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HHS Secretary Alex Azar juggles US health crises - including reuniting migrant families

By Amy Goldstein
HHS Secretary Alex Azar juggles US health crises - including reuniting migrant families
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar inside the HHS Situation Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Melina Mara

Midnight had passed, and Alex Azar was still in a coat and tie as he looked at a computer monitor inside the Department of Health and Human Services emergency-operations hub. It was a room built for managing responses to hurricanes and disease outbreaks, but the HHS secretary was instead scrambling to deal with a disaster instigated by his own boss - a "zero tolerance" immigration policy that led thousands of children to be separated from their parents.

Azar was not consulted on the zero-tolerance policy before it was announced in early May, according to people familiar with the events, even though his department is responsible for housing migrant children who are on their own.

In the months since the late June night when the secretary was trying to help figure out who had been separated, HHS has managed to return more than 2,000 to their parents. That still leaves over 200 youngsters in government-contracted shelters - at risk of becoming orphans as federal workers, civil rights lawyers and aid activists help scour remote villages of Central America for mothers and fathers deported back home.

The reunification efforts have overshadowed the other work of the department that Azar arrived to lead in January with a four-point agenda - including a promise to lower drug prices - and a role as frontman for the Trump administration's strategy of shifting health-care policies to the right through executive actions.

The migrant crisis also has put on the line his carefully cultivated reputation as an orderly, competent executive who understands how to make government work. With the midterm elections fast approaching and public outrage over the policy an animating issue, Azar also risks drawing the wrath of Trump, who has publicly humiliated other top officials when he thinks they are hurting his standing.

As the crisis escalated and the secretary became its public face before Congress and on cable TV, Azar adhered to the administration's talking points, betraying no hint that he had been caught unaware by zero tolerance. Such loyalty reflects the priority Azar has long placed on nurturing relationships, whether the recent one with Trump or with conservative legal luminaries who have long been his mentors, including the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom he clerked, and Justice Clarence Thomas, whom he considers a second father.

Those close to Azar say he has worked hard to stay in the president's good graces from the start.

He "did a tremendous amount of thinking during the confirmation process about what it would take to be a successful secretary," said Ladd Wiley, a former HHS colleague who has remained close to him over the years. "He knew that, to be successful internally . . . you have to be successful externally - Congress, the press, the White House."

Azar said in an interview in the spring that he and the president talked at least three times a week.

So far, "he's done well in his meetings at the Oval Office," said a senior White House official who has known Azar since before he joined the administration. "Some people fall apart. He has a command of the subject matter. He's calm . . . The president is clearly to those around him not frustrated with Alex."

Azar, 51, also brought from the outset an insider's working knowledge of HHS, after six years in senior positions in the government's largest domestic agency during George W. Bush's presidency. In activating the emergency hub to begin reuniting families, Azar was reaching back to the grim days after the 9/11 terrorism and anthrax attacks, when he served as HHS general counsel. Azar, who went on to rise to deputy secretary, oversaw the conversion of the sixth-floor conference room into a public health command center for future disasters.

In June, its new mission required officials first to figure out which of nearly 12,000 migrant children in the department's custody had come with their parents and been taken from them by border agents.

The database that tracks the children did not have that information.

Chris Meekins, chief of staff for the department's refugee office, said Azar told officials: "I want a manual review of every single record so there is no question."

That was just the first step in reuniting families. They still had no clue where the parents were in the nation's labyrinth of immigration jails - and in hundreds of cases still don't.

This is not the first crisis Azar has been involved in - in fact, his years in government have been punctuated by them.

And his view of government, his ideological leanings formed early.

Growing up mainly in Salisbury on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where his father was an orthopedic surgeon and his mother would become a surgical nurse, conversation at home was so apolitical, he said, that he did not know his parents' party affiliations. Still, by third grade he had his own subscription to Conservative Digest.

At Dartmouth College, he was a New Hampshire co-chair for former Delaware governor Pete DuPont's 1988 presidential campaign and "drove him all over the state," Azar recalled in the interview. His candidate was more libertarian than other Republicans in the primary and favored ending welfare payments unless recipients got jobs - a heretical idea then that is now in vogue in the Trump administration.

When Azar went on to Yale Law School, he quickly joined the Federalist Society - which was "both an intellectual association and almost . . . a solidarity group since they were a minority" on the liberal campus," said Akhil Amir, a young faculty member at the time. Amir supervised a major paper Azar wrote on the Fourth Amendment on search and seizure that was in the originalist tradition - "exactly the sort of thing Justice Scalia would have loved," Amir said.

Azar attended summer lawn parties that Ted Olson, a leading Republican attorney, held for conservative young lawyers and law students. And he met Kenneth Starr when the then-U. S. solicitor general came to campus for a talk. "I sat with Alex at dinner and said to myself, 'This young man from Salisbury, Maryland, is going to go places,'" Starr remembers. They stayed in touch.

Azar came to Washington in 1992 to clerk for Scalia. He also grew close to Thomas and remains one of a tiny nucleus of "adopted clerks" with whom the justice still holds monthly lunches.

From the clerkship, Starr hired his protege into his law firm. When Starr took over as independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation in 1994, Azar was the first lawyer he hired as an assistant independent counsel.

In 2000 Azar joined a crowd of other well-connected Republican attorneys in Florida to wage Bush's legal fight over a recount for the presidential election. After their victory, he was part of the transition team, screening potential senior White House staff and Cabinet members.

Azar was then picked by incoming HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson as general counsel, overseeing the department's hundreds of lawyers, though he had no expertise in health-care law. Azar had been recommended by Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society. After a look at his resume and one phone conversation, Wiley said, "We knew immediately that Alex was the guy." Thompson quickly agreed that Azar was what he wanted in his general counsel: a sharp intellect, prodigious work ethic and open to unorthodox ideas.

The week that Azar was confirmed, President Bush announced a ban on research involving newly created strains of stem cells - a controversial policy that captured much of the nation's attention. A month later, Azar stood in the outer office of the secretary's suite and watched on a small television as a second jetliner flew into the World Trade Center.

With the nation's planes grounded, Thompson turned to Azar. "I knew that I needed to get a plane into the air . . . to carry 100,000 masks and 100,000 gloves from a secret medical depot to New York City," Thompson recalled. The two men and another department lawyer talked of declaring a national health emergency, but no HHS regulation allowed that. Azar came up with a way within an hour.

"He was willing to take the legal risk," said a former colleague - who, like many of two dozen people interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private interactions and insights.

Crisis followed crisis. Envelopes with anthrax spores began turning up in postal centers, congressional offices, news organizations. Drugmaker Bayer held the main supply of the antibiotic Cipro, and Thompson wanted 100 million pills for the federal stockpile.

"Alex figured out how I could legally negotiate a lower price," said Thompson, who threatened to buy generic alternatives if the company did not cut its price by nearly half. Many Republicans criticized the maneuver. To this day, Azar defends it, saying in the interview it was "a bona fide commercial-transaction procurement," though he has always opposed direct price negotiations with manufacturers for medicines that older Americans buy through Medicare's Part D.

Azar shepherded a rule restricting the ability of brand-name manufacturers to get repeated patent extensions to ward off competition; the idea is now part of a blueprint Trump issued a few months ago for lowering drug prices.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Bush's second HHS secretary, promoted Azar to deputy secretary - the department's top manager, with oversight of new regulations.

"I laid out for Alex the things I personally wanted to approve," Leavitt said, "and delegated to him everything else."

