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.

Trump’s diehard supporters are fuming after an apparent about-face on ‘dreamers’

Robert Costa, reporting for the Washington Post:

Staunch conservative allies of President Trump erupted in anger and incredulity late Wednesday after Democrats announced the president had agreed to pursue a legislative deal that would protect thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation but not secure Trump’s signature campaign promise: building a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As midnight neared, thousands of social media accounts came alive as elected officials and activists on the right dashed off tweets and posts to share their shock.

And in between those posts, there was a flurry of fuming calls and text messages — a blaring political fire alarm among Trump’s diehard supporters.

“The reality is sinking in that Trump administration is on the precipice of turning into an establishment presidency,” Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser, said in an interview early Thursday morning.

While the initial wave of fury could change direction as new details emerge, the torrent represented the first major break of Trump’s devoted base from the president on a core issue.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the GOP’s biggest immigration hawks, issued a dramatic warning to the president after he scrolled through news reports.

“If AP is correct, Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair,” King tweeted, referencing an Associated Press story on the bipartisan agreement.

He added, “No promise is credible.”

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, who is friendly with Trump, mocked him for seeming to shelve the pledge that has animated his supporters since his campaign’s launch.

“Exactly what @realDonaldTrump campaigned on. Not,” Ingraham wrote on Twitter. She later added, “BUILD THE WALL! BUILD THE WALL! … or … maybe … not really.”

Trump tried to ease the GOP backlash early Thursday in a series of tweets that insisted the border wall “will continue to be built” and that no deal was hashed out with Democrats on the so-called undocumented “dreamers.”

“No deal was made last night on DACA. Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent. Would be subject to vote,” Trump wrote, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation.

Breitbart News, the conservative website now run by former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, quickly became a gathering place for aggrieved Trump backers. Readers congregated by the thousands in the comments section for an article with a bright red headline: “Amnesty Don.”

Days earlier, Bannon said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he was “worried about losing the House now because of this, because of DACA,” arguing that Republican voters would lack enthusiasm for Trump and the party if they felt it was drifting to the center on immigration.

“If this goes all the way down to its logical conclusion, in February and March it will be a civil war inside the Republican Party that will be every bit as vitriolic as 2013,” Bannon said, referencing the stalled fight that year over a comprehensive immigration bill. “And to me, doing that in the springboard of primary season for 2018 is extremely unwise.”

“This a betrayal of the highest order,” a Breitbart editor, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said in a phone call late Wednesday. “Donald Trump should be ashamed of himself. He wasn’t elected to do this.”

The editor was mostly echoed by the site’s readers:

“Put a fork in Trump. He is done.”

“PRIMARY TIME!!!!”

“What a HUGE let down.”

“I can reconcile Trump caving on virtually any issue, Amnesty and not building the wall are not one of them.”

Adding to the tumult in the deep of night: conflicting accounts over what exactly Trump and Democrats had brokered.

Aides to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) insisted that Trump had agreed not to request wall funding as part of their pact to soon move legislation to help undocumented immigrants who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive order established by President Obama in June 2012.

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.

McConnell, in Private, Doubts if Trump Can Save Presidency

Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, reporting for the New York Times:

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

A protracted government shutdown or a default on sovereign debt could be disastrous — for the economy and for the party that controls the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Yet Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell are locked in a political cold war. Neither man would comment for this article. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, noted that the senator and the president had “shared goals,” and pointed to “tax reform, infrastructure, funding the government, not defaulting on the debt, passing the defense authorization bill.”

Still, the back-and-forth has been dramatic.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

. . .

In a show of solidarity, albeit one planned well before Mr. Trump took aim at Mr. Flake, Mr. McConnell will host a $1,000-per-person dinner on Friday in Kentucky for the Arizona senator, as well as for Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who is also facing a Trump-inspired primary race next year, and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska. Mr. Flake is expected to attend the event.

Former Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a Republican who is close to Mr. McConnell, said frustration with Mr. Trump was boiling over in the chamber. Mr. Gregg blamed the president for undermining congressional leaders, and said the House and Senate would have to govern on their own if Mr. Trump “can’t participate constructively.”

“Failure to do things like keeping the government open and passing a tax bill is the functional equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded,” Mr. Gregg said.

Others in the party divide blame between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell. Al Hoffman, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee who has been supportive of Mr. McConnell, said Mr. McConnell was culpable because he has failed to deliver legislative victories. “Ultimately, it’s been Mitch’s responsibility, and I don’t think he’s done much,” Mr. Hoffman said.

But Mr. Hoffman predicted that Mr. McConnell would likely outlast the president.

“I think he’s going to blow up, self-implode,” Mr. Hoffman said of Mr. Trump. “I wouldn’t be surprised if McConnell pulls back his support of Trump and tries to go it alone.”

An all-out clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell would play out between men whose strengths and weaknesses are very different. Mr. Trump is a political amateur, still unschooled in the ways of Washington, but he maintains a viselike grip on the affections of the Republican base. Mr. McConnell is a soft-spoken career politician, with virtuoso mastery of political fund-raising and tactics, but he had no mass following to speak of.

Mr. McConnell, while baffled at Mr. Trump’s penchant for internecine attacks, is a ruthless pragmatist and has given no overt indication that he plans to seek more drastic conflict. Despite his private battles with Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has sent reassuring signals with his public conduct: On Monday, he appeared in Louisville, Ky., with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, for a discussion of tax policy.

Much, much more here.

What did you expect from Trump?

Jennifer Rubin, reporting for the Washington Post:

As we have noted, President Trump’s initial response to events is always the truest expression of his outlook. The scripts that follow are post-facto damage control by his staff and never stick. In the case of Trump’s remarks on the horrific events in Charlottesville — his third go-around — he not only undid his aides’ handiwork but also confessed the words he read on Monday didn’t represent his true views.

