Are Colorado Republicans really guaranteeing that people who have health insurance now will continue to have it under an Obamacare replacement?

February 23rd, 2017

Last week, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) if he could guarantee to his constituents that they’d “have coverage if you have it now.”

“The answer to that is no, right?” asked Hayes.

“Yes,” replied Sanford. “The answer is, we don’t know with precision.”

Colorado Republicans need to be asked the same question, because over the past months they’ve repeatedly implied that no one will lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed. But am I hearing them right? Is this a promise?

For example, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) stated KOA 850-AM Feb. 17, “And let me just say, nothing will be repealed unless it’s concurrently replaced.”

If nothing means nothing, then no one will lose their health care coverage, at a minimum, much less all the other benefits of Obamacare (e.g., coverage for under-26 family members, pre-existing conditions, no caps on coverage).

Coffman’s office sort of confirmed his stance to 9News this week.

9News: Coffman’s office told us he wants to keep the changes Obamacare made for pre-existing conditions, the ability for parents to keep children on their plans until age 26, and maintaining coverage for people who gained it under the ACA—including the Medicaid expansion, which has been criticized by some of Coffman’s fellow Republicans.

But that’s a aspiration, not a promise, and Coffman’s constituents want to know if Coffman would vote for a still-unkown Obamacare replacement that would throw people off the health insurance rolls.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) expressed the same promise in the form of an aspiration, as he likes to do when dealing with a tough question.

Gardner: “What we have to do is create a bipartisan health care plan, health insurance plan, to make sure that we can do better than Obamacare,” said Gardner on KOA 850-AM Jan. 13.

Is he saying his constituents won’t lose their insurance? I think so, but he needs to be asked point blank–and repeatedly, because that’s often what it takes with Gardner (e.g., Will he vote for Trump? And will he hold a town hall? And what about the federal personhood amendment?)

In some communications, Colorado Republicans are stopping short of promising that their constituents won’t lose their health insurance, but they’re guaranteeing that elements of Obamacare won’t be lost.

“…[U]nder the Republican replacement plans, no individual with a pre-existing condition will be denied insurance coverage or see their rates spike,” wrote Congressman Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn, and Scott Tipton in The Denver Post Jan. 13.

That’s a serious promise.

But the larger question remains. What exactly are you saying? Will you vote for a bill that doesn’t guarantee health insurance for all Americans who have it under Obamacare? If not, how many are you willing to throw off the rolls or put at risk of losing their coverage?

Reporter does his best to find out if Gardner will hold town hall meeting

February 22nd, 2017

Fox 31 Denver’s Joe St. George made journalism proud today as he pressed U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) to answer the straight-forward question of whether he’d be hosting an in-person town hall meeting.

But, exhibiting the same allergy to direct questions that Gardner’s had before, the junior senator from Colorado flat-out refused to answer the question, leaving it open to be asked again (and again) until it’s answered. (Click here to see St. George’s interview.)

St. George: As you know, there’s been protests outside your office. There’s a protest outside this hotel, people wondering, during this week of recess, why aren’t you hosting a town hall?

Gardner: Well look, we’ve had a number of opportunities to engage with a number of Coloradans around the state. And we’ll continue to do that, whether it’s through this opportunity to visit with the Governor’s Agriculture Forum. I just spoke at the Colorado Space Coalition. I was out at Ft. Morgan and Burlington earlier this week. We’ll be in northern Colorado today and tomorrow. And so it’s a great opportunity to hear from Coloradans, and I appreciate the people who are expressing their points of view, whether they support what the President has done or whether they oppose what the President has done, it is very good to hear what’s going on.

St. George: But no town hall? Will you commit to doing a town hall sometime in the future?

Gardner: In my time in Congress, we’ve held over 100 town halls. Last year, we were across all 64 counties in the state. We’ve met with protesters. My office has met with protesters. We’ll continue to do that. We’ll hold a number of tele-town halls in the future. And I hope that people will go onto our website and join them.

St. George: Is a tele-town hall a way to avoid that confrontation, because as you know, some of these town halls are getting heated. Is that why people like yourself are choosing telephone town halls?

