The health care bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled in June failed, unable to secure enough Republican support. The bill he unveiled last week, has now also failed for the same reason. The GOP leader's Plan C was a "repeal and delay" bill, but before lunchtime today, three Senate Republicans -- Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Shelley Moore Capito -- all balked, effectively killing the latest iteration of the party's gambit.
It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump made the case to reporters that he's actually done a good job. "Essentially, the vote would have been pretty close to, if you look at it, 48 to 4," the president said. "That's a pretty impressive vote by any standard."
To the extent that reality has any meaning, there's nothing "impressive" about a Republican president failing to persuade Republican lawmakers to support a Republican health care plan. The vote wouldn't have been 48 to 4; it would have been 48 to 52 -- and perhaps worse -- which isn't worth bragging about.
But more important was the president's explanation of his vision for the road ahead.
"I've been saying for a long time, let Obamacare fail then everybody's gonna have to come together and fix it and come up with a new plan and a plan that's really good for the people with much lower premiums, much lower costs, and much better protection. I've been saying that, Mike [Pence], I think you'll agree I've been saying for a long time: let Obamacare fail. It will be a lot easier."And I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it. I can tell you that the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us and they're going to say. 'How do we fix it? how do we fix it? Or how do we come up with a new plan?"So we'll see what happens. There are some other things going on right now as we speak. But I am disappointed because for so many years I've been hearing repeal and replace. I'm sitting in the Oval Office right next door pen in hand waiting to sign something, and I'll be waiting and eventually, we're going to get something done and it's going to be very good..... Something will happen and it'll be very good."
Let's unpack this a bit, because it's an amazing statement.
Right off the bat, the idea that Trump has long been an advocate of skipping the legislative process is pretty much the opposite of the truth. In fact, he's repeatedly pressed lawmakers to pass a reform bill -- any reform bill -- rather than simply letting the Affordable Care Act wither on the vine.
What's more, "sitting in the Oval Office." "waiting to sign something," isn't presidential leadership. Congress is run by Trump's own party, and if a health care overhaul is a priority for him, the president could get engaged -- perhaps by learning some of the basics of the debate. For months, he hasn't bothered.
But what matters most is Trump's stated willingness to let the American health care system "fail." He didn't specify whether he intends to pursue deliberate failure through sabotage or through malicious neglect, but either way, this is an exceedingly rare -- if not completely unprecedented -- example of a sitting president announcing support for allowing much of the country to suffer, on purpose, in order to pursue some kind of political objective.
And as far as Trump is concerned, if/when this happens, he will insist that the buck should stop somewhere else. "I'm not going to own it," he said.
Of course he will. He'll "own it" in part because the systemic failure will happen on his watch, as a result of his choices, but also because he's telling everyone his plan out loud.
Trump is effectively declaring, on camera, "Hey everyone, I'm prepared to let families struggle without security, but I hope I can convince people that I'm not responsible for my own actions."
It's like an old James Bond movie in which the villain shares the details of his fiendish plot, counting on 007 to die, only to realize he would've been far better off keeping his plan under wraps.
Voters are all but certain to hold the president responsible because, by the president's own admission, failure would be his fault.
A prominent politician wrote a few years ago, "Leadership: Whatever happens, you're responsible. If it doesn't happen, you're responsible."
The politician's name was Donald J. Trump.