Did Virginia state senator get paid off to resign, and block Medicaid expansion?

posted at 9:31 am on June 9, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Democrats in Virginia are howling in anger after a resignation in the state Senate has handed Republicans control of the state’s upper chamber — and dealt a severe blow to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s attempt to use the budget to force approval for an expansion of Medicaid. Sen. Phillip Puckett announced his resignation today, allowing the GOP to take a 20-19 majority in the chamber, in exchange for a tobacco commission job for himself and a judicial appointment for his daughter. However, the purported reason for the switch — the Medicaid expansion — was going nowhere regardless of whether Puckett kept his seat or not:

Republicans appear to have outmaneuvered Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state budget standoff by persuading a Democratic senator to resign his seat, at least temporarily giving the GOP control of the chamber and possibly dooming the governor’s push to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) will announce his resignation Monday, effective immediately, paving the way to appoint his daughter to a judgeship and Puckett to the job of deputy director of the state tobacco commission, three people familiar with the plan said Sunday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The news prompted outrage among Democrats — and accusations that Republicans were trying to buy the Senate with job offers in order to thwart McAuliffe’s proposal to expand health coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said Republicans were unable to win the policy argument about Medicaid expansion, so they have resorted to other means.

Except that the House wasn’t going to approve the expansion anyway:

Puckett’s unexpected departure will give the GOP a 20-to-19 majority in the Senate at a time when McAuliffe was counting on Senate support for his Medicaid plan. The GOP-dominated House is firmly opposed, and the disagreement has led to a budget standoff that could trigger a government shutdown if it is not resolved before the start of the new fiscal year, July 1. In addition, Puckett’s district is heavily Republican, and it will be difficult for Democrats to retain the seat in a special election and hang on to control of the Senate overall.

On top of that, three Republican state Senators actually support the Medicaid expansion, so Puckett’s departure doesn’t change the overall Senate position on the policy. The reason that Democrats are so angry is that McAuliffe has ginned up a budget standoff in a high-stakes poker move to force the House to accept the expansion. The Senate wouldn’t move on the budget while it was in Democratic Party hands, even though the Washington Post notes that some Democrats in the upper chamber had begun to rethink a potential government shutdown as a political strategy to force Republicans to knuckle under.

With Republicans in charge, the Senate can now call itself back into session and pass the state budget. That would put the onus back on McAuliffe to shut down the government and deny the rest of the state’s benefits to the poor as a tactic to get the Medicaid expansion he demands. Good luck with that strategy, especially since McAuliffe’s party spent all last fall deriding that kind of strategy as illegitimate at the national level, and will likely try to use it as an attack in the midterm Congressional elections as well.

The trade of the jobs for Puckett’s resignation, though, still looks … pretty slimy. That’s especially true since the legislature blocked a payoff appointment from McAuliffe for a Republican who switched parties to support him. Virginia Republicans are claiming that the jobs for Puckett and his daughter are unrelated to his resignation and the sudden seizure of control of the state Senate, but only their publicists will buy that. They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.


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The news prompted outrage among Democrats — and accusations that Republicans were trying to buy the Senate with job offers in order to thwart McAuliffe’s proposal to expand health coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

Gotta love the WaPo! They willfully missed the angle that a Democrat sold his seat for two political appointments.

blammm on June 9, 2014 at 9:37 AM

Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

The American political system is debased that at this point, what difference does it make.

rbj on June 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM

I dunno but it sounds like Republicans are getting blamed for things Democrats did.

Doesn’t the governor control judicial appointments and the tobacco commission?

Akzed on June 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM

The news prompted outrage among Democrats

Good.

Any time the Party of All-Controlling Government gets a setback, it means the taxpayers win a round.

— and accusations that Republicans were trying to buy the Senate with job offers in order to thwart McAuliffe’s proposal to expand health coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

Yawn.

The Democrat accepted the offer. Takes two to tango, kids.

Good Lt on June 9, 2014 at 9:39 AM

The news prompted outrage among Democrats — and accusations that Republicans were trying to buy the Senate with job offers in order to thwart McAuliffe’s proposal to expand health coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians.

If they were the Minority Party how could they offer him anything?

Johnnyreb on June 9, 2014 at 9:40 AM

Yeah. The job and judgeship is slimy. I couldn’t support that.

Of course, at some point we’ve got to stop playing Go Fish at the Hold ‘Em table.

BKeyser on June 9, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Bart Stupak says “Hi!”

Flange on June 9, 2014 at 9:46 AM

They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

Yeah, it’s a shame to see such a revered institution debased like that. /

C’mon, it’s about time Republicans played the Dem game…

changer1701 on June 9, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Yes, Let me rewrite this headline:

Democrat senator TIRES of gridlock in the senate and takes career job on state tobacco commission.

Fleuries on June 9, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Doesn’t the governor control judicial appointments and the tobacco commission?

Akzed on June 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM

No, in Virginia those appointments come from the legislature, not the executive branch. Weird but true, probably to prevent cronyism.

