Regardless of how the healthcare issue ultimately turns out in the House, Speaker Paul Ryan owes a debt of gratitude to President Donald Trump. The new chief executive has gone all-out recently to build relationships with members of Congress and in the process, to try and sell the bill.
Rebecca Berg of Real Clear Politics reports, “During the past few weeks, Trump has invited members of the rabble-rousing House Freedom Caucus to bowl at the White House, broken bread with former campaign rivals, and phoned lawmakers to discuss pending issues. Meanwhile, at the Naval Observatory, lawmakers have dined regularly with Vice President Mike Pence, who is also a frequent visitor to Capitol Hill.
“The schmooze offensive might not amount to much if it doesn’t help Trump pass his first legislative test – which is pushing Congress to refine and approve an increasingly polarizing health care reform package.”
I’m not quite sure Trump sees it this way. By continually displaying his unmatched talent for hospitality Trump is merely laying the groundwork for future support of his broader agenda. In his eyes, if he can manage to drag Ryan’s awful bill across the finish line along the way, it’s gravy.
The truth is Trump would never stake his reputation on a piece of legislation he has very little control over. He can threaten and cajole all he wants but if Ryan decides he’s not going to change the bill, there’s nothing Trump can do personally to nudge him.
Trump likes winners – and it’s becoming more and more evident that Ryan’s bill is a loser, at least without major alterations that could bring conservatives onboard. Without conservative support the bill ain’t worth the hundreds of pages it’s written on.
One of Trump’s conservative schmooze targets, Ted Cruz, said just this week he wasn’t germane with Ryan’s establishment effort.
Trey Edwards of The Resurgent reported, “Ted Cruz is making waves once again by bucking the establishment wing of the GOP and demanding that Republicans in the House and Senate follow through on their promise to repeal Obamacare – not tweak it like RINOcare/Swampcare (take your pick) is attempting to do.
“He made the comments at a rally in D.C. hosted by FreedomWorks, which was organized to oppose the so-called ‘American Health Care Act’ proposed by Paul Ryan and the moderate wing of the Republican Party.”
In other words, opposition to the bill is only intensifying and it looks like Ryan’s whole effort is beginning to unravel. Trump isn’t about to go down with this badly listing ship, but he’ll likely offer a hospitality wave to Ryan as the water crests over the Speaker’s head.
Does the leadership recognize this? Do they care?
Why wouldn’t the Republicans pass the best repeal and free market conservative replace bill they can in the House and dare Democrats to filibuster and kill it in the Senate? That way Republicans do their duty to the country by repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something that could genuinely improve the system. If Democrats kill the bill then they are the ones stuck with the Obamacare collapse.
If the proper strategy is clear to those of us who aren’t paid big bucks to give Republican leaders advice, how can all of this be so complicated?
To present alternatives -- that’s the job of our elected representatives. The brilliant purpose of the Founding Fathers’ divided government system was to ensure legislating is a slow and deliberative process that requires general consensus to pass. The Republican House leadership is acting just like the Democrats did before jamming through Obamacare – putting a bill together in secret (with only leaders’ pets doing the work), not allowing for debate or amendments, strong-arming members to vote for it and all the while telling the public that “Hey, this is great, why are you people so dumb you can’t realize what you’re getting?”
The desire of the Republican leadership to present their own version of Obamacare does not trump (pardon the pun) the People’s right to examine legislation, suggest changes and work through the political process to confirm laws are beneficial to Americans.
What is Ryan so afraid of? And why is he lying to Trump about the absolute necessity to get this done yesterday? Why does the establishment present this as the last chance to repeal Obamacare?
The Editors of the Washington Examiner wrote, “The ‘binary choice’ is a false premise and thus a bad argument. It's also bad politics that will yield bad policy. Republicans and conservatives who want real healthcare reform (not merely tax cuts) should withhold support at least until their leaders agree to consider other possible roads out of Obamacare.”
As the days go on and hostility grows to Ryan and the establishment’s plan, it’s hard to predict exactly how they’re going to react. But I can’t help but think we’ve reached the point of no return here – now that important people are starting to reveal their opposition in public it’s clear that there aren’t the votes to pass this thing in either the House or the Senate.
Nancy Pelosi rectified a similar situation seven years ago by offering Obamacare exemptions and various other goodies (called “incentives”) to her Democrat members to buy votes. Will Ryan do the same? Would it do any good?
One thing’s for sure, there are no boundaries to Donald Trump’s hospitality. He’ll keep inviting people over but there’s no way Trump is going to stake his presidency on something Paul Ryan did. It’s time to pull the plug, folks.
Why Paul Ryan needs Trump but Trump doesn’t necessarily need Ryan
Speaking of affiliations and hospitality, some are claiming the deteriorating prospects of the Ryancare bill is affecting the relationship between Paul Ryan and the president.
Sarah Westwood and David M. Drucker of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Some senior White House aides are blaming Ryan for last week's rocky rollout of the AHCA and the headwinds it is facing in Congress because of dissatisfaction with key provisions of the bill.
“Meanwhile, some Republican congressional insiders are criticizing Trump for his lukewarm embrace of a bill crafted with the administration's input as he hopes to satisfy his liberal inclinations to provide ‘insurance for everybody.’”
The Examiner writers then suggest if the (thus far) hidden tension boils over into a public spat that the apparent détente Ryan and Trump have observed since the election could very well be over.
I’m not so sure about that; I surmise only one of them is losing sleep over the prospect of having the other guy mad at him -- and it isn’t the one who sometimes is up tweeting during the middle of the night.
