Over the weekend, Donald Trump was under the impression he could taunt GOP senators into passing some kind of health care bill. In fact, the president said via Twitter, “Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead! Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!”
The same day, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said it’s the official White House policy that the Senate – part of a separate and co-equal branch of government – put aside its entire legislative schedule, presumably indefinitely, until the chamber makes the president happy by passing some kind of health care legislation.
At least for now, Republican senators don’t seem to care. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared in the early hours of Friday morning, “It’s time to move on,” and as the Washington Post reports, quite a few Republican senators are thinking along the same lines.
“We’ve had our vote, and we’re moving on to tax reform,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top lieutenants, speaking of the next big GOP legislative priority.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), another member of the Republican Senate leadership, put it this way: “I think it’s time to move on to something else. Come back to health care when we’ve had more time to get beyond the moment we’re in – see if we can’t put some wins on the board.”
A Politico report added, “Privately, Republican aides said there is essentially no chance McConnell will take another shot at repealing Obamacare soon. On Monday, there was discussion among Senate staffers of a ‘hard pivot to tax reform,’ one Senate aide said.”
I’d caution against health care advocates breathing a sigh of relief. GOP leaders could bring a repeal bill back at any time – the crusade isn’t “dead” so long as Republicans control the levers of power – and there’s nothing to stop behind-the-scenes talks from continuing.
Indeed, a repeal bill sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is still percolating, and has drawn White House interest. It doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass – a challenge made even more difficult in light of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) absence – but its existence is a reminder that the threats remain real.
That said, a party can only bang its head against a wall for so long before it starts to hurt.