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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 29, 2017

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Posted at 2:05 PM, Sep 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-29 15:05:19-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice -President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

September 28, 2017

SENATOR CORKER SHAKES UP STATE POLITICS; STEVE GILL AND LARRY WOODS ON INSIDE POLITICS; ENOUGH; INSANITY ONE MORE TIME; TENNESSEE HEALTH CARE FALLOUT; MORE INVESTIGATIONS

SENATOR CORKER SHAKES UP STATE POLITICS

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he will spend this weekend, and maybe the next few weeks, “thinking and praying” about making a run for one of Tennessee’s two seats in the U.S. Senate.

He won’t be alone.

Several Tennessee elected officials, in both parties, are doing some soul searching and making major decisions about their political futures after the shocking (or at least somewhat surprising) announcement this week by current Senator Bob Corker that he won’t be seeking a third six-year term in office.

Until the last couple of weeks, you would have counted me in the shocked category about a Corker retirement. But the more he delayed announcing a decision the more it became clear to me he was likely not running. I have one political source who has been telling me for months the junior Senator was headed for the ranch. Now I will probably never hear of the end of how he called it correctly and predicted it well in advance.

If Governor Haslam runs, it could set up a fascinating primary fight for the GOP nomination between two longtime Republican officials whose bases are in different wings of their party. Congressman Marsha Blackburn has long been a darling of conservatives, Tea Party members, and now President Trump supporters in the state. At a time of “draining the swamp” in Washington, you can be sure she will tout her work in the House the last several years as well as her fight in the Legislature to kill an income tax in Tennessee.

Governor Haslam is more of a moderate conservative, establishment Republican from the East Tennessee wing of the party. In addition to being elected to two terms as Governor, he also served two terms as Mayor Knoxville. He has maintained very high job approval numbers in the polls while in office. He is bound to tout his Tennessee Promise education efforts and his Drive to 55 program to raise the state’s low college graduation rates. He will also point out the all-time lowest unemployment numbers Tennessee is now enjoying and how the state has cut taxes during his term (except for the gas tax to help maintain Tennessee’s road and transportation system).

It is pretty clear that Haslam would enter the Senate race as the GOP front runner or at least the co-front runner with Blackburn, but there are few unknowns to consider.

The Governor has been successful as the state’s chief executive, but being a lawmaker is different especially in the current political atmosphere of gridlock and anger against the party’s establishment congressional leadership in Washington. Being a lawmaker is just different period from being a chief executive. Both Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker went through that transition. So it is not surprising Haslam has been talking with both of them as he makes up his mind. I’ll bet both are strongly encouraging him run. Still some conservative GOP elements have long seen the Governor as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and still remember his criticisms of candidate Donald Trump last year.

Already there are warning shots being fired aimed in the general direction of the Governor and his family led by Breitbart News and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mae Beavers. Read more here.

Also look for still more attacks in this direction aimed at the Pilot Oil Company, the Governor’s family business. They will focus on the ongoing scandal involving several top company officials who have pled guilty to federal charges.

If both Haslam and Blackburn enter the Senate election, they would likely start as co-front runners. But there are many other potential Republican Senate candidates who say they are looking at the race (and the list of those thinking about it continues to grow). Many of them are from the very conservative part of the party, such as former West Tennessee congressman Stephen Fincher (from Frog Jump, TN). He has millions left in his campaign fund to jumpstart a race. If several other candidates do run, it might split the right of center vote. And with no runoff law in Tennessee, then a somewhat more moderate candidate such as Governor Haslam might take the nomination. Conservatives complain that this has happened before in Tennessee statewide primary races.

But all that’s yet to be determined…after all the “thinking and praying” among the potential candidates this weekend and into October.

STEVE GILL AND LARRY WOODS ON INSIDE POLITICS

I can’t think of two better political analysts to dissect this week’s developments than Democrat Larry Woods and Republican Steve Gill.

They are my guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

We’ll talk about some of those other potential Senate candidates (even the Democrats who like their chances much better without an incumbent in the field and with the increasing rancor nationally in the GOP ranks.)

