Ari Fleischer

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  • The Senate bill on health care imploded, and pro-Trump media is a mess. Sad!

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Senate health care bill is dead again after two conservative Republican senators said last night they would not vote to advance the legislation because it does not repeal enough of former President Barack Obama’s signature health law. As GOP leaders scramble to find a new tactic that will allow them to strip health insurance from millions while slashing taxes for the wealthy, President Donald Trump’s media supporters have been left grasping for a message.

    The original bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assembled through a secretive process and tried to rush through with little public debate, would lead to 22 million more Americans being uninsured at the end of the decade, largely due to cuts to Medicaid; many of those who retain insurance under the bill would pay more for fewer benefits. The bill was amended after the Congressional Budget Office offered that verdict, but the GOP decided not to wait for a new score before moving forward. Democratic senators are universally opposed to the legislation, while the most moderate and conservative Republicans have also refused to sign on, either because it does too much or too little to move away from Obamacare’s improvements to the health care system.

    Trump’s propagandists look to him to set the tone for how to respond to bad news. But the message out of the White House has always been incoherent on health care, largely because the president seems to have no real interest in the various, serious policy debates surrounding the future of health insurance for the American people -- he just wants a win. In May, the president held a Rose Garden event to celebrate the passage of the House bill, which he described as a “great plan.” Weeks later, he turned around and privately called that legislation “mean.”

    That sort of policy incoherence gets in the way of formulating messaging around legislative setbacks. Last night, for instance, Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” But that tactical messaging completely ignores the question of what a good health care plan would look like, and whether the Senate bill that just went down in flames met that criteria. Without clearly defined heroes and villains or a clear policy vision, his media allies have been left to their own devices. The noise machine is grinding to a halt.

    Absent messaging from the top, here are a few ways the pro-Trump media are responding:

    The GOP leadership failed Trump

    Most of Trump’s propagandists are of the opinion that Trump cannot fail; he can only be failed. As such, they’ve quickly turned their fire on McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI).

    “I know the president is frustrated with the situation. A lot has been promised to him and not much delivered,” Fox host Kimberly Guilfoyle said last night. “I think this is a failure on the part of the leadership, to be quite honest. Because they needed to get this to stick and to coalesce and get it done.”

    “Second failure for Mitch McConnell,” Steve Doocy added on Fox & Friends this morning, pointing to the bill’s previous collapse last month.

    Even Matt Drudge is getting in on the act:

    If the Senate bill continues to struggle, and Trump doesn’t publicly support McConnell, we could see calls for his replacement in the near future.

    “It was a lousy bill”

    Trump’s lack of interest in policy leaves his supporters plenty of room to say that they didn’t like the bill, without creating any dissonance about the fact that the president supported the legislation.

    Doocy went after the bill from the start this morning, saying, “Ultimately, what undid this bill is -- the one that they are not going to vote on now --  is it was a lousy bill. I mean, it still had big taxes. It still had a lot of regulations. It had that insurance company subsidy slush fund that Rand Paul was talking about. It was not what the American people” wanted. Notably, since Doocy also has little knowledge of or interest in policy, he can’t really say what a good replacement would look like either, simply saying Congress should “get rid of all that stuff and come up with something new.”

    “Maybe it’s time to nuclear option things”

    One of the problems Senate Republicans faced in trying to push through health care legislation is that because they knew no bill would attract enough Democratic support to overcome a filibuster, they were trying to pass the bill with a 50-vote threshold through the budget reconciliation process. But that process limits what can actually go into the bill, making full repeal of Obamacare extremely difficult.

    In order to sidestep that process, the hosts of Fox & Friends are calling for Senate Republicans to deploy the “nuclear option” and eliminate the filibuster altogether, making all votes subject only to a majority vote. It’s unclear how this would help pass a health care bill since Republicans just demonstrated they don’t have 50 votes in the Senate, but this morning Doocy, co-host Brian Kilmeade, and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer all seemed eager to push through that proposal.

    A few hours later, Trump, who regularly watches Fox & Friends, chimed in, tweeting, “The Senate must go to a 51 vote majority instead of current 60 votes. Even parts of full Repeal need 60. 8 Dems control Senate. Crazy!”

    Hey look over here!

    For some, the best way to get through a crushing defeat for the president is to downplay that it happened.

    Time to move on to tax reform

    Another option is to give up altogether. That’s the current recommendation of Fox News host Eric Bolling, at least until the president makes clear that he’s sticking with health care.

    “Let's just say this thing fails. They put it off to the side,” he said on this morning’s Fox & Friends. “They screwed up. They failed. You shore up the individual insurance markets. You put it off to the side. Then you take up something that I think every single American, whether you are Democrat, independent, or Republican, can wrap their brain around, tax reform.”

    The good news for the pro-Trump media is that tax reform is a very simple issue with few stakeholders and broad agreement in Congress on a way forward. It also helps that the president has learned important lessons from the health care fight about overconfidence in the face of policy fights.