Gardner: Well, I think it’s a great opportunity to reach people across the state. And we try to do it as often as we can. We do it at different times in the day. Sometimes we do it in the morning. Sometimes we do it at night, just depending on when people are able to answer the phone. That’s why we want to vary the time of day that we do this at. And we can reach out to more people. We take positive questions. We take negative questions. We take them all. It’s a great way to hear what’s on people’s minds. In addition to the many meetings we’ve held with people across Colorado. The office outreach that we’ve had. The time to meet with protesters throughout the state, individually at these forums as well. It’s very important.

St. George: So as of right now, no plans to hold a town hall?

Gardner: Look, we’ve had a number of tele-town hall opportunities. We’ve had a number of opportunities to go to open forums–

St. George: But no in-person town halls?

Gardner: We’re going to continue working on meetings where we can meet people across the state. That’s what we’re doing today. That’s what we’re doing tomorrow. We’ll continue doing it throughout the week.

If Gardner’s dodges look familiar, it’s because they are. This is how he treats reporters on a regular basis, insulting them with non-answers. You recall this exchange with the Fox 31 Denver’s Eli Stokols during the 2014 election campaign.

Stokols: You don’t support the personhood amendment at the state level anymore. Why keep your name on that Life At Conception Act at the federal level?

Gardner: There is no such thing as the federal personhood bill.

Stokols: Cory, the people who wrote that bill, Congressmen Duncan Hunter of California, Paul Broun of Georgia, they say–Personhood USA says–that that is what the Life at Conception Act is.

Gardner: When I announced for the Senate, that’s when this outcry started from the Senate campaign of Senator Udall.  That’s what they are trying to do. This is all politics. It’s unfortunate that they can’t focus on–

Stokols: But the facts are —

Gardner: No, the facts are, Eli, that there is no federal personhood bill. There is no federal personhood bill.

Gardner has never given a straight answer about the Life at Conception Act.

Will he try to pull off the same trick with town hall meetings? With Obamacre? You’d have to guess he’ll try, but unlike the few months leading to his election in 2014, there are long months or years ahead for reporters to demand real answers.

Radio host should call crazy on Coffman’s comparison of Petraeus to Clinton

February 21st, 2017

Last week, the Trump Administration decided against offering the job of national security adviser to former CIA director David Petraeus, after the retired four-star general indicated he wanted to have authority over personnel.

Patraeus was Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Aurora) favored candidate for Trump’s national security adviser–despite Patraeus’ resignation from the CIA as the FBI was gathering evidence that Patraeus leaked classified documents to his biographer with whom he was having an affair.

“I’ve worked with general Patraeus,” Coffman told KNUS host Krista Kafer Feb. 14. “I know he had a misstep, obviously, in terms of working with classified information. Much less than what Hillary Clinton did [laughs]. And he was certainly disciplined for it. But I think he’s well-trusted here on Capitol Hill, and I think by the American people as well. I think he would do a great job as the national security adviser to the president.”

(Listen here at 5 min 20 seconds.)

Kafer should have pointed out that unlike Clinton, Patraeus faced felony charges for his leaks, eventually agreeing to a plea-deal conviction.

FBI Director James Comey, who’s no friend of Hillary Clinton, and other experts have stated that Patraeus’ actions shouldn’t be compared to Clinton’s use of a private email server. She faced no charges, much less a conviction. And she didn’t hide documents in the attic. CNN reported on Comey’s testimony on this topic in July:

Comey pointed out that Petraeus not only shared the classified information, but also hid the documents in his attic and then lied to investigators.

“So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information,” Comey said. “He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.”

He added: “In my mind, it illustrates importantly the distinction to this case.”

Kafer should have called crazy on Coffman’s comparison of Patraeus to Hillary Clinton.

First Amendment attorney says Sentinel could have a viable case against State Senator over “fake news” accusation

February 15th, 2017

The publisher of the Grand Junction Sentinel is serious about suing State Sen. Ray Scott over his public claim that the Grand Junction Sentinel is “fake news.”

But, he told Denver writer Corey Hutchins, “we’re going to have some cooling-off period before I file anything.”

Hutchins, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project: This particular publisher, it should be noted, is no stranger to a courtroom. Before taking the helm of the Sentinel in 2009, Seaton was a commercial litigator. “This is what I used to do,” he told me. “I practiced law in Kansas City for 13 years, so I’m accustomed to resolving business damage in the judicial system. So I don’t view this really as any different.”

The publisher says he has already seen people on Facebook pledge to cancel newspaper subscriptions after the lawmaker’s comments.

