Senator Moran, relax. It’s all going to be OK. Andrew Harnik AP
Senator Moran, relax. It’s all going to be OK. Andrew Harnik AP

Steve Kraske

Why is Sen. Jerry Moran always running scared?

By Steve Kraske

July 20, 2017 05:54 PM

UPDATED July 20, 2017 07:44 PM

Why is Sen. Jerry Moran so scared?

He looks scared. He votes scared. He dashes away from reporters, as he did this week in Washington, as if he’s, well, scared.

But why?

The Kansas Republican hails from one of the brightest of red states. His U.S. Senate seat is, by definition, one of the safest in the country. In fact, Kansas apparently holds the distinction of going the longest of any state without electing a Democratic senator.

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That suggests Moran could be a leader like the legendary Bob Dole or an occasional maverick like Nancy Kassebaum and never have to apologize to anybody.

Not Jerry. He makes lawmaking look so dang difficult. He twists and turns, hems and haws, all in the name of pleasing the planet’s every mortal soul. You just want to grab him by the shoulders, look him dead in the eye and yell, “Stop it!”

This week was classic Moran. Within a 24-hour span, he was both hailed and vilified on health care reform, sometimes by the same groups. That’s quite a trick.

On Monday evening, Moran announced that he would oppose the Senate health care bill, killing it in the process. (He did that not by himself, but with Sen. Mike Lee of Utah at his side.)

In doing so, he had journalists of all stripes writing that, finally, mercifully, Moran was stepping out of his own shadow. Maybe now, they wrote, a new, more independent Moran was in the offing.

In doing so, he was abiding by what he had said this month in the tiny town of Palco, Kan.: “I am a product of rural Kansas. I understand the value of a hospital in your community, of a physician in your town, of a pharmacy on Main Street.”

Moran discusses the importance of health care to rural communities

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran talks about the role small hospitals play in rural communities during a town hall in Palco, Kan.

Bryan Lowry The Kansas City Star

One of his harshest critics, Indivisible KC, actually staged a rally in Olathe Tuesday to thank Moran for dooming a bill that needed dooming.

But the tone of that same rally flipped when marchers learned in the midst of their march that Moran would support repeal of the Affordable Care Act without a replacement bill ready to go.

“Ohhhhhhhhhh,” the crowd moaned, before a speaker intoned: “That was the deal he cut with leader McConnell. You kinda knew there had to be something, right?”

It was like Moran took a bold step, then panicked and came running back into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s fold before a day had passed.

It suddenly didn’t seem to matter that the very cause Moran had championed in coming out against the bill — rural health care — could be dramatically undermined if Congress repealed Obamacare without a replacement measure in hand.

In other words, Moran flip-flopped, or that’s how it appeared.

The senator has a long history of scaredy-cat tactics. Years ago, he famously infuriated former House Speaker Dennis Hastert by backing away from a pledge to support the Medicare prescription-drug bill. Moran, Hastert wrote in a book, “voted no, then ran and hid.”

Presidential adviser Karl Rove once ripped Moran for trying to parlay his vote on a trade bill, which Rove said would have been good for Kansas, for campaign help. Rove called the offer ridiculous, given how safe Moran was back home.

His I’m-in-the-race-I’m-out-of-the-race machinations during his long flirtation with a 2006 race for governor is already the stuff of Kansas political lore. Moran tortured himself during that ordeal.

Even Moran’s Senate colleague from Kansas, Pat Roberts, seems frustrated. Told the other day that a reporter hadn’t been able to run down Moran to ask him about health care, Roberts stopped and quipped, “Imagine that.”

Senator Moran, relax. It’s all going to be OK.

After all, you’re safe — or as close to it as anybody in the United States Congress.