  • Don't Let Spicer And The Trump Administration Off The Hook For Winking At Anti-Semites

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Media shouldn’t be so willing to let White House press secretary Sean Spicer off the hook for his comments comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler given the implicit and explicit ways President Donald Trump and his administration have embraced white nationalists. No matter how ineffective, Spicer’s comparison is another example of a wink and a nod to the type of hatred that is a part of this White House’s culture.

    During an April 11 White House press briefing, Spicer likened Assad to Hitler, telling reporters that unlike Assad, “you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” When he was asked to clarify, Spicer said that Hitler “was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” when in reality the German SS and police used poison gas to asphyxiate millions of Jews in concentration camps (which Spicer called “Holocaust centers” in his comments). After repeatedly trying to explain his comments, Spicer ultimately apologized, calling them “inexcusable and reprehensible.” Meanwhile, white nationalists cheered the remarks, praising the press secretary for exposing the “Jewish gas chamber hoax.”​

    Media were quick to accept Spicer’s apology and let him off the hook. Fox News’ Kevin Corke called it “heartfelt and … very unequivocal” and added, “he should be able to move on … quickly.” CNN’s Chris Cillizza said, “I’m going to give Sean the benefit of the doubt,” saying Spicer “got himself into a verbal trap and could not get himself out.” On CNN’s New Day, Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary to former President George W. Bush, accepted Spicer’s apology, adding that “the notion that this is somehow nefarious or indicative of Holocaust denial, I dismiss.” Additionally, CNN commentator David Axelrod tweeted that Spicer has “apologized” for his comments and it’s “time to move on.”

    But this is hardly the first time that Spicer and the Trump administration used obtuse language or offered an implicit nod to the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • Trump hired Stephen Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a "platform for the” white nationalist “alt-right" movement as his chief strategist -- a move that was lavishly praised by white nationalists.

    • At the end of the presidential campaign, Trump ran an ad that Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall wrote was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary.” Naturally, Trump’s white nationalist supporters loved it, calling it “absolutely fantastic.”

    • The White House failed to mention the Jewish people in a statement commemorating International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

    This is in addition to the direct contact Trump and his aides have had with members of the white nationalist community. For instance:

    • According to The New York Times, Trump has “retweeted supportive messages from racist or nationalist” supporters, including “accounts featuring white nationalist or Nazi themes.”

    • Trump refused to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during an interview with CNN, drawing praise from his neo-Nazi supporters.

    • The Trump campaign gave press credentials to the white nationalist radio show The Political Cesspool. Donald Trump Jr. also appeared on the radio show to complain about “political correctness.”

    • Former Trump adviser A.J. Delgado retweeted a Trump endorsement from the anti-Semitic hate site The Right Stuff.

    • Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted “love you back” to an anti-Semitic Twitter account.

    Media figures are wrong to simply dismiss Spicer’s Holocaust comments as a hiccup. The connections between the Trump team and the white nationalist community are too strong for Spicer’s comments to be treated as a one-off. Spicer’s blunder is emblematic of the administration’s continuing effort to wink and nod at -- and sometimes openly embrace -- its white nationalist supporters.

  • Iraq And The Need For Pundit Accountability

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    FleischerEarlier this week, Bloomberg View columnist Barry Ritholtz took Art Laffer to task for a piece of economic analysis the former Reagan adviser penned in 2009 that proved drastically wrong. Ritholtz used the column to ask : Why aren't pundits held accountable? 

    It's an important question, and one that warrants consideration, particularly as unrepentant architects of the Iraq War enter the public sphere to opine on the deteriorating situation in that country. 

    Following President Obama's speech on the increasing violence in Iraq, Ari Fleischer weighed in on Twitter:

    As critics were quick to point out, it's impossible to have a credible discussion about the situation in Iraq without consideration of how we got there in the first place (also, we actually invaded Iraq in 2003). And it's certainly convenient for Fleischer to wave away questions about the initial invasion given that he helped to sell it as President Bush's press secretary.

    Here are some quotes from the former Bush flak that Think Progress assembled in 2007, when Fleischer surfaced as a leading voice behind that year's escalation:

    "[T]here's no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on." [2/14/03]

    "My point is, the likelihood is much more like Afghanistan, where the people who live right now under a brutal dictator will view America as liberators, not conquerors." [10/11/02]

    "There have been contacts between senior members of -- senior Iraqi officials and members of the al Qaeda organization, going back for quite a long time. ...Iraq provided some training to al Qaeda in chemical weapons development. There are contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda." [1/27/03]

    "There is no question that we have evidence and information that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical particularly. ... And all this will be made clear in the course of the operation, for whatever duration it takes." [3/21/03]

    "[N]o, I don't think there's any chance of losing the peace, but it is going to be a battle to continue to win the peace." [5/19/03]

    Fleischer has no apology for what he did -- he'd simply prefer not to speak of it.

    The role people like Fleischer played in supporting and selling the invasion of Iraq and whether or not they've assessed that role and found their actions wanting are factors media should consider as they report on current efforts by conservatives to pin all the blame for the current state of that country on President Obama.

