‐ It takes a special talent to come off as the bad guy in a conversation about Bashar al-Assad and Adolf Hitler.
‐ Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s national-security adviser, admits, after first having denied, that she “unmasked” the names of Trump transition-team members caught on surveillance tapes talking with Russian diplomats, though she insists that she did not leak any names to the public. There was ample reason to be concerned about Trump aide Michael Flynn, fired after 24 days as Rice’s successor (Flynn had taken a paying gig in Russia before he joined the Trump team). Still, leaking classified information to the press is a crime. And we know leaks occurred, because lo, the press was filled with reports of Flynn’s doings (attributed, e.g., by the New York Times to “Obama advisers” and “Obama officials”). Did Rice ask, Who will rid me of this turbulent Flynn? Did she expect a leak to happen, without having to ask, if she disseminated his name widely enough? Isn’t it a shame to be concerned with such Byzantine scenarios in a republic of laws?
‐ The media are crackling with reax to President Trump’s missile strike — on his own supporters. “Missiles flying. . . . A complete policy change in 48 hrs.,” tweeted Laura Ingraham. “Those who wanted us meddling in the Middle East voted for other candidates,” echoed Ann Coulter. From inside the White House came anonymous complaints. After communications director Mike Dubke told staffers trying to package Trump’s hundred days “There is no Trump doctrine” on foreign policy, one auditor told Politico, “He was elected on a vision of America first. America first is the Trump doctrine.” Donald Trump never thought about foreign policy (except, in very broad strokes, trade and immigration), and yet his fans expected him to be a combination of Andrew Jackson and Bismarck. The outsider’s perspective often comes with the outsider’s lack of knowledge, augmented in Trump’s case by poor impulse control and excessive concern with appearances. Live and learn.
‐ Palace intrigues are notoriously hard to read outside the palace. Trump strategist Stephen Bannon is reportedly at odds with Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner; Bannon has most definitely been eased out of his post on the National Security Council. Jostling in the mix somewhere is Reince Priebus. Every president relies on advisers, often fractious: Washington had Hamilton and Jefferson, Lincoln had the team of rivals, FDR mixed and matched, Reagan’s Californians fought John Sears (and won), then James Baker (draw). A newcomer to politics such as President Trump must rely on those who backed him early, and those he has long known. Priebus belongs to neither category, Bannon to the first, Kushner to both. It takes neither inside information nor mystical powers to say that, in any fight involving Trump’s family, those who are neither in it nor in its good graces had better know the way home.
‐ “Where are the faculty?” asks Heather Mac Donald, the estimable scholar from the Manhattan Institute. “American college students are increasingly resorting to brute force, and sometimes criminal violence, to shut down ideas they don’t like. Yet when such travesties occur, the faculty are, with few exceptions, missing in action, though they have themselves been given the extraordinary privilege of tenure to protect their own liberty of thought and speech. It is time for them to take their heads out of the sand.” Mac Donald was subject to mob tactics when she tried to speak at two institutions in California: UCLA and Claremont McKenna. This follows the mob attack at Middlebury College on Charles Murray. Increasingly our universities should replace their high-flown mottos with, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
‐ Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has taken himself out of the Russia investigation. Nunes brought to light Susan Rice’s “unmasking” of Trump officials in intelligence intercepts, but stepped — and stumbled — into a partisan crossfire that resulted in a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether he himself improperly revealed classified information in talking about his investigation. Nunes vows to be back when the ethics inquiry is resolved. We hope that upon his return he will be dogged, and a little more careful.
‐ Vice President Pence broke a tie in the Senate, voting for a bill to allow states to deny Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. The bill reversed an Obama-administration rule that required states to keep Medicaid dollars flowing to the nation’s largest abortion provider. Democrats mostly stuck to their standard talking points, which attempt to minimize both Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion and the role of government funding in supporting its ghastly business. They act as though the organization has an entitlement to taxpayer money. We look forward to seeing state governments use their newfound freedom to prove otherwise.
