Immigration’s Sudden Re-Emergence Scrambles Republican Agenda

Jeremy W. Peters, writing for the New York Times:

Republican leaders had muscled through their failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act, punted on the perennial brinkmanship over the debt ceiling and finally reached the one issue that all of the party’s factions wanted to be on, tax reform.

Then, over a Chinese dinner at the White House with the two top Democrats on Capitol Hill, President Trump threw that momentary sense of satisfaction into disarray, forcing Republicans to confront the subject that packs more emotional and political force than anything they had on their busy agenda: immigration.

Virtually nothing can drive Republicans more bitterly apart than immigration policy, which has vexed the party ever since President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Republican leaders were scorched by the issue when President George W. Bush pushed it in his second term. The divisions re-emerged when President Barack Obama took it back up.

And now it re-enters the political bloodstream just when the party was desperate to demonstrate its ability to deliver on other complicated issues before lawmakers face voters next year, like lowering corporate and individual tax rates and revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Trump’s tentative agreement on Wednesday with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California to move forward on legislation to protect the legal status of young, undocumented immigrants and to delay, for now, a fight over the president’s promised border wall triggered anger and bewilderment on the right.

From talk radio studios to the halls of the Capitol, conservatives across the ideological spectrum seemed caught off guard by the president’s move, unsure what exactly he had agreed to, if anything at all.

“No one knows what the deal is,” said Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who expressed wariness about the agreement and spared no one in his criticism. “I am frustrated with all of Washington, and I make no exception.”

On Twitter, the conservative firebrand Ann Coulter was more blunt: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” Breitbart News gave the president a belittling nickname of his own: Amnesty Don.

Mr. Trump insisted at the White House on Thursday, “We’re not talking about amnesty at all,” and he tried to reassure rattled supporters that there would still be a wall. “The wall will happen.”

Much more here.

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.

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.

Behold the Trump boomerang effect

Fred Hiatt, reporting for the Washington Post:

Did your head spin when Utah’s Orrin Hatch, a true conservative and the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, emerged last week as the most eloquent spokesman for transgender rights? Credit the Trump boomerang effect.

Much has been said about White House dysfunction and how little President Trump has accomplished in his first six months. But that’s not the whole story: In Washington and around the world, in some surprising ways, things are happening — but they are precisely the opposite of what Trump wanted and predicted when he was sworn in.

The boomerang struck first in Europe. Following his election last November, and the British vote last June to leave the European Union, anti-immigrant nationalists were poised to sweep to power across the continent. “In the wake of the electoral victories of the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump, right-wing populism in the rich world has appeared unstoppable,” the Economist wrote. Russian President Vladimir Putin would gain allies, the European Union would fracture.

But European voters, sobered by the spectacle on view in Washington, moved the other way. In March, the Netherlands rejected an anti-immigrant party in favor of a mainstream, conservative coalition. In May, French voters spurned the Putin-loving, immigrant-bashing Marine Le Pen in favor of centrist Emmanuel Macron, who went on to win an overwhelming majority in Parliament and began trying to strengthen, not weaken, the E.U.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump belittled for having allowed so many refugees into her country, has grown steadily more popular in advance of a September election.

Trump’s win seemed certain to bring U.S.-Russian ties out of the deep freeze. Again, the opposite has happened. Congress, which can’t agree on anything, came close to unanimity last week in endorsing tough, Trump-proof sanctions against the Putin regime. Russia is expelling diplomats and seizing U.S. diplomatic properties. The new Cold War is colder than ever.

The third sure thing, once Republicans took control, was the quick demise of Obamacare. We saw last week how that turned out. But here’s the boomerang effect: Obamacare is not just hanging on but becoming more popular the more Trump tries to bury it. And if he now tries to mismanage Obamacare to its death, we may boomerang all the way to single-payer health insurance. This year’s debate showed that most Americans now believe everyone should have access to health care. If the private insurance market is made to seem undependable, the fallback won’t be Trumpcare. It will be Medicare for all.

Once you start looking, you find the boomerang at work in many surprising places. Trump’s flirting with a ban on Muslim immigration encouraged federal judges to encroach on executive power over visa policy. Firing FBI Director James B. Comey entrenched the Russia investigation far more deeply. Withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty spurred states from California to Virginia to toughen their policies on global warming. Threatening the research budget may have strengthened the National Institutes of Health’s hand in Washington. And so on.

