Sen. Pat Roberts’ affection for arcane cultural references when talking politics landed the Kansas Republican a private meeting with President Donald Trump that could — if this isn’t the tallest cowboy tale of all time — help preserve more than $20 billion in federal crop insurance subsidies for U.S. farmers.
The weirdness began in late June when Roberts walked into a large contingent of Washington reporters hungry for comment about a Senate bill put together behind closed doors to repeal the Affordable Care Act. At this gaggle, he told television, radio and print journalists the health legislation in front of the Senate wasn’t perfect, but time had come to hastily exit Obamacare.
He said fate of the U.S. health system mirrored a live-or-die moment in the 1991 movie “Thelma & Louise,” in which two characters played by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis race in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird toward the rim of the Grand Canyon. The women must decide whether to save themselves by stepping out of the vehicle or knowingly plunge to their demise in a classic auto.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to get out of the car. We’re in crisis,’” Roberts said. “I went back to my office.”
His chief of staff, Jackie Cottrell, and a few others on his payroll in the Hart Senate Office Building pounced on him for remarks they considered so esoteric many voters would struggle to understand what the heck he meant. Part of their irritation stemmed from Roberts’ reference in the interview to “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” the 1969 outlaw movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
“Everybody knows about Thelma and Louise,” Roberts insisted. “And, they said, ‘No, they don’t. This is ridiculous. Just stick to the script.’”
While stewing about the communication chasm, Roberts said, a call came in from someone asking to hold the line for President Donald Trump.
“I thought of three senators who might be trying to pull the wool over my eyes and say he was the president of the United States,” Roberts said. “No, it was the president. So, I got on the phone and said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘That was the best statement that I’ve ever heard. I watched you on television. It’s on national television. You hit the nail on the head. Why can’t the rest of you people talk like you?’
“I said, ‘Well, sir, it’s just something I thought was a good allegory.’
“He said, ‘What were you doing on MSNBC?’ I said, ‘Sir, until you asked me that I didn’t know which news outfit that I was on.’ I stopped for a minute and said, ‘Why were you watching it?’
“He laughed and said, ‘I’ve got to get you up here.’”
Indeed, POTUS claims to not watch “fake news” outlets such as MSNBC, CNN and others, but appears to have a solid grasp of what those networks broadcast.
A few weeks ago, Roberts said, he went to the White House for a 45-minute meeting with the president. The senator said Trump was personable and easy to talk to, but he came away uncertain the president remembered his name. For purposes of their conversation, Roberts said, the president dubbed him “Farm Guy.”
“He said, ‘Farm Guy, what’s really on your mind?’ I said, ‘Crop insurance. Your Office of Management and Budget has a proposal that would do great harm actuarially to crop insurance.’”
The Trump administration had proposed restricting federal subsidies of crop insurance premiums to $40,000 per policy and urged Congress to adopt income restrictions to limit access to the program. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the reforms to crop insurance would save $22 billion over a decade. Trump’s OMB director, Mick Mulvaney, pegged savings at $28 billion.
In the White House, Roberts said the president punched a button and asked for Mulvaney.
“Eleven seconds later, Mulvaney comes on the phone and says, ‘Yes, sir.’ He (Trump) says, ‘Why are we cutting crop insurance? Farm Guy says we shouldn’t cut crop insurance.’ Mulvaney says, ‘We’re not cutting it, sir. We are reforming crop insurance.’”
Roberts said his immediate options were to respond with polite silence or forceful interjection. Roberts said he chose to characterize Mulvaney’s analysis of crop insurance with a word commonly used to describe solid animal waste expelled by bulls.
“I said, ‘Mick, you’ve never been west of Missouri in your life. From Texas all the way to North Dakota, this is high-risk agriculture. This is out on the Great Plains. So, Mick starts to say something and the president says, ‘Mick?’ He says, ‘Yes, sir.’ He (Trump) says, “We’re not cutting crop insurance.’”
Source: Tim Carpenter, The Topeka Capital-Journal
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