Until Wednesday, Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had a good enough relationship with his vice-chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat. But then Nunes broke protocol by sharing intelligence with the White House and then with reporters, showing incidental collection of data from Trump’s transition team and possibly from Trump himself. Just two days earlier, FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers had told the intelligence committee that several Trump associates were under investigation for ties to the Russian government and its hacking during the 2016 presidential election. What’s more, they debunked the president’s claim that Barack Obama had placed him under direct surveillance. Nunes concluded the hearing by saying, accurately, that Comey and Rogers had placed a “gray cloud” of suspicion over the Trump administration.
Rather than wait to see if that cloud would linger or pass, Nunes chose to play Weather Wizard, accusing spy agencies of abusing their surveillance powers by collecting and sharing information on Trump and his transition team. Nunes refuses to say where he obtained his evidence and hadn’t shared it with other members of the intelligence committee. But the White House has embraced his claim as vindication that, in fact, Obama spied on Trump.
The problem for this argument, as the Washington Post notes, is that this surveillance—which occurred after the election—was routine monitoring of foreign officials and diplomats. “While such surveillance aims to gather intelligence about foreign actors, it can often pick up conversations with their American counterparts,” notes the Post. Nunes, who served on the president’s transition team, has muddied the waters around the White House, but he hasn’t vindicated Trump. What he has done, however, is alienate his colleagues, spur calls for a special investigation, and raise questions of whether he released classified information and revealed information about an FBI investigation to the subjects of the investigation.
Nunes sacrificed his professional integrity to run interference for Donald Trump and his team, who—if recent revelations are true—may have coordinated with Russians government hackers to harm their political opponents. Citing U.S. officials, CNN reported on Wednesday that the investigation has revealed indications that “associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
At a time where his job is to place the good of the country over the good of his party, Nunes has done the reverse. In that, he’s been joined by many of his Republican colleagues. You saw this on Monday, when other Republicans on the intelligence committee tried to steer the discussion away from the administration and its ties to Russia and toward the leaking of classified information. And you’re seeing it now, as House Republicans rush under actual cover of darkness to pass a hastily written health care bill that, according to official estimates, would end health insurance for 24 million people, to subsidize tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
After seven years of attacks on the process that yielded the Affordable Care Act—a process that began before Obama entered office and lasted more than a year—Republicans have switched gears, fighting to pass a massive overhaul of the health insurance system in the span of just a month, with little analysis, debate, or consideration of the consequences. As of Wednesday night, in fact, Republicans were rewriting the bill, with the aim of passing it the next day, ignorant of its contents or what it would do to the tens of millions of Americans who rely on Medicaid or purchase insurance on the private market.
Even if you back the larger goals of House Speaker Paul Ryan and his allies, this effort shows a breathtaking contempt for governance and a blithe indifference to the consequences of major legislation. For instance, one item in the horse trading between congressional leadership and recalcitrant Republicans is the “essential benefits” provision in the Affordable Care Act, which requires coverage for standard forms of care. In the past, without those rules, insurers would sell low-cost plans that offered little or no coverage. Individuals would find themselves with huge medical bills but “insurance” that covered a fraction of the costs.
Perhaps there’s a way to build a proposal that allows this flexibility for insurers without disrupting the entire market. But House Republicans aren’t interested in crafting that bill. Instead, they plan to rush through, blindfolded, uninterested in what their law would do to actual people.
Again, in the rush to pass the American Health Care Act we have another instance of Republicans abdicating their larger responsibility for the sake of narrow partisan and ideological goals. And indeed, it’s tied to how they’ve approached the investigation into Trump and Russia or how they’ve approached anything relating to the president. Republicans look past Trump’s behavior and actions—his contempt for truth and transparency—so they can pursue an agenda with equal contempt for process and governance.
We know what it looks like for politicians to sacrifice partisan loyalty for broader principle, to place country over party. And we’ve built a whole mythology around those times when the stakes were high and our lawmakers worked together to save the system. By contrast, we don’t have a narrative of the reverse, when politicians sacrifice principle for partisan loyalty and let polarization drive their actions. But if we were looking for that narrative, this past week would make a firm foundation. Over the course of just a few days, we’ve seen lawmakers abandon all pretense to principle or consistency for the sake of partisan gain and to benefit a president who disdains our pluralism and democratic institutions.