“What I consider actionable is the attack on the Sentinel as fake news,” Seaton says. “I can take the criticism that we’re too far right, or we’re too far left, or our reporter was sloppy, or our editorial misunderstands the issue, that I can handle. What I can’t abide is an attack on the essence of what we do.”

Hutchins quotes Denver First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, as saying that “Scott could be liable under libel law if he made statements that are provably false and made “with the requisite knowledge of their falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.”

Does this mean Donald Trump is in line to be sued by CNN and others, which the President has attacked as fake news outlets? I hope so.

 

State lawmaker who called a real newspaper “fake news” apparently shared real fake news on Facebook

February 14th, 2017

Scott Nov. 6 Wikileaks fake newsState Sen. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), who’s said the Grand Junction Sentinel is “fake news,” apparently posted actual fake news on his Twitter feed and Facebook page this year and last year.

In October on Facebook, the lawmaker shared a PoliticalInsider.com item, with the headline, “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS…Then Drops Another BOMBSHELL! Breaking News.”

As Snopes determined weeks before Scott shared this post, WikiLeaks did not confirm that Clinton “sold weapons to ISIS.” Other credible outlets came to the same conclusion, and it turned out that this Clinton/ISIS falsehood was one of the most popular fake news items prior to the election.

Yet, this fake news post, which I obtained from a source, sits on Scott’s Facebook page to this day, while he’s accusing a real news outlet of being fake news.

Scott did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Ironically, four days after accusing the Grand Junction Sentinel of being fake news, Scott shared a Sentinel story on his Facebook page, apparently thinking the newspaper’s content was real enough to share with his friends. The story was headlined, “Groundwater Appeals Bill Clears Senate Panel,” and it quoted Scott as backing the legislation.

In fact, it appears that Scott shares stories from the Sentinel on a regular basis, sometimes criticizing them, sometimes praising them. Scott shared Sentinel stories, for example, with the headlines, “Congressman Tipton, GJ legislator Scott say they still back Trump” and “Single-payer health care measure has Democrats battling Democrats,” and “Trump backers rally in support of energy jobs.” Scott wrote, “Thanks to those who attended,” when he shared of a GJS article July 31 headlined, “Colorado lawmakers listen to praise, gripes about caucuses and primaries.”

Scott was a regional field coordinator for the Trump campaign, which may be where he learned Trump’s mind-boggling trick of accusing real news outlets of being fake while spreading fake news himself.

On Twitter, Scott has shared fake news as well. In December, Scott tweeted a photo of Trump shaking hands Ronald Reagan, with the quote, “For the life of me, and I’ll never know how to explain it, when I met that young man, I felt like I was the one shaking hands with a president.”

The photo is real, but not the quote, according to Snopes and other credible outlets.

In light of all this, here’s some advice for Scott:  Sign the Fake News Pledge.

It’s a promise 1) not to post fake news, defined as false information “packaged to look like news,” and 2) to post a correction and explanation on Facebook if fake news is accidentally posted. The Pledge’s arbiters of fake news are Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or a respected news outlet. If Pledge signers disagree with the specified arbiters, they do not have to remove anything from Facebook. But they are obliged to explain why they disagree with the fact checkers.

I’ll be following up with Scott to see if he’ll sign.

 

Coffman announces Obamacare telephone calls and “meetings” but no promised town hall

February 14th, 2017

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman announced yesterday that he plans to hold “series of meetings,” beginning Feb. 20-24 and continuing in March. about the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

Absent from his plans is a town hall meeting in a “very large venue” that can “handle 300 people.” He promised to hold such a town-hall-style event after his early exit from a jammed constituent meeting last month,

In place of a public town-hall discussion is a “listening tour,” which involves  1) an undefined number of “meetings” with select “healthcare providers and patients advocacy groups” and 2) “several telephone town halls to hear directly from constituents regarding their concerns about the Affordable Care Act.”

Coffman did not offer an explanation for backing out of his plans for a big old town hall meeting, but the replacement he’s chosen offers the Aurora Republican the opportunity to screen his audiences and weed out potentially angry questions.

In other words, Coffman can’t slip out the back door of a telephone call. But he can to the equivalent by screening callers. Ditto with meetings with healthcare providers; he’s picking both the groups and the venues.

So in terms of accountability, Coffman’s proposal doesn’t fulfill his promise to do right to all those people he left in the library Jan. 14, when he slipped out the back door early. And reporters should have asked him about it.