The Trump administration first turned to Azar for help early last year, making trips to Washington to "educate some policy folks at the White House" about HHS, according to a Republican who spoke with him about the behind-the-scenes visits.

Azar was not Trump's first pick to run the department. That distinction went to former Georgia congressman Tom Price, who resigned a year ago under investigation for taking expensive charter planes for official travel.

Price's downfall opened the door for Azar, who was living in Indianapolis, where he had recently left a top job at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly after he was not selected to replace the outgoing CEO.

He was offered a promotion in the company, he said, "but it didn't involve doing what I like to do, which is running organizations and big complex problems and having me accountable for the results.

"I bet on myself and left."

In Indiana, Azar made connections with local and statewide Republican leaders. He was encouraged to run for the Senate but never did. And he grew close to Vice President Mike Pence, when he was a congressman and governor. According to John Hammond, an Indiana Republican National Committee member, "Alex was one of a handful of people Pence would consult on a regular basis." Pence played "a big role" in recommending him to Trump, according to the Republican, who knew of Azar's 2017 White House visits.

Since returning to HHS, Azar said, he has felt like Rip van Winkle. He still knew many of the people at the department. Other friends and former colleagues now held prominent White House roles.

He has brought in four lieutenants from the private sector and placed one in charge of each of his four priorities, which he announced in January at his Senate confirmation. They include easing the nation's opioid epidemic, changing how health care is paid for and making individual insurance less expensive by weakening the Affordable Care Act.

The fourth, lowering drug prices, flows from a promise Trump made during his campaign - and is tied to the central criticism of Azar's selection to run HHS: He is the first secretary to emerge from the pharmaceutical industry, having led Lilly's largest division as the drugmaker drove steep price increases in popular medicines. He has insisted he knows from the inside what it would take to rein in prices.

He praises the president often and speaks of his own vision for change as bold - even radical. Trump, Azar tells his staff, "does not want us here to play small ball. We're here to play big ball." Since the White House drug blueprint appeared in May, HHS has let Medicare managed-care plans start negotiating drug prices for cancer therapies and other medicines that doctors administer. Azar has said drugmakers should have to include prices in television ads - a possibility the department is exploring, along with a long-disputed idea of importing less-expensive drugs from other countries under limited circumstances.

Through the summer's din over migrant children, Azar has continued to give speeches on his priorities as well as his overarching preference for the private sector and states' powers over federal programs.

The buildup of separated children in the custody of HHS's Office of Refugee Resettlement started a few months before Azar became secretary. But the department was slow to recognize it for what it was, according to government officials and immigration and refugee advocates who were on monthly conference calls with ORR staff.

The staff was noticing an influx but had seen similar ones in recent years, as conditions in home countries deteriorated. Inside ORR, the main concern was expanding bed capacity at its network of private shelters and other facilities - not finding out why more children were arriving.

A Public Health Service commander named Jonathan White, a social worker, was in charge of ORR's unaccompanied-children program until mid-March. In July, he testified in the Senate that he had cautioned that children could be damaged psychologically if removed from their parents - and that he and colleagues repeatedly were told there was no administration policy of separation. One government official familiar with the events said White's warnings did not reach Azar's level.

By April, shelters' social workers had been hearing children say they had been pried from parents. Late that month, ORR asked the Department of Homeland Security for help in finding parents in immigration custody - and was asked to produce a list of the children's names, the government official said. It numbered roughly 700. ORR staff sent it to Homeland Security without consulting the secretary's office, the official said.

In late June, two days after Trump had ended zero tolerance and four days before U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw gave the administration a 30-day deadline, Azar created a process to reunite families. He activated the command center, put White in charge, mustered 230 staff from across HHS and hired 100 extra caseworkers.

"We know our mission, we know our tack and we are executing on it," Azar declared at a news briefing a week after he had read files late into the night.

At last count, 211 children were still in HHS's custody, six of them four years old or younger.

Chevy Chase can't change

By Geoff Edgers
Chevy Chase can't change
Chevy Chase on Sept. 7, 2018, in Bedford, New York. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Marvin Joseph

BEDFORD, N.Y. - Chevy Chase is sitting on the porch, outside his home in wooded Westchester County. He takes a drag off a Marlboro and casually mentions that he ran into Donald Glover backstage at "Saturday Night Live."

This is striking on multiple levels. Chase, one of "SNL's" founding fathers, last appeared on the show for its 40th anniversary special in 2015. It wasn't pretty. He was bursting out of his tux, drinking too much and depressed. A cloudy, backstage interview with Carson Daly led Defamer to ask, "Is Chevy Chase OK?"

These days, Chase is sober and about 40 pounds lighter. But he hasn't softened up, and he wasn't about to avoid Glover, even after what the "Atlanta" star said about him.

Two months earlier, in a New Yorker profile, Glover was asked about working with Chase on NBC's late sitcom "Community." According to the magazine, Chase, out of envy, tried to throw the younger actor off. Glover said Chase told him, "People think you're funnier because you're black." The New Yorker termed the comments "racial cracks."

"I just saw Chevy as fighting time," Glover told the magazine. "A true artist has to be OK with his reign being over. I can't help him if he's thrashing in the water. But I know there's a human in there somewhere."

The night the story went up, Chase texted, "There goes my career."

He doesn't deny delivering the line - "I could have said it" - but he denies the interpretation. It was a joke. Chase had been a fan of Glover's since they filmed the pilot in 2009. How could anybody think he was racist?

By the time "SNL" co-creator Lorne Michaels texted Chase an invitation ("you're still a legend here") to the season finale in May, the New Yorker thing seemed to have blown over. Then, he ran into Glover, who was doing a cameo in the finale.

"I never saw a guy turn white so fast," Chevy says.

The line almost sounds like a throwaway, which it is, until you think about how odd it is for Chase to deliver it. He's only weeks removed from a potential publicity disaster centered on race, and here he is, re-entering the minefield with a reference to Glover's skin color.

Chase is a key piece of "SNL's" history, whether establishing "Weekend Update" or pioneering the path from Studio 8H to Hollywood stardom. When asked what he thinks of the current show, he doesn't hold back, delivering a foul-mouthed appraisal that's as unforgiving as his critics.

"First of all, between you and me and a lamppost, jeez, I don't want to put down Lorne or the cast, but I'll just say, maybe off the record, I'm amazed that Lorne has gone so low. I had to watch a little of it, and I just couldn't f------ believe it."

Maybe off the record? A microphone and digital recorder sit in front of him. He is reminded that "SNL" is immensely popular, with millions of viewers.

"That means a whole generation of shitheads laughs at the worst f------ humor in the world," he says. "You know what I mean? How could you dare give that generation worse shit than they already have in their lives? It just drives me nuts."


These days, Chase sits at home, waiting for a script to roll in. But his peers are thriving.

Steve Martin, 73, writes musicals, records bluegrass music and tours. David Letterman, 71, travels to India and interviews world leaders on Netflix. Bill Murray, 67, meets a cellist on a plane, and suddenly he's doing a spoken-word tour backed by a chamber group.

Chase is eager to work. But these days, he's more likely to be fielding another round of bad press than a promising pitch. The man who revolutionized television in the 1970s, serving as the first breakout star on NBC's breakout program, "Saturday Night," who made three of the best comedies of the 1980s - "Caddyshack," "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Fletch" - and who as recently as 2012 earned raves for his turn on "Community," wonders why he can't get a break.

