Note: This is the third installment of The Toilet Zone, a commentary series on the Trump presidency.
“The Tweet speaks for itself.” — Sean Spicer
Just over a week ago on May 4th, I had carpal tunnel release surgery. It occurred on the same day the House of Representatives voted to forward their proposed bill to the Senate, H.R. 1628, The American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA) to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare). My sister Tami, my post-surgery driver and support person and I watched television while we waited for me to be rolled into the operating room. We switched channels between a show featuring men pulling pranks on the unexpecting public, adult cartoons, and the House of Representatives vote live on the AHCA. There wasn’t much thematically separating the three narratives. All three shows could alternatively be entitled, “Men Behaving Badly.”
First a couple of things to note before I continue: I’m grateful that my surgery was covered under Medicare, which my employers and I have contributed to for almost 50 years. I also, since I’m continuing to work part-time, can afford supplemental insurance at an affordable rate to cover what Medicare doesn’t. In addition, I have a prescription plan as well since as an aging baby boomer, my list of prescribed medications grows. My out of pocket costs for all three plans, is comparable to the premiums I paid under my employer’s healthcare plan. Like many Americans, and most people my age, I have pre-existing conditions.
Over the years, I made sure that I maintained continued coverage of health insurance when I was in between jobs, often at great financial sacrifice. COBRA, as outlined on the Department of Labor website, “The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events. Qualified individuals may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102 percent of the cost to the plan.”
Second, regarding Congress, the President’s cabinet, his appointees, advisers, and Federal workers, I understand that women are represented in each group, however, often outspoken women who hold opposing and sometimes neutral views, because of their position, are demonized, fired, or not invited to the table to participate in important, decision and leadership capacities. I’ll talk more about that later, but for all practical purposes — under this administration, we are essentially — a government of men.
Lastly, for readers who are curious, my surgery was successful. My soft cast has been replaced by a hand brace to be worn for the next three to four weeks. The prognosis is excellent and again, I’m grateful I had healthcare coverage. I’ve had carpal tunnel release surgery now on both hands. The probable cause and need for the procedure is for the first 20 years of my working career, I worked with my hands. For the past 30 years I’ve been a writer, either vocationally, or avocationally. Finally, for the last 20 years, both my work and my passions have required the use of a keyboard. My hands (in addition to my head and heart), are the tools of my trade.
Who’s Who: Who’s at the Healthcare Table?
One more disclosure and shout out before proceeding with this commentary, I’m represented in Congress by two amazing people, in the Senate, Tammy Baldwin, and in the House, Mark Pocan. I couldn’t be any happier with the individuals who speak for me and have my full support.
In March when the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, Vice President Pence, Trump, and his cabinet and advisers began writing the first draft of the American Health Care Act, they assembled a group of people charged with the task of repealing Obamacare (ACA), defunding Planned Parenthood, determining coverage for women and people with pre-existing conditions, how to make healthcare more affordable by removing the burden on the healthy and young, create more plans to choose from, and provide tax relief for the very rich (who were unnecessarily burdened, sarcasm intended). They invited a group of men, predominately white, wealthy, and Christian. The photo is now iconic for its lack of women and ethnic diversity.
We all know what eventually happened. After consuming our attention for days, becoming the subject of daily cable news and online reportage, op-ed pieces, and commentary on social media, the House of Representatives discussed the merits of their plan, repeatedly talked about the failure of ACA, and the necessity for repeal. Representatives attempted (and failed for the most part) to defend why it was important to not cover pre-existing conditions and not fund Planned Parenthood at town hall meetings in their districts.
Constituents became vocal, often oppositional, and challenged their elected officials who were unprepared for the response, indicating just how out of touch they were. They failed on two fronts, first, to convince the public and second, to find buy-in from the conservative libertarian and Republican members of the House Freedom Caucus. Trump’s pressure to pass the bill without sufficient support failed and the bill was pulled before a vote. Both Trump and Paul Ryan didn’t get their “win” and Trump failed at being the “great negotiator.”
Who’s Telling the Truth?
In the days following the healthcare bill debacle, the Democrats, and majority of the American public, briefly celebrated a degree of victory and expressed a sigh of relief for the failure of the repeal and replace healthcare bill to proceed to a vote in its current version, while Trump began Tweeting again, preparing for the celebration of his First 100 Days, Tweeting his accomplishments. And then this happened:
April 29: Trump Administration marks its First 100 Days.