Ed Morrissey on June 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.
– Ed

Not sure that will fly here, but yes…true.

verbaluce on June 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

After reading Martin Van Buren’s bio…this feels so normal I can’t get all that excited about it.

TheJamesMadison on June 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

I dunno but it sounds like Republicans are getting blamed for things Democrats did.

Doesn’t the governor control judicial appointments and the tobacco commission?

Akzed on June 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM

The governor controls the tobacco commission, but both houses of the General Assembly elects the judges in Virginia.

Steve Eggleston on June 9, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Sauce for the goose and all that. Sucks when Repubs use Dem tactics doesn’t it Dems?

neyney on June 9, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Not sure that will fly here, but yes…true.

verbaluce on June 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

What difference at this point does it make?

Good Lt on June 9, 2014 at 9:49 AM

The Koch Brothers strike again!! /

Deano1952 on June 9, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Yeah. The job and judgeship is slimy. I couldn’t support that.

Of course, at some point we’ve got to stop playing Go Fish at the Hold ‘Em table.

BKeyser on June 9, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Yep, and a clear majority on this and other conservative sites have constantly howled that Republicans need to play dirty like the Dems and use their methods.

I am conflicted on this one. At first glance it seems wrong and dirty, but I remember the voting on Obamcare and things like the Louisiana Purchase and think, turnabout is fair play.

Johnnyreb on June 9, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Politics… Republicans are always held to a higher standard.

MT on June 9, 2014 at 9:51 AM

How are Republican’s offering jobs in a government run by a Democrat governor?

Cindy Munford on June 9, 2014 at 9:52 AM

Considering Obamacare was passed with bribes to wobbly red-state Senators (many now ex-senators for this very vote), I have no problem with this.

crrr6 on June 9, 2014 at 9:55 AM

The worm turns…

vnvet on June 9, 2014 at 9:56 AM

While Ed is probably right, this is totally meaningless on the issue, it is FUNNY!!!!

Cindy Munford on June 9, 2014 at 9:57 AM

Local payback for the kinda crap pulled by Jim Jeffords and Arlen Specter.

Nice to Repubs grow a pair. The national party can learn sumpin from the Virginny Repubs.

bobnox on June 9, 2014 at 9:59 AM

Someone ask ex-Senator Ben Nelson what he thinks about this outrageous development.

crrr6 on June 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

Hopefully Ed is playing devil’s advocate in the last paragraph. If not, then I gotta disagree with it.

22044 on June 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM

You gotta play slimy to deal with slime like McAuliffe. Suck it dems you can shove your faux outrage.

bbinfl on June 9, 2014 at 10:08 AM

Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

Meh. Not really. It just looks like ordinary politics. VA is turning blue, so this will be part of the process, regardless of party.

GWB on June 9, 2014 at 10:13 AM

probably to prevent cronyism.

Ed Morrissey on June 9, 2014 at 9:47 AM

And look how well it works!

GWB on June 9, 2014 at 10:15 AM

The trade of the jobs for Puckett’s resignation, though, still looks … pretty slimy. That’s especially true since the legislature blocked a payoff appointment from McAuliffe for a Republican who switched parties to support him. Virginia Republicans are claiming that the jobs for Puckett and his daughter are unrelated to his resignation and the sudden seizure of control of the state Senate, but only their publicists will buy that. They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

I love how you talk about this. Ed, as if it’s not been a standard operating policy option for, oh, about the last 200+ years.

Your “debases politics and public policy” characterization is a howler, too. What’s your point in arguing one should admit the the two aspects of civic life which are themselves debasements of the remainder of it, are somehow debased by the methods used to fight within them? Your moral preening about this when you haven’t an clue whether the daughter was in line for the appointment anyway, and the senator had been hankering for the position for years and was going to get it eventually, is both a distraction and a debasement of the debate about the issue.

Dusty on June 9, 2014 at 10:22 AM

It’s always funny to watch Democrats, the party of government, get out maneuvered in governmental affairs.

Tater Salad on June 9, 2014 at 10:29 AM

One Senate seat that would likely change hands anyway come next cycle, in exchange for two cushy lifetime jobs and the Dems’ right to feign outrage. I’m not sure Republicans won the trade.

Rix on June 9, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Democrats do this stuff all the time. In Colorado, another one of our gun control state senators was going to be recalled. She resigned instead so that the governor could appoint another democrat. Didn’t the same thing happen in Montana with Baucus. I just think dems need to put on their big boy pants and learn that it can happen to them too.

COgirl on June 9, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

I have pretty much ceased to care at this point. After watching the GOP for eyars play by the Maquis de Queensbury rules while the Dems used brass knuckles and switchblades, I find that I’m more than a little amused at the Dems’ outrage. They can suck it for all I care, and I hope that it hurts.

You know how I stopped my dog from crapping in the house? By shoving his nose into and then swatting it with a rolled up newspaper. Apparently dogs and Democrats need to be taught in the same manner. Not to cast aspersions on dogs, of course: they can actually be taught.

