Brian Karem

It isn't a case of 'All hat and no cattle'!


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Updated 3/27

So, what comes next in healthcare?
After Friday’s flame out in Congress of an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Healthcare Act, even the staunchest defenders of the current system admit it needs to be repaired.
Paul Ryan, meanwhile, proved his ability to coordinate his caucus resembled a wrangler trying to herd spastic cats and the president proved while he has a bully pulpit Steve Bannon is no bully from the pulpit.
For many, the bombast before the healthcare vote was simply a matter of the president being all hat and no cattle.
Still, it occurs to me the other shoe hasn’t dropped.
While the Democrats, some of the Republicans, television news and the uninformed electorate are either bemoaning, defending or cheering and taunting one another because of the failed GOP plan, as Sean Spicer pointed out in his Monday afternoon press briefing – it ain’t over til it’s over. (With apologies to Yogi Berra).
Spicer also said the president knows how to walk away from a bad deal which makes me wonder if he was channeling Kenny Rogers – okay I’m not sure he knew what condition his condition was in, but maybe he knew when to fold them, when to hold them, when to walk away and when to run.
While the president said the current healthcare plan is doomed to fail and then people will be thankful he was around – oh boy when it does – I cannot get out of my head the visit at the White House of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel – even before the president and Spicer said he was going to court Democrats to find a cure to the healthcare problem.
The President hasn’t made many if any friends among Democrats. They’re scarcely even spoken about by this White House – unless it is to denigrate them. You don’t see them at impromptu news conferences on Pebble Beach outside of the West Wing. But the president is frustrated with the GOP on the Hill – some of which aren’t too fond of him either. So, while the Speaker of the House looks impotent in handling his own caucus the president is going to have to reach across the aisle to Democrats. If he removes the word “repeal” from his rhetoric about healthcare and substitutes “fix” he might just get a few Democrats to talk and listen to him.
If anyone from that side of the aisle engages the president – a move many think would be very beneficial to the electorate, then what happens next could resemble what Les Nessman said when the turkeys mounted a comeback after being dropped from a low-flying helicopter “It’s almost as if they were . . . organized.” (With apologies to WKRP in Cincinnati).
When all the dust settles, if there is one thing about President Trump people should understand and many don’t, it is that he does indeed intend to keep his campaign promises. He may be full of hyperbole. He may have issues. But he has remained as steady as a metronome when it comes to building a wall, increasing military spending, providing healthcare and taking care of infrastructure and an assortment of other issues – the president means what he says.
Little was made of Dr. Emanuel’s presence at the White House - one of the guiding forces behind the current healthcare package. He dodged every question from reporters when he left the White House even though I chased him to the gate and told him I had a great story about his brother in the backseat of a car in 1985. (True story there – Rahm Emanuel and I worked on a campaign together in 1985 and traveled together for a while. There’s nothing salacious to the story, but there it is.)
If Dr. Emanuel wanted to gloat or defend the current health plan or even make the president uncomfortable, he certainly could’ve offered a comment. That he did not makes me question the nature of his conversation with the president even more.
Could there, indeed be a long game in place? Could an attempt to really tackle the problem be in the offing – rather than the politically motivated train wreck we’ve witnessed for the last seven years?
When the president sent Bannon to Congress to bully the GOP, was he engaging in an act of hubris or was there something deeper going on?
Back in 1987 one guy wrote a book that could be used in this circumstance. He said you should maximize your options, know your market, think big, deliver the goods and contain the costs among other things.(1)
If the President follows this advice then this first foray into fixing healthcare is but a slow step toward fixing a massive problem. The key is not where we are now, but where we are three to six months from the midterm elections.
It is far too early to pronounce the healthcare effort dead. If the president is indeed playing the long game, or following any of the advice from that book, we’re not done yet.
Congress finds itself in a very interesting position. Healthcare is a huge issue and the possibilities of true bipartisanship on an issue that matters to everybody are unlimited – sentiments echoed Monday afternoon by Spicer.
Or this could all be wishful thinking. It could all be as we see it – a giant mess where the GOP and the Democrats continue to fight because no one has the ability or desire to tackle the problem in a bipartisan manner and the president’s minions are merely bullies who do not understand the legislative process.
In retrospect perhaps the president should’ve chosen infrastructure as his first battle in Congress. There’s a greater chance for cooperation with the Democrats and who wants to speak up against roads and bridges?
But it is what it is. If the president’s loss ends up spurring greater bipartisan cooperation and if the GOP leadership awakens to the reality the electorate is just as frustrated with them as the Democrats, well we might just have something. At the end of the day people will be crowing how brilliantly the president played this issue – and they’d be right.
When Spicer left the podium Monday I asked if we would see healthcare legislation before the midterm election. He paused, but didn’t say a word.
I don’t think he was being rude. He really doesn’t know.
It’s a giant question mark that ultimately could make or break the presidency – and for that matter the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate too.

