GOP frets over stalled agenda

GOP frets over stalled agenda
© Greg Nash

Republicans are scrambling to piece their agenda back together after infighting undercut their latest attempt to repeal ObamaCare.

GOP lawmakers have been beset by setback after setback — including a president who has repeatedly caught them flat-footed — since voters gave them Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade.

Instead of seizing on an ambitious legislative agenda, they are heading toward the August recess with their two biggest priorities, tax reform and healthcare, running months behind schedule with no clear path to scoring a major legislative victory.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday asked reporters to judge the 115th Congress on its two-year entirety instead of the first six months.

“We’re only six months into it. Last time I looked, Congress goes on for two years. We’ll be moving on to comprehensive tax reform and to infrastructure,” he said.

He also pointed to their votes to roll back more than a dozen Obama-era regulations and to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Republicans changed the rules of the Senate to win that April battle, preventing a Democratic filibuster.

Those victories have been overshadowed by the failure to finish with healthcare, as well as the multiple investigations into potential contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 presidential election. And it has left Republicans and President Trump itching for a big victory.

GOP senators fretted on Tuesday that the healthcare failure will hurt efforts to pass other agenda items.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Tech: Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up hack | Apple considers battery rebates | Regulators talk bitcoin | SpaceX launches world's most powerful rocket Overnight Cybersecurity: Tillerson proposes new cyber bureau at State | Senate bill would clarify cross-border data rules | Uber exec says 'no justification' for covering up breach Hatch introduces bipartisan bill to clarify cross-border data policies MORE (R-Utah) said it made it “more difficult” to move tax reform, but he downplayed the idea that it would have been easier for Republicans to move that bill first instead of healthcare.

“I think it’s going to be tough no matter what we do because we’re so closely divided and there’s a lot of animosities,” he said.

McConnell and Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 House passes stopgap spending measure with defense money MORE (R-Wis.) outlined an ambitious 200-day agenda at a retreat earlier this year that included repealing and replacing ObamaCare in April, passing a supplemental defense bill and overhauling the tax code this summer.

Trump’s 200th day in office comes in early August as the Senate is scheduled to leave for its summer break.

McConnell delayed the start of the August recess by two weeks — from late July to mid-August — which could give GOP senators more time to tackle a backlog of nominations and stalled policy bills.

There are currently 157 nominees awaiting confirmation in the Senate, according to the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post, including Christopher Wray, Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, whom Republicans want to clear before the recess.

Senate GOP leadership also wants to try to raise the debt ceiling before they leave for the August recess instead of pushing the vote up against a fall fight over government funding.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (R-Texas) argued the setback on ObamaCare repeal wouldn’t affect the vote and there was still time for the debt ceiling, saying he doesn’t “think it’s tied to the healthcare issue.”

Republicans will need to balance demands from House conservatives, who want the vote tied to spending cuts, with demands from Senate Democrats, whose support they will need to get a debt ceiling increase through the upper chamber.

McConnell is also expected to bring up a laundry list of policy bills including the National Defense Authorization Act — a bipartisan but time-consuming endeavor. He has separately fast-tracked the House-passed bill reauthorizing the Food and Drug Administration to the Senate calendar.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 K.T. McFarland officially withdrawn as nominee for ambassador K.T. McFarland withdraws as nominee for ambassador MORE (R-Tenn.) floated that lawmakers could try to pass a stalled bill slapping new financial penalties on Russia before the August recess.

“I think we could, especially with a potential gap based on what’s happened. ... It appears there could be a gap [in the floor schedule] and we could make it up,” he told reporters.

Senate Republican leaders aren’t ready to close the door just yet on repealing ObamaCare, pledging that they would try to take up the House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action.

Though the move could satisfy conservatives, who support a repeal-only bill and want to vote, it’s unlikely McConnell has the support to move forward with the bill. And while the White House was ready to blame Democrats for the setback on Tuesday, GOP infighting was on full display in the Senate.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson40 patient advocacy groups oppose 'right to try' drug bill GOP eyes changes to 'right to try' bill Hundreds sign on to letter opposing 'right to try' drug bill MORE (R-Wis.) refused to say if he had faith in McConnell’s ability to lead the conference because the majority leader privately told moderates that some of the proposed Medicaid cuts wouldn’t happen — a move Johnson called a “breach of trust.”

Conservatives, meanwhile, lambasted their moderate colleagues for backing off a 2015 repeal bill, which previously passed in a 52-47 vote.

“If you’re not willing to vote the same way you voted in 2015, then you need to go back home and you need to explain to Republicans why you’re no longer for repealing ObamaCare,” said Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Rand Paul calls for punishment if Congress can't reach a long-term budget deal MORE (R-Ky.).

Trump has come under fire for being too hands-off on guiding the GOP agenda as well as for not doing enough to get the bill repealing and replacing ObamaCare through the Senate.

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump must send Russia powerful message through tougher actions McCain, Coons immigration bill sparks Trump backlash Taking a strong stance to protect election integrity MORE (R-Fla.) said while it’s “kind of hard” to pass major legislation without the president, Trump was in a “Catch-22” on healthcare.

“There were plenty of members here who understood the president’s preference,” he said. “[They were] willing to vote against it anyways.”