Throughout Barack Obama's administration, the Republicans in Congress griped that the president wasn't sufficiently respectful of their beliefs or willing to conduct the necessary bipartisan "outreach." President Obama did, of course, go out of his way to try to gain the support of Republicans, spending years attempting to put into effect his "grand bargain," which was designed to settle a number of big-ticket items on both sides of the aisle. To no avail.
His famous debut speech to the 2004 Democratic convention was all about blue-state and red-state America being one. When Obama decided to run for president in 2007, he said this:
I have always had extraordinarily good relations with very conservative colleagues. And that's not because I agree with any of them or fudge on my positions, but people feel I listen to them and give them the benefit of the doubt. I assume the best of people.
Obama was going to "fix Washington." When the Republicans laughed in his face and adopted a policy of total obstruction, he was deemed a failure for being unable to fulfill his promise.
Donald Trump is in no danger of that particular failure. He made a few vague references to bringing people together, but it always sounded like he left off the "or else" at the end of the sentence. Certainly nobody expected that after eight years of GOP obstruction and the most disgusting campaign in history, Democrats were going to meet this president halfway. So far, they have not.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has announced that he's going to hold the vote on his Trumpcare bill on Thursday and the GOP is completely on their own. After the devastating Congressional Budget Office report knocked members of the House leadership back on their heels with terrible headlines all over the country (followed closely by more terrible headlines about Trump's budget), Ryan and company threw on some patches that they hoped would appease enough nervous members to pass the bill and throw this toxic hot potato to the Senate.
House leaders have thrown some money at constituents ages 50 to 64 (whose insurance would become unaffordable under Trumpcare), but most analysts say this measure would barely make a dent in the problem. Ryan has attempted to further appease the bloodthirsty Freedom Caucus, which is demanding that Medicaid be destroyed as quickly as possible. Until that happens, Republicans appear to have agreed that sick, poor people must be required to have a job before they can see a doctor.
There's no word yet on whether this proposal would include the millions of elderly who depend upon Medicaid to pay their nursing home costs, which is the largest single outlay in the Medicaid budget. Perhaps Trump's promised jobs initiative includes work that can be done from wheelchairs and hospital beds.
Whip counts early in the week were not promising. The Freedom Caucus is so rigidly committed to full repeal its members say they won't be satisfied with anything less than throwing out every person using Obamacare and Medicaid on their own immediately. More moderate members concerned with keeping their seats in districts where Democrat Hillary Clinton won or came close are terrified that this draconian bill spells doom for their careers. Tellingly, very few have indicated that their main concern is the tens of millions of people who will suffer if this bill passes.
Having seen the Breitbart headlines, Ryan understands that Trump might prefer the bill to fail so he could keep ragging on Obama for a few more years. Ryan also perceives that conservative knives are out for him once again, ready to hold him responsible for any failure to repeal the hated program. So the speaker has made the shrewd move of flattering the president like a well trained manservant, calling Trump "the ultimate closer" and tying him to the success of the vote as tightly as possible.
On Tuesday Ryan even persuaded the president to make a rare trek to Capitol Hill to make a patented Trump sales pitch to an excited GOP caucus. According to The Washington Post, Trump didn't even try to make a case for the bill on the merits, likely because he has no idea what they are. Instead, he issued a veiled threat to "go after" those who failed to vote for the bill and complained that “we won’t have these crowds if we don’t get this done." The president added, "I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don’t get this done.”
Trump doesn't seem to understand that the "yuge" crowds these legislators are getting aren't cheering ecstatically. They're protesting:
The general consensus is that despite his insistence that the meeting was "terrific" and "tremendous" the greatest salesman in the world didn't make the sale. As of Tuesday night, most whip counts still had the bill falling short.
It's interesting to see how much this process mirrors the Democratic Sturm und Drang over the Affordable Care Act back in 2009. The Democrats did take their time to write the bill carefully, which hasn't happened this time around. They held extensive hearings and listened to expert analyses. But the politics were very fraught, with progressives fighting for more ambitious coverage and conservative Democrats worried about the same folks back home that Republicans are worried about today.
Politico reported at the time that the conservative Blue Dog Democrats were under tremendous pressure from their constituents and told the president about it. They reminded him that many of them had been down the health care reform road 14 years before when Bill Clinton tried to pass it and were wary of the political pitfalls:
Arkansas Congressman Marion Berry said, “They just kept telling us how good it was going to be. The president himself, when that was brought up in one group, said, ‘Well, the big difference here and in ’94 was you’ve got me.’"
That didn't work out too well. The 2010 midterm elections were an electoral massacre that brought the Tea Party to power in Congress.
Maybe Trump's veiled threat to punish Republicans in 2018 if they don't vote for the bill will bring enough reluctant congressmen around by Thursday. But his threats don't guarantee a midterm victory for Republicans any more than Obama's promises did for Democrats.
At least the Democrats who lost having voted for the Affordable Care Act could feel they had sacrificed their seats for something that alleviated pain and suffering for millions of people. Republicans are now fretting that they'll be similarly punished for failing to bring all that pain and suffering back. You have to wonder if a few of them wonder what kind of a devil's bargain they've made.