On Tuesday, after other Republican senators took actual public positions in behalf of their states and settled the issue they'd cowered from, U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman emerged at long last to speak on health-care reform.
The time had come for them to exercise their lack of consequence.
First came Tom, and then, still looking anxiously about, ventured John.
Cotton appeared as he often does on conservative Hugh Hewitt's national radio show. That's the real constituency for his ambition. He said that, since replacing Obamacare was now out of the immediate question, he would of course vote to repeal Obamacare now and replace it later.
That's the old carpentry trick of tearing down a house and saying you'll be back in a couple of years after you've learned to drive a nail.
Cotton surely knew what already was being widely reported: The repeal-without-replacement tactic would not pass. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would schedule a roll call on it merely to let the neediest Republican senators cast a hollow losing-side vote for the idle concept so that they might better survive right-wing hate radio back home.
Speaking of that: Did you see what Joe Scarborough of the MSNBC Morning Joe program wrote Sunday in a guest column in the Washington Post about the Republican Party he has abandoned? He wrote that the GOP wasn't a political party anymore but an "amalgam of talk-radio resentments."
Sure enough, within a couple of hours, three moderate Republican women senators had come forward to do the real work that Cotton and Boozman shirked. They announced that they would vote against repealing without replacing. They believed that carpenters ought not to tear down if they couldn't immediately build anew.
Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska took other Republican senators off the hook. Ohio's Rob Portman, a decent man influenced by a great governor in John Kasich, indicated he'd likely be "no" as well.
That freed as many as 48 Republican senators to play charades with their votes if they wanted. And our two guys sure-enough wanted.
Boozman, who mainly wants to be left alone to take constituents on tours and have his picture taken with them, crept into the public hours later and more cautiously than Cotton.
In midafternoon, long after his three women colleagues had behaved as leaders rather than followers, Boozman gave an interview to Talk Business and Politics in Little Rock, which he had stonewalled for weeks. He said, golly, shucks, doggone, it's too bad we couldn't work everything out, but that, yeah, he'd now vote to repeal Obamacare and worry about replacement later.
Mitch said it'd be all right, and John likes Mitch almost as much as Don likes Vladimir.
Vital Medicaid expansion in Arkansas will continue. If you like Medicaid expansion, Cotton and Boozman will be fine with your thinking they were for it all along. If you oppose Medicaid expansion, they'll be fine with your thinking they were trying their hardest to kill it.
Meantime, the only leading Arkansas Republican figure who behaved well through debate--Gov. Asa Hutchinson--went a little Boozmany on us Tuesday.
With his vital Medicaid expansion money saved and his senators protected from the inconvenience of taking a position, Asa was reminded that he had said days before that it was a "bad idea" to repeal Obamacare without having a replacement locked down. That would be entirely too unsettling for the states, he had said.
But on Tuesday he didn't really want to say that again outright. That's because it would undercut the fine game of charades that Cotton and Boozman were playing.
The governor put out this statement: "I have consistently said it is important to know where we are going with a replacement bill at the same time we repeal. Now it has been announced that the Senate bill does not have the votes. I look forward to discussing any future action with Senator Boozman and Senator Cotton."
I read that statement several times before posting on Twitter that I believed the governor was seeking to send a subliminal message to the discerning reader that he did not support repealing without replacing but didn't see any point of making a big deal of disagreeing with the inconsequential expediencies of his two senators.
I sent the governor's press office a message that I had made a post on Twitter seeking to read between the governor's tap-dance steps, and that I'd delete and correct the post if it was wrong.
I haven't heard anything.
As it turned out, Hutchinson had been confronted in the interim by live Arkansas reporters--an inconvenience of the governor's job--and answered that, yeah, OK, it's a bad idea to repeal without replacing and a bipartisan initiative is needed.
For a governor representing an amalgam of talk-radio resentments, Asa ain't bad.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at email@example.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.
Editorial on 07/20/2017
Print Headline: Face the inconsequential