‐ In April, Politico reported that, shortly after her father’s inauguration, Ivanka Trump met secretly with Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards. At the time, Ivanka was an unofficial adviser to the president. She has since been installed in the White House as an (unpaid) government employee. According to Planned Parenthood’s statement, Ivanka requested the meeting in order to learn “more about the facts of Planned Parenthood.” The first daughter should seek more reliable sources in the future.
‐ California attorney general Xavier Becerra has filed 15 felony charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the journalists whose undercover videos, released through the Center for Medical Progress, showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting and possibly selling the organs of aborted babies. According to the state’s justice department, the business-related conversations among strangers that were held in restaurants and at conferences were in fact “confidential,” and so recording them without every participant’s consent violated California eavesdropping laws. Setting aside the tenuous legal case, this reeks of selective prosecution. There is no shortage of examples of concealed-camera videos in California exposing scandalous behavior; when undercover footage by animal-rights groups purported to show animal abuse at a local duck farm, authorities responded to the video . . . by investigating the farm. But abortion is, once again, different.
‐ In the graveyard of good intentions that is the U.N., Ambassador Nikki Haley has been a lively presence. She has denounced the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel and declared that “the United States has Israel’s back.” She pinned blame for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s most recent gas attack on his Russian patrons: “Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. . . . If Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use.” Haley shows independence of mind: Her support of Israel aligns with Trump’s own, while her criticism of Russia runs contrary to his Putin-friendly rhetoric. Critics grumble that she takes positions with an eye to a future run for office at home. Oh, the scandal: an American diplomat who espouses opinions that express the convictions of the American people.
‐ Good help, as it turns out, isn’t that hard to find. President Trump has made a string of excellent appointments to his cabinet and to other federal positions, most recently naming our colleague and American Enterprise Institute fellow Kevin Hassett to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. Hassett has sensible views on the complicated question of corporate taxation and entitlements, and he is a free-trader, a voice to which the more mercantilist elements in the Trump camp would do well to listen. A scholar of the effects of taxes on economic behavior, he is serious and scrupulous, following the evidence where it leads — which is not always the case with Trump’s advisers. We congratulate the administration on its excellent choice.
‐ The rollout of Fox host Bill O’Reilly’s newest book, a paean to the virtues entitled “Old School,” was complicated by the revelation that he and his employers had paid a total of $13 million over the years to five women who accused him of sexual harassment or verbal abuse. Advertisers on The O’Reilly Factor are bailing, though fans remain loyal — among them, President Trump. “He’s a person I know well,” Trump said. “He is a good person. I think he shouldn’t have settled. . . . I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” The president should not be handing out good-conduct ribbons in such cases. But in the old days — the 1990s — the one doing the sexual harassment, and worse, was the president himself. Maybe we are returning (incrementally) to the old virtues after all.
‐ Professor F. H. “No Relation” Buckley, of the Antonin Scalia Law School, was the organizer of that strange “Scholars and Writers for America” letter that found many of our friends and colleagues lending their reputations to the cause of Donald Trump’s candidacy. We wonder what they think of his latest effort: pressing the Trump administration to embrace a British/Canadian-style single-payer health-care policy, i.e., a federal monopoly on medicine. He argues that Trump should adopt this policy because it would be popular with the people who voted for him, who, Professor Buckley says, “weren’t right-wing ideologues. They were people who had lost or who feared they’d lose their jobs.” Trump’s coalition was of course a good deal broader than that, but even if it hadn’t been, adopting bad policies because they are popular is irresponsible — and, in the end, a losing proposition. Professor Buckley advises the GOP to move to the left of Obamacare and into Bernie Sanders territory in an effort to remake itself as a working-class party along the lines of France’s National Front, which combines left-wing welfare-statism with anti-immigrant and nationalist demagoguery. The more intelligent view is that the interests of workers and the interests of investors are complexly but inseverably linked, and that class-warfare thinking is best left to the campus radicals and Vermont hippies. It’s a big tent. But not that big.