He has a few theories. His disastrous late-night TV talk show on Fox in 1993, which lasted 29 episodes and earned an F grade from Entertainment Weekly. His move from Hollywood in the mid-'90s to a quiet town in New York to raise his three daughters with his wife, Jayni. Then the general thing that happens when you grow older in show business.

"They're really more about the George Clooneys and people that age," he says. "I look pretty good for 74. I don't know why I couldn't do a Chevy Chase picture, but it just doesn't happen."


Chase can be arrogant, unpredictable and mean. He is a masterful put-down artist. He can be blunt or tone-deaf, depending on what he fesses up to, and he doesn't always seem to understand the fine line between comic provocation and publicity disaster.

But Chase can also be hilarious, sensitive and surprisingly supportive. Sometimes, he's all of these things at once.

At his home, standing in the kitchen, he's asked about his reputation as he fixes a cup of coffee. Chase seems to be listening intently until you realize he's doing a sight gag with the top of the milk cartoon, twisting the cap over-and-over again until you notice it won't tighten, all with a blank stare worthy of Harpo Marx.

Then he pauses and reflects on his life.

"I've already done what I've done. I can't change anything. And I'm old. I don't have to worry about what I did anymore. I know who I am. People know who I am who know me. And I'm proud to be who I am. Because I care about people, I care about feelings. I care about warmth, love. It's everything."

"SNL" is a particular minefield in the universe of make nice.

When was it last funny?

"I'd have to say, that after the first two years, it went downhill," Chase says. "Why am I saying that? Because I was in it? I guess. That's a horrible thing to say. But certainly I never had more fun. I really loved it and enjoyed it. I didn't see the same fun thing happening to the cast the next year."

But what about Will Ferrell doing George W. Bush?

"Just not funny. Makes $25 million a picture."

Tina Fey?

"I liked Tina. I didn't see what all the folderol was about. She was good."

How about Kristen Wiig?

"I liked her a lot. She had two things going for her. She had clear-cut chops, and she was pretty, too. But what happened to her? Where did she go?"

Eddie Murphy?

"I thought Eddie Murphy was funny. Gumby. I found that funny and people loved that. ... Stevie Wonder, he did well. (Pause.) It's not that hard, for Christ's sake. Your skin's the same color. You just put on some sunglasses and do this."

He is effusive in his praise of Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd, whom he calls the "funniest guy on the show, almost the leader," and also singles out former cast member Dana Carvey.

Carvey, who arrived at "SNL" a full decade after Chase's exit, even remembers getting a call from Chase after his prime-time variety show fizzled in 1996.

"He was the only person who left a voice mail," Carvey says. "And I hadn't seen him in years. Saying you're great, you're brilliant, you will work. He gave me a pep talk out of the blue in a very sweet way."

The same thing happened to Jim Downey, the "SNL" writer, when he and Norm Macdonald were fired from "Weekend Update" in 1998.

Aykroyd, part of the original "SNL" cast and his co-star in the 1985 comedy "Spies Like Us," describes Chase as "one of the sweetest, largest-hearted people, most magnanimous people I know."

But there is an entire body of work devoted to casting Chase as a nasty, bitter egomaniac who spreads bad cheer whenever he's within winking distance of a camera.

The primary sources of Chase's battered image are the two main documents of "SNL" 101: 1986's "Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live," and 2002's "Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live." In both books, Chase is the supremely talented star who couldn't handle the rush of money and fame, ditches "SNL" after a single season to cash checks, snort coke, and returns every few years to torment the cast. A "monster," former cast member Terry Sweeney says of Chase's 1985 guest spot. "The worst host," adds Will Ferrell of Chase's eighth and final one, in 1997.

Those books are the anecdotal tapeworms which led to Chase's bad-boy reputation, including Gawker's "He's Not Chevy, He's an Asshole: A History of Chevy Chase's Horrific Behavior," Uproxx's "Chevy Chase's 4-Step Plan for Getting Your Workplace Staff to Hate You," and, just this past July, an essay in the London Telegraph that began with the line: "Bill Cosby is the most hated comedian in America. But if you were looking for a runner-up, Chevy Chase has to be in with a shout."

The repurposers don't bother reaching out to their target. They revel in his misdeeds. In an online chat, Max Read, who wrote the "He's Not Chevy" item in Gawker in 2012, thanks James Andrew Miller, co-author of "Live from New York" with Tom Shales, for being his main source.

"What's the best Chevy's-an-asshole story you've heard," Read says, and then asks, "and do you have any theories about why the guy is such an asshole?"

Sweeney, Miller replies, told him a couple of stories that will make you "carsick." The why part? He doesn't address it. In a phone interview, Miller said he doesn't know the reason behind Chase's behavior.

"With Chevy," he says, "we're talking about one of the more psychologically complex actors of the last 40 years."


There has been one serious attempt to explain Chase. A little over a decade ago, Rena Fruchter, a classical pianist who had written a book on his late friend Dudley Moore, persuaded Chase to sit for a series of interviews. She then wrote 2007's "I'm Chevy Chase . . . and You're Not." On the cover, the book calls itself the "authorized biography."

The subject calls it "hideous."

"She had the sense of humor of an egg timer," Chase says.

Chase is sitting in his favorite spot, on the living room couch next to a stack of books that include David Mamet, Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy. There's a script by an unknown screenwriter. The part he's being pitched includes all of three lines. He wonders why his manager sent it through.

Emily, 29, the youngest of his three daughters, is in the kitchen, working on a laptop. Like all Chases, she listens to her father talking to a reporter and grows worried. He peppers his stories with what most celebrities save for their memoirs or just never mention. About this guy being a bully, that one having no talent. Sometimes, Chase will check himself. You're not going to print that? he'll say, but then he'll delivers a distinctively Chasian laugh, a slightly throatier version of Clark Griswold's cackle, and wave his hand in the air. Oh, it doesn't matter. You're just going to write what you want.

The Fruchter book is poorly written but revealing. Chase wouldn't talk to Miller or Shales about what he went through growing up, telling them "you have no sense at all - nor would I share with you what my childhood was like.' But he and family members offer a heart-wrenching account of those years to Fruchter. This portrait runs counter to the one presented to the public for years by unsympathetic observers, a group that casts Chase as the "Waspy golden boy," as former "SNL" writer Anne Beatts snickers in "Live From New York."

Chase's parents divorced early. He loved his father, Ned, an influential book editor and one of the funniest people he ever met. But he lived with his mother, Cathalene, who would wake him up in the middle of the night and slap him repeatedly in the face without explanation. Once, at 14, he got into trouble at school. She locked him in the basement for several days, with only a pitcher to use as a bathroom.

"I was shocked," says Paul Shaffer, a close friend who has known Chase since Shaffer joined the "SNL" band in 1975. "I thought he had gone to Bard, and it turns out it was the school of hard knocks."

In a society desperate for confession and redemption, the Fruchter book offered Chase a perfect out. He could peg everything - his occasional outbursts, his bad career decisions, his battles with painkillers - to the horrendous way he was treated. Except Chase would prefer the book just disappear.

"Chevy Chase hiding in a closet from his mother?" he says. "Good God. Take me for who I am now."

Jayni Chase, his wife of 36 years, thinks the difficult childhood is an important piece of understanding Chase. It drives how he treats people, and also how he responds when he feels attacked or ignored. The pain he's felt from being hurt over the years - by friends who don't call, by former collaborators who blast him, by Will Ferrell quotes - has made him grow more cynical and critical.

