As of Wednesday, amid internal GOP divisions on a spending bill and a potential shutdown looming Friday night, House Republicans had coalesced around a strategy: accuse Democrats planning to vote no because the plan doesn’t include relief for 700,000 young immigrants of deliberately blocking the renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
On Thursday morning, President Trump torched that strategy with a single tweet, indicating that CHIP should not be attached to the short-term spending bill at all.
CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2018
The declaration upends 11th-hour negotiations on Capitol Hill that were already teetering on the edge of collapse due both to Democratic opposition and internal Republican divisions.
The far-right Freedom Caucus says they have more than enough “no” votes to block the passage of a short-term deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) openly admitted Wednesday that he has no idea what President Trump wants or would sign when it comes to immigration. Each day, more Senate Republicans declare their intent to vote against the continuing resolution.
“It’s a mess,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) told reporters, exiting a closed-door lunch with the GOP caucus on Wednesday.
Amid this chaos, Republicans thought that attaching a six-year reauthorization of CHIP to the short term continuing resolution was a win-win. Democrats who had railed for months that the GOP-controlled Congress had failed to fund the program would have a tough time voting against it despite their opposition to other aspects of the package. And if it went down in flames, Republicans could cast the blame on Congress’ minority party.
House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) outlined this strategy in a press conference Wednesday night, pointing the finger at Democrats.
“Stop the obstruction. Stop the games. There’s no good reason to punish children,” she lamented. “Not only are they voting to shut down the government, they’re voting to deny children access to critical health care when they need it.”
Her colleague Rep. Ralph Abram (R-LA) went further, saying Democrats “would rather support illegal aliens as opposed to our America children, who need that money.”
As a doctor in rural Louisiana, I have seen how #CHIP helps poor children, but Democrats are playing political games with CHIP over an unrelated immigration debate. Dems care more about illegal immigrants than they do about sick American children. That is unconscionable. #LA05 pic.twitter.com/CU933ptsO0
— Rep. Ralph Abraham (@RepAbraham) January 18, 2018
Even without the President swooping in to undermine this line of attack, there are a few problems with it. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, and could have passed a CHIP reauthorization at any time last year. Only after the program expired in September, putting millions of families who depend on it in limbo, did the House pass a CHIP bill that angered Democrats by making deep cuts to Obamacare’s Public Health and Prevention Fund. The GOP-controlled Senate never held a vote on CHIP at all.
Then, once new data showed that CHIP did not require any offsets at all and in fact saved the government money—Republicans still did not attempt to pass the program on its own. Instead, they chose to attach it to the spending bill—paired with other policies delaying some of Obamacare’s taxes—in order to make it difficult for Democrats to vote against a package that fails to meet many of their other priorities.
And now, President Trump has upended House Republicans’ gambit by bashing the inclusion of CHIP at all.