By John Krull
INDIANAPOLIS – So, this is what a demolition derby without cars looks like.
The president of the United States, Donald Trump, is running the executive branch of the world’s oldest and most powerful republic as if it were a third-tier reality TV show. Senior administration officials – Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon – spend their time sniping at and scrapping with each other, rather than trying to serve the people who put the president in office.
John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com
Maybe President Trump encourages this squabbling. Maybe he only countenances it. Or maybe he just ignores it.
It’s hard to tell, because the commander-in-chief spends most of his time these days goading and demeaning Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was Trump’s first supporter in the U.S. Senate, via Twitter. The president is angry about the ongoing investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and his ties with that country. He somehow blames the attorney general for his troubles. Trump takes time away from his prolonged temper tantrum only to deliver a stupefying and self-aggrandizing political speech to the apolitical Boy Scouts of America, a speech for which the leader of the scouts then must issue an apology.
All this takes place the U.S. Senate considers a variety of measures to “reform” the nation’s health-care system.
The most draconian of these measures would strip 23 million Americans of their coverage and jack up the premiums for many of those still fortunate enough to have insurance. The most generous of them – the so-called “skinny” repeal of the Affordable Care Act – would have denied health-care coverage to 16 million Americans and increased premiums by 20 percent.
The “skinny” repeal died in a late-night session of the Senate when U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, cast the deciding vote against it. McCain, who is battling brain cancer, had delivered an impassioned speech about the failures of the government and the need for Republicans and Democrats to find ways to work together to serve the public.
McCain’s vote prompted the president to accuse – via Twitter, of course – the Vietnam War hero senator of betraying the nation.
In truth, McCain may have not only served his country’s interests, but saved his party from disaster. It was one thing, seven years ago, to vote to deny people health-care coverage when they didn’t have it. It is another altogether to vote to take health-care coverage away from Americans once they have had it and gotten used to having it.
That’s why polls have shown support for the GOP alternatives to Obamacare topping out at 15 percent.
In some ways, McCain took a hit for the team.
Trump’s slap at McCain wasn’t the president’s only unseemly squabble with a senator. The president also threatened to withhold federal funding from Alaska because U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, hadn’t voted in favor of the health-care proposals.
Murkowski and her Senate colleague from Alaska, fellow Republican Dan Sullivan, responded to this bit of bullying by exercising an ancient Senate prerogative and putting a hold on some of Trump’s appointments.
Murkowski’s and Sullivan’s leverage was increased by the fact that President Trump has been staffing his administration with all the speed and efficiency of an arthritic sloth. (When a president spends 70 percent of his time on social media, certain unimportant things – such as making sure the most powerful nation in the world is running properly – must take a back seat.)
The spats with McCain and Murkowski weren’t the only signs of disaffection between the president and Republicans in the Senate. Several GOP stalwarts in that chamber warned Trump that there would be severe consequences if he fired Sessions, who was their colleague in the Senate for three decades, or Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Congress also passed a veto-proof measure that imposed sanctions on Russia and limited the president’s authority to weaken those sanctions.
All this dysfunction might be mildly entertaining, even amusing, if this were a reality TV show aimed at an audience with a short attention span and no stake in the outcome.
But is it funny when what’s taking place could damage the lives of millions of our fellow citizens and weaken the country we all love?
Not so much.
No, not so much.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.