Will we never learn? In March, all of us, including me, had a field day gloating over how President Donald Trump and his captive congressional Republicans suffered an embarrassing defeat when their Obamacare replacement went down in flames; now we’re eating the ashes.
The Trumpsters and the GOP never gave up in their quest to deny health protection to millions of Americans. And now, in May, they’ve finally gotten legislation past the House of Representatives. It was a close call, because the Republicans are acting like Democrats these days. There is constant bickering between factions, the so-called conservative moderates duking it out with the hard-line immoderates.
They finally got together on health care, of course, with no support from actual Democrats, who recognized a political issue if there ever was one. If, somehow, this measure gets past the Senate — which is a huge “if” — and it actually becomes law, millions of those with pre-existing conditions will rise from their sick beds the first chance they get to cast their ballots against the party that took away their ability to afford medical care. “You vote for this bill, you’ll have walked the plank from moderate to radical,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warning Republicans that the electorate would punish them. “You will glow in the dark on this one.” Some of her fellow Dems broke out in song as the bill passed, serenading their GOP colleagues with “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” Don’t you just love subtlety?
The legislation eventually may get snuffed out in that stuffy Senate labyrinth of arcane rules and presidential ambitions. At the very least, if it does get passed in the Senate, it will be significantly different, after which the two versions will be have to be reconciled. The road ahead for the GOP side is filled with traps. But never mind that.
At least the House bent to the will of President Trump, aka Gloateus Maximus, who wasted no time whatsoever. Even though this was just a halting first step in gutting health care, he immediately held a rally at the White House. And why not? Since taking office, he has been hammered constantly for being in over his head. It was a little sad to hear him ask: “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? I’m president. Hey, I’m president. Can you believe it?”
In reality, that was less a gloat than a sigh of relief. That sentiment was matched by the incessantly beleaguered Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. His leadership is constantly challenged from all sides, particularly when it comes to “repealing and replacing” Obamacare. He’s suffered one embarrassment after another. But not this time. This time he could go to the floor and thunder: “You know, a lot of us have been waiting seven years to cast this vote. Many of us are here because we pledged to cast this very vote. … Are we going to meet this test? Are we going to be men and women of our word? Are we going to keep the promises that we made? Or are we going to falter? No.”
So finally Ryan was able to bring a small victory to the president. If the word “complicated” ever had meaning, it would be to describe the relationship between these two guys. But now at the White House, Trump could be magnanimous:
“I was joking, I said, you know, Paul, for the last week I’ve been hearing, ‘Paul Ryan doesn’t have it. It is not working with Paul Ryan. He’s going to get rid of Paul Ryan.’ Then today I heard, ‘Paul Ryan’s a genius.’”
All of this demonstrates the folly of gloating. Success today can be shoved aside by failure tomorrow. In Washington, it can happen faster. And that doesn’t cover the reality that a political success can turn out to be serious policy failure. The health care reform from the Republicans could be a life-and-death example of that.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.