May 3: The FBI director, James Comey, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
May 4: After a series of meetings by Paul Ryan and White House advisers between both conservative and moderate Republicans, an amendment was drafted outlining pre-existing conditions that would not be covered to make premiums more affordable and an 8 billion dollar contribution to high risk pools was added to help offset costs for older, less healthy people, and those with pre-existing conditions (see list below). Lobbying followed by both Vice President Pence, and President Trump, to obtain the necessary votes to repeal and replace Obamacare (ACA) and the amended AHCA bill was passed and sent to the Senate for further action. A celebration and photo op followed at the White House.
May 6: Huffingtonpost.com publishes the results of a YouGov Poll comparing the public’s response to both the earlier proposed ACHA bill to the one the House passed on May 6th.
May 8: Former National Intelligence Director, James Clapper, and Former Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, testify before the Senate about the Russian probe. Yates testified about Michael Flynn’s role, his withholding information during his security clearance investigation and his lies regarding meetings with Russian officials, and accepting fees for speaking engagements during the presidential campaign. Sally Yates was widely admired by the media and public for her competent and credible testimony. (Background: Yates held meetings with the White House Counsel Donald McGahn beginning January 26 when she warned McGahn that Flynn was vulnerable for blackmail by the Russians and that he had not told the truth to Vice President Pence. The next day, January 27, McGahn called Yates in the morning and asked if she could come back to his office, and she returned that afternoon. President Donald Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday, January 30, hours after she said the Justice Department would not defend Trump’s executive order on immigration).
May 9: Trump suddenly fires FBI director, James Comey, according to a hand-delivered letter for his poor handling of the Clinton email investigation prior to the election. Both Trump’s spokespeople and advisers are caught unaware by this action and unprepared to comment, while the media begins describing it as Nixonian and reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Massacre” when Nixon fired Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Sean Spicer answers questions by the press following an interview by Fox News outside the White House in the dark with lights off “amongst” the bushes.
May 10: One day following Comey’s firing, Trump met with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador and the press was not invited to the Oval Office, however a Russian photographer took photos. Today, as of this writing, it is being reported by The Washington Post, “President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” Shortly after, The New York Times, published similar reports.
May 11: Trump contradicts his White House staff as well as the vice president, over the timing and reasons for firing Comey. Trump now says he wanted to fire him as early as when he first became President, then contradicted himself again when he claimed he was thinking about the Russian investigation when he made his decision.
Tweedledee & Tweedledum
During a White House press conference on Friday, May 12, following a morning full of Presidential Tweets, when Sean Spicer was asked to clarify Trump’s claims about possible taping of conversations with Comey, he avoids answering the questions by saying only that, “The Tweet speaks for itself.”
The fallout and response to Comey’s firing is getting louder as speculation increases that Trump may be guilty of obstructing justice, especially after his threatening Tweets about the possible taping of conversations between Trump and Comey in an attempt to silence him. There’s increasing pressure for the FBI and both Congressional committees to step up their investigations of the Russian probe and calls for an independent investigation or special prosecutor increase.
Who’s at the Healthcare Table: Episode 2
First, here’s a partial list (according to CNN) of pre-existing conditions that may not be covered under the current draft of AHCA:
- AIDS or ARC
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
- Anemia (Aplastic, Cooley’s, Hemolytic, Mediterranean or Sickle Cell)
- Aortic or Mitral Valve Stenosis
- Bipolar disease
- Cerebral Palsy (infantile)
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
- Cirrhosis of the Liver
- Coagulation Defects
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Demyelinating Disease
- Esophageal Varicosities
- Friedreich’s Ataxia
- Hepatitis (Type B, C or Chronic)
- Menstrual irregularities
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Organ transplants
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Polycythemia Vera
- Psoriatic Arthritis
- Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Renal Failure
- Sex reassignment
- Sjogren’s Syndrome
- Sleep apnea
Today, the healthcare bill moves to the Senate and to add insult to injury — literally and figuratively —there are no women appointed to the committee drafting the Senate bill. Who do you think is missing from this photo and who do you think belongs at the table?
We currently have a government of men, predominately WASPS (upper- or middle-class American white Protestant, considered to be a member of the most powerful group in society) though there are a small number of sheroes (women regarded as heroes) and others who come from ethnic and religious minorities, yet unfortunately they are often not appointed to leadership positions.
We need to have a representative government, a government that truly represents the “We the People” of the Constitution of the United States of America.
Additional Reading from Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!