The planned House vote on the American Health Care Act Thursday is being interpreted as a major test for Donald Trump’s presidency. If it fails, the thinking goes, he’ll have fallen victim to a humiliating defeat that will imperil the rest of his agenda.
But perhaps Trump should be thinking more about the risks of success.
This is such a giant mess, and everyone knows it, and they might pass this thing anyway.— Jeffrey Young (@JeffYoung) March 21, 2017
While it’s still unclear whether the AHCA will pass the House, its chances of success appear more favorable compared to a week ago. Deals are being cut, and the White House is trying to twist arms. And Trump himself desperately wants to get health care done so he can move on to other agenda items he finds more exciting. In the end, it’s possible that enough Republicans in the House will vote for the bill purely because they believe its failure would deal a debilitating blow to Trump’s presidency.
But all this would be in service to a bill that wouldn’t just break Trump’s campaign promises — it would make a mockery of them. The AHCA guts Medicaid despite Trump’s promise not to cut the program. It gives people buying insurance on the individual marketplaces a flat tax credit rather than a subsidy pegged to their income and to the cost of insurance in their area. It lets insurers charge more to older Americans and gives them absurdly little to help them cover their costs.
If this actually does become law, it would have tremendously negative consequences for millions of Americans’ lives. And Trump wouldn’t be able to get around this with snake oil — people would be hit right in their pocketbooks, as Ezra Klein wrote Monday:
What happens when voters realize their new tax credit doesn’t cover anything close to the insurance they had? What happens when they find themselves with fewer choices, paying much higher premiums after their smaller subsidies, and being told by insurers that costs are doubling because Republicans changed how much more the old could be charged than the young?
Voters will notice all this. And what are Republicans going to say then? That it’s all Barack Obama’s fault? That high deductibles are actually good, they just forgot to mention it? That they needed something they could pass quickly so they could move on to tax reform?
What ordinarily happens with controversial legislation is that lawmakers work to try their best to solve these problems before the bill passes. They deliberate, they consult the relevant stakeholders, they take analytical critiques seriously, and they adjust.
But for the AHCA, House Republicans are making no serious effort to do this. Paul Ryan crafted the bill in secret, there was no public deliberative process to speak of, and now Republicans are simply trying to jam it through, with whatever special buyouts and magic asterisks prove necessary.
Now, the Senate may step in to bail them out. Senators could well put in the time and hard work to reshape the AHCA into serious policy. (“Remember, we’re gonna go to the Senate and we’re gonna go back and forth and we’re gonna negotiate and it’s gonna be wonderful,” Trump said Monday night.) Perhaps even more likely, senators could kill the bill entirely, and rescue the House from its own irresponsibility.
But partisanship is a hell of a drug, and if Republican senators do want to unite and pass a bill without adequately improving it, they certainly can. That would be dreadful policy. And policy that negatively impacts people’s lives will likely have seriously negative political consequences for Republicans too. The way out of this mess is for the GOP to instead slow down and try to get this right.
Three interpretations of the Comey hearing
Our daily politics news roundup will check in on several other stories, so here’s a look at more big news of the day:
FBI Director James Comey’s confirmation that, yes, the bureau is indeed investigating ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign and associates, is enormously significant news that will continue to hang over Trump’s presidency for some time.
And while Comey was tight-lipped about details, a few commentators tried to read between the lines of his testimony.
- Ben Wittes of Lawfare speculates that, because Comey wasn’t all that over-the-top or gratuitous in criticizing Trump’s inaccurate tweets about Obama wiretapping him, that’s an indication that there’s a very serious investigation going on that he doesn’t want to jeopardize by picking fights.
- Marcy Wheeler at EmptyWheel flags an exchange in which Comey explained he was slow to brief Congress on the investigation because briefing Congress usually involves briefing the executive branch too, and “sometimes we want to keep it tight within the executive branch.” So who inside the executive branch, Wheeler asks, did the FBI not want to brief?
- Byron York of the Washington Examiner highlights the same exchange, and argued Comey’s failure to brief the relevant politicians led to public confusion. “The fact that the FBI, for so many months, would not acknowledge the existence of the probe led to widespread public doubt — and wild debate — about what was happening,” he writes.
Normal or not normal? Consequential or inconsequential?
Donald Trump is a very unusual president, but not everything he does is unusual, and it’s good to keep that in perspective. Furthermore, some of Trump’s unusual actions just don’t matter all that much, while many relatively “normal” political developments in our political system can be deeply consequential. So here’s a necessarily subjective attempt to assess just how abnormal, and how consequential, recent news items are.
Ivanka Trump’s new White House role
- What happened: Politico’s Annie Karni reports that Ivanka Trump is getting a West Wing office and an expanded White House role, though she still won’t officially be a government employee.
- Is it abnormal? Yes. Ivanka has never worked in government and as her own lawyer admitted to Karni, “Having an adult child of the president who is actively engaged in the work of the administration is new ground.” There are comparisons — Hillary Clinton’s White House role on health care during her husband’s administration, and Robert F. Kennedy’s service as attorney general during his brother’s — but this is still odd.
- Is it consequential? Probably not all that much. Ivanka could have an impact on internal White House power struggles, and her job could send an even stronger signal that nepotism matters to Trump. But then again her husband Jared Kushner already has a more prominent White House job, so it’s not clear how much this changes.
Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings
- What happened: Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, which are expected to last four days, began Monday with everyone involved giving lengthy opening statements.
- Is it abnormal? No — Gorsuch is a typical conservative nominee who could well have been nominated by any other Republican president. The only abnormal aspect to this is of course that Republicans refused to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland last year.
- Is it consequential? Oh, yes. Despite being “normal,” Gorsuch’s appointment could be Trump’s most impactful action yet, since he could serve on the court for decades. Now, since Gorsuch is filling the seat of staunch conservative Antonin Scalia, his confirmation would restore the court to its pre-February 2016 status quo with Anthony Kennedy as the swing vote, rather than bringing us into new legal territory. Still, Gorsuch would prevent the swing vote seat from going to a liberal, something that could have reshaped the court for a generation.
New flight restrictions on laptop carry-ons on foreign flights into the US
- What happened: The Trump administration announced that it would block passengers on foreign airlines from 10 airports in eight predominantly Muslim countries (Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Kuwait) from carrying on computers or tablets on flights to the US, per Leticia Miranda and Matthew Zeitlin of BuzzFeed News.
- Is it abnormal? The administration claims the move is based on legitimate intelligence and security concerns, and at least one major Democrat agrees — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a frequent Trump critic and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, called the policy “both necessary and proportional to the threat.” However, though of course not all airport security measures are a stealth Muslim ban, the administration’s bogus claims that the travel ban was necessary for security reasons have naturally raised some doubts about their credibility here.
- Is it consequential? If the policy is based on legitimate intelligence and particular security concerns, it’s possible that it could be temporary, or that it could even have the positive effect of preventing an attack. But if instead this is a new, essentially permanent measure that will inconvenience many Muslim travelers without real benefits — a “Muslim ban by a thousand cuts,” as a former administration official suggested to BuzzFeed — it will send yet another signal that the United States is now unwelcoming to people of Muslim descent.