Why? Ryan needs Trump a lot more than Trump needs Ryan. This is true for several reasons:
First, as president, Trump has the bully pulpit and the full attention of America for the statements he makes – and the tweets he sends. Even assuming people would be inclined to listen to Ryan’s side of any disagreement, they are much more likely to see Trump as the sympathetic character in the matter.
Trump won nearly 63 million votes last November 8. Hundreds of thousands came to see his inauguration in January. He has tens of millions of followers on his social media feeds. His megaphone is enormous.
Meanwhile Ryan is a single district congressman and de facto Speaker of the House because he was the only one who could win the job at the time.
Second, Trump is much more likable that Ryan.
While it’s certainly true Trump is a polarizing figure, those that support Trump really like him personally. Trump is a lifelong celebrity who knows how to treat people well (see hospitality) and handle the media. At one time Ryan was seen as a rising star in the conservative movement but has since morphed into the face of the hated Republican establishment and was also a losing vice presidential candidate under the equally awkward establishmentarian Mitt Romney.
Add the fact that Ryan always sides with the establishment over the preferences of the grassroots and his base of support is virtually non-existent. Would you rather have dinner with Donald Trump or wonky Paul Ryan?
Three, there are already plenty of signs conservatives would be happy if Trump bailed on the Ryancare bill, leaving him in an even better position to lean on Ryan in the future.
W. James Antle III of the Washington Examiner wrote, “Publicly, the White House has said Trump is still working with Republicans to make the bill work, and turn it into something that can pass the House and Senate and can be presented as a victory. But conservatives find themselves in the unlikely position of hoping that Trump, a past supporter of single-payer healthcare, will rescue them from a bill pushed by Ryan…”
Lastly, Ryan’s position as Speaker depends on maintaining favor with Trump and the conservatives in his caucus. While some conservatives may still have reservations about Trump’s temperament and persona they are believers in his personnel choices and supporters of his conservative agenda.
Ryan literally can’t do anything without the goodwill of conservatives unless he wants to follow in the footsteps of John Boehner and start depending on Democrats to pass his bills. If that happens, look for the Freedom Caucus to begin pulling the mat out from under him. Like Boehner, he’ll be forced to step down as Speaker and maybe even be sent packing back to Wisconsin.
In reality, Ryan must pass Trump’s agenda because it has become synonymous with the Republican Party. The party can easily survive without Ryan but getting by without Trump is just not possible these days.
If I were Paul Ryan’s friend or counsel I would tell him to keep on Trump’s good side. There’s little doubt who would end up on the losing end of a public relations power struggle between the two.
John McCain vs. Rand Paul reveals yet another conservatives vs. establishment divide
The Trump-Ryan matter isn’t the only example of frayed Republican relationships these days. Conservatives in the Senate are being attacked by establishment senators for merely standing up for their principles.
Connor O’Brien of Politico reports, “Sen. John McCain on Wednesday accused fellow Sen. Rand Paul of doing Russian President Vladimir Putin's bidding after Paul blocked an attempt to vote on a treaty for NATO membership for Montenegro.
“’The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin,’ McCain bluntly said of Paul on the Senate floor following the dust-up.
“The Arizona Republican, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was joined on the Senate floor by Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire to push for debate and a vote on the treaty. But Paul, who has opposed further expansion of NATO, objected to McCain's request to consider the measure.”
This is sad, plain and simple. If a fellow Republican objects to expanding NATO (and therefore further escalating tensions with Russia for no reason) when the organization’s role is already being questioned by the new president, he’s accused of siding with the enemy in McCain’s eyes.
I guess it’s no secret why McCain and Lindsey Graham were so quick to jump on the Democrats’ “investigate Trump’s ties to Russia” bandwaggon. Those two should be on Chuck Schumer’s payroll for all the damage they’ve done to the party reputation.
For his part Senator Paul suggested McCain might have outstayed his usefulness in the Senate and serves as a prime example of why term limits are necessary. Paul also offered a practical reason for his actions.
Kyle Feldscher of the Washington Examiner reports, “Paul said his objection was to the idea that American soldiers would need to go fight a war in Montenegro if it became embroiled in some conflict. He said Thursday that he doesn't believe Americans want to go and die in a war that otherwise wouldn't involve American interests.
“He said McCain's foreign policy would be dangerous for the country.”
This really is just another conservatives vs. establishment battle. If it were up to the establishment every country in the vicinity of Russia would be part of NATO, virtually goading Russia to retaliate. NATO was a concept that worked well during the Cold War when the Soviet Bear really could roar and the entirety of the west feared its bite.
Now, however, Russia appears to have only regional ambitions and largely lacks the ability to establish any kind of “empire.” Russia’s oil-dependent faltering economy alone should provide all the clues necessary to prove it’s not capable of doing much more.
Where Russia remains a perpetual threat is in its nuclear arsenal. Do we really want to risk a nuclear confrontation over Montenegro?
Paul is right; America would not want to go to war with Russia (or anyone else) to defend a tiny country that 99 percent of the population could not even point to on a map.
Trump has not weighed in on this current dispute but he’s provided plenty of clues that he does not favor spending American resources or lives to guarantee the safety of countries that have little or no connection to the interests of the American people. As he said during his address to Congress two weeks ago:
“America must put its own citizens first because only then can we truly make America great again.”
During the same speech Trump said NATO countries would have to pay their share to deserve American protection. Do you think Montenegro is prepared to do it?
John McCain has become a doddering old fool who says crazy things and the media loves him because he criticizes fellow Republicans in a personal way. Rand Paul is right: McCain has become the poster boy for term limits.