THE MORNING PLUM:
The single biggest win that President Trump has scored for his economically struggling supporters thus far is his failure to repeal Obamacare.
This fact is sitting right at the center of one of the biggest and most-discussed stories in Washington right now — the possibility that Trump may be in the midst of rethinking his approach, and pivoting toward a more sustained effort to make bipartisan deals with Democrats — yet the centrality of it is largely passing unnoticed.
Trump tweeted this just moments ago:
That sounds like Trump is telling Republicans that it’s time to accept that Obamacare isn’t going to be repealed (never mind his bogus suggestion that this is because of the filibuster; no GOP repeal plan ever got even 50 Senate votes) and that, because of this, they need to stop wasting time on it and do tax reform instead. Some on the right (see Ben Howe) are reading it that way as well.
Obviously one should not place too much stock in Trump’s tweets, and the White House could easily deny before long that Trump meant them this way. But Politico is also reporting that Senate Republicans are “accepting defeat on Obamacare repeal.”
There is one more repeal bill standing — a measure being pushed by GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and subsidies but leave its tax hikes intact and transfer ACA spending to the states in block grants. This would gut the ACA’s coverage expansion and facilitate a hurricane of death spirals.
Politico’s story, however, quotes multiple Republicans saying this measure has very little chance, especially since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will oppose anything that isn’t passed through “regular order.” The Senate parliamentarian has also ruled that the possibility of passing something via a simple majority “reconciliation” vote expires at the end of the month. And Politico reports: “Privately, some Republicans said they were relieved about the parliamentarian’s ruling because they are eager to avoid another frantic attempt to gut the law.” So perhaps some Republicans will jump at Trump’s tweets as a way to move on.
If Obamacare were to be repealed, it would impact untold numbers of Trump voters. As Ron Brownstein has detailed, the ACA’s massive coverage expansion, particularly via Medicaid, has reached deep into the population of blue-collar, rural and aging whites who make up the Trump/GOP base. At the same time, many key items on Trump’s agenda of “populist economic nationalism,” which actually included a strong signal that he would protect the safety net for his voters, have failed to materialize: There’s been no massive infrastructure spending and no revamped trade deals. The only aspect of that agenda that is operative is the draconian immigration crackdown, which he has now expanded to target the “dreamers.” But that won’t meaningfully improve the lives of his struggling supporters. Arguably the only serious accomplishment he has racked up for them thus far is the failure to shred the safety net.
Now Trump is sending signs that he is willing to try another approach, by cutting a deal with Democratic leaders on the debt ceiling. There are reasons to be skeptical that this will amount to much in the way of a long term “pivot.” But if Trump actually does want to work with Democrats going forward, one thing that could facilitate this — and benefit Trump himself — is to accept that the ACA is indeed benefiting many of his supporters. The Trump administration could stop sabotaging the law, and could even support whatever bipartisan solutions emerge this fall from negotiations over congressional efforts to shore up the individual markets (which could conceivably result in Republicans getting some changes that they want). Friday’s tweetstorm raises at least the possibility that this might end up happening, though it would of course be folly to be confident that it will.
We keep hearing that Trump’s base won’t stand for it if Obamacare repeal fails, and that his voters will cheer lustily if he does all he can to sabotage the law. It’s true that some polls have shown that this might be the case. But note this remarkable reporting from the Associated Press, which raises the possibility that GOP base voters might actually support Trump’s deal with Democrats, mainly because Trump gave it his stamp of approval:
Trump remains highly popular in the conservative districts occupied by many House Republicans, much more so than [Paul] Ryan himself, who is scorned by many in the GOP base as an establishment sell-out. In a whipsawed moment, some House Republicans defended Trump’s handling of a deal they don’t like, while simultaneously criticizing Ryan, who had been overruled by the president. It also underscored the political pressure on Ryan to try to remain in the president’s good graces even when Trump is flirting with Democrats.
Trump voters don’t want the individual markets to melt down. If Trump were to give his stamp of approval to a bipartisan deal to shore them up, it would probably prove quite popular across the board.