‐ Mike Cernovich is the creator of Danger & Play, a blog about all things “masculine” that takes its title from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra: “The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.” Cernovich used to occupy his time writing blog posts such as “When Should You Compliment a Woman?” [A. “During or after sex”] and “How to Cheat on Your Girlfriend.” But last year, Cernovich became a social-media warrior for presidential candidate Donald Trump, unabashedly embracing the label “alt-right” and using his Twitter profile to disseminate fabricated stories and conspiracy theories, from the idea that there was a second shooter at the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., last June, to “Pizzagate,” the hoax that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic-party officials were running an underground child-sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor. But Cernovich is not popular just among a lunatic fringe. After he apparently beat mainstream sources to the news that Susan Rice “unmasked” Trump-team members collected in intelligence-gathering operations, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “In a long gone time of unbiased journalism [Cernovich would] win the Pulitzer.” It is to be hoped that others close to the president are better judges of character — and journalistic merit.
‐ President Trump has signed an executive order nullifying the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, a typical Obama-era exercise in executive overreach that probably was illegal and certainly was unwise. Following a truly beef-witted 5–4 Supreme Court decision obligating the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide (the stuff you exhale with every breath) as a source of air pollution — a back door to global-warming regulation — the EPA came up with a series of mandates for so-called green-energy sources, in effect outlawing the use of fossil fuels in new electricity-generating facilities. The majority of states sued, and the Supreme Court suspended enforcement of the new rules until those cases could be sorted out. The Trump administration has now ended that round of litigation. If we are to have a national climate-change policy, that policy should be put into law by Congress rather than imposed by unaccountable bureaucrats or pulled out of the penumbras by judges.
‐ It’s becoming increasingly clear that a disturbing number of federal judges are reading a social-justice “super clause” into the Constitution and federal statutes and regulations. The clause works like this: When the law conflicts with the demands of social justice, the law can and should be reinterpreted, regardless of the text. The latest example happened in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, where the full court held that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act is broad enough to include a prohibition against sexual-orientation discrimination. Judge Richard Posner, in his concurrence, called the decision an act of “judicial interpretive updating.” His purpose was to give an old statute “fresh meaning.” Yet this is not the role of the courts, as Judge Diane Sykes pointed out in her dissent. They do not make new law. So, where are we now? We’re left with an entire class of federal judges who, when faced with contentious culture-war cases, simply ask, “What can I do for social justice today?” They disrupt the constitutional system and ask the Supreme Court to ratify their lawless acts, and all too often the Supreme Court does just that.
‐ Jim Webb declined an award from the U.S. Naval Academy after a petition and a letter-writing campaign led him to conclude that critics of his former stand against admitting women to Annapolis would disrupt the ceremony. In a magazine article in 1979, Webb argued against the very presence of women “at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command.” He later said that he accepted the enrollment of women in the academy but that he still opposed their placement in combat roles. In a statement issued in late March, Webb, a former secretary of the Navy (1987–88) and Democratic senator from Virginia (2007–13), defended his record, pointing to his decision to triple the number of non-combat positions open to women. Female colleagues from his tenure at the Department of the Navy praised his character. Those who lobbied to deny him the award have gained their immediate objective. They have not, however, refuted his informed opinion, shared by many veterans who have seen war up close, that gender neutrality can conflict with military effectiveness. Webb’s critics may not know as much about the battlefield as he does. But they could teach him a thing or two about fighting dirty.
