President Trump meets with Democratic senators tonight, but he has already put them on notice. On Friday, he announced that the American Health Care Act had been pulled by warning that the health-care system would “explode,” and that voters would blame Democrats.
“I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because now they own Obamacare,” the president said.
Corey Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign manager, told the weekend hosts of “Fox and Friends” that 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in November 2018 are from states carried by Trump.
“You know what that means: They’re going to negotiate with the president,” Lewandowski said.
But with a few exceptions, Democrats are feeling no public pressure to work with Trump — and not expecting blame if the health-care system bristles under the new administration. Before the failure of the American Health Care Act, the president’s approval rating was underwater in most of the country. Afterward, Democrats are speaking more confidently about resisting the president and being rewarded at the polls.
“If people have a sense that he’s not just rooting for failure but creating it, that’s not a good position to be in,” said Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and one of the 10 Democrats up for reelection next year in a state that voted for Trump. “It’ll be clear to people who did the damage.”
In conversations Tuesday, a dozen Democrats from Trump-voting states and districts generally dismissed the political threats from the White House — which, confusingly, have alternated with rhetoric about the president reaching across the aisle to cut deals. Badgered in hallways about what sort of negotiations they could have with Trump, most suggested long-standing Democratic policies.
“I’d like to see the public option back on the table,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).
“I’m grateful that their ineptness and incompetence and demagoguery ensured that 900,000 Ohioans still have insurance, 1 million Ohioans still have the expansion of Medicaid, and every Ohioan still has those protections,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), another “Trump state” Democrat.
Some of the Democrats’ attitude comes from the Republicans’ off-message response to the AHCA failure. In several Trump-won states, such as Kansas, Republicans were restarting debates about whether to accept expanded Medicaid funding. In Congress, several Republicans were talking about ending a lawsuit against the American Care Act. As first reported by The Washington Post, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told donors that he would revisit the repeal effort; on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was over.
“Our Democratic friends now have the law that they wrote in place and we’ll see how that works out,” he said at a news conference.
On Tuesday, House Democrats shared a polling memo with reporters that revealed just how toxic the AHCA had been over its short existence. With theatrical surprise, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Democratic conference, noted that the Greenberg Quinlan Rosner survey found 54 percent of voters “in congressional battleground districts” opposed to the bill, and 51 percent disapproving of Trump. Tabling the bill, Crowley said, would not save the Republicans who Democrats wanted to hold accountable.
“It’s the letters that they signed, the statements that they made, and the rule they voted for to bring the bill to the House floor,” he said, pointing out online advertisements that ran against members of a key committee after it moved the AHCA.
The poll’s findings about the president underlined the other major reason for optimism. Since taking office, the president has struggled to reach even 50 percent approval ratings. During the fight over the AHCA, his approval rating in the Gallup poll tumbled to 36 percent — lower, the pollster pointed out, than it ever sank for former president Barack Obama.
As Democrats discovered in 2016, when Trump lost the popular vote but won the White House, the president’s supporters are clustered in states and districts that are more electorally valuable. But in 2002, the last time that a party failed to gain seats in a midterm election, the president was widely popular. The final Gallup poll taken before the 2002 midterm elections found President George W. Bush enjoying a 63 percent approval rating, which helped the party win Senate races in Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri, while gaining eight seats in the House. (The elections also came after a 2001 round of gerrymanders that helped Republicans gain Southern and Midwestern seats.)
Trump has never come close to that level of support, even in the 10 states seen as most winnable for Republicans in 2018. In the five states lost by Mitt Romney but won by Trump — Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Trump’s average favorable rating on Election Day was 40 percent. In Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, his favorable rating was actually lower than Hillary Clinton’s.
Since then, Trump has seen his numbers sink even further. This week, New York’s Siena poll found the president at just 34 percent approval in his native New York. That had a lot to do with his toxic ratings in New York City. But when the poll was broken into regions, the president was unpopular everywhere. In Upstate New York, where he lost to Hillary Clinton by just five points, Trump’s approval rating was just 39 percent. In the suburbs of New York, where the president actually won, the approval rating was down to 44 percent.
“The intensity between the parties really flipped overnight after Nov. 8,” said Ron Kind (D-Wis.), one of 13 House Democrats who represent a district won by Trump. “There’s a lot of scratching of heads by his supporters. He hasn’t really done a lot to improve people’s lives. I’m not sure how much time they’re going to give him.”