Averting Trumpian chaos
Roby Brock asked Monday on our weekly Talk Business and Politics digital telecast whether evidence suggested that Republicans in Congress are no longer afraid of President Trump.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine rebuffed Trump on the health-care bill and got cheered when she walked through her small home airport terminal.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska rebuffed Trump on that bill and laughed off clumsy threats against her state from Trump’s interior secretary. She has more authority on interior appropriations than the secretary does.
John McCain rebuffed Trump, became heroic and went home to tend to much more important things.
My answer was that, more precisely, Republicans are afraid of Trump’s making a holy mess of an as-yet tenuous but manageable political situation.
They are less emboldened against Trump than they are worried about what he might pull.
So, they kept the Senate technically in session during the August recess. The point was to try to deter Trump, in case he might be so inclined, from dumping Attorney General Jeff Sessions while they were out. They feared Trump’s replacing Sessions with an unreviewed “recess appointee” who might fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating possible links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
For that matter, Sessions is perhaps more popular with Trump’s rightwing base than Trump.
Such a stunt would look Nixonian, set off something resembling a constitutional crisis and probably lower Trump’s approval rating from the 35 percent or so that preserves his formidable status in the Republican right-wing base. It would put that number so low as to amount to a far worse drag than Trump might be now on Republican members of Congress seeking re-election.
These Republicans must now respect that 35 percent’s prominence in Republican primaries. But something in the 20s would make the primary less a factor than the general election they’d probably lose to a Democrat.
For that same reason, Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation to protect Mueller with a new law saying he can’t be fired without judicial review of the merits of the removal. Again, that’s less about not fearing Trump’s power currently than about fearing the devastating effects of what he might pull.
Ditto on health care, which Trump, typically, threatens via Twitter to plunge into chaos by stopping the monthly cost-sharing subsidies to insurance companies for low-income enrollees.
That would make health insurance unaffordable for low-income people and force insurers to run up already-too-high premiums for everybody.
Trump’s purported thinking is that sabotaging Obamacare would force Democrats to acquiesce to a Republican bill to repeal and replace.
Republicans in Congress see it differently, which is to say more sanely.
First, most of them are insulated on the issue with their right flanks because they voted repeatedly to repeal and replace Obamacare only to be foiled by three of their colleagues whom they can blame—Collins, Murkowski and McCain.
Second, most of them calculate that, if Trump sabotaged into chaos the existing system that they couldn’t manage to replace, they would be blamed for those chaotic consequences. They would stand accused of breaking what they couldn’t fix.
So, quite independently of Trump, responsible Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are setting about to work with Democrats on a short-term plan to avert Trump-created chaos and make the health-insurance market a tad less volatile when the new purchasing season opens in October.
Other Republican senators are working on ways to get these cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees provided, and the health-care market somewhat stabilized, should the wild man in the White House pull the stunt of which he blusters.
In the House, a couple of dozen moderate Republicans have joined with a couple of dozen moderate Democrats to provide a six-pointed incremental Obamacare-fix bill.
Meantime, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has met with White House and administration officials on how to rewrite a repeal-and-replace bill from scratch. He has encouraged them to submit whatever they might come up with to long-term “regular order” of committee meetings for study, public hearings and amendments.
The Republican congressional plan on health care, it seems, is to attend in the short term to avoiding chaos while proceeding more methodically and studiously toward repealing and replacing Obamacare altogether.
Where they want to get is here: They do not get blamed next year for chaos in the health-insurance market, and, sometime maybe next year, they come up with a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that neutralizes Republican governors like Hutchinson who want to preserve Medicaid funding and appeases sufficiently Collins, Murkowski and McCain that it actually passes.
They remain respectful of the much larger number that Trump’s anemic 35 percent approval rating amounts to in their home district primaries. But they are fearful of Trump being left unattended.
Neither Home Alone nor Risky Business is a movie they much want to watch right now.