There seems to be little argument over whether Congress or President-elect Trump will be driving the agenda in 2017. Just hours after the new congress tried to overhaul the Office of Congressional Ethics in a move designed to essentially weaken ethical standards, President-elect Trump sent out a series of tweets which brought the entire thing to a hault.
House Republicans dropped their bid to weaken the independent Office of Congressional Ethics after President-elect Donald Trump blasted the move as counter to his call to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington.
The amendment was stripped from a rules package by voice vote, three lawmakers said, in a last-minute meeting called Tuesday as criticism mounted. The controversy over the office that investigates lawmakers’ alleged misconduct was starting to overshadow the opening of the 115th Congress, normally a day of glad-handing as lawmakers bring family members to the floor to join the festivities.
“We have got just a tremendous number of calls to our office here and district offices concerned about this,” said Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican.
The House GOP voted behind closed doors Monday night to make the independent office “subject to oversight” by the House Ethics Committee and significantly restrict its powers. The three lawmakers who confirmed the amendment was dropped were Mo Brooks of Alabama, Darrell Issa of California and Bill Flores of Texas.
“People could have concerns” after Trump criticized the GOP’s move, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California told reporters before the meeting.
“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning. “Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!’ He closed his tweet with “#DTS,” a reference to his campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”
This put to bed the notion that Trump may simply take a “hands off” approach in letting House Speaker Paul Ryan run the congressional show. This small ordeal leads us into the next issue at hand, which is how and when Republicans plan to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare.
It appears that some in congress are expressing concern over moving too quickly, while others, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, argue that repeal can’t come soon enough:
Congress will, as its first course of action, vote to repeal Obamacare. It cannot happen soon enough.
All around us, Obamacare crumbles in chaos. Premiums are exploding. The state run health co-ops are mostly bankrupt. Many individuals who gained subsidized insurance are still, for all practical purposes, without insurance because the deductibles are beyond the reach of low income workers.
Paul goes on to list the many issues and pitfalls he sees in ObamaCare and argues for market-based reforms of patient freedom.
The question is whether a newly sworn in President Trump will push Congress to act immediately on a repeal bill, or whether he’d prefer to wait for the details to be hashed out for a suitable replacement. As CNN reports there is turmoil within the GOP over how to proceed on a campaign promise that will not be forgotten by voters:
Some Republicans are cautioning against repealing the Affordable Care Act too quickly and urging the party take the foot off the accelerator. The reason: there’s no plan on how to replace what they roll back. And while GOP lawmakers are eager to please their base with headlines of Obamacare’s repeal, they don’t want to be blamed for leaving people without health insurance and chaos in the healthcare market.
Sen. John McCain told reporters Tuesday that he supports taking a slower approach to repealing the law, saying he is “always worried about something that took a long time in the making and we’ve got to concentrate our efforts to making sure that we do it right so that nobody’s left out.”
Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House Speaker and a close ally of President-elect Donald Trump, told CNN that a big risk for Republicans is getting blamed for taking away people’s health coverage.
“Number one thing (Republicans) have to avoid is putting themselves in a position where Democrats can frighten people — that somehow, they won’t have access to health care because of Republicans,” Gingrich said.
From a political standpoint, Congress is handing Trump a victory wrapped up with a bow on it. The story will play out along the lines of Trump’s campaign rhetoric – that politicians are “all talk and no action.” Trump will come in and play the outsider and push the Republicans to get a repeal done. In fact, if Paul Ryan would simply push it forward on his own and get a consensus within his party, he probably wouldn’t be at the mercy of Trump’s twitter feed like he is now.
In a way, Trump needs Congressional gridlock and bickering so he can claim the mantle of “getting things done,” as he bellowed before audiences of thousands on the campaign trail. The ObamaCare repeal battle will play out for months and it will be the first major test for Trump’s domestic policy agenda.