CNBC: McCain, Mueller and GOP Mavericks

I spoke to CNBC’s John Harwood about the impact of Senator John McCain’s diagnosis on the health care debate and the broader dynamic between Congress and the administration. Harwood draws a parallel to Ted Kennedy’s illness in 2009 that served as a rallying point for Senate Democrats in their winding path to passing the ACA. He further wonders whether McCain’s maverick ethos might rub off in the form of emboldening fellow Republicans to buck the administration. I expressed my doubts.

For the moment, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller has more influence than anyone over how GOP lawmakers handle Trump. Until the ex-FBI director completes his investigation and announces conclusions, Mueller offers them a political shield.

“As long as the policy agenda lives, [Congress] will defer Russia stuff to Mueller and not offer much beyond furrowed brows and frustrated sound bites about unfortunate distractions,” said GOP strategist Liam Donovan.

Full article here.

The 1:20 version of this argument:

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Toronto Star: Why Health Care Failed

I spoke with Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star about the demise (for now) of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts in the Senate.

Trump has little influence on Congress

With an approval rating below 40 per cent — 36 per cent, according to the most recent Washington Post poll — Trump just didn’t have the power to scare Congress into satisfying his whims. And his eagerness to pass any bill at all made it impossible for the White House to convince legislators that he cared about the policy specifics.

“The reason that Congress was excited about this was he’ll sign whatever you’ll send him. But if he’s willing to sign whatever you’ll send him, he doesn’t have the credibility to message on what he’s asking for,” said Republican strategist and lobbyist Liam Donovan.

“It cuts both ways. You can’t have him be an auto-pen if you expect him to lead the dance.”

Republicans have irreconcilable differences

Party unity was easy when members of Congress knew their repeal votes amounted to mere veto-fodder symbolism. When it came time to make law under a Republican president, they had to find a way to placate Medicaid-conscious moderates and damn-the-consequences right-wingers at the same time — losing two senators maximum.

“You’re handcuffed in what you can do with 52 votes. Which isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact,” said Donovan. “And to cobble together those 52 votes … you have to come up with something that Susan Collins and Ted Cruz can agree on. That’s incredibly challenging.”

Full article here.

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