Today of all days that argument might be tough to make, but credit HHS Secretary Tom Price for making it anyway. To be fair, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd wades through the ObamaCare repeal quagmire first before hitting Price up for a response to Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks on Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. Price wonders why they’re discussing it at all:
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you about the tone of the president’s tweets. Many Republicans in the Senate condemned the personal attack on Mika Brzezinski and attacking on her looks. You have Lindsey Graham saying it was “beneath the office.” Ben Sasse, “This isn’t normal.” Jeff Flake, “Beneath the dignity of the presidency.” Susan Collins begging, “This has to stop.” Lisa Murkowski begging, “This has to stop.” Does his behavior bother you?
SECY. TOM PRICE: Well, what I’m concentrated on is the job that he’s given me. And that is to make certain that we fulfill the mission of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is to improve the health, safety, and well-being of the American people. And there are a whole array of activities that we’re undertaking. One of them is this piece of legislation that’s in the Senate right now. But my job is consumed by making certain that we fulfill the mission at the department.
CHUCK TODD: I’m just asking you as a father. If your son tweeted about a woman like that, what would you say to him?
SECY. TOM PRICE: Chuck, you know, this is really remarkable. You’ve got incredible challenges across this nation, incredible challenges around the world. The challenge that I’ve been given is to address the health care issues. And your program, a program with the incredible history of Meet the Press, and that’s what you want to talk about?
CHUCK TODD: I don’t.
SECY. TOM PRICE: Let me suggest to you that the American people want to talk about the challenges.
CHUCK TODD: Mr. Secretary, I don’t. Mr. Secretary, with all due respect, you’re blaming me for what the president of the United States has spent his entire week focused on?
SECY. TOM PRICE: No. Listen to me, with all due respect. The American people are concerned about a health care system that is not providing choices, where premiums are going up, where insurance companies are vacating markets all across this land. And that’s what they want us to concentrate on. And that’s what they want us to fix. And that’s what I and the president are working on.
Either this got taped yesterday, or before this morning’s Trump tweet went live. One would imagine that Todd would have asked much more pointed questions about the CNN tweet, given its broader message. Or perhaps not; Joe and Mika are Todd’s colleagues, after all. It couldn’t have been an unexpected topic, given all the media attention to Trump’s tweet war with MSNBC hosts over the last few days.
Regardless, Price took the smart option and parried back that the two of them have more important issues to discuss, and that presidential tweets are likely not high on voters’ priority lists. On this, Price is almost certainly correct. First off, most Americans aren’t engaged on Twitter at all; in the first quarter of the year, 70 million Americans (just a skosh over 20% of the population) had tweeted on a monthly basis. Around two-thirds of those (just under 50 million) are under 35 years old, an age range not exactly known for its voting reliability, let alone its current-affairs engagement. And even with those numbers, the total engagements on Trump’s face-lift tweet after five days are relatively microscopic. If one assumes that each reply, like, and retweet are from separate users, it comes up just short of 190,000 users engaged … or 0.27% of all monthly-active users on Twitter. (The CNN tweet has many more engagements as of about 1 pm ET today at ~406,000, but that’s still only 0.59% of all active users.)
Having spent a couple of weeks away from the keyboard and engaging with people (reluctantly) on current events, Trump’s tweets came up occasionally — usually in an eye-rolling context, but not as a major issue. That’s not to say that Trump’s statements are out of bounds for criticism regardless of the platform, but it’s a question of perspective and priorities. Voters want action on issues that actually touch their lives, not obsessions with social-media spats far outside their experience. Rhubarbs over Twitter content between politicians and the media are about as inside-baseball and process-story as it gets.
The full interview has much more interesting exchanges on the big issue of health care reform, including a particular focus on the opioid crisis. Price wants funding for approaches that work rather than just “throwing money” at the problem, as Todd characterizes McConnell’s moves this week. Price tells Todd that the opioid crisis is a major issue for Trump, who wants effective action to get it under control, using “evidence-based” policies.
Todd also presses Price on the CBO scoring for the current BCRA, and Price responds that the CBO doesn’t have all the information yet about the administration’s comprehensive approach to premium price improvements:
CHUCK TODD: But for what it’s worth, not a single analysis, whether it’s Congressional Budget Office or third-party groups, has indicated that this bill, either the House version or the Senate version, is somehow going to make premiums come down for older Americans. Every analysis suggests while premiums may come down for younger Americans, that for older Americans with preexisting conditions, these premiums are going to go up. There’s not a single analysis that has said otherwise.
SECY. TOM PRICE: And that’s precisely because the Congressional Budget Office and all of these analyses don’t look at the entire plan. The entire plan includes not just this piece of legislation, which is a significant piece, but it’s not the entire plan. The other pieces of legislation that provide for increasing competition and increasing choices in the insurance market.
And then all of the things that we’re doing at the Department of Health and Human Services right now, as we speak, to make certain that we’re turning back the tide of all of the rules and regulations that were put in place previously that decrease choices, that increase cost, all of those things. If you look at it in its totality, and nobody’s looking at it in its totality, we will bring down premiums. We will increase coverage. We will increase choices. And I believe we will increase the quality of care provided in this nation.
Here’s the whole interview, with the tweet debate coming at the very end.