First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced they struck a deal to shore up the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Per NBC’s Frank Thorp and Leigh Ann Caldwell, the deal includes:
- Funding — for two years — those subsidies for low-income Americans that President Trump rescinded last week;
- Allowing states to waive out of insurance coverage requirements;
- Granting catastrophic coverage plans for younger Americans;
- And providing “interstate compacts” for purchasing insurance.
What’s more, the New York Times reports that the deal would restore money for advertising and outreach that the Trump administration also cut.
The usual bipartisan suspects praised the deal. "I'm very pleased that Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray continue to work so hard to try to stabilize the insurance markets," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on “MTP Daily” yesterday. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., added: “I’m very, very excited about this.” And Sen. John McCain said in a statement: “While this deal certainly doesn’t solve all the problems caused by Obamacare, it shows that good faith, bipartisan negotiations can achieve consensus on lasting reform.”
But here’s the fundamental question: Will Republican leaders (especially in the House) and President Trump take the deal? Because it’s going to test how pragmatic they can be, especially with Steve Bannon licking his chops.
Trump embraces the deal — and then appears to back away
Yesterday afternoon, at his White House news conference, Trump seemed to embrace the deal as a temporary fix. “The solution will be for about a year or two years, and it will get us over this intermediate hump because we have -- as you probably know, we have — we either have the votes or we are very close to having the votes [to repeal and replace Obamacare]. And we will get the votes for having, really, the potential of having great health care in our country.”
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But then, speaking to the Heritage Foundation last night, Trump called the subsidies “bailouts to insurance companies.” Trump said, “While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray, and I do commend it, I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”
The Steve Bannon Effect
In addition to Trump, maybe the biggest question is whether House Republicans back the deal. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus called the Alexander-Murray deal a “good start,” but added: “Republicans cannot allow short term solutions to become a distraction to repealing and replacing Obamacare.” Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who’s in charge of the conservative Republican Study Committee tweeted, “The GOP should focus on repealing & replacing Obamacare, not trying to save it.” So what say you, House Speaker Paul Ryan?
And chew on this: If Steve Bannon doesn’t exist, there is probably more Republican buy in on this deal. After all, if you’re a Republican incumbent who MIGHT want to support this deal, are you looking over your shoulder at Bannon’s Rebellion?
But the other component here is that Republicans will likely own any premium increases and disruption to the markets if they DON’T get on board. Indeed, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll from back in April found 64 percent of Americans saying that Trump and Republicans control the government, and they are responsible for any problems with the health care law going forward, versus just 28 percent who said they’d point the finger at Barack Obama and congressional Democrats for passing the law.
Why losing the benefit of the doubt is such a dangerous thing for a new president
NBC News: “A Florida congresswoman said the family of a U.S. service member killed in Niger was ‘astonished’ when President Donald Trump suggested in a phone call that the soldier ‘must've known what he signed up for.’ Rep. Frederica Wilson told NBC Miami that she heard the president's comment to Sgt. La David T. Johnson's widow, Myeshia, on a speakerphone as they traveled together to meet his body on Tuesday. ‘He said, “But you know he must've known what he signed up for,”’ the Democrat recounted Trump saying more than once during the call to express his sympathy. According to Wilson, the conversation lasted somewhere from three to five minutes.”
The big caveat to this is that this story is coming from a Democratic congresswoman. And President Trump has already pushed back, tweeting: “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!”
But here’s the thing: Remember when Trump suggested he had “tapes” of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey (but didn’t)? Or remember Monday when he declared on Monday that Barack Obama and other former presidents “didn't make calls” to families of American soldiers killed in combat? Or remember Tuesday when Trump used the death of his chief of staff’s son to as evidence that Obama neglected Gold Star families (when the Obamas hosted the family at a White House breakfast)?
Bottom line: This is the danger for a new president when they lose the benefit of the doubt.
A Fox News poll on Alabama’s Senate race shocked Washington yesterday — it showed Republican Roy Moore tied with Democrat Doug Jones at 42 percent each. But here’s why that poll shouldn’t be TOO shocking:
- Doug Jones blanketing Alabama airwaves with TV ads decrying a broken Washington? Check.
- Roy Moore and Republicans not responding? Check.
- An investigative story hitting at Roy Moore’s ethics? Check.
- A divided GOP after September’s Moore-vs.-Strange runoff? Check.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Jones is sitting at 42 percent right now. The question is: Can he get to 50 percent, because that’s much, much harder for a Democrat running for federal office in Alabama.
But when is the GOP cavalry going to come to Moore’s rescue?