‐ Watching the Democrats become primarily the party of the well-to-do provides insight into what class politics really looks like in the United States. Consider New York State, which has decided to provide a 100 percent subsidy for tuition at public institutions of higher education for children of families earning up to $100,000 a year — a figure that soon will rise to $125,000. The grandiosely named Excelsior Scholarship, a sop to the well-off and upwardly mobile, will permit university administrations to keep funding fat administrative sinecures through high fees, which remain unsubsidized. If graduates take a job outside of New York, they will have to pay back that “free” tuition. (Sorry, Silicon Valley!) “Today, college is what high school was,” says Governor Andrew Cuomo. Let’s hope not: In Bronx County, only half of Latino students who enter the ninth grade have a diploma four years later, only 56 percent of black students do, and only 52 percent of male students overall. That isn’t just a New York City issue: Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse have some of the worst public schools in the country, according to Stanford researchers. Those dropouts will not be college-bound, and in many cases will not be bound for much of anything inspiring — but they’re not Governor Cuomo’s priority.
‐ Arizona has created the first universal school-choice program in the nation by expanding an existing program of education-savings accounts (ESAs) that are available for select children. These accounts are funded by the state, and, unlike vouchers, they allow parents to use the money for any number of education-related expenses simultaneously, such as one-on-one tutoring, private-school tuition, college-savings accounts, and online classes. This distinction between ESAs and vouchers is essential, as the Arizona supreme court has determined that vouchers violate the state constitution, while ESAs have been found acceptable. The program has been expanded each year since 2011 — to include special-needs children, students in failing schools, children adopted from foster care, children of military members, and children who live on American Indian reservations. This latest expansion will phase in a few grades of students each year until ESAs are available for every child in Arizona. This is good news for students and, if Arizona’s example is followed, not just in that state.
‐ Washington, D.C., is requiring child-care workers to have college degrees by the year 2020. Research is inconclusive as to whether such regulations do anything for children, but mountains of data indicate that they will raise costs and disproportionately hurt poor and minority workers. Raising barriers to entry is one of the bad ideas that government continually retries to improve the quality of goods and services, and the only consistent results are higher costs and unemployment. What D.C. really needs to require is more intelligence from its officials.
‐ After Trump bombed Syria, pundits on the left and the right discussed the attack’s security implications, geopolitical fallout, constitutional status, and possible economic consequences. Then there was Clara Jeffrey, editor of Mother Jones, who tweeted: “That the missiles are called Tomahawks must enrage a lot of Native Americans.” In contrast, one popular Native American columnist wrote with pride: “Throwing Tomahawks and attacking with Apache helicopters reflects a reality that American Indians always volunteer to fight this country’s wars.” Jeffrey’s fellow leftists were no more sympathetic, pointing out the incongruity of a white Sidwell Friends graduate’s telling Indians what to get riled up about. One critic tweeted: “That YET another liberal white woman feels she can appropriate voices of Native Americans and speak for them enrages me. [People of Color] speak our own.” As Jeffrey should know by now, you really have to watch your step in today’s Left. But all is not lost; with her Scottish surname, she is undeniably qualified to object to the Army’s Claymore land mine.
‐ For 40 years, between the battles of Lexington and New Orleans, America was preoccupied with European affairs (and Europe with ours). Then, a century to ourselves. And then, on April 6, 1917, we entered what no one at the time knew was only the first world war. The war dynamited Western civilization, and there was fodder in our conduct of it (especially in our peacemaking) for critics. But Wilhelmine Germany was a malignant power with an unstable ruler, bent on continental domination, and our reengagement with the world, which began that day, ensured that the worse horrors that followed in its train would be defeated. To the men of the American Expeditionary Force, who helped stop the Germans’ last offensive in the spring of 1918, then break their lines in the fall: Rest in peace. To the politicians and military of today: Study the victories, mistakes, and vision of your predecessors. May you do as well.
‐ In Stockholm, four people were killed and more than a dozen others injured after a hijacked beer truck with explosives rammed into a crowd on April 7. Police and prosecutors arrested a 39-year-old Uzbekistani man, who confessed to the crime. The Swedish Security Service said that it had once identified him as a suspect but that he had later fallen off their tracking system. Last June, the Swedish Migration Agency denied his application for permanent residency because he had “shown sympathy for extremist organizations” such as ISIS; last February, the police sought but couldn’t find him. They admit that they don’t know how long he stayed in the country or how he entered. And to think, only a year ago Swedes were boasting of their country’s generous welcome to asylum seekers.
