For Republicans and our country, turnabout is not fair play.
Senator John McCain waited two years to get his revenge against Donald Trump for saying that McCain is not a war hero. But with a giant middle finger — or more precisely a thumb — McCain, perhaps assuming that he’ll never run for election again, showed Donald Trump that repealing and replacing Obamacare would not be the “so easy” venture that the great “deal-maker” promised.
I understand that these two men don’t like each other. I understand that revenge is a dish best served cold. But by looking to hurt President Trump — which I have no doubt was one motivation of the “maverick” Senator — John McCain cemented his reputation as a politico who always talked a good game and who traded on his former heroism but who in the end was a harmful influence in American politics. (I say cemented because McCain’s reputation had already gone substantially in that direction with his involvement in the unconstitutional McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act — which may not be its official name — his incessant efforts to get and keep America in wars, and his mindless desire to promote “bipartisanship” over principle, party, and, in this case, country.)
In the closing moments of his “triumphant” return-to-the-Senate speech on Tuesday night, Senator McCain said that after the debates and votes on health care reform, he planned to stay in D.C. for a few days managing the Senate approval of the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”), normally a fairly non-controversial process, before returning home for treating for his recently diagnosed brain cancer.
From the turnabout-is-fair-play files, as long as John McCain was going to torpedo his own party and the nation to assuage his obsession with only supporting bills approved of by Democrats, Senator Rand Paul decided “Game on!” On Friday, Dr. Paul, long one of the Senate’s most aggressive opponents of Obamacare, blocked the Senate from moving directly to consideration of McCain’s cherished NDAA. Not knowing when his bill may move to the floor, I suspect McCain will simply return to Arizona, any future return date uncertain at best. For Dr. Paul, a hot-off-the-grill revenge is fine as well…
Following his back-stabbing vote, John McCain, as sympathetic a character as his health issues might make him this week, deserves to feel the sting of a Republican senator. If McCain never returns to the Senate, it is fitting that the last vote he casts will be one which, unfortunately for the nation, adds some credence to the words “He’s no hero.”
So what happens now? The Senate will slowly grind through confirming judicial nominations (including Colorado’s brilliant Allison Eid to replace Justice Neil Gorsuch on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals), passing some minor legislation, dealing with a few administration appointee confirmations and will eventually land on the doorstep of tax reform — where it’s hard to think of a good reason not to expect the same result as what we just saw with healthcare reform.
Somewhere in all that, an effort may arise to “stabilize” health insurance markets. Republicans must resist this temptation as any such measure will represent a taxpayer bailout of insurance companies, creating a de facto fully-socialist health insurance system (at least for the individual insurance market), and will guarantee that Obama is never substantially reformed, much less repealed. President Trump’s exhortation to let Obamacare collapse is a high-risk strategy but probably the best one. If he wanted to help it along, he (or his by-the-book AG) would end the illegal subsidy payments still being made to health insurance companies.
The House will move more quickly than the Senate, not having to process confirmation of nominees, and we’ll see a battle royale between conservatives and moderates about how to simplify our tax code and lower our tax rates. At least, as Paul Ryan announced yesterday, the horrendous idea of a Border Adjustable Tax (effectively a tax on all imports), has been jettisoned. The major question is whether Republican “moderates” will work with Democrats to pass a bill that can get through the House without the support of the Freedom Caucus.
Such a bill would require the same centrist path in the Senate and could conceivably have enough votes to overcome an inevitable filibuster from some combination of Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz. And whatever comes from that process will be a tremendous letdown to the millions of Americans who have used their votes to give Republicans control of the federal government only to be led down the path of “bipartisanship” which, as John McCain proves each and every day, means Republicans moving toward Democratic positions and never the converse.
If, even with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress and with a Republican in the White House who will sign whatever comes to him on these issues, Obamacare reform cannot be done at all and tax reform cannot be done well, it won’t be easy selling the American public on the idea that the only answer is to elect more Republicans in 2018.
But that is the only answer. And it is where President Trump’s focus needs to be.
Let’s not kid ourselves: President Trump is a master marketer, a decent campaigner, a man who loves the campaign trail, and a man who has precious little knowledge or understanding of the complex details of any area of politics or economics outside of what he needs to know as a Manhattan real estate developer.
The president’s political capital within D.C. is dwindling rapidly; almost no politician, particularly in the Senate, is afraid of him. (It doesn’t help that the man hired to get Mr. Trump’s mind and the media’s focus back on to the president’s agenda is doing just the opposite, and making a fool of himself in the process.)
In less than 48 hours, President Trump was rebuffed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (regarding any thought of replacing Jeff Sessions as Attorney General), by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (regarding changing military policy on transgender personnel by tweet), by the Boy Scouts of America (who apologized for Trump’s inappropriately political speech to the National Jamboree earlier this week), and by the U.S. Senate, or more specifically one senator, who got his terrible revenge for an insult that a POW, much less one who suffered years of additional torture after refusing early release, would rightly consider unforgivable.
Although the 2018 election seems simultaneously so near and so far away, there may be little left for this president to do but to get back out on the road and hope that a little of the 2016 Trump magic remains to help the GOP capture some of the 10 Senate seats up for election which are held by Democrats in states won by Trump.
For all the intensity of their disagreements, President Trump and John McCain have a couple of things in common: they are both very stubborn men and, as of this week, they should each get out of Washington, D.C.