Avert­ing Trumpian chaos

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

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.

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