The following editorial appeared in Newsday on Tuesday, Aug. 1:
Any health care plan that satisfies only one of our major political parties is never going to satisfy enough of our nation’s people.
Democrats proved this with the Affordable Care Act. The party passed the plan without a Republican vote in the House or the Senate, and seven years later it’s clear that the law largely cost Democrats control of both chambers of Congress. Now it’s Republicans’ turn to call the plays and to leave Democrats out of the huddle. But even while holding majorities smaller than the Democrats had in 2009, and with less-than-unanimous support in its own fold, the GOP has been unable to pass health care reform. The party has, though, managed to craft its own deeply unpopular legislation.
It’s time to understand history, rather than doom ourselves to repeat it. It’s time the parties worked together to craft a plan that can satisfy more Americans and, more important, provide for their needs.
And maybe this is the beginning. In his inspiring return to the Senate floor last week, cancer-stricken GOP Sen. John McCain, known for his bipartisanship, said each side “must give a little to get a little.” Then he personally drove the last nail into the coffin of the GOP’s current plan.
On Monday, a collection of 44 House members called the Problem Solvers Caucus, half Democrats and half Republicans, released its own starting point for a plan. It includes stabilizing the individual insurance market, repealing the 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, moving the mandated size at which companies must provide insurance from 50 workers to 500 and creating groups of states in which insurance could be sold across state lines.
Other groups are also working on consensus ideas, from making premiums for people who buy their own coverage tax deductible to letting states have more options. Rep. Thomas Suozzi, the New York Democrat who is vice chairman of the Problem Solvers, said, “What’s more important than the specific proposals is that we’re working together, because that’s what people want. This is serious stuff. People are scared.”
Americans are caught in the middle of GOP extremists who claim they can improve care by taking away people’s coverage and Democrats who demand single-payer universal coverage. It’s going to take a solution from the middle to set the nation free.
Some White House leaks are very much worth investigating
The following editorial appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune on Saturday, Aug. 5:
On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that a major crackdown on federal government leaking is under way — and underscored his seriousness by standing alongside Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Sessions said the Justice Department has “more than tripled” the number of leak investigations that the Obama administration had open. Obama’s administration, of course, was far more aggressive than all others in targeting leaks it saw as harming national security.
Sessions’ response to what he called a “staggering number of leaks” needs to be considered thoughtfully, not reflexively trashed or defended. A day earlier, The Washington Post had published transcripts of President Trump’s phone calls in January with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In May, The Intercept posted a transcript of an April call between Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Such leaks have no precedent, and the White House is right to find them alarming.
But given that Trump seems furious over all leaks, there are reasons to worry that he’ll urge Sessions to subpoena reporters over stories with leaks that are merely embarrassing to the White House. That would be an abuse of power — not just an attempt to find leakers but to intimidate journalists.
With his Russian probe recusal, Sessions has — to some degree — shown spine in his dealings with Trump. He may need to show more going forward.
Keep up the cancer fight
The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday, Aug. 4:
In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer, announcing plans to pour more than $100 million into finding a cure for the disease.
The ensuing National Cancer Act of 1971 has not been able to defeat cancer, but it laid the groundwork for research that has put a major dent in mortality rates. Cancer deaths fell more than 25 percent between 1990 and 2014.
Researchers were rightfully alarmed when President Donald Trump’s proposed budget included a $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health, which funds much of the nation’s cancer research. Cuts of that magnitude could set researchers back years. Both Congress and the public are likely to object.
During his 2016 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, headed by then-Vice President Joe Biden, who said he was not declaring his own war on cancer but trying to finish the war Nixon started more than 45 years ago.
Biden has continued his commitment to the goal since leaving office.
In June, he and his wife, Jill Biden, launched the Biden Cancer Initiative. Their venture is promoting collaboration between leading researchers and also building an open-access cancer database, which includes genomic and clinical data for cancer patients.
The data aid researchers in looking for a cure, but also patients researching available treatments.
More than anything, Mr. and Mrs. Biden are adding a sense of urgency to the cancer war. Their son, Beau Biden, died of a glioblastoma in May 2015. Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy died of the same type of brain tumor in 2009. And recently, it was announced that Republican Sen. John McCain also has a glioblastoma, an aggressive tumor that typically kills within 15 months of diagnosis.
Cancer knows no party affiliation. In these days of partisan bickering, efforts to eradicate the disease should receive bipartisan support, and researchers should receive any help they need. Mr. and Mrs. Biden have energized the efforts, and now McCain’s diagnosis makes the disease even more personal for members of Congress. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.7 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year. We must persevere. We cannot go wobbly in this fight.
Crisis in Venezuela needs a rapid response
The following editorial appeared in the Star Tribune on Friday, Aug. 4:
Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship accelerated this week with a bogus vote to create a Constituent Assembly that would be tasked with rewriting the country’s constitution. This comes on top of other assaults on democratic institutions like the judiciary and the news media, as Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro cements his ruinous rule.
While efforts to resist and reverse the repressive regime have not and will not be easy, Venezuelan citizens and Western Hemisphere governments, including and especially the United States, need to keep up the pressure.
