Monday Open Thread

“You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.”

–John Steinbeck

Rep. Mike Coffman Snared By Opiate-Gate

Rep. Mike Coffman (R).

A CNN story caught our attention regarding trouble for GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate–but facing fierce headwinds due to her co-sponsorship of legislation now widely blamed for worsening the crisis of opioid pain killer addiction in the United States. This is the same legislation that led to the recent withdrawal of Rep. Tom Marino from consideration for the post of drug policy czar in Donald Trump’s White House:

Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s support for a drug law that she acknowledged might have caused “unintended consequences” is marring her entry into Tennessee’s Senate race — with her Democratic opponent saying she should drop out and potentially stronger foes in both parties now more seriously considering entering the contest.

Blackburn, who last week launched her bid for the retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s seat, co-sponsored the measure that was the subject of Sunday’s blockbuster investigation by “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post. The Blackburn-backed law, whistleblowers said, made it easier for drug companies to distribute opioids across American communities and thwart the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Already, the lead sponsor of that bill, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tom Marino, who took nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical interests, has withdrawn as President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the nation’s drug czar. Marino and Blackburn asked a government watchdog to investigate a DEA official who warned them in 2014 that their bill would aid criminals, accusing the official of intimidation.

Te perverse effect of this legislation, which was sold on the premise of “effective drug enforcement” while “ensuring patient access” to opioid pain medication, was to greatly increase the supply of powerful and addictive drugs. These drugs were both abused legally by patients who received unethically large prescriptions from doctors at walk-in “pain management” clinics, and also sold on the black market for many times their legal purchase price–both of which greatly worsened the crisis the legislation was passed to address. Newly-addicted patients who find their source of legal opioids cut off frequently turn to heroin as an alternative, with all the attendant social evils of the illicit drug trade.

Needless to say, nominating the lead sponsor of this legislation to be the White House’s drug policy czar invites fundamental questions about the Trump administration’s own ethics–not the first such questions, of course, given Trump’s Cabinet comprised of almost perfectly destructive misfits for the departments they were nominated to lead. But serious questions nonetheless.

And as CNN’s Eric Bradner continues, the and Reps. Marino and Blackburn aren’t the only ones in the hot seat:

The damage could extend beyond Marino’s nomination and Blackburn’s Senate race.

Three other Republicans who are along Democrats’ top targets in the 2018 midterms — Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, [Pols emphasis] Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania and George Holding of North Carolina — were all at times co-sponsors of Marino’s bill.

And with that, Tom Marino’s problem is now Rep. Mike Coffman’s problem. Yes, the bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama, but Obama’s not in office anymore. Today, the sponsors of this legislation who still have something to lose are facing the consequences of its perverse effects. For Rep. Tom Marino, those consequences just put a hard ceiling on his political career. For Rep. Blackburn, seeking to represent a state that has been ravaged by opioid addiction and preventable deaths, the same may be true.

Why exactly did Mike Coffman sign on as a sponsor of this bill? Who from the pharmaceutical industry lobbied him to do it? Was there a price? What does Mike Coffman say today about legislation he sponsored that has now been shown to have done widespread harm instead of good? A whole slew of pointed questions now need to be answered–and whatever those answers may be, the line of attack in next year’s elections against Coffman from his sponsorship of this bill is obvious.

And potentially, quite devastating.

Vicki Marble’s Crazy Cub Scout Talk is Now National News

UPDATE: CNN picks up the story:

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State Sen. Vicki Marble, left, speaks to 11-year-old Ames Mayfield on Oct. 9

Republican State Sen. Vicki Marble’s spectacularly-strange talk to a group of Cub Scouts in Broomfield, which first appeared on Colorado Pols on Thursday, Oct. 12, has become a national news story after one of the fifth-graders who asked tough questions was kicked out of his Cub Scout Den.

The story of 11-year-old Ames Mayfield was picked up this week by 9News, Denver7, Fox 31 and the Denver Post. Earlier this week the editorial board of the Denver Post chastised Marble for lying to the group of Cub Scouts (“Vicki Marble’s Finger-Lickin Lie”), and on Thursday the Post editorial board again weighed in to support Mayfield.

Marshall Zelinger of 9News sat down for an interview with Ames and his mother, Lori, for a story that ran on Thursday night. Whether or not you agree with Ames, it’s impossible to not be impressed with this kid’s composure (full video after the jump below):   

“I know that they probably don’t want me back…and I know that they’re probably still mad at me,” Ames Mayfield said.

