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Comey Still Won’t Go Away

Try as you might, there’s nothing to find in the news these days except President Donald Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. A Cable News Network reporter tried to do a story on the Republicans’ proposed health care legislation, which was a big deal not long ago and is apparently still something that might happen, but the first question to a couple of politicians was about how Comey’s firing might affect the bill’s chances in the Senate, so of course the conversation never got around to anything else.
There are other things going on with the federal government, too, but for the moment the first thing to ask about almost any of them is how they’re affected by all this Comey business. The Democrats sense an opportunity to use the issue to thwart almost any Trump proposal, and Trump has been seemingly  intent on gold-plating it for them. All the endless stories mention in passing that Trump is entirely within his legal rights to fire an FBI director for any old reason, and briefly acknowledge that both Democrats and Republicans have had their own reasons for wanting to do so over the past election year, but thus far the White House has struggled to make a convincing case of its own.
The official “you’re fired” letter from Trump himself said it was because of the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a newly-hired deputy attorney, who found Comey’s public comments regarding an investigation into the e-mail practices of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton late in the campaign had undermined the public’s faith in his ability, and the was the line that all the obviously unprepared spokespeople parroted the next two days. Those poor spokespeople had to respond to video montages of candidate Trump praising Comey’s “guts” for those same statements, though, and explain why Trump was suddenly so offended on Clinton’s behalf after leading so many rallies in chants of “lock her up,” so the first couple of news cycles went badly. They steadfastly insisted that the president had no choice but to accept the conclusion of that newly-hired deputy attorney general, and of course insisted that it had nothing to with the fact that Comey was heading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government’s meddling in the election.
Trump doesn’t seem the type to follow a newly-hired subordinate’s lead, though, and the Attorney General had promised to recuse himself from anything having to do with the Russian investigation that Comey was heading, and the idea that Russia had nothing to do with it was always going to be a hard sell. Thus Trump found himself sitting down with the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Lester Holt on Thursday and saying, in between frequent interruptions, that “Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation,” and that “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Russia and Trump is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election they should have won.'” He also described Comey as a “grandstander” and “showboat,” and the late night comedy show jokes about Trump describing anyone by those terms pretty much wrote themselves.
He also stated his ardent desire for a thorough and independent investigation of the Russia thing with Russia and Trump, but people will draw their own conclusions about that based on who he picks as Comey’s replacement. One hopes the Trump team will have a exceptionally strong pick and a better-planned public relations roll-out for that story, which is likely to be all that’s in the news for a while, if we’re lucky.

— Bud Norman

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Messing With the President

In case you’ve just tuned into the latest Washington soap opera, and are wondering why the Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to withhold funding for Obamacare even if it leads to a prolonged government shutdown that poses all sorts of political risks for the party, President Barack Obama has offered an explanation. Speaking to a crowd of adorers in Liberty, Missouri, on Friday, Obama said of the Republicans that “They’re not focused on you. They’re focused on politics. They’re focused on messing with me.”
Another explanation would be that the Republicans genuinely loathe Obamacare because of its budget-busting costs, job-killing mandates, bureaucratic inefficiencies, inevitable cronyism and corruption, intrusions into the people’s most private matters, and assorted other problems which are becoming clearer with each step of its implementation, but one can readily understand why Obama would prefer to think that it’s all about him. Harder to understand is how the Republican opposition to Obamacare could be effective politics if it were not focused on the people who overwhelmingly share their disdain or the law, or why Obama is in such a grouchy mood if it’s not effective politics, but he’s no doubt confident that no one will ever get within shouting to distance who would ask such impertinent questions.
In the upcoming public relations battle over Obamacare the Democrats will have a large government-funded propaganda campaign, the constant help of much of the still-powerful media, an army of unthinkingly loyal activists, and of course the presidential bully pulpit, but thus far they are conspicuously lacking in persuasive arguments. The president continues to make all the old promises about health insurance premiums going down and everyone keeping their existing coverage, but even his most faithful fans will be more inclined to believe the bottom line on the bills that come that do or the regretful explanations of their employers who have cancelled longtime benefit packages. The millions of Americans who can find only part-time work will be assured that Obamacare’s requirement that full-time jobs entail costly and time-consuming health care compensation has nothing to do with it, but more and more people are now hearing otherwise from the people doing the hiring. The president is fond of pointing out that although health care costs continue to rise they are doing so at a slower rate, but when the Republicans get a quote or two in the story for the sake of balance they can point out that the rise started slowing back in ’06 when Obama was still voting “present” as an Illinois state senator.
There’s always the Obamacare provision that allows the young folk to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, which is said to be popular, but certainly some percentage of those aging dependents would prefer a full-time job and their own health care plan. Expect to hear a lot about Obamacare’s mandate that insurers cannot deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, which sounds very compassionate and continues to poll well, but the public seems to have figured out that there’s a lot more in that 2,000 page law and the gazillions of pages of resulting regulations than just that.
Nor is it likely to be persuasive if Obama makes it all about himself. There are still some true believers out there who will rally round their president no matter the cause, and have plenty of time to do so between unemployment checks, but after the National Security Agency’s snooping and saber-rattling at Syria and the general lack of hope and change that the administration has generated the numbers seem to be dwindling. As much as some people might still love the president, many would prefer to have a full-time job and are beginning to understand that Obamacare makes it harder to get one. For those less enamored of the president from outset his petty and petulant tone will only exacerbate their dislike and stiffen their resistance as the battle gets uglier.
Republicans aren’t opposing Obamacare just to mess with the president, but if it gets him so obviously annoyed that’s an added bonus.

— Bud Norman