Can Trump rebound after failure on healthcare bill?

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The failure to repeal and replace -ObamaCare has cast a shadow over President Trump’s agenda for the rest of the year.

Republicans say efforts to reform the tax code and pass a major infrastructure package will be just as difficult and warn their control of the House could be in jeopardy if the conservative House Freedom Caucus refuses to cooperate in the months ahead.

“Any time the executive is dealing with the legislative branch, it’s got to be built on trust and you got to believe some part of the trust there is broken, more so than just with the Freedom Caucus members,” said John Weaver, a Republican strategist who advised Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) presidential campaign.

“Tax reform is tricky on a good day, but then you start throwing in issues like trade, infrastructure and the debt ceiling, and those are not going to be easy to get done,” he added.

A major question is whether GOP leaders can rely on the Freedom Caucus to pass Trump’s agenda or whether they should focus more on centrist Democrats, whom they’ve largely ignored. Even if Trump reaches out to moderates, what is their political incentive to work with the White House?

In his 1987 book “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” Trump touted his ability to gain leverage and overcome obstacles. Throughout his 2016 president campaign, Trump promised to shake up Washington and get things done. But nearly 10 weeks into his presidency, Washington is winning. 

A Republican senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Trump said that events of last week will hurt his ability to whip votes in the future.

“It’s going to hurt him. Fewer people fear the president, and fewer people trust him to be there when they need him,” the lawmaker said. “He didn’t close the deal and he didn’t know the details.”

Still, senior GOP lawmakers say they hope the Freedom Caucus learned its lesson after being blamed for the demise of the American Health Care Act, since they have little faith in the likelihood of bipartisan cooperation.

“Everybody feels badly that went down in the House, including those who let it go down,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

He said there will be pressure on House Republicans who sank the healthcare bill to line up behind expected tax reform legislation.

“I do believe it will be a much tougher issue for them and they’ll have to stand up and be counted by voting,” he said.

A Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), showed serious misgivings over the outcome of the healthcare debate by resigning from the group. 

“Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress,” he said in a statement Sunday.

From that perspective, it may now be easier to pass tax reform.

But from another, tax reform becomes harder because the money the GOP’s healthcare proposal would have saved could have been used to rewrite the tax code.

“This does make tax reform more difficult,” Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters Friday. “But it does not in any way make it impossible.” He explained that the taxes that would have been repealed under the House bill “stay with -ObamaCare” and cannot be used to fund the lowering of other rates.

Trump’s approval rating over the weekend plunged to a new low of 36 percent after the House healthcare bill collapsed, which GOP strategists say will hurt the party’s ability to pass other legislation. 

“If he’s terribly unpopular, he can’t muscle legislation through. If he is popular, he can,” said former Republican Rep. Jim Walsh (N.Y.).

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped more than 180 points Monday before paring losses as the president’s failure to deliver on his pledge to repeal -ObamaCare raised concerns about whether he will be able to deliver on his other pro-business promises.

After running up nearly 14 percent since Trump’s election, the Dow is on its longest losing streak since 2011.

The implosion of the healthcare bill has emboldened Democrats, who are now threatening to block Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, who appeared to be cruising to confirmation a few weeks ago.

“Democrats are smelling blood. It’s going to be even harder getting any cooperation from them,” said Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Stephen Moore, who advised Trump on taxes during last year’s presidential campaign, told The New York Times that the administration should now pursue a “bit less ambitious” tax reform plan instead of going for the “big bang” of comprehensive reform.

The Freedom Caucus looms large on another top Trump priority, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

House conservatives killed the healthcare bill because they didn’t like the cost of tax subsidies it would have provided to low-income Americans to buy health insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch -McConnell (R-Ky.), a member of the GOP establishment, says he hopes “we avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus” with regard to the infrastructure bill. 

GOP strategists warn that if the president suffers other significant legislative defeats, it will have a negative impact on Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm election, possibly putting control of the House at risk.

Vin Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota who served in the House leadership, said “it’s really going to test the Freedom Caucus to see if they are willing to inflict another damaging loss on the Republicans.”

“You can recover from one loss like this. If you suffer a couple of them, I think you just got to say the Republican is in dire jeopardy at that point,” he said. “The natural tendency in an off-year election is to inflict a big loss on the party of the president anyway.”

“If the president is defeated a couple of times, he’s going to have an anemic approval rating in all likelihood going into the election,” he added. “I can’t quite believe they’ll let this happen again.”

Weber argued that Trump had the right instinct in not wanting to tackle healthcare reform, a notoriously difficult issue, right out of the gate.

Trump said last week that his top priority was to pass “a very big tax cut” but felt compelled to “keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as -ObamaCare.”

Some Republicans, however, are breathing a sigh of relief the House bill, which they regard as bad legislation, died last week.

“I’m not depressed,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “I think it will lead to a good thing. The good thing is we’re going to fix healthcare in a bipartisan fashion.”

Graham said the big lesson to take away from the meltdown of the healthcare effort is that it’s very difficult for a party to enact a major reform by itself, without support from across the aisle.

He is more optimistic for tax reform because he says there is more consensus within the GOP on that issue, even though Ryan’s proposal to offset the cost of cutting rates by raising taxes on imports has run into staunch opposition in the Senate. 

Walsh, the former congressman from upstate New York, agrees with Graham’s assessment that while the healthcare failure is a short-term setback, it may be good for the party in the long term.

“Most people would agree it’s a setback, it’s a big setback for the leadership,” he said.

“There’s also the argument it’s a blessing in disguise. -ObamaCare is still the Democrats’ baby. It’s not the Republicans’. If healthcare gets worse or insurance gets worse, the Democrats are going to share the blame, at least get it all,” he added.

The president and GOP leaders in Congress must figure out whether they should make more of an effort to work with centrist Democrats so they can rely less on the Freedom Caucus to pass their agenda.

Hatch on Monday predicted that Trump would begin working more closely with Democrats, a sentiment echoed by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

“I think they know they’re going to have to do that. Certainly, we’re going to do it in the Senate but I have to say our senators have not been very helpful in a lot of ways,” Hatch said.

Spicer told reporters Monday that “we learned a lot through this process.”

“I think we’re obviously looking at ways that we can improve not only how we handled healthcare, but other things — how we do everything,” he said.

Like Hatch, however, he said Democrats showed almost no willingness to cooperate on healthcare, making it clear early on there was “no way that they would engage in any discussion of repeal.”

Centrist Democratic senators facing reelection said Trump has not reached out to them since inviting several over to the White House in February for a meeting.

Spokesmen for Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Monday they had not heard anything recently from the president.

Tags Joe Manchin Jon Tester Lindsey Graham Orrin Hatch Paul Ryan Ted Poe

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