Theocrats At HHS

Readers from Indiana will understand why I found this recent Politico headline chilling: “How Mike Pence’s Mafia Took Over Health Care Policy.”

Pence, of course, could care less about health care, or policy of any sort that doesn’t advance his Christianist agenda. And he “serves” (or is that word “serviles”?) a President who has no discernible interest in any policy–or anything other than his own self-aggrandizement. So the fact that Pence has installed his preferred people at Health and Human Services tells us that health policy will be made on the basis of ideology, not science or evidence.

Behind the scenes, Pence has developed his own sphere of influence in an agency lower on Trump’s radar: Health and Human Services. It’s also the agency with the ability to fulfill the policy goal most closely associated with Pence over his nearly 20 year career in electoral politics: de-funding Planned Parenthood.

Numerous top leaders of the department — including Secretary Alex Azar, Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Medicaid/Medicare chief Seema Verma — have ties to Pence and Indiana. Other senior officials include Pence’s former legislative director from his days as governor and former domestic policy adviser at the White House.

“He has clearly recruited people connected to him who share his very extreme views on sexual and reproductive health care,” said Emily Stewart, the vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood. “This has been one of the most active administrations ever on rolling back reproductive rights and there’s no way that happens unless you have people in the White House driving the effort to put out policies at such a rapid clip.”

Before the courts intervened, HHS was getting ready to implement rewritten federal policies to curb abortion and–Pence’s wet dream– cut funding to Planned Parenthood. The new regulations would also have tightened the conditions under which Title X federal family planning grants are awarded, ensuring that clinics wouldn’t even be able to refer women to entirely separate abortion providers.

And in a nod to Pence’s longterm efforts to privilege religious bigotry, the agency this month boosted “religious conscience protections” for providers who refuse to perform certain medical services, including abortion, citing religious or moral objections.

The changes to Title X are the culmination of a battle Pence waged first as a member of Congress, then as governor and now in the White House. The Title X rules, which force providers of federally funded family-planning programs to separate themselves from abortion providers, are aimed squarely at Planned Parenthood, which relies heavily on such funding. The Title X changes don’t cut off Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood — although cutting off that big pot of money is on the GOP wish list as well.

Pence has installed a number of people at HHS who were part of his Indiana administration. As White House staff members have confirmed, from the very outset of the Trump administration, Pence had carte blanche to identify nominees he preferred  “particularly in roles Trump didn’t really care about,” as one GOP operative put it.

Even somewhat smaller projects appear to bear the vice president’s ideological imprint — for example, a recent HHS decision to grant South Carolina a waiver that allows foster care providers to reject potential families who have different religious beliefs.

These conservative and religious views have played into the administration’s foreign as well as domestic policy. Internationally, Trump and Pence have gone beyond even other Republican administrations in curbing access to abortion and contraception by expanding the so-called Mexico City policy barring U.S. foreign aid to groups that promote or provide abortion.

Trump is fixated on himself. Pence is fixated on imposing his peculiar version of Christianity  on America.

Neither they nor any of the criminals and incompetents they’ve installed as cabinet members and White House staffers care anything at all about We the People, the Constitution, or the Rule of Law.

If we don’t evict the whole crew in 2020, there may not be any going back.


  1. I always use the lower case “c” when using the term Christianity in the same sentence with anything to do with Pence; his beliefs have nothing to do with the words or the teachings of Christ.

    “Pence has installed a number of people at HHS who were part of his Indiana administration.”

    How many of those referred to above began in the 1990s in the Goldsmith Mayoral administration and aided in his “deconstruction” of our city government and nearly bankrupting public safety and fire department retirement funds before Bannon coined the term? Are these the same people who were added to Mitch Daniels’ gubernatorial administration and carried over into Pence’s religious mania leadership? Yes; readers from Indiana should show a deep interest in this article and connect it to Pence’s RFRA protection of anti-LGBTQs, his unconscionable anti-abortion laws and the defunding of all Planned Parenthood clinics in an area of southern Indiana which resulted in the epidemic of STDs and opioid crisis due to no source of testing and health care for those most in need.