We will look at how who runs for Senate will impact other races up and down the ballot next year. We will also explore how 2018 looks like to be both the most expensive political election cycle ever in Tennessee, and how for a number of reasons, it portends sweeping changes in the state’s elected leadership in Washington and on Capitol Hill here in Nashville.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; then 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday; and 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. The new show is usually posted the week after it first airs.

ENOUGH

Nobody loves politics more than I do.

But enough, folks. That goes for everyone, especially you, Mr. President.

Can we please quit weaponizing issues, dividing ourselves to the point where you have to decide to take sides just to watch, or not watch, a football game. Really?

I stand when the national anthem is played. I take off my hat, if I am wearing one. I put my hand over my heart. Many times, I sing. But if there are those who have a different way of expressing themselves, peacefully, that is their right under the Constitution, and under the Flag. It’s their right whether I like it or agree with it or not. Those who don’t like it, can express their feelings too, boycott games, whatever. But death threats such as at least one Titan player and his family is receiving? That’s just wrong!

This controversy didn’t begin last weekend. In fact, it was down to just a handful of NFL players still taking a knee to express their unhappiness with what they believe is continued police brutality, racial inequality and other issues. But the matter certainly went beyond nuclear when President Donald Trump weighed in saying those participating are disrespecting the American Flag and our fighting men. He called them SOBs and demanded they be fired.

But others see the President’s remarks as uncalled for and an effort to feed more red meat to his base. They also say the President’s comments are a diversion being offered because he and his administration continue to struggle for success on so many issues and on-going investigations.

The President made more than a dozen statements on his NFL issue in Alabama and on Twitter over this past weekend. But he couldn’t find any time to express condolences or concern about the mass shooting here in Nashville last Sunday. Last weekend, he also said very little on line (his favorite communications tool) about the growing humanitarian calamity in Puerto Rico and the damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria.

He did announce on Tuesday he will visit and survey the damage in Puerto Rico next week. He seemed to try to say a few nice things in his comments (and tweets) about supporting the U.S. Territories, although he also seemed to blame Puerto Rico for somehow being at fault for being in the path of the storm because of its large debt and the old infrastructure on the island. What?

As the week continued, there were signs of more activity to provide relief. From our area, members of the 101st Airborne from Ft. Campbell were activated to go to Puerto Rico just days after it returned from providing aid in Florida for a week to Hurricane Irma victims. Reports THE USA TODAY TENNESSEE NETWORK (9/26):

“Col. Patrick Seiber at the Pentagon said about 70 soldiers and eight helicopters from Fort Campbell would be leaving for Puerto Rico late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

It will likely take another 24 to 48 hours for the helicopters to be used in the relief efforts on the island, 101st Airborne spokesman Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell said.

The response would add to the growing efforts from military assets, which to this point include National Guard soldiers, Navy vessels and other assets.

Seiber said about 2,800 soldiers and Army civilians have been called in, and 15 aircraft and 520 trucks are being used in the relief effort.”

The President, late in the week, did waive legal requirements to allow relief supplies to be shipped in more quickly on foreign ships. But there remain huge problems getting aid from the ports to those who desperately need it because of a lack of trucks, drivers and still impassable roads across the island.

I don’t know why it has taken more than few days for FEMA and the military to get into high gear on relief, or why the President decided to be less active as comforter in chief, or to provide top-level leadership to move aid more quickly. But it’s clear at this last weekend and into early this week, his feud with the NFL was the top priority.

As for me, I just want to watch a football game without having to participate in a political gotcha game or a demonstration.

I am not naive enough to believe these kinds of controversies surrounding sports or anything other matter won’t be the next things held hostage, trying to force everyone to choose sides in our culture wars.

So, let’s make this, the end. And that goes for all those seeking to divide us, not just the President, although I thought the job of most, if not all Mr. Trump’s predecessors, was to bring us together, not look for ways to divide us every weekend, if not every day, when takes out his iPhone and fires up his Twitter account.

I watch sports as a diversion from politics not to see it used to make us more polarized and divided. Express yourself as you see fit under the Constitution. It’s your right. But remember, it’s play ball, not politics.

INSANITY ONE MORE TIME

We all know the definition of insanity. It is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result.

Republican congressional leaders in the U.S. Senate certainly know this drill. For the fourth time in recent months they tried to push through a “repeal and replace Obamacare” bill but could not deliver their own party’s majority to pass it (51 votes).

