GOP leaders made a huge wager — and they’re losing

Michael Gerson, reporting for the Washington Post:

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised Obamacare repeal, funding for the wall and tax reform, all by the end of August. For the GOP, it is now September, both literally and metaphorically.

In the spring of their hopes, Republican leaders placed a bet — which seemed reasonable at the time — that they could contain President Trump and pass legislation despite him. This required looking away from the uglier aspects of Trump’s appeal — his Twitter transgressions, his appallingly frenzied rallies, his rule by ridicule. All this was worth swallowing because Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would pass their conservative agenda.

The wager was large and lost. The attempt to revive a health-care alternative in the Senate seems halfhearted and doomed by the same ideological dynamics that killed the legislation the first time. Republican enthusiasm for the Mexican border wall is limited by the fact that it is among the most wasteful, impractical and useless ideas ever spouted by an American president. And ambitious tax reform has been tabled in favor of a few tax cuts that are likely to reaffirm public impressions that the “P” in GOP stands for “plutocracy.”

In the process, Republican leaders have been made to look hapless and pathetic, not least because Trump has taken to taunting them. A president incapable of legislative leadership mocks the ineffectiveness of Republican legislators, publicly humiliates them on the debt-limit deal, then revels in the (very temporary) friendship of “Chuck and Nancy” — Democratic leaders Schumer and Pelosi.

Those Republicans who believe that Trump is being cynical, disloyal or politically calculating continue to misunderstand the man. The president has no discernible political philosophy or strong policy views to betray. His leadership consists mainly of instincts, reflexes and prejudices, which often have nothing to do with self-interest. He has a genius for fame, which usually involves attention-attracting unpredictability and transgressiveness. Trump reads events moment by moment, making him a cork on the waves of cable coverage. Any choice he makes is correct by definition, because he has made it. And any person — on his staff or on Capitol Hill — who does not precisely mimic his political gyrations is disloyal and should be punished.

Most public officials have never worked with anyone like this before. Among other things, it means that any vocal conviction politician — any leader, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who regularly heeds the whisper of duty and conscience — will be Trump’s enemy. With a little patience.

What have Republican leaders who bet the other way — on accommodation — lost in the process?

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of policy. During legislative debates on issues such as health care, Trump has been erratic, unfocused, impatient and frighteningly ignorant. His White House policy staff — some of whom are responsible and talented — try to work with Capitol Hill, but always under the threat that their efforts will be destroyed by a tweet. Congressional Republicans see the White House as a basket case, don’t think that any administration official speaks authoritatively for the president and increasingly fear entering the midterm elections entirely naked of accomplishment.

The wager has been a disaster in the realm of politics. The president takes it as an accomplishment to secure the support of about 35 percent of the public. This leaves Republicans in the worst of political worlds, where the intensity of Trump’s base is increased by words and policies that alienate the majority — making Trump a powerful force within the party and a scary, galvanizing figure beyond it. The damage is broad, profound and generational. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll recorded 26 percent approval for the president among those aged 18 to 34.

The wager has been a moral disaster. News accounts following Trump’s betrayal of Republican leaders on the debt limit reported them to be “livid.” What does it tell us about Republican politicians that they were livid about a three-month debt-limit extension but not so much about misogyny, nativism and flirtation with racism? Or maybe they were, but they still thought the wager might work. Such lack of wisdom and proportion is an indictment as well.

All Republican efforts — at least in the traditional wing of the party — must now be bent toward one, difficult end: establishing a GOP identity apart from Trump. And that will require Republican leaders to cease being complicit in their own humiliation and irrelevance.

President Trump is now holding the Republican Party hostage

Aaron Blake, reporting for the Washington Post:

President Trump waged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party’s presidential nomination last year. Now he’s holding the entire party hostage.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Trump inexplicably cut a deal on a short-term debt-ceiling increase with Democratic leaders, despite House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP leaders having denounced the idea. Then he took off for an event in North Dakota, where he effectively stuck their nose in it: “We walked out of there — Mitch [McConnell] and Paul and everybody, Kevin [McCarthy] — and we walked out and everybody was happy,” Trump insisted. Then, to top it all off, he invited Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — a top GOP target in 2018 — on stage and praised her as a “good woman.”

This is all hugely counterproductive for the Republican Party and has to have GOP leaders privately fuming. And it comes on the heels of Trump directly attacking Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and tangling with the two most vulnerable GOP senators up for reelection in 2018, Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

It’s no secret that Trump has never really had the interests of the Republican Party at heart. His party affiliation has always been subject to change, and he has never played ball with the GOP powers that be. He has instead forced them to bend to his will in the name of keeping the peace and not inflaming his passionate base of support. Those GOP leaders have also wagered that, whatever headaches came with embracing Trump, they would at least have a Republican president to enact conservative policies.

But it’s beginning to get ridiculous for GOP leaders. That bargain they struck with Trump was always a tenuous and uneasy one, and he’s now openly violating it. What’s more, he’s repeatedly and publicly undermining GOP efforts to grow their Senate majority — you know, the one he insists isn’t big enough so he needs to nuke the filibuster — in multiple 2018 races.

