The Public Option, alive, scratching at coffin lid

I don’t know if it’s for real this time, or if it’s just more political posturing on the part of certain Democrats, but it seems as though the so-called “public option” may not be as completely dead as we’d been led to believe. The following clip comes from The Hill:

…The recess week ended up providing liberal activists and their allies on Capitol Hill with a surprise opportunity to breath life into the proposal to create a government-run health insurance plan – a proposal that had been declared all-but-dead two months ago.

Ironically, it’s a shift that would have been unthinkable before Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) won the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat in a special election last month. Though Democrats lost the 60th vote they needed to defeat a Republican filibuster of healthcare reform, they also gained a huge incentive to use reconciliation, a tactic Reid had previously ruled out.

With Democrats gearing up to take a final shot at passing healthcare reform via budget reconciliation rules that require only 51 votes for Senate passage, liberals see an opportunity…

As of today, 18 Senators have signed on to support the passage of a public option via reconcilliation. They include Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.), who’s credited with pushing the matter in the Senate, and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus. (You can read the letter to Reid here.)… But, as you might recall, we’ve seen initiatives like this fail in the past – most recently last October, when 30 Democratic Senators signed a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, urging the inclusion of a robust public option in any healthcare legislation that should be considered. But, as it mentions in The Hill article, the political calculus might be different now that the Republican Scott Brown has been seated in Teddy Kennedy’s old seat.

Some, like David Waldman at the Daily Kos, are skeptical. Here’s a clip from his most recent article on the subject:

…With 18 Senators now signed on to the letter urging leadership support of an effort to bring the public option to the floor under reconciliation procedures, things are either looking up for the popular plan’s prospects, or else everyone’s out looking for a freebie, hoping to snap up some progressive creds by signing on to an effort that’s both doomed and the death of which can be blamed on the Senate’s nonpartisan parliamentarian.

In the scenario where they’re punking us, it’s win-win in terms of the politics of it for the Senators. As long as there aren’t 51 signatories and nobody thinks there ever will be, anyone who wants to look progressive but doesn’t particularly care for the public option can sign on and be in no danger of being called upon to live with the consequences. And if they get 51, well then, what the hell? Go pass it. You’ve got all the cover in the world…

According to political analyst Chris Bowers, though, there may be relatively wide support. The following comes from the Huffington Post:

…Real health care reform is threatening to emerge from the ashes of the Massachusetts special election that exploded the effort in January. A growing movement in the Senate to urge Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to reinsert the public option into a health care reform package that would move through the chamber under majority-only rules depends on just how many votes backers can muster.

“Senator Reid remains a strong supporter of the public option, but it’s always a question of where the votes are,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley told HuffPost.

There’s one tried and true way to find out if the votes are there: Hold a vote.

Because of the rules surrounding budget reconciliation, the process that would allow health care reform to move through with 51 votes, any Senator may bring up an amendment to the package. An opponent of the amendment will then likely make a point of order and argue that the amendment violates the “Byrd Rule” and is out of order. If the parliamentarian sustains the point of order, the amendment would need 60 votes to pass. But if he deems that it complies with the rules of reconciliation — that it has a substantial effect on the budget and is germane to the legislation — then the amendment passes with a majority vote.

Chris Bowers, who has been counting votes based on public responses and private correspondence, counts at least 45 votes for a public option. Democrats would need to find five more, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie…

So, if Bowers is right about the numbers, it sounds like there may be hope yet, especially when a member of Democrat leadership like Chuck Schumer has voiced support. Of course, it could all just be a trick meant to motivate the Republicans to enter into negotiations… Regardless, the next few weeks should be interesting.

update: It looks as though the White House might be on board. This comes from the Wall Street Journal:

…White House aides have begun to make the case that passing a bill through reconciliation isn’t an extraordinary move, noting that it was used frequently under President George W. Bush. Mr. Obama also argued Friday that recent price increases by insurance companies demonstrate the need for such an overhaul…

update: It’s being reported that Senator Alren Specter just signed on, making it 19 that are pushing for a public option via reconcilliation.

update: And then there were 20. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) just signed on.

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  1. jacksmith
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    A LINE IN THE SAND – From jacksmith – WorkingClass

    Call your representatives and demand an answer. Do you or don’t you support a public option. Do you or don’t support democratic MAJORITY RULE! We DEMAND! to know.

    YOU! are dying and suffering needlessly every day

    Why we need Government-run universal healthcare ASSURANCE

    My Fellow Americans and People Of The World

    A strong Government-run MEDICARE like Public Option is STILL! CRITICAL!

