There was a flurry of statements, recognitions and un-promises over the course of last night on the same front. Yesterday Vice President Pence tried to assuage Republican concerns that President Trump has had an at best diffident approach to his support of the House repeal bill. Coming out of that meeting, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) told reporters, "This president is ready to put the full weight of his bully pulpit and all of his tools [behind the bill]. It was very important for us to hear that, because there are a lot of people who need that shoring up.”
This has been a very real and justified concern for the members who have to vote on this bill and face voters in less than two years. As we've discussed, President Trump's grasp of the details of health care policy is so thin, his ideology so protean and his narrow self-interest so total that any Republican on Capitol Hill has to be highly concerned he'll abandon them in the lurch. Something like that seemed to happen last night. When Tucker Carlson pressed Trump on how the bill would hurt his own core supporters, the President said in so many words that yeah, the bill may suck and if it does he won't sign it.
Good luck to anyone foolish enough to vote for a bill the President himself may turn against.
Then Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been saying that this is the bill and it ain't changing, suddenly said this bill actually can't pass the House.
Clearly the GOP leadership, in both chambers, is realizing that something with this bill will need to change. But the problem goes deeper than this. It's not simply that the plan appears to need major changes to pass. The issue is that it will require changes in what look like two, irreconcilable directions. Each side might be capable of some bargaining and compromise. But it's not to me how the compromises that might be possible with the House 'Freedom Caucus' members get anywhere near the ones demanded by Senators who have to face real electorates.
Much of this is just the predictable outcome of almost eight years of promises and activism that were always going to be hard to fulfill. It's mostly that. But a very big part of this is a point we've noted a few times in recent weeks. When it comes to difficult and/or consequential legislation, it is usually the case that the President is the critical element in the equation. It is only the President who controls a sufficient menu of threats and favors, a sufficiently loud voice and in the beginning of the presidency at least a lot of popularity to get at least everyone in his party moving in unison.
Donald Trump has shown little ability or inclination to play that role. He seems more focused standing back and being ready to jump on whichever side ends up being most popular or least likely to put him in a bad position. That's the last thing legislation needs from a President.