Shortly after Donald Trump’s helicopter touched down in a parking lot near the Iowa State Fairgrounds in August 2015, he held a quick news conference. After a brief discussion about how the public doesn’t care as much about detailed policy papers as the press, Trump was asked a question about the process of legislating.
“How will you get Congress to pass your bills?” he was asked.
“I’ll get Congress. I’ve been getting politicians to pass whatever I wanted for my whole life,” he said. “You know, it’s sort of interesting, nobody has more experience dealing with politicians than I do. I’ve been dealing with them all my life. Whether it’s big New York City zoning deals — which, by the way, are probably tougher than most of the things I’ll be dealing with with foreign countries.” He expounded on some of his properties in the city.
“Let me tell you,” he then continued, “I’ve been dealing with politicians all my life. They’re fine. They’re wonderful. They’re all talk, they’re no action. They’re selling this country down the tubes and they’re easy to deal with. Believe me.”
His attitude on that may have changed.
From the get-go, the American Health Care Act — the Obamacare replacement legislation that Trump has adopted as his own — has faced strong opposition on and off of Capitol Hill. Opposition from Democrats has been unyielding. Opposition from Republicans has trickled down through various cracks: the far-right, the moderate middle. The Post’s rough whip count suggests that the bill likely wouldn’t pass if the vote were held today. Republican members of Congress have been pressured by Trump and the party’s leadership, but they’ve been pressured in the other direction by advocacy groups, conservative vote-grading systems and some of the more vocal far-right media outlets. This isn’t Trump trying to finagle some reluctant zoning board officials. It’s 535 people with constituencies that aren’t on board.
At FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver pointed out a reason that Trump’s task in corralling votes is even harder than it might usually be.
Consider the Fox News poll released last week. It asked respondents their views on both of the health-care proposals: Obamacare and Trump’s possible replacement.
Overall, Obamacare is supported by about half the country and opposed by a sizable minority. Unsurprisingly, there’s a partisan split: Republicans — and, in particular, Trump voters— are much more likely to oppose it.
The American Health Care Act gets lower marks. It’s underwater, meaning that more people oppose it than support it.
This is a disadvantageous position to be in, but, hey, Trump is president thanks to a healthy minority, right? Miracles can happen.
What Silver pointed out, though, is that there’s an imbalance in terms of how many people really care about the legislation.
On Obamacare, about 7-in-10 Republicans strongly dislike the bill. But more than half of Democrats feel strongly the other way. Overall, a quarter of Americans strongly support it.
That level of fervent support is much lower for the AHCA. It’s still the case that 7-in-10 of the opposition party dislike the bill, but only about 4 in 10 Republicans —and, crucially, 4 in 10 Trump voters — support it strongly. Overall, only 17 percent of the country strongly supports the AHCA. By contrast, 30 percent of the population views Trump strongly favorably, including three-quarters of his voters.
One reason the health-care fight has become so complicated is that fear of an Obamacare repeal has activated Americans (mostly Democrats) who rely on the provisions of the legislation. Democratic organizing groups, recognizing that energy, seized on the moment and helped coordinate actions at members of Congress’ town halls.
On the other side, there’s simply less energy behind the AHCA — and, what’s more, some conservative organizations that might help whip up positive support actually oppose the bill. The resulting imbalance is obvious to legislators.
Republican members of Congress may be convinced that this is their only shot to change Obamacare, as Speaker Paul Ryan has argued, but to an outside observer, that’s hard to understand. You control the House, Senate and the White House and you can only pass this one, flawed bill?
So much for legislators being “easy to deal with.” To push the bill through Congress, Trump needs to be able to compel legislators to support the measure. But Trump’s arsenal is empty. He threatened balky legislators on Tuesday by saying he’d exact revenge on Rep. Mark Meadows for opposing the bill, but there’s little reason to think that Trump has the capacity to unseat members of Congress from his own party. He can’t even rouse support for the bill! A rally in some other legislator’s district where thousands of people come out to cheer doesn’t mean a whole lot to a popular senator from across the country.
Especially when Trump’s attitude at the rally is that passing the health-care bill is the broccoli the party needs to choke down before they can pig out on dessert (tax cuts). Politico’s Shane Goldmacher noted Trump’s obvious apathy about the bill during the rally he held this week in Kentucky. Which isn’t really a surprise; the bill as formulated is distant from what Trump promised on the campaign trail and is complicated in its attempts to balance competing interests. (“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated!” Trump said in February, expressing a sentiment that nobody knew someone could hold.) Trump didn’t write it, and it’s not what he promised, and it seems like he’s tired of the whole thing.
After all, at the end of this, it’s not like there’s going to be a big new building in Manhattan with his name on it. If our vote count ends up being accurate, there won’t even be a healthcare bill that bears his name.