Considering Paul Ryan, Roughly 16 Months into His Speakership
And now, the prosecution and the defense of Paul Ryan…
It’s the tactics that Ryan has botched; he’s shown no aptitude for the basic blocking and tackling of legislating and consistently falls back on the errors of the past. Here’s how healthcare should have gone. Paully, starting the morning of November 9th, you should have orchestrated an inclusive effort to create a bill based on a consensus that incorporated every stakeholder with the ability to icepick it (the transition team, the Freedom Caucus, the squishes, the think tanks, and most vitally, the Senate). Once you had something everyone agreed on – and 216 sure votes in the House and 51 in the Senate – you all appear with the Prez in front of the cameras to announce it before you actually put out the document, thereby cementing in the narrative about why the people should dig it before the haters can hate it into little pieces. Then you pass it and win.
But what did we get? A tactical clusterflunk. Seven years in and Ryan wasn’t ready. He putzed around with no sense of urgency until there was a sense of urgency. Who was expecting this dog’s breakfast to drop when it did? And it just dropped on us out of the blue — one day, suddenly, there’s this whole plan out there. Surprise! I listened to Hugh Hewitt the morning after it was released; he was stunned that he couldn’t get any of the Republican House leadership [sic] on his show to talk to his conservative audience about the biggest piece of legislation in Trump’s first term.
Paully, you gave the enemy precious hours to set the narrative, and the bill never recovered.
For the defense, my friend Jonah Goldberg:
On Saturday morning, Trump placed the blame squarely on the House Freedom Caucus, the 30-odd members of Congress who reportedly kept changing their demands until it was clear they were never going to support the American Health Care Act. Nor is there a single quote from a member of Congress echoing this sentiment (blaming Ryan), even from the Freedom Caucus. The people in the room understand that Ryan, who clearly made some mistakes, nonetheless acted in good faith to move the president’s agenda.
The argument is moot in one sense; right now there’s no House Republican who’s publicly expressing interest in being speaker of the House, no obvious unifying, stronger leader on the horizon, and no sense that there are 218 Republicans who would unify around an alternative. The modern job of the speaker is a lot like herding cats, and the easiest thing in the world to do is to be a powerless backbencher and insist, “I would have been able to negotiate a better deal.” Even at his worst, Ryan is probably as good as it gets.
Still, this is a massive disappointment, and one that leaves a lot of Paul Ryan fans wondering how he could so thoroughly misjudge what his caucus was willing to pass.
Politicians, pundits, and wonks have discussed the flaws of the American Health Care Act at length. It was an attempt to placate almost everyone and left no one with any particular enthusiasm about passing it. Because of the potential Democratic filibuster in the Senate, it could only deal with the financial aspects of health care; major chunks of the conservative agenda had to wait for a “phase three” that may never come. It says something about the relationship between Ryan and Mitch McConnell that Ryan hasn’t used the Senate as a scapegoat. “Hey, don’t blame me. If the Senate Republicans had the guts to get rid of the filibuster, we could enact all of our best ideas quickly and easily.”
Of course, nothing prevented Trump or his team from writing up their own legislation that would enact their own replacement for Obamacare. (Nothing still prevents them now!) During the campaign, Trump promised he would repeal the law entirely, eliminate the individual mandate, permit the sale of health insurance across state lines, allow individuals to fully deduct health-insurance premium payments, require price transparency from all health-care providers and allow consumers access to imported, safe, and dependable drugs from overseas. The AHCA didn’t include most of that, although it would have eliminated some fees on importing prescription drugs.
Looking at the Trump Record after 69 Days
The good things to come out of the Trump administration so far:
· The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
· Most of the cabinet picks, particularly Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of Education DeVos, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. Ryan Zinke, riding his horse to work and allowing his employees to bring their dogs to their offices, appears on track to be the most lovable Secretary of the Interior ever.
· Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley already forced the resignation of a U.N. official who called Israel an “apartheid state” and issued a report citing a scholar who defended the Boston Marathon bombings.
· The approval of the Keystone Pipeline and continuing construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
· The border wall construction process is beginning, albeit very slowly. Customs and Border Protection issued requests for proposals and prototypes of wall construction.
· The stock market boom, perhaps best reflected in the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping from 18,807 to 20,701 (although it was as high as 21,115 a few weeks ago).
· Many of the corporate announcements of hiring sprees are repackaging of previously announced hiring plans, but it’s still nice to see daily headlines of companies hiring in big numbers.
· In February, NATO’s secretary general announced that the 2016 defense expenditure of the Canadian and European member countries was 3.8 percent higher than expected.
· Bombing of ISIS has ramped up considerably, up to 500 to 600 airstrikes per week. Yes, this means increased civilian casualties, as ISIS hides behind civilians. Secretary Mattis put it directly: “There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties. We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries.”
The bad things to come out of the Trump administration so far:
· Tweeting that President Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower, an accusation that no one could find any evidence to support.
· Not merely the inability to pass health care reform on the first try, but the clumsy way it was handled, with Trump clearly not caring about the details and Bannon trying to bully the House Freedom Caucus, telling them they had “no choice” but to vote for it.
· Trump continues to make big promises with few details on how he’s going to make it work. Last night he said, “I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care. That’s such an easy one.” Is it? Is it really?
· The administration had a series of defeats in court; the initial travel ban appeared to be hastily written, ignored career lawyers of DHS, and created chaos at the nation’s airports.
· The FBI is investigating whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russia on illegal hacking of places like John Podesta’s computer and the DNC and other efforts to influence the election.
· The outlook for tax reform is complicated by the failure to get health-care reforms done first, as the reforms were supposed to create the savings to pay for the tax cuts. Ditto for the dreams of a big infrastructure bill.
· It’s very early, but there are signs that the “energized Democratic grassroots” storyline isn’t just media wish-fulfillment. Just as Republicans woke up and got active as the Obama era began in 2009, Democrats may be the same…
· We’re cool with a president golfing now, huh, conservatives?
· We don’t care if White House visitor logs are no longer accessible to the public, huh? We’re fine with the Trump administration being less open and transparent than the Obama administration?
Yesterday I wrote about one of the more bewildering and unnerving early stumbles of the administration, a persistent complaint about the “deep state” while failing to nominate anyone for hundreds upon hundreds of important positions. Yes, the Senate could confirm the 40 or so nominees faster, but the Trump administration just looks flatly unprepared for one of the key tasks of governing.
ADDENDA: Barring a falling meteorite, the pop culture podcast will return this week after a long hiatus spurred by conflicting schedules…