The July 30 vote to pack the new body with regime loyalists was boycotted by the opposition, and there are allegations that even the preordained outcome was tainted by fraud. “The real reason the Constituent Assembly was convened is to take away any remaining power that exists in a democracy,” Jason Marczak, a director at the Atlantic Council’s Latin American Center, told an editorial writer. “The democratic checks that exist in the country will most likely be erased … so we’re headed into a really extremely volatile situation.”
That situation has been building since the despotic drift under Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s presidential predecessor, who died in 2013. Maduro lacks Chavez’s charisma but also did not inherit his era of high oil prices, which at least temporarily paid for the socialist government’s reckless disregard for market forces. Now, despite having among the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is on pace to be among the poorest countries in the hemisphere.
The repression intensified on Tuesday, when two prominent opposition mayors were hustled from house arrest to detention. But outside pressure has ratcheted up, too, including the imposition of new U.S. sanctions on key government officials, including Maduro himself.
“The Venezuelan government’s push for total control — despite evidence of a vast majority of people who are opposed to the government, despite the terrible economic conditions and scarcities which are being suffered — means that some international response is essential,” Ivan Briscoe, program director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group, told an editorial writer. Briscoe added that despite the worthy objective, any additional sanctions must not exacerbate citizens’ misery but must be targeted at regime figures.
That’s true, but clearly more must be done to save Venezuela and the region from Maduro’s chaotic and cruel rule.
It’s never OK to joke about roughing up suspects
The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Thursday, Aug. 3:
The commander in chief’s authority does not extend to America’s police forces. And that’s a very good thing, because President Donald Trump seems to think it’s OK to punch out political dissidents and for police to abuse suspects in their custody.
Speaking to law enforcers in New York on Friday, Trump suggested that they perhaps are a little too kind to the people they arrest for serious crimes. He suggested that sometimes a little roughing-up might be in order. He mimicked the way police officers typically cover the head of handcuffed suspects before putting them in the back seat of a squad car.
“And when you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice,” Trump said, apparently diverting from his written text.
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away. OK?”
No, not OK. Not anywhere close to OK.
The White House claimed Monday that Trump was joking. If so, it wasn’t funny. And given the current heightened tension over police abuse, Trump had no business making fun of the crucially important topic of civil rights. The acting chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration took the comments so seriously, he publicly disavowed them as “wrong.”
Any president or other official who would make such remarks clearly doesn’t understand the fundamentals of American jurisprudence. All suspects, whether arrested for jaywalking or murder, are presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. The burden rests entirely on the prosecution to prove a suspect’s guilt. The suspect does not have to prove his or her innocence.
Police officers have no explicit or implied permission to rough-up suspects or administer street justice just because they’re convinced of a suspect’s guilt. Giving them such permission would unleash a cascade of abuses unlike anything we’ve experienced in the years since videos began surfacing of police officers kicking, beating, abusing or shooting the suspects in their custody.
We can think of no quicker way to undermine public faith in the law enforcement system than for the president to be seen advocating deliberately rough treatment of those in police custody. He could not be more wrong — or more un-funny.
At what point will this president begin to understand that his words influence others’ actions and can lead to severe consequences? Trump is utterly incapable of apologizing, we know. But this is one instance where he should retract his own impromptu remarks and learn to stick to his script.
John Kelly must quell the White House chaos
The following editorial appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday, Aug. 2:
The installation of John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, as White House chief of staff is the best personnel move that President Donald Trump could make. Kelly proved immediately that he does not suffer fools gladly or in any other mood, forcing out Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. In his 11 indelible days of service, Scaramucci may have demonstrated affection and loyalty to the president, but the voluble financier served only to encourage the worst tendencies of Trump. The task ahead of Kelly is enforcing discipline in the fractious West Wing staff — which includes the occupant of the Oval Office.
Trump adviser Newt Gingrich told The Wall Street Journal that Kelly will be given more power than his predecessor, Reince Priebus, a Republican Party fixture who never gained traction. Gingrich, the former House speaker who often speaks frankly about the president, remarked that “Trump, of course, reserves the right to cause chaos himself,” but qualified the quip by noting that the president “likes an orderly system.” Indeed, Trump is drawn to things military and is fond of heeding the counsel of “my generals.” It’s not a stretch to cite the president’s high school years at the New York Military Academy as a formative experience. Sent to the private school by his hard-driving father in order to get his rambunctiousness under control, the young “D.T.” thrived in the rigorous atmosphere (while pushing social rules to their limits). Kelly is a four-star general who served in Iraq and later oversaw the U.S. Southern Command. He could well remind Trump of his youthful experience — another round of military school.
Yet Kelly, 67, brings more than martial discipline to the White House. Over the course of his career, he was legislative assistant to the commandant of the Marine Corps, followed by stints as senior military adviser to defense secretaries during the Obama administration. Both of those roles required him to comprehend the byways of Washington, where not everyone snaps to attention upon mere command. That experience was a prelude to becoming secretary of homeland security, where he demonstrated the prized characteristic of public loyalty to Trump but never to the point of obsequiousness. A military professional to the core, Kelly has always pledged loyalty to the country, not a political party.
The rise of Kelly reflects Trump’s acknowledgement that he needs to be disciplined or the White House chaos will only get worse. If the former Marine commander can enforce parameters on presidential Twitter use, all the better.