The Senate floor vote on this last grasp effort was cancelled on Tuesday. The final blow came on Monday afternoon from Senator Susan Collins of Maine when she restated her opposition to the GOP proposal. Her opposition as outlined in a HILL article was not very different from what she and other Republican Senators had said before about the other health care plans that failed.

“ Collins announced her opposition minutes after the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis predicting that millions would lose insurance under the proposal if it became law.

That was enough for Collins, who had long been seen as an almost certain ‘no’ vote on the measure.

She joins Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) as GOP “no” votes. Republicans can only afford two defections and still muscle the bill through the Senate.

In a lengthy statement, Collins said the most recent Obamacare repeal bill, which had been reshaped Sunday in an effort to win her over, “was as deeply flawed as its previous iterations.”

She cited the CBO’s score as one of her reasons for opposing the legislation authored by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.), while also criticizing its cuts to Medicaid, its weakening of protections for people with preexisting conditions and predictions by insurers, hospitals and other groups that it would lead to higher premiums and less coverage for people.

Collins also decried a Senate process that she said had been rushed along.

“Sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target,” said Collins, one of three Republicans along with McCain and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) to vote “no” on a previous slimmed-down ObamaCare repeal bill in July that appeared to end the debate.

“This is simply not the way we should be approaching an important and complex issue that must be handled thoughtfully and fairly for all Americans.”

No wonder conservatives are steamed and donors closing their wallets. GOP leaders have promised for seven years that if they were in the majority in Washington, they would get rid of the Affordable Care Act. But they haven’t and it’s not going to happen in the rest of 2017.

I said it back in the summer, and I will say it again, the Republicans have proved they can win elections, but they still haven’t proven they can govern. They have few accomplishments to show for their first year of control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe efforts on tax reform (tax cuts) or an infrastructure plan will show a different outcome, but I am not predicting it, especially with President Trump still at odds with congressional leaders in both Houses. Maybe the President will try and cut another deal with the Democrats?

TENNESSEE HEALTH CARE FALLOUT

In the wake of the most recent collapse of Republican health care efforts in Washington, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says he is resuming his bipartisan efforts (with Democratic Senator Patty Murray) to find a way to keep the national insurance exchanges going.

It’s not that Senator Alexander likes Obamacare. He doesn’t. He wants to avoid the disaster of lots of folks suddenly losing their health care if the exchanges go away. But what will President Trump do? He’s threatened before to cut off the federal subsidies that help make the health insurance plans on the exchanges affordable. Is a shutdown coming over health care again?

Back in Tennessee, Democrats in the Legislature, led by House Minority Leader and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Craig Fitzhugh want Governor Haslam to call a special session of the General

Assembly to expand Medcaid to extend and protect health insurance coverage for many of the working poor. The Governor tried to do that a couple of years ago, through his INSURE TENNESSEE PLAN but that got rebuffed by the GOP Super Majority on the Hill. Mr. Haslam says he doesn’t think anything has changed in state lawmakers’ attitude on the subject, so a special session is not necessary.

Led by the Speaker of the House and GOP gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell, state GOP legislative leaders said the same thing to reporters. The only thing different this time is that they actually expressed their thoughts publicly. Past calls for a special session by the Democrats on this issue have just been ignored.

MORE INVESTIGATIONS

It was another week of investigations at the White House. It’s not just the Russian probes but also an internal review being done of top White House staff (including the President’s son-in-law and daughter) using a private e-mail server to conduct government-related business.

Remember how presidential candidate Trump made just a big deal out of Hillary Clinton using a private server while Secretary of State? It led to chants of “Crooked Hillary” and “Lock her up!” So what will this probe show?

Then there is the growing scandal over HHS Secretary Tom Price using up to a million dollars in taxpayer funds to charter planes and military to fly around the country and overseas.

At first Secretary Price and his department dismissed any questions saying the expenditures had been approved. But now President Trump supposedly upset about the situation and even said when asked by reporters if he might fire Price: “We’ll see.”

With the heat rising, Price is offering to pay over $50,000 to cover the cost of his transportation. But that number is nowhere close to any of the reports of what taxpayers reportedly spent on his flights. Stay tuned.