FRIDAY, APRIL 13, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include the special session of the General Assembly, the possibility of Medicaid expansion, and which bills have been vetoed by Governor Northam.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good morning, Craig. Welcome back.
CC: To you as well. Jeff, this Wednesday we welcomed back the 140 members of the General Assembly for a special session on Medicaid expansion. They got things going, and then they went away.
JS: I don’t know if they were terribly welcome given that this issue is still unresolved. And of course it’s not just Medicaid expansion, bringing 300,000 uninsured Virginians under the Medicaid umbrella, it’s the state budget on which expansion depends. That’s a two year, 115 billion dollar behemoth. This is an issue that has to be resolved in tandem with dozens of other spending issues that separate the House and the Senate, both with Republican majorities, and some of which please the Governor, others alarm him. I think it’s safe to say the legislators came, they made some noise, and they left. But one thing that was on clear display on Wednesday was this eroding Republican opposition in the Senate. We know of at least two Republicans who are committed to supporting expansion in some form, Emmett Hanger, the co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Frank Wagner, the chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee. And that means paired with 19 Democratic votes and a Republican-controlled House that is committed to Medicaid expansion, that the arithmetic clearly favors Northam. But this is going to require more time and more wheeling and dealing, and that’s because these Republican commitments are not without a cost. Republicans are worried about what this might mean, say in 2019, when some of them will be seeking reelection. And might their about-face, having dropped their opposition to Medicaid expansion, rile the more conservative Republican base, perhaps setting up nomination fights. So maybe we’re starting to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
CC: And in a surprising interview with WCVE’s own Saraya Wintersmith, Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment seemed almost resigned to the inevitability of Medicaid expansion.
JS: That was a fascinating interview that Saraya had with the majority leader. This is a Republican who wants to remain the majority leader. He’s been minority leader twice, and he clearly prefers his current job. But I think what Norment is doing is essentially trying to tee-up the Senate Republican position on the final negotiation on Medicaid expansion. Norment clearly is hinting that he is aware of the direction that his caucus is going on this, and the idea is to certainly appear to demand terms that will be palatable to Republican primary voters or Republican convention goers in 2019 when both the House and the Senate will be decided. There are several other Republicans who are viewed as “soft,” now “soft” on Medicaid expansion. They would include Jill Holtzman Vogel, who was the Republican nominee, the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor in 2017, and has made no secret of her distaste for continuing infighting within the Republican caucus. Another possible target is Ben Chafin from far southwest Virginia. His district is among those with the largest number of uninsured Virginians. And one thing we might talk about is the pressure Chafin finds himself under from Governor Northam, and it is all part of this Medicaid expansion ploy. The Governor, in completing his review of legislation sent to him this winter, attached an arcane language amendment to a bill about which Ben Chafin feels very strongly. This bill would jump-start tax credits for coal, specifically met coal that’s used to manufacture steel. And this is a big deal in the coalfields of southwest Virginia where coal has been in a steady and seemingly irreversible decline for many years. This language amendment would require that the legislature vote again on this bill in 2019, next year again, an election year. And if Chafin can convince the legislature, and one would think this is unlikely, to remove that language, the governor would have only two choices – sign the bill or veto it. And given some of the difficulties that Ralph Northam is having with the Greens in his party, this may be a very easy opportunity to veto a bill that Democratic Greens would probably insist he veto. So clearly Ben Chafin finds himself on the horns of a dilemma, and there may be a way out and that would be a commitment to Medicaid expansion and perhaps facing the risk of, as we’ve discussed several times today and in past conversations, facing the risk of a primary or convention challenge.
CC: And Jeff, you mentioned vetoes. Governor Northam this week announced seven vetoes of bills, all sponsored by Republicans. What is not going to become law in July?
JS: Well, remember these are the latest vetoes. All told Governor Northam has rejected 10 bills, and as first year vetoes go, that puts him on par with his predecessor Terry McAuliffe and slightly below Tim Kaine, the then previous Democratic governor, previous to McAuliffe, who during his first year vetoed 15 bills. To your question, the most controversial bill among those vetoed by the governor is this so-called “sanctuary cities” ban. It is sponsored by a Republican running for congress, Ben Cline, and it would require that Virginia fully submit to federal immigration laws. Now Northam says the bill is unnecessary, that Virginia complies with federal law, and that this legislation needlessly sends, his words, “a chilling message” to the state’s immigrant community. Another bill that, as you put it, is not going to become law is one that would have made it harder for Virginia to discourage the use of carbon fuels.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Have a great weekend.