More here.

If you live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Trump distances himself from GOP lawmakers to avoid blame if agenda stalls

Via The Washington Post:

President Trump is strategically separating himself from Republicans in Congress, an extraordinary move to deflect blame if the GOP agenda continues to flounder.

Trump deepened the fissures in the party on Thursday when he accused the top two leaders on Capitol Hill of mismanaging a looming showdown over the nation’s borrowing authority. Republican lawmakers and aides responded to the president’s hostility with broadsides and warnings of their own.

Frustrated by months of relative inaction at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue and emboldened by his urge to disrupt the status quo, Trump is testing whether his own political following will prove more potent and loyal than that of his party and its leaders in both houses of Congress.

The growing divide comes at an inopportune moment for Washington, however. In addition to having to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a fiscal crisis, Republicans face September deadlines to pass a spending bill to avert a government shutdown, as well as pressure to fulfill a key Trump campaign promise to rewrite the nation’s tax laws.

Behind the scenes, some Republican staff members described a more functional relationship between aides and lawmakers on Capitol Hill and White House officials. But in public, Trump is waging war against lawmakers. With a pair of morning tweets, he said he asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to include a debt-ceiling increase in a recent veterans bill.

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval,” he wrote. “They . . . didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy — now a mess!”

In a later tweet, the president slammed McConnell for not being able to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. “That should NEVER have happened!” he wrote.

Trump is railing against Republicans because he thinks it will help him politically down the road, for instance during a 2020 reelection bid, said one outside adviser to the White House.

If Republicans lose the House in the 2018 midterm elections, as several White House advisers have warned the president, Trump can say, “See, I told you these guys wouldn’t get anything done. I’ve been saying this for months. They’re not following my agenda,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

Roger Stone, an ally of and former political adviser to Trump, put it this way: “The Trump brand and the Republican brand are two different things. What happened the last time the establishment tried to face him down? They got crushed.”

If Republicans lose the House, however, Trump could face greater peril than a difficult 2020 election: a Democratic majority eager to pursue impeachment and with subpoena power to conduct investigations.

For many GOP lawmakers, the justification for not fully breaking from Trump has been the promise of trying to salvage key parts of the party’s agenda. But now, they are increasingly resigning themselves to the reality that they will be largely on their own. One Senate GOP aide likened it to “being handed the keys to the car.”

As a result, they have grown increasingly hostile toward the president.

“It doesn’t help at this point, with a September coming up that is very consequential, to be throwing rocks at one another,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.). He added: “You don’t, I think, do a lot of good by torching your teammates, particularly by name, individually.”

Said the Senate GOP aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid: “The sense you get is ‘We’re going to have to figure this out.’ We’re just going to assume we’re not going to get any help from the White House.”

Some White House aides have shown little sympathy toward GOP lawmakers who have made harsh remarks about Trump. Asked Thursday to respond to recent comments by Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) doubting the president’s competence and stability to lead, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I think that’s a ridiculous and outrageous claim and doesn’t dignify a response from this podium.”

The relationship between Trump and McConnell, meanwhile, has become increasingly acerbic in recent weeks, in private and public. But as details have surfaced in news reports, McConnell has tried to project unity even as some Republicans have said tensions are still raw.

Much more here.

‘We should call evil by its name’: Republicans are standing up to Trump more directly than ever on Charlottesville

Amber Phillips, reporting for the Washington Post:

When President Trump issued his travel ban a few days into his presidency, at least eight Senate Republicans opposed it. When he fired his FBI director in May, more than a dozen Senate Republicans openly questioned it. When Trump prodded senators to vote for an Obamacare repeal bill, three of them didn’t. When Trump urged Republicans to try again or risk being labeled failures, they ignored him. When Trump started attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week, a handful of them went out of their way to publicly back McConnell.

And with Charlottesville on its knees this weekend as protests led by white supremacists turned deadly, Senate Republicans had their most overt conflict with the president yet.

A number of Senate Republicans criticized nothing less than the way Trump chose to be president Saturday. They publicly and directly condemned his words and action. More specifically, they criticized his lack of words and actions to clearly and forcefully denounce the white supremacy roiling Charlottesville’s streets and seizing the nation’s attention.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement.

There’s no nuance in those statements, no need to read between the lines. These Republicans think the president did a bad job being president in the midst of a violent, fraught crisis. Their criticism carries extra heft when you consider that these lawmakers mostly weren’t prodded by reporters, microphones thrust in their faces, to say any of this. Congress is on break, so wherever in the world these lawmakers were, they made the proactive decision Saturday to go on Twitter — or call up their staff to write a statement — and criticize the president.

This moment has echoes of the release of the crude “Access Hollywood” tape in the last month of the 2016 presidential campaign. These senators would probably rather not get into it with the leader of their party, but they feel as if he has done something so egregious that they have no choice but to speak out.

