HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Joining us now to discuss the implications for the Trump administration as it tries to move forward is “NewsHour Weekend” special correspondent Jeff Greenfield.
So, it was not a good day. Paul Ryan agreed about that and President Trump sort of did. Who was hurt worse?
JEFF GREENFIELD, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: First of all, any time the Trump-friendly “Drudge Report” puts the Hindenburg explosion on the front page, it’s kind of a clue things didn’t go well. I think the initial fallout is going to hit the Congress and the speaker, because a lot of what he did was mystifying. I mean, a lot of the policy in the health care repeal was in direct contradiction to what the president has said in terms of insurance for everybody. And then the endless and unsuccessful attempt to feed the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative hard-right group in the Congress, not only didn’t work, but then it alienated two dozen moderates.
So, whether this means that the people who have been suspicious of Ryan, the Breitbart folks, are going to suggest that his speakership is endangered, I don’t think we know that yet. But I think that he took a real hit this week.
SREENIVASAN: Well, what about the White House?
GREENFIELD: Well, of course, if you listen to Trump, you know, everything worked out fine, but that’s Donald Trump. Here’s what I think is at stake here — the whole argument here made, “I am the outsider. I am the deal cutter. I know how to get things done and cut through the morass of Washington” has clearly taken a hit.
I think the second thing, although why this should have been a surprise to anybody, is Donald Trump — let me be blunt about this– simply doesn’t care about the policy implications. It’s about winning. It’s about beating his enemies. It’s about looking successful.
So, for the Republicans who are now saying, “All right, we’ll do tax cuts. We’ll do infrastructure” — how are they going to deal with a president who really isn’t interested in the details of things like tax cuts and how we get infrastructure?
SREENIVASAN: Now, Paul Ryan said, “We’ll be living with Obamacare. This is the law of land.” There are still things that Republicans can do and likely will plan to do.
GREENFIELD: I think this is the most important thing to keep in mind, because we’re all talking about the political implications. You need — the executive branch has to implement the Affordable Care Act. In Health and Human Services Secretary Price, former congressman, you have perhaps the single most zealous opponent of the ACA.
We’ve already seen what can happen. They pulled ads, TV ads, off the air at the time of open enrolment. Enrolment numbers went down. Why does that matter, because if you don’t get healthy, younger people to sign up for various insurance, that means that the insurance companies are dealing with older, sicker people. That means insurance premiums go up.
The federal government, the executive branch, can give states all kinds of leeway to tighten, for instance, Medicaid applications, who gets on. They can change how the subsidies work for low income people who are otherwise face with high deductibles and co-pays.
So, if the administration is looking to undermine Obamacare, the have the tools to do it. The question is, will Trump actually do what he says, maybe I’ll reach out to Democrats, we’ll try to figure out a way to make it work, I wouldn’t bet much at all on that prospect.
SREENIVASAN: You’ve watched a few presidents now coming out of the blocks, all of them have some speed bumps. But compare this rash in last 60 days to previous presidents.
GREENFIELD: Well, you’re quite right. You know, Bill Clinton had the attempt to end the ban on gays in the military. John Kennedy had the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961, which really, you know, caused him to take a very serious rethinking of his relationship with the CIA. The spate of them, you know, the travel ban, the second travel ban that’s in trouble with the courts, the hiring and firing of national security administrator Michael Flynn, the still-unanswered questions about Russia.
And I think this one goes to the heart of what people thought was going to happen, you know, right out of the blocks, he said, I’m going to — he now says he never intended to — never promised repeal of Obamacare quickly. Yes, he did.
And so, what the president is now facing is a challenge to the very premise of his election, as I said earlier, “I can get things done.” And when you realize the health care repeal was the precursor to things like the tax cut plan, how are they going to do that in the absence of repeal? Yes, he is now facing — not to mention the approval ratings which are dismal, historically dismal — he’s facing very tough road.
Just one quick thing, though — we journalists are the Olympic champions in the “jumping to conclusions” event. If this were September of ’18, the Republicans would be facing a disaster. We’ve got a year and a half to go.
GREENFIELD: After what we lived through the last year and a half, you want to tell me we know what’s coming?
SREENIVASAN: We don’t.
All right, Jeff Greenfield, thanks so much.
GREENFIELD: All right.