Here’s the entire news release issued by Coffman’s office yesterday:

Coffman Announces ACA ‘Listening Tour’

Feb 13, 2017 Press Release
Washington, DC — Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06) announced that during the district work period scheduled for Feb. 20-24, he will undertake the first phase of his planned “listening tour” regarding the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Coffman will use this series of meetings to gain the perspective of as many constituents, patients and healthcare professionals as possible.

“During this district work week, I look forward to meeting with many healthcare providers and patients advocacy groups. My objective is to personally hear from them on how the ACA has affected the healthcare system, medical professionals, and most importantly, how it has affected patients access to medical care. I will use their input not only to review my own plans on how to proceed, but also to communicate their concerns to my congressional colleagues—Additionally, I want to communicate again that no repeal will take place without first having a replacement.”

The ACA, which was signed into law in March 2010, dramatically impacted the health care of millions here in Colorado and across the country. Due to the ACA, thousands of Coloradans who were perfectly satisfied with their health insurance had their policies changed or in some cases even cancelled. In 2017 alone, health insurance rates rose more than 20% in some areas, and 14 counties in the State now have just one health insurance provider servicing their area. The ACA, did allow for some consumer protections to be codified into law, some of which Coffman strongly supports, such as preserving the pre-existing condition protection and ensuring those under Medicaid expansion access to health insurance coverage.

Coffman will commence the second phase of this listening effort in March when he plans to hold several telephone town halls to hear directly from constituents regarding their concerns about the Affordable Care Act.

More information on the tele-town halls will be made available in early March in the Congressman’s website: www.coffman.house.gov.

One month later: What about Coffman’s promised town-hall meeting in a venue that can “handle 300 people”

February 13th, 2017

One of the biggest national stories to originate in Denver this year was 9News’ piece about U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Aurora) early exit out the back door of a library full of people wanting to talk to him about Obamacare.

A few days after the story went viral, Coffman bumped into The Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene and told her that “right now” he was trying to secure a “very large venue” for a town-hall meeting. Coffman was looking for a place that could “handle 300 people.”

Yet, it’s now been exactly one month since Coffman announced his search for a venue, and nary a reporter has asked Coffman, “What’s up with your big shindig town-hall meeting?”

With Obamacare in the balance and Coffman in the hot seat, that’s obviously a legitimate question, which has news value even if Coffman has no further comment.

The last item listed on the “events” page of Coffman’s website took place Jan. 14 at the Aurora Central Library. That’s the one where 9News filmed him slipping out the back.

“Constituents are invited to come to Aurora Central Library to meet with Rep. Coffman and discuss the issues that are important to them,” states the description of the Jan. 14 event.

Given the wide attention on the Aurora meeting, shouldn’t a reporter hold Coffman accountable for his promise for a follow-up town hall–or find out if he’s now decided against it?Given the wide attention on the Aurora meeting, shouldn’t a reporter hold Coffman accountable for his promise for a follow-up town hall–or find out if he’s now decided against it?

Good news: State Republicans aim to improve their relations with Colorado journalists

February 9th, 2017

Republican leaders at the Colorado State Capitol are trying to improve their media relations, with off-the-record happy hours, weekly press briefings, and more, according to Feb. 6 report by Rocky Mountain Community Radio’s Bente Birkeland (included below).

That’s great news! I’m serious, because journalists can actually help facilitate good policy making, if Democrats and Republicans help them do their job.

Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Colorado Springs) says he and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City) want to be more “open and inclusive” and get to know the press better.

Rep. Justin Everett (R-Littleton) told Birkeland that Republicans “think there’s a liberal media bias, and then when you kind of see it in little things” it reinforces the perception. But Everett thinks better personal relationships lead to better stories.

He’s right!

Here are a four tips for Republicans. Obviously these are offered from a progressive perspective, but I don’t think serious conservatives would disagree with me on this (plus I wrote a book about it):

  1. Don’t make sweeping generalizations about journalism, as some Republicans do when they complain openly about “liberal media bias” when they see a story they disagree with. There’s no study or proof of any “liberal media bias” at the local level, and making the accusation is rude. So be very specific about your complaints about coverage, and you’ll find reporters will be receptive to your criticism.
  2. Be factual. This is key. Journalists look for the truth, supported by facts. They don’t want to hear unsupportable statements like blaming Obamacare for Colorado budget woes.
  3. Don’t be boring. Think about your visual appeal.
  4. Don’t blow up your long-term relationships over a disagreement. Today’s news is history tomorrow.
  5. Don’t compliment Trump’s media-relations strategy, as Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) did in Birkeland’s piece, when he expressed admiration for Trump for calling journalism fake news. As wrote in a post yesterday, don’t insult reporters by calling their work “fake news,” even if they make a mistake.