 (1)Trump: The Art of the Deal, 1987. Random House 

Don't do that in my ear and tell me it's raining!

maxresdefaultWhen I was just a little boy – standing to my daddy’s knee - I learned the gentle art of appreciating artful dodging from my mother who was a successful local actress, my father who was a very successful car salesman, uncles who were attorneys and politicians, and grandparents who were lawyers and judges.
My grandmother once told me my dad was so good at spinning the truth she would know he was lying to her and she’d still believe him. Perhaps that is why I enjoy standup comedy and politics so much – both offer great yarns.
Imagine my hope when I first saw President Donald Trump arrive on the scene. He brought with him Steve Bannon, a man who is a legend in his own mind. He brought us Kellyanne Conway, a woman I debated a few times in Philadelphia some 15 years ago.
She was defending Dan Quayle and I was promoting a book called “Spin Control.” It was a debate made in heaven. We had fun.

A colonoscopy and "compassionate" budget, let’s interrupt today’s compassionate offering on the proposed budget from President Trump via his puppet Mick Mulvaney (who apparently likes to stuff his suits with grass) for this important healthcare message.
While we argue and bicker about healthcare in this country, let me be the first to endorse a 30 minute invasive procedure to save you – it is called a colonoscopy and everyone over 50 should have one.

Puppies, rainbows and wet sponges


If you thought the blue lines in hockey were confusing (apologies to MAD Magazine), try spending time in the White House briefing room.
While most of the nation wants a health care plan much like the plan congressmen can enjoy, and while hate crimes and anti-Semitism are on the rise, reporters in the White House press briefing room are enduring a never ending epidemic of language H.L. Mencken would describe as “wet sponges,” though earlier this week we heard it in the guise of “rainbows and puppies.”
What was said? Well it turns out it wasn’t said. Maybe we didn’t understand and it doesn’t matter because there’s something new to say to us any way. Bad hombres are all about.

Not with a bang but with a whimper


president sealThe single most impressive moment in President Trump’s first speech before a joint session of Congress came nowhere during the speech.
A half-hour before he took the stage the president could be seen sitting in the limousine with his wife practicing his speech. It was a humanizing moment and brilliant in its subtlety. Whoever planned it pulled the curtain back to show a man many believe to be an autocratic demagogue in a very vulnerable and human position – practicing for his coming presentation – and anyone who’s ever had to practice a speech for a high school class could easily identify with that moment.
The speech itself was typical of a presidential speech before Congress and as the bar was very low, and since the president didn’t go off on a tirade against domestic enemies real and imagined – well save for apparently trying to convince us every immigrant to the country is guilty of a violent crime – he got a positive public relations bounce.
The far right cheered, the far left jeered and some of us were left wondering if Congress and the president understand that between the idea and the reality falls the shadow – at least according to T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men.”
So, here we go around the prickly pear.

The White House incident - again


White House Front TwilightI left for one hour.
The early Friday morning White House show had been inconsequential and uncharacteristically dull. The highlights? Kellyanne walked by outside after giving a speech at CPAC. President Trump flew back from his visit to CPAC on Marine One. A television technician yelled “Get to the chopper” in his best Arnold impersonation.

Down at the White House

White House Front TwilightI first visited the White House Press room during the Reagan administration. Larry Speakes stood behind the podium during press briefings, if memory serves.
During that first visit I met a variety of D.C. reporting heavyweights. Sam Donaldson and Helen Thomas, were among the first I met and both later served as mentors.
Helen, finding out my family lineage invited me to her house where she made me Kibbeh (The Lebanese dish I grew up making with raw beef – but she made with raw lamb).
She also offered me unfiltered opinions on a variety of subjects including the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
It was another two years before I revisited the press room – this time while I worked on a television investigative report about illegal immigrants and their use on the rich thoroughbred horse farms across the country.
Three or four times during the Reagan administration and perhaps a dozen or so other times during the Bush administration I visited the White House press room as part of my duties as a reporter.
In the 90s when I moved to the D.C. area I got my congressional press pass and though I was working for America’s Most Wanted I had several occasions where I visited the press room and sat in on briefings.
I traveled with Presidents and presidential candidates during the 1984, 88, 92, 96 and 2000 elections.
I was always impressed by the mental acumen and experience of those who covered the President on a daily basis. At one time I added up the experience of those sitting in the front row of the press room during a briefing and was humbled by the thought that among the five people sitting in those seats there was more than 160 years of experience – most of it from Helen Thomas.

How can you hate me?


10580230 10203559949373959 2236915944904062630 nHow can you hate me when you don’t even know me? That question, asked by local musician and civil rights activist Daryl Davis rings hard in the ears this Holiday season.
Which holiday season? Hanukkah and Christmas run concurrently this year. Ramadan was back in June and July while Mawlid is celebrated in December. Kwanzaa is also celebrated this month. And the big daddy Christmas is neigh upon us.

Solving the "Fake News" problem


MC DC - Hillarys Behghazi MomentIn an interview with The Sentinel this week incoming U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen said one of the greatest concerns facing the country is the “Fake News” currently spreading virally like a pestilence across the land – aided and abetted by a President-elect who acts like Typhoid Mary by tweeting factually inaccurate information gobbled up by the electorate as a sugar-freak gobbles twinkies.

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