    During his campaign he swore to bring Indiana’s religious based (Pence’s religion) laws to the federal level with him. It appears he is sneaking these laws and policies in through Health and Human Services while we concentrate on Trump’s didoes and daily chaos.

    Speaking of Trump’s chaos; is money being bet on him holding his mouth in check the few days he is in the UK? IF…IF…he can get through the actual state visit I’m betting he will begin his ugly anti- UK Tweets on the plane once it is in the air and continue unabated after it lands. Were Queen Elizabeth’s subtle reminders of our many years of diplomatic relations totally lost on him? This will provide another distraction while his administration continues its behind-the-scenes “deconstruction” of democracy and allow Pence to continue his christian work in HHS.

  2. The waiver to South Carolina allowing church-based agencies to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community seems to violate a Supreme Court decision (Larkins v. Grendel’s Den). We all know that Trump doesn’t care about precedents, but I wonder how the courts will respond.

  3. 2020 can’t come fast enough. Please encourage everyone you know to vote for their own freedom, if not for everyone’s.

  4. It will take a long while to get Pence’s christ out of Indiana and D.C. These are subtle behind the scenes actions taken, which will harm this state and country.

    Allowing public money to fund christian schools, which can also discriminate against students and employees is simply grotesque. Much like the funding of the 100’s of military bases around the globe as a means of “defense.” It’s called being on the offensive.

    Pence’s ministry of christ-spreading policies will test the court system for years to come — both lower and higher courts. As will Trump’s proclamations.

  5. It will take concerted effort over a decade to get back to where we were on 1-19-2017, IMO. Taking an axe to regulations that were developed and refined over decades, as this maladministration is doing, is like clear-cutting a forest: the previously existing ecosystem will take long term care and management to come back to something close to what it was.

  6. Religion, I suppose, has its place in the human experience, as does government, but human experience has proven that a combination of the two is like oil and water; they never mix, and our continuing attempts to mix them are both destructive and futile. Pence, of course, is a politician who uses his pretended form of Christianity as a shield for his dictatorial designs while Trump’s god is Trump. What a duet!

  7. Previously I thought Pence was simply pathetic. You folks have educated me.

  8. Oh John! Pence is a very very evil character. That is why I have not been on the impeach band wagon. In these dark times, we must be careful what we wish for.

  9. Alison; the only consolation I can find in replacing Trump with Pence is the shortening time-frame of Trump’s first – and we hope – last term in OUR White House. Shifting gears, cabinet appointees and administrations take time and will eat further into the time-frame before January 20, 2021. Will Trump supporters actually support Pence should he take the oath if Trump is impeached and win the nomination? One problem I see for Pence is that Trump has been a national disgrace for decades while Pence is a home-grown, corn-fed bigot on the Indiana buckle of the Bible belt altar.

    I can hope; can’t I?

  10. John, it has been my opinion for many years that pence is actually the spawn of Satan – sent here to divide and destroy us.

    If I am correct, the bible warns us many times to look out for False Prophets. Let’s see….. there is pence, franklin graham, falwell, etc, etc. The list could go on and on.

  11. “Neither they nor any of the criminals and incompetents they’ve installed as cabinet members and White House staffers care anything at all about We the People, the Constitution, or the Rule of Law. If we don’t evict the whole crew in 2020, there may not be any going back.”

    This thought is what we all should focus on like a laser beam and bring it to fruition!!

  12. “Trump is fixated on himself. Pence is fixated on imposing his peculiar version of Christianity on America.”

    The only thing that I can object to in the quote above from Sheila is that of course Pence is also fixated on himself at the expense of others as is Mitch McConnell and certainly Betsy DeVoss.

    It’s hard to understand why people who even pretend to be religous prefer illegal abortion to safe abortion.

