The New York Post
March 22, 2017
The Republican health-care bill is making its way toward passage in the House of Representatives Thursday. And though the course of the legislation hasn’t been smooth and its future in the Senate is uncertain, we’ve learned a great deal about Washington politics in the Trump era from its journey thus far.
President Trump may be the most unconventional White House resident of our time, and perhaps of all time, but when it comes to this bill, he’s behaving the way anyone in his position would behave.
It’s the first bill of his presidency. He and House Speaker Paul Ryan agreed they would tackle health care first. The actual piece of legislation itself was designed by Ryan and Trump’s own Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Whatever the bill’s failings, and they’re huge, Trump clearly recognizes that his credibility as a political leader is resting on the outcome of its journey.
If the bill passes, he will have a big procedural win in his column in his maiden outing as an elected pol. If it fails, he will look like a paper tiger, a guy who couldn’t even get a bill he championed through a Congress controlled by his own party.
Conservative skeptics who dislike the bill — apparently even some inside the White House, if gossip is to be believed — were hoping Trump’s populist, anti-establishment approach during the primaries would allow him to transcend this classic calculus.
After all, he ran against the Republican establishment in the Republican primaries and continued to do so during the general election. Why couldn’t he turn on the bill on the grounds that it violated his own populist promises and maintain his standing as a critic of politics as usual?
Trump’s behavior during the three weeks of the bill’s existence made it clear he flirted with this notion at first. He complained about the bill in a couple of rallies and said he wished they’d done tax reform first.
And then he stopped, and began doing what political leaders do when they want something that recalcitrant members of their own coalition are resisting. He calls them. He meets with them. He says nice things to them.
And then he threatens them with his displeasure should they balk at following his wishes.
He is following the same course other presidents before him have in somewhat comparable situations.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton cajoled and bullied a Pennsylvania congresswoman into casting the pivotal vote for his tax increase even though she knew it would mean her eventual defeat the following year. (That soon-to-be-ex-congresswoman, Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, eventually became Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law.)
President George W. Bush promised a prescription drug benefit in the 2000 campaign, and when conservative Republicans balked in 2003, he and House leaders turned up the heat. He lobbied ferociously and got four GOP members to change their “nay” to a “yea” at the last minute — while the bill was being voted on.
It passed the House by a single vote.
The point here is that presidents can’t sit it out on controversial legislation when their party has chosen to tackle a major issue. Not even Trump.
Presidents have a lot of actual power. But they must also show they have the power to persuade — and even if persuasion doesn’t do it, they have to show they have the power to intimidate.
In the end, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. This basic statement is gospel for Trump, who has nothing but contempt for people he thinks are losers. If the bill goes down in the House, in his own eyes, he’ll look no better than . . . I don’t know, than someone who got captured.
And he hasn’t even gotten to the really hard part yet: the Senate.
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