    We have had a long hard struggle to find out what would be the BEST! that this congress and the Whitehouse could do to fix our highly dangerous, poor quality, most costly, and MOST! disgraceful healthcare delivery system in the world. It is clear that congress can do much more for the American people than what is proposed so far.

    It is clear that congress can pass a strong GOVERNMENT-run public option CHOICE. Available to everyone on day one. Expand Medicare and not levy any new taxes on workers healthcare benefits and plans. LET THIS BE YOUR LINE IN THE SAND!

    Lastly, there can be NO! INDIVIDUAL MANDATES without a strong Government-run MEDICARE like Public Option CHOICE. Or the American people WILL! and SHOULD! revolt with an all out CIVIL WAR against congress and this Government.

    House and Senate progressives and the tri-caucuses should aggressively push for the inclusion of a strong Public Option, Medicare expansion, and no new taxes on workers healthcare benefits and plans. If the obstructionist kill meaningful healthcare reform, then you should kill this bill. Because it will be far worse than the healthcare disaster we have now. It’s failure will be on the obstructionist heads. And they will be punished and replaced.


    What is proposed in the Senate bill is the worst case scenario for health-care reform. It would shift trillions of taxpayer, public and private dollars into the hands of the private insurance industry (The single most costly, deadly and dangerous product sold in America). And it would compel by law millions of Americans to financially support this oxymoronic criminal enterprise. You cant have a individual MANDATE WITHOUT A STRONG PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE!

    You will have NO! realistic way of controlling cost and quality. Cost will continue soaring through the roof bleeding the American people dry, and KILLing our economy. And our quality of healthcare will continue to decline below our current ranking of “WORST! quality of healthcare delivery in the developed World”.

    From the very start, the American people have been crystal clear about what they wanted. They wanted a humane single payer system like the rest of the developed world has (HR676). Or at least a humane strong GOVERNMENT-run public option CHOICE!! This is what the American people gave the democrats control of the house, control of the senate, and control of the Whitehouse to do.

    Those of you that can, should prepare now to remove every member of congress that fails to support YOUR healthcare reform with a strong Public Option, Medicare expansion, and no new taxes on workers healthcare benefits and plans. Run against them in teams if you have to. But take them out. And replace them with a strong single payer or PRO PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE candidate.

    Now! is the time to bring maximum pressure on your members of congress. Contact your representatives and spread the word.

    The Public Option


    I have to tell you now that the H1N1 virus is a man-made WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION! and TERROR! It is a WEAPONIZED version of a flu virus. It has swept the planet infecting millions. And causing a global pandemic that has killed tens of thousands, and injured millions.

    The H1N1 virus is the product of the DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! It was released in the U.S. in Texas in early January of last year, but not recognized until around April 2009 in California. The reason I know this is because when it came to America, it came to see me FIRST! How sweet…

    This was around the time the MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX! assaulted the Whitehouse with all their devils deals to cripple and weaken YOUR! healthcare reform. Especially your right to have a single payer system like HR676 (Medicare For All) which most of you wanted.

    They don’t even want you to have your HUGE!!! compromise position of a strong government-run MEDICARE like Public Option CHOICE. To compete with their DISGRACEFUL, GREED DRIVEN, MURDEROUS, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT PRODUCT (The single most costly, deadly and dangerous product sold in America).

    They also wanted to take away your rights to have your government meet it’s responsibility to use it’s full power to regulate, negotiate, and control drug cost, healthcare cost and quality. Something every other civilized country in the developed World has done for it’s people. Their Greed! moral degeneracy and lack of patriotism knows no bounds.

    Many of you will remember that before we knew about H1N1. I posted a open message to the President and Congress warning them to be vigilant about their health, and cautious about any medical advice they received. As I said then “they will not hesitate to try and hurt you”.

    The U.S. and the World have been under a BIOLOGICAL TERROR ATTACK! for over a year now. It is CRITICAL that We The People Of The United States take away control of our healthcare system from the GREED DRIVEN MEDICAL INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX!

    For our own National security, and the security of the world.

    A Strong, government-run, MEDICARE like Public Option CHOICE. Available to everyone on day one, with the full unfettered power of the federal government to regulate, negotiate, and control cost and quality. Would be the most workable way to deal with this global crisis at this time. Including patent suspensions as needed for national security or the greater good.

    As an American I invite the peoples of the World to help us fix our healthcare crisis. And bring pressure on our government to meet it’s responsibility to protect global security by controlling, and removing the corrupting influence of GREED and the PRIVATE FOR PROFIT motivations from healthcare in the U.S. and around the World.