The boomerang effect is no panacea. Trump can still do grave damage at home and abroad in the next 3½ years. If he undermined Obamacare, millions of people would suffer before we got to single-payer. Nationalist governments ensconced in parts of Eastern Europe could still draw strength from Trump. The absence of U.S. leadership in the world leaves ample ground for others to cause trouble.

More here.

The White House is imploding

Ruth Marcus, reporting for the Washington Post:

The Trump White House is imploding. The only real thing to debate in that sentence is the tense. “Has imploded” is certainly arguable. Still, as the events of the past few days have shown, implosion, in politics as in physics, is not a moment but a process. The damage continues. It builds on itself as the edifice collapses.

The temptation, of course, is to begin with Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci and his profane rant against soon-to-be-former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

But the more powerful, more ominous evidence of implosion and its consequences is found in the collapse of congressional efforts to repeal/replace/do something, anything, with the Republican Party’s chief nemesis over the past seven years: the Affordable Care Act.

Who could have imagined, on the day after the election, or even on Inauguration Day, that this would end so ignominiously?

You might be asking why the Senate’s failure to move repeal forward, by a single vote in the early morning hours, signifies presidential weakness. Indeed, back in the days when Donald Trump’s election seemed fanciful even as the Republican Party prepared to award him the nomination, GOP lawmakers offered a soothing vision of a Trump presidency: They would navigate the policy differences and political chasms and emerge with legislation to be duly signed by the inexperienced, compliant president. Health care, check. Tax reform, check. And so on.

That it didn’t work out that way, or certainly hasn’t so far, is evidence, in part, of the unavoidable complexities of health-care reform and the ideological schisms within the party.

But it also illustrates a truism of modern American politics: Moving forward with a complicated or ambitious legislative agenda requires the propulsive force of presidential leadership. Troops do not perform effectively without a general at the helm, a leader they both respect and fear.

A master legislative tactician such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can get you only so far; the rules of the Senate make it easier for McConnell to block (see, for example, the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland) than to enact. A president distracted by infighting, inattentive to detail and sagging in the polls can announce all he wants that “I am sitting in the Oval Office with a pen in hand.” No wobbly lawmaker is going to rally to that cry.

While health-care reform fizzled, Trump burned. First over his “weak” and “beleaguered” attorney general, then over the hapless, doomed-from-the-start Priebus. Will the president’s new choice for chief of staff, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, fare much better? Don’t count on it.

Daily, the president’s boundless anger seems to find a new target: He is variously unhappy with his lawyer/his strategist/his press secretary. There is always someone else for Trump to blame, never himself.

He constructed, enabled, even encouraged an organization lacking clear lines of authority and ridden with factions. “The fish stinks from the head down,” Scaramucci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, and while he meant to attack Priebus, he was more on target than he intended. As dogs have an uncanny tendency to resemble their owners, so Scaramucci channels Trump — bullying, vulgar, egotistical and undisciplined. In a week on the job, he has achieved the impossible: making us yearn for Sean Spicer.

Every new White House has its rocky moments and personnel readjustments, some more than others. Every White House suffers from factionalism and infighting, to some degree. But Washington and the country have never seen anything like this. The truest — and scariest thing — that Scaramucci said on CNN was that “there are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president.”

More here.

With health-bill collapse, Republicans face uncertain electoral future in 2018

David Weigel, reporting for the Washington Post:

As the seven-year Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act crashed on the threshold of the Senate, President Trump offered his party a rescue strategy. Step one: Blame Democrats. Step two: Win more seats and try again.

“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it,” said Trump. “In ’18, we’re going to have to get some more people elected. We have to go out and get more people elected that are Republicans.”

Trump made explicit what Republicans had been hoping since the repeal fight started — that whatever happened, voters would blame the Democrats for their health-care costs. It’s an audacious strategy that flies against current polling and electoral history. It counts on messaging, distracted voters and a built-in electoral advantage to guide the party past the rocks.

“The worm’s kind of turned on this issue,” said Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia who ran the party’s House campaign group in several cycles. “Republicans might have gotten a break by not seeing an unpopular law go into effect. Sometimes, having no law is better than having one that people perceive as bad law.”

