We are all still breathless from last week’s near-repeal of Obamacare. As two Republican Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, stood between the American public and a bill that would cut Medicare, defund Planned Parenthood, and throw the insurance industry into turmoil, keeping the consequences of the different bills straight became a struggle. Would 15 million people lose their healthcare? 23 million? 32 million? It was hard to keep track of what was on the table at any given time, much less being voted on. As each vote was rolled out, I kept thinking of journalist Dorothy Parker’s explosion every time the telephone rang: “What fresh hell is this?”
A third Republican no vote, John McCain of Arizona, put a stake in the heart of this round. But it was women who saved the day. Throughout this struggle, the wall standing between Republican determination to pass a bill, no matter how bad, and American working people keeping some kind of viable coverage (no matter how bad), was Collins and Murkowski. In a hair-raising ride through parliamentary procedure, vote-a-rama, and policy by tweet, they stood firm on every vote, despite the thuggery of the Trump administration. Murkowski, a proponent of Arctic drilling who had survived a 2010 Tea Party primary challenge (and won as a write-in candidate with no help from her own party), received a threatening call from Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, which only strengthened her resolve. Both Collins and DeVos had also defied Trump on the Betsy DeVos nomination.
It’s not easy to defy the leadership of your own party. As I followed Collins and Murkowski this week, I thought about a little-known Democratic woman who, forty years ago this month, defied her President in an attempt to preserve women’s healthcare. Her name was Midge Costanza, and she worked for Jimmy Carter….
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