The Memo: White House staff rise, fall after healthcare loss

The Memo: White House staff rise, fall after healthcare loss
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The internal dynamics of the White House have been shaken by the failed push to repeal ObamaCare.

The White House at large took a hit when Republicans were forced to withdraw their bill to repeal and replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Chief of staff Reince Priebus is seen by many to have lost stock given his perceived closeness to Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.), who backed healthcare as the first legislative push in the Trump era but was unable to put together a bill that satisfied his conference.

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Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, a registered Democrat from New York who has repeatedly come under criticism from conservatives worried about his party allegiance and Wall Street ties, could see his stock rise — despite the fact that some Trump loyalists allege he was missing in action in the healthcare battle.

He is poised to play a large role in the coming tax reform debate along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin was not a central player in the healthcare fight.

Jared Kushner, President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has come through the healthcare debacle relatively unscathed — despite taking a family ski vacation in Aspen during the crucial days leading up to the bill being pulled, a decision that reportedly irked the president.

Chief strategist Stephen Bannon reportedly backed Trump’s ultimatum that the House vote on the healthcare measure last week as a way of publicly shaming Republicans who split with the president.

Initially it appeared his standing could have been hurt by repeal’s collapse, but Trump’s tweets targeting members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus suggest he might still have the president’s ear.

While the weeks ahead will give the public a better sense of the White House fallout, much of the initial palace intrigue has centered on Priebus.

Trump loyalists lament the decision to try to advance the healthcare measure before tax reform. Others argue that the legislation itself was botched, inciting conservative opposition from the get-go.

“Reince was behind outsourcing the legislative agenda to Paul Ryan,” said one former Trump aide.

A different source close to the White House said that Priebus’s perceived closeness with Ryan “doesn’t bode well for him.” 

Priebus also lost an ally this week with the announcement that Katie Walsh, the White House deputy chief of staff, would leave the administration to take up a role with America First Policies.

Walsh’s move was seen differently by separate factions within the White House. Skeptics of the Priebus wing argued that Walsh was being sidelined and Priebus himself weakened by the departure of a key ally. 

Those more supportive of the RNC moderates insisted that the Walsh move was a genuine attempt to improve the outside group’s performance.

“It was abundantly clear we didn’t have air cover,” Priebus himself told a small group of reporters on Thursday, according to Politico. “No one can fix this problem better than Katie Walsh.”

The New York Times reported earlier this week that people close to Vice President Pence had begun questioning Priebus’s abilities, though this was denied on the record by a Pence spokesperson.

Kushner, who according to several media reports was always skeptical of the push to work on healthcare before tax reform, is a powerful backer of both Mnuchin and Cohn.

One ally noted that Kushner “had very little to do with” the nuts and bolts of the healthcare push — something that redounds to his benefit given the way the bill went down in flames. 

Beyond the White House, there is another figure in Trump World who is coming more to the fore publicly: Rebekah Mercer, the conservative donor and daughter of billionaire hedge fund tycoon Robert Mercer.

Soon after the healthcare defeat, a nonprofit group primarily funded by Mercer, Making America Great, announced it would begin a $1 million TV ad campaign to try to bolster the president’s popularity.

The Mercers, who generally shun the media spotlight, were central to Trump’s presidential victory and are close with both Bannon and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway. Rebekah’s decision to begin spending money on her own ad campaign is seen as bad news for the rival organization, America First Policies, in which the Trump campaign’s digital guru Brad Parscale plays a leading role. 

Some in Trump's orbit assert that Mercer’s effort is a conscious attempt to eclipse the Parscale group and become the White House-approved outside group of choice.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency