Congressional Republicans were caught off guard in recent weeks by President Trump’s warming to Democrats on items like the budget and debt ceiling deal and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. This was particularly concerning for Republicans as the change in priorities from healthcare to DACA came with just weeks left before the budget reconciliation vehicle ends to repeal and replace healthcare by a simple majority on September 30. While President Trump renewed his campaign mantra of “repeal and replace” this week to give a momentum push for the Graham- Cassidy bill, it remains unclear if this will be enough for the legislation to pass in time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stated that, if they can produce 50 votes for the bill to pass with a vice presidential tie breaker, he will present it to the floor. As of now, there are two “no” votes from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Arizona Senator John McCain, meaning no other Republicans can object for it to pass. The remaining undecided Republicans are waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to finish its analysis to know for certain the change in cost. Overall, there is positive feedback from the Republicans, but no bipartisanship with the Democrats—a core requirement from Senator McCain from the last repeal attempt in July and again his reason for not supporting the bill this time around.
The DACA deal caused consternation among Republicans that President Trump may abandon a partisan approach to legislative deal-making, including on healthcare reform. With President Trump’s ongoing discussions with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), it’s increasingly evident that Republicans could be shut out of the legislative writing on behalf of the president on central issues of their platform. The latent meeting between the Democratic leaders and the president resulted in a tentative deal to prevent deportations in exchange for increasing border security, although some critics believe that the president has leverage on border security because this conversation would not be happening if he did not stop the DACA policy in the first place.
The reaction from the Democratic Party has been mixed. Some have been applauding Leader Pelosi’s ability to persuade the president, who is seen as constantly changing opinions on legislative issues. She brokered deals with the president that secured a three-month debt limit extension against the objections of Republicans and may have even received commitment to protect young undocumented immigrants with the DACA deal. Others have criticized the House Minority Leader for not including critical members that concern either border security or DACA. Her position as House Leader may be in danger, as a few Democrats have stated that bipartisan cooperation will not be indicative of next year’s election.
Republicans, on the other hand, have said that no conclusive deals were made in the Trump-Pelosi-Schumer meeting and, if they were made, it did not bind anyone else to their agreement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not give any legislative recognition to their meeting but rather awaits the proposal from the administration. Republicans believe they should be working hand in hand with President Trump to move legislation across the floor; instead, the president has shifted his interest to working with Democrats, causing some Republicans to view the president as moving toward the center. Trump’s expressed optimism about the bipartisan successes coming out of the agreements is notable given that it is more than he can say about working with his own party.
The renewed interest this week in possibly passing the Graham-Cassidy bill may be an indicator that the administration and the Republican Party’s strained relationship is easing slightly. But until congressional Republicans can achieve the most salient goal to President Trump’s campaign, healthcare reform, it remains to be seen whether the president’s future will hold a partisan legislative approach with Republicans or a bipartisan approach with Democrats.
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