Tag Archives: Susan Brooks

Those Republican “Moderates”

I have frequently noted how far today’s GOP has traveled since my days as an active Republican. I’m not alone, of course, in describing the differences between the party of Eisenhower and even Reagan, and today’s radical Rightists–Facebook posts routinely include surprising quotes from former Republican presidents, and one recurring item contrasts the party’s 1955 platform with the party’s more recent–and far more “anti-government” iterations.

One result of this steady move rightward is a change in meaning of the term “Moderate.” Republican elected officials are now considered moderates if they refrain from explicitly racist and sexist rhetoric, occasionally smile, and exhibit social skills.

Before awarding a “moderate” label to today’s politicians, however, it is instructive to visit Nate Silver’s blog, where he tracks how often every member of the House and Senate votes with or against Donald Trump, who–whatever he is–is certainly no moderate.

Demonstrating how utterly meaningless the “moderate” label has become, the blog contains an excellent example from central Indiana’s Fifth District. Representative Susan Brooks is often favorably compared to some of our more outlandish and vocal elected troglodytes; she is certainly more pleasant in public. She is intelligent, and she discharged her prior government service (as a Deputy Mayor and U.S. Attorney) with competence.

Whether her voting record reflects her political philosophy or her desire to avoid being primaried is an open question. What isn’t in question is the utter lack of moderation in that voting record.

Here is the summary from Silver’s blog:

Trump score
How often Brooks votes in line with Trump’s position
Trump margin
Trump’s share of the vote in the 2016 election in Indiana’s 5th District minus Clinton’s
Predicted score
How often Brooks is expected to support Trump based on Trump’s 2016 margin
Trump plus-minus
Difference between Brooks’s actual and predicted Trump-support scores
97.6%
+11.8
88.6%
+9.0

As the scores indicate, her support for Trump exceeds what the demographics of her district would predict. (A list of the specific votes follows the reproduced chart on the  website.)

Lest I be accused of picking on Brooks, let me acknowledge that she is only one example of a supposed “moderate voice” whose actions fail to match their public demeanor. Jeff Flake is an example of someone who has gotten laudatory press for his recent book criticizing Trump, but when it came time to vote on the ACA’s “skinny repeal,” he obediently fell into line. John McCain regularly earns plaudits for being a “maverick,” but McCain has been only slightly more likely than the average senator to vote against his party.

As usual, Paul Krugman cuts to the chase:

When we look at the degeneration of American politics, it’s natural to blame the naked partisans — people like Mitch McConnell, with his principle-free will to power, or Ted Cruz, with his ideological rigidity. And Trump has, of course, done more to degrade his office than any previous occupant of the White House.

But none of what is happening right now would be possible without the acquiescence of politicians who pretend to be open-minded, decry partisanship, tut-tut about incivility and act as enablers for the extremists again and again….

Consider, for example, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — whose state has benefited enormously from the Affordable Care Act. “I didn’t come here to hurt people,” she declared not long ago — then voted for a bill that would quadruple the number of uninsured in West Virginia.

Or consider Rob Portman of Ohio, who cultivates an image as a moderate, praises Medicaid and talked big about the defects of Republican health plans — but also voted for that bill. Hey, in Ohio the number of uninsured would only triple.

There are only two Republican Senators one can truly label moderate and principled–Collins and Murkowski. If there are any genuine GOP moderates in the House, they sure don’t come from Indiana.

They Run (for Office) and They Hide….

The unremitting chaos in Washington has triggered a number of Town Halls in which GOP members of Congress have faced rooms filled with angry constituents. As a result, a number of other Representatives have evidently decided against holding such events.

Not surprisingly, hiding from the people you represent hasn’t made those constituents very happy. Their reactions have varied.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a woman who lives in Indiana’s Fifth District, represented by Congresswoman Susan Brooks. She told me that she and several of her friends and neighbors had been frustrated by Brooks’ unwillingness to hold a Town Hall, so they decided that they would organize a meeting and invite her. If she wasn’t going to take the initiative, they would.

A meeting was organized via Facebook and word of mouth, and at 2:00 in the afternoon of May 13rth, approximately 120 5th District constituents gathered at the Sullivan Muncie Cultural Center in Zionsville.

Brooks declined to appear, nor did she send a representative, so the organizers set up an empty chair with her photo and proceeded to conduct a meeting without her.

According to her report, the voters who gathered at the Cultural Center were there primarily to voice their very serious concerns about the GOP Healthcare Plan, although  several other issues were raised as well.

Given the Congresswoman’s reluctance to attend either in person or through a surrogate, the organizers anticipated an effort to dismiss attendees as “agitators” or people from outside the district; in order to rebut any such claims, they prepared a “sign in” book in which those present provided their names, addresses and emails.  During the meeting, each voter was offered an opportunity to speak, to fill out a card with questions for Ms. Brooks, and to sign a large paper scroll expressing their views. The organizers plan to deliver these items to Brooks’ office.

