The GOP has a not great, but still good, week

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY HUGH HEWITT Hugh Hewitt, a Post con­tribut­ing colum­nist, hosts a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio show and is au­thor of “The Fourth Way: The Con­ser­va­tive Play­book for a Last­ing GOP Ma­jor­ity.”

The pulling of the GOP health-care bill on Fri­day was a big loss, and per­haps sig­nif­i­cant beyond its own costs, as it may sig­nal that the “Area 51” sub-cau­cus within the Free­dom Cau­cus is com­prised not so much of con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans as par­ties of one with no in­ter­est in an agenda shared beyond the space be­tween their own ears. They ap­pear to be­lieve in leg­isla­tive fly­ing saucers that can ap­pear out of a par­al­lel uni­verse where nei­ther the rules of the Se­nate broadly nor of bud­get rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in par­tic­u­lar ap­ply. Such ex­trater­res­trial law­mak­ing doesn’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist, but too many in the Free­dom Cau­cus seem to think it does.

But last week was still, the record must show, a very good one for the con­ser­va­tive cause, and Pres­i­dent Trump specif­i­cally. Trump promised a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to Jus­tice An­tonin Scalia, and Judge Neil Gor­such proved to be that in his hear­ings. Gor­such also seems to have trig­gered the re­turn of the po­lit­i­cal madness of the Harry Reid era. Charles E. Schumer, the new Se­nate mi­nor­ity leader, has promised a fil­i­buster of Gor­such, which will oblige Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell to in­voke the “Reid Rule,” which al­lows Se­nate rules and prece­dents to be changed by sim­ple ma­jor­ity vote. The first ap­pli­ca­tion of this rule al­lowed Democrats to avoid su­per­ma­jor­ity con­fir­ma­tion of life-tenured fed­eral ap­pel­late and dis­trict court judges and ex­ec­u­tive branch nom­i­nees. The sec­ond ap­pli­ca­tion would break the rule about su­per­ma­jor­ity con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court jus­tices. Orig­i­nal­ists have long wanted this re­sult. Now we will get it, along with a great orig­i­nal­ist jus­tice in Gor­such.

So Trump had good rea­son to shake off the re­buff from the Free­dom Cau­cus and the pulling of the health-care bill, and de­spite his Oval Of­fice aside about be­ing sur­prised by the lack of loy­alty in the cau­cus, he was loyal to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, as was Ryan to Trump. This bodes well for the party and for govern­ing over the next 18 months.

What doesn’t bode well is the shared de­ci­sion of pres­i­dent and speaker to ad­vance next on tax re­form, with its twin po­lit­i­cal death traps of abo­li­tion of the home mort­gage in­ter­est de­duc­tion and the state and lo­cal taxes de­duc­tion — Belt­way Holy Grails not sought by many, if any, out­side of it. A cor­po­rate tax cut, yes, and tax sim­pli­fi­ca­tion, yes, but not two big in­tra­party crack­ups in a row.

Bet­ter to go for in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the bor­der wall, and best of all, the ful­fill­ment of the prom­ise of a 350-ship Navy and the gen­eral de­fense buildup that needs to sur­round that Trump goal. To that end, though, there needs to be a nom­i­na­tion rush, and soon, in both the De­fense and State de­part­ments.

It was the good week that could have been much bet­ter. Putting a 30-year-plus orig­i­nal­ist on the court will be a his­to­ry­maker. A leg­isla­tive loss is an in­evitabil­ity. The lat­ter is dis­ap­point­ing, but the lessons learned along the way are in­valu­able, even to the Repub­li­can mem­bers who will be pun­ished in ways large and small in the weeks, months and years ahead. The GOP lead­er­ship team needs to keep plan­ning and keep press­ing, and the 2018 cy­cle has to ad­just for some ca­su­al­ties from among the in­side-the-cau­cus wreck­ers who will draw pri­mary chal­lengers and thus be bled be­fore the gen­eral. But on the Se­nate side, where Democrats fac­ing the 2018 midterms were prob­a­bly hop­ing for some health-care the­atrics in their cham­ber to wipe away the mem­ory of the Gor­such hear­ings, the smiles are forced.

Now, with Aetna’s pres­i­dent voic­ing what ev­ery­one blessed with be­hind-closed­doors ob­jec­tiv­ity un­der­stands — that the Oba­macare “death cy­cle” is real — the op­por­tu­nity for health-care re­form leg­is­la­tion shifts to the Se­nate, where the doors of La­mar Alexan­der (R-Tenn.), chair­man of the Com­mit­tee on Health, Ed­u­ca­tion, La­bor and Pen­sions, and Or­rin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chair­man of the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, must be open to Patty Mur­ray (Wash.) and Ron Wy­den (Ore.), the rank­ing Democrats on those com­mit­tees, should the lat­ter want to ap­proach with re­form pro­pos­als. Democrats face a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter with 25 of their seats up in 2018 and only eight GOP in­cum­bents cam­paign­ing.

The ur­gency to find a fix to Oba­macare’s col­lapse should be on Se­nate Democrats. If they can find a way to grace­fully exit the night­mare of Oba­macare with­out call­ing it a re­pu­di­a­tion of the for­mer pres­i­dent, the Se­nate GOP should lis­ten and con­sult with Trump and Ryan about gen­uine bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mises. Those could in­clude im­mi­gra­tion reg­u­lar­iza­tion, tar­geted in­fra­struc­ture, tax re­form and, of course, the de­fense buildup via an end to the se­quester. A big deal would have to come out of the Se­nate, and it would have to be mostly — though not ex­clu­sively — the GOP’s agenda.

That way, of course, votes the Area 51 sub-cau­cus off the is­land. But that’s what they asked for. They pre­fer their late-night meet­ings and cold-pizza break­fasts to leg­is­la­tion that ad­dresses the coun­try’s many deep prob­lems. If Alexan­der and Hatch start meet­ing with Mur­ray and Wy­den, good — not great, but good — things could hap­pen.


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