    I call on the governments of the World and the global intelligence community to track down these MASS MURDERERS, and bring them to justice. CONNECT THE DOTS! And be vigilant that they don’t slip in another viral strain on you under the cloak of H1N1 sequestration.

    Further, the proposed patent protection on biologic’s must be stripped from the US bill. And greatly shorten/restricted, or abolished completely. This is a grave danger to humanity and global security.

    I think President Obama is doing the best he can at playing the disastrous deck of cards he inherited from the previous administration. And I think he is doing an excellent job. But the wolves and devils of the medical industrial complex! are trying to exploit, and take advantage of his good heart, and desperate desire to help suffering Americans. But we must be strong and insist that healthcare reform be done right for the American people. Or everyone loose’s.

    This is all I can say in a message post. I’ll try to find a way to tell you more later.

    God Bless You My Fellow Human Beings

    jacksmith – Working Class

    p.s. The so-called nominal H1N1 virus is designed in such a way as to make it more lethal to children and young adults. The medical community must be more vigilant of secondary bacterial infections in the young caused by H1N1. And remember, a viral infection is also a transfer of genetic code to you. Think about it, and be vigilant. :-(

  2. Erich Auerbach
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I am drawn to Marshall Auerbach’s idea for how to create a “public option”: expand the provisions of Medicare.

  3. Rob
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Jack, um……err……. You wouldn’t happen to have a private plane would you?

  4. Peter Larson
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I have a question for Jack. Why would the medical-industrial complex go through all the trouble of making a virus that will kill and hospitalize hundreds of thousands and then create a vaccine that will prevent them from dying and being hospitalized? It would make much better business sense to create a virus without a vaccine as hospitals and doctors make MUCH more money off long hospital stays, trips to the emergency room and the prescribing of large numbers of medications to persons who come down with any type of influenza.

    There really isn’t much money in vaccines, at all.

    Please explain to me why your scenario makes business sense.

  5. Bob
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Anybody heard on how Levin and Stabenow stand on all this? I called their office about the reconcilliation drive for health care, and Levin’s office would only say they would pass my views on to the Senator. I tried Stabenow’s DC office a few times, telling me the office was open and to stand by, then was cut off. I finally was able to leave a message there on voice mail.

  6. Posted February 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    From what I can tell, neither of our Michigan Senators have signed on. The following comes from Talking Points Memo:

    …The other signatories (in addition to Schumer, Bennet, and Specter): Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT), Al Franken (MN), Patrick Leahy (VT), John Kerry (MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Michael Bennet (CO), Sherrod Brown (OH), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Jeff Merkley (OR), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Roland Burris (IL), Barbara Boxer (CA), Jack Reed (RI), Tom Udall (NM), Barbara Mikulski (MD) and Frank Lautenberg (NJ)…

    I do know that Stabenow, however, signed the last letter supporting the public option, which was sent to Reid in October ’09. Hopefully that means she’ll sign this one as well, if she knows that we’re demanding it.

    You’ll find her contact information here.

  7. Posted February 21, 2010 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    And here are her offices, for those who don’t follow links:

    Washington, DC Office
    Senator Debbie Stabenow
    133 Hart Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510
    Phone: (202) 224-4822

    Mid-Michigan Office
    Senator Debbie Stabenow
    221 W. Lake Lansing Road, Suite 100
    East Lansing, MI 48823
    Phone: (517) 203-1760

    Southeast Michigan Office
    243 W.Congress Suite 550
    Detroit, MI 48226
    Phone: (313) 961-4330

    Western Michigan Office
    3280 E. Beltline Court NE, Suite 400
    Grand Rapids, MI 49525
    Phone: (616) 975-0052

    Flint/Saginaw Bay Area Office
    432 N. Saginaw St, Suite 301
    Flint, MI 48502
    Phone: (810) 720-4172

    Upper Peninsula Office
    1901 W. Ridge
    Marquette, MI 49855
    Phone: (906) 228-8756

    Northern Michigan Office
    3335 S. Airport Road West, Suite 6B
    Traverse City, MI 49684
    Phone: (231) 929-1031

  8. Hot Knuckle Lover
    Posted February 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink


    I would just like to be the first to thank you for coming to this site and pasting the same text on this site that you’ve been pasting all around the Web … at Chicago Tribute, Veteran’s Today, etc.

    You make us all feel so included, so special.


  9. Alice Simmons
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Write to Carl Levin too.

  10. Stephen R
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Looks like Obama is backing off the public option:

    After a week when the public health insurance option gained serious momentum, President Obama decided not to include one of the most popular elements of reform in the plan he intends to present to a bipartisan group of lawmakers Thursday.

