I could write a book on the week that was in American politics, but for brevity purposes, I’ll keep it a tad shorter.
Newt Gingrich Being Newt Gingrich
Earlier this week, former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich lived up to his longstanding reputation for breathtaking hypocrisy by opening up a line of attack against special counsel Robert Mueller that suggested Mueller is a partisan hack, is “the anti-Trump special counsel,” and is operating out of allegiance to the so-called “deep state.” Of course, when Mueller was appointed to the position — last month — Gingrich tweeted out that the former head of the FBI was a man whose “reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity.” That’s just Newt being Newt.
One should expect nothing less from a politician who led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton for having an extramarital affair at the same time that was having an extramarital affair with his now third wife.
Still, Friday morning, Gingrich practically outdid even himself when he said, “The president of the United States cannot obstruct justice.”
Article III of the impeachment of Bill Clinton, passed while Gingrich served as speaker, was for a charge of, wait for it, obstruction of justice.
All of this is your semi-regular reminder that there are few more cynical and hypocritical politicians in America than Newt Gingrich. He will say and do anything and attack anyone if he thinks it will bring him the most narrow of political or personal advantage.
In many ways, he should be the lodestar of our currently horrible political moment.
For nearly 40 years he’s ambled about on the stage of American politics, leaving a coarsened, angry and deeply divisive political narrative in his wake. Years from now, when the history of our polarized political era is written, few national politicians will fare as badly as Gingrich — and few will be more deserving of the opprobrium that will be heaped upon him.
Bob Mueller Is Toast
Speaking of Bob Mueller, when word leaked this week that the president is under criminal investigation for obstructing justice, the question of Trump trying to fire Mueller went from “if” to “when.” I’d put the odds at well above 50 percent.
Trump, however, cannot fire Mueller directly. Only the attorney general can do that and since Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation it would be up to the number two person at the Department of Justice, Ron Rosenstein. The chances of Rosenstein dismissing Mueller are likely quite thin, but like the Saturday Night Massacre of the Watergate scandal I’d imagine that Trump will find someone at Justice to do his bidding. If Trump succeeds, it will be up to Congress to step in and either restore Mueller to the position or begin impeachment proceedings. If you can find odds in Vegas for doing nothing . . . I’d take those.
This is how democracy dies: Congress allowing an authoritarian-minded president to get away with breaking the law and obstructing justice and sitting on its hands. Very soon this challenge for Congress to put country ahead of party, which has already been tested numerous times in the last five months by President Trump, will be tested again. Don’t bet on Congressional Republicans passing.
Maybe Mitch McConnell Isn’t Quite the Brilliant Tactician We Thought He Was
Mitch McConnell is no dummy. If anything, he’s one of the smartest, if utterly soulless and deeply cynical, political operators in Washington. His strategy of mindlessly obstructing every legislative initiative of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party won Republicans control of the House of Representatives in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. He singlehandedly stole a seat on the Supreme Court for the GOP by blocking Obama’s replacement pick for the court after the death of Judge Antonin Scalia.
But while McConnell excels at obstruction, getting things done is not exactly his strong suit — case in point is the current Senate health care debate. Now to be sure I really shouldn’t be using the word “debate” because an actual debate would mean that the Senate is openly and publicly examining ways to improve health care outcomes in America, not plotting a radical transformation of one-sixth of the US economy behind closed doors.
Nonetheless, McConnell’s strategy of writing a terrible health care bill that will take health care away from millions of Americans with no public hearings, no transparency, and has as its only objective getting a majority of Republican senators to support it is looking increasingly dubious. The unprecedented secrecy of the process is a good indication of how bad the Senate bill will be, but here’s the thing: people will eventually find out what’s in it, especially if it passes the Senate.
Why would Senate Republicans want to vote “yea” on a bill that they don’t completely understand, hasn’t been vetted, and will likely cause unmitigated harm and suffering to tens of millions of registered voters? McConnell’s strategy might make sense if the bill in question was popular, but not if the bill is a raging dumpster fire. A poll from last month showed the House health care bill garnering an approval rating of 21 percent.
That’s Ebola-level popularity.
Now defenders of McConnell have argued that the Republican base is demanding repeal, but where’s the evidence of this? And let’s say Republicans voters say they rhetorically support Obamacare repeal — wouldn’t that be more than offset by the potential damage the GOP health care bill will do the party among every other voter in America? It’s an open question as to whether Republicans will continue to support Obamacare repeal if they believe the alternative is worse. And considering that alternative will undoubtedly be worse, why would Republicans want to take this risk?
Why Senate Republicans would support a strategy that is the legislative equivalent of driving the GOP Senate caucus off a cliff is beyond me, but that very much appears to be what McConnell is doing. For a supposed strategic genius, this doesn’t strike me as overly genius behavior.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.