Good news: the president seems pretty enthusiastic about bringing down drug prices. This is important both because drug prices are way too high and because positive reports out of Washington are so very, very rare.
Every day we get up and stagger forward through the great, barren desert that is the Trump administration, yearning for happy tidings. (Did you know the ASPCA says pet adoptions are up?) If we never find an oasis, maybe at least there'll be a shiny little rock.
So. This week the president took time out from the Trumpcare battles to meet with two Democratic lawmakers and talk about lowering the cost of drugs. “I want to get some things done. … I keep telling myself, four years is a long time. I could be dead in four years,” said one of the conferees, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Cummings wants to give the government power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of drugs for Medicare patients. I know, it seems insane that they don’t do that already. But there’s actually a rule against it. Inserted at the behest of Big Pharma during the Bush administration.
And Trump seemed interested. “I do believe he heard me. And he was very enthusiastic,” Cummings told me.
The one worry here is which version of the president it was that Cummings, and his colleague, Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, were meeting with.
There are three basic variations. Reasonable Chatting Trump is pleasant but useless. Unscripted Trump is pretty close to nuts. And then there’s the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who we enjoy calling SNORT.
To be fair, all three faces have called for lower drug prices. SNORT even mentioned it in the much-praised speech he read to Congress. That performance was so highly regarded we’d still be hearing about it, had not Unscripted Trump gotten out of bed at dawn last weekend and tweeted that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
My theory is that Cummings saw Reasonable Chatting Trump – the guy who’s always sitting down and having rewarding talks with progressives, who emerge from the discussions convinced they’ve scored a coup. Unfortunately, by the time they hit the street he’s forgotten every word.
Here’s a hint: After the meeting with the two Democrats, Trump’s office issued a statement saying the president did indeed want to work “in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans.” But the idea of actual price negotiations wasn’t mentioned. Instead, it talked about “reducing the regulatory burdens on drug manufacturers so as to enhance competition.”
Cummings, on the other hand, is pretty sure he was dealing with an open-minded SNORT. “I had a follow-up call from the president this morning,” he reported.
This is pretty good evidence – the Chatter never follows up. And Cummings, who’s the top-ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, has already had wide, varied and frequently weird interactions with the new administration. Right after the election, he warned Vice President Mike Pence about naming Michael Flynn national security adviser, pointing out that during the campaign, Flynn had been not only a Trump surrogate, but also a lobbyist for Turkish government interests.
Yes! Three weeks after the Republican presidential convention, Flynn signed a $500,000-plus contract to work for a powerful associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the thuggish ruler of Turkey. Then he was appointed national security adviser. Then he was fired for matters having nothing whatsoever to do with the Turkish connection. It wasn’t until this week that he got around to filing the appropriate disclosure forms for foreign agents.
How many variations do you think there are for Michael Flynn? Pence, who seemed to have forgotten the Cummings letter entirely, only admitted knowing Mike Without Turks. The administration apparently only recognized the Dotted Line version.
“There’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed,” the legendary Sean Spicer told the media.
But about Cummings. He had a run-in with Unscripted Donald Trump a few weeks ago, when a reporter asked the president if he’d have any discussions with the Congressional Black Caucus on urban issues. The president responded by asking the reporter, who is African-American, whether she knew any black caucus members and wanted to set up a meeting.
Then he claimed he had once had an appointment with Cummings, but that the lawmaker had backed down. Probably under pressure from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
Cummings heard it on a TV in the gym. “I was laying on the floor lifting some weights. I almost killed myself,” he recalled. “I was shocked.”
His version of events is, of course, different, but Cummings didn’t try to correct the record during his meeting with one of the other variations of the president. “I got bigger fish to fry,” he said.