Bill Moyers: Trump Fought the Freedom Caucus over Healthcare and Lost

The most extreme conservatives are capable of holding the House hostage.

Bill Moyers

Look closely at the group photo Vice President Pence proudly tweeted when he met with them last week: not a single woman in it. So in a country where women are in the majority, we have a Freedom Caucus that is defiantly and boastfully unrepresentative in its power over the House of Representatives. (Vice President Pence/ Twitter)

This arti­cle was first post­ed at Bill​Moy​ers​.com.

"How better to satisfy Trump’s insatiable need for spectacle than for him to fiddle as Obamacare crashes and burns, bringing pain and suffering to millions?"

The day after Repub­li­cans pulled the plug on Trump­care (or was it Ryan­care?), the front-page head­line of the tabloid New York Post asked: Is There a Doc­tor in the House?

None were in sight, but there were plen­ty of quacks wield­ing butch­er knives instead of scalpels as they turned the body politic into a bloody mess and left it gasp­ing for life on the floor of the House.

This is the Repub­li­can idea of governance?

Based on the howls emit­ting from the oth­er end of Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue, you might have thought they had ampu­tat­ed the president’s ego. But that would have required a chain­saw while Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger held him down. No, the bel­low­ing and bark­ing from the Oval Office was just the pres­i­dent at his King Kong worst, hurl­ing goril­la dust at Democ­rats for refus­ing to self-destruct by vot­ing for the mon­ster of a health care bill the Repub­li­cans had engi­neered in the House, only to turn on their own cre­ation and at the last minute dri­ve a stake through its heart.

Two days lat­er, Trump was at it again, beat­ing his chest and tweet­ing like a venge­ful god who bruis­es eas­i­ly, this time direct­ing his tirades at the real vil­lains — his fel­low Repub­li­cans, right-wing think tanks and espe­cial­ly the rough­ly three dozen mem­bers of the so-called Free­dom Cau­cus,” the most extreme con­ser­v­a­tives in the House.

When they vote as a bloc these guys — all of them are male — can hold the House hostage and stop any leg­is­la­tion they abhor, and believe me, they always abhor leg­is­la­tion that might enhance free­dom for women. In their House, free­dom” is chron­i­cal­ly mas­cu­line. Look close­ly at the group pho­to Vice Pres­i­dent Pence proud­ly tweet­ed when he met with them last week: not a sin­gle woman in it. So in a coun­try where women are in the major­i­ty, we have a Free­dom Cau­cus that is defi­ant­ly and boast­ful­ly unrep­re­sen­ta­tive in its pow­er over the House of Representatives.

We could see it com­ing back in Jan­u­ary. The Free­dom Cau­cus was out in force like a SWAT team as the House passed the first bill of the Trump era — a sweep­ing anti-abor­tion act mak­ing the pro­ce­dure more expen­sive and hard­er to achieve. The bill rewards pri­vate health insur­ers if they drop abor­tion cov­er­age. It bans abor­tion cov­er­age in mul­ti-state health insur­ance plans except in cas­es of rape, incest or life endan­ger­ment. And it denies women and small busi­ness­es tax cred­its if they choose health plans that cov­er abor­tion. Get the pic­ture? These guys loathe sub­si­dies that help the poor obtain health care, but they lav­ish ben­e­fits on busi­ness­es that will­ful­ly deny women their repro­duc­tive rights.

These lovers of free­dom-up-to-a-cer­tain-point object­ed to the entire­ty of Paul Ryan’s com­pro­mise health care plan last week. They sim­ply don’t want gov­ern­ment health care, peri­od, but they espe­cial­ly were foam­ing at the mouth over its cov­er­age for preg­nan­cy, new­born babies and mater­ni­ty care. These hap­pen to be among the 10 essen­tial health ben­e­fits” that under Oba­macare all health insur­ance plans must pro­vide. But the sovi­et of pale, male and stale in the Free­dom Cau­cus want­ed all 10 pro­vi­sions removed, as if they were mere ves­ti­gial, appen­dix-like polyps instead of life-sav­ing, health-encour­ag­ing mea­sures for the moth­ers of all our children.

The cau­cus also want­ed to end sup­port for a woman’s repro­duc­tive rights so hard won by Planned Par­ent­hood and oth­er groups. In this, Trump, of course, has proved a kin­dred spir­it with the right-wing band of broth­ers on Capi­tol Hill. In one of his first acts as pres­i­dent he signed an exec­u­tive order with­hold­ing U.S. for­eign aid from any inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions that tol­er­ate fam­i­ly plan­ning options that include abor­tion. Ear­li­er this month, he appoint­ed two del­e­gates to the upcom­ing Unit­ed Nations Com­mis­sion on the Sta­tus of Women who believe access to birth con­trol is anti­thet­i­cal to the val­ues and needs of women world­wide.” This, when an esti­mat­ed 225 mil­lion women world­wide want­i­ng to avoid preg­nan­cy lack access to safe and reli­able contraceptives.”

