McConnell Gives Up and Delays the Health Care Vote

CNN’s Senior Congressional Reporter Manu Raju just made a tweet announcement that I’ve been anticipating for months and months now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can’t get the votes from his own caucus to repeal Obamacare.

I’ve written piece after piece about how Trump miscalculated when he made the decision (if it really was a “decision” at all) to try to govern with zero Democratic votes. In a last ditch effort to win over wavering members of his caucus, Mitch McConnell finally said something approximating the truth:

Mitch McConnell is delivering an urgent warning to staffers, Republican senators and even the president himself: If Obamacare repeal fails this week, the GOP will lose all leverage and be forced to work with Chuck Schumer.

Working with Chuck Schumer should have been Trump’s starting point because he promised to protect Medicare and Medicaid. He promised not to leave people dying on the streets. He promised people would get excellent and even more affordable access to health care. If he wanted those things, the last people to rely on would be ideological conservatives.

Trump was too stupid to understand this up front, so he went along with a plan that not only would break some of his more important campaign promises, but which is polling just above the Ebola virus. Maybe Trump doesn’t realize it, but one major reason he won over so many Obama Democrats is because he distinguished himself from ordinary Republicans like Paul Ryan who have built their entire careers around destroying the safety net.

But his strategy was idiotic for another reason, which was that it should have been obvious that the Republican Party can’t operate as a unified borg anymore. They basically ran John Boehner and Eric Cantor out of town because they couldn’t get behind their leadership and forced them to go running to Nancy Pelosi for help over and over again.

I know Josh Marshall can’t quite believe his eyes, but this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Mitch McConnell is a master legislative tactician, but he isn’t a wizard. There never was a way to square the circle between Trump’s campaign promises, the needs of moderate Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, and the unhinged anti-Obamacare rhetoric of Trump and the hard right.

Marshall is correct to caution that this isn’t the end and that McConnell will keep working. He may cobble together something in the end. But unless he comes up with a plan that won’t strip 15 million people of their health care next year that still does pretty much everything the House Freedom Caucus would like to see in a repeal bill, he isn’t going to be able to reconcile any Senate bill with the House version. And if that were possible, he would have presented that bill already.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have succeeded in doing real damage to the health care exchanges, to the point that they can’t just give up and move on to other things. That’s why he’ll need to start talking to Schumer. And the Republicans will discover, once they start exploring that route, that the Democrats have all the leverage because they’ll be expected to provide almost all the votes.

McConnell tried using this stark reality as his final cudgel to beat his caucus into line, but they wouldn’t budge.

They’ll go into their recess and have to endure the fury of pretty much everyone who is engaged on health care, regardless of what angle they’re taking on it.

Trump has an opportunity now to recalibrate how he wants to govern, but it’s probably far too late for him to provide an olive branch to the Democrats. As I predicted, his presidency is going to crash and burn this summer.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.