Even $3.5 Million Couldn't Make Seema Verma the Feminist Hero of the Trump Administration

Illustration for article titled Even $3.5 Million Couldn't Make Seema Verma the Feminist Hero of the Trump Administration
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

Today, Politico published a story on the findings of the Congressional probe into walking conflict-of-interest Seema Verma, who readers may recall as the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid stooge who asked taxpayers to foot the bill for a $325 jar of moisturizer, among other luxury items.


The report, along with Politico’s sources, provides the clearest picture yet of the lengths a hubristic bureaucrat will go to render herself an executive influencer and feminist hero, no small feat considering the CMS administrator is little more than a glorified insurance administrator, having spent her career pushing paperwork around to deny low-income Americans’ healthcare claims.

According to the report, a veritable army of high-profile GOP media consultants were tasked over the years with pitching Verma as a girl boss on The Hill. Their duties included consulting on Verma’s Medicaid work requirement roll-out, placing glossy magazine spreads, and securing interviews with friendly journalists.

As Politico reports, the Democrat-led investigation found that the politician and her aides spent upwards of $3.5 million dollars trying to make Seema Verma happen: This was more successful in some venues than others, notably among conservative Washington journalists, and with the AARP. According to a draft of an early Seema Verma promotional plan—which reportedly took eight months to refine and cost tens of thousands of dollars—the objective was to “highlight and promote Seema Verma leadership and accomplishment.” Those accomplishments, again, have largely consisted of finding arcane and rather boring loopholes around previous administration’s coverage plans.

In one instance, three men wrote an op-ed that would appear under Verma’s name in the Washington Post, an opinion piece that lauded the “flexibility” and “compassion” of forcing Americans to prove they were working if they’d like to see a doctor. In another, consultants billed CMS $13,856 for a two-minute video featuring Verma, $450 of which went to her makeup artist. When Verma was named Washingtonian magazine’s “Most Powerful Woman in Washington” and appeared on a handful of panels, it was only after months of work and a price tag of over $13,000.

Around mid-2018, according to the outlet, Verma hired Pamela Stephens, a longtime Republican strategist, to get her “more media”—specifically, it appears, the kind of media that would laud Verma as a face of the modern, more woman-friendly GOP. This was less successful in some venues than others: After a few radio interviewers pushed back on Verma’s policies, strategists suggested the consultant only book “profile pieces and softballs,” which somewhat conflicts with the image Verma attempted to cultivate as a canny thought leader. She did, however, “network” with organizations like Girlboss and contend (though not win) Glamour Magazine’s “Woman of the Year Award.”


Instead, Verma managed to be profiled by the AARP for the low price of $1,117, and appeared on Politico’s “Woman Rule” podcast, for which strategists billed the agency $3,400. She also held a baffling, nightmarish “Girl’s Night” at an unidentified reporters home:

Stevens also adopted novel strategies to boost Verma’s profile. Between October and November 2018, she arranged a “Girl’s Night” to honor Verma, according to Stevens’ billing records obtained by the committee. The off-the-record event was intended for media personalities and prominent women and was hosted at a reporter’s home, according to three people with knowledge of the evening. In documents obtained by the committee, Stevens described the event as a networking opportunity for Verma, although the evening carried a pricey tab: Taxpayers were ultimately charged nearly $3,000 to cover Stevens’ costs in arranging the event.


Sadly, $3.5 million and countless hours later, Seema Verma isn’t much closer to being hailed as the Sheryl Sandberg of healthcare. But if you have been on the receiving end of the CMS administrator’s PR blitz, please do get in touch.

Molly Osberg is a Senior Reporter with G/O Media.



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