Late night comedy shows have it tough in the age of Trump. When the country is in the hands of a hair-trigger megalomaniac with no impulse control and an itchy Twitter-finger, life, as they say, comes at you fast. So, with the Republican-controlled Senate debating their so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act while all the late night shows were airing on Thursday, it was perhaps understandable that all the “Mooch” jokes felt a little hollow. Not that they weren’t funny. They’d pretty much have to be, with brand-spankin’ new White House Communications Director (”And guy who orders a martini in a bowling alley,” according to Colbert) Anthony Scaramucci having last night phoned New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza to try to ferret out a source and, failing that, launched into the sort of profane, loose-lipped elaborately euphemistic backbiting that makes any reporter worth his ink start mentally counting the coming pageviews.
But there were a lot of anxious people watching, no doubt, as they wondered if the GOP was going to be able to follow through on their intention to pass various health bills they’d scribbled on bar napkins over the past few days. (Including the one being voted on while these shows were airing, which was—because America is profoundly broken—written the same day, over lunch.) It’s not the fault of Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, or the two Jimmys, Fallon and Kimmel—their shows tape in the afternoon after all. And The Mooch really did serve up a big, steaming, irresistible Mooch-burger for them to chomp into. (The sentence, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock,” is just not going to sail by, unremarked upon.) Of the group, it was Meyers who spent the most time on the looming health care debacle. His traditionally solid “A Closer Look” segment spent ten tight minutes pointing up, once again, how cruel and partisan has been the Republicans’ rush to repeal, replace (but ultimately destroy) President Barack Obama’s signature effort to enable millions—tens of millions—of Americans to have a chance at something approaching a reasonable level of care.
Meyers made jokes about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republicans running roughshod over governmental norms and process. How they spread blatant, easily provable lies about how their pell-mell stampede to kill the ACA was anything like Obama’s and the Democrats’ approach in passing it, perhaps counting on Donald Trump’s relentless, boorish attack on fact and reality (“Fake news!”) to have devalued the truth to the point that incontrovertible evidence of mendacity and hypocrisy would simply be disregarded by enough people. Meyers showed clips of McConnell and now-Vice President Mike Pence arguing during the ACA debates that Obamacare’s process was secretive and rushed (it wasn’t), which directly contradicts every single step they and their Republican colleagues have taken to ram their uniformly despised plans through. “It’s insane,” is all Meyers can muster at one point, before pronouncing that the Republicans under McConnell have been operating so secretly, and violating all congressional norms in the process, because they know what they’re doing couldn’t stand up to scrutiny.
And, even in secrecy, and haste, it wasn’t enough in the end. Those who stayed up to the end of Late Night With Seth Meyers found out (on decidedly unfunny C-Span) that the Republican plan failed, on a vote of 49-51. The vote—on a plan with no CBO score, that had been written in secret (even from most Republicans), that was favored by about 20 percent of Americans, that sought to destroy a flawed plan that, nonetheless, gave tens of millions of Americans a chance at life they had traditionally been denied through no fault of their own—ultimately failed by only two votes. (With Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain the only Republicans to vote against proceeding.) Insane, indeed. At least tomorrow’s jokes should find a more receptive, and relieved, audience.