"Chevy is an abused kid," Jayni says. "One of the things that most of us have is, we know that our moms loved us, and some of us are lucky enough to be able to say that our fathers also loved us ... there's layers of lucky and grateful, and things that give you a good start in life, and a foundation and self-confidence, and give you a capacity to live without fear. And Chevy doesn't have those things."

There are times when Chase pretends he has no idea an entire oeuvre of Chevy Chase bashing exists. He'll claim he's never heard of Gawker or hasn't read "Live From New York." At other moments, he'll admit that the swaggering put-down artist he has often played, on and off camera, might in fact be the armored manifestation of the terrified, confused kid who was told he's no good. That kid may have just turned 74, but he's still got ears.

"I guess the part they don't write about is where I'm lying in bed, hurt by that, not going to sleep but thinking over and over, why would somebody write that? I'm highly sensitive. I don't know it in my insensitive self."


Six summers ago, at his daughter Cydney's wedding, Chase turned to Lorne Michaels and told him he was ready. He hadn't been back to host since 1997. It was time.

"He said no," Chase recounts. "'Come on, Lorne.' 'No.' 'Why?' 'You're too old.' I said, 'And Helen Mirren's pretty and young?' I didn't get it. You're too old? We'd had many people older than me hosting. What did he mean? I've never understood what he meant. Because I'd be very good, and it would be fun for an audience to see me doing that."

It clearly stings. It's why he's bringing it up six years later to a reporter he's just met.

"It's like denying that I was the guy who made this show really go that first year," he says. "It's like taking all that away from me."

When you talk to Chase about "SNL," it inevitably circles back to 1975. It is the moment unresolved, when everything was possible and still in front of him. Before, he had kicked around for years, writing for the Smothers Brothers and performing with National Lampoon. By the time "SNL" premiered, Chase was 32, older than fellow cast members Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Then he exploded. "SNL" went on the air Oct. 11. By Christmas, New York magazine put Chase on the cover, calling him a potential successor to the king of late night, Johnny Carson.

Martin Short, who last starred alongside Chase in 1986's "Three Amigos," remembers a story his friend Gilda Radner told him.

"She went to Florida, and her 84-year-old mother said, 'You really know him?' That's how big this guy was."

Chase had all the tools. He could play piano and drums, and in college, at Bard, had been in a band with a pair of classmates, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who would go on to form Steely Dan. He could do physical comedy, voices and improvisation. He was a completely different kind of TV star, not interested in stand-up, drawn instead to the slapstick genius of Chaplin, the subversive absurdity of Ernie Kovacs and the comic poetry of Charles Marion Russell. And boy, was he good-looking.

"Comedy had always been funny people who were, like, goofy-looking, and they were kind of loud," says Downey, who would join "SNL" as a writer in 1976. "Chevy was the first person who ever did that room-temperature soothing voice where you'd go, 'Wait a minute. What did he just say?' "

"Weekend Update" introduced Chase's name to the masses. But he played many other characters: The mumbling "land shark," a moustached drooler and clumsy Gerald Ford, a different kind of impression in that it was done without trying to make him look at all like the president. His colleagues at "SNL" were as impressed by the fake commercial for "Triopenin," meant to play off the advent of childproof pill bottles.

"It just showed Chevy's hands," says Laraine Newman, another original cast member "And he is acting and getting laughs with just his hands."

Still, there were tensions even before Chase left "SNL." Belushi, in particular, grew frustrated with all the attention directed at Chase. And when he actually decided to go, there was no sheet cake.

Time didn't heal those conflicts. When Chase returned to host two years later, feelings were so raw, he actually got into a fistfight backstage with Bill Murray, the cast member who had replaced him.

"He got a bad break," Michaels says. "It wasn't the way I felt. I understood what he was going through - one, because I was his friend, and also because it was a battle, not between us, but a battle for what the show was going to be. Was it going to be 'The Chevy Chase Show' with these people, or what we set out to make, which was an ensemble show?"


Chase, back on his couch months after he first brought it up, contemplates the snub at Cydney's wedding. He wonders whether Michaels still holds a grudge for his exit.

"I think this was pure regret and anger," Chase says. "Regret that he didn't keep me there and anger that I chose to leave."

"But I was never angry," Michaels says in a phone interview.

It is the only time he raises his voice when discussing Chase, and not out of anger, but exasperation. Michaels says he knows the pressure on Chase then. NBC wanted him for prime time. His girlfriend at the time told him he had to move to California. There was the thing about the next Johnny Carson.

"We must have discussed this 50 times," Michaels says. " I know it was a huge deal in both of our lives, but I understood what he was doing. I really did. Also I believe, most importantly, that he loved the show just as much as I did."

The wedding incident, as told by Michaels, is not nearly as harsh as Chase's version.

"They were literally waiting for him to walk Cydney down the aisle. And he said, 'I'm ready to host again.' All I was saying was, we have to stop this discussion now. You're old and annoying. This is a big moment in your life. I'm here for you. Danny (Aykroyd) is performing the ceremony. We're your friends; we're here. You're walking your daughter down the aisle."

Michaels has his own idea why Chase's image has suffered over the years.

"Chevy does shock stuff, which is maybe more forgivable in a 25-year-old or 30-year-old than in a 50-year-old or 60-year -old," he says.

But Michaels also thinks much of the reporting on Chase has been unfair. Take his 1997 hosting turn on "SNL." In the book, Miller and Shales talk about how Chase's nastiness created a kind of cast revolt. Michaels, the book stated, was mortified by his old friend's behavior and issued a Chevy Chase ban.

"That's idiotic," he says. "None of it was particularly shocking to me or upsetting to me. It's just generational."

He points to how much society as changed since the burst of chaotic energy that sparked the early '70s alternative comedy scene and eventually led to "SNL."

"We're coming out of Vietnam and Watergate and the draft and New York in collapse, and it was just a different, tougher time, and people said things that were more provocative, and it was tolerated," he says. "We're not in that time anymore."

Perhaps more than anyone in comedy, Michaels understands how to stay relevant. He is just a year younger than Chase, and yet he oversees "SNL," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers."

"The only thing that I know consistently, but as a universal thing in show business, is that it's always, always about reinvention, and I think, you have to get offstage so you can come back and make another entrance," he says. "It has to be fresh, and everybody who has sustained and been around, knows that."


There was a moment, not long ago, that Chase made a proper but short-lived comeback. He signed on to do NBC's "Community" in 2009. At the time, he said that he was semiretired but that he had been blown away by creator Dan Harmon's writing. In the show, which also featured Glover, Joel McHale and Alison Brie, Chase was cast as Pierce Hawthorne, an aging millionaire with a nasty streak and an insecurity complex the size of Pittsburgh.

Critics praised Chase's return ("farcically loopy and delightful") and he seemed thrilled, in interviews, to have agreed to the gig. Then came the Season 3 wrap party.

There had been tension behind the scenes. Chase felt worn out, frustrated by Harmon's lack of organization, which created long waits on the set and constant changes to the scripts. He had begun to dislike his character. Harmon didn't appreciate the pushback. At the party, he led a shout of "F--- you, Chevy" to, as he states in an email, "let the cast and crew know how much I valued their patience and professionalism." At that point, Chase, Jayni and their daughter Caley left the party.

Back home, Chevy left Harmon an angry voice mail, criticizing him for embarrassing him in front of his family and calling the show "just a mediocre f------ sitcom. I want people to laugh, and this isn't funny."