‐ On Palm Sunday, suicide bombers killed 44 worshipers at two Egyptian churches, in Alexandria and Tanta, north of Cairo. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Losing in Iraq and Syria, ISIS appears to have set its sights on the Arab world’s most populous nation. Ten percent of Egypt’s 93 million people are Christians, making it a rich target for Islamist militants. The Egyptian cabinet has announced a state of emergency. Human-rights advocates decry the police state of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, while religious minorities insist that, as a secular strongman, he is all that stands between them and jihad. A week before the attacks, President Trump emerged from a meeting with Sisi and expressed his support, praising him for his commitment against terrorism. After the attacks, the question for Sisi’s defenders is whether he’s strongman enough.
‐ Want to get into Stanford? Don’t bother discovering a new element, chairing your school’s Intersectional Social Justice Diversity Collective, or leading the state in quarterback sacks. What you really have to do is write “#BlackLivesMatter” 100 times and submit it as your essay. That’s what Ziad Ahmed of Princeton, N.J., did, and he was accepted. (We give him credit for boldness: T. S. Eliot used repetition with “This is the way the world ends,” but he gave up after only three iterations. Handel’s “Amen” chorus has a one-word lyric sheet, but there’s music to break up the monotony.) Ahmed explained: “It was important to me that the admissions officers literally hear my impatience for justice and the significance of this issue.” (Time was when a high-class school such as Stanford would reject an applicant who didn’t know what “literally” meant, but in the Joe Biden era, it’s evidently considered a plus.) We wish Mr. Ahmed good luck at Stanford but warn him that Ctrl-V-ing a hashtag 100 times will not yield a good grade on his first term paper — though actually, in today’s university, you never know.
‐ For centuries, writers, editors, and grammarians have wrestled with a defect in the English language: the absence of a neuter, singular personal pronoun. A variety of unsatisfactory expedients have been tried, dating back to Middle English: using “he” for cases of indeterminate gender; the clunky “he or she”; various made-up words (“xe” and “ze” are among the latest to fail to catch on); and the often confusing use of “they” to refer to a single person. Now the Associated Press stylebook has settled the matter, at least for the Associated Press: “They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and/or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.” What has occurred that motivated the AP to resolve this seemingly insoluble, centuries-old dilemma? Yes, you guessed it: “In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: . . . If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun.” Whatever else you think of transgenderism, it certainly mutilates the language.
‐ For parents of quadruplets graduating high school, one would think college-acceptance season would be a momentous source of stress, but it turned out well for Kim and Darren Wade when their sons all were all accepted into Harvard and Yale. The family is from Liberty Township, Ohio (population: 37,000), and the boys’ parents were not the kind to hound them about their grades, instead emphasizing consistency. Darren said they hadn’t checked their grades since they were in third grade, and Kim said that their philosophy as parents came down to “setting the expectation.” Ivy League admission for each of them was probably not the stated expectation, but sometimes kids surprise you.
‐ Just as Schiller will forever be paired with Beethoven — in 1785, Schiller wrote his poem “An die Freude” (“Ode to Joy”) — Yevtushenko will forever be paired with Shostakovich, probably. In 1962, Shostakovich wrote his Thirteenth Symphony, “Babi Yar,” using poems by Yevtushenko. Babi Yar is the ravine outside Kiev where the Nazis and their local allies murdered almost 34,000 Jews in two days. They would murder a great many more — Jews and other types of people — later. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was born in 1933 in Siberia. He came to prominence in the early 1960s, during the Khrushchev “thaw.” He was a voice for millions of Russians, particularly the young. He never became an outright dissident, a fact that outright dissidents took note of. But he still did his part for freedom of conscience in the Soviet Union. In his later years, he taught in America: New York City and Tulsa. He liked Tulsa, citing its Americanness and calling it “the bellybutton of world culture.” He died there at 83. R.I.P.