By the time the Better Care Reconciliation Act tanked late Monday, Trump had repeatedly predicted that the “disaster” of the ACA would collapse, forcing Democrats to the bargaining table. The administration’s indecision on whether to keep funding subsidies for plans bought on ACA exchanges had been cited by many insurers announcing rate hikes or canceled plans — announcements that the administration cited as proof of collapse.

Polling, however, found most voters ready to blame Republicans for the rate hikes. An April survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 60 percent of voters opposed to using the subsidies as bargaining chips; even 28 percent of Republicans were opposed. Seventy-four percent of voters said they wanted the administration to “make the law work,” and 64 percent said that “President Trump and Republicans in Congress” would be accountable for “any problems.”

Even some Republicans who wanted to force Democrats to negotiate said that six months of negotiations had sapped the party’s momentum. “I advocated collapse and replace for months,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “But we’re so deep into this thing right now, I don’t even know if that’s a viable option.”

In interviews Tuesday, Democrats who face re-election in 2018 expressed disbelief at the idea that they, not Trump, would be held accountable for problems with the health-care system.

“I have a bill in that will stabilize the individual market, if they’d just allow the Senate to work,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee. “Let the committee chairs tackle this.” If premiums spiked, said Kaine, voters would look to “the party that’s governing, that refuses to allow a process that would bring premiums down.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who may be challenged by longtime ACA opponent Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), said that he was eager to work with Republicans on shoring up the subsidies. Voters back home, he said, clearly saw the Trump administration as the impediment to fixing the law.

“Let me tell you, people are coming out of the woodwork,” said Nelson. “I go to the Tampa Bay Rays game, I throw out the first pitch, and people are begging: Don’t let them take away my health care. People are onto this.”

Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in states won by Trump last year, a factor that Republicans once thought would scare incumbents into making deals. Instead, Democrats have grown more confident about their 2018 chances, with few top-tier candidates jumping into “Trump state” races, and credible Democrats running for seats in Nevada and Texas.

In all of those races, it’s not clear how “Obamacare” will play, or how Republicans will play it. From April through June, the GOP played a perfect game in four special House elections, winning by single digits in typically Republican districts. Yet for the first time since 2010, Obamacare repeal was not a focus of Republican ads and attacks.

Instead, Republicans moved closer to attacking Democrats on what they might want to build on top of the ACA. In Montana’s special election, that was the Medicare-for-all plan favored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). In a series of statements this month, the Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee went after Democrats on the estimated cost of creating a single-payer system, similar to Canada’s, in the United States. In districts where vulnerable Republicans had cast votes for repeal, putting them on the record for Medicaid cuts and high estimates of lost health insurance, Republicans would warn that Democrats wanted socialism.

“Their House primaries are starting to look like a ten-car pile-up and the activist base is screaming for Democrats to run on single-payer health care,” wrote NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt in a press release just hours before the Senate repeal push collapsed.

“They don’t want to get us off of the Obamacare train; they want to double-down on a failed system that is in the middle of a collapse,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “Ultimately, it’s very clear that they’re more interested a single-payer system which means government-run health care. Government-run health care is not in our nation’s interest.”

Other Republicans suggested that the health care issue could fade as the election approaches — an advantage for the party, so long as it doesn’t fumble on anything else it has promised.

“It’s more important for Republicans to do something on taxes,” said Davis. “If they can’t produce on that, then I think they have a problem.”

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.

Attack of the Republican Decepticons

Paul Krugman, reporting for the New York Times:

Does anyone remember the “reformicons”? A couple of years back there was much talk about a new generation of Republicans who would, it was claimed, move their party off its cruel and mindless agenda of tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor, bringing back the intellectual seriousness that supposedly used to characterize the conservative movement.

But the rise of the reformicons never happened. What we got instead was the (further) rise of the decepticons — not the evil robots from the movies, but conservatives who keep scaling new heights of dishonesty in their attempt to sell their reverse-Robin Hood agenda.

Consider, in particular, Republican leaders’ strategy on health care. At this point, everything they say involves either demonstrably dishonest claims about Obamacare or wild misrepresentations of their proposed replacement, which would — surprise — cut taxes for the rich while inflicting harsh punishment on the poor and working class, including millions of Trump supporters. In fact, there’s so much deception that I can’t cover it all. But here are a few low points.

Despite encountering some significant problems, the Affordable Care Act has, as promised, extended health insurance to millions of Americans who wouldn’t have had it otherwise, at a fairly modest cost. In states that have implemented the act as it was intended, expanding Medicaid, the percentage of nonelderly residents without insurance has fallen by more than half since 2010.