What happened next would be just the latest example of a pattern Caley had watched play out over the years. When somebody is hurt by her father, "they run away and tell other people what an asshole he is" or "they immediately call the Hollywood Reporter or TMZ."

Harmon's response to the voice mail was bizarre for somebody in charge of a successful sitcom. He played it out loud to a crowd at a small theater. Somebody taped it, Chase's rant went viral, and Gawker had another anecdote.

There would be other problems on "Community," an incident when Chase dropped the N-word at a read to, he said, explain why he felt his character was too racist. (He says a legal agreement with NBC keeps him from saying more about it.) By now Caley, who was living with her father, watched a glass of wine become a bottle, and then the wine turn to vodka. She stopped talking to her father until his doctors told her he had alcohol cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles from drinking.

"At that point, I had given up and I assumed he would die soon," Caley says.

When rehab failed, Jayni wrote him a note that read, in part, "I do not want to divorce you, but I can't watch you hurt yourself anymore." But she admits she couldn't leave.

Finally, about 18 months ago, for reasons Chase can't necessarily explain, he walked out on the porch, took a final swig from his vodka bottle and decided to quit.

He no longer wants to be semiretired, which is why he went to New Orleans last year to make "The Last Laugh," a Netflix film scheduled to come out next year. In it, he plays an aging manager desperate not to retire who pushes Richard Dreyfuss, a long-retired comic, back on the road.

As soon as Chase arrived on set, director Greg Pritikin took him aside.

"He said, 'You know, I was very nervous, because you have a reputation," Chase says. "I said, "I can't believe that."

And, in November, Chase flew out to Los Angeles and the Television Hall of Fame.

The original cast of "SNL" was set to be inducted. If there were lingering bad feelings, they were gone. Chase walked to the podium and praised Belushi and Radner for taking risks and being brilliant. He complimented the cast members standing behind him, including Aykroyd, Newman, Jane Curtin and Garrett Morris.

Then, looking up at the ceiling, his eyes half-closed as if to transport him to when he had tousled hair, a mischievous smile and a license to say anything, Chase grew emotional.

"I can't tell you, to be up there, on that stage, doing that stuff," he paused. "Oh, God, it was fun. I'll tell you, I'd do it again in a minute."


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Video: Chevy Chase was "Saturday Night Live's" first breakout star, but he fell off the map after the '90s. Then came "Community" and controversy. Now sober and ready to work, no one will hire him.(Erin Patrick O'Connor, Geoff Edgers/The Washington Post)

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How Abe became Japan's ultimate political survivor

By Isabel Reynolds and Emi Nobuhiro
How Abe became Japan's ultimate political survivor
President Donald Trump speaks as Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, left, listens in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on June 7, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer.

A few months ago, Shinzo Abe faced calls to resign as a cronyism scandal sent his popularity tanking. On Thursday he's expected to easily win a party vote that could make him Japan's longest-serving leader.

The turnaround, according to Abe's colleagues, comes from a steely resolve forged after his first 12-month stint as prime minister ended abruptly in 2007 -- as well as a solid economy, political savvy and a hefty dose of good fortune.

Abe looks set for another three-year term as party leader, giving Japan continuity at a time when President Donald Trump continues to smack the country over trade, and nuclear talks with North Korea are reaching a critical stage. Japan is also getting ready to host the Group of 20 summit in 2019, and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo the following year.

"He's extremely determined," said Katsuei Hirasawa, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party who served as a personal tutor to Abe in his childhood. "But what's really important for a leader is to be lucky, and he is."

For Abe, that wasn't always the case. The heir of a political dynasty, he was long seen as destined for the premiership. He made it in 2006, becoming Japan's youngest postwar prime minister when he took over from the wavy-haired Junichiro Koizumi, who enjoyed immense popularity during most of his five-year run in office.

Yet things fell apart quickly. Political scandals marred his cabinet, and his party lost control of the upper house of parliament for the first time in about 50 years. Suffering from an intestinal ailment, Abe stepped down a year after taking power.

His resignation not only seemed like the end of his career, but opened the way for a revolving door series of short-lived premiers that led to policy confusion and eroded Japan's standing in the world. Two years later, the LDP lost the lower house of parliament to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, ending a half-century of almost unbroken rule.

"He lost his health and went through hell," said Sanae Takaichi, who served under Abe as LDP policy chief and internal affairs minister from 2014-2017. "I could sense the strength it took to climb back up from there."

Abe didn't waste his years in the wilderness. By the time he returned to lead his party a second time in 2012, he had hammered out a new set of policy priorities with broader appeal. Rather than focusing on pet projects like trying to foster national pride in schools, he prioritized bread-and-butter economic issues. He also maintained relationships within the party, which were key to his success in the leadership race.

"Those who supported Mr. Abe at the time were really very conservative," said Masahiko Shibayama, an LDP lawmaker who serves as a special advisor to the party leader. "But Mr. Abe said that we should put the economy at the center of our policies."

Loyal allies including Shibayama helped Abe come up with a prescription for growth, involving monetary easing, fiscal flexibility and regulatory reform -- what later came to be called Abenomics.

Despite doubts over whether the medicine would revive Japan's deflation-bound economy, his agenda sparked a rise in the stock market even before he took office. It resonated with the public: Abe's popularity climbed to a peak in 2013 when he appointed Haruhiko Kuroda, a fellow proponent of drastic monetary easing, as governor of the Bank of Japan.

"Good policy in the early years" is part of the reason for Abe's survival, according to Robert Feldman, senior advisor at Morgan Stanley MUFG Securities Co. in Tokyo. He cited the accord with the Bank of Japan on fighting deflation, as well as corporate tax cuts and the loosening of visa requirements for tourists.

The economy has grown more than 12 percent since Abe took office in 2012, the strongest expansion since the 1990s. That growth, as well as unemployment levels hovering around their lowest in more than 20 years, has helped many in the party overlook recent scandals over government land for schools provided to associates of Abe and his wife Akie.

"There are various opinions about this, but I think the main reason he has been able to maintain this long administration is that monetary and fiscal policy and structural reform have combined to produce results, and things are ticking over," said Eiichi Hasegawa, special advisor to the prime minister, who has known Abe for 25 years.

A Sankei newspaper poll earlier this month showed Abe had the support of 87 percent of LDP lawmakers over his sole opponent Shigeru Ishiba, who has emphasized the need for social security reform and fiscal balance for the debt-ridden economy.

"People want politicians to be highly moral, but they will to some extent support a president or prime minister despite scandals and insincere explanations if the economy is good," said LDP lawmaker Ryosei Akazawa, who is backing Ishiba in the party leadership race.

Besides pressing forward on the economy, Abe has backed away from some conservative policies that appeal to his right-wing base, but worry broader sections of the electorate.

While Koizumi made annual trips to the Yasukuni Shrine, seen by many in Asia as a symbol of Japan's past military aggression, Abe has visited only once since taking office. His statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II avoided inflammatory nationalist rhetoric. And Abe's assiduous courting of China has helped restore a relationship with Japan's biggest trading partner that was at its most hostile in decades when he took office.

Abe has also been smart on calling elections, according to Tsuneo Watanabe, senior research fellow of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, a policy research group in Tokyo. The LDP retained its two-thirds parliamentary majority in an election last October that Abe called amid heightened public concern over North Korea's missile threat.

"The timing of the last two elections has been very skillful," Watanabe said. "They came when the opposition was least expecting it."

