House Republicans voted 60 times to repeal Obamacare when Barack Obama was president. They have voted zero times on it since Donald Trump took the White House — and now they say they’re moving on.
Moving on to what, no one seems to know.
Republicans headed home on Friday skeptical at best about the prospects for other complicated bills that don’t come with the benefit of the rage of their base to power them through, like tax reform and infrastructure.
“I don’t know that we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution right now,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a freshman Republican from Florida who says he’s still committed to revamping Obamacare. He spoke of the failure in apocalyptic terms, saying Republicans may have given away the 2018 midterm elections, ensured that Trump will get impeached by Democrats once they’re in power and potentially exiled themselves to years in the minority.
Theoretically, Republicans say, Democrats should be more willing to work with them on tax reform and infrastructure, and that will make the vote math easier. Theoretically, Republicans say, voters who elected them and Trump to blow up a Washington that wasn’t doing anything and certainly wasn’t doing anything for them, will interpret not holding a vote as some kind of weird victory, or at least forget about it by next November.
In his short press conference to announce the demise of the bill he tried to pull back even as Trump insisted on holding a vote (and then claimed credit for canceling), Speaker Paul Ryan countered with a double dose of big “Ifs.”
“Are we willing to say yes to the very good, even if it’s not the perfect—because if we’re willing to do that, we still have such incredible opportunity in front of us,” he pleaded.
He didn’t get into what would happen if not.
“This notion that we’ll just pivot to tax reform and all will be well, I think, is fantasy,” Gaetz said.
Other Republicans expressed frustration with the outcome and blamed the group of hardline conservatives for the bill’s defeat. Rep. John Faso, another freshman, who won a hotly contested general election last fall, helped win some concessions in the bill to get the support of several of his fellow New Yorkers and then became a target of his state’s governor and others in the state for a giveaway.
Like Gaetz, Faso said this wasn’t what he went to Congress for.
“There’s still time to repair the fallout from this,” he explained, but “there’s a faction that completely doesn’t understand what it takes to be a governing majority.”
He added: “We should have one, but they certainly thwarted it.”
Ryan attributed the failure to Republicans newfound control of government. “We’re going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party,” he said Friday. Others agreed.
“Your base walked away from it, the White House wouldn’t own it, and the leadership was caught flat-footed,” said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chairman. “What I hope is that folks sober up to what this episode says about our readiness to govern. Because come Monday morning, the country’s going to want you to have some answers to some things, and you better be prepared.”
Gaetz and Faso just got to Washington, so neither cast any of the show votes for repealing Obamacare that were a regular feature of the last few Congresses. Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) cast a few, though, and he’s still proud he did—despite being a firm no through this week on the repeal effort.
“They were messaging votes,” Donovan said. “I didn’t vote not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I was going to vote no on the replacement.”
Donovan insisted he didn’t see the bill’s demise as a failure for Trump and Ryan, rather as a demonstration of what a good job they did.
“People think that this is a blemish on the president’s administration or Ryan’s leadership — I think it just showed good leadership, in how they listened, and didn’t give up until the end when they didn’t have the votes,” Donovan said.
Gaetz, on the other hand, was critical of the members who had cast votes against Obamacare but wouldn’t on Friday. “Some people get a shaky trigger finger when they’re firing with live ammo,” he said.
Trump ended his passionless pursuit of a deal by claiming that he was never in a rush, telling reporters he gathered around him in the Oval Office, “I never said repeal and replace within 64 days.” The statement was at odds with a tweet of his from last February: “We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare – and nobody can do that like me. We will save $’s and have much better healthcare!”
Trump telegraphed his back-up plan weeks ago: if the bill did not pass, the healthcare system would implode and the people who suffer would direct their anger — and accompanying political backlash — toward the party that passed the law instead of the people who had promised to get rid it, but failed.
But while Trump is trying to donkey kick the Democrats, he may have to rely on them to pass legislation like the investment in infrastructure that his own party is unlikely to be able to pass on its own.
“What President Trump has learned a few days in is that you can’t count on your Republican majority to come through for you in lock-step fashion,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.). “I don’t know Donald Trump, but I know he is about getting things done, and if he can’t come to the Republican conference to get stuff done, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of options.”
That assumes an openness from Democrats that’s faded since their brain scrambling by Hillary Clinton’s loss last year. There appeared to be a willingness to work on infrastructure with Republicans, but that was before their win on healthcare and the president’s dismal approval ratings helped convince them that perhaps Trump is not as invincible as he once seemed.
“In my life, I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House today,” gloated Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a statement out after the vote that was a far cry from all the eagerness to work with Trump on infrastructure that he was projecting at the end of last year.
It’s possible that the loss was a shock to the system that Republicans need in order to start working together.
“I think we could pass a Mother’s Day resolution,” Faso said, joking to lighten his muted mood on Friday night. “Father’s Day, I’m not so sure about.”
By: Edward-Isaac Dovere