Tom Coburn, R.I.P.

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On the roster: Tom Coburn, R.I.P. - Trump extends shutdown through end of April - As Bernie fades, Ocasio-Cortez positions for future - President tries to pit Cuomo against Biden - Look out below

It wasn’t really until the ObamaCare battles of 2009-10 that a lot of people in Washington started to realize that Sen. Tom Coburn wasn’t like all the others.

Coburn, a family physician from Muskogee, Okla., put himself at the center of the fight against what would become the 44th president’s signature legislation. Coburn worked tirelessly to try to stop the law, which he said was a policy disaster and fiscal abomination.

“My mission is to frame this health care debate in terms of the fiscal ruin of this country,” he said at the time.

And yet, he was a good friend of Barack Obama, whom he had first met at orientation for freshmen senators elected in 2004. Coburn, 13 years Obama’s senior, had already served three terms in the House while Obama had just skated into town, but they hit it off.

Coburn took heat from some radicals in his own party for the friendship, including his physical embrace of the new president after Obama delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress.

At a time when Republicans were defining themselves in the totality of their opposition to Obama – when some were even suggesting he was a secret Kenyan or a stealth Muslim – Coburn was proud of his relationship with the president.

As he told The Oklahoman at the time: “You need to separate the difference in political philosophy versus friendship. How better to influence somebody than love them?”

But Coburn never, ever wavered on his principles or his purpose. We suspect he would have been thrilled to have read the description of himself in the first paragraph of his NYT obituary on Sunday: “An ultraconservative … who in 16 years in Congress crusaded for limited government, using a rule-book technicality to block so many bills that frustrated legislators called him ‘Dr. No.’”

He was certainly an ultraconservative – social and, Lord knows, fiscal – and loved that word, “No.” So much so, that he hung it, framed and larger than life, above his desk in his Senate office. 

It’s worth thinking about why this person who took so much pride in being loving – who delivered babies for free when some suggested Senate ethics payment could constitute an improper emolument – was so proud of saying no. Why did this man, who defined himself by his service to his family, patients, nation and creator, take such pride in frustrating the ambitions of his fellow lawmakers?

For all of the lavish, bipartisan encomiums offered after his passing, Coburn many times in his career found himself where Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was on Friday when he tried to force House members to record their votes on a $2 trillion bailout bill: The most hated man in Washington.

For all we talk about the depth of partisan division in this city, the truth is that there is broad bipartisan accord on how Congress should conduct itself in regard to its most important job. Both parties want to spend, spend, spend. And if you get in the way of that, you will find yourself the enemy of leaders on both sides of the aisle.

So why did Coburn do it? Was he a miser? Did he not want to help the economy with federal spending? Did he want to deprive needy people of government services? Was he just trying to get attention?

In his 2014 farewell address in the Senate, Coburn offered this answer: The effort to rein in spending “exposes where we lose our liberty and our essential freedoms.”

Or as he told Mark Leibovich in 2009, “If you look historically, every great republic has died over fiscal issues. That is the biggest moral issue of our time.”

Coburn believed, like the Founders, that it was wrong to burden future generations with the costs we are unwilling to pay ourselves. To take on debts to win a war, to cope with an emergency (like an epidemic) or some crucial task that will benefit future generations is one thing, but not just to avoid paying the bills.

But there was a larger moralism in his objection to pork barrel spending financed by debt: To him, it was illiberal.

Coburn was a small-government conservative, an always-rare species that now appears to be nearly extinct in Washington. The Constitution and the courts provide the tallest guardrails for the expansion of government power, but in practical terms, there has been no greater limitation to the power of governments than their need to raise revenues.

There would have been no Magna Carta if King John could have borrowed against the Social Security Trust Fund to finance his continental misadventures.

The remaining budget hawks left in this rookery expound often on the practical reasons to control spending: Inflation, the insolvency of entitlement programs, being beholden to foreign creditors and on and on. But unlike Coburn, they’re not making moral points.

If, as the leaders in both parties seem to agree, deficits don’t matter in the era of the new liquidity, the practical arguments can be shooed away as long as the predicted consequences aren’t at hand.

