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The Week That Was: Senate Health Distress, Harvard Square's Pizza Problems And More

The Senate health care bill floundered without enough GOP support and Harvard Square rejected yet another pizza shop. All that and more from Tom Keane's weekly news roundup. Pictured: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
The Senate health care bill floundered without enough GOP support and Harvard Square rejected yet another pizza shop. All that and more from Tom Keane's weekly news roundup. Pictured: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 18. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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Editor's Note: Every Friday, Tom Keane offers up assorted observations, conundra and miscellanea about the week that was. Here's his round-up for the week ending July 21, 2017.


It was the week when the U.S. Senate managed to look more inept than the Trump White House.

Health care follies. The president was all excited for “Made in America” week, but that messaging got crushed by Senate dramatics over health care. The two “Rs” of repeal and replace fell apart. Republicans couldn’t agree on what should replace Obamacare, so they then decided to repeal it anyway. That plan came undone when the Congressional Budget Office estimated repeal would leave more than 32 million uninsured. But the real catastrophe for the Senate? Probably the possibility that the summer recess -- already shortened by two weeks — might be canceled altogether.

How come I wasn’t invited? When Donald Trump Jr. finally admitted he met in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer who might have dirt on Hillary Clinton, he made it sound like a casual encounter. But it now appears the meeting was a big deal with eight people attending, including Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Yeah, it’s all still smoke. But as The Wall Street Journal wrote in a scathing editorial this week, the constant lying and obfuscation threaten to “destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation.” The old saying is true. It’s not the crime. It’s the cover up.

Wishful thinking. Democrats are doubtless thrilled with a new survey from Public Policy Polling showing Trump losing in hypothetical matchups with the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The results aren’t surprising, given Trump’s unpopularity, Russiagate and the GOP’s legislative paralysis. Still, I’d take the poll with a grain of salt. Last November, PPP also said Clinton’s lead in her key firewall states was rock solid.

A scandal that shouldn’t be a scandal. News emerged that Trump had a second — undisclosed! — conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin while at the G20 conference. So what? This smacks of anti-Trump hyperventilation. All presidents — even this one — should be able to talk with world leaders without making a big deal about it.

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg. (Evan Vucci/AP)
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit, Friday, July 7, 2017, in Hamburg. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Trump blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week for recusing himself from the Russian investigation. “It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president,” Trump said in an interview. Hmm. I’ve never liked Jeff Sessions, and loathed the idea of him becoming attorney general. But now that Trump is angry with him? I’m starting to warm up to the guy.

For pizzake! Constantine Alexander, chair of Cambridge’s Board of Zoning Appeal, was the target of much mockery when he voted against allowing a new pizza shop in Harvard Square. “A pizza is a pizza is a pizza,” he said. Zounds! What an ignoramus! Hasn’t the man ever heard of artisan pizzas?! But Alexander’s point was that Harvard Square already has 11 other pizza places. Yes, pizzas do differ from each other, in the same way that a Big Mac differs from a Whopper. But, for such a prominent location — once the site of the Crimson Corner newsstand — maybe something unique is warranted. Kudos to Alexander for demanding better.

Tom Keane: "The chair of Cambridge’s Board of Zoning Appeal was the target of much mockery when he voted against allowing a new pizza shop in Harvard Square." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Tom Keane: "The chair of Cambridge’s Board of Zoning Appeal was the target of much mockery when he voted against allowing a new pizza shop in Harvard Square." (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Good news for drug dealers! The Massachusetts House and Senate approved legislation legalizing recreational pot but added several twists to last November’s voter-approved measure. One boosts the tax on weed from 12 percent to 20 percent. The second gives municipalities more control over whether a pot shop can open. Since politicians are notoriously more anti-marijuana than their constituents (for example, last year’s referendum was opposed by many heavyweights in the state’s political establishment), it’s now a good question whether many pot shops will actually ever open. With consumers facing high taxes and few places to shop, the black market will continue to thrive.

I’ll have another. In other mind-altering news, controversy erupted over a provision in the new state budget that allows casinos to serve alcohol until 4 a.m. — two hours later than everywhere else. Conventional bars and restaurants are upset, and they have a point. Everyone should be on an even playing field. But rather than stopping at 2 a.m., why not make 4 a.m. the new norm? I know. The anti-alcohol crowd will squawk about a parade of horribles sure to erupt with later closing times. But New York City (with a 4 a.m. close) manages to survive — indeed, thrive. So, too, can Boston.

Circling about. And finally, a transportation research firm called INRIX claimed the average Bostonian driver spends 53 hours a year searching for a parking space. That seems bad, but it’s only half of the 107 hours spent by New Yorkers. On the other hand, since New Yorkers can drink until 4 a.m., it probably bothers them less.

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Tom Keane Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Tom Keane is a Boston-based writer.

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