The constituents who spoke at the nearly three-hour meeting shared stories of people with pre-existing conditions, children with ongoing medical needs, and people injured on the job who then saw those jobs eliminated. They  talked about the extent to which they and their families would be harmed by the repeal of Obamacare and its replacement by the current iteration of the GOP healthcare bill.  Some cried.

At the conclusion of the emotional meeting, those in attendance agreed to redouble efforts to meet face to face with Congresswoman Brooks. With or without the Congresswoman, however, they are determined to hold a series of Town Hall Meetings throughout the 5th District.

What is remarkable about this–at least to me–was the event’s genesis and spontaneity. I’ve complained bitterly over the years about Hoosiers’ civic apathy and lack of political engagement, our embarrassingly low voter turnout…Yet here in central Indiana, with no partisan sponsorship, no encouragement from activist organizations, no donations from any lobby or special interest group, ordinary voters got together and demanded to be heard.

It will be fascinating to watch this new democratic (small d) wave play out, not just in Indiana but in Congressional districts across the country. Will elected officials listen? If not, will they be voted out? How safe are those safe, gerrymandered districts?

What’s that old saying? They can run but they can’t hide….

 

Despicable and Inexcusable

When I sat down to write about yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House, I discovered that Paul Waldman had beaten me to it, with a column so detailed and scorching that there is no way I could equal it.

Waldman titled his piece “Every Republican Who Voted for this Abomination Must be Held Accountable.” His words fairly sizzle on the screen–and for good reason.

I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable.

Waldman starts with process criticisms: the GOP passed this bill without holding  a single hearing on it. They were desperate to hold the vote before the Congressional Budget Office could issue a report describing its effects. Hardly anyone had an opportunity to read the damn thing. And as Waldman points out, “all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives.”

In contrast, the Affordable Care Act (which Republicans constantly claim was “rammed through”) was debated for an entire year and was the subject of dozens of hearings.

Waldman notes that every major stakeholder organization vocally opposed this bill:  the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and on and on.

But then he gets to the horrifying details. Quoting from his exhaustively researched article:

  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Produces higher deductibles for patients.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.

One significant item Waldman’s list omits: the measure also defunds Planned Parenthood.

Every single Indiana Republican voted to do this to the American public and the citizens of Indiana.

I expected those votes from Rokita, Walorski, Banks and Bucshon, and I’m disappointed but not surprised by Messer and “Tennessee Trey.” But I am disgusted by Susan Brooks, because I’ve known her a long time; unlike her colleagues, she’s highly intelligent–and she knows better. I’ve watched her abandon integrity in vote after vote (during her first two years, her voting record was virtually indistinguishable from that of Michelle Bachmann.) I’ve watched her hide from her constituents during the recent Congressional recess. And now, I’ve watched her obediently vote with the lunatic caucus of her party for legislation that is not only absolutely indefensible, but will disproportionately harm women. It makes me physically ill.

Again, Waldman says it best:

Perhaps this bill will never become law, and its harm may be averted. But that would not mitigate the moral responsibility of those who supported it. Members of Congress vote on a lot of inconsequential bills and bills that have a small impact on limited areas of American life. But this is one of the most critical moments in recent American political history. The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.

If Hoosiers (and other Americans) don’t begin working right now to defeat every single Representative who voted for this cynical assault on decency and basic humanity, we deserve what we get.

Who, Exactly, Is Susan Brooks?

Yes, Indiana is a reliably red state. But there are measurable differences among our urban, suburban and rural Republicans.

Indiana’s Fifth Congressional District lies largely in Hamilton County. If survey research is to be believed, many Hamilton County Republicans tend to be “old-fashioned” members of the Grand Old Party, in the sense that they have more in common with the party of Hudnut and Lugar than that of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

Presumably conscious of the character of this portion of her constituency, GOP Representative Susan Brooks has generally presented herself publicly as “moderately moderate”–an unthreatening throwback to the good old days when Republicans who described themselves as “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” were still welcome in the party.

Those of us who knew her before she ran for Congress certainly believed her to be a moderate, and the positions she chooses to publicize do little to disabuse voters of that impression; they tend to address issues having broad bipartisan appeal, like her recent statements on opoid addiction. Her voting record, however, is very different.

Indeed, her voting history was virtually indistinguishable from that of Michelle Bachmann, before the latter left Congress.

Most recently, Brooks participated in a GOP turnaround (aka “dirty trick”) in order to protect federal contractors who discriminate against LGBT employees:

The hugely symbolic fight on the House floor that most Americans probably missed is worth revisiting. The provision at issue seeks to repeal nondiscrimination protections that President Obama extended to LGBT employees of federal contractors in 2014. And although the final vote tally originally showed a majority of lawmakers—including 35 Republicans—voting against the measure, the Republican leadership did some quick arm-twisting among its members, resulting in a seven-vote turn around that kept the anti-LGBT portion intact.