Ames asked very specific questions on gun control when State Senator Vicki Marble visited the 11-year-old’s den on Oct. 9…

…Five days later, the Pack leader met with Ames’ mom and said Ames could find another Den within the Pack but not the one he was currently in.

“I am really heartbroken that my Den leader, which I really felt like I had a pretty good relationship with, decided to kick me out,” Ames said.

If you’re skeptical about Ames and his questions to Marble, just watch the 9News story; this is a smart kid who asked smart questions all on his own.

Ames Mayfield

Marble’s bizarre talk with the Cub Scouts started to gain national attention on Thursday, and today Samantha Schmidt flushes out more details for the Washington Post:

Ames’s story drew the attention of gun control advocate and former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was shot in the head by an assailant in 2011, suffering a severe brain injury.

“This is exactly the kind of courage we need in Congress,” Giffords tweeted Thursday. “Ames, call me in 14 years. I’ll campaign for you.”

Giffords’s husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, called Ames and his mother Thursday night to talk about what happened, according to Fox 31

After Mayfield posted the videos on YouTube, the website Colorado Pols published a story about the senator’s exchange with the Cub Scouts. It was after this article published that Ames’s pack leader requested a meeting with his mother. [Pols emphasis]

Mayfield said she was told by the pack leader that Ames should not have brought up the topic of gun control, although Mayfield asserts the Scouts weren’t given any parameters before the meeting. The pack leader, she said, told her words Ames used were disrespectful, such as “why on earth,” the mention of “Republicans” and the phrase, “if you truly represent your constituents.”

Remember to bookmark this link so that you can show it to your grandchildren when Ames Mayfield is elected President of the United States around the year 2048.

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GOP Three Sheets To The Wind For Tax Giveaway

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

Politico reports on the party-line votes yesterday in the U.S. Senate to kick “tax reform” into high gear–moving ahead with plans to slash taxes on most Americans, but especially rich ones, in exchange for $1.5 trillion (with a ‘T’) added to the deficit:

GOP leaders, as well as House Budget Chairman Diane Black and Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, have been ironing out their difference and crafted a Senate amendment full of House-requested tweaks. Because the Senate adopted the amendment during its marathon “vote-a-rama” Thursday, the House could clear the fiscal blueprint as soon as next week…

House sources say it’s likely that conservatives will back the accord, given their desire to move to tax reform. The House Freedom Caucus and the Republican Study Committee had been pushing for a quicker timetable, which sources say this budget allows.

Two House sources said the emerging agreement would allow for the House’s higher defense spending number later in the year, something House defense hawks pushed for up to the last minute. The language suggests Republicans plan to raise strict spending caps on the Pentagon, without offsets if need be — something crucial to getting House Armed Services panel members on board.

The deal, however, allows both chambers to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion via tax reform, matching the Senate’s tax number, one Senate source said. The House had called for a deficit-neutral tax package.

As Politico reports, House Republicans wanted to offset at least $200 million of these tax cuts with proposed cuts to welfare programs, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected that plan. The numbers in the budget “framework” passed yesterday, say Republicans who approved it, don’t mean as much as the procedural power the vote gave Republicans to pass their tax plan without the 60 votes nominally required–thus bypassing Democratic opposition to this wildly irresponsible process.

The point here is that Republicans have committed to the first step, huge tax cuts, without even trying to show how to pay for those cuts. They don’t want to publicly commit to cuts to programs the public supports, which when you get down to it is most programs, so the legislation allows for the possibility–opponents would say certainty–of massive new deficits with the hope that the tax cuts will trigger economic growth that negates the revenue loss. It’s the same logic used by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to justify unsustainable tax cuts–and when the promised economic boom never ensued, the state’s budget fell apart.

But that’s not what matters today. The only objective now is to jam those tax cuts through, and deal with the consequences later! In the highly likely event that the tax cuts fail to work their “Laffer Curve” magic and counterintuitively grow revenues, the same Republicans who passed these tax cuts will use the deficits that result as their excuse to demand the program cuts they don’t want to own today.

Democrats unsuccessfully pleading for fiscal responsibility from the “party of fiscal responsibility,” and then taking the blame for deficits they did not create, is truly one of the more maddening dynamics in modern American politics. It has happened every time Republicans have passed or otherwise forced “tax reform” in recent years, followed by the inevitable call for “tough choices” when reality doesn’t meet their unrealistic forecasts–and it is being set up, right now, to happen again.

At some point, Americans will connect both sides of this monumental scam. But it hasn’t happened yet.

