Just 90 minutes after midnight, 51 United States Senators voted against Majority Leader McConnell’s latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I spent the evening worrying about the bill, labeled a “skinny repeal” by the Senate Republican Leadership. The repeal promised to get rid of Obamacare’s individual/employer mandate (the thing that requires everyone to have health insurance/get it for their employees or pay a fine), temporarily defund Planned Parenthood, and loosen restrictions on the types of health insurance policies.

As I just noted, the proposal for a skinny repeal failed. All 48 Democrats in the Senate voted no, along with three Republican Senators: Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and John McCain. Before the vote, Senators Murkowski and Collins appeared to be likely “no” votes, but McCain’s was a mystery up until the second he cast his vote.

Repealing any popular piece of legislation, especially one that bolsters entitlement spending for vulnerable Americans, is difficult. Doing so with only 52 Senators and a friendly Vice President is nearly impossible, and thus requires strong leadership from opponents of Obamacare. For the past seven years, the anti-Obamacare fight has been led by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and former Speaker John Boehner. Noticeably absent: Donald Trump.

Donald Trump became the Republican nominee (and ultimately, the 45th President) because Republicans trusted that he would be able to accomplish a few key policy points: appoint conservative Supreme Court Justices, build a wall, impose a travel ban, reform infrastructure, cut taxes, blow up ISIS, and repeal Obamacare (and replace it with “something terrific,” whatever that means). To use less charitable terms, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell stuck with Trump because he would be a “useful idiot” and sign the bills that they sent to him.

So far, Trump has only made meaningful progress on the appointment of conservative Justices. He has delegated all anti-ISIS work to Secretary Mattis and the Joint Chiefs, the wall hasn’t been funded or designed, the travel ban is being held up in court until October, and he’s yet to start work on tax reform and infrastructure reform. This repeal of Obamacare was supposed to be a partial victory for his administration, but of course this was not the case. For one of the “most successful presidents in history,” Donald Trump seems to doing an awfully amateurish job.

When President Obama passed the Affordable Care Act, he had a strong majority in both houses of Congress, including 59 Democratic Senators, powering through hurdle after hurdle, including the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because President Obama had campaigned on health care reform since 2007, and had done years of research and discussion on health care going as far back as 2003. He championed the Affordable Care Act at every step, giving great assistance to then-Speaker Pelosi and then-Majority Leader Reid. President Obama even gave a speech in September of 2009 to a joint session of Congress to stump for health care reform, going point-by-point through his policy proposals (note: this is the one where some asshole shouted “YOU LIE!” at the President of the United States of America). Had it not been for that strong leadership at the top, the Affordable Care Act might not have passed the Senate.

Instead of providing that leadership, Donald Trump has been content to give cursory endorsements of McConnell and Ryan’s repeal/replace votes while letting Reince Priebus and Mike Pence do the heavy lifting for him. When it came to holdouts, Trump gave little to no policy specifics and instead resorted to vague statements like this

“Asked if Trump had given up on her, [Senator] Collins said: “I don’t know but it sounded that way from one of his press statements that I saw. He said something like – ‘Susan Collins, she’s from Maine.’ As if that explained it.””

…and threats like these to Senators Dean Heller and Lisa Murkowski

Trump used the seating arrangement to pressure Heller, joking about him wanting to “remain a senator” … An outside group aligned with Trump announced last month it would launch a seven-figure ad buy against the Nevada senator for opposing the repeal-and-replace bill.

According to the Alaska Dispatch, [Trump’s Interior Secretary] Zinke said that Murkowski’s “no” vote on Tuesday put Alaska’s relationship with the Trump administration in jeopardy. Murkowski told Cordes, “The reality is that it was a difficult conversation,” but she didn’t think that the idea of a threat was an “appropriate” characterization.

During the late-night Senate session, Donald Trump tried to convince John McCain to vote in favor of the “skinny repeal” bill. Of course, John McCain ended up voting against the bill anyways, which isn’t really that surprising considering how little pull the President has with Senator McCain. In case anyone forgot, here’s a full detail of Senator John McCain’s career (aka a full list of reasons why John McCain has been my favorite Senator since 2009), and a list of Donald Trump’s comments about him:

Senator John McCain:

  • United States Navy (1954-1981), retired with the rank of Captain (note: in the United States Navy, Captain is equivalent in pay grade to the Army/USMC/USAF rank of Colonel)
  • During said service, Lieutenant Commander McCain spent over five years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” where his North Vietnamese torturers stabbed him, broke both legs and arms, smashed his shoulders, bruised him everywhere, and starved him repeatedly, refusing offers of early release because it would have been unfair to those who had been kept captive for longer periods of time. He also refused attempts by the North Vietnamese to stage propaganda videos of him by flipping off the camera and shouting “Fu-u-u-u-ck you, you son of a bitch!”
    • Also has the distinction of having jumped off the nose of his exploding aircraft during a fire on the deck of USS Forrestal, ran through the flames, then proceeded to grab bombs and rockets with his bare hands and chuck them off the deck.
    • Received the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a bunch more medals for his trouble.
  • Member of the United States House of Representatives (3 terms)
  • Member of the United States Senate (6 terms)
  • Tie, Drinking Contest versus Senator Hillary Clinton
  • Runner-up, 2000 Republican Presidential Primary (NOTE: The link leads to an abridged bio of Senator McCain written by the late David Foster Wallace. Read it.)
  • Republican Nominee, 2008 Presidential Election (incidentally, the only Republican who Obama and Clinton feared running against in ’08)

Donald Trump’s Comments on McCain:

  • “@SenJohnMcCain should be defeated in the primaries. Graduated last in his class at Annapolis–dummy!” (July 2015)
  • “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured. I think John McCain’s done very little for the veterans. I’m very disappointed in John McCain.” (July 2015) (NOTE: Being captured didn’t automatically make McCain a legend. Maintaining incredible physical and mental resilience for a long period of captivity and recovery did.)
  • “He lost. He let us down. I never liked him as much after that because I don’t like losers.” (July 2015)
  • The very foul mouthed Sen. John McCain begged for my support during his primary (I gave, he won), then dropped me over locker room remarks!” (Oct. 2016)
  • “Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He’s been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.” (Feb. 2017)
  • “We hope John McCain gets better very soon because we miss him. And I can tell you, he’s a crusty voice in Washington. Plus, we need his vote.” (July 2017)

And one wonders why Trump wasn’t able to helpfully address any of McCain’s concerns about the bill. There’s no evidence that Trump knows the details of the bill, and he’s offered very little leadership in the past few weeks and months regarding that bill. And no, Twitter cheerleading does not count (speaking of Twitter, I wrote this post at 3:00 AM on Friday 7/28. I bet that by 3:00 AM Saturday 7/29, Trump’s Twitter feed will be loaded with complaint after complaint about how everyone but him “failed the American people”).

This is why I titled this post “Brief Thoughts: On Amateur Hour” (if 1,869 words counts as brief). President Obama spent over a year crafting, honing, and campaigning for the ACA. President Trump spent five months doing little more than sitting on the sidelines and acted surprised when Congress came up short. When it comes to the arduous process of repealing/replacing one of the most important programs of the decade, the PRESIDENT of all people should have an active, SUBSTANTIVE role in the process. Otherwise, you get situations like this.

But it wouldn’t truly be amateur hour if Donald Trump is the only amateur in Washington. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are professional politicians with decades of experience and expertise between them, but despite all their overly optimistic bluster they could not get a repeal/replace bill passed. Had Majority Leader McConnell succeeded with this repeal measure, the House and Senate still would have had to come together in a conference committee and work out the differences in the House bill (the AHCA) and the Senate bill. The problem is that Speaker Ryan’s bill only passed with the help of the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, and the House bill stood zero chance of passing the Senate without serious revisions, in part because of how extreme it was. That didn’t stop Speaker Ryan from trying to convince Senator McCain that the bills would successfully conference together, though:

Ryan’s statement came after four Republican senators shredded the GOP’s “skinny” Obamacare repeal plan, but said they could vote for it if they got an assurance that they could craft something better in a conference committee with the House.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., later told reporters that Ryan’s statement was not sufficient. It’s unclear now if Ryan’s statement will satisfy the demands for the other three senators, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

Republicans have been trying to kill Obamacare for over seven years, but last night is evidence that they have failed to create a better workable alternative. That’s not to say that the fight is over; Republicans will keep up their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare until it dies or something even more liberal replaces it. I can’t say for sure if they’ll succeed, but I can say this for sure:

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell will not be able to repeal and replace Obamacare with their current margins in the House and Senate, and they will not be able to do it if the President is unwilling or unable to provide active, substantive support for their replacement.

Anyways, I should probably wrap this post up. I don’t know what’s weirder, the continued failure of the Trump Administration to repeal Obamacare, or the fact that I (a center-left Democrat and supporter of the ACA) am cringing so hard that I’ve started to give advice to Donald Trump and Paul Ryan on how to defeat my own favored policies. I know I’ve been moving closer and closer to the center thanks to certain influences (cough), but still. Good thing the Speaker doesn’t read this stuff.

 

Бе суре то дринк ыоур Овалтине!

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