By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In the end, The Closer was unable to close the deal.
For President Donald Trump, the collapse on Friday of his first legislative priority, a health care reform bill, was an embarrassing loss of face after he and his administration insisted until the time of the U.S. House of Representatives vote. America where there were enough Republicans. support for.
It calls into question the ability of the neophyte president to advance important legislation in Congress. And for a celebrity businessman who calls himself a negotiator and repairman, it casts doubt on his ability to deliver on his bold promises to “drain the swamp” of shaking Washington.
The White House wants to push through, among other things, tax reform and a massive infrastructure package this year, but now must address whether a shift in focus is needed and whether congressional allies like the Speaker of the House can be counted on. Paul Ryan to meet.
“This is the most momentous day of the Trump presidency and it is not just a failure, it is an astonishing failure,” Charlie Sykes, an influential Republican political commentator from Wisconsin and frequent critic of Trump, said on Twitter.
Trump appeared to attribute the loss in part to his own inexperience after House leaders withdrew his bill to repeal and replace Obamacare following the defections of moderate and far-right Republican members who were unmoved by the ultimatum of Trump to vote for the plan or live with the current system.
“We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process, ”Trump said after the bill was withdrawn, adding that he would move forward with other priorities.
It was another setback for an administration barely two months in office that has already seen its national security adviser resign, that its immigration restrictions were lifted in court, and it faces a series of questions about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Trump’s trademark business savvy seemed to abandon him this week. Though he furiously courted hardline conservatives who opposed the reform bill, they largely refused to budge, and in the process alienated the moderates who initially supported the bill.
Then the president changed tack and gave up trying to lure conservative opponents into the fold, instead delivering an ultimatum that all Republicans needed to back the bill. That didn’t work either.
Trump also failed to persuade the American public that the bill was an improvement over what he would have repealed and replaced: the Affordable Care Act, the signature national achievement of former Democratic President Barack Obama. Polls showed the replacement bill to be deeply unpopular, with conservative Republicans complaining that their offices were being flooded by calls from voters who opposed it.
“It shows that campaigning and legislating are two different things,” said Jim Manley, who was once a top adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas blamed the failure on Republicans who control the White House, Senate and House who are still learning to govern after eight years of Obama.
“Sometimes you are playing fantasy football and other times you are in the real game,” Barton told Reuters.
Florida Representative Mario Díaz-Balart called it “a major blow” to the Republican agenda.
Trump’s efforts to involve opponents of the bill at times appeared to further muddy the process, as he largely excluded Ryan from the negotiations. (Ryan didn’t seem to mind, calling Trump a “great closer.”)
But even when Trump offered concessions, the Conservatives didn’t budge and the moderates got angry.
Stuart Diamond, a professor who teaches negotiation at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said Trump’s heavy-handed tactics failed.
“Threats don’t work in general,” he said. “They cause damage in relationships. They definitely don’t work in a situation with many different stakeholders, where power is distributed. “
ESCAPE FROM A DISASTER THAT IS COMING
After the bill was revised according to Trump’s specifications, the Congressional Budget Office, which analyzes the financial impact of the proposed legislation, determined that the bill would deprive 24 million Americans of health insurance during the next decade and would reduce about $ 150 billion of the budget deficit.
The CBO said the bill would not affect the number of people without insurance, but would reduce the budget deficit significantly less than the original bill, which would worry tax hawks. Even as Trump and the White House pushed harder, opposition to the bill among the rank and file increased.
Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who also owns a small business, said Trump was still getting used to governing. “There are parallels between government and business, but they are not exactly the same.”
The lesson from the debacle, said John Feehery, a Republican strategist who was an assistant to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, is that the White House must take a firmer hand in crafting legislative strategy. When it comes to health, Trump largely relied on Ryan’s office, which drafted the bill in secret, sowing distrust among conservatives.
Congress now faces possibly even tougher legislative reform: revising the tax code, which hasn’t been done since 1986 and involves navigating a pit of competing special interests snakes. Like Trump’s healthcare proposal, it could fight public opinion, and Democrats are likely to see it as a Republican gift to the rich.
Some Republicans also had the feeling that they had escaped a looming disaster. Even if the bill had passed the House, it faced sweeping reform in the Senate, meaning both houses would have been grappling with the bill for weeks, perhaps months.
And if it was signed into law and millions of voters lost health insurance, some Republicans feared suffering at the polls.
Instead, those Republicans have to hope voters won’t punish them for failing to deliver on a promise they’ve been making since Obamacare was passed in 2010, and that they will still believe this president when he says he can cut a deal.
“This is a promise that the Republican Party made to the voters. They need to get it right, “said Rachel Bovard, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, urging Republicans to” start over. “
It’s unclear when that could happen. “This bill is dead,” said Representative Greg Walden of Oregon, a member of the House leadership team.