For a president whose first calls were to newspaper reporters after the American Health Care Act died on Friday, the media's evaluation of the bill's failure must have stung. Headline after headline suggested trouble, if not upheaval, for Republicans in Washington. Yet the White House and House Republicans moved to counter each story. Sources told the New York Times and Politico that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus could be fired for the failure of health care. Press secretary Sean Spicer countered by saying the Politico reporter behind that story is "an idiot with no real sources."
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is under intense pressure, particularly from his right flank. "The failure to govern is on the GOP leadership," conservative talk show host Mark Levin wrote on Facebook. Republican Washington Times columnist Ralph Z. Hallow wrote that Ryan "unmasked himself as the man most capable of demolishing his own party." "Paul Ryan failed because his bill was a dumpster fire," Politico's take said. Trump raised suspicion after he tweeted Saturday that people should watch Jeanine Pirro on Fox News and the judge opened her show with a call for Ryan to step down. That cryptic missive came a day after Trump said he did not blame Ryan for the bill's failure.
Yet when given the opportunity to raise trouble for Ryan, House Freedom Caucus chair Mark Meadows did not take the bait. "There is no conversations going on right now with regards to replacing the speaker," Meadows said. Meadows, and his group of roughly 30 hard-right members, killed the AHCA because they refused to accept anything except a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act. (The president did say, at least 19 times, he would "repeal and replace" Obamacare.) The Freedom Caucus even made a secret pact to force a full repeal. Trump also reportedly upbraided the leader of the moderate Tuesday Group of Republican lawmakers, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.,), who meekly responded that he listened to "very respectfully" to the president.
On the Democratic side, politicians could not be sunnier. Liberals hated the AHCA, and some told Mic they were happy to take credit for the bill's failure. And though Republicans said they reached out to Democrats, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday the president "never called" to discuss health care.
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America. Welcome to the political newsletter that is not expecting a tax break for reading Trump tweets.
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• Today: Republicans are coming to grips with the reality of their health care defeat.
• More: GOP leaders are going to make a run at tax reform. That is also fraught with political hurdles.
• Even more: Calls for a special inquiry into Russia are growing.
• Yes, more: Jared Kushner is leading a new White House office — and under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
• Trump's agenda today: Meeting with women small business owners. Lunching with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Signing legislation.
What's next on the GOP agenda?
It's difficult to state how much this stings for the GOP. For seven years, Republicans told the world they would "repeal and replace" Obamacare. They didn't and now, they apparently won't. The power won by fringe conservative and moderates among House Republicans suggests whatever Ryan brings up next will be fraught with trouble. Want to put a border tax on goods manufactured overseas? Conservatives may say they're opposed to any new tax, while moderates will argue free trade is good for the economy. Plan to cut taxes on large corporations? Without the AHCA shrinking the federal deficit, those tax cuts will not be paid for. And some conservatives want to push for a flat tax or a balanced budget amendment. Don't want the government to shut down in a month? Conservatives will want to see Planned Parenthood, while Republican moderates in the House and Senate will support no bill that cuts dollars to the health care organization.
With health care behind them, Republicans are now planning a push on tax reform. The details of the plan are unknown, but are likely to feature large tax cuts for businesses — a move that will benefit the wealthy and balloon the federal deficit. Those policy positions will alienate Democrats, especially the 48 liberal votes in the Senate, and the GOP failure on health care suggests Trump and Ryan will struggle to build consensus around a major reform. Aware of trouble the Freedom Caucus could again cause leaders, Trump has signaled he will bypass conservatives and work with moderate Democrats if there is further opposition.
In other words: Passing whatever comes next is not going to be easy.
Growing calls for a special inquiry into Russia
The two Democrats overseeing congressional inquiries into Russian election interference are now calling for a special, independent investigation. (In February, we explored how Republicans are blocking this real inquiry from taking place.) Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, respectively, announced their support over the weekend for an independent inquiry.
It's worth noting Warner's Senate committee has more access and resources than Schiff's. It could also produce more results. The New York Times reported Monday morning that the Senate intelligence committee will question Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner about his secret meetings with Russian officials.
Will Gorsuch be confirmed?
Following Schumer's call Thursday for Judge Neil Gorsuch to meet a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Democrats are coalescing around the idea. A third of Democratic senators have said they will oppose Gorsuch. But that leaves many Democrats undecided — and Republicans only need to peel off eight Democratic votes to reach 60.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• For the 12th time in nine weeks, the president hit the golf course. That narrative is taking a toll. (Mic)
• Rep. Mark Meadows, the Freedom Caucus chair from North Carolina, is getting lots of love back home in western North Carolina for his stand on the AHCA. (Politico)
Dying this week: The Clean Power Plan
President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan will die this week after Trump nullifies the policy with an executive order, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday. Scott Pruitt called Obama's energy policies "very anti-fossil fuel," adding that Trump will cut regulations to allow coal, oil and natural gas producers to operate with less oversight and lower overhead. Pruitt is a climate change skeptic with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, as well as a longtime critic of the agency he now leads.