Making their criticism of Trump even more notable: Just a few days ago came a tangible warning of the consequences that criticizing Trump can bring. After Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) wrote a book declaring that his party is in denial about Trump, a pro-Trump donor wrote one of the senator’s primary challengers a $300,000 check.

Not everyone who spoke out Saturday has as much on the line as Flake. Most aren’t even up for reelection in 2018. (Though Gardner is the chairman of Senate Republicans’ reelection committee.)

And liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up that this means Republicans are suddenly on the impeachment path. But the past few months, and especially this weekend, make clear that Republicans in Congress are increasingly comfortable confronting their president in more direct ways.

Trump steps up attacks on McConnell for failure on health-care reform

John Wagner, writing for the Washington Post:

President Trump on Thursday stepped up criticism of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not muscling through a health-care bill, escalating an extraordinary fight with a key leader of his own party.

“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!”

Trump’s morning tweet came less than 24 hours after he first went after McConnell on Twitter, taking issue with remarks the Kentucky Republican made earlier in the week suggesting that Trump’s lack of political experience had led to“excessive expectations” for passing major legislation.

Trump has remained bitter about the failure of congressional Republicans to pass a bill overhauling the Affordable Care Act, a pledge the party has made since 2010 and a marquee campaign promise for Trump.

The sparring with McConnell was the latest sign of increasingly strained relations between Trump and Republicans in Congress, who have had few victories since January despite the GOP’s control of the White House and both the House and Senate.

Since the collapse of a health-care bill, Trump has belittled GOP senators as looking like “fools” and suggested they change the chamber’s rules to make it easier to pass bills.

The president’s attacks on a leader popular among Senate Republicans comes as lawmakers are poised to try to tackle other shared — but challenging — priorities in the fall, including tax reform, as well as craft a budget and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“Discerning a particular strategy or goal from these tweets is hard,” said Doug Heye, a Republican consultant and former Capitol Hill staffer. “It just doesn’t help enact any part of his agenda, and it sends a further troubling sign to Capitol Hill Republicans already wary of the White House.”

Heye said that with Trump’s job approval numbers declining among the Republican base, “now is the time to build support within the party.”

In his remarks on Monday to the Rotary Club of Florence, Ky., McConnell said, “Our new president had of course not been in this line of work before.” He added: “I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”

McConnell said people think Congress is underperforming partly because “artificial deadlines, unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating, may not have been fully understood.”

Trump on Wednesday publicly rejected that notion while on a 17-day working vacation at his private golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

“Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so,” the president wrote on Twitter. “After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?”

Earlier Wednesday, Dan Scavino Jr., the White House social media director, also went after McConnell on Twitter.

“More excuses,” wrote Scavino, an outspoken Trump loyalist. “@SenateMajLdr must have needed another 4 years — in addition to the 7 years — to repeal and replace Obamacare…..”

Sean Hannity, a Fox News host often sympathetic to Trump, also weighed in following McConnell’s remarks, writing on Twitter: “@SenateMajLdr No Senator, YOU are a WEAK, SPINELESS leader who does not keep his word and you need to Retire!”

Can this marriage be saved? Relationship between Trump, Senate GOP hits new skids.

Sean Sullivan, reporting for the Washington Post:

The relationship between President Trump and Senate Republicans has deteriorated so sharply in recent days that some are openly defying his directives, bringing long-simmering tensions to a boil as the GOP labors to reorient its stalled legislative agenda.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced Tuesday that he would work with his Democratic colleagues to “stabilize and strengthen” the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act, which the president has badgered the Senate to keep trying to repeal. Alexander also urged the White House to keep up payments to insurers that help low-income consumers afford plans, which Trump has threatened to cut off.

Several Republican senators have sought to distance themselves from the president, who has belittled them as looking like “fools” and tried to strong-arm their agenda and browbeat them into changing a venerated rule to make it easier to ram through legislation along party lines.

Some are describing the dynamic in cold, transactional terms, speaking of Trump as more of a supporting actor than the marquee leader of the Republican Party. If he can help advance their plans, then great, they say. If not, so be it.

“We work for the American people. We don’t work for the president,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said. He added, “We should do what’s good for the administration as long as that does not in any way, shape or form make it harder on the American people.”

The friction underscores the challenge Republicans face headed into the fall. As they seek to move beyond a failed health-care effort in pursuit of an elusive, first big legislative win, the same infighting that has plagued them all year threatens to stall their push to rewrite the nation’s tax laws, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he wants to do beginning in September and finish by year’s end.

While some Republicans try to tune out what they see as distracting and sometimes destructive rhetoric and action from Trump, they recognize that they cannot fully disavow him without also dashing their hopes of implementing the conservative policies they championed in the campaign.

For many Republican senators, the challenge is trying to walk an increasingly fine line.

As public opinion polls show a decline in Trump’s approval rating, some Republican senators have sought to address difficult questions about what the president’s diminishing popularity means for his mandate by insisting that congressional Republicans, not Trump, are the ones driving the GOP agenda.