Giv­en this com­mon con­tempt for women’s free­dom, it wasn’t sur­pris­ing last Fri­day when Trump, des­per­ate for a com­pro­mise bill that would pass and hop­ing to appease the Free­dom Cau­cus, yield­ed and agreed to remove the essen­tial 10 ben­e­fits of health care from the Repub­li­can bill. But still no deal. Speak­er Ryan then pulled it off the table, ahead of what would have been a los­ing vote, spar­ing his par­ty the fur­ther humil­i­a­tion of Ryan­care (or was it Trump­care?) going down to defeat as peo­ple across the coun­try watched on tele­vi­sion. Bet­ter to beat the crit­ter to death behind the barn than make a pub­lic spec­ta­cle of its cru­el end out in the open.

(A short detour here: On the morn­ing fol­low­ing Bloody Fri­day, The New York Times did a help­ful analy­sis of the role of this Free­dom Cau­cus. But alas, the writer failed to take us down the mon­ey trail. It would have led to the three largest cau­cus donors: The Club for Growth, a gag­gle of megadonors whose idea of good gov­ern­ment” is one that vows secre­cy for off­shore tax shel­ters; Koch Indus­tries, the vast empire run by right-wing oli­garchs Charles and David Koch; and the Amer­i­can Bankers Asso­ci­a­tion, reput­ed­ly the largest finan­cial trade group in the country.

Get this: The Koch net­work even went so far as to assure mem­bers of the Free­dom Cau­cus and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives who want­ed to vote against the GOP plan that the broth­ers had their backs if they bucked Trump and House Speak­er Paul Ryan. The Kochs want­ed an all-out repeal of Oba­macare, and were will­ing to pay for it.

As Kevin Robil­lard report­ed for Politi­co, they promised a sev­en-fig­ure” slush fund — sor­ry, a reserve fund — to pro­vide finan­cial aid to con­ser­v­a­tive rebels if a venge­ful Trump or Ryan comes after them with an oppo­nent in the next Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry. One top Koch hireling put it this way:

We want to make cer­tain that law­mak­ers under­stand the pol­i­cy con­se­quences of vot­ing for a law that keeps Oba­macare intact. We have a his­to­ry of fol­low­ing up and hold­ing politi­cians account­able, but we will also be there to sup­port and thank the cham­pi­ons who stand strong and keep their promise.”

Promise to whom — the pub­lic or the plu­to­crats? Chris Car­son, the pres­i­dent of the League of Women Vot­ers, was out­raged when she heard about the Koch broth­ers’ offer. The League opposed the Repub­li­can health care plan, though for dif­fer­ent rea­sons than the Kochs. Said the dis­gust­ed Ms. Car­son: The Amer­i­can peo­ple have long believed that cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from big mon­ey and spe­cial inter­ests are bribery, and today’s action shows how true it is. You give me your vote, and we’ll give you the mon­ey.’ That’s just not right.”

But back to Bloody Fri­day. Trumped, so to speak, by his own par­ty, the pres­i­dent by Sun­day was once again his berserk self, tweet­ing his fol­low­ers to watch a cer­tain news show whose host, Jea­nine Pir­ro, called on Speak­er Ryan, the man who was Trump’s ally on Fri­day, to resign.

Hail, Trump; we can only imag­ine the sweet plea­sure it would have giv­en his fes­tooned head if he had been a real Roman Cae­sar, rather than a fake one — ris­ing up in the col­i­se­um, turn­ing thumbs up on one glad­i­a­tor, thumbs down on anoth­er, and then, just for the sheer sadis­tic glee of it, revers­ing his choices.

Who knows that Friday’s deba­cle wasn’t what he want­ed all along? The man thrives on chaos, cru­el­ty and cir­cus, and the hat­ed Oba­macare lives on, name­sake of his pre­de­ces­sor, the Kenyan inter­lop­er who rose to the pres­i­den­cy with­out even a pass­port. How bet­ter to sat­is­fy Trump’s insa­tiable need for spec­ta­cle than for him to fid­dle as Oba­macare crash­es and burns, bring­ing pain and suf­fer­ing to millions?

He made his incli­na­tions clear on Fri­day when he told The Wash­ing­ton Post, The best thing polit­i­cal­ly is to let Oba­macare explode.” Democ­rats would then take the blame and Trump could go off to Mar-a-Lago to con­tem­plate where to wreak hav­oc next.

As was said of an ear­li­er pres­i­dent, he has, after all, the pecu­liar pow­ers as an assailant, and almost always, even when attacked, gets him­self into that atti­tude by mak­ing war upon his accuser; and he has, with­al, an instinct for the jugu­lar and the carotid artery, as unerr­ing as that of any car­niv­o­rous animal.”

That was Pres­i­dent John Quin­cy Adams, as described by Mass­a­chu­setts con­gress­man Rufus Choate. But Choate not­ed a qual­i­ty Adams pos­sessed that Trump does not: untold trea­sures of facts, and they are always at his com­mand.” Trump’s slip­pery grasp of alter­na­tive facts” doesn’t count. Not that it ever stops him.

Mean­while, the best line of the week went to Minor­i­ty Leader Nan­cy Pelosi. The Repub­li­can health plan, she said, would have made being a woman a pre­ex­ist­ing condition.”

Bill Moy­ers is the pres­i­dent of the Schu­mann Cen­ter for Media and Democ­ra­cy and the host of Bill Moy­ers Jour­nal on PBS.
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