Week In Politics: GOP Health Care Bill, Trump's Budget Proposal
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This week, Washington, D.C. experienced a 2-and-a-half-inch snowstorm that predictably brought everything to a halt. But the capital city experienced a more thunderous, if figurative, blizzard of policy developments - the Republican health care plan, the White House budget proposal, more back and forth over alleged wiretaps of Trump Tower that seem increasingly fictitious, and today the Merkel visit. More than enough fodder for our political observers, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. Good to see you both.
DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to see you.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: First, the two big proposals of this week, Paul Ryan's health care plan and the White House budget outline. Here's a scene from this morning. Donald Trump hosted 13 Republican House members who were either against the Republican health care bill or undecided. And after his discussing the bill with them...
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: All of these noes or potential noes are all yeses. Every single person sitting in this room is now a yes.
SIEGEL: E.J., does this feel like the start of a successful season of White House leadership and high-profile legislating, or a coming collision between Trump and Republicans in Congress?
DIONNE: If this is a great season for them, then I'm going to brag about the great season I'm having in the NBA. I mean, this is just a remarkable mess they're in. So much of what Trump is doing is a direct attack on the people who voted for Donald Trump. So many of the cuts in the budget are cuts for programs for the working poor. And the health care bill is really a cut Medicaid, cut taxes bill. There's about 880 billion taken out of Medicaid. They give up 800 billion in revenue, including 600 billion in tax cuts.
And none of this helps his constituency. And the Republicans on the Hill are - in one side, some of them like Ryan are just going to go all the way on health care no matter where it leads them. But a lot of the people in his rank-and-file and an awful lot of key senators are saying, we're not going to go there. I think they are in a terrible situation right now.
SIEGEL: David, your view of this?
BROOKS: Yeah, I think he's going to get it through the House. It's really tough for a House member to say no to a popular, at least within his own party, sitting president. So I doubt there'll be 22, though there could be defections. I don't see how it happens in the Senate. And so these House members are going to be voting for a bill that rips away coverage for a lot of people for nothing because it's probably not going to get through the Senate.
And the reason for the latter is there are two groups of people Trump needs to win over - those who are in the what we call the coverage caucus who want the more expensive bill that'll cost more coverage, and those who are in the freedom caucus who want a less expensive bill with less coverage. And he's got to win them both. And they're self-contradictory, so there's no solution there.
SIEGEL: You can't imagine all those senators going bowling at the White House or some great change of heart?
BROOKS: People did not give away their jobs for a bowling alley. Donald Trump may be charming - that's eluded me so far - but not that charming. And the problem with Trump - he's a weirdly self-contradictory creature. He could have a nationalist populist administration to help the people who voted for him, or he could have a libertarian Tea Party administration. He's chosen the worst of both worlds on the budget and on health.
DIONNE: I think a lot of Republicans may end up in a position the writer David Frum described. It won't be repeal and replace. It will be denounce and preserve. They're going to say how terrible Obamacare is. They may vote against it for stated conservative reasons. But a lot of them, particularly in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, states where a lot of people are going to lose coverage, they don't want to vote to take coverage away from their people. So they may decide they're better off putting up this show of repealing it and then leaving it in place.
SIEGEL: Well, on to another item. Perhaps we were all surprised by this, that yet again there was more talk of the allegations from President Trump that President Obama in some way surveilled him or tapped his phones at Trump Tower. David, how long does this go on? I mean, does this get resolved somehow?
BROOKS: Well, I think we'll find out that what the president said is not true. But I'm sort of struck by the never apologize mode. And so most of us live in a world where we have some loyalty to being credible. And he has a loyalty to strength. And so he just wants to show that no matter what he says he will not back down, he will not surrender, he will be strong. And I have to say, spending the afternoon listening to Rush Limbaugh, as is my wont, that had a lot of appeal on "The Rush Limbaugh Show" because he is strong. He's a change-maker. He's going to force through change. And if he says some fibs, that's a price to be borne.
DIONNE: But of course, I think we have another definition of strength, which is sometimes people look really strong when they're willing to say, I made a mistake. John Kennedy always said that, you know, the Bay of Pigs was a disaster. He took responsibility for it and he soared in the polls. And most of the time, when you're in trouble you stop digging. Trump is pulling out heavy equipment and digging a crater a mile down. I don't know how he gets out of this.
SIEGEL: Actually, there was the first apology in this entire matter today after the British complained bitterly at Sean Spicer ticking off, among other stories that were supposedly the smoke suggesting some fire about wiretaps, a statement that the British had been spying on President Trump. We gather that Spicer and the national security adviser did convey some assurance that this would not be repeated, although the president then, in a way, did repeat it during his news conference with Angela Merkel.
DIONNE: No - and poor Sean Spicer - I guess I'm going to put it that way - where he has to go out day after day and yesterday kind of read these news accounts that don't actually support Trump's claim as if they did. And I - it's - I just would not want to have that job that he has right now.
BROOKS: Then the question becomes when exactly do words have meaning? A person who's done - got elected saying things that were not true, and people have embraced it as a sign. And is it the North Korea crisis? Will there be some foreign policy crisis where the lack of credibility on day-to-day honesty comes back to bite him? It hasn't happened yet.
And his attack-only - I was really struck by the moment when Jeff Sessions recused himself as attorney general from the investigation that was going on. And that seemed like a no-brainer and something you do, as E.J. said, to show credibility. And reportedly, Donald Trump just hit the roof because that was kowtowing to conventional opinion, which he is never going to do. And the country is so upset with Washington, unlike in John F. Kennedy's day, they're willing - some percentage is willing to go along with him.
SIEGEL: I've reserved our last minute not for American politics but for Dutch politics. The last time we discussed Dutch politics here, in the election in which the anti-EU, anti-immigrant politician Geert Wilders was supposed to do very well, he ran a pretty distant second and the center-right prime minister's party won pretty handily. Is it possible that that nationalist populist movement has peaked, E.J.?
DIONNE: I think the answer is yes. We're going to find out for sure later this year in France and Germany. I mean, President Trump may have a perverse - do the world a perverse favor. Voters in Western Europe seem to be looking at what's happened here and saying, we don't want to go there. I think two things happened.
On the one hand, the parties of the right, the - Prime Minister Rutte's party and also the Christian Democratic Appeal kind of move right on immigration. So they gave Wilders' voters something that they could go to rather than go extreme. That's a problem. The other is just a complete transformation of the left. The old Social Democratic Party, the Labor Party was hammered. And some new parties that spoke up very aggressively for openness and against Wilders gained ground.
BROOKS: Yeah, I think the collapse of the center-left is a big story across Europe and maybe here, the sort of Clinton-Tony Blair wing. And then as E.J. said, the right is moving and adopting these populist moves. So I think the election was not a reversal back to 20th century politics. It was a step further in the direction of the new politics, which is about open versus closed.
SIEGEL: David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, good to see you both. Thanks.
DIONNE: Good to be with you.
BROOKS: You, too.
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