5 Takeaways From the GOP's Obamacare Repeal Vote
Barack Obama’s Legacy Takes Another Blow: There’s a long way to go before President Obama’s health care law is officially wiped off the books. Notwithstanding the Republicans’ victory dance in the Rose Garden on Thursday, the legislation now heads to the Senate. Nonetheless, since taking control in January, Trump and the Republican-controlled 115th Congress have rolled back many of Obama’s policies through executive order and statutory review. If Republicans manage to get the rewritten health bill to Trump’s desk, they will have undone Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative.
DJT = LBJ? In March, when Trump capitulated on health legislation after 17 days, his critics asserted confidently that the man obviously had too short an attention span to be an effective chief executive in Washington. Thursday’s events, however, served as a reminder than in his pre-politics business career, Trump often played the long game—and was known as a notorious detail man. It was striking to see lawmakers in the Rose Garden praise Trump for his deep personal involvement in getting the bill across the House finish line. Paul Ryan said he had never seen a president take such a hands-on approach to legislation. Kevin McCarthy joked about showing up to his office in the morning only to be told that President Trump was on the phone with a list of members for McCarthy to call.
But sometimes, it was Trump who closed the sale. After meeting at the White House with the president on Wednesday, moderate Republicans Fred Upton and Billy Long flipped from “no” to “yes,” which appears to have turned the tide in favor of the bill, allowing House leaders to rush it to a successful vote before members left town for recess.
Paul Ryan: From Goat to MVP: Probably nobody needed this victory as much as Ryan. Calling the vote was a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and one that could have easily cost Ryan his speakership had it failed. Trump, who has a habit of engaging in blunt-force humor, alluded to this subject at Thursday’s Rose Garden ceremony: “Paul, for the last week, I've been hearing, ‘Paul Ryan doesn't have it,’” he said. ‘“It’s not working with Paul Ryan.’ ‘He’s going to get rid of Paul Ryan.’ Then today I heard, ‘Paul Ryan's a genius.’”
Regardless of what happens in the Senate, Ryan can point to the fact that he delivered in the clutch. For now, that makes him, if not a genius, at least a competent leader—and skilled vote-counter.
Cowabunga! Mitch McConnell isn’t a teenager, let alone a mutant turtle, but his skills as a political ninja are about to be put to the test. Assuming the Senate Budget Committee agrees the bill meets the requirements to be moved via Congress’ arcane “reconciliation” process, McConnell will have a mere two GOP votes to spare, as members of his conference have voiced objections from both the left (Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski) and the right (Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and others). Nor will he find a single taker on the other side of the aisle—even among red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2018.
When Ryan declared in the Rose Garden that his “friends in the Senate were eager to get to work,” a spasm of involuntary laughter emanated from the GOP House members on the dais. Mitch McConnell didn’t join them.
The Ties That Bind: The president made a claim Thursday that, if true, could prove significant. “We just have developed a bond,” Trump said, referring to all the various factions in the Republican Party, from the moderate Tuesday Group to the conservative Freedom Caucus. “As much as we've come up with a really incredible health-care plan,” he added, “this has brought the Republican Party together.”
Just a few weeks ago, the GOP looked hopelessly fractured, unable to agree on the major principles of the party’s biggest promise to voters. And as recently as a few days ago, Freedom Caucus conservatives were griping publicly that Trump and their own House leadership caved to Democrats in the $1 trillion spending deal to keep the government open. So, we’ll wait and see if the intense negotiations and narrow passage of the AHCA did in fact bind the party together as Trump claims. Theoretically, Republicans will be more unified around the coming push for tax cuts, but there will still be plenty of fights ahead over infrastructure, trade issues, and foreign policy—all of which will test the proposition that the party came together over health care.