Virginia: GOP + 1 Dem Pull Dick Move to Prevent Medicaid Expansion (Update x4: FBI Investigating??)

Hat Tip To: 
(various)

A bunch of people have sent me links to this story out of Virginia:

RICHMOND — 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 short version is this:

  • Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is 100% committed to enabling ACA Medicaid expansion in Virginia, which the previously GOP-held state government has shot down until now.
  • The Virginia state House is still controlled by Republicans, who are 100% committed to denying Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of their fellow residents (the article claims it's 400,000, but the Kaiser Family Foundation claims it's "only" 191,000...not sure what accounts for the discrepancy, but either way that's a LOT of people who are being screwed over).
  • The Virginia state Senate is a 20-20 deadlock...but since the Lt. Governor is a Democrat, that gives McAuliffe the edge there, just barely.
  • However, if this Puckett guy does indeed resign, that gives the GOP a 20-19 advantage, thus making it even more difficult to squeak Expansion through.

Now, I don't know what Virginia law has to say about bribery in this sort of situation. I'm assuming that, while an incredibly revolting dick move, this scenario (if it plays out) would be legal. To be perfectly honest, I suspect this sort of thing actually happens in various federal/state/local governments more often than we'd like to think it does...but presumably it's usually not nearly as blatant and obvious as this stunt would be.

It's difficult to prove "why" someone resigns from their job, since that goes to their intent--all Puckett has to say, I imagine, is that he "wants to spend more time with his family" etc etc (well, except for his daughter who is apparently going to be a bit busy with her new judicial promotion). 

So, assuming that it's legal to do so, there's a few ways this could play out, in order of positive to negative results:

  • Puckett could, theoretically, be playing the state GOP himself and use his "resignation" speech to, instead, call out the GOP for being such assholes with a "Ha, ha! I'm not resigning after all & you guys look like the dicks you are now!" That would be awesome, but highly unlikely. That's the sort of thing which you see in movies/shows like "Dave" or "The West Wing" but which rarely happen in real life.
  • Puckett could indeed resign, only to find that the GOP decides to then screw him over by telling him and his daughter to go pound sand. This would at least have a poetic justice ending, but is unlikely only because it would prevent the state GOP from trying to pull any similar stunts in the future.
  • The ugly scenario could play out as described above, but expansion could still go through anyway (apparently there's a handful of Republican Senators who may support expansion after all, etc).
  • The ugly scenario could play out as described above, and expansion would be denied...in which case those 191K - 400K Virginia residents would indeed be screwed until at least the next state election.

As disgusting as this move by the VA GOP is, the bottom line is that--assuming it's legal, of course--it's par for the course. Michigan residents recently found out what happens when the Republican Party knows that their extremist views would lose at the ballot box; they pull stunts like this, resulting in a law which subjects 200+ rape victims per year to $500 fines and/or cruel & unusual punishment. So, I'm not exactly surprised by this turn of events.

UPDATE: OK, scratch the first pie-in-the-sky scenario above; Puckett has indeed resigned, and cited (of course) "family reasons" for doing so (which, technically speaking, is true; he cares about his daughter getting a judgeship more than hundreds of thousands of his fellow Virginians getting decent healthcare coverage).

(Sigh) It does seem to me that if he was going to be an asshole, he could have simply agreed to switch parties and vote against expansion instead...although that would have left him out in the cold when he came up for re-election, I suppose, since the GOP wouldn't trust him and the Dems would feel betrayed.

Anyway, the first part of the scenario has played out. The next-best hope would be for the GOP to tell him & his daughter to f*ck off. That would still leave them with control of the state Senate, but it would at least be poetic justice for this jackass. Lie down with dogs and you'll get fleas and all that jazz.

UPDATE x2: Whoops!! This situation may be illegal after all!! According to ThinkProgress:

If Puckett was offered the seat on this commission in exchange for his decision to resign from the state legislature, however, he may have committed a very serious crime. Under Virginia’s bribery law, it is a felony for a state lawmaker to “accept[] or agree[] to accept from another … any pecuniary benefit offered, conferred or agreed to be conferred as consideration for or to obtain or influence the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of discretion as a public servant or party official.”

Of course, even if Puckett is convicted, it doesn't help the residents of Virginia much; the GOP will still control the state Senate for the time being, Medicaid expansion would still be denied and so forth. However, the "poetic justice" factor would be cranked up to 11, and at least the senate Dems would have rid themselves of an asshole, so there's that.

UPDATE x3: Well, so much for that. Apparently the response to his douchebaggery has been so great that Puckett has decided to turn down the tabacco commission job which made up half of his reason for stabbing the VA Dems in the back:

But after Democrats accused Puckett of selling out, he decided to remain with his job in banking, according to two people who were familiar with his decision. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss his decision.

That just leaves his daughter's judicial appointment. Assuming that falls through as well, it means that this asshole just screwed over hundreds of thousands of Virginia residents for absolutely no reason whatsoever (not even a terrible one). Oh, yeah, and he could still potentially be facing felony charges anyway:

Puckett could potentially be facing more than recriminations from his former colleagues. If the reporting on the story has been accurate, Puckett and the Republicans who struck this deal with him might have broken Virginia's bribery law. That's true whether or not Puckett ultimately took the tobacco commission job. Seems like an investigation is in order here.

UPDATE x4: Oopsie. Looks like the FBI is indeed investigating:

Our guest tonight from the Virginian-Pilot, Julian Walker, broke the news last night that Virginia Democratic State Senator Phillip Puckett would be resigning his seat in the state Senate. Puckett’s resignation would hand control of that body to Virginia Republicans. With that control, the state GOP would be in a much stronger position to block Governor Terry McAuliffe from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

That was Julian Walker’s scoop.

Tonight, in his interview with Rachel, Walker broke news again when he said that according to one source the FBI has contacted the Virginia State Senate in regards to the resignation scandal.

"I can tell you that I did hear from one source that, one senate source that they did field a call from an FBI official today."