“Ever since we’ve been here, we’ve really been following our lead,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). After ticking through major Republican initiatives so far, he added, “Almost every bit of this has been 100 percent internal to Congress.”

Senate GOP leaders have openly flouted Trump’s attempts to steer them back to repealing and replacing the ACA, an endeavor that collapsed in failure last week. On Tuesday, McConnell laid out the rest of the Senate’s plans before adjourning for the summer recess. Health care was not among them.

Instead, Alexander signaled he would go around the president. He and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced they would hold fall hearings to shore up the individual health insurance markets. It was the most concrete sign yet of bipartisan work in the Senate on strengthening the existing health-care law, and it followed a proposal offered Monday by a bipartisan group of 43 House members.

Much more here.

Senate Republicans’ effort to ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare all but collapses

Via The Washington Post:

Senate Republicans all but admitted defeat Tuesday in their seven-year quest to overturn the Affordable Care Act, acknowledging that they lacked the votes to make good on their vow to “repeal and replace” President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment.

Hours after GOP leaders abandoned a bill to overhaul the law known as Obamacare, their fallback plan — a proposal to repeal major parts of the law without replacing them — quickly collapsed. A trio of moderate Republicans quashed the idea, saying it would irresponsibly snatch insurance coverage from millions of Americans.

“I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” tweeted Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who joined Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in opposing immediate repeal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who spent weeks trying to knit together his fractious caucus in support of the original GOP legislation, said he would nonetheless schedule a vote “early next week” on the repeal plan. But he appeared to acknowledge that it seemed doomed.

“This has been a very, very challenging experience for all of us,” McConnell told reporters. “It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement.”

The collapse of the effort marks a devastating political defeat for congressional Republicans and for President Trump, who had pledged to roll back the Affordable Care Act on “Day One” of his presidency.

It also leaves millions of consumers who receive health insurance through the law in a kind of administrative limbo, wondering how their care will be affected now that the program is in the hands of government officials who have rooted openly for its demise.

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters in the White House’s Roosevelt Room that he now plans to “let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier.” That way, he said, his party would bear no political responsibility for the system’s collapse.

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it,” the president said. “I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us” to fix it.

But Trump’s comments appeared to ignore the many Republican lawmakers who are anxious about depriving their constituents of federal benefits on which they now rely. The president invited all 52 Republican senators to join him for lunch Wednesday at the White House to try to get the repeal effort back on track.

Senate leaders have been struggling to devise a plan to overhaul Obamacare since the House passed its version of the legislation in May, a flawed bill that some House members openly invited the Senate to fix. With just 52 seats, McConnell could afford to lose the support of only two members of his caucus — and even then would rely on Vice President Pence to break the tie.

The measure he produced would have scaled back key federal insurance regulations and slashed Medicaid deeply over time. But it did not go far enough for many conservative Republicans, who wanted to roll back more of the ACA’s mandates on insurers.

And the bill went much too far for many moderates, especially Republicans from states that had taken advantage of the ACA’s offer to expand Medicaid eligibility. The bill would have cut Medicaid funding and phased out its expansion in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Some senators worried that their states would be saddled with the unpalatable choice of cutting off people’s health coverage or shouldering a massive new financial burden.

“This is the Senate. Leadership sets the agenda, but senators vote in the interests of their states,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) offered a blunt assessment of why the effort fell short: “We are so evenly divided, and we’ve got to have every Republican to make things work, and we didn’t have every Republican,” he said.

Two Republicans — Collins, a moderate, and conservative Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) — declared late last week that they could not support the latest version of the bill. Late Monday night, as six of their colleagues talked health-care strategy with Trump over dinner at the White House, conservative Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) announced that they, too, would oppose the bill, and the measure was dead.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), whose job is to count votes, said he had “no idea” Lee was defecting until he left the White House meeting — though he had gotten a heads up from Moran.

Much more here.

 

Two more Senate Republicans oppose health-care bill, leaving it without enough votes to pass

Sean Sullivan and Lenny Bernstein, reporting for the Washington Post:

Two more Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to the latest plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, potentially ending a months-long effort to make good on a GOP promise that has defined the party for nearly a decade and been a top priority for President Trump.

Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Jerry Moran (Kan.) issued statements declaring that they would not vote for the revamped measure. The sudden breaks by Lee, a staunch conservative, and Moran, an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), rocked the GOP leadership and effectively closed what already had been an increasingly narrow path to passage for the bill.

They joined Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Susan Collins (Maine), who also oppose it. With just 52 seats, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes to pass their proposed rewrite of the Affordable Care Act. All 46 Democrats and two independents are expected to vote against it.

In a pair of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump decried the defections, called for letting the Affordable Care Act “fail” and vowed to keep pushing for a GOP plan.

“We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” he wrote in the first tweet.

He followed that with: “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

Republicans, who have made rallying cries against President Barack Obama’s 2010 health-care law a pillar of the party’s identity, may be forced to grapple with the law’s shift from a perennial GOP target to an accepted, even popular, provider of services and funding in many states, which could make further repeal revivals difficult.

