Trump promises ‘big surprise’ on health care
President Donald Trump isn’t attacking senators in Twitter tirades. He’s not making threats in private meetings. And there has been no visible arm-twisting or attempts to score quick deals.
Instead, the famously cantankerous President is laying low as his Republican colleagues in the Senate work furiously to strike a deal on a bill to repeal Obamacare.
Trump’s recent demeanor as a controversial health care bill has moved through the Senate is in striking contrast to his interactions with House Republicans earlier this year when they were debating legislation of their own to overhaul Obamacare. Clearly frustrated by the initial reluctance of so many House Republicans to get behind the bill, Trump had attempted to take matters into his own hands.
There were countless phone calls to wavering lawmakers and invitations for face time at the White House. To the chagrin of some House leaders, policy negotiations and deadlines started to emerge from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. At one point, Trump took the stunning step of berating individual members who were opposed to the bill, even declaring that the GOP should “fight them” in the midterm election.
But ever since the House handed over the baton of repealing Obamacare to the Senate in May, that Trump has been nowhere to be seen.
In fact, the President only recently appeared to get involved in reaching out to lawmakers in earnest, making phone calls over the weekend to senators who have expressed serious reservations or come out against the bill. And after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that a vote would be delayed until after the July 4 recess, Trump hosted lawmakers at the White House.
One Republican senator who attended that meeting said Trump did not make any threatening comments — either seriously or in jest — and even described the President as “very business-like.”
“There was no attempt at cajoling or threatening from him. It was a matter of, ‘Folks, how can we get together and work this out?'” the senator told CNN.
There wasn’t exactly a charm offensive from Trump, either, that senator added: “He was very business-like and very matter of fact.”
Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said the fact that House members run for re-election every two years — compared to six-year terms for senators — inherently means that senators can afford to take a “longer view” when confronted with decisions.
“When you’re a House member, you’ve got a fairly small district. When you’re a senator, you’ve got a whole state. And within that state, there’s greater diversity,” Cassidy, who served in the House for six years before moving to the Senate, told CNN.
His colleagues in the lower chamber “more reflect the passions of the people,” he added.
Trump’s tone and tact reflect the reality of different dynamics on the two ends of Capitol Hill.
“It’s a learning experience on how members of Congress think in both chambers,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who has served as a chief of staff and spokesman on the Senate side as well as a spokesman for a House speaker at different points in his career. “Trump is wisely using a much softer approach and also having positive one-on-one conversations with Senators as opposed to taking off the gloves with House Members along with a full court public campaign in order to sway votes.”
If the President has been relatively subdued in his interactions with senators on health care, some Senate Republicans have in turn been more than willing to publicly criticize Trump.
Sen. Susan Collins, a harsh critic of the Senate health care bill, said this week that Trump has not yet learned how to work with Congress.
“It has been a challenge to him to learn how to interact with Congress and how to push his agenda forward,” the Maine Republican said after McConnell announced that the vote would be delayed.
Referring to Trump as “the first president in our history who has had neither political nor military experience,” Collins added that she wishes Trump had attempted to pass legislation on issues that could have bipartisan support — like infrastructure — before trying to tackle “a politically divisive and technically complex issue like health care.”
As the drama was building over the last week, South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned whether Trump would indeed have the backs of his colleagues after they take difficult votes on health care.
Pointing to the fact that Trump called the House health care bill “mean” even after celebrating the bill’s passage in the White House Rose Garden, Graham said bluntly: “Here’s what I would tell any senator: If you’re counting on the President to have your back, you need to watch it.”