Whether you agreed with him or not, Coburn was asking a different, more challenging question: If the government never needs to raise taxes or cut other programs to finance its initiatives, what real limits are there on the expansion of government power beyond the courts?

If the government never needs to make hard fiscal decisions that might provoke a response from the governed – a tax hike, a spending cut, a change in priorities – then the government has only obtained an empty consent.

Coburn’s example of separating the political from the personal is a good one. Just as good, though, was his willingness to let big ideas inform even his smallest actions.

That is how real debate happens.

“Stability in government is essential to national character and to the advantages annexed to it, as well as to that repose and confidence in the minds of the people, which are among the chief blessings of civil society.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 37

On this day in 1981, a deranged man shot then-President Ronald Reagan, who was just two months into his term. Doctors at George Washington University Hospital saved Reagan’s life, but the president would need to spend 10 days at the hospital recuperating. First Lady Nancy Reagan was incensed by the publicity-seeking well-wishers from Congress who had talked their way past security. She tapped presidential aide Max Friedersdorf to be her congressional bouncer, but did make at least one exception: House Speaker Tip O’Neill. In an interview with the U.Va.’s Miller Center, Friedersdorf recalled the visit by the Democratic leader: “Tip got down on his knees next to the bed and said a prayer for the president and he held his hand and kissed him and they said a prayer together. … The 23rd Psalm. The speaker stayed there quite a while. They never talked too much. I just heard him say the prayer, then I heard him say, ‘God bless you, Mr. President, we’re all praying for you.’ The speaker was crying.”

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Biden: 1,217
Sanders: 914
[Ed. note: 1,991 delegates needed to win]

Average approval: 47.4 percent
Average disapproval: 48.2 percent
Net Score: -0.8 percent
Change from one week ago:  7.2 points
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 49% approve - 47% disapprove; Fox News: 48% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 49% approve - 45% disapprove; Monmouth University: 48% approve - 48% disapprove; NPR/PBS News/Marist: 43% approve - 50% disapprove.]

Fox News: “Speaking at a contentious White House coronavirus news briefing on Sunday that involved testy standoffs with multiple reporters, President Trump declared that ’the peak in death rate’ in the coronavirus pandemic ‘is likely to hit in two weeks,’ and said the federal government will be extending its social-distancing guidelines through April 30. ‘The modeling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks. I will say it again. The peak, the highest point of death rates, remember this, is likely to hit in two weeks... Therefore, we will be extending our guidelines to April 30, to slow the spread,’ the president said in the White House Rose Garden. Saying his earlier hope that the country could reopen by Easter was ‘just an aspiration,’ Trump added: ‘We can expect that by June 1, we will be well on our way to recovery’ and that ‘a lot of great things will be happening.’”

‘America’s make-or-break week’ - WSJ: “American companies from the owner of a single liquor store in Boston to corporate giants like Macy’s Inc., must decide what to do about April’s bills: Which obligations do they pay and which can they put off? How many employees can they afford to keep on the payroll? Can they get a break on rent? The decisions they make this week could shape how deeply the economy is damaged by the coronavirus pandemic. … The U.S. restaurant industry has lost $25 billion in sales since March 1… Nearly 50,000 stores of major U.S. retail chains have closed... An estimated $20 billion in monthly retail real estate loans are due as early as this week… Many retailers and restaurants have said they are not going to pay their April rents, which in turn poses a threat to the $3 trillion commercial mortgage market. Economic activity in the U.S. and other developed countries could be lowered by a quarter…”

Samuelson: That 70s show - WaPo: “We’ve been here before. Unemployment is high and rising. Americans fear for the future. Politicians of both parties are unsure about what to do, though they’re quick to criticize the other party’s suggestions. Regardless of which way they turn, the choices seem dismal. Sound familiar? It’s not 2019 or 2020, and the subject is not the coronavirus. It’s late 1970s and early 1980s, and the source of so much angst is double-digit inflation. There is a dilemma at the core of modern democracies. Political leaders believe that to fulfill their democratic responsibilities, they must reflect the ‘people’s’ wants and needs. But often, what the people want is not what the society needs. Politicians and voters crave immediate gratification, when patience and self-restraint may deliver more long-term benefits.”

