President Trump isn’t the first American politician to step on his own applause lines.
The President should have been reveling in what were the best moments of his presidency Tuesday afternoon. No indictment by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mr. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency for a border wall remained in tact. As the President lunched at the Capitol with Republican senators, the House of Representatives stumbled to override his veto of a measure to terminate the national emergency.
Later on Tuesday, senators would cast ballots on a procedural vote to start debate on the Green New Deal, drafted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., engineered the roll call to shine a spotlight on Ocasio-Cortez’s climate change blueprint. McConnell wanted to bait Senate Democrats -- vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination -- into taking a stand on Ocasio-Cortez’s controversial gambit.
And then the President offered this nugget to reporters as he ducked into the Senate GOP lunch:
“The Republican party will soon be known as the part of health care,” boasted Mr. Trump.
You’ll excuse the dry cleaning bills of Republican senators who rushed their neckties to the drycleaners after nearly choking on their Senate bean soup in the luncheon.
This came just hours after the Justice Department announced it would attempt to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) in court.
“The human costs of this decision will be profound,” suggested Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a moderate Democrat who represents a state President Trump won by 42 points, carrying all 55 counties. “Twenty million Americans will be left without the health insurance they rely on. The 133 million Americans and 800,000 West Virginians with a pre-existing condition will be at risk of losing their access to health insurance.”
ObamaCare has never been popular. Republicans bristle about the health care law. But Republicans have been particularly maladroit when it comes to ditching the ACA. Republicans chanted “repeal and replace” for nearly a decade. They’ve gotten nowhere. Multiple efforts to pass another health care measure swerved violently into the political ditch.
“The President has offered no plan. None,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “He talks about it. He doesn’t do anything about it – which is true of so much of the legislation he has talked about.”
“They simply cannot help themselves,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., about the GOP’s latest charge to unwind ObamaCare. “Republicans have shown their true colors.”
The very existence and staying power of ObamaCare perturbs Republicans. There’s a reason why the President tore again into the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a few weeks ago on Twitter. Mr. Trump never forgave McCain for the vote he took nearly two years ago to scuttle the GOP’s repeal and replace effort. McCain’s decision stung President Trump, handing him one of the biggest defeats of his term.
“Remember, in (President) Trump’s mind, ending ObamaCare is about exacting revenge on McCain,” said one source who asked they not be identified.
On Wednesday, the President bragged that “if the Supreme Court rules that ObamaCare is out, we will have a plan that is better than ObamaCare.”
But how does this happen? Congressional Republicans could never coalesce around their own plan to take the place of the ACA. All Republicans could agree upon was repeal. The GOP House finally muscled through a replacement health care package after a lengthy fight. But it died in the Senate. Does the President implement a new plan by executive order? Declare a national emergency, bypassing Congress yet again?
“It’s ridiculous. Ridiculous,” chafed Manchin. “Why this administration would go down that path and throw it out completely when they couldn’t do it legislatively is unconscionable.”
“I am vehemently opposed to the administration seeking to invalidate the entire ACA,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who faces a competitive 2020 re-election in a battleground state. “The answer is for the administration to work with Congress and present a plan to replace and fix the law, not through the courts and seek to invalidate it all together.”
Perhaps President Trump is simply seizing the customary Republican posture when it comes to health care. Mr. Trump has long pushed to repeal ObamaCare. And now he doesn’t have (yet) a bill to replace it.
That’s how things have gone for Republicans on health care for a while. It also explains the private reluctance of many GOPers to drift down the perilous health care path again.
Congressional Republicans have taken dozens of votes over the past decade to repeal ObamaCare. But they’ve never closed the deal with a package to succeed the health care law.
Republicans hoped things might be different under President Trump.
The GOP initially struggled with “replace” in the House in the spring of 2017. This was the first time Republicans had played with live ammo. In other words, there were consequences to repealing ObamaCare. House GOPers had to have something ready to fill the gap. Furthermore, Republicans had a bill which could actually become law. The Republican brass yanked the first measure to repeal and replace ObamaCare off the floor after it melted down. But Republicans rallied. The House approved a successor plan a few months later. The measure then died in the Senate, thanks in part, to the vote by John McCain.
Democrats are marveling at this political gift presented them by the President. Democrats wanted to alter the narrative after the Mueller investigation failed to deliver the goods on Mr. Trump and others in his administration. Democrats ran on health care and pre-existing conditions in battleground districts they won in the midterms. Republicans may publicly embrace a new call to eliminate ObamaCare. But many are seething privately.
“This is the party of health care? This Republican Party? Come on. You can’t undo all the health care for tens of millions. The protections for pre-existing conditions for hundreds of millions. The drug costs for tens of millions of seniors. The protections for millions of young college graduates and say you’re for healthcare. You just can’t,” fumed Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“I’ll make this promise,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at his weekly press conference on Thursday. “The Republicans will make sure pre-existing conditions are protected.”
But shortly after speaking with Mr. Trump by telephone Wednesday, the California Republican pivoted to a tried and true GOP talking point which has worked for years – and then tossed in a new one.
“ObamaCare is a failure,” said McCarthy. “The real fear I have is the Democrats’ plan of ‘Medicare for All.’”
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., took a similar approach.
“ObamaCare is unconstitutional,” said Cheney. “We are seeing Democrats push this lie that Republicans don’t want to cover people with pre-existing conditions.”
Cheney described a possible end of ObamaCare as “a situation of desperation on behalf of the Democrats.”
Cheney said the timing of the announcement didn’t bother her, asserting that GOPers remain steadfast in their opposition to ObamaCare. But it rattled other Republicans.
“We felt vindicated,” said one senior House Republican about the conclusion of the Mueller probe. “We could have ridden this for a few weeks.”
Fox is told that many Republicans worry that voters could blame them if health care coverage is stripped from millions, to say nothing of the impact on the economy.
“It will destroy the infrastructure of health care in this country,” said Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., who served for eight years as President Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary. “It would be a disaster for 100,000 people in my district.”
Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, represents a sprawling, rural district in Ohio, beset with staggering health care issues and opioid abuse.
“I’m not going to say the President made a mistake because he said all along he was going to repeal ObamaCare,” said Johnson. But the Ohio Republican noted that a GOP House, Senate and President failed to repeal and replace ObamaCare in 2017, after years of promising to do so.
“We missed a golden opportunity,” said Johnson.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., chairs the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest bloc of conservatives in the House. Johnson said the President surprised Republicans with his ObamaCare swivel. That’s why the RSC is trying to prepare legislation to fill the void if ObamaCare is ruled to be unconstitutional.
“Congress isn’t going to let 40 million people go without health care,” said the Louisiana Republican.
So, the President was riding high after news the conclusion of the Mueller investigation. And then Mr. Trump stepped on his own applause lines.
“In the south, they put it another way,” said one senior Democratic lawmaker who asked to not be identified. “He stepped on his own ‘appendage.’”