A pouting, petulant president failed to get what he wanted this week, which wasn’t a win for his legislative agenda, such as it is. But the American people did win.
Yes, the issue was repealing the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 20 million Americans get insurance. Republicans in Congress, led by hard-right GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell, couldn’t get the job done because of opposition from Democrats and from a few GOP senators who either thought the repeal/replace move didn’t repeal enough, or, on the other end of the ideological spectrum, a couple of Republicans who thought Medicaid cuts would leave their constituents vulnerable.
Trump made repealing “Obamacare” a big issue when he appeared before his hard-line base at rallies. But while their faces were reddening with hatred for President Obama fueled by Trump, the Affordable Care Act was getting more and more popular, and finally crossed a threshold in some polls of having more approval than disapproval ratings.
That didn’t dissuade Republican leaders, who are so entrenched in the salons of Washington and so beholden to the Koch brothers and other conservative donors that they long ago lost touch with average Americans. So they were charging ahead with plans to repeal the ACA and replace it with something that would have cut Medicaid for millions of people and would have trimmed coverage. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas even came up with something that would allow insurance companies to sell stripped-down policies for a lower cost but with lousy coverage.
The GOP plan would have been catastrophic. For his part, Trump continues to speak of the imminent failure of the ACA – not true – and to suppose he and Republicans will be back with another repeal-and-replace move. But Trump knows little of policy details. He mainly just wants to win one in Congress, in part to distract attention from an ever-widening investigation of his campaign’s Russian connections, an investigation that now includes his son and son-in-law.
But with the defeat of the GOP health care plan (or non-care plan), Trump’s already-diminished clout on Capitol Hill is rapidly vanishing. His own approval ratings are headed for rock-bottom, which means Republicans in Congress aren’t likely to pay much attention to whatever his advisers determine his priorities are.
Trump is at a point in his presidency where he should have laid out his legislative priorities in detail, and where he should have accomplished some of them. Instead, he seems to be floundering, which normally would surrender leadership to McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But McConnell’s alleged strength in deal-making has been exposed as a 97-pound weakling, and Ryan’s leadership is going to be weakened as more of his members start to worry about what congressional bumbling and presidential ineptitude are going to do to their re-election chances.
The health-care reform push was a big test, the big test, for Trump and GOP leaders, and they flunked it. Thank goodness.