Jimmy Kiimmel, whose passionate plea that House Republicans not pass Trumpcare didn’t end up making any difference, returned to Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday with an update and a response to his critics. First, his newborn son is still doing fine and still adorable. Second, if Slate’s Isaac Chotiner was right to say that Kimmel didn’t seem to get that the problem wasn’t partisanship, it was the Republican Party, he seems to be waking up. First, his sarcastic opening clearly places blame where it belongs:
One week ago tonight, I made an emotional speech that was seen by millions, and as a result of my powerful words on that night, Republicans in Congress had second thoughts about repeal and replace. They realized that what is right is right, and I saved health insurance in the United States of America.
That’s pretty unequivocal, and so was Kimmel’s brutal and sarcastic apology for reducing the debate to a simple moral proposition:
I would like to apologize for saying children in America should have health care. It was insensitive, it was offensive, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.
But evidence that Kimmel had noticed that his most heartless critics had a political persuasion in common looked, at first glance, like it would be undercut by the second half of the segment, in which he invited Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana on the show to explain how the Senate would magically fix everything. To be fair, Kimmel couldn’t very well ignore him: In a recent CNN appearance, Cassidy invoked his name when asked if he’d support a bill that allowed states to eliminate lifetime caps on insurance payouts (the American Health Care Act does):
As you present that, I ask, “Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test? Would a child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life?” I want it to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test.
Kimmel—who was very clear last week that his concern was with lifetime cost and access to health care, not “that first year of life”—naturally wanted to talk to the senator who was using his name, and, perhaps because Kimmel seemed to endorse a “both sides are to blame” view last week, Cassidy agreed to come on. What followed was an interview in which an increasingly unhappy-looking Kimmel repeatedly asked simple questions and got long, complicated answers. His opener, “Why are the vast majority of Republican politicians against making sure Americans are truly covered when it comes to health care?” was as pointed as could be, but the most telling exchange was this one:
KIMMEL: The clinic you cofounded caters to the working uninsured. Why is there even such a thing as ‘working uninsured’ in the United States? Should there be?
CASSIDY: No, there shouldn’t be. On the other hand …”
Everything’s in that “on the other hand,” isn’t it? The evidence that Cassidy thought he was in for a friendly interview can be found in his limp paean to bipartisanship, as though—as Kimmel seemed to assume last week—both parties wanted the same thing:
We will get there if the American people call their senator. And if they call their senator as a Democrat and say, “Listen, don’t just sit on the sidelines—engage. Don’t wait to be called, you call.” Call your Republican senator. Say, “We’ve got to fulfill President Trump’s contract: lowering premiums with coverage that passes the Jimmy Kimmel test.” If we do that, we get an American plan—not Democrat, not Republican, an American plan. And that’s where we need to be.
That kind of reach-across-the-aisles bullshit is always popular—Cassidy got applause from the studio audience for his “American plan” line, but Kimmel looked increasingly agitated throughout the answer, visibly pursing his lips when Cassidy used his name again. And then he sprung the trap:
Senator, since you mention this test, since I am Jimmy Kimmel, I’d like to make a suggestion as to what the Jimmy Kimmel test should be. I’ll keep it simple. The Jimmy Kimmel test, I think, should be “No family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it.” Can that be the Jimmy Kimmel test?
That got more applause than the “American plan” line. And when Cassidy started with the usual “we can’t afford things that everyone else in the civilized world somehow manages” song and dance, Kimmel dropped another hammer, interrupting Cassidy to tell him, “Well, I can think of a way to pay for it: Don’t give a huge tax cut to millionaires like me, and instead leave it how it is. That’s my vote.” Letting Cassidy go, Kimmel told him, “I trust that you will keep your word.” (Spoiler alert: He won’t.)
Kimmel’s approach last week might have looked naïve at the time, but his story served as an open invitation for Republicans to show the world just how cruel they could be, and boy did they take it. And because Kimmel is seen as relatively apolitical, Bill Cassidy felt safe using his name and agreeing to come on his show. And now Cassidy’s got a late-night host who will personally hold him responsible if (when) the Senate passes a bill that doesn’t provide medical care to all Americans, both on moral grounds and for lying to his face about his intentions. When Kimmel’s good-faith approach to Republicans is inevitably met with a Senate bill that simply robs the poor in slightly less obvious ways, he might actually change some minds. And that would be naïve like a fox.