* PELOSI SAYS TRUMP IS WILLING TO SIGN DREAM ACT ‘SOON’: Nancy Pelosi tells the New York Times that Trump told her in a phone call that he is willing to sign a bill offering legislative protection to the dreamers:
“He said, ‘I want to sign it. Let’s do it fast. Let’s do it soon,’” Ms. Pelosi said. “And I said, ‘All the better. We don’t want to take six months, and we don’t even want to take three months.’”
That’s nice. But, as always, the question is what price Trump will demand for doing this. Funding for his great Trumpian wall? More money for mass deportations?
* DEMOCRATS HOPE TO ROLL TRUMP ON MANY ISSUES: The Post reports that Democrats believe Trump’s willingness to make a short-term debt limit deal with them might signal more to come, albeit they are proceeding with caution.
In addition to pressing for new protections for undocumented immigrants, Democrats hope to water down GOP plans for tax policy and thwart a bevy of federal budget cuts proposed by Republicans.
Even so, some suggested caution about Trump’s sudden cooperation with them. They warned that the president’s unpredictability makes him a dangerous ally.
That latter sentiment seems much wiser. Get back to me when Trump stops the Obamacare sabotage, for starters.
* DEMOCRATS WILL SUPPLY VOTES TO RAISE DEBT CEILING: Politico reports that House conservatives are coming out against the bill to raise the debt limit and fund the government for three months, which means Democrats will probably supply the majority of votes for it:
House GOP leadership sources say they don’t expect a majority of Republicans to support the debt ceiling-disaster aid package. … Democrats began grappling Thursday with the reality that they’re likely going to be asked to provide the bulk of votes to support the spending package. … Democratic aides expect a big showing of support on their side, arguing members won’t want to be on record voting against disaster relief.
Democrats will bail out Paul Ryan (not to mention the country), it appears.
* REPEAL IS NOT DEAD YET, BUT HAS THE GOP BASE MOVED ON? McClatchy reports that Republicans might have one last long-shot crack at passing a bill that would repeal the ACA and block grant money to states, but even some Republicans are saying the base has moved on:
“l think it’s a reasonable idea,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., of the block grant idea. “But I would just say right now, whether in Washington or even in the district, people are much more focused right now on the debt ceiling, the budget, taxes … there seems to be a pivot with the Republican base, with people moving on with concern about what’s going to happen on tax policy.”
We keep hearing that the base will punish Republicans for failing at repeal. Maybe it’s time to subject that idea to some skepticism.
* GARY COHN MAY BE ON HIS WAY OUT: Reuters reports that not only will top White House adviser Gary Cohn not get the Fed chair slot he wanted; he may be a goner before you know it:
Cohn crossed Trump last month when he criticized the president in a Financial Times interview for his response to the violence at a rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one woman died.
Yep, Cohn may be pushed out because he dared to question Trump’s weak condemnation of white supremacists and Nazis. That Trump pivot is real this time!
* NO, DREAMERS ARE NOT AN ECONOMIC THREAT: Paul Krugman knocks down the lies coming from the administration, in particular from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which paint the dreamers as a threat to U.S. workers:
An aging population means fewer workers paying taxes to support Social Security and Medicare. … Driving out young workers who will pay into the system for many decades is a way to make these problems worse. … What about the claim that immigrant workers compete with less-educated native-born workers, driving their wages down and increasing income inequality? … The Dreamers are a relatively well-educated group, very different from undocumented immigrants who came as adults.
And Trump is scrapping protections for young immigrants even as his plutocratic agenda advances on other fronts, which exposes the big lie at the core of Trumpism in a much broader sense.
* BANNON: GOP ESTABLISHMENT HATES TRUMP’S ECONOMIC POPULISM: Here’s Stephen K. Bannon’s latest, in an interview with Charlie Rose:
“The Republican establishment is trying to nullify the 2016 election. … They do not want Donald Trump’s populist economic nationalist agenda to be implemented. … They do not support the president’s program.”
Hmmm. Trump himself has basically sold out on most of the key aspects of his “economic populist” agenda, leaving behind just the xenophobia and nativism. Or maybe that was the whole point all along?