While Abe's strategic moves have paid off, lawmakers also say he owes a lot to luck. North Korea's aggressive missile launches and nuclear tests focused public attention on national security, weakening opposition to his policies of increasing defense spending and broadening the role of the armed forces.

Abe also benefited from an opposition that crumbled once it lost power, helping him to win five straight electoral victories and push ahead with legislation largely without obstruction. No credible rivals have appeared within his own party, either. The LDP's most popular member is Koizumi's son Shinjiro who at 37 is considered a neophyte in Japanese politics.

Despite facing little opposition in his party, Abe faces key challenges in the coming weeks -- none more so than with Japan's only treaty ally. Shortly after the LDP election, his administration is set for contentious trade talks with the U.S., and an election for governor on the southern island of Okinawa -- home to American military bases -- risks further straining ties.

For a few days Abe will be able to enjoy what may be an unprecedented run as Japan's leader. He's got another 14 months before surpassing Taro Katsura, who served several stints in the early 20th century, as the country's longest-serving prime minister.

But don't expect any celebrations for Abe across Japan. His support among the public remains tepid, with most voters wary of doing anything to further disrupt an economy many fear is perpetually in decline as society ages.

"People both support and don't support him at the same time," said Masao Matsumoto, professor in the Social Survey Research Center at Saitama University. "For the moment, they want the current situation to continue, so there's no reason to get rid of Prime Minister Abe."

- - -

Bloomberg's Takashi Hirokawa contributed.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Is the Korea denuclearization process for real?

By david ignatius
Is the Korea denuclearization process for real?


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 9th graf, replacing first two sentences. 10th graf, new last sentence.


WASHINGTON -- After the big bang of the Singapore summit in June, with its showy but vague North Korean commitment to denuclearization, many analysts doubted that the deal had any real substance. But we're beginning to see the first signs of what a serious accord would look like.

This week's North-South summit meeting in Pyongyang produced accord on some basic essentials of a real denuclearization process. North Korea agreed to accept internal inspectors to monitor destruction of one of its test sites, a first step toward the broader inspection process that will be essential for any verifiable pact.

North Korea also agreed in principle to dismantle its main nuclear-weapons facility at Yongbyon, though the details are fuzzy and its offer is conditioned on reciprocal U.S. "corresponding measures." Finally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week floated a timetable (without objection from North Korea) for completion of denuclearization by 2021. That is aspirational, to put it generously, but it at least provides a baseline for the U.S. to protest if Pyongyang delays.

The Trump administration seems willing to offer some version of the desired "corresponding measures" as a confidence-building step that would facilitate the Yongbyon shutdown. North Korea wants a formal declaration of the end of the state of war, but it's unclear what precise formula the U.S. will propose.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues his mutual flattery with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump keeps cheerleading for a deal, tweeting Tuesday that emerging signs of detente between the Koreas are "very exciting." And Kim said this week that he wants a second meeting with Trump to ratify the moves toward nuclearization.

This week's summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in also advanced Kim's fundamental goal of economic modernization. That's the significance of the proposed bid for a joint North-South Olympics in 2032. Managing such a global event would be impossible without massive upgrading of the North's infrastructure over the next decade.

Steve Biegun, the State Department's special envoy, will be traveling soon to Pyongyang with Pompeo. One thing Biegun brings to the table is his experience as a Ford Motor Co. executive, which will help him explain, in business terms, what it would mean for North Korea to join the global economy.

What's not to like about this week's Korean diplomacy? First, there are still far more questions than answers. Framing this agreement is a bit like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. You find the straight edges that define the parameter, then start inserting the hard-to-fit pieces in the center. The most difficult pieces are usually saved for last, and negotiators could be left with a big empty space in the middle of this deal.

A second concern is that the diplomacy is driven by the two Koreas and their reunification ambitions. The spirit of reunification was prominent during the summit, but it is problematic for regional neighbors and for the countries themselves. Will South Korea really bankroll modernization of a country that is anti-democratic, xenophobic and has a history of belligerence?

U.S. military officials, and their counterparts in Japan, will want to look very carefully at details of the inter-Korean military agreement announced this week. According to South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, it may include "pulling out some border guard posts and setting up air, maritime and ground buffer zones." The U.S. military command in Seoul said Thursday it would "thoroughly review" the pact, which indicates no one had cleared it with them beforehand.

A final problem for this deal is that it's too linked to Trump, a polarizing and politically fragile president. North Korean commentators continue to anchor their denuclearization offer to Trump. A commentary last weekend in the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper stressed that "President Trump ... repeatedly expresses his thanks" for recent progress.

The Rodong Sinmun piece also included this backhanded statement of North Korea's expectation that Trump will offer the key concession Pyongyang wants: "We have not heard him saying that he will not do a declaration of the end of the war." And the commentary offers this obtuse reassurance: "Doing what we say we will do and seeing what we have started through to the end is our mettle and temperament."

"I worry that in terms of the U.S. political calendar, we are already over the cliff, and that Korea policy is going to be a victim," cautions Robert Carlin, a former CIA analyst who has traveled to North Korea more than two dozen times.

Is the Korea denuclearization process for real? Many hardline U.S. military and national-security officials remain skeptical. The outer boundaries of the agreement are becoming clearer. But the middle is a big blur.

David Ignatius can be reached via Twitter: @IgnatiusPost.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Life is not fair -- and neither is the Kavanaugh confirmation process

By ruben navarrette jr.
Life is not fair -- and neither is the Kavanaugh confirmation process


(FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally is an advance for Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018.)

(For Navarrette clients only)


SAN DIEGO -- Let's be fair. The last thing the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process has been about over the past week is fairness.

The process has been dark, dirty and dysfunctional. Worst of all, it has also been profoundly unfair -- and to more than one person.

A lot of folks have talked about the idea of fairness since Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct in an incident that allegedly occurred more than three decades ago when the Supreme Court nominee and the alleged victim were both in their teens.

Attorneys for Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who brought the accusation, had said that their client would address the Senate Judiciary Committee out of a sense of civic duty.

That narrative barely survived one news cycle. The story then became that Ford would not testify until the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an inquiry.

But an inquiry into what? Certainly not what may or may not have happened in the 1980s. That's ridiculous, especially since no federal crime was involved. Surely what some Democrats are hoping for is that Kavanaugh speaks to investigators and to the Senate committee -- and that the statements don't match.

So instead of investigating a crime, the real objective would be to manufacture one.

When Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa -- who had invited Ford to address the panel -- refused to go along with the call for an FBI investigation and set a deadline for the accuser to confirm her testimony, her lawyers said rushing the process was unfair.

"The committee's stated plan to move forward with a hearing that has only two witnesses is not a fair or good faith investigation," said attorney Lisa Banks.

If Ford doesn't testify, and simply leaves her disturbing accusation out there with no accountability -- like, oh, say an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times -- this would be unfair to the nominee. So says a moderate Republican senator whose vote could be crucial.

"I think it's not fair to Judge Kavanaugh for her not to come forward and testify," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine in a radio interview.

And, if Ford stands up the Senate, it won't be fair to those Republicans who stuck their necks out and asked that she be invited to testify. Besides Collins, this group includes Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Of course, it's also not fair to Ford that -- after she made clear in the letter she wrote to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California lodging the accusation against Kavanaugh that she did not want to be identified -- her name was leaked to the media.

None of this is fair to Kavanaugh -- not to mention his wife, daughters and parents. What should have been a beautiful moment for that family has been marred by what seems to be a partisan attempt at character assassination by Democrats.

