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March 28, 2017

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Republicans living in denial

We shouldn’t blithely move on to other matters until we deal with the institutional carnage inflicted upon us by Donald Trump.

The current president of the United States has accused former president Barack Obama of committing a felony by having him wiretapped. But Trump refuses to offer a shred of evidence for perhaps the most incendiary charge one president has ever leveled against another. Trump recklessly set off a mighty explosion and his spokespeople duck and dodge, hoping we’ll pretend nothing happened.

If our republic had a responsible Congress, its leaders would accept their duty to demand that a president who shakes his country and the world with such an outlandish allegation either put up proof or apologize.

Unfortunately, we have no such Congress.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., modeled what House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could say. The American people, McCain declared on Monday, “have a right to know on what basis the president of the United States said that his predecessor had broken the law.”

Honestly: Is it so hard for Ryan and McConnell at least to whisper something like this?

Instead, Republican leaders think it is time for business as usual, which in their case means figuring out how to deprive low-income people of health insurance while cutting taxes on the rich and increasing the deficit.

This is what their replacement of Obamacare would do. Democrats have quickly labeled the bill “Trumpcare.” What’s interesting is that the proposal fails (forgive me) bigly in living up to the joyous health care future Trump envisioned.

“Everybody’s got to be covered,” the Magician of Mar-a-Lago said on “60 Minutes” in September 2015. “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

Trump’s health care vows are as credible as his assertions against Obama and as reliable as the guarantees he made to students at Trump University. They sued him over how fake his claims were, and he had to settle.

No one should act as if Trump didn’t warn us about his negotiable relationship with the truth. He laid it out in his 1987 best-seller, “The Art of the Deal.” Trump wrote: “I play to people’s fantasies. ... People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.” He spoke of “truthful hyperbole” — an oxymoron for the ages — which he defined as “an innocent form of exaggeration.”

But exaggeration is not innocent when it means depriving the old, the sick and the poor of health insurance. If there is one beautiful thing about the health care proposal House Republicans released this past week, it is that it exposes how much untruthful hyperbole Republicans engaged in about Obamacare and what they would replace it with.

Republicans are badly split over this bill because, like Trump, GOP leaders could never keep all the promises they made. The ultra-conservatives have denounced the spending it authorizes. Well, yes, even inadequate efforts to subsidize health insurance cost a lot of money.

And Republicans from states with many Obamacare beneficiaries are wary that this confection could endanger the coverage of many of their constituents, particularly with its long-term cuts to Medicaid. Memo to political consultants: Remember all the GOP voters who have been helped by the Affordable Care Act.

You know the Republicans are in trouble because Ryan said that all the mysteries would be resolved if citizens would only “read the bill.” So I did, and my experience confirmed that Ryan’s invitation was a typical example of obfuscatory Beltway nonsense. The speaker knows that gems such as language calling for amending “subsection (d)(1), by striking ‘to which’ and inserting ‘to which, subject to section 1903A(a),’” are incomprehensible to anyone but lawyers, policy experts and crack legislative drafters. Reading this thing doesn’t make it better.

It is sad, to paraphrase the Tweeter in Chief himself, that Washington is now a city of avoidance, denial and deception. Whether he’s talking about policy or his political adversaries, Trump is simply not believable. And his friends in Congress are proving themselves no more trustworthy. Welcome to Fantasyland.

E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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