Politico: “After her victory in 2018, [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] encouraged progressives to follow in her footsteps and run for Congress with the backing of the left-wing group Justice Democrats… Sixteen months later … Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed just two. … Ocasio-Cortez’s reluctance marks a break with the outsider tactics of the activist left, represented by groups like Justice Democrats. … Ocasio-Cortez’s shift coincides with turnover among top aides in her congressional office … along with a broader reckoning on the left on how to expand [Bernie Sanders’] coalition after his failure to significantly do so in the presidential primary. … After her disruptive, burn-it-down early months in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez, who colleagues say is often conflict-averse in person, has increasingly been trying to work more within the system. She is building coalitions with fellow Democratic members and picking her fights more selectively. The changes have divided her supporters, with some lamenting she's been co-opted in short order by the system — and others asserting she's offering the left a more viable path toward sustained power.”

Facebook, Google and Twitter face bigger problems in 2020 - NYT: “Facebook, Twitter, Google … have since [2016] collectively spent billions of dollars hiring staff, fortifying their systems and developing new policies to prevent election meddling. …[Although] the companies are better equipped to deal with the types of interference they faced in 2016, they are struggling to handle the new challenges of 2020. … Russia and other foreign governments once conducted online influence operations in plain sight … but they are now using more sophisticated tactics such as bots that are nearly impossible to distinguish from hyperpartisan Americans. More problematic, partisan groups in the United States have borrowed Russia’s 2016 playbook to create their own propaganda and disinformation campaigns, forcing the tech companies to make tough calls about restricting the speech of American citizens. Even well-funded presidential campaigns have pushed the limits of what the platforms will allow.”

Wisconsin keeps April 7 primary - Wisconsin State Journal: “The spring presidential primary and Supreme Court election remain on track to take place April 7, but a flurry of related activity Friday left major concerns about the safety and practicality of holding the election as scheduled unresolved. With lawsuits continuing to mount, Gov. Tony Evers on Friday called on the Legislature to send an absentee ballot to every registered voter in the state to minimize in-person voting during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic — a request that drew a quick rebuke from GOP leaders. On Friday evening the Wisconsin Elections Commission approved Election Day procedures to mitigate the risks, including curbside, drive-through and outdoor options at polling places. Procedures to limit contact between voters and poll workers also were approved.”

N.Y. primary moves to June - Politico: “Gov. Andrew Cuomo will delay New York’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, he announced Saturday, derailing the last contest to be scheduled for that date. ‘I don’t think it’s wise to bring a lot of people to one location to vote — a lot of people touching one doorknob, a lot of people touching one pen,’ he said at one of his daily briefings about the coronavirus. It’s been clear for some time that the April 28 date would be unrealistic to work as planned, though there had not been any consensus as to what fixes might occur. There has been some movement toward allowing people to submit absentee ballots, even if they’re not ill, though elections officials have recently argued that holding an election in a month in any form is impractical.”

Fox News: “President Trump took another swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden on Monday, saying that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ‘probably’ would make for a better 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. During a wide-ranging interview with ‘Fox & Friends,’ the president detailed his administration’s latest actions in their response to the coronavirus pandemic. Biden for days has criticized Trump's response to the crisis… ‘If Sleepy Joe was president, he wouldn’t even know what’s going on,’ Trump shot back Monday. The president was asked about reports of some in the Democratic field suggesting Cuomo should run for the Democratic nomination instead. ‘If he’s gonna run, that’s fine, I’ve known Andrew for a long time,’ Trump said. ‘I think he’d be a better candidate than Sleepy Joe.’ ‘I wouldn’t mind running against Andrew,’ Trump said.”

