Littwin: Settling for a non-scandal
C’mon Colorado, it’s an election year, we can do better than a squabble over muddy insurance statistics.
It’s time we discussed the Mark Udall scandal, which, as scandals go, presents at least two very significant problems.
One, it’s not actually a scandal.
Two, it’s Super Bowl week, meaning no one would care even if it were a scandal, which it’s not.
I’ll agree that it looks like a scandal. It’s got leaks. It’s got outrage, even if it’s fake outrage, but still. It doesn’t have a gate at the end, but it does have the inevitable coverup, which — as you may have heard — is always worse than the crime. But it’s easy in this case because, as far as I can tell, there isn’t any crime.
Still, it has to be tempting for the many Republicans trying to win the nomination to run against Udall, who, like most Democrats, isn’t polling very well these days. It’s not that any of the Republicans in this group could beat Udall — I mean, it’s such a weak field that Bob Beauprez is talking about getting in — but they have to try. It’s part of the contract.
And here you have what looks like a scandal potentially attaching itself to Udall, who is not the scandal type. He has been around forever, and his family even before then. And scandal just doesn’t seem to be part of the Udall mix. What can you say about Udall, who isn’t exactly a headline grabber? He climbs mountains. He is appalled by NSA spying. He has tried to move to the center by being the one Democrat in the Senate foolish enough to support a balanced-budget amendment. Oh, and he doesn’t do scandals.
But this is not just any (non) scandal. It’s an Obamacare (non) scandal. And the one thing Republicans are running on in 2014 is Obamacare.
Let’s review, in case you’ve been distracted by hourly weather forecasts from East Rutherford. Like most Democrats, Udall voted for Obamacare. Like all Democrats, and everyone else, he was stunned by the incompetent rollout of Obamacare. And he was put on the defensive because, like pretty much every Democrat, he had parroted the Obama line about how, under Obamacare, if you liked your insurance, you could keep it, no matter how lousy it actually was.
And here’s the thing: Technically, you couldn’t necessarily keep your lousy policy because Obamacare has rules about just how lousy insurance policies are allowed to be. That’s part of the reason for Obamacare.
So, when the cancellation letters went out, Udall was on the spot. And he was put further on the spot when the Colorado Division of Insurance reported that 250,000 Coloradans had received cancellations.
That’s a big number, and Udall staffers called the insurance division to object. This is the scandal. Yep, all of it, as far as I can tell. The Udall people thought the 250,000 number was misleading because it was misleading. About 95 percent of the so-called cancellations allowed insurers to renew their plans, meaning that 95 percent of the 250,000 weren’t technically cancellations. (We’re now over 300,000 so-called cancellations, and 90-plus percent that aren’t technically cancellations.)
Apparently, the conversations grew heated. This can happen. I’ve had heated conversations with aides of virtually every politician I’ve covered. And then came the leaked email, written and sent by Jo Donlin, the director of external affairs for Colorado’s insurance division, and reported by conservative blog Complete Colorado.
The smoking gun went this way: “Sen. Udall says our numbers were wrong. They are not wrong. Cancellation notices affected 249,199 people. They want to trash our numbers. I’m holding strong while we get more details. Many have already done early renewals. Regardless, they received cancellation notices.”
You may notice it doesn’t seem very smoking-gun-like. No selfies or hookers or orange cones or Oscar de la Renta. And if there was a blow-up — which it sounds like there could have been — the numbers didn’t get changed. So, scandal?
And yet, the argument about the numbers became, in Dick Wadhams’ words, worse than Bridgegate. Rep. Amy Stephens, who’s running in the Senate primary, demanded an investigation.
And that’s where it got messy. Barbara Kelley, executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, looked into the matter and said there was “zero” intimidation by the Udall staffers. One thing. Actually, a few things. She wouldn’t say who was in on the investigation. She wouldn’t say who was interviewed. And when she finally did do the inevitable reveal — the investigators turned out to be all Democratic appointees, and, strangely, no notes were taken during the investigation. And zero seems like a really low number in this case.
Yes, the coverup was worse than the non-scandal. And now Tom Tancredo is demanding that Kelley be fired (which is low-key for him; at least he didn’t suggest bombing her office) and calling out John Hickenlooper for trying to protect Udall, even though you may remember from our review, Udall doesn’t seem to have actually done anything wrong. But if it’s not a Udall scandal, maybe it could be a Hick scandal.
Tancredo is, of course, in the primary field running to take on Hickenlooper. And that field is nearly as weak as the Udall field. In fact, it’s so weak that Bob Beauprez is considering getting in that race, too. That’s right, he’s considering both races. As I may have said earlier, he’s now Both Jobs Bob.
If Beauprez does get in, let’s see if he follows the scandal trail. All he has to do, along with his fellow Republicans, is actually find it.
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