Health care, Russia: President’s challenges mount

By BRIAN A. HOWEY

There was President Trump, author of the “Art of the Deal,” dining with Vice President Mike Pence and Republican senators at the White House Monday night. He complained about the grind of the health care reforms, reaffirming his winter quote that “no one knew how tough” such a process could be. He trashed Sen. Rand Paul for his opposition.

Pence had spent the previous weekend arm twisting 49 of the nation’s stone-faced governors in Providence (Gov. Eric Holcomb wasn’t there) on the Senate bill, simultaneously discrediting Congressional Budget Office estimates and using other CBO data to make his case. The governors were presented with an Avalere Health study that revealed Indiana’s Medicaid program would lose $4.9 billion in the next nine years, and $36.5 billion — or 32 percent — by 2036. And the Wall Street Journal reported on a CBO estimate of the Senate bill impacts: 32 million Americans would lose coverage, and while the federal deficit would decrease $473 billion, insurance premiums would double by 2026.

On that Saturday night, Pence would intone with one of his “let me be clear” intros that is often followed by fallacy: “We’re on the verge of a historic accomplishment here in our nation’s capital. Because in the coming days, President Trump, working with the Congress that you helped elect, is going to keep our promise to the American people, and we are going to repeal and replace Obamacare.”

It was the capstone of the White House advocacy that included no major addresses or rallies as President Obama had done in 2009 and 2010. Instead, Trump resorted to Twitter 991 times to defend his scandal-mired clan. He told Senate Republicans that the House bill he lauded with a Rose Garden beer party was “mean,” creating an “I’ll-throw-you-under-the-bus” dynamic. His minions from the Pence sphere — Nick Ayres and Marty Obst — targeted Republican Sens. Dean Heller and Jeff Flake with ads and potential primary opponents, creating a pervading sense of unease, anger and distrust in the Senate.

As Trump and Pence dined Monday, Republican senators from two of the reddest states — Jerry Moran of Kansas and Mike Lee of Utah — were simultaneously writing press releases saying they couldn’t vote for the Senate plan, killing it. Trump was blindsided. “I was very surprised when the two folks came out last night,” Trump said Tuesday. “We thought they were in fairly good shape.”

“Right now, nobody’s afraid of Trump, and that’s a real problem,” Rob Jesmer, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the New York Times. “But the truth is that he hasn’t really tried.”

Beyond the 991 tweets, the root of almost all his legal, ethical and political problems, Trump has signed 42 bills, but none of them are considered major. He’s golfed 40 times. The Washington Post counted 836 false or misleading claims, an average of 4.6 a day. So many of us don’t know when to believe him.

Some of you will be fuming at this read as just another screed from the “liberal press.”

But read the conservatives. The Weekly Standard editorial board wrote of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort’s meeting with Russian intelligence officials to get the dirt on Hillary Clinton: “These are circumstances in which the president has no capacity to set policy toward Russia. By a series of unforced errors — omissions of financial dealings with Russian companies, unaccountably faulty memories on meetings with Kremlin-connected operatives — the Trump team has lost all credibility on the question of Russia.”

In a piece titled “Conspiracy of Dunces,” conservative columnist Ross Douthat, writes, “Here is a good rule of thumb for dealing with Donald Trump: Everyone who gives him the benefit of the doubt eventually regrets it.”

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, puts it into searing perspective: “Trump has been ruled by compulsions, obsessions and vindictiveness, expressed nearly daily on Twitter. He has demonstrated an egotism that borders on solipsism. His political skills as president have been close to nonexistent. His White House is divided, incompetent and chaotic, and key administration jobs remain unfilled. His legislative agenda has gone nowhere. He has told constant, childish, refuted, uncorrected lies, and demanded and habituated deception among his underlings. He has displayed pathetic, even frightening, ignorance on policy matters foreign and domestic.”

Republican political operative Mike Murphy described on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Wednesday that health care policy is a “pain smorgasbord” for presidents, even for those playing at the top of their game. It has wreaked political disaster at this, Trump’s sixth month in office. He faces heavy lifts on the debt ceiling and the budget. One-eighth of his presidency has been squandered, and the Russian collusion scandal circles overhead like ominous vultures.

A poll for U.S. Rep. Luke Messer during the second week of July puts Trump’s job approval among Hoosier Republicans at 83 percent (it didn’t reveal where he stands with independents). But as I’ve said before, his base should be demanding a far better performance from this president. You had faith in voting for him, and he’s letting you down.

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