As for Ford, it's fair to remind her of the stakes. If she doesn't testify, her entire story will never come out. She'll essentially go back to being "anonymous."

Once again, the American people are stuck in the middle.

Of course, there are always going to be the partisans who have the miraculous ability to know exactly what happened more than 30 years ago, without hearing testimony from anyone. They've already made up their minds.

But many of us -- perhaps most of us -- don't know whom to believe. We want to be fair to both the accuser and the accused.

GOP pollster Frank Luntz is picking up on that with the groups he surveys.

"The American people believe in fairness," Luntz told Fox News' host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday. "And they believe that everyone deserves their day in court."

But, Luntz added, many wonder just how far we are willing to go back into people's lives to discern what kind of human beings they are today. He found a lot of support for the idea that judging someone for something that may have happened long ago is not fair.

Given that Americans just celebrated Constitution Day and the 231st birthday of our nation's founding document, you had better believe that none of this is fair to the Framers. When they entrusted the Senate with the power to advise and consent, this could not have been what they had in mind.

Ruben Navarrette's email address is His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

How much evidence do we need to destroy someone?

By marc a. thiessen
How much evidence do we need to destroy someone?


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- Christine Blasey Ford has accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of attempted rape while they were both in high school - a charge he unequivocally denies. She can't remember the date the alleged attack took place. She isn't even certain about the year (although she reportedly thinks it may have been the summer around the end of her sophomore year when she was 15). She can't remember whose house she was in. She can't remember how she got there. She says she didn't tell anyone about it at the time, not even her closest friends - so there are no contemporaneous witnesses to back her claims.

No other women have come forward to say that the young Kavanaugh assaulted them. There is no pattern of bad behavior. Quite the contrary, by all accounts other than Ford's, he treats women with respect in his personal and professional life. (Full disclosure: I worked with Kavanaugh in the George W. Bush White House.) The gathering included just Ford and four others, according to her confidential letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. One man named by Ford as a witness has come forward and not only denied knowledge of the assault but also denied knowledge of the gathering in question. Another, who said he was the "PJ" mentioned in the letter, Patrick J. Smyth, has also denied being at a gathering like the one Ford described.

Ford deserves to be treated with dignity, not maligned or attacked. But let's not forget that Kavanaugh is human too. This ordeal affects not only him but also his family, including his two young daughters, who are hearing awful things said about the father they love. He cannot prove a negative. So far, there are accusations but no corroborating evidence. And accusations without evidence cannot be the standard by which a man's reputation and career are ruined.

Both Kavanaugh and Ford have been ill-served by Senate Democrats in this process. Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, knew about Ford's accusation for about six weeks and did nothing. She never asked Kavanaugh about the allegations in private or in public. She did not use the confidential, bipartisan process that the Judiciary Committee uses every day to assess the credibility of allegations against hundreds of judicial nominees -- which would have given Ford the chance to talk to the committee's professional investigators in a confidential setting. Bizarrely, to this day Feinstein has not shared a copy of Ford's unredacted letter with Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa. But Democrats appear not to have been too scrupulous when it came to protecting her confidentiality.

Ford has also been ill-served by her lawyers, who initially stated that Ford "will agree to participate in any proceedings that she's asked to participate in." Then, when Grassley canceled the vote on Kavanaugh's nomination and scheduled a hearing where she could testify in public or private, her lawyers started echoing Senate Democrats' new message that a full FBI investigation was needed before she would speak to the committee -- undermining the perception of Ford's independence. (At this writing, she has reversed course yet again, with her lawyer now saying she might be willing to testify next week).

It's not the FBI's job to investigate. There is no federal crime alleged. As Grassley explained in a letter, "We have no power to commandeer an executive branch agency into conducting our due diligence." Senate Democrats know this. They have turned down Grassley's offer to participate in interviews of Kavanaugh, Ford and other alleged witnesses. They are using Ford to demand an FBI investigation in the hope they can use it to delay Kavanaugh's confirmation until after Election Day -- when Democrats hope to take back the Senate and block him from joining the Supreme Court.

The #MeToo movement is a force for good in society. It has removed sexual predators from the workplace in politics, media, entertainment, religion and elsewhere. It has encouraged women and men who have been abused to speak up -- and others to support their allegations. But allegations alone are not enough. There must be evidence. With the evidence available right now, there is no chance Kavanaugh would be convicted in a court of law. Indeed, no reasonable prosecutor would agree to bring a case. But in the court of public opinion, the standards of evidence seem to be much lower. This much is certain: The standard of evidence to ruin a man's reputation cannot be zero.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

The Senate has become a factory of suspicion and contempt

By michael gerson
The Senate has become a factory of suspicion and contempt


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- (BEG ITAL)This(END ITAL) is the cost when institutions have lost public trust.

The United States Senate is supposed to be a deliberative body, protected by extended terms from contracting the political fevers of the day. This role assumes a certain level of competence, collegiality and goodwill among its members.

None of which has been displayed by the lead Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein. She knew about Christine Blasey Ford's charges against Brett Kavanaugh for nearly two months before they started leaking to the press. This method of revelation -- following the end of the Kavanaugh hearings -- blindsided Feinstein's colleagues, denied the nominee a proper chance to confront the accusation, and launched an important public issue under a partisan cloud.

So Feinstein is guilty of governing malpractice and has encouraged suspicion and contempt, especially among conservatives, for the institution she represents.

How about the Judiciary Committee more broadly? This is the place where serious-minded investigations of judicial qualifications (and disqualifications) are supposed to take place. The committee has subpoena power and a staff of investigators for a reason. It should be the forum where matters such as the charges against Kavanaugh are considered. And Chairman Chuck Grassley's offer to hear committee testimony by Ford, in public or private, was not unreasonable.

But Democrats view the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee as highly politicized -- and for an understandable reason. The most recent Supreme Court nominee chosen by a Democrat, Merrick Garland, was defeated and mistreated by delaying his vote beyond President Obama's term in office. There was no credible explanation for doing this -- except that the ideological stakes were high and Republicans had the ability to impose their will. It was a raw and effective exercise of power, but it had the cost of leaving a bad partisan taste in senatorial mouths.

Over the last few years Republicans have demonstrated an undeniable ruthlessness in the Supreme Court nomination process, encouraging progressive suspicion and contempt.

So how about the FBI? It, at least, should be a respected, trusted arbiter in American life. Why not take the job of investigation away from elected representatives and give it to career professionals?

But who could have possibly predicted the bureau's reputational roller coaster over the last few years? First, a clownish intervention in the last days of a presidential election that might have helped elect Donald Trump. Then revelations about politicized agents within the FBI who hated Trump. Then almost daily attacks on the bureau by the president of the United States, who calls his trashing of the FBI's credibility "one of my crowning achievements."

The Democratic call for FBI involvement was badly mishandled. By withdrawing Ford's initial agreement to testify before the Judiciary Committee and insisting on a preliminary investigation by the FBI, Ford's lawyers made their strategy seem like a time-wasting partisan maneuver. And we already know how Senate Democrats would overwhelmingly respond to an eventual FBI report. If the FBI finds strong evidence implicating Kavanaugh in a crime, Democrats will oppose him. If there is a muddled mix of accusations and memories, Democrats will oppose him. If Kavanaugh is completely vindicated, Democrats will oppose him.

Americans can be forgiven for thinking that everything involved in Supreme Court nominations -- all the institutions, traditions, principles, procedures, solemn oaths and columned buildings -- are merely a cover, a disguise for the will to power. Where there is no authority, all that remains is a contest of power.

