GOP Unity Elusive With Obama Gone

New York Times: “For eight years, those divisions were often masked by Republicans’ shared antipathy toward President Barack Obama. Now, as the party struggles to adjust to the post-Obama political order, it is facing a nagging question: How do you hold together when the man who unified you in opposition is no longer around?”

“Mr. Obama provided conservatives with not just a health law to loathe and a veto pen to blame, but also a visage that allowed their opposition to be more palpable.”

“Republicans also have to contend with an outsider president who never had much of an affinity or loyalty for their party, and who, as a novice politician, has not built the relationships in Washington that are usually needed to get big deals done.”

Freedom Caucus Is Acting Like a Separate Party

FiveThirtyEight: “The problem for Trump and Ryan now is that there is no way to placate the Freedom Caucus without upsetting more moderate Republican House members. The moderates may be more willing to compromise than the Freedom Caucus, but not if the Freedom Caucus members get everything they want.”

“One remaining question is whether the caucus will start to function like a separate party that is only loosely affiliated with a major party, as the Southern Democrats did for much of the 20th century. Southern Democrats exacted lots of legislative compromises to protect their interests, most notably shaping public policy to preserve segregation and exclude African-Americans from federal programs. Since then, the specific issues and ideas have changed. Freedom Caucus members have a pretty good idea of what kinds of bills they don’t like. The question remains what kinds of concessions — if any — can bring them on board.”

GOP Leadership Hit from Both Sides

Washington Post: “Some parts of these botched negotiations looked a lot like the recent past. Franks and his House Freedom Caucus cronies played the role of obstructionists who will buck party leaders no matter if it’s John Boehner, Ryan’s predecessor, or now Trump. These ideologues gobbled up tons of attention, resulting in much care from Trump, Vice President Pence and top West Wing advisers.”

“Other parts of the negotiation, however, were new and quite different from the previous six years of Republican control of the House. Nothing capped this off more than the stunning announcement Friday morning from Frelinghuysen, just three months into his hold on the coveted Appropriations Committee gavel, that bucked leadership.”

“A 22-year veteran whose family traces its establishment lineage to the Continental Congress, Frelinghuysen won his chairmanship uncontested with the blessing of Ryan and the leadership team. He’s not someone who rocks the boat — he supported impeachment articles against Bill Clinton — but his pronouncement Friday sent a jolt through the Capitol.”

Quote of the Day

“I’ve been in this job eight years, and I’m wracking my brain to think of one thing our party has done that’s been something positive, that’s been something other than stopping something else from happening. We need to start having victories as a party. And if we can’t, then it’s hard to justify why we should be back here.”

— Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), quoted by The Atlantic.

You Can’t Blame the Democrats

A Wall Street Journal editorial rips the Republican leadership:

“House Republicans pulled their health-care bill shortly before a vote on Friday, and for once the media dirge is right about a GOP defeat. This is a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government. The damage is all the more acute because it was self-inflicted. President Trump was right to say on Friday that Democrats provided no help, but Democrats were never going to vote to repeal President Obama’s most important legislation. And that’s no excuse. Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked.”

Nobody Knew Governing Could Be So Complicated

McKay Coppins: “The GOP’s inability to maneuver a health-care bill through the House this week—after seven years of promising to repeal and replace Obamacare—is, indeed, emblematic of a deeper dysfunction that grips his party. But that dysfunction may not be as easy to cure as Ryan and other GOP leaders believe.”

“That’s because it has been nearly a decade since Washington Republicans were in the business of actual governance. Whether you view their actions as a dystopian descent into cynical obstructionism or a heroic crusade against a left-wing menace, the GOP spent the Obama years defining itself—deliberately, and thoroughly—in opposition to the last president. Rather than engage the Obama White House in a more traditional legislative process—trading favors, making deals, seeking out areas where their interests align—conservatives in Congress opted to boycott the bargaining table altogether. Meanwhile, they busied themselves with a high-minded (and largely theoretical) intra-party debate about what 21st-century conservatism should stand for. They spent their time dealing in abstract ideas, articulating lofty principles, reciting memorized quotes from the Founding Fathers.”

“In many ways, the strategy paid off: Republicans took back Congress, slowed the progress of an agenda they genuinely opposed, and ultimately seized control of the White House. But it also came at a cost for the GOP—their lawmakers forgot how to make laws. Indeed, without any real expectation of their bills actually being enacted, the legislative process mutated into a platform for point-scoring, attention-getting, and brand-building.”

Nationalism vs. Libertarianism Defines Internal GOP Fight

Ron Brownstein: “The Trump administration’s early weeks have been a delicate minuet between these contrasting perspectives, which can be simplified as nationalism and libertarianism. Trump has emphasized nationalism in his own actions, including executive orders withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, escalating efforts to deport undocumented immigrants, and restricting immigration from initially seven—now six—Muslim-majority nations. During the campaign, Ryan criticized all of those ideas. But since Trump’s victory, the speaker has defended them.”

“But as the health-care debate shows, the seams are more visible on questions related to federal spending. Trump struck the first blow in late February when he previewed his three-pronged guidance for the federal budget. Trump aligned with Ryan and other congressional Republicans by promising to increase defense spending and severely cut domestic discretionary programs… But Trump decisively departed from libertarian Republicans by reaffirming his campaign pledge to block cuts to Medicare and Social Security.”

The Cost of Unity

Rick Klein and Shushannah Walshe: “It’s Republican unity, but it comes with a price. The laundry list has expensive items: paid family leave, health care tax credits, a sweeping tax cut, a big boost in military spending, and the trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. When Republican members of Congress were done applauding, those price tags started to make themselves known.”

“The ultimate cost may be the very unity the president was trying to purchase. Trump is still facing down a party with deep divisions on how to handle ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare – something that was supposed to be the easy part of the Republican agenda. Trump has redefined what it means to be conservative, but only to an extent. Last night may be remembered as a high point for party unity, when it needs to be a starting point.”

It’s Now Trump’s Party

Susan Page: “President Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night underscored how he has redefined the Republicans’ political base and their policy message on issues from trade to immigration to deficits to international alliances. While he struck a sunnier tone than he did in his inaugural address six weeks ago, when he had talked darkly of ‘American carnage,’ he once again warned that the nation was threatened with decline at home and threats from abroad.”

“The hourlong speech was in many ways a conventional presidential address, with a laundry list of proposals, allusions to American history and tributes to American heroes. That’s notable in part because so much about Trump’s presidency has been unconventional — and because many of his populist, nationalist prescriptions that defy Republican orthodoxy are becoming part of the GOP mainstream.”

Why the Trump Agenda Is Moving So Slowly

New York Times: “When Republicans won in November, it looked as if 2017 would reflect a major legislative shift to the right. But two months into the 115th Congress and six weeks into the Trump administration, progress on fulfilling Republicans’ major domestic policy goals is looking further away, not closer.”

“This is partly just the usual slow grinding of legislative gears… But there’s another element in the sluggish or nonexistent progress on major elements of the Republican agenda. Large portions of the Republican caucus embrace a kind of policy nihilism. They criticize any piece of legislation that doesn’t completely accomplish conservative goals, but don’t build coalitions to devise complex legislation themselves.”

“The roster of congressional Republicans includes lots of passionate ideological voices. It is lighter on the kind of wonkish, compromise-oriented technocrats who move bills.”