Republicans in Congress lined up to defend Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski yesterday, joining the movement in her support after President Trump fired off a series of nasty, sexist tweets at her.
But on the same day, they continued to debate how to get the votes to pass a health care bill that would hurt millions of American women.
Rhetorically, it was a rare show of unified opposition to Trump from the right (and the media and the left), a moment when Republicans on Capitol Hill drew a line in the sand. Trump had gone too far in calling Mika “crazy.”
Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 29, 2017
Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office.— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) June 29, 2017
"Obviously, I don't see this as an appropriate comment,” House Speaker Paul Ryan offered. “What we are trying to do around here is improve the tone and civility of the debate and this obviously doesn't do that," he told reporters.
But despite their opposition to Trump’s comments directed at one woman, Republicans are still pushing a health care bill that is devastating to the health of millions. It aims to roll back health care coverage for poor women, defund Planned Parenthood, and make maternity care optional for insurers.
It’s disappointing that we have a president who sees no problem sending out cruel, cheap-shot tweets criticizing a female TV host’s appearance. It’s horrifying that he’s going along with a policy that would hurt millions of women.
The Senate health care bill is really bad for women
Let’s be perfectly clear about what is going on here: Republicans are working to enact health care reform that would be bad for millions of people, but the bill also hurts women in specific ways. It’s not lost on many that the original working group to draft the bill was made up of 13 male senators.
As Vox’s Julia Belluz explained, the Senate bill — currently the leading version of health care reform Congress wants to pass — rolls back many parts of the Affordable Care Act that boosted women’s access to health care.
1) The bill would make huge cuts to Medicaid, which many women rely on for birth control, maternity care, and even abortion coverage. The bill would not only roll back the Medicaid expansion, but it would make cuts to future spending on the program that go far below pre-Obamacare levels. Medicaid, of course, covers millions of women. As Belluz explained, “The program for low-income Americans pays for half of all births, including two-thirds of unplanned births. Three-quarters of the public dollars spent on family planning are Medicaid dollars, and in 17 states, Medicaid programs also cover abortion with state dollars.”
2) The bill specifically targets Planned Parenthood funding. Though the Senate bill is a little sneaky about this, it has provision to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding for routine medical care like testing for sexually transmitted infections, obtaining birth control, and breast cancer screenings. (Federal law already prohibits federal dollars from being used to pay for abortion.) Medicaid funding makes up about 40 percent of the organization’s annual revenue, and as Texas found out when it put prohibitive restrictions on Planned Parenthood, women did suffer a decline in access to contraception and other vital services. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that defunding Planned Parenthood would result in several thousand more unplanned pregnancies.
3) The bill also makes it harder for employers and individuals to include abortion coverage with their regular insurance. Under the Senate health care bill, women who obtain coverage through the individual market or from their employer may suddenly find their plan no longer covers abortion in 2018. Belluz explained that the bill prohibits using tax credits to purchase plans that cover abortion. Further, it prohibits insurance plans that provide abortion from drawing on pools of emergency funds used to incentivize insurers to stay in the marketplaces.
4) The bill makes “essential health benefits” under Obamacare — which include robust maternity coverage — optional. The Senate health bill streamlines the waiver process for states to opt out of Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement. One of the key provisions in that group of 10 essential health benefits is maternity and prenatal care coverage. Before Obamacare was passed, an estimated 88 percent of plans on the individual market didn’t cover maternity care.
It’s true that many of these provisions in the bill are unpopular and may not make it through to the final version of the health care bill — if it ever passes at all. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in particular has been critical of the provisions that attack Planned Parenthood funding.
But it’s important to think of what Republicans put forth as a kind of mission statement. They came out with their ideal version of what they think they can pass. And that ideal version contains a lot of stuff that would leave women with worse-off health care than before. The bill is bad for millions of people, but it’s important to remember that it is particularly bad for women.
We’ve seen this before: Republicans object to crass talk about women while pushing bad policy
The Trump-Brzezinski war is a lesser version of something we saw play out in October of last year. That was when a 2005 tape came out of Trump bragging to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush about his strategy with women: that he could “grab ’em by the pussy” and that because he’s a “star,” they let him do it.
The bombshell report seemed like it might be the end of Trump — many were horrified by it, and it compounded when women began coming forward to say that, in fact, they’d experienced exactly this behavior from Trump.
Republicans, many of them in swing states, began to say they could not stomach voting for Trump after hearing the tape. Notably, Ryan said, “His comments are not anywhere in keeping with our party’s principles and values. ... I am not going to defend Donald Trump — not now, not in the future.” He pledged to stop campaigning with Trump during the final stretch.
But Republicans also saw an opportunity. Trump, who seemed uninterested in policy, seemed like someone who would be willing to sign off on whatever policy agenda a Republican-controlled Congress put forth.
Indeed, during the debate of the health care bill, Trump has been supportive of every iteration of it, even though it breaks many of his campaign promises to defend Medicaid and lower premiums.
It’s the difference between hostile sexism and benevolent sexism
The difference between Trump and his Republican colleagues here is essentially the difference between hostile sexism and benevolent sexism.
Trump is crass — he’ll say the sexist thing that’s not polite to bring up in public. He described his “grab ’em by the pussy” remarks as “locker room talk.” They were considered by many to be a confession of committing sexual assault, but even if you take Trump at his word, he defended himself by saying he talks in a sexist way in private. He was saying he engages in overt, or hostile sexism — at least behind closed doors. By commenting about Brzezinski’s “face lift” on Twitter, he was simply taking that behavior public.
But for his Republican colleagues, it’s different. They say they want to treat women with respect. In fact, many of them who came out against Trump’s Access Hollywood tape cited their “wives and daughters.” My colleague Yochi Dreazen wrote eloquently at the time, “Anyone with a basic sense of decency ought to be horrified by Trump’s casual talk of groping women, not just fathers of girls.”
Republicans are engaging in a version of benevolent sexism. Usually this is used to describe low-grade behavior like referring to grown women as “little lady,” but I’m using it in a more expansive way here. Republicans insist they want to talk about women with respect; their remarks telling Trump to knock off that kind of Twitter behavior is clear. But they seem perfectly fine with moving forward with a bill that would negatively affect millions of American women’s lives.