Meanwhile, Trump and other Republicans will confront a Republican base that, despite fervent support for the president, still seeks a smaller federal government and fewer regulations.

All of these forces remained vexing factors Monday as senators bailed on the bill. And no evident solution was offered by the White House — which has been limited in its sale of the GOP plan — or from McConnell, for how to bring together a party in which moderates and conservatives are still deeply divided over the scope of federal health-care funding and regulations.

McConnell did announce late Monday that he plans to push for a vote in the coming days anyway, but with a catch: senators would be voting to start debate on the unpopular House-passed bill. McConnell has promised to amend the bill to a pure repeal, but with no guarantee that such an amendment would pass.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Lee said in a statement.

Moran said the bill “fails to repeal the Affordable Care Act or address healthcare’s rising costs.”

The two senators timed the release of their statements and made clear that modest tinkering around the edges of the legislation drafted by McConnell would not be enough to meet their demands.

They joined a pair of GOP colleagues in calling for a complete redrawing of the legislation that would take many months, short-circuiting McConnell’s wish to end the debate this month.

The news threw the effort to pass the legislation into turmoil, with additional Republicans weighing in on Twitter about a flawed process that must take a new direction. Trump tweeted that “Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan.”

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) called for a “new approach” while Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.) tweeted, “Time for full repeal.” White House aides, meanwhile, said they still plan to press ahead.

Much more here.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans prefer Obamacare to Republican replacements

Philip Bump, writing in the Washington Post:

Republicans racing to pass a bill that would overhaul the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) certainly understand that their efforts aren’t polling well. In survey after survey, a majority of respondents view their legislative proposals unfavorably. At the same time, survey after survey shows Obamacare as more popular than not.

In the new Post-ABC News poll released Sunday, we decided to ask the question directly: Which do you prefer, Obamacare or the Republican replacement plans?

By a 2-to-1 margin — 50 percent to 24 percent — Americans said they preferred Obamacare.

There’s a split by party, as you might expect, with Democrats broadly favoring the existing law and Republicans the latter. But that split wasn’t even, with 77 percent of Democrats favoring the legislation passed in 2010 by their party and only 59 percent of Republicans favoring their party’s solution. Independents in this case came down on the side of the Democrats, with 49 percent favoring the existing law vs. 20 percent backing the GOP alternative.

What’s more, roughly 6-in-10 Democrats and a third of independents strongly prefer Obamacare. Only 43 percent of Republicans strongly prefer their party’s proposal.

Some respondents, unprompted, said they preferred some other proposal, or neither. One-in-10 Democrats offered one of those responses, while about 2-in-10 Republicans and independents did.

More worrisome for Republicans hoping to pass a new bill is how the support broke out by demographic. Only among Republicans, conservatives, white evangelicals and white men without college degrees did more Americans support the GOP bill than Obamacare. In every other group analyzed, including older respondents and white women without college degrees — an important part of President Trump’s voting base in 2016 — backed the existing law by some margin.

Much more here.

Republicans thought they could force 2018 Democrats to cut deals, but Trump keeps sliding in polls

Paul Kane, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Republicans began this year thinking that they had leverage over some Democrats, particularly the 10 up for reelection next year in states that President Trump won in the fall.

Those Democrats, some GOP strategists believed, would want to work with the president to appeal to enough Trump voters to win their states in November 2018.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Trump’s standing has slipped in many of these states. The president has faced legislative gridlock and a deepening investigation of his campaign’s connections to Russia. His focus, in public appearances and on social media, has regularly drifted away from the policy agenda on Capitol Hill.

That’s left Senate Democrats feeling stronger than they expected to be eight months after their highly disappointing showing in 2016, which left them in the minority and heading into 2018 defending 25 seats compared with Republicans’ eight.

If Trump had spent his first six months increasing or even maintaining his popularity in these states, he might have struck enough political fear in these 2018 Democrats to compel them to support some of his initiatives.

That’s looking more and more like the sort of negotiation that will happen only if Democrats can command a good deal in return.

The dynamic is sure to test Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the months ahead, particularly if Republicans fail to muster the votes solely from their side of the aisle to repeal chunks of the Affordable Care Act. McConnell has warned that such an outcome will force him to work with Democrats to shore up imploding insurance markets.

“No action is not an alternative,” McConnell said Thursday while in Kentucky.

Beyond the health-care fight, McConnell has also made clear that there are many other agenda items that will require the traditional 60-vote threshold to choke off filibusters, meaning he needs at least eight Democrats to move legislation such as annual government funding bills and an increase in the government’s borrowing authority.

But the bargaining table is different now.

Take Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), whose state delivered a critical victory for Trump, the first by a GOP presidential nominee since 1984.

A staunch liberal, Baldwin began the year expecting her 2018 reelection bid to be a 50-50 prospect. Her state had voted Republican three straight times for governor and in two of the past three Senate races.

Trump has used the presidential bully pulpit to focus on the Badger State, making three trips there since November. But his visits have done little to boost his standing.