  13. Nancy, there was a reason why the government is secularist rather than theocratic. Many people fled Europe and England because of the church is meddling in their lives. The church was responsible for the crusades, and the burning of heretics at the stake. In the United States, I suppose one could make a case against abortion, but why do they include contraception? It’s because of the flawed opinion of the Christian church concerning Onan and spilling his seed. That’s in Genesis 9. Onan was supposed to impregnate his dead brother’s wife but he purposely withdrew during intercourse and spilled his seed on the ground. This was against the law code as the Messiah was supposed to come from his lineage. Onan was then put to death. And as you probably have heard especially in the Catholic Church they talk about the sin of spilling your seed. This thinking has definitely spilled over so to speak into the Protestant religions. How can individuals like pence put more importance on his religious beliefs than those of every other religion in the United States. Religion is not monolithic, even the Gods they worship are not monolithic. So if you look at the possibly hundreds of religions floating around in the United States and the world in general, Protestantism and Catholicism is not a majority. That’s why we’re supposed to have a secular society in the United States and religion is supposed to be separate from government. Everyone can worship as they see fit, but everyone is governed under the secular laws. No one should force anyone from any religion to go against their beliefs and abide by a specific religious belief, that should be by choice alone. No man should be the judge. The backlash against religion is going to be Swift and severe.

  14. Gerald,

    “Pence, of course, is a politician who uses his pretended form of Christianity as a shield for his dictatorial designs while Trump’s god is Trump.”

    Exactly right. Likewise, the abortion issue isn’t about religion, it’s about politics. Religion has been used as an EFFECTIVE political shield against the feminist movement and its pro-democracy orientation.

    As Walter Cronkite expressed long ago: “It’s all about white supremacy being masked in Christianity.”

    It’s as simple as that.

  15. Separating the concepts of birth control & abortion would go a long way in helping to reduce the need for abortions. Contraception should be part of health instructions in high school & made available to all students. Women want “control” over their bodies, then they need to know more & have access to protection if they decide to have sex! What ever happened to teaching people to be responsible. This type of prevailing patriarchal Christianity is misogynist! I think the State & Churches need to stay out of peoples sex lives. Pence uses his beliefs of sanctity of life to acquire power & sell to the likes of the Kochs. How does he manage to look away from trump’s obvious transgressions , but at the same time hyper-focus on the “sins” of women?? If he was a real man he would stand up to trump!

  16. Trump and Pence are getting away with, to what amounts to, “murder.” The Democratic Party cannot afford to start a “religious war.” Thus, Trump and Pence have no effective opposition, since there is no pro-democracy NGO that has taken up the challenge, so far.

  17. Corporate Theocracy, i.e., that idea that Steroid Capitalism has the answer for everything and the less control the better.

    President Agent Orange a useful stooge for Corporate Theocracy wants to basically destroy the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

    From the Guardian: Donald Trump has declared he wants the NHS to be on the table in any US-UK trade deal and refused to meet the “negative” Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who pledged to oppose US corporations taking over the health service with every breath in his body.

    Trump’s statement drew immediate condemnation from several Tory leadership hopefuls as well as senior Labour politicians.

    There are widespread concerns in the UK about US firms promising to provide cost-cutting health services and wanting to sell food produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards, such as chlorine-washed chicken.

    Corbyn told a packed protest on Whitehall, not far from the press conference, he would not allow Brexit to open up “our precious wonderful National Health Service to private American companies to come in and take it over”.

    “We will not stand for that. We will fight with every last breath of our body to defend the principle of a healthcare system free at the point of need for everybody as a human right,” he said.
    Sadly, here in the USA we have plenty of bought and paid for elected officials in both parties who do not believe healthcare should be free at the point of need.

  18. Kathleen – as a right-wing friend once told me – sex outside of marriage is wrong and anyone engaging in it should become pregnant and be forced to bear the child as punishment – no contraception – I didn’t ask about sex within marriage because my head was already spinning.

    I am reminded of the first Republican foray into politicizing medicine over the abortion issue. After Reagan became president, the Director position for the National Institutes of Health was vacant for almost a year. It had been a merit based appointment since it was not a cabinet post, but Reagan insisted that the Director be strongly anti-abortion. We (research scientists) thought that was bad — little did we know what the future would bring.

Comments are closed.