President Trump hit a Syrian airfield with dozens of Tomahawk missiles.
The strike was notable for its rapidity — about 72 hours after a Bashar al-Assad chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians — and for the swift reversal it represented in what had been the administration’s tolerant attitude toward the Assad regime.
The strike was the very definition of a symbolic pinprick. It was launched with highly precise weapons against the airfield from which the Syrian chemical attack had emanated. And the U.S. apprised Russian personnel at the base beforehand, meaning the Syrians effectively had advance warning as well.
We are skeptical of the wisdom of this approach. It may be that the strike is enough to deter Assad from future chemical attacks (certainly he is paying more attention to U.S. warnings now), but it also could have unwelcome, unintended consequences.
A problem with pinpricks is that they allow your enemy to demonstrate resilience and defiance by picking up and carrying on as before. Indeed, almost immediately after the attack, Assad was back to using the airfield, and he will presumably continue to commit all of his more routine war crimes with impunity. There’s value in trying to maintain the international norm against chemical weapons, but conventional munitions are just as devastating; they account for the vast majority of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria wrought by Assad and his enablers.
Syria has only gotten more complicated since the last time a president considered retaliating against Assad’s use of chemical weapons. President Obama’s red-line fiasco led to a sham “deal” in which Syria pretended to agree to destroy its chemical arsenal, and in which the U.S. ultimately gave Russia a free hand to intervene in the Syrian civil war.
Since 2013, Russia has worked with its Iranian and Syrian partners to decimate the Syrian opposition and secure regime control over Syria’s largest cities. Meanwhile, ISIS rose, reached its high-water mark, and now is in retreat, with American allies and even American soldiers pushing it back into its last Syrian and Iraqi strongholds.
In other words, the situation is in many ways more perilous than it was a few years ago. Russia is in position to resist any further U.S. attacks that are strong enough to weaken the regime, adding another element of risk. Moreover, Russian and Syrian assaults on Syrian rebels have been so effective that there is even less hope (to the extent that it ever existed) that a secular or moderate opposition could take power. Jihadists would be most likely to benefit from a near-term regime collapse.
This means that the U.S. should be playing a longer game. The first step is to tell the truth about the role Russia has been playing in Syria, something that Obama refused to do but that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley have been doing with bracing and refreshing frankness in the wake of the Trump strike. Russia has covered for Assad’s cheating on the chemical-weapons deal and engaged in its own atrocities in Syria. It is not a potential partner of ours, but an adversary, and it’s good to see the Trump administration giving up what sounded like it might be a push for a new “reset.”
Then there’s the situation on the ground. American-allied forces have gained against ISIS and now seem set not only to defeat it in its “capital” city of Raqqa but also to dominate northern Syria going forward. These advances should allow the U.S. to confine Assad to his western strongholds and may help provide sanctuaries from oppression for fleeing refugees. From this position, we can consider options in the next stage of the Syrian civil war, which must be part of a broader strategy with our allies that includes a plausible vision of a post-Assad Syria.
Meanwhile, America can still use sanctions to impose an economic cost on Russia and Iran for propping up Assad’s murderous regime.
Thanks in part to Obama’s weakness and especially to the support of the Syrian regime’s cynical, bloody-minded allies, Assad has decisively gained the upper hand in his country’s civil war. Trying to reverse that will be the work of years, and is unlikely to be advanced by a quick reaction to horrifying images of Assad’s latest war crime.
A Worthy Justice
Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court after Republicans changed the rules to prevent a minority of the Senate from being able to kill his nomination by filibustering.
If the filibuster had been allowed to accomplish its goal, it would have been the first time a partisan minority had blocked a Supreme Court confirmation. And this unprecedented filibuster was not a response to the nomination of someone who is extreme or unqualified; nearly everyone in the opposition conceded that Gorsuch was an impressive and mainstream pick, and those few who did not said more about themselves than about him.