Chaos momentarily erupted on the floor with Democrats chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer taking to the floor to demand answers for how the vote changed after the clock had run out.

It was the capper to a week in which GOP lawmakers across the country made clear that they will indeed force LGBT issues into the headlines this election cycle, even though it originally appeared that gay and transgender issues would mostly be on the back burner.

Brooks was one of the seven who “turned around” their votes, and went on record as approving of discrimination against LGBT workers.

I would never have anticipated that the reasonable Susan Brooks I thought I knew would become a steadfast opponent of civil rights for gays and lesbians, or that she would sponsor a measure prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, or vote against the Lilly Ledbetter Act requiring equal pay for women, or that she would vote repeatedly to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or to prevent the EPA from regulating toxic emissions, or join in the discredited and dishonest Benghazi witch hunt, or vote to defund Planned Parenthood, or …well, the list goes on.

(UPDATE/CORRECTION: I received an email from Rep. Brooks office, saying that–despite the newspaper report I read that triggered this post, she was not one of the seven “switchers” identified in the article I relied upon. I asked a lawyer friend to check that assertion, since I’m out of town in full-day meetings, and this was his response: “Here’s what I’ve found; it is true that Susan was not among the 7 who switched their votes at the last minute from “yes” to “no” on Thursday — but that’s because she voted NO at the outset. Here’s roll call on it: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2016/roll226. This is apparently a “switch” in position–hence the language in the article you saw– but it relates to the fact that she apparently supported some similar non-discrimination measure last year, but this year (last Thursday) she voted against the similar measure. I’m not entirely sure what the difference was in the two measures, but apparently the one last week would have withheld funding to discriminating organizations. So did she switch from yes to no LAST WEEK? Nope. She voted “NO” at the outset, having “switched” her position from last year. This probably accounts for the confusing newspaper report you read.” I was also mistaken about the Lilly Ledbetter vote–although all Republican House members did vote against it, that vote occurred prior to Brooks’ election. Although I regret my errors–I really try to be accurate in this blog–none of this rebuts my central point about the Congresswoman’s overall voting record.)

I don’t know who the “real” Susan Brooks is. Perhaps–as many Hamilton County voters obviously believe–she doesn’t really believe in the regressive measures she consistently supports. Perhaps she’s just constructing a voting record intended to avoid a potential primary challenge, or to ingratiate herself with Congressional colleagues who can advance her career, or to position herself for a Senate race in which appealing to more rural, deep-red GOP voters will be important.

Or perhaps she really is a somewhat less crazed, blond version of Michelle Bachmann.

In other words, she is either utterly devoid of integrity, or a genuinely right-wing ideologue.

Either way, she’s been a massive disappointment to those of us who once thought much better of her.

 

 

Dr. Faustus, I Presume?

The term, “Faustian bargain” refers to the deal struck between Goethe’s Dr. Faust and the devil: the devil will do everything that Faust wants while he is alive, and in exchange Faust will serve the devil in Hell. (See also: selling one’s soul.)

Since the GOP’s capture by its extreme fringe, moderate Republicans have had to decide whether to leave office (Olympia Snowe), leave the party (Charlie Crist et al), stay and argue for moderate policies and risk losing to a True Believer (Dick Lugar et al) or accept the Faustian bargain by falling in line with the Tea Party agenda.

Indiana Representative Susan Brooks has fallen in line.

I knew Susan for over 25 years as an intelligent and reasonable individual. Then she ran for Congress, portraying herself as a far-Right conservative. Those of us who knew the more moderate incarnation chalked that up to a primary in which the candidates were trying to out-conservative each other, and assumed that once elected, she would be the moderately conservative person we’d known, but the new, partisan Susan Brooks has proved more durable–and disappointing.

In Congress, her party-line voting record has been so extreme, it’s earned her a 92% approval from Concerned Women for America–and you can’t get much crazier than CWA.

Now, she’s joined the “Select Committee” that will be investigating Benghazi for the 14th time.

The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen–a frequent critic of the Obama Administration–noted his bemusement over the GOP’s obsession with Benghazi.

I recognize it as a transparent Republican attempt to provide the party’s base with grist for its fantasy mill. Is it possible the Obama administration fudged the nature of the attack, refusing to apply the term “terrorist”? Yes, of course. Did the White House spinmeisters put their hands all over it? Could be. But is any of this so momentous that it has required 13 public hearings and now a select House committee that will delve and delve feverishly — for what?

Sometimes you have to choose: sell your soul to appease a rabid base, or refuse to play that game.

Congresswoman Brooks has clearly made her choice.