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Senators’ Chat Caught on Live Mic Exposes Washington Tension

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(Bloomberg) — A private conversation between two senators that was caught on a live microphone reveals a tense climate among lawmakers and with the White House.

Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, mocked Rep. Blake Farenthold, who’d suggested he might challenge her to a duel if she weren’t a woman because of her opposition to holding a vote to changing the Affordable Care Act.

“He’s huge,” she said of the portly congressman from Texas, a fellow Republican. “He’s so unattractive, it’s unbelievable.”

(Related: Vice President Breaks Health Bill Debate Tie)

Collins was speaking with Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, after a Tuesday Senate Appropriations subcommittee markup, apparently unaware that a microphone was picking up their conversation.

Reed told Collins, “Do you know why he challenged you to a duel? Because you could beat the s—t out of him first.”

On Friday, according to the Texas Tribune, Farenthold told a radio host, “Some of the people that are opposed to this, there are female senators from the Northeast .. If it was a guy from South Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.” Farenthold didn’t name Collins in his comments to the radio host, though it was a clear reference to her.

Burr, the sitting vice president, shot and killed adversary Alexander Hamilton, the former Treasury secretary, during a duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, in 1804.

By Tuesday afternoon, Collins said in a statement that she received a handwritten apology from Farenthold. And she called the Texas lawmaker to say she’s sorry.

“Neither weapons nor inappropriate words are the right way to resolve legislative disputes,” she said.

On another topic, Reed and Collins discussed their unease with how President Donald Trump’s administration is dealing with the budget and the debt ceiling and expressed concern about the impact.

“Wherever there was a grant, they just X it out with no measurement, no metrics. It’s just incredible, it’s just irresponsible,” Collins said, apparently referring to the White House budgeting process.

“If we don’t get a budget deal we are going, we are going to be paralyzed,” Reed replied. The Department of Defense “is going to be paralyzed.”

Collins responded, “I know.” She added, “I don’t even think he knows there is a BCA” referring Trump and the Budget Control Act, a 2011 law that created caps aimed at limiting the growth of discretionary spending.

Both expressed concern about the mixed messages coming from the administration — primarily Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — about legislation to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a default by the federal government. The government will reach its statutory limit on borrowing sometime in October, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

“You’ve got Mulvaney saying we are going to put all sorts of things in there, the border wall,” Reed said. “You’ve got Mnuchin saying it’s got to be clean. We are going come back in September and you are going to have crazy people in the House.”

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, said in a statement after the senator’s remarks that she’s worried about the elimination of transportation and housing programs in the president’s budget.

— Read Alexander Hamilton: What Did He Really Say About Health Policy? on ThinkAdvisor


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