Washington Watch: Internecine warfare

Like so many other Trump promises, those were just empty words.

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts as he meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017.  (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts as he meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2017.
With Congress coming back from its summer recess after Labor Day, look for President Donald Trump’s simmering feud with his party’s leaders on Capitol Hill to heat up. They won’t kiss and make up, although both sides realize the GOP legislative agenda is already hanging on fraying threads.
Making peace will be difficult with a president who does no wrong and responds viciously to criticism.
Much can be traced to Trump’s inexperience and ignorance of how government works. He seems to think his job is to give orders to a Congress whose job is to carry them out while heaping adulation on the great leader. Despite having lost the popular vote by about five million, he thinks he has a mandate to do as he pleases and all others must follow.
Trump’s feud with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a graduate course in how not to lead, but neither man is an exemplar of leadership. McConnell’s forte is obstructionism, something he honed to a fine art during the Obama administration; Trump’s is braggadocio. Neither one, despite Trump’s previous business ventures, is a builder.
Nowhere was that clearer on the healthcare debate.
Trump has a valid argument about McConnell’s leadership, or more accurately lack of leadership on that issue.
McConnell has spent the last eight years being an obstructionist; his stated goal was to make Barack Obama a failure. Republicans asked voters to give them majorities in both chambers so they could demonstrate their ability to govern. They got that control and now have the presidency as well but are still abysmal failures, spending more time fighting with each other than with the Democrats.
McConnell’s obstructionism meant opposing anything and everything Obama wanted, particularly healthcare reform. Under his leadership, the Republican theme of the past eight years was “Just Say No.”
They vowed to repeal Obamacare, not because of any inherent flaws (which there were and could have been fixed) but solely because it was Obama’s landmark achievement.
So Congressional Republicans voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They sometimes mentioned “repair” but never offered any meaningful and needed fixes that could have won bipartisan support. That hasn’t changed now that they hold all the levers of power. Despite all that “repeal and replace” talk, never once, not in the Obama years and not in the Trump months, have they come up with a viable replacement.
Obamacare is a good law that can be improved; it has meant health insurance for 20 million Americans who had none before and it gave important new coverage, particularly for preexisting conditions.
Republicans have had more than seven years to come up with a replacement, but when it comes to actually legislating they seem disinterested.
The new 115th Congress took office 17 days before Trump’s inauguration. They also had more than three months following the election to work with the new president’s team on their health care legislation. In all that time they produced with bupkiss.
They didn’t really need Trump’s input because the truth is he didn’t care what the bill looked like as long as he could claim victory, boasting he had kept his campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. Many analysts believe he would have signed the original Obama legislation with a few minor fixes just so he could claim the achievement.
But the Republicans had been in the opposition so long they apparently couldn’t comprehend the meaning of “leadership.” Their campaign promise was an empty slogan. To many it was a cover for repealing taxes on the very wealthy that were intended to pay for much of the coverage. In fact, their initial healthcare bills this year were really thinly disguised tax cuts with the added benefit of killing Obamacare by taking away funding for millions of low- and middle-income Americans and stuffing the “savings” into the pockets of the megawealthy like Trump, his family, much of his cabinet and many of his friends and backers.
But they failed because all they ever had was a wrecking plan, and because some Republicans began to realize there could be a heavy cost to stripping so many constituents of their newly won health insurance.
But Trump is not innocent. He was never serious about healthcare reform nor about unifying his party, much less the country. As I said, all he wanted was a notch on his belt.
Candidate Trump promised “insurance for everybody,” “no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” “no one will lose coverage,” and it will be a “lot less expensive” for everyone. “Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” During the campaign he even threatened to call Congress into special session to deal with healthcare, but he was just demonstrating ignorance about how Congress operates.
Like so many other Trump promises, those were just empty words (Remember the border wall and “Mexico will pay for it”? Now he’s threatening to close down the government if the Congress doesn’t force American taxpayers to pay for his pet project.)
He endorsed a House health bill that would take away coverage from about 24 million people over the next decade, hailed its passage and later called it “mean.”
Proof that Trump was lying when he promised “no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid” was revealed by his choice of the person to oversee those popular and vital programs: Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia).
Price came to the job with a wrecking ball. He was one of the staunchest opponents of the Affordable Care Act and among the most conservative members of the House. Contrary to the president’s campaign promises, Price has long worked to substantially destroy Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as we know them, turning over to the states what he couldn’t privatize. That’s the man Trump called “exceptionally qualified” to “shepherd” the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
Trump tweeted last week all will be fine as soon as Congress does what he wants. His press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president’s relationship with McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan is “fine.” She also said the moon is made of green cheese and Donald Trump never lies.