    The Obama plan bridges differences between the Senate and House plans on issues both large and small, but when it comes to the public option — the House bill includes one and the Senate’s doesn’t — Obama is entirely silent.

    Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that Obama would “absolutely” fight for a public option if Senate leadership decided to go for it. “[I]f it’s part of the decision of leadership to move forward, absolutely,” Sebelius said. “The president said from the outset he thought that was a great way to provide cost reduction and competition moving forward, but if that is not the choice of the majority moving forward, I think there are other ways to get there.”

    Since then, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would work with his colleagues to find the votes needed for it; Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third ranking Democrat, pushed for it to be included; and Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, joined in the call.

    It wasn’t enough to persuade Obama to get behind the immensely popular issue. After months of watching Obama say generally that he supports the public option, while doing little to see it implemented in law, backers of the idea were unsurprised it was left out of his final offer…

  11. Erich Auerbach
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    More and more heartbreak here at having fought to elect the man.

  12. Slim
    Posted February 22, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    From Robert Reich today.

    This week the president is hosting a bipartisan gab-fest at the White House to try to tease out some Republican votes for health care reform. It’s a total waste of time. If Obama thinks he’s going to get a single Republican vote at this stage of the game, he’s fooling himself (or the American people). Many months ago, you may recall, the White House and Democratic party leaders in the Senate threatened to pass health care with 51 votes — using a process called “reconciliation” that allows tax and spending bills to be enacted without filibuster — unless Republicans came on board. It’s time to pull the trigger.

    Why haven’t the President and Senate Democrats pulled the reconciliation trigger before now? I haven’t spoken directly with the President or with Harry Reid but I’ve spent the last several weeks sounding out contacts on the Hill and in the White House to find an answer. Here are the theories. None of them justifies waiting any longer.

    Reconciliation is too extreme a measure to use on a piece of legislation so important. I hear this a lot but it’s bunk. George W. Bush used reconciliation to enact his giant tax cut bill in 2003 (he garnered only 50 votes for it in the Senate, forcing Vice President Cheney to cast the deciding vote). Six years before that, Bill Clinton rounded up 51 votes to enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded health insurance coverage for children in the U.S. since Medicaid began in the 1960s. Through reconciliation, we also got Medicare Advantage. Also through reconciliation came the COBRA act, which gives Americans a bit of healthcare protection after they lose a job (“reconciliaton is the “R” in the COBRA acronym.) These were all big, important pieces of legislation, and all were enacted by 51 votes in the Senate.

    Use of reconciliation would infuriate Senate Republicans. It may. So what? They haven’t given Obama a single vote on any major issue since he first began wining and dining them at the White House. In fact, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and company have been doing everything in their power to undermine the President. They’re using the same playbook Republicans used in the first two years of the Clinton administration, hoping to discredit the President and score large victories in the midterm elections by burying his biggest legislative initiative. Indeed, Obama could credibly argue that Senate Republicans have altered the rules of the Senate by demanding 60 votes on almost every initiative – a far more extensive use of the filibuster than at any time in modern history – so it’s only right that he, the President, now resort to reconciliation.

    Obama needs Republican votes on military policy so he doesn’t dare antagonize them on health care. I hear this from some quarters but I don’t buy it. While it’s true that Dems are skeptical of Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan and that Republicans are his major backers, it seems doubtful R’s would withdraw their support if the President forced their hand on health care. Foreign policy is the one area where Republicans have offered a halfway consistent (and always bellicose) voice, and Dick Cheney et al would excoriate them if they failed to back a strong military presence in the Middle East. This is truer now than ever.

    Reid fears he can’t even get 51 votes in the Senate now, after Scott Brown’s win. Reid counts noses better than I do, but if Senate Democrats can’t come up with even 51 votes for the health care reforms they enacted weeks ago they give new definition to the term “spineless.” Besides, if this is the case, Obama ought to be banging Senate heads together. A president has huge bargaining leverage because he presides over an almost infinite list of future deals. Lyndon Johnson wasn’t afraid to use his power to the fullest to get Medicare enacted. If Obama can’t get 51 Senate votes out of 58 or 59 Dems and Independents, he definitely won’t be able to get 51 Senate votes after November. Inevitably, the Senate will lose some Democrats. Now’s his last opportunity.