Out of all this, two things strike me as clear.

First, as it stands, the facts are in Kavanaugh's favor. The charge against him is vague, uncorroborated and completely inconsistent with virtually all other accounts of Kavanaugh's character.

Second, an accusation of attempted rape can't be allowed to hang in the air without a more serious investigation. In matters of such cruelty and lasting damage, there is no exemption for youth and inexperience. I would no more want a Supreme Court justice who had attempted rape than I would want a president who committed sexual assault. That is not too high a standard.

I am on record saying that Republicans should go the extra mile to examine the Ford accusation. But not an extra marathon. Of all our institutions, the FBI retains some shred of moral standing. It should be instructed by the president to conduct an investigation, in a limited amount of time, with a narrow remit: to see if there are any other witnesses or contemporaneous evidence that would make Ford's claim seem likely. If not, Kavanaugh should be quickly confirmed.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

We must give Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves

By eugene robinson
We must give Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- "It never happened" and "it wasn't him" are legitimate, if inconsistent, arguments for defenders of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to make. "We have to stick to our deadline" and "there's no need to involve the FBI" are nothing but partisan Republican talking points. And excuses like "he was only 17" and "boys will be boys" are simply vile.

Obviously, I don't know whether Christine Blasey Ford's claim that Kavanaugh tried to rape her is true. In a court of law, he would be entitled to the presumption of innocence, and the allegation would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In a confirmation proceeding for a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land, however, different standards apply.

Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Douglas Ginsburg for the Supreme Court in 1987, but Ginsburg withdrew after it was revealed that, years earlier, he had smoked marijuana. Youthful pot use likely would not be disqualifying today. A youthful sexual assault of the kind that Ford alleges surely would be.

Hypothetically, should a serious offense committed at age 17 be held against someone for the rest of his life? It happens all the time. Seventeen-year-olds are often tried, convicted, sentenced and jailed as adults in many states, including Maryland, where Ford claims the assault took place. These youthful offenders' lives are permanently shadowed, if not ruined, for things they did when they were too young to vote.

As advocates for victims' rights point out, juveniles sometimes do heinous things. Republican senators who routinely preach about law and order must look at the allegation not just from Kavanaugh's point of view but from Ford's as well.

There is no reason to doubt that something happened at a prep-school house party in the 1980s that still shadows her life. We know that she spoke of the incident in a couples' therapy session with her husband in 2012. We know that she reported it to a Washington Post tip line in July, before President Trump chose Kavanaugh as his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Whatever this is, it is not any kind of last-minute hit job.

And for the record, this is not the last minute. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, are obviously -- and brazenly -- setting artificial deadlines in an attempt to rush Kavanaugh's confirmation through before the November election.

Not even two full months have passed since Kennedy left the court. By contrast, these same GOP senators kept the late Antonin Scalia's seat open for well over a year, refusing even to grant President Obama's nominee a hearing.

By now, we should know not to expect fairness from this Republican leadership, which richly deserves to be voted out of power. But we must at least demand basic decency -- which, in this case, means giving Ford's allegation the hearing it deserves.

It is not enough to listen to he-said, she-said testimony for a few hours and then call it a day. The FBI should be asked to reopen its background investigation of Kavanaugh and look into Ford's claim. Such an effort would not take long at all -- and would be in Kavanaugh's best interests if he is innocent.

Some of the GOP senators who insist on speeding ahead with Kavanaugh's confirmation had a very different view in 1991 when Anita Hill accused then-nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among others, said that reopening the FBI's background investigation of Thomas was the right thing to do. It took all of three days for the bureau to complete the Hill-Thomas review.

Kavanaugh should welcome the scrutiny. What Ford alleges is not some minor indiscretion. She accuses him of a violent assault -- the kind of attack that gets people sent to prison. If he is to serve until retirement as one of the ultimate arbiters of justice in the United States, he should want as much testimony and information on the record as possible to assure Americans that he did not commit this alleged crime.

As for Ford, who wants the FBI to investigate, everyone should remember that she never asked to be in this position. She made her allegation anonymously, and came forward only when it was clear that someone had leaked her name. In the past week she has received death threats, and she fears for her family's safety.

Ford has been accused by some Republicans of being a political pawn. But ask yourself: Why would anyone choose to submit to such a life-upending experience without full conviction of the truth?

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Fighting populism with emotion not analysis

By fareed zakaria
Fighting populism with emotion not analysis


(Advance for Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)


NEW YORK -- When confronting a challenging problem, it's sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That's why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev. The Irish singer-activist-philanthropist sees the same forces that we all do, particularly in Europe, but he zeroes in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark, pessimistic vision being peddled by nationalists and extremists, according to Bono, is to have an uplifting, positive vision. Homing in on the trouble in his part of the world, he told me, "Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea."

To that end, Bono's band U2 has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl -- wait for it -- the flag of the European Union. "Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling," Bono writes in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He is trying to give that feeling meaning. To him, Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. "That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about," he writes.

Bono admits that Europe is a "hard sell" today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland and Italy and are steadily gaining ground in countries from Germany to Sweden. It seems everywhere the fuel is the same: hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different. In April, NPR's Joanna Kakissis reported on a Hungarian sociologist, Endre Sik, who had polled Hungarians about allowing asylum seekers into the country. He found strong resistance to accepting particular groups such as Romanians, Chinese and Arabs, and then he decided to ask about the "Pirezians." The Pirezians are a fictional ethnic group of Sik's own creation, yet Hungarians roundly refused to take them in. Sik told NPR, "The Hungarian form of xenophobia is, let's say, the classic form: 'They are different, we don't know them, therefore we hate them.' That's the beast in us."

Bono's message resonated since I had been reading Francis Fukuyama's new book, "Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment." Fukuyama argues that identity stems from humans' deep-seated psychological need to be recognized as possessing dignity. In recent decades, in the understandable search for recognition, persecuted minority groups (blacks, Hispanics, gays) have celebrated their identity -- and so have working-class whites, who now feel ignored and forgotten. The answer, Fukuyama writes, is not to reject identity politics but to construct broad identities that can embrace others and unify different groups.

The founders of the EU, he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the project -- laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity, something people could believe in not for rational reasons but for emotional and idealistic ones. In the American case, he argues, the anti-populist forces have to create a broad identity centered on core American ideas and values rather than narrow ethnic, racial or religious ones. Thus, we need a much greater focus on assimilation, on the celebration of American identity, on the things that make us all love being American. We need to connect with people in their guts, not just in their heads.

The European challenge might seem much greater than the American one, but in fact, distrust of foreigners doesn't necessarily mean a rejection of Europe. Even in Poland and Hungary, where ethno-nationalist sentiments run high, support for the EU is quite high. According to the latest European Commission surveys, 71 percent of Poles say they feel attached to the EU, more so than Germans or Spaniards, while 61 percent of Hungarians feel attached, outstripping the French, Swedes and Belgians. The problem is, it isn't a deep, emotional bond -- they are 3-4 times more likely to feel (BEG ITAL)strongly(END ITAL) attached to their own nation than to the EU.

What people in Europe and America ought to be proud of, what they should celebrate, are actually the remarkable achievements of diversity. "I love our differences," writes Bono, "our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities. ... And I believe they still leave room for what Churchill called an [']enlarged patriotism': plural allegiances, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either/or. The word patriotism has been stolen from us by nationalists and extremists who demand uniformity. But real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is, to me ... the real European project."

And, I would add, the American project as well.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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