Monday Review: Gerrymandering, Russia, and Health Care

Alan Zendell, June 19, 2017

Gerrymandering

Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Supreme Court would be addressing gerrymandering in its current session https://wordpress.com/post/americathebeautiful.blog/801. They are now poised to take up a Wisconsin case in which the lines drawn by the Republican legislature were ruled illegal by a lower court. Before they began to debate it, SCOTUS stayed the lower court ruling so that Wisconsin wouldn’t have to re-draw the lines before the court issues its final ruling. Some people think that’s a bad sign for the plaintiff (the people challenging the current district lines.) On its face the decision to stay the lower court ruling isn’t unreasonable, though it virtually assures that whatever the final decision, the current district lines will remain in place for the 2018 election.

In ruling the lines unconstitutional, the lower court didn’t specify which measurement standard convinced them, though several approaches were mentioned. The plaintiffs based their argument on the Efficiency Gap which I described in my earlier article. That’s notable because of the comments accompanying a 2006 Supreme Court decision, which mentioned it as a possible way to resolve the matter.

Simply put, the Wisconsin case arose because in the first election after the current district lines were enacted, the Republicans won 61% of the legislative seats while capturing only 48.6% of the vote. Whether SCOTUS decides they got there fairly or in violation of the Constitution, this case could determine the political landscape across the United States for the next decade. As in the past, Justice Anthony Kennedy will likely cast the deciding vote.

Russia

As if the Russia investigation needed another bizarre twist, the country was treated, Sunday, to Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s attorneys, appearing on every news channel he could find, making the argument that when Trump himself said he was being investigated for obstruction of justice he didn’t mean it. In one of the most meaningless, convoluted arguments we’ve heard yet, he tried to make the case that Trump was only responding to reports in the Washington Post, and in fact, he is not under investigation. If that seems to make no sense, that’s because it doesn’t.

Such statements are true tests of the blind loyalty of Trump’s base. There is no way any intelligent person could come away from Sekulow’s statements without realizing that they are complete nonsense intended to distract attention from the real issues.

Speaking of which, we seem to be drifting toward ever more dangerous confrontations with Moscow. Under normal circumstances shooting down a Syrian warplane would be an obvious act of war, but no one seems to care much about rules or laws in Syria these days. The downed Syrian warplane was a surrogate for the Russian military presence there, so what’s really happening is that Putin and Trump are beginning a game of chicken that could lead anywhere. Neither man has a reputation for backing down or losing face, though Putin is clearly better at statesmanship.

The most serious risk we face as a nation is that Trump may feel even more driven than usual to stick to his mantra of constantly attacking and never backing down because of the investigation of possible collusion with Russia and his repeated praise of Putin in the past. These are not the things that result in good statesmanship. Could a more dangerous conflict of interest and intention possibly exist?

Health Care

While we were being distracted, Mitch McConnell has been leading a secretive attempt by the Republican majority in the Senate to recast the American Health Care Act passed by the House and condemned by nearly everyone else. Even Trump called it “mean, mean, mean.” This is the same Mitch McConnell who loudly attacked the Democrats for behaving the same way before passing Obamacare, though the reality in 2009 and 2010 was that while Democrats dominated the process, Obamacare was passed after eighteen months of discussion and debate.

This time Republicans won’t talk about the bill they’re crafting. In an administration in which everything is leaked almost in real time, it’s remarkable that McConnell is able to maintain such a tight hold on the process. Today, minority leader Schumer announced that the Democrats will use every procedural trick in the Senate playbook to shut down the Senate’s business until McConnell is more forthcoming about a law that will directly affect the physical and financial health of almost every American.

They probably can’t stop the Republicans from passing something if they’re united, but that’s not what Schumer says he’s trying to accomplish. He says he just wants the secrecy lifted so Americans can see what is being proposed before it steamrollers them. It’s a worthy goal, whether or not it’s true.

Trump’s base continually refers to the president as someone who keeps his promises, as if saying it often enough makes it true. The future of health care in this country may be the most important issue Trump is facing if we manage to avoid World War 3. Let’s see if he keeps the promise of affordable healthcare for everyone.

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