    This need for pundit accountability isn't limited to Iraq. Earlier this month, Fox News hosted Oliver North to criticize President Obama for negotiating with terrorists to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. North, of course, is famous for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which he facilitated the illegal sale of missiles to Iran in exchange for the release of U.S. prisoners in Lebanon.

    Such pundit antics are par for the course at Fox, which hosts Judy Miller to discuss Middle East weapons of mass destruction, Mark Fuhrman to opine on race, and "heckuva job" Michael Brown to talk about disaster relief.

  • Pundits Try To Gore Joe Biden's Debate Performance

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Stressing style over substance, lots of Beltway pundits teamed up with Republican partisans to push the theater criticism point that Vice President Joe Biden may have blown last night's debate with his body language. Specifically, critics are complaining he smiled and chuckled too much while Rep. Paul Ryan was speaking.

    Even after CBS News' snap poll showed that Biden had scored a big win with undecided voters, pundits and Republicans suggested Biden's facial expressions, not the substance of his comments, were newsworthy.

    From the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin:

    And BuzzFeed's Ben Smith:

    The media effort is reminiscent of when pundits and Republicans teamed up on Al Gore after his first presidential debate with George W. Bush in 2000. Back then, they pushed the line that Gore had sighed too often in response to Bush's answers. History shows that right after the debate viewers crowned Gore the winner of the face-off. But after the media's sigh initiative, Bush was perceived to have won the debate. Today, Gore's sighs are routinely referenced as debate blunders. ("Utterly insufferable," Esquire recently wrote.)

    It's unlikely the press can turn Biden's strong showing into a stinging defeat, in part because the 2000 sigh episode was part of a much larger anti-Gore press push. But it's telling how seamlessly the mainstream press joined with Republican operatives to launch post-debate (style) spin targeting Biden last night and trying to tie him to Gore's performance.

    From former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer:

    And the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza

    In its piece, "Is Joe Biden The New Al Gore?" Politico reported that "at least among some pundits and Republican strategists: it reminded them of Al Gore's infamous sighs in the 2000 presidential debates against George W. Bush, which were enough to seriously hurt Gore's candidacy." [Emphasis added.]

    Politico stressed that Gore's sighs were "universally panned by pundit" are now "remembered as one of the standout aspects of the debates that year." What's lost in that rewriting is that Gore actually won the first debate. The Associated Press reported on October 4, 2000 that Gore had won three out of four snap polls conducted that night.

    Blogger Bob Somerby meticulously documented Gore's press treatment during the 2000 campaign. He recently revisited the infamous sighs:

    Did George Bush win that first debate? Only after the press corps began playing videotaped loops of Gore's troubling sighs (with the volume cranked, of course).

    Debates matter. But so can the media's lazy style spin.

  • CNN's Ari Fleischer Fails At Fact-Checking Janesville Auto Plant Myth

    Blog ››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

    CNN contributor Ari Fleisher distorted the history of a Wisconsin auto plant that closed in 2008, a dishonest attempt to defend Paul Ryan from scrutiny over false claims he has made.

    Ryan has been sharply critical of President Obama's rescue of the U.S. auto industry in 2009, falsely accusing Obama of going back on a promise to save a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan returned to that claim during his  convention speech Wednesday:

    A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: "I believe that if our government is there to support you ... this plant will be here for another hundred years." That's what he said in 2008.

    Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

    Independent fact-checkers have rated Ryan's charge false, pointing out that the Janesville plant closed in 2008, before Obama took office. Fleischer, who appeared on CNN to dissect Ryan's speech, rejected the analysis of those fact-checkers. Announcing his intention to "fact-check the fact-checkers," Fleischer cited a September 2011 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article and said:

    The Janesville plant stopped production of SUVs in 2008 and was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks. Paul Ryan was right. The fact-checkers are wrong.

    But fact-checkers have already factored that evidence into their analysis. According to PolitiFact, which pointed out that the plant did in fact close before Obama took office, "Several dozen workers stayed on another four months to finish an order of small- to medium-duty trucks for Isuzu Motors."

    This evidence, already in the public record, does nothing to disprove the fact that the decision to close the Janesville plant was made before Obama took office. 

    The very same Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Fleischer cited as the authoritative voice on this issue reported that the Janesville plant closed in December 2008:

    Workers finished the final production shift and walked out of the General Motors plant Tuesday, personal belongings and unchecked emotions in tow, never again likely to see the inside of the sprawling industrial complex that provided a livelihood and a way of life for generations.

    That the last vehicle rolled off the line on a gloomy late December day punctuated by snow and biting wind under a sodden gray sky seemed appropriate. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, 12/24/08, via Nexis]

  • Fox Gears Up For SOTU By Questioning Obama's Sincerity

    ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Leading up to President Obama's State of the Union address, Fox & Friends repeatedly questioned Obama's sincerity by asking, "What's behind his move to the center?" and claiming that he's trying "to make sure he gets re-elected," because "he understands that's the popular thing to do." Fox & Friends also repeatedly asked if "the American people [will] buy what he sells" in the speech.