Friday Open Thread

“Madness is rare in individuals–but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule.”

–Friedrich Nietzsche

Losers and Winners from Q3 Fundraising Period

We’re starting this Q3 review with the “Losers” side of the aisle, because the biggest news from the fundraising cycle is George Brauchler’s financial faceplant. Let’s get to it…

LOSERS

George Brauchler

George Brauchler
Once thought to be among the top Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2018, Brauchler’s stunning inability to fundraise will make it difficult for the Arapahoe County District Attorney to fund even a basic Primary campaign at this point. Brauchler raised $190,696 in his first quarter as a candidate, which is a pretty measly sum considering all of the low-hanging fruit that should be available to pluck, but he barely raised half of that amount in Q3.

It’s difficult to imagine that Team Brauchler could have envisioned a worse scenario than the $98,846 in contributions that his campaign reported. To put this number in perspective, consider that Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton pulled down more than $69,000 in just the first two weeks of October, as Ernest Luning reports for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman. For some historical perspective, consider that over the same period in 2013, former Republican legislator Greg Brophy (ironically now a Brauchler supporter) raised about $93k in his bid for governor; Brophy went through the caucus process six months later and failed to even make it onto the ballot.

 

Joe Salazar
Salazar all but ended any chance of winning the 2018 Democratic nomination for Attorney General by raising just $20,152 in Q3. The Adams County legislator announced his long-rumored campaign for AG back in March; seven months later, his cash-on-hand total sits at less than $13k. Salazar was outraised more than 3-to-1 by Democratic candidate Amy Padden, who just entered the race in July and is virtually unknown in Democratic political circles. Salazar didn’t need to be the top fundraiser in the field because he theoretically has more of a grassroots base than the other Democratic AG candidates, but you simply cannot run a functional statewide campaign with so little money.

 

Steve Lebsock
State Rep. Steve Lebsock is the only Democratic candidate for State Treasurer in 2018, but probably not for long. Lebsock raised $12,360 in Q3. The only reason Lebsock reports having $12,715 in the bank is because he also claims $15,210 in non-monetary contributions.

 

Rep. Doug Lamborn

Republican Candidates in CD-5 (Colorado Springs)
Incumbent Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn is once again facing a Primary challenge in 2018, with state Sen. Owen Hill and 2016 GOP Senate nominee Darryl Glenn looking to take over his safe Republican seat. If fundraising is any measure of how this race will play out, we could be looking at a three-way tie for last place. Lamborn raised just $72,125 in Q3, compared to less than $68k for Hill and $12,600 for Glenn. The combined fundraising totals of Lamborn, Hill, and Glenn don’t even match the $165,437 raised by Democratic candidate Joe Neguse in CD-2 (Boulder).

 

Democratic Candidates in CD-4 (Northeast Colorado)
This line in a press release from Democrat Karen McCormick tells you everything you need to know:

Having raised $50,835.27 in her first two quarters, McCormick has now raised over three times the amount of her closest Democratic competitor and has developed an insurmountable lead in the race to determine which Democrat will face Ken Buck in November, 2018.

 

Cynthia Coffman
Incumbent Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is still widely rumored to be running for Governor in 2018 instead of re-election, but she has money troubles either way. Coffman raised $10,600 for her AG account in Q3, leaving her with a total of $42,070 that could be used for re-election or transferred to a campaign for Governor. Coffman has a lot of ground to make up for whatever statewide office she chooses to pursue in 2018.

 

Check out our Q3 fundraising Winners after the jump…

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Gardner Sneaks In Another Mute-Button “Tele-Town Hall”

If you blinked, you missed it–yesterday morning, Sen. Cory Gardner announced another one of his trademark “tele-town halls,” set to take place this morning at 10:00AM:

Even if you didn’t blink, and managed to take time at the beginning of a busy weekday to “talk” to Sen. Gardner on practically no notice, hopefully you didn’t miss this morning’s last-minute time change!

Pretty much if you’re either 1. on Cory Gardner’s staff or 2. have nothing whatsoever else to do on a Thursday morning, a last-minute-and-then-rescheduled conference call is something you might reasonably be expected to be able to accommodate. For the rest of us–meaning, well, most of us–this is all kind of farcical. There’s nothing about this experience that makes a constituent feel like they’ve been reached out to for anything like actual feedback.