    House and Senate Democrats are telling Obama they don’t want to take another vote on health care or even enact it before November’s midterms because they’re afraid it will jeopardize their chances of being reelected and may threaten their control over the House and Senate. I hear this repeatedly but if it’s true Republicans have done a far better job scaring Americans about health care reform than any pollster has been able to uncover. Most polls still show a majority of Americans still in favor of the basic tenets of reform – expanded coverage, regulations barring insurers from refusing coverage because of someone’s preexisting conditions and preventing insurers from kicking someone off the rolls because they get sick, requirements that employers provide coverage or pay into a common pool, and so on. And now that many private insurers are hiking up premiums, co-pays, and deductibles, the public is even readier to embrace reform.
    So what’s been stopping Obama from using reconciliation? Even if some of the arguments held water before now, none does any longer.

    My free advice to the president: If you want to get health care enacted you must use reconciliation and quickly. Host your bipartisan gab fest at the White House on Thursday. Tell Republicans you’ve been eagerly awaiting their ideas for over a year, but the American public can’t wait any longer. Explain to them how our current economic mess is directly related to the health care mess — we’re paying 16 percent of our GDP for health care while health insurers are hiking rates and Americans are losing their health insurance every day. Then tell the House and Senate to get to work on putting their bills together (or tell the House Democrats to enact the Senate bill and then save their disagreements for reconciliation), and tell Harry Reid you want the Senate bill on a fast track of reconciliation.

    Explain to the American people you understand their impatience. The Constitution does not require 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation. A majority will do. That’s called democracy.

  13. Meta
    Posted February 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    From Ezra Klein in today’s Washington Post:

    One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can’t simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.

    If the White House decides that reviving the public option is a good idea, there’s reason to believe the Senate would follow them on that. It would make some sense, after all: The public option is popular, its death was partly the product of industry pressure, and the sudden spate of high-profile rate increases offers a nice rhetorical pivot for anyone who wants to argue that individuals should be able to choose an insurer who’s not a profit-hungry beast. Plus, Democrats need an excited base going into the 2010 election, and this may be the only way to get it.

    If the White House decides to stick with the effort to look like hopeful bipartisans in the face of Republican opposition, that would make sense, too. The sell on reconciliation is that it’s a few final tweaks to a bill that has already passed. The White House’s health-care proposal reflected that theory. Resuscitating the public option is a very different play: It’s a big change rather than a small tweak, and it’s a polarizing decision after weeks of rhetoric emphasizing comity.

    But the White House has stayed quiet — and confusing. Publicly, Kathleen Sebelius said the White House would do whatever Harry Reid wanted. Privately, there’s been no support for this public option push, and the idea didn’t even make a token appearance in their white paper. They wish this wasn’t happening, but they’re not willing to put a stop to it. Instead, they hoping someone else — maybe Jay Rockefeller — stands up and calls the play.

    This is, however, the worst of all worlds. In refusing to disappoint the left early, they’re assuring the sense of betrayal will be much more acute because the feeling of momentum will have far longer to build. And in refusing to embrace this strategy cleanly, they’re making it harder to lay the groundwork for an effective communications strategy around a bill that’s tougher on insurers. The problem isn’t just that the White House is following, but that they’re making it harder to eventually lead.

  14. Meta
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Five more Senators have signed on, making the total 30 that want to pass a public option through reconciliation. They are Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

  15. Meta
    Posted March 2, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    It’s now over 30, and both Levin and Stabenow have pledged support.

    A list of all the Senators who have signed on can be found here:

  16. Meta
    Posted March 10, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    We’ve now got 40 Senators willing to go for the Public Option in reconciliation.

  17. Posted October 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    It appears as though Tom Daschle confirmed today that Obama took the public option off the table in order to appease the health care lobby. Here’s a clip from Talking Points Memo:

    In a candid interview with the Center for American Progress this afternoon, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle acknowledged that the public option didn’t survive the health care debate because of a “understanding” that the White House reached with health care industry stakeholders — particularly with hospital and insurance company trade associations. But the White House has long denied this suggestion — which was, until now, based mostly on speculation — and within hours of the report’s initial publication, Daschle, a close White House ally, retracted his statement entirely.

    “I don’t think it was taken off the table completely. It was taken off the table as a result of the understanding that people had with the hospital association, with the insurance (AHIP), and others,” Daschle told Wonk Room’s Igor Volsky. “I mean I think that part of the whole effort was based on a premise. That premise was, you had to have the stakeholders in the room and at the table. Lessons learned in past efforts is that without the stakeholders’ active support rather than active opposition, it’s almost impossible to get this job done. They wanted to keep those stakeholders in the room and [the public option] was the price some thought they had to pay.”

    That rendering flies in the face of the White House’s narrative, so TPM emailed Daschle to ask whether his statement reflected first-hand knowledge of the stakeholder negotiations, or was a conclusion he’d drawn independently. In response, he walked back the entire claim…

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