Meeting of minds: Heller and Trump

As tens of millions of Americans prepared for the very real possibility they would lose their health care last week, Nevada’s U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was doing a whole lot of nervous giggling. In one instance, Heller awkwardly laughed a little too heartily when President Trump casually threatened him on national television after positioning him as his right-hand man at a White House luncheon, asking the country, “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”

Heller’s uncomfortable goofy grin and insincere chuckles spoke volumes, and it was obvious at that moment that he had received the President’s message and would choose Trump over his constituents. It was infuriating to watch Trump smirk as the CNN chyron proclaimed 32 million fewer people would be insured by 2026 under the Republicans’ repeal bill, and Heller cackled at Trump’s not-so-hilarious comments.

Just think if Nevada’s senator had walked out of the luncheon or coldly stared the president down, indicating he would not be bullied on a matter of such great concern to his constituents. Instead, Heller went radio-silent after giving a mind-boggling interview to Axios where he indicated he was against the repeal, for the repeal, and certainly not neutral, offering this gem: “And it’s not because I’m undecided—all I’m trying to do is get all the information I possibly can before I make a decision.”

Heller displayed the same cringeworthy grin a few days later when the Republicans squeaked through a vote to allow the repeal bill to move forward. Instead of voting against the “motion to proceed” as Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski did, Heller cast his vote to proceed with repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of Nevadans to finally have access to health care. He was later photographed yucking it up on the Senate floor with his colleagues as Vice President Pence broke the tie vote. He threw his head back with a broad smile as if he’d heard a funny joke or was celebrating a great victory. Even for Heller, it was a bizarre performance.

As President Trump trumpeted the Senate’s “last chance to do the right thing,” no one could say which version of eliminating the Affordable Care Act would emerge. Senator Collins remarked, “I don’t think that’s a good approach to replacing legislation that affects millions of people.” But then, practically no one did.

As the week wore on, the “vote-a-rama” became increasingly chaotic with senators proposing all sorts of amendments in an effort to pass a bill, any bill, so they could move it to a conference committee with the House of Representatives and negotiate the final horror.

Heller embarrassed himself and Nevada by presenting a symbolic amendment to protect Medicaid funding that was so ridiculous in its pathetic attempt to give Heller political cover that 90 of the 100 senators voted against it. Heller then voted no on several versions of reform, trying to inoculate himself against the final version of the bill he would vote yes on, the “skinny” reform that would have kicked millions off their health care and raised premiums for everyone.

But make no mistake about Heller’s decisions. If our senator had chosen a heroic path, he could have stopped the legislative disaster at the first motion to proceed vote. He could have told the president he would not be bullied, as Sen. Murkowski did when the administration threatened Alaska’s interests. He could have kept his promise to Gov. Sandoval to vote no on any bill that would hurt Nevadans. He did none of those things.

Nevadans won’t forget that when the moment of truth arrived, Heller chose Trump’s Republican party instead of his constituents.

I doubt he’ll be laughing much next November.