And these numbers translate into dramatic positive impacts on real lives. A few days ago the Indiana G.O.P. asked residents to share their “Obamacare horror stories”; what it got instead were thousands of testimonials from people whom the A.C.A. has saved from financial ruin or even death.

How do Republicans argue against this success? You can get a good overview by looking at the Twitter feed of Tom Price, President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — a feed that is, in its own way, almost as horrifying as that of the tweeter in chief. Price points repeatedly to two misleading numbers.

First, he points to the fact that fewer people than expected have signed up on the exchanges — Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces — and portrays this as a sign of dire failure. But a lot of this shortfall is the result of good news: Fewer employers than predicted chose to drop coverage and shift their workers onto exchange plans. So exchange enrollment has come in below forecast, but it mostly consists of people who wouldn’t otherwise have been insured — and as I said, there have been large gains in overall coverage.

More here.

McConnell says GOP must shore up ACA insurance markets if Senate bill dies

Juliet Eilperin and Samy Goldstein, reporting for the Washington Post:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that if his party fails to muster 50 votes for its plan to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, it will have no choice but to draft a more modest bill with Democrats to support the law’s existing insurance markets.

The remarks, made at a Rotary Club lunch in Glasgow, Ky., represent a significant shift for the veteran legislator. While he had raised the idea last week that Republicans may have to turn to Democrats if they cannot pass their own bill, his words mark the first time he has explicitly raised the prospect of shoring up the ACA.

“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur,” McConnell said. “No action is not an alternative. We’ve got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state.”

McConnell, who pledged in 2014 to eradicate the law also known as Obamacare “root and branch,” initially raised the prospect of having to work with Democrats last week after he pulled a measure he had crafted behind closed doors. That bill would jettison the ACA’s requirement that most individuals prove they have health coverage, would repeal or delay billions in taxes imposed under the current law and would make deep, long-term cuts to the nation’s Medicaid program.

But while he previously declared that Republicans “need to come up with a solution” if they wanted to make real changes to the nation’s health-care system, McConnell on Thursday acknowledged how difficult it is proving to craft an alternative that can satisfy the GOP’s conservative and centrist camps.

His suggestion that he and his colleagues might instead try to bolster the insurance exchanges created under the ACA is at odds with Republican talking points that they are beyond repair. The marketplaces were built for people who do not have access to affordable coverage through a job, and at last count slightly more than 10 million Americans had health plans purchased through the exchanges. More than 8 in 10 customers bought their plans with federal subsidies the law provides.

Until now, both congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have contended that the “collapse” of the ACA marketplaces is a main reason to erase much of the 2010 law.

* * *

Yet the Fourth of July recess has not bolstered the political prospects for McConnell’s legislation; GOP senators have been peppered with questions by constituents anxious about the potential impact on their coverage. In the past several days, some senators have implied that considerable work would still be required before the Better Care Reconciliation Act could pass the Senate.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), a conservative who has played a key role in the chamber’s health-care negotiations this year, said Wednesday during an appearance before a live audience at WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, “We’re still several weeks away from a vote, I think.”

On Thursday Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who opposed McConnell’s original draft bill, also voiced skepticism about the chances of reaching a consensus. “If we cannot bring the conference together and agree on repeal legislation, then I think President Trump’s absolutely right that we should pass a clean repeal,” Cruz told reporters, adding such a repeal should be delayed “either a year or two years” to allow time for a replacement.

Earlier in the day, Cruz said in an interview with KTSA radio in San Antonio that though he was feeling hopeful, “I don’t know if we get it done or not.” The situation, he said, “is precarious.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told a town hall meeting in rural Palco that “there are people who tell me they are better off” with the ACA, “and I believe them.” Moran, who said last week he did not support the GOP measure in its current form, called for “a national debate that includes legislative hearings. . . . It needs to be less politics and more policy.”

President Trump has repeatedly pronounced the ACA “dead.” And in contrast with their predecessors in the Obama administration, who talked up the law’s marketplaces, Health and Human Services officials have been issuing maps, detailing in red the number of U.S. counties in danger of being without marketplace offerings for 2018. The most recent map, released Wednesday, showed 40 “bare” counties in Ohio, Indiana and Nevada.

More here.