Oh, and can progressive journalists attend those happy hours?

Don’t call professional journalism “fake news,” even if it’s wrong

February 8th, 2017

Is an error committed by a professional news outlet “fake news?”

In response to Time Magazine’s Jan. 24 note to readers, in which the news outlet apologized for its erroneous report that an MLK bust had been removed from the Oval Office, conservatives cried “fake news,” even though Time corrected the error within an hour of committing it–and apologized to the White House.

Here in Colorado, conservatives have trotted out the “fake news” label when they criticize the news as well.

Calling errors by real reporters “fake news” is obviously a cheap attack on journalism, because it conflates the fake-news phenomenon, as it’s been debated since late last year, with inevitable errors committed by professional reporters–errors that are usually corrected as soon as possible.

The term “fake news” refers to a specific category of false information: falsehoods that are packaged to look like journalism and spread on social media, especially Facebook–which has agreed to try to eliminate “fake news,” not journalism, from its platform.

It’s not just Facebook executives but also conservatives and progressives who want to fight fake news.

So can we agree to see “fake news” as a problem that’s not caused by professional journalists? And can we agree that professional journalism should not be called “fake news?”

Don’t get me wrong. Journalists should be held accountable. God knows, reporters deserve criticism. But let’s not throw the “Fake News” salvo at Colorado journalists.

I know that’s not going to happen soon, with Trump leading the fake-news attack on journalists, but still, we can do better in Colorado.

Talk show host asks right question about GOP circular firing squad but doesn’t answer it

February 2nd, 2017

Sometimes KNUS 710-AM’s Dan Caplis doesn’t shy away from the simple questions, and sometimes, honestly, they’re the best ones. Take this query that he put to Jeff Hays, who’s campaign to lead the Colorado Republican Party.

Caplis (@8 min): “What can you do as GOP chair to make sure that we don’t get a circular firing squad, where whoever wins the primary has been so crippled in the primary that they can’t win the general? What can you do about that as chair, if anything?”

Hays: “Well, we can use the infrastructure of the party. And that’s something that needs to be made more robust and more capable to communicate to folks, ‘Let’s give everyone the respect they are due.’ There are certainly going to be points of contention and disagreement. That’s fine. But we can disagree without being disagreeable. When we treat each other with better respect, when Republicans win, the state wins and the nation wins.”

Caplis: “Well said. I hope we can keep the conversation going.”

If you’ve watched the Colorado Republican Party’s string of spectacular self-immolations (Schaffer, McInnis, Maes, Buck, Beauprez, Keyser, etc, etc.), you know how good Caplis’ question is.

But the fun here is in the follow-up, which Caplis dropped.

I mean, Hays is already under serious attack by an opponent, George Athanasopoulos, for bringing Obamacare to Colorado by backing former Rep. Amy Stephens, who sponsored the bill (SB 200) that established Colorado’s insurance market, Connect for Health Colorado. How can Hays’ bloody history of sparring with the right wing of the GOP possibly be forgotten?

There’s almost nothing Hays can say that’s not loaded, even in answering a simple question like Caplis’.

Take, for example, Hays’ simple promise to “use the infrastructure of the party.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who reads that and thinks about the state GOP’s failed Independent Expenditure Committee, which some in the GOP thought would be used against their own. The phrase brings to mind the attacks on the current Chair Steve House for allegedly opposing Trump in the primary.  Then there’s the Republican Governors Association’s attacks on Tancredo, etc, etc.

In short, when it comes to the GOP in Colorado, you can’t tiptoe lightly enough. You have to walk on water. Can Hays do that? Can Athanasopoulos?

Trump isn’t going to make the divisions among Republicans in Colorado go away. Exactly the opposite. The right wing of the party is empowered by Trump’s victory. Listen to talk radio these days! And the establishment remains skeptical, especially in light of Hillary Clinton’s solid win here.

So the next GOP chair has his or her work cut out for them. Ask Steve house. Or Dick Wadhams. Or poor Ryan Call.