Just 41 percent of Wisconsin voters approved of Trump’s job performance in late June, while 51 percent disapproved, according to a poll by Marquette Law School.

On basic popularity, Trump is easily the most disliked politician among Wisconsin voters, with 54 percent holding an unfavorable view of him and 40 percent a favorable one.

Baldwin’s image is not great, but it is far better in Wisconsin’s eyes than Trump: 38 percent have a favorable view and 38 percent unfavorable.

It’s the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania, both states Trump narrowly won. In Michigan, just 35 percent of voters approved of his job performance in a late May poll conducted by EPIC-MRA, with 61 percent disapproving. In Pennsylvania, 37 percent supported his job performance while 49 percent did not, according to a May poll by Franklin & Marshall College.

More here.

‘Repeal and replace’ was once a unifier for the GOP. Now it’s an albatross.

Dan Balz, reporting for the Washington Post:

For Republicans, Obamacare was always the great unifier. In a fractious party, everyone agreed that the Affordable Care Act was the wrong solution to what ailed the nation’s health-care system, with too much government and too little freedom for consumers.

Replacing Obamacare has become the party’s albatross, a sprawling objective still in search of a solution. The effort to make good on a seven-year promise has cost the Trump administration precious months of its first year in office, with tax restructuring backed up somewhere in the legislative pipeline, infrastructure idling somewhere no one can see it and budget deadlines looming.

Republicans have been here before on health care, on the brink and scratching for votes. The House eventually found a way through this political and substantive maze. Now it’s left to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to find the puzzle pieces and President Trump, perhaps, to supply some muscle, lest the GOP be forced to admit failure on the party’s top legislative priority.

Was it only Monday that Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) boldly declared there would be no turning back this week, that the Senate health-care bill would be put to a vote before lawmakers leave for the July 4 recess? “I am closing the door,” he tweeted. “We need to do it this week.” So much for that.

If it was a bluff by the leaders, other Republican senators called it. McConnell, a shrewd legislative poker player, quickly folded Tuesday. Instead of moving forward, the bill is now on ice. The original Senate leadership plan called for negotiations in secret by a small group, springing the results on the other members and forcing a quick vote before outside opponents could mobilize. Instead, the calculation that time was of the essence crashed into the reality of vote counting. The new calculus is that delay is better than defeat.

But will more time help to melt away the opposition? It did in the House, after the sudden and spectacular collapse of the leadership’s bill hours before a scheduled vote in late March. By early May, after weeks of negotiations between Freedom Caucus conservatives and members of the less-conservative Tuesday Group, the House approved a bill. The president was so hungry for even a partial victory that he held a ceremony of celebration with House members in the Rose Garden. Later, he privately and then publicly called that House bill “mean,” and it was left to the Senate to make amends.

In a worst-of-all-worlds environment, Republicans continue to struggle with what they’re selling, beyond the stated goal of repealing or revising the Affordable Care Act. Whatever overarching arguments they hope to make on behalf of their legislation have been lost in a welter of competing claims and demands among senators with different priorities and dissimilar ideological viewpoints.

Much more here.

Who’s afraid of Trump? Not enough Republicans — at least for now.

Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, reporting for the Washington Post:

Scrambling to line up support for the Republican health-care bill, President Trump got on the phone Monday with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and urged him to back the measure.

The president’s personal plea was not enough. On Tuesday, Lee said he would vote against the bill. Senate GOP leaders later postponed the planned health-care vote because too many other Republican senators also opposed — for now, at least — legislation that would deliver on Trump’s campaign promise to scale back the law known as Obamacare.

Trump had hoped for a swift and easy win on health care this week. Instead he got a delay and a return to the negotiating table — the latest reminder of the limits of his power to shape outcomes at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

History suggests that presidents who have governed successfully have been both revered and feared. But Republican fixtures in Washington are beginning to conclude that Trump may be neither, despite his mix of bravado, threats and efforts to schmooze with GOP lawmakers.

The president is the leader of his party, yet Trump has struggled to get Republican lawmakers moving in lockstep on health care and other major issues, leaving no signature legislation in his first five months in office. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch is his most-cited achievement to date.

“This president is the first president in our history who has neither political nor military experience, and thus it has been a challenge to him to learn how to interact with Congress and learn how to push his agenda better,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who opposes the current health-care bill.

The Senate could pass a revised version of the bill once lawmakers return from their July 4 recess and pick up deliberations. Still, some Republicans are willing to defy their president’s wishes — a dynamic that can be attributed in part to Trump’s singular status as a disrupter within his party.

“The president remains an entity in and of itself, not a part of the traditional Republican Party,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a moderate who represents a district Trump lost by 16 percentage points. “I handle the Trump administration the same way I handled the Obama administration. When I agree, I work with them. When I oppose, I don’t.”

In private conversations on Capitol Hill, Trump is often not taken seriously. Some Republican lawmakers consider some of his promises — such as making Mexico pay for a new border wall — fantastical. They are exhausted and at times exasperated by his hopscotching from one subject to the next, chronicled in his pithy and provocative tweets. They are quick to point out how little command he demonstrates of policy. And they have come to regard some of his threats as empty, concluding that crossing the president poses little danger.

