On Sunday, President Trump tweeted, “Don’t give up Republican Senators, the World is watching: Repeal & Replace…and go to 51 votes (nuke option), get Cross State Lines & more.” Monday morning he seemed to be threatening Congress and insurers: “If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney proclaimed on Sunday that no further votes should be taken before health care was addressed. Trump’s effort to cajole the GOP back to arguing with one another over repealing Obamacare fell on entirely deaf ears.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) advised that no less than 10 Republicans had contacted him to see about working on health care in a bipartisan fashion. Politico reported:
Sen. Chuck Schumer said Monday he has heard from 10 of his Republican colleagues in response to his call for a bipartisan approach to health care legislation.
“No one thought Obamacare was perfect — it needs a lot of improvements,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after an unrelated news conference at Albany Medical Center. “We’re willing to work in a bipartisan way to do it. What we objected to was just pulling the rug out from it and taking away the good things that it did: Medicaid coverage for people with parents in nursing homes, for opioid treatment, for kids with disabilities, pre-existing conditions.”
That number goes beyond the usual list of moderates, suggesting that the GOP as a whole is moving on. That impression was reinforced when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tweeted and spoke on the Senate floor on Monday about appointments, not health care.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, politely rebuked the president and Mulvaney. “There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on healthcare,” he said in an interview with Reuters. “I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterwards but we need to move ahead on tax reform.” The idea of ending the cost-sharing subsidies did not sound like something Hatch would allow. “I’m for helping the poor, always have been,” he said. “And I don’t think they should be bereft of healthcare.” Conservative stalwarts Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) chimed in as well. (Politico quotes Thune as saying, “Until somebody shows us a way to get that elusive 50th vote, I think it’s over,” and Blunt as offering, “I think it’s time to move on to something else. Come back to health care when we’ve had more time to get beyond the moment we’re in and see if we can’t put some wins on the board.”)
That’s as stark and dramatic a rejection of the White House’s priorities on a signature domestic policy issue as mainstream GOP lawmakers have delivered. It’s not hard to figure out why Republicans are rebuffing Trump. His approval ratings are sliding downhill; the Republican health-care bills are hugely unpopular; and their big donors/business community backers are already launching a public campaign to advance tax reform. Trump can tweet all he likes, but he is fast becoming irrelevant to the GOP agenda.
We hope this continues a positive trend that began with passage of Russia sanctions legislation and public support of the attorney general. If this keeps up, Congress can proceed to ignore lots of things Trump wants — ridiculous domestic budget cuts, funding the wall (which remains unpopular with voters), throwing transgender personnel out of the military, etc.
The big political question that has transfixed the country — when, if ever, will Republicans break with Trump? — remains open. But before they are willing to break with him on issues such as conflicts of interest, the Russia scandal and the emoluments clause, they will need to be convinced he is of no utility to them and, in fact, is a burden. Watching more Republicans, many of whom cannot be written off as weak-kneed RINOs, effectively roll their eyes at the White House’s pronouncements gives one a sliver of hope that the process is beginning.