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After Health Care Defeat, Trump's Two Options Are Bad and Worse

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump pauses as he speaks from the Oval Office of the White House on March 24.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

After Health Care Defeat, Trump’s Options are Bad and Worse

The biggest defeat of Donald Trump’s early presidency — the health-care reform effort getting pulled from the House floor on Friday — revealed a lack of a mandate and a lack of numbers. The lack of a mandate: Despite winning in November, President Trump lost the popular vote; his current job-approval rating sits between the high 30s and low 40s; and the health-care bill he championed wasn’t popular at all. The lack of numbers: Despite controlling Congress, Republicans hold 52 Senate seats (which means they can’t block unified Democratic filibusters), and they enjoy a 237-193 majority in the House (which can vanish if about half of the 30-40 House Freedom Caucus members don’t play ball).

Add them all up, and you see how health care couldn’t get out of the starting blocks — even during the honeymoon phase of Trump’s presidency. And so to move forward on tax reform, keeping the government funded, and raising the debt limit, Trump and his team have two options: 1) They unify the Republican Party on these thorny issues, or 2) they work with Democrats to get them done. And neither option is easy.

Unifying Republicans on tax reform and keeping the government funded is easier said than done

On tax reform, Republicans are already divided over Speaker Paul Ryan’s border-adjustment-tax proposal. “It's virtually guaranteed that the companies who will pay more because of the proposed changes will fight at least as hard as those that will pay less. That will make the tax reform debate longer, tougher and much nastier than anyone is currently assuming,” budget expert Stan Collender writes. On keeping the government funded, Axios says the issue of Planned Parenthood could potentially shut down the government. “The conservative House Freedom Caucus … will almost certainly make defunding the women's health group and country's biggest abortion provider a non-negotiable condition for it to support the government funding bill.” And on raising the debt limit, well, we’ve seen that movie before, right?

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Wooing Democrats might even be a harder task

So if unifying Republicans doesn’t work, Trump and his team can turn to Democrats. “In the end, there’s a group of people in this party who just won’t say yes,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) told the New York Times. “At some point, I think that means looking beyond our conference. The president is a deal maker, and Ronald Reagan cut some of his most important deals with Democrats.”

But here’s the problem with that: Democratic voters are almost universally opposed to Trump, so any Democrat who reaches out to work with the president on these issues (or other ones like infrastructure) will face a backlash. Trump reaching out initially to Democrats after his surprise presidential victory might have boxed in some Democrats. But with his approval rating now in the 30s and 40s — and much, much lower than that among Democrats — the opposition party already smells blood in the water and is looking ahead to the midterms.

The blame game over health care’s defeat

Seventy-four hours after their health-care effort crashed and burned, Republicans have pointed their fingers at different targets to blame for its demise:

  • Blaming Democrats: “Look, we got no Democratic votes. We got none, zero,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times on Friday after the bill was pulled from the House floor. “The good news is they now own health care. They now own Obamacare.”
  • Blaming the House Freedom Caucus: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!” Trump tweeted the next day, on Saturday morning.
  • Blaming Paul Ryan: "Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House," Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro said Saturday night. "He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill." (Pirro’s declaration came after Trump tweeted to tune into her show, but Trump and Ryan aides say this was a coincidence.)
  • Blaming Republican moderates: “You can blame it on the Freedom Caucus if you want to. But there's also a lot of moderates, Charlie Dent will be on your show in a little bit, who are also against the bill,” Trump OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said on “Meet the Press” yesterday.
  • Blaming Washington: “I think more importantly, we haven't been able to change Washington in the first 65 days. And I think if there's anything that's disappointing and sort of an educational process to the Trump administration was that this place was a lot more rotten than we thought that it was, and that I thought it was, because I've been here for six years,” Mulvaney added on “Meet the Press.”

Top Democrat on Senate Intelligence Committee: “There’s a lot more smoke” on Russia

Also on “Meet” yesterday, don’t miss this exchange with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee:

CHUCK TODD: You keep saying there's a lot more smoke.SEN. MARK WARNER: There's a lot more smoke.CHUCK TODD: You think the fire's there?SEN. MARK WARNER: Listen. Time will tell.

Warner will appear on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” at noon ET. Also, NBC’s Peter Alexander confirms a New York Times report that the Senate Intel Committee plans to question Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner as part of their inquiry into ties between Trump associates and Russian operations.

Trump taps son-in-law to overhaul federal bureaucracy

Speaking of Kushner, the Washington Post first reported last night that he will lead an effort to reinvent government. “President Trump plans to unveil a new White House office on Monday with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and fulfill key campaign promises — such as reforming care for veterans and fighting opioid addiction — by harvesting ideas from the business world and, potentially, privatizing some government functions. The White House Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump.”

But as Trump taps his son-in-law — who has no previous experience in government — to look to overhaul the federal bureaucracy, note that he still hasn’t appointed administration figures who could help with this process, like a deputy OMB director or an administrator to lead the Office of Information Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

Trump has visited a Trump property on nearly one-third of his days as president

And the Washington Post has this: “For the eighth weekend in a row, President Trump has visited a property that bears his name. He has done so on 21 of the 66 days he has been in office, meaning that for the equivalent of three full weeks of his just-over-nine weeks as commander in chief, he has spent all or part of a day at a Trump property.”

What were other presidents doing on March 27?