Poll: Cuomo’s approval rating surges - Fox News: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s poll numbers are soaring as he takes center stage in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. Eighty-seven percent of registered voters in New York state say they approve of the job he’s doing steering the state’s efforts in combating the crisis, according to a Siena College poll released Monday. Even 70 percent of Republicans in New York give Cuomo a thumbs-up on the job he’s doing. New York has become the country’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, which has swept the globe. According to the state’s department of health, New York had nearly 60,000 cases of COVID-19 – the disease spread by the coronavirus – as of Sunday afternoon. Cuomo’s daily news conferences – in which he projects a steady tone mixed with a healthy dose of empathy and personal stories – have been televised on a daily basis live on all three major cable news networks, giving the three-term Democratic governor plenty of national and international attention.”

Listen to Fox: Chris joins the “Fox News Rundown” to talk about the political consequences of the coronavirus crisis - Fox News Radio

Try the new mini-podcast with the greatest hits from the “I’ll Tell You What” archives - Fox News Radio

Fox Poll: Biden wins high marks for female VP pledge - Fox News

“You know, my goal was to be at the kind of place that’s in the stock photos for the hotel loyalty programs — a hut over the water somewhere. But Indiana will have to do for now.” – Pete Buttigieg when asked by the WaPo where he wanted to go on vacation after months on the campaign trail.

“I miss the halftime report on Fox Nation. Is there any one of your children are old enough to hook up the GoPro camera for you so you can upload your commentary to the Fox streaming service? Just wondering…” – Paul Malin, Scottsdale, Ariz.

[Ed. note: We’re working on it, Mr. Malin! Stay tuned… Well, you know what I mean.]

“Thomas Massie seems like the only person in both houses of Congress who agrees with Madison on the subject of ‘Usurpation’ of the United States Constitution.” – Jim King, Chesapeake, Va.

[Ed. note: Whether he’s the only one who agrees or not, I do not know. But he appears to be the only one willing to put his own fat in the fire to make the point.]

“I enjoyed the blurb about the [Dr. Anthony Fauchi donuts in Friday’s Halftime Report]. We call him Dr. Yoda… in honor of his quiet wisdom, and lengthy experience.” – Liana Silsby, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

[Ed. note: Shake hands, do not. Avoid groups of 10 or more, you must… I like it!]

“[‘Ignoramus’ was originally] a Latin verb, first person plural. Now, it is a noun and it is frequently and appropriately used in Washington, DC. Ignoramus is the title of a farce by George Ruggle (1575-1622) that was first produced in 1615. The title character, whose name in Latin literally means ‘we do not know,’ is a lawyer who fancies himself to be quite shrewd but is actually foolish and ignorant. Ruggle may have been inspired in his choice of name for his character by a proceeding in the English judicial system. The term ignoramus was written on bills of indictment when the evidence presented seemed insufficient to justify prosecution. In these cases ignoramus indicated ‘we take no notice of (i.e., we do not recognize) this indictment.’ Such a reference would have been most appropriate for Ruggle's satire of the judiciary. Your approach to politics is terrific.” – George DeVaux, Loudoun County, Va.

[Ed. note: I never knew any of that, which makes me the ignoramus here -- but a happy one, since you have brought me into the warm glow of understanding. Thank you for sharing, Mr. DeVaux!]

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CBS News: “In the age of social distancing, working from home has become the new normal. But coronavirus quarantine has led to an interesting trend in fashion: sales for tops are up, and sales for pants are down. Millions of workers, typically bound to business or business-casual attire in the office, are now free to lounge around their homes in hoodies and sweatpants. But tops still play an important role as many employees will get semi-dressed for video conference calls. Dan Bartlett, Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, told Yahoo Finance that the company has seen a spike in sales of tops, but not bottoms. ‘So, people who are concerned, obviously, from the waist up,’ Bartlett said. … Gap Inc. reports similar findings to Walmart across all of its brands, including Gap, Athleta and Old Navy, the company told CBS News on Friday. But for people who are buying pants, they certainly aren't reaching for slacks.”

“Random searches are a ridiculous charade, a charade that not only gives a false sense of security but, in fact, diminishes security because it wastes so much time and effort on people who are obviously no threat.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in Time magazine on March 10, 2002.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.