There’s more to say about the subject of Gardner’s “outreach,” but this off-putting miscue tells its own story.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (October 19)

Mark your calendars — the world is ending on Saturday. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is upping his ante on a misinformation campaign about potential Russian interference in the 2016 election, suggesting on Thursday that perhaps the FBI and the Democratic Party somehow conspired together to pay for a reported intelligence dossier on Trump. We’d say that this was getting strange, but we’d be repeating ourselves. From CNN:

The point here is that it is deeply irresponsible for a president of the United States to even flirt with this sort of conspiracy talk. You can love Donald Trump and still believe that the idea that the Russians, the Democrats and the FBI co-funded a dossier designed to discredit Trump’s 2016 campaign is totally bonkers.

Unfortunately, lots and lots of Trump backers will believe this stuff solely by dint of the fact that Trump tweeted it. And that, of course, is Trump’s goal. Muddy the waters and discredit the ongoing investigations into what Russia did in the 2016 election. Make the whole thing into a partisan witch hunt.

But, there is no plausible scenario by which what Trump suggested this morning — a wide-scale conspiracy involving three separate actors across federal agencies and continents — actually happened. That we can’t (won’t?) agree on that seemingly obvious fact is troubling.

 

► Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified Wednesday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the topic of Russian election meddling took center stage. As the Washington Post explains:

Jeff Sessions was the personification of a hostile witness whenever a Democratic lawmaker questioned him during a contentious five-hour oversight hearing on Wednesday.

The attorney general set the tone early in his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee since his January confirmation. “I can neither assert executive privilege nor can I disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president,” Sessions said in his opening statement.

There were several yes-or-no questions that should have been easy for Sessions to answer, but he refused. Sometimes what someone will not say is more interesting than what they do…

Sessions declined to discuss anything the president told him before firing James Comey. He pointedly refused to answer multiple questions about whether Trump told him that getting rid of the FBI director would “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

Sessions also declined to express confidence in the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, nor would he say whether or not he would resign his post if President Trump took the extraordinary step of trying to fire Mueller.

 

Cracks are forming in the leadership ranks of the Colorado League of Women Voters over the groups decision to support a controversial redistricting/reapportionment ballot proposal for 2018.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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You Can’t Do That, Scott Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

An AP wire story today via the Denver Post saddles EPA henhouse guard fox administrator Scott Pruitt with another alleged improper use of taxpayer funds in Colorado–this time Pruitt’s visit to our state to film a video urging opposition to the previous administration’s much-vilified Clean Water Rule:

Pruitt flew to Colorado for an August event organized by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, an industry trade association representing cattle producers. While at the ranch, Pruitt recorded a video urging the group’s members to file comments supporting the repeal of EPA’s Waters of the United States rule.

The 2015 rule seeks to expand the agency’s jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act to include smaller streams and wetlands.

In a letter sent last week, the top Democrats on four committees with oversight of EPA asked the head of the Government Accountability Office to issue a formal legal ruling on whether Pruitt’s participation in the video violated federal rules.

They cited longstanding prohibitions against federal officials using taxpayer funds “for publicity or propaganda purposes, and for the preparation, distribution or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, radio, television, or film presentation designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress.”

This issue does involve the existing controversy over Pruitt’s costly and questionable travel arrangements, which includes a chartered private flight from Denver to Durango earlier this year that Colorado officials say could have been avoided if Pruitt had taken their offer of a ride with Gov. John Hickenlooper. This latest scandal adds the impropriety of expensive travel to Colorado to an improper purpose: attacking the Clean Water Rule on behalf of an industry lobbying group.

In short, it’s definitely a problem, and Pruitt could find himself sharing the fate of ousted HHS Secretary Tom Price if the bad headlines for the administration continue. And yes, the Clean Water Rule angle makes the “drain the swamp” humor over Pruitt’s spendthrift use of taxpayer dollars that much more biting.

Administrator, drain thyself. Preferably not into the waters of the United States.

Thursday Open Thread

“Justice is not to be taken by storm. She is to be wooed by slow advances.”

–Benjamin Cardozo

Rep. Phil Covarrubias Has Himself a Facebook Meltdown

You might remember freshman GOP Rep. Phil Covarrubias of Adams County from unfortunate remarks he made on the floor of the Colorado House this past March–which, though they were a little confusing in the delivery, very much appeared to excuse the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Rep. Covarrubias’ comments went national, and as a result most Americans’ first impression of the man came in the form of his apology.

An observant reader alerted us a short while ago that Rep. Covarrubias is right now, as we write having some kind of social media “meltdown”–ranting on Facebook in a way that could make him, well, infamous once again:

Editor’s note: “American” is not a race.