“The House health-care vote shows he does have juice, particularly with people on the right,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said. “The Senate health-care vote shows that people feel that health care is a defining issue and that it’d be pretty hard for any politician to push a senator into taking a vote that’s going to have consequences for the rest of their life.”

Asked if he personally fears Trump, Graham chuckled before saying, “No.”

More here.

Trump likely to break many of his health-care promises — no matter what happens

John Wagner, Abby Phillip and Jenna Johnson, reporting for the Washington Post:

Donald Trump set himself apart from other Republican presidential candidates when it came to health care. Before taking office, he vowed “insurance for everybody” that would be “much less expensive and much better” and explicitly promised not to touch Medicaid, which millions of his working-class supporters rely upon to cover doctor’s visits and medication.

But as Republicans in the Senate press ahead with legislation that would dramatically cut Medicaid and scale back the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, it is increasingly clear that President Trump is almost certain to fall well short of fulfilling those promises.

Trump and congressional Republicans will likely hail any bill that reaches the president’s desk as the fulfillment of a long-standing pledge to “repeal and replace” the ACA, former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. But if the House and Senate agree on legislation along the lines of what is now being debated, millions — including some of Trump’s most ardent supporters — are projected to lose coverage, receive fewer benefits or see their premiums rise.

And if the health-care push stalls or falls apart, the president who campaigned for the White House as the ultimate dealmaker will be dealt a serious political blow — another example of Trump’s inability to move major legislation through Congress.

“He’s going to own it either way, whether he signs a bill or doesn’t get a bill,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Steele said passage of the legislation could hurt Trump politically as much as its failure. “You’re going to have a whole generation of people who had health care losing health care, and in many instances, they’re Trump voters. I think that’s a very risky play.”

* * *

“Conservatives should embrace the goal of universal coverage, and this bill makes enormous progress towards that goal,” said Avik Roy, a health-care expert who was critical of the House bill but supports the Senate’s version.

“Does this bill have heart?” Roy asked, citing a standard Trump recently articulated. “It absolutely does.”

Polls suggest Trump has a long way to go to make that case to voters.

Only 16 percent of adults believe that House bill is a good idea, while 48 percent say it’s a bad idea, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week. Even Republican respondents are lukewarm, with 34 percent viewing the bill positively and 17 percent viewing it negatively.

Doug Heye, a Republican consultant, argued that the president badly needs a legislative victory and that achieving a high-profile win should override concerns about the legislation’s impact.

“Those who are strong Trump supporters have remained so despite the controversies,” Heye said. “They still see Trump as someone willing to take on their fights.”

Interviews with Trump supporters who attended his campaign rally in Cedar Rapids suggest that many of them are dissatisfied with their health care — and many suspect Trump won’t fully deliver on his promises. But so far, they don’t seem inclined to blame him.

Much more here.

From Worse to Bad on Health Care

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times:

THE Obamacare replacement that the House sent to the Senate might as well have had a note scrawled across its pages: Save us from ourselves.

And the Senate bill, which just emerged from Mitch McConnell’s underground laboratories into the light of day, does indeed improve uponthe House’s bill in several important ways. But is that enough to make the new version an electoral winner for Republicans? Probably not: At best one might say that it’s a political suicide attempt that’s somewhat less likely to succeed. Is it enough to make it sound public policy? Again, I think not: There are good ideas worked in, but still too much needless callousness.

The best argument for the bill is twofold. First, it officially reconciles the Republican Party to the idea that the government should provide support for working-class health insurance — a necessary and overdue reconciliation. Second, it takes part of Obamacare’s basic structure — tax credits, pegged to income, to enable the lower-middle class and near poor to afford coverage — and uses it to further two of the more compelling conservative health policy objectives: higher-deductible plans (which tend to reduce health care cost inflation) rather than comprehensive ones (which exacerbate it), and subsidies for private insurance rather than Medicaid for the near-poor, because private coverage may deliver better health.

So far, so reasonable. Also reasonable: a loosening of age-based price controls to make the exchanges more viable, and the fact that the Senate’s bill’s income-based credits are less stingy than the House bill’s flat credit, and thus less likely to leave the poor and old with impossible premiums to pay.

But stinginess is still the essential problem for the Senate’s alternative. High-deductible insurance plans make less sense the poorer you get, which is why they should ideally be encouraged from the top of the income ladder down — through a cap on the tax subsidy for employer-provided insurance, ideally, a sound conservative idea left at the altar by this bill.

Pushing them from the bottom of society only makes sense if you’re also willing to pre-fund health savings accounts for the near-poor, so that they can actually hope to pay their out-of-pocket costs. But this costs money that Republicans prefer to reserve for tax cuts. So the bill’s attempted transition from Medicaid to private coverage would inevitably leave the people transitioning worse off, with deductibles that they couldn’t pay even if their choice of doctors were technically better.

