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President Trump appears unable to make a substantive case for the AHCA

When he tries to sell it, he either talks politics or says Obamacare is bad.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The fate of the Republican health bill in the House could rest on President Donald Trump’s salesmanship. He pitched himself as the ultimate dealmaker during the campaign, and Speaker Paul Ryan’s office has lately been hyping him up as “the ultimate closer.” With Republicans still short on votes, his intercession may be the only thing that can save them.

Yet there’s one glaring oddity in the pitch Trump’s been making: It doesn’t include anything even remotely resembling an affirmative case for the actual bill House Republicans have to vote on.

When Trump talks health care in public statements and in accounts of his private meetings, he keeps making the following four pretty simple points:

  1. Obamacare is a disaster that’s falling apart.
  2. If Republicans don’t pass the bill, they’ll do badly in the next election.
  3. Republicans have to pass the bill so they can move on to tax cuts.
  4. He — President Trump — and the Republican Party need this “win.”

There is no case for the American Health Care Act itself there. It’s all either political or a rote condemnation of Obamacare.

Indeed, Trump has seemingly avoided delving into specifics of the House bill at all costs. Ezra Klein reviewed all his public statements on the bill and concluded that Trump’s “comfort zone on both the issue and the legislation is very narrow.” Several Trump aides and advisers told Politico’s Josh Dawsey that, even privately, the president prefers to talk about practically anything other than health care.

This increasingly appears to be a problem. After Trump spoke to the House Republican Conference on health care Tuesday, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) came out of the meeting saying Trump gave “no details” on policy and only said the GOP would have “political problems” if it failed, per CNN’s Manu Raju. That wasn’t persuasive to Jones, who’s still a no.

If a vote looks like it will be politically difficult, it really helps if the president can make a cogent case to members of Congress who care about policy details and/or who are concerned about their constituents that the bill would actually be good and would do good things.

Trump apparently can’t. There was a remarkable moment last week when Tucker Carlson asked the president about how “the counties who voted for you would do far less well under this bill.” Trump responded by saying, “Oh, I know,” and claiming problems like that would be solved in later negotiations. But why not fix the problems now? Why make the party walk the plank on an evidently flawed bill?

Perhaps the president’s political logic and his personal influence will, in the end, prove decisive with enough holdout Republicans. But House GOP leaders would certainly feel better right now if they had a president who could actually make a substantive case in favor of the bill they’ve written.

Who among us hasn’t drawn up a proposal to “benefit the Putin Government?”

Our daily politics roundup will check in on several other stories, so here’s a look at more big news of the day:

Today the Associated Press’s Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day report that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort “secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.”

And they’ve got documents to back it up. Manafort wrote a 2005 memo to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska that he could “benefit the Putin Government” by influencing politics, business, and the press in the US. Deripaska then signed Manafort and paid him millions from 2006 until at least 2009. (Manafort claims he worked only on Deripaska’s “business and personal matters,” not to advance “Russia’s political interests.”)

Why this matters: Manafort is reportedly a key figure in the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The fact that he had worked for Deripaska and for pro-Russian political actors in Ukraine had long been public, but the written proposal to “benefit the Putin Government” is new.

Neil Gorsuch’s testimony on his private conversations with Trump

One interesting tidbit from day two of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings was that, in response to questioning by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Gorsuch testified that Trump briefly and vaguely brought up abortion to him.

“The president recounted to me, among other things, how the campaign went in Colorado,” Gorsuch said. “He knew I was from Colorado. He was disappointed he had lost Colorado. He said something like, if he had a little more time, he thinks he might have won. Then he said one of the topics that came up during the course of the campaign was abortion and that it was very divisive and split people evenly, he found. Then he moved on to other topics.”

Revealing quote of the day

Here’s how one leading Republican says he’s thinking about this tumultuous week in politics, per the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker:

“All that really matters this week is Gorsuch moving forward and the House passing step one of Obamacare repeal,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All the rest is noise.”

As Matt Yglesias writes, “Trump is delivering, fundamentally, what the business community wants: a light regulatory touch, a business-friendly Supreme Court, and progress toward a big tax cut. … That means turning a blind eye to Trump’s financial conflicts of interest, erratic behavior, and dishonesty while accepting his various doses of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and racism as the electioneering gambits that deliver the goods.”

President Donald Trump, in his own words

“It is fitting that we are in the National Building Museum. Since its founding, the Republican Party has been a party of builders. Many of the great builders are in this audience tonight. Some of them, I have to compete with and I really actually — I don’t like very many of them.

…Some of them I like, some of them I truly dislike a lot. But now I like everybody. I like all the great builders. See, now it’s different. Now we’re all on the same side. … See the guy over there? I couldn’t stand that guy for years. He did a good job, couldn’t stand him. Now I like you.” —The president at a National Building Museum fundraiser for House Republicans Tuesday night. (Hat tip: Hunter Walker of Yahoo News)

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