Physics Geek on June 9, 2014 at 11:26 AM

Virginia Republicans are claiming that the jobs for Puckett and his daughter are unrelated to his resignation and the sudden seizure of control of the state Senate, but only their publicists will buy that. They undid the results of an election and made someone a judge for a payoff. Even those who both support their policy goals and oppose McAuliffe’s tactics have to admit that this debases politics and public policy.

The poor little Democrat. “They” made him do it.

de rigueur on June 9, 2014 at 11:38 AM

Wow! Republicans pull a tried and true Democrat tactic and look who gets their knickers in a twist.

Wait until a Republican controlled Senate takes the new Harry Reid-implemented rules and runs with them.

Kritikal on June 9, 2014 at 11:45 AM

I didn’t know the VA republicans had it in ‘em.

Good!

perries on June 9, 2014 at 12:02 PM

I dunno but it sounds like Republicans are getting blamed for things Democrats did.

Democrat. Singular.

Republicans. Plural.

Republicans (i.e. the state gop) bribed a single Democrat to give up his seat, forcing the chamber over to republican control.

They both should be blamed, of course, but considering the democratic party (plural) is getting screwed here, why you would blame “democrats” is beyond me.

Truth is, our political system is a freaking joke. This is bad for democracy, be you a conservative or a liberal, because it devalues the voice of the people. You and me. Regular people.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:07 PM

The Times Dispatch article was a bit better.

It’s against Commonwealth tradition for the legislature to appoint judges who are close family members of sitting legislators. Daughter Puckett is serving as a judge in an interim capacity, but would not be approved for the regular term so long as Daddy Puckett is a state senator. The Puckett family can have a judge or legislator, but not both.

CJ on June 9, 2014 at 12:07 PM

I’m actually surprised this is somehow legal?

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:08 PM

Puckett’s resignation is only part of the story. As the Washington Post notes (but Ed didn’t):

the resignation will come as two prominent Democrats are out of Virginia. [Senate Majority Leader Richard] Saslaw [D-Firfax] is in California visiting his newborn grandchild. Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) is leaving on Thursday on a trip to South Africa that is expected to last through June 24.

Timing is everything.

bgoldman on June 9, 2014 at 12:21 PM

The trade of the jobs for Puckett’s resignation, though, still looks … pretty slimy.

.
I remember the Jim Jeffords defection in the Senate, engineered by Ted “Snorkel” Kennedy, so slimy is as slimy does with Democrats. The Republicans simply fought slime with slime. Maybe you don’t like it, Ed, but this is what Democrats, especially CrapBurgerSammich pols like McAwful understand. They are as underhanded as you can imagine and probably more that you cannot.

ExpressoBold on June 9, 2014 at 12:21 PM

I’m actually surprised this is somehow legal?

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:08 PM

.
SURPRISE !!!! What would be illegal about it? You might have a wound to lick if the now-gone-away Democrat had his cushy job yanked out from under him or had been pressured to leave because of “salacious pictures.” You know, stuff that Democrats get away with all the time.

ExpressoBold on June 9, 2014 at 12:24 PM

What would be illegal? Bribing a public official, for one..

Does it matter if the bag of money comes in a literal bag or comes via direct deposit? Guess so, that’s american democracy for you.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Oops did I say democracy? I meant plutocracy.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:32 PM

I wouldn’t put it past McAulliff to have had a hand in this. He probably didn’t really want the medicaid expansion that he promised Hillary and Obama he would get. It would take the surplus that Virginia now has and turn it red. There is no honor among thieves or politicians.

fight like a girl on June 9, 2014 at 12:32 PM

You know how I stopped my dog from crapping in the house? By shoving his nose into and then swatting it with a rolled up newspaper. Apparently dogs and Democrats need to be taught in the same manner. Not to cast aspersions on dogs, of course: they can actually be taught.

Physics Geek on June 9, 2014 at 11:26 AM

I lol’d. Thank you! :-D

xNavigator on June 9, 2014 at 12:36 PM

The “dogs” in this analogy would be the voters who have since been disenfranchised.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:40 PM

What would be illegal? Bribing a public official, for one..

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

.
Where is the bribe? There is no hidden payment or kickback.

ExpressoBold on June 9, 2014 at 2:56 PM

Truth is, our political system is a freaking joke. This is bad for democracy, be you a conservative or a liberal, because it devalues the voice of the people. You and me. Regular people.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:07 PM

What voice? If the clowns don’t lie to us and do what we want the judges reverses it.

wifarmboy on June 9, 2014 at 3:11 PM

What would be illegal? Bribing a public official, for one..

Does it matter if the bag of money comes in a literal bag or comes via direct deposit? Guess so, that’s american democracy for you.

triple on June 9, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Yet somehow I don’t think you had this same sense of outrage when Obitlercare was “passing” through congress. Gotta love that dim hypocricy.

bbinfl on June 9, 2014 at 5:58 PM