Meanwhile the middle-class Americans most justifiably aggrieved by Obamacare — the people just above the subsidy cutoff, buying unsubsidized insurance that Obamacare made less affordable — will gain little from the bill, and because the subsidy ceiling is lowered (from 400 percent of poverty to 350 percent) their ranks will actually increase.

The House bill, flawed in so many respects, at least made an effort on this front, since its flat subsidy was available to the people currently getting hosed by Obamacare prices. But maintaining a smaller version of that subsidy would have, once again, cost money, so instead the health care law’s biggest losers will continue to lose out.

Politically, then, it’s very hard to see a clear constituency for this bill, apart from the mostly wealthy voters who will appreciate its rollback of Obamacare’s tax increases. Because it preserves more reasonable subsidies than the House bill and because its Medicaid drawdown happens in the distant 2020s — which is to say, perhaps never — it might not be an outright political catastrophe. But it’s still the act of a party dedicated primarily to rescuing the rich from their tax rates, rather than stewarding the common good.

The best conservative health policy analysis proceeds from the controversial but, I think, correct perspective that much health spending is wasted and that people do not value or benefit from insurance as much as liberal technocrats presume. That analysis lends support to some of the provisions in this bill. But a more holistic, less plutocratic conservatism would not stop there: In an environment where de-industrialization and social breakdown have driven the working class Trumpward, saying we should not oversubsidize their health insurance should be followed by saying so that we can find other ways to help them.

More here.

G.O.P. Senators, Pulling Away From Trump, Have ‘a Lot Less Fear of Him’

Jennifer Steinhauer, reporting for the New York Times:

Senate Republicans, increasingly unnerved by President Trump’s volatility and unpopularity, are starting to show signs of breaking away from him as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes.

Several Republicans have openly questioned Mr. Trump’s decision to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and even lawmakers who supported the move have complained privately that it was poorly timed and disruptive to their work. Many were dismayed when Mr. Trump seemed to then threaten Mr. Comey not to leak negative information about him.

As they pursue their own agenda, Republican senators are drafting a health care bill with little White House input, seeking to avoid the public relations pitfalls that befell the House as it passed its own deeply unpopular version. Republicans are also pushing back on the president’s impending budget request — including, notably, a provision that would nearly eliminate funding for the national drug control office amid an opioid epidemic. And many high-ranking Republicans have said they will not support any move by Mr. Trump to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

So far, Republicans have refrained from bucking the president en masse, in part to avoid undermining their intense push to put health care and tax bills on his desk this year. And the Republican leadership, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, remains behind Mr. Trump.

But with the White House lurching from crisis to crisis, the president is hampering Republicans’ efforts to fulfill his promises.

“All the work that goes into getting big things done is hard enough even in the most tranquil of environments in Washington,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican operative who worked for John A. Boehner when he was the House speaker. “But distractions like these can become a serious obstacle to aligning the interests of Congress.”

When Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party, lawmakers usually try to use the full weight of the presidency to achieve legislative priorities, through a clear and coordinated vision, patience with intransigent lawmakers and message repetition. Mr. Trump’s transient use of his bully pulpit for policy messaging has upended that playbook.

“It does seem like we have an upheaval, a crisis almost every day in Washington that changes the subject,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who has been trying to advance health care legislation, said in a television interview on Thursday night.

The latest subject-changing crisis has been the fallout from Mr. Trump’s sudden dismissal of Mr. Comey, who was leading the F.B.I.’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Trump suggested last week that he might have surreptitiously taped his conversations with Mr. Comey, and on Sunday two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the president should turn over any such tapes, if they exist.

* * *

In the days after Mr. Trump’s election victory, the mood was different, as Republicans expressed high hopes that they could move quickly on a conservative agenda that merged with Mr. Trump’s. “We’re going to be an enthusiastic supporter almost all the time,” Mr. McConnell said of Mr. Trump in November.

But Republicans have so far achieved few of their legislative priorities, like repealing the Affordable Care Act or cutting taxes. When Mr. Trump suggested this month that the Senate should change its rules to make it easier for Republicans to push bills through, Mr. McConnell firmly rejected the idea.

Lawmakers are also bucking the president by pushing ahead with bipartisan measures on sanctions against Russia. And this month, Republicans rejected many of the administration’s priorities in a short-term spending measure, including money for a wall along the border with Mexico.

Two Republican senators who face potentially tough re-election fights next year — Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona — have been unabashed in their criticism of Mr. Trump and his administration, which they have clearly begun to view as a drag on their political prospects.

“In Arizona, we grow them independent,” Mr. Flake said, noting the unpopularity in his state of Mr. Trump’s views on the border wall and Nafta. “I expect people want someone who will say, ‘I’m voting with Trump on the good stuff and standing up to him on the not good stuff.’”

Some Republicans, like Mr. Ryan, have preferred to keep the focus firmly on the good stuff. Mr. Ryan has remained in harmony with the president, last month calling him “a driven, hands-on leader, with the potential to become a truly transformational American figure.”

Much more here.