Never were the words of the Grateful Dead so fitting in the world of politics. "Trouble ahead, trouble behind" is indeed a perfect description of the spot Paul Ryan and Donald Trump found themselves in today. Because Casey Jones faced precisely the same no-win situation, and it didn't work out so good for him, either.
Archive of Articles for March, 2017
The Tea Party is, once again, flexing its muscles. Little noticed in the 2016 election results was the changing ratio between Tea Partiers and the Republican caucus as a whole in the House of Representatives. Republicans lost seats, but not many of these losers were Tea Partiers. This meant the relative strength of the Tea Party increased, overall. The real power dynamic, though, is that when the Tea Partiers hang together, they've got a big enough bloc to halt any Republican-only legislation cold. Which is what they've just accomplished, on the Ryancare bill. Paul Ryan was forced to concede that there will be no vote today, which means he will be robbed of symbolically voting on Obamacare's replacement on the day Obama signed it into existence, seven years ago.
You'll have to forgive me for writing this so early, since the tradition is to give a new president 100 days before such an evaluation, but these are not normal times. It's only been two months since Trump took office, but it certainly feels like a lot longer than that. Trump's pace has been pretty frantic during this period, which is the main reason why I decided to take a quick look at how Trump's presidency measures up to his campaign rhetoric.
What are the chances that the Ryancare bill will pass Congress? We are now two days from its first test, and the answer is as unclear as ever. Whatever happens is going to take the measure of the relative political strength of Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, and the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. If the Tea Partiers win this struggle, it could doom any chances for actual governance from the Republican Congress for the next few years. If the Tea Partiers lose, there may be a frenzy of primary challenges for sitting Republicans in Congress in 2018. Either way, the next two days could be definitive.
Donald Trump will doubtlessly go down in history as many things, but what we're all coming to grips with right now (a bare two months into his presidency) is that Trump will also surely be remembered as the first "Conspiracy-Theorist-In-Chief" in American history. Trump, in fact, personifies the old adage: "I've made up my mind -- don't confuse me with the facts!" This was on full display today, as the heads of the F.B.I. and the N.S.A. testified before a House committee that there is simply no evidence whatsoever that can in any way, shape, or form validate the wild claim Trump made two weeks ago -- that Barack Obama had personally wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. This adds to a long list of people (who all have the highest security clearance and full access to such things), all of whom have now said the same thing: no evidence exists whatsoever to back up Trump's bizarre accusation. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
This was a tough choice to make, for a Thursday column. After all, this was a fairly big week in punctuation news, which normally would be catnip for a pedant such as myself. Not only was the president's spokesman trying to use the old "it was in quotes" defense (or should that be the "it was 'in quotes'" defense?), but there was a recent court ruling which actually hinged on the "Oxford comma." The plaintiffs won because they (correctly) argued that absent the final comma in a list, the final two items have to be taken as a single item, at least legally (it hinged on the phrase "loading for transport or delivery" -- which is different than "loading for transport, or delivery"). As you can see, I could easily have gotten a fun (to me, at any rate) column out of those juicy grammatical items alone.
The myth of Paul Ryan is in serious trouble. This was likely inevitable, but it certainly is on stark display in the debate among Republicans over his "Ryancare" bill, which was supposed to be the "repeal and replace Obamacare" answer to all conservatives' dreams. Quite obviously, Ryan's bill fell far short of this lofty goal. It is currently being savaged from all sides within the Republican caucus alone. But beyond the bill's likely failure, the myth surrounding Ryan is also on life support.
In the hyperkinetic political era we live in, change happens very quickly. President Trump is the driving force behind this increased speed of the political discourse, but Paul Ryan gamely tried to capitalize on the new frenzy by passing his own favored "repeal and replace Obamacare" bill as quickly as humanly possible. He was going to whip it through the House so fast nobody would know what was in the bill, and then the Senate was magically going to refuse to even debate the bill and instead move it directly to the floor for a vote. This would all happen at blinding speed, and then everyone in Congress could go home for the Easter holiday, having already put the bill on Trump's desk. Problem solved!
Today was the first reality-check for the Republican goal of health insurance reform since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed. The breathtaking numbers from the Congressional Budget Office just proved what many of us have been saying all along -- this is the first time in the past seven years that Republicans have tried to bring an actual piece of legislation to the floors of Congress for a very good reason. The numbers just don't quite add up the way the GOP has long wished they would. By never writing an actual bill before now, they avoided letting the public in on this crucial bit of information. But now it was "put up or shut up" time, so Republicans were forced to come up with an actual bill. And the C.B.O. just confirmed what Democrats have been saying for a long time -- replacing Obamacare is going to throw millions of Americans off health insurance.
As is becoming the new normal, a ton of things happened in Washington this week. Donald Trump kicked the week off by tweeting out a conspiracy theory, then he rolled out "Muslim Ban 2.0," and by week's end a gigantic fracas within the Republican Party was building to fever pitch. Oh, and that fever will not be covered by the new GOP Obamacare replacement plan, sorry.