The Post reported: “First, he tried to argue that he initially hesitated to condemn the explicitly racist elements at Charlottesville only because he didn’t have enough information to do so.” When has Trump ever required facts to make an assertion? Indeed, after three days he decided that the facts as we all had seen them — neo-Nazis and white nationalists chanting anti-Semitic statements, bearing tiki torches, engaged in street battles, and one of their ilk committing an act of domestic terrorism, killing one and injuring dozens — didn’t really matter. He alone was convinced there was equivalence between the neo-Nazi and the protesters objecting to the white supremacist message. (“You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible,” he said. “And it was a horrible thing to watch. But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.”) But only one side killed someone, right? Trump did not make that distinction.

But he did somehow intuit that not all the people marching with neo-Nazis and white supremacists were bad guys. “I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. … But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know — they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.” Really, which of the Confederate- and Nazi-flag bearers were innocent, peaceful and just good people?

And to top it off, he equated Robert E. Lee, who waged war against the United States and fought to continue enslavement of fellow-human beings, with George Washington. Plainly, the New York education system, Fordham University and Wharton School of Business have failed Trump, promoting him without ensuring that he possessed basic reasoning skills and a grasp of American history. But in these institutions’ defense, he is unteachable, we have learned.

Republicans such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) re-upped their condemnation, but mere words fall on deaf ears. Unless and until Republicans are willing to censure the president, withhold endorsement for a second term and vigorously pursue avenues for impeachment, they are wasting their breath and our time.

How bad was his press conference? Well, when you lose Fox News you might as well throw in the towel. (Fox News’s Kat Timpf declared, “It’s honestly crazy for me to have to comment on this right now because I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life what I just watched. It was one of the biggest messes that I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it happened. . . . It shouldn’t be some kind of bold statement to say, ‘Yes, a gathering full of white supremacist Nazis doesn’t have good people in it. Those are all bad people, period.’”

We  should be clear on several points. First, it is morally reprehensible to serve in this White House, supporting a president so utterly unfit to lead a great country. Second, John F. Kelly has utterly failed as chief of staff; the past two weeks have been the worst of Trump’s presidency, many would agree. He can at this point only serve his country by resigning and warning the country that Trump is a cancer on the presidency, to borrow a phrase. Third, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have no excuses and get no free passes. They are as responsible as anyone by continuing to enable the president. Finally, Trump apologists have run out of excuses and credibility. He was at the time plainly the more objectionable of the two main party candidates; in refusing to recognize that they did the country great harm. They can make amends by denouncing him and withdrawing all support. In short, Trump’s embrace and verbal defense of neo-Nazis and white nationalists should be disqualifying from public service. All true patriots must do their utmost to get him out of the Oval Office as fast as possible.

‘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!”

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.”

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.

Despite Deep Policy Divides, Europe Trip Seen by Buoyant Trump as High Point

Glenn Thrush, reporting for the New York Times:

The rumble of police helicopters and armored riot trucks shook President Trump’s suite deep inside the convention center, but his staff found unexpected comfort as they watched on TV as protesters rampaged through the streets of Hamburg.

The anger outside, they noted with relief, was mostly directed at globalism, the Group of 20 and European leaders, not at Mr. Trump.

The president’s second trip to Europe since taking office was, on its surface, a turbulent and disquieting couple days. He visited a continent scrambling to cope with a profoundly altered power dynamic under his disruptive leadership, as the United States challenges the region’s liberal governments on climate change, defense, trade and immigration. Cars burned, diplomats fumed.

Yet to Mr. Trump and his battered band of advisers, the discord inside and around the complex housing the summit meeting was someone else’s problem.

It was by no means an unqualified success.

Mr. Trump’s hard-line policy against abiding by international limits on greenhouse gas emissions made him an outlier among many of the other G-20 leaders here. His pressure on Germany over its contributions to NATO and his positions on immigration and trade have made him wildly unpopular here. His threat to impose tariffs on foreign steel prompted European officials to float the idea of taxing American bourbon imports. And he continued to flout tradition by trashing American institutions overseas, criticizing the press in the presence of leaders who have cracked down on the media in their own countries.

“This trip puts into stark relief how the U.S. has relinquished its role as the indispensable nation,” said Brian Fallon, the press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

To much of the rest of the world, the gathering underscored the administration’s growing distance with, and isolation from, the other G-20 members.

But from the perspective of Mr. Trump’s team, the trip to Poland and Germany turned out to be a surprising early high point in his presidency, providing a brief but welcome respite from the forever wars in Washington. It left the president, who had been less than enthusiastic about coming, buoyant and feeling that there might still be a market for his hard-edge brand of conservative nationalism in supposedly inhospitable Europe after all.

“This week’s trip gave the country a very clear sense of the president’s foreign policy philosophy and reiterated the long-term objective of restoring America’s greatness on the world stage,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign aide who still advises the president and his staff informally.

Mr. Trump returns to a deteriorating domestic situation, facing months of investigations into whether people in campaign colluded with Russia and what appears to be the decreasing likelihood that a deeply divided Senate majority can quickly pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But he’ll always have Warsaw. The apex of the trip from the president’s perspective — and one of the most personally satisfying episodes of his term so far — was Mr. Trump’s powerful invocation of Western exceptionalism to a crowd of like-minded Polish nationalists on Thursday.

The speech was a blunt expression of Western defiance in the face of radical Islamic terrorism. It cast Mr. Trump as a modern-day inheritor of that struggle, a willing warrior in a clash of civilizations.

“The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive,” said Mr. Trump, dwarfed by a huge monument to ragtag Polish partisan army soldiers wearing helmets taken from dead German soldiers. “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

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.