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Trump and Congress play tug of war on health care and Russia sanctions

August 2, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
With significant divides on issues like health care and Russia, there appears to be growing tension between the White House and Capitol Hill. Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin join Judy Woodruff for a closer look at both.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to what appears to be a growing tug of war between the White House and Capitol Hill.

Today, we saw the divides highlighted on two fronts: health care and sanctions against Russia.

For a closer look at both, we’re joined by our own Lisa Desjardins and Nick Schifrin.

And we welcome both of you.

So, Lisa, to you first and Congress.

There does seem to be a little bit bipartisanship breaking out, but it’s not from the leadership. It’s from other members. What is going on?

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right. The death of a partisan leadership-led effort last week has given birth to bipartisanship in both chambers.

Let’s start with the House, Judy. In the House, we saw yesterday a group of 40 members called the Problem Solvers Caucus, half each party, propose a health care compromise to stabilize the markets, essentially add more funds, but also limit the mandate on employers so fewer businesses would actually have to pay for insurance for their employees. That’s the House.

On the Senate side, Judy, the entire ball game rests with Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Health Committee, and his Democratic ranking member, Patty Murray. Talked to both of their staffs today. They will have hearings. They’re going to have a lot of conversations this month.

The efforts on both sides, Judy, are narrowly tailored on stabilization. But they think that could be where there is agreement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, but if they were not to agree, what would that mean for these insurance markets and for the cost of premiums?

LISA DESJARDINS: That’s right, for all of us, and especially those on the individual market.

We got some new data yesterday from the Department of Health and Human Services. Let’s look at states that might get hit the hardest by increasing premiums. This is what insurers think, they are forecasting they would have to do. Increase premiums by 30 percent in these five states, Judy.

Notice something else those states have in common? Those were all states won by President Trump. These are red states. That’s the high end, Judy, but most states do expect premium increases, for example, 12 percent in New York. It’s something that is a real concern.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to get to, I guess, to the politics of this, how much of these premium increases are due to the Affordable Care Act, which is what Republicans argue, and how much is due to just the instability of the markets and so forth, which is what the Democrats are saying?

LISA DESJARDINS: This is the conversation, and it centers around those insurance subsidies, the $7 billion this year that insurers are counting on getting.

Good policy or not, they’re expecting it. But President Trump hasn’t yet said if he will let that money go all the way through for next year. That creates risk, and some people say that’s why these premium increases are coming.

But let’s talk to — let’s hear from Senator John Cornyn, Republican on the floor today. He said that Republicans and the president have nothing to do with premium increases.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-Texas: The idea that premiums are going to go up 30 percent next year unless something changes is a product of the failure of Obamacare. It’s nothing that this administration has done or will do that has caused that.

LISA DESJARDINS: And that flies in the face, though, Judy, of what we have heard from states.

Just one example, let’s go to Idaho. The Republican director of insurance put out this statement, exactly saying the opposite, saying that the increase there in the silver plans were — quote — “due to the potential refusal of the federal government to fund the cost-share reduction.”

That is the subsidies. He’s saying that is why they have at least some of the premium problem in that state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, just quickly, where is this headed?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right.

There is a huge divide between, it looks like senators, Republican senators, who want to fund these insurance subsidies, and a president who hasn’t declared what he’s going to do, but who senators I talked to today very nervous that he may not fund these subsidies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we will see how many days are left for Congress to be around and then we will find out how they work this out.

So, while we’re talking about a division here, Nick, to foreign affairs.

There’s also a split that burst into the open today when it came to these Russia sanctions. What’s going on with regard to that?

NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, this is the first major foreign affairs legislation passed by the Congress, and not only was it passed over the president’s objections, but it was also passed as a way to kind of handcuff the president’s ability to lift sanctions on Russia.

No president is going to like that. And, in that sense, this is kind of part of a centuries-old tug-of-war between the legislative and executive branches over who controls foreign policy. And President Trump released an initial statement this morning that really speaks to that history.

He said: “My administration will give careful and respectful consideration to the preferences expressed by the Congress, and will implement them in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.”

And the congressional staffers I spoke to today said that is language that Presidents Obama and Bush could have used. The president is trying to keep control over foreign policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But he went further, as you and I were discussing, and he issued a second statement, much more personal.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Oh, yes.

This is a president who has a book called “The Art of the Deal,” who thinks that he is the best deal-maker and doesn’t want Congress to impede that. And the second statement he released simultaneously did go more personal toward Congress.

He said: “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking. I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress can.”

Now, on the Hill, you have some initial shrugs today. A Democratic staffer told me, can you quote me rolling my eyes? Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said, “It doesn’t matter to me what the president’s statement says.”

And that sentiment was actually taken a lot further by Russia in its response. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Trump was — quote — “weak” and had been — quote — “outwitted and humiliated” by Congress, which just goes to show, Judy, that it’s not just America that is watching this tug-of-war between the president and Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

So, divisions over domestic and foreign.

And thank you both very much, Nick Schifrin, Lisa Desjardins.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Thank you.

LISA DESJARDINS: Thank you.

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