HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to the analysis of Shields and Gerson. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson. David Brooks is away.
Let’s start with this little party that was on the Rose Garden yesterday. The beer cases were brought in. There was a celebratory atmosphere. President Trump rightfully brought the House Republicans there after they pushed their health care repeal and replace bill through the House.
How did they manage to do this?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, first of all, the event itself, the only thing more — or as unseemly as the self-congratulatory bus trip to the White House — it was like after you had won an office softball game and you break out the beer — were the Democrats on the House floor taunting bye, bye, bye to Republicans.
This is trivializing a moral issue. And this — to me, that’s what health care is, whether in fact it is a right of a citizen in this country to health care. And I think it’s a serious question, whether we share our benefits and share our burdens, or whether in fact we’re all in this alone.
And what the House passed yesterday was something that just had to be done. I mean, otherwise, you’re staring into the abyss of total political failure. Republicans had gone through four elections where the one unanimous position they had all taken as a party was the repeal of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Sixty-two times, they courageously and boldly voted to do, knowing it didn’t count, knowing it wasn’t going to go anywhere. The 63rd time was tougher, because what they passed yesterday has serious implications for them politically and certainly for the people of the country.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: It’s a great moral issue. But this passed because Paul Ryan got granular. He identified who he needed and what they wanted and essentially gave it to them.
So, moderates get the high-risk fund. The Freedom Caucus gets the waivers. He just put on the table what he needed to get across the finish line.
Now, that doesn’t make it a good bill or even a coherent bill. But I think the trust here is that Ryan will hand this off to McConnell, McConnell has some rational process that the House can no longer produce, because of its own internal dynamics, and that they might get an improved product at the end.
The other thing that’s worth noting that is really fascinating is the almost absence of presidential leadership in producing this victory. He was really not very engaged or involved.
Paul Ryan is learning to live without the normal role of the president in the legislative process. But it is unique, his absence.
HARI SREENIVASAN: So, what happens by the time it gets to the Senate?
Nancy Pelosi has already said, listen, this is the vote that’s going to be tattooed on you come reelection time. But more important, the Senate’s going to change it in some way shape or form, if they move forward at all.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, they are.
Just one quick point to Michael’s point. And that is the $8 billion fig leaf — and it was a fig leaf — that they’re going to cover people with a preexisting condition, which was the price to get Billy Long and Fred Upton, represents less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the cost of Medicaid. It’s not going to last beyond a couple of months.
It was just something that they could go back and sell to their own constituencies and for their own purposes. It’s meaningless.
But what’s going to happen in the Senate? I will say this. We have just seen the high watermark for this legislation. Every Republican in the House who voted for it will have to answer for it. And this is a stand-alone piece of it, whatever happens in the Senate. And nobody really knows.
There are 11 Republican governors, don’t forget — and this is where this starts to count — who expanded, accepted the Medicaid expansion, and who have covered people in their state, and from John Kasich, to Rick Snyder in Michigan, to Gary Herbert in Utah, to Brian Sandoval in Nevada, across the country.
And so it’s a different dynamic in the Senate. They have got states represented by senators like Rob Portman, a traditional conservative, who is going to fight for the preservation of Medicaid expansion.
MICHAEL GERSON: The Senate is acting pretty much from scratch. They’re not going to the House bill and building on it. They’re taking away.
Lamar Alexander has been charged to produce their own approach. There’s a small group of senators that is kind of diverse, at least within the caucus, that is working on this. And Senator McConnell has promised them some time for deliberation, unlike the way the House passed this.
So, the probably — is exactly what you’re talking about. Senator Collins has already announced she will not support a bill that doesn’t include Planned Parenthood funding, OK? The bill will not include Planned Parenthood funding.
That means that Republicans need 51 votes. They have got a margin of one in producing this piece of legislation. There’s no margin of error for them here.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, let’s talk about another Rose Garden event that happened yesterday, really kind of talking about religion in politics, and the Trump administration bringing that to the fore.
He signed an executive order easing an IRS rule limiting political activity by houses of worship. This was also on day that President Trump proclaimed a national day of prayer and had a statement saying — quote — “All human beings have the right to practice their faith in private and in the public square.”
The public square portion, does that raise any concerns?
MARK SHIELDS: It doesn’t to me, and it apparently didn’t to the American Civil Liberties Union either.
I happen to believe that this was a strict political payoff, in symbolic terms, that evangelical white Christians had been his most supporters; 81 percent of them voted for him.
And I, for one, will break with liberal ranks and make the case that America’s original sin existed until organized religion, namely, the American Methodists, the Anglican evangelicals, and Quakers led the fight to abolish slavery. There wouldn’t have been a civil rights bill, legislation in this country without the active involvement of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, particularly black Protestant leadership, so — as well as peace movement.
So, I’m not as concerned about the involvement in the public square. Donald Trump’s religiosity has always been rather elusive to me.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Sorry.
Is this a backdoor option or a possibility where this could be sort of Citizens United 2.0? Let’s just today build the church of Mark and Michael, totally tax-exempt organizations, raise as much money as you want, donate to whatever political party you would like?
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I don’t know if it even accomplishes that.
I mean, the Johnson amendment, you know, I have never seen anywhere, encountered someone complaining about rigorous enforcement of the Johnson amendment. I have been around this a long time. It’s a nonexistent issue. It’s a solution in search of a problem. And it is a sop. It is an empty symbol.
The problem here that we’re seeing more recently is not that religion is hurting the public square too much. It’s that politics is undermining and invading the credibility of religion itself.
People who support Donald Trump, many of them were people who said that Bill Clinton’s character mattered more than anything else. And now they’re embracing Trump. And people are looking at this and saying that this is a joke. This is hypocrisy.
And so I think the risk here is actually to religion.
HARI SREENIVASAN: To that point, I mean …
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point.
On your point, yes, I am deeply concerned, and have been, and especially now that we have got a smokescreen of charitable religious institutions being formed basically for political ends, and for partisan political purpose.
And what it amounts to in public policy terms is, I’m making a donation, a tax-deducted donation, for a political purpose to support my political cause or your political cause, which I think is absolutely wrong, and it’s a corruption.
MICHAEL GERSON: I just haven’t seen much evidence of it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t know …
MARK SHIELDS: We have certainly seen — we have seen phony, bogus charitable foundations created for that purpose.
HARI SREENIVASAN: I don’t socially if this happens already, but do you end up picking your church a little bit more because you know how that church is going to vote?
I’m going to reveal my Hindu roots here, but I thought Jesus was an independent, not a Democrat or a Republican.
MICHAEL GERSON: Well, I think that’s true.
Whenever a pastor makes a political statement, they’re at risk of alienating a portion of their congregation on issues that have nothing to do with religion, or at least their judgment is not particularly sanctified on these issues.
I mean, I would rather go to the average bartender for political advice than the average priest or minister.
MICHAEL GERSON: So, you know, I think that they don’t have an expertise in many of these issues. And that’s up to laymen in the church and that, from the pulpit, there needs to be fairness.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Yes, all right, Michael Gerson, Mark Shields.
MARK SHIELDS: It’s a good point you make.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, thank you.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Thank you very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Hari.
HARI SREENIVASAN: All right.