Magazine article The New Yorker

Are They with Him?

Magazine article The New Yorker

Are They with Him?

Article excerpt

Are They with Him?

Anyone still inclined to pity the Senate Republicans might pause to examine Donald Trump's taunting of them, at a meeting last Wednesday at the White House, for their failure to blow up the American health-care system. A range of Trump's traits were on display: lying (he wildly misrepresented the terms of the most recent Senate bill); an obsession with betrayal (he complained that senators who were his friends "might not be very much longer"); hinting at retribution (he said of Dean Heller, who had helped stall an earlier version of the bill, "He wants to remain a senator, doesn't he?"); and inconsistency (he can't seem to decide whether he wants to replace the bill or just repeal it). The one plausible notion Trump presented at the meeting was that, under President Obama, congressional Republicans had "an easy route: we'll repeal, we'll replace, and he's never going to sign it." Trump added, "But I'm signing it." In other words, Trump had turned the Republicans into people with a real job--a hard job--and revealed their inability to perform it.

Yet, at the meeting, when Trump said that Obamacare is "gone, it's failed--it's not going to be around," he was just repeating what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his colleagues have said any number of times. The bill got as far as it has in the Senate the same way that a similar one was passed in the House, with lies told in public and callousness dealt in private. Republican legislators peddled conspiracy theories about Obamacare being part of a scheme to strip Americans of their freedoms. The Senate version was drafted in secret and reflected an almost complete indifference to the needs of any Americans, really, apart from the wealthiest. McConnell, for his part, greeted Trump's White House rant as a welcome act of statesmanship, portraying the President as a latter-day Lyndon Johnson "totally engaged," behind the scenes, in the effort to round up votes.

In acting as though the bill still has a chance, McConnell may be undertaking another Trump-like maneuver: reducing matters of state to the level of farce. The Republicans have fifty-two Senate seats--fifty-one, for the moment, given the absence of John McCain, who last week received a diagnosis of brain cancer. This means that, with Vice-President Mike Pence as a tiebreaker, McConnell can lose only one vote. Every configuration of the bill so far has been unacceptable to more than one senator, for reasons both good and bad.

As the senators skittered between plans that would result in the loss of insurance coverage for as many as twenty-two or maybe thirty-two million Americans, some of them, including Heller and Susan Collins, expressed genuine concern about the devastating effect the bill would have on their constituents. Others, notably Jerry Moran, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee, insisted that the bill didn't do enough to scrub Obamacare, and much of the Medicaid system, from the landscape. The damage that a repeal-without-replace plan would inflict was too much for Collins, Shelley Moore Capito, and Lisa Murkowski, who said that they would vote against bringing any such bill to the floor. For that, they were called traitors to their party, and threatened with primary challengers. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz slipped in an amendment that made the bill even worse, by opening a door to "junk" insurance plans and exorbitant premiums for people with preexisting conditions.

All of this might suggest either that the G. …

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