This was all posted a little early in the day to blame liquor or “wacky tobbacky,” but that’s honestly the best theory we’ve got. Rep. Covarrubias is clearly upset about contemporary headlines, but got off track trying to wrap up “Hitlery Clinton,” Harvey Weinstein, and racism against “Americans” into something you’d call a coherent package.

The internment rant and associated controversy already had us thinking Rep. Covarrubias is the present-day Archie Bunker of the Colorado General Assembly. After this bout of social media diarrhea, we’d say it’s safe to remove all doubt.

Gardner Goes Full Trump on Cost-Sharing “Bailouts”

UPDATE: President Trump’s decision to cut cost-sharing reduction subsidies (CSR) — which Gardner apparently supports — is directly related to significant increases in healthcare costs in Colorado:

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Critically, Gardner refers to these subsidies as “bailouts” for insurance companies, echoing the Trump administration’s line–and signaling clearly that Gardner will not be of assistance in moving forward a bipartisan plan to fund the CSR payments floated this week:

GARDNER: Now we know it contains a bailout to the insurance companies, I think most people across America probably don’t like the fact that we’re giving billions of dollars to insurance companies while they’re still increasing rates dramatically…

But as Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler analyzed in detail a few days ago, the claim that the cost-sharing reduction payments constitute a “bailout” in any sense the term is correctly used is completely wrong–earning the dreaded “Four Pinocchios” on their scale of falsity:

The CSRs were in addition to the premium tax credits received by people making less than 400 percent of the poverty line. (The tax credits were available for any level of plan.) The intent was to make it easier for low-income people to afford the cost of health insurance…

CSRs are not a bailout for insurance companies. A bailout means a company is being propped up with government money after making bad decisions. That’s not the case here…Insurance companies don’t make money through cost-sharing — they are being paid back for money they’ve already spent on behalf of people who purchased their health plans. The president either doesn’t understand the process or is being purposely misleading.

If it’s true that President Trump “either doesn’t understand the process or is being purposely misleading” when he called the CSR payments a “bailout,” it’s true of Cory Gardner as well. In Gardner’s case, we’re not inclined to presume ignorance. In the clip above, Gardner smiles as he refers to the CSR payments as a “bailout,” almost like he knows what he’s saying is nonsense and is a little embarrassed by it.

If so, it’s because he should be. It may not be a surprise at this point for Gardner to echo Trump’s already-proven lies, but it’s pretty galling. For everyone who defended Gardner as “a different kind of Republican” in 2014, this should be the breaking point if they haven’t already reached one.

Because these are just not the words honest people use.

So Many Want To See Mike Pence, It’s Half Price! Wait, What?

UPDATE #2: Denverite’s Erica Meltzer updates as the Colorado GOP weaves all over the road:

However, later in the afternoon, GOP Executive Director Shana Banberger, said that tickets sold have already exceeded expectations of 400 attendees. She described the initial information as “inaccurate” without clarifying what, specifically, was wrong. (I’ve asked for that clarification, and I’ll update this story if I get a response.)

“It is unfortunate that incorrect information was released on the upcoming event with our vice president,” she wrote. “Despite inaccurate reporting, we will exceed our expected attendance of 400 supporters.”

Obviously, the first problem is that the Post reported (see below) 800 tickets.

Second, the “incorrect information” came from (see below) the GOP’s own spokesman.

This is not a good day for the Colorado Republican Party’s press shop, folks.

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UPDATE: Rapidly becoming the butt of the day’s jokes:

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Vice President Mike Pence.

Denver Post’s John Frank reporting and it’s just kind of sad:

Because of a lack of demand, the Colorado Republican Party is offering a Groupon-like deal to see Vice President Mike Pence…

The party announced the event weeks earlier but struggled to sell the 800 tickets available. So now it’s lowering the lowest-price ticket to $150, a 45 percent discount. A couple can attend with a two-for-one deal at the original $275 price.

…Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays tried to put his best spin on the news, writing in an email Wednesday: “Due to popular demand, we have made more tickets available at a new lower price.” But the same invite later says space is limited.

Which is funny, because Frank’s story was published at 11:15 this morning–in which the Colorado GOP concedes “We couldn’t fill the large room at that ticket level.” Just an hour before on Twitter, though, the same Colorado GOP said:

Apparently that was the spin before it occurred to, well, everybody that you don’t reduce the ticket price in response to increased demand. We have to believe it would have been less embarrassing to simply curtain off part of the venue if you can’t fill it than offering a bad Vegas magic show discount to see the Vice President of the United States.

Mike Pence at half price! The insult to your intelligence is gratis.

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