Believe it or not, something good happened in Washington the other day. Trump signed a bill that got overwhelming support from both parties! Trump said stuff that everyone can agree with! And it was actually something substantive!
I’m tempted today to update the Senate Republicans’ pathetic struggle to strip health care from 22 million people — the bill was pulled yesterday for lack of support; during the dealmaking, GOP leaders sidelined Donald Trump because his participation would’ve been counterproductive — but let’s do something else instead. Let’s spotlight a laudable bipartisan achievement.
I’m serious. Believe it or not, something good happened in Washington the other day. Trump signed a bill that got overwhelming support from both parties! The House passed the bill 368-55! The Senate passed the bill 100-0! At the signing ceremony, Trump said stuff that everyone can agree with! And it wasn’t a resolution to praise babies and puppies, it was actually something substantive!
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said it best: “In a hasty partisan environment like we’ve never seen, veterans’ issues can be a unique area for Washington to unite in actually getting things done for ordinary Americans.” True that. Trump promised during his campaign to reform the scandal-marred Department of Veterans Affairs (known as the VA), and last Friday fulfilled the promise by signing a bipartisan bill to make the VA more accountable.
You may remember the most recent scandals, which were exposed by press reporting in 2013 and 2014. Dozens of veterans died because of long wait times at a number of VA hospitals, most notably in Phoenix; two dozen hospitals were caught falsifying data, trying to make it appear that the wait times for appointments were shorter than they actually were. President Obama’s VA secretary, Eric Shinseki, was compelled to quit. (The scandals were exposed by CNN. Trump clearly believes that CNN’s reporting was accurate. But wait, doesn’t he say that CNN is Fake News? But I digress.)
The new law makes it easier for the VA to fire bad employes, and provides more protection for employes who blow the whistle on screwups. Trump said Friday: “What happened was a national disgrace…Our veterans have fulfilled their duty to our nation, and now we must fulfill our duty to them.” Wow. Trump actually said stuff we all can agree with.
As well we should. When the 2014 scandals were exposed, I wrote this: “VA screwups are a bipartisan tradition and require a bipartisan solution…Both parties share the blame for the VA’s shortcomings. Wouldn’t it be swell if they set aside their partisan point-scoring and worked in tandem to fix the agency – and honor those Americans who put their lives on the line?”
Both parties indeed share the blame. The most recent VA scandals broke on Obama’s watch. The previous round of scandals broke on George W. Bush’s watch. His VA secretary, ex-GOP chairman Jim Nicholson, was compelled to admit that Iraq and Afghanistan vets were waiting interminably for medical services. By mid-2007, the VA’s disability claims backlog exceeded 400,000 – at a time when Nicholson was handing out bonuses to top VA officials. And when confronted with the evidence of serious vet treatment shortfalls, he voiced this gem: “When you are treating so many people, there is always going to be a linen towel left somewhere.”
So kudos to both parties — and Trump — for taking a few steps to fix the VA mess. Under the new law, VA secretary David Shulkin (a holdover from the Obama administration!) has more authority to speed the demotion or firing of corrupt or inept underlings. Targeted workers still have time to appeal, though less time than in the past, and they’re off the payroll during the appeals process. Shulkin said Friday, “The purpose of this [law] is not to do firings. The purpose of this is to set the culture and standards at the VA.”
And just for the record, it’s no longer true that Trump has achieved zero on the legislative front. His success tally now stands at one. And virtually everyone likes what he said. Relish the moment, because we may never experience another.
But with respect to health care (because we can’t ignore this week’s biggest story), the stymied Senate Republicans met with Trump yesterday, just to make it appear that he’s involved in the negotiations (he is not). This passage in today’s New York Times is irresistable:
“A senator who supports the bill left the meeting at the White House with a sense that the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan — and seemed especially confused when a moderate Republican complained that opponents of the bill would cast it as a massive tax break for the wealthy, according to an aide who received a detailed readout of the exchange.”
Trump saw that story; this morning he tweeted, “Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare. Wrong, I know the subject well.”
Who should we believe: The delusional narcissist, or the Republicans who keep leaking their disdain?
A hat tip today to my summer research assistant, Dominic Casciato.