Rather, Democrats were opposed to him because of his legal philosophy — his unwillingness, that is, to use judicial power to secure liberal policy objectives — and because of their bitterness over Senate Republicans’ refusal to take up President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the same vacancy on the Court.
None of this amounted to a serious case against Gorsuch. The Constitution always gave a majority of the Senate the power to disregard a nomination, even if the Senate had rarely exercised that power in the context of the Supreme Court; and it always gave the Senate majority the power to put an end to obstructionist tactics. The end of the Supreme Court filibuster is not going to change the balance of power between the political parties or between the branches of the government, since it was an effectively unusable power. It is not going to lead to more extreme nominees, since a nominee to the left of Ruth Bader Ginsburg or the right of Clarence Thomas is going to have trouble getting confirmed even by a simple majority.
Both the refusal to hold a hearing on Garland and the rule change to confirm Gorsuch were prudent exercises of constitutional powers to serve a high end: the construction of a Supreme Court with a proper sense of the judicial enterprise, which includes an understanding that it is not the same thing as the legislative enterprise. The new justice has demonstrated that understanding. May he stay true to the judicial philosophy he has defended, and may he serve for many years.
Waive It Through
We’ll admit that the progress House Republicans are making on health care is well disguised, but it is progress. The leftmost House Republicans have mostly been persuaded to support an important structural reform of Medicaid. The rightmost ones have mostly learned to live with tax credits to allow people who don’t benefit from Medicare, Medicaid, or the tax break for employer-provided health coverage to buy health insurance too. The party leadership has slowed down its timetable for repeal and replacement of Obamacare, even if that slowdown has come under duress and the pace is still unrealistically fast.
House Republicans seem to be too divided still to pass a bill, but the remaining distance ought to be bridgeable. What’s more, a number of Republicans are talking up an idea that might accomplish that task.
The Republicans who dissented from the House leadership’s bill from the right did so for two principal reasons: They did not think it repealed and replaced enough of Obamacare, and as a result they did not think it did enough to bring premiums down. The Republicans who dissented from the left, meanwhile, did so mostly because they worried that the bill would leave too few Americans with health insurance.
The idea that the House Republicans are now considering would allow states to apply for waivers from Obamacare regulations, and direct the secretary of health and human services to grant the waivers if the states show that their plans would have a positive effect on coverage. That ought to be possible: Even the Congressional Budget Office, as biased as it is toward government-centric solutions to health-care problems, has said that eliminating Obamacare regulations would increase coverage by making it more affordable. The waivers would be a way for House Republicans to address the concerns of the party’s left and right simultaneously.
And they could be pursued while still protecting people with preexisting health conditions. Obamacare forbids insurers to discriminate against them. That prohibition has the side effect of giving healthy people a new reason to go without insurance: They can sign up for it with no penalty if they turn sick. That behavior, in turn, raises premiums. Obamacare attempts to solve that problem by forcing healthy people to buy insurance. A better approach would be to forbid insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions so long as they had maintained their insurance coverage previously. That way they would have the incentive to buy insurance rather than to forgo it. Waivers should free states to adopt this policy.
Whether waivers can be made to work depends on the details. They are far from a perfect policy. States that used the waivers would inevitably end up subsidizing states that didn’t: The waiver states would have lower premiums and therefore less federal aid. (The same dynamic already applies in the case of Medicaid: States that expanded it get transfers from states that didn’t.)
But waivers would move us toward a health-insurance system in which premiums were lower, private coverage was more widespread, and the federal government played a smaller role. The chief obstacle to agreement among House Republicans on this point, it seems to us, is that too many of them are tired of negotiating with one another about health care. We have two pieces of advice. First: Take a breather before resuming talks. Second: Pursue your interests instead of your grievances.