this: while I applaud John McCain for having the cajones to stand up to Mitch and the gang, the real heroes of the GOP Senate are two women from opposite ends of the continent, who courageously put country ahead of party, and who did so knowing what the costs would be. And it would behove Democrats to reach out to both and come up with a bi-partisan healthcare plan that will hopefully preempt yet another GOP scheme to kill Obamacare.

And make no mistake about it, we haven't seen the last of Republican efforts at repealing this law.

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