How the Obamacare replacement will test Republicans

JOHN YANG: But, first, let's unpack the politics behind President Trump's new travel ban, the allegations of wiretapping and the White House's agenda for the week.

It's time for Politics Monday with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR.

Tam, you were one of the radio poolers this weekend. You went with Trump down to Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

So, nice quiet weekend?

(LAUGHTER)

TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio: Yes, I think we were expecting it to be a quiet weekend. There weren't a lot of aides that came down with him on Air Force One.

But by the end of the weekend, there were a lot of people at Mar-a-Lago meeting with President Trump all of a sudden. Those tweets came out of the darkness of morning and changed the weekend for sure.

JOHN YANG: What do you make of it? Where did it come from, do you think?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, it is unclear. If you ask the White House, they won't say where it came from.

If you put some dots together, it looks like it came from a Breitbart story that rounded up that Mark Levin talk show and various other news reports that are out there. And the White House keeps pointing to reports.

I started asking at 7:00 a.m. Saturday. And the questions continue, where exactly is the president getting this from? He's the president of the United States. It's possible he could be getting intelligence from somewhere.

But instead we're hearing about reports. And his spokespeople are saying, well, if it's true, it would be a huge scandal.

That's mighty conditional.

JOHN YANG: And, Amy, from the outside, it looked like another — we're seeing the reports that the president was angry when he did this.

From the outside, it seemed like he had a pretty good week. He had the speech on Tuesday that got great reviews.

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Absolutely.

JOHN YANG: Friday, when Attorney General Sessions recused himself, it seems to me, from the outside looking in, that that put the issue to rest. That was a good thing for them.

AMY WALTER: But he didn't see it as a good thing.

JOHN YANG: Exactly.

AMY WALTER: This is a White House and certainly a president who believes that, if you back down on anything, you have lost.

And so the decision by Sessions to recuse himself was seen not as a victory, but as — really as a big defeat. And, you know, this is a funny thing, too, about this administration, and really the president.

It's like we live in these bifurcated worlds. Right? He gets angry, and it goes into a tweet. He defended Sessions on Twitter, but then sort of accepts, though grudgingly, what the effect is. He was upset that Michael Flynn had to resign, but he accepted that. He's upset about Sessions, but he accepted it.

But he takes it out on Twitter. Meanwhile, it's the rest of the world that's trying to keep up with what this all means. And, as we have seen from the panel that was right in front of us, it's not really changing anything on Capitol Hill. There is no special prosecutor. This is still all within Congress.

They're either going to find something or they're not. Nothing that happened this weekend is going to change that. And we're still just really wrapping around the axle on an issue that we don't have any clarity.

TAMARA KEITH: Though it does give Democrats a little more ammunition to ask for an independent investigator, a special prosecutor or whatever it ends up being that they would want to ask for.

You know, if it had stopped with Jeff Sessions recusing himself, it would have been harder for Democrats to make the case for an independent investigation. But add this last weekend to it, and they feel like they have a much better case to make, that they're going to keep making.

AMY WALTER: And the polls are on their side, too, more Americans saying they would like to see that, a special prosecutor.

JOHN YANG: Yes.

And last week, after that speech on Tuesday, the White House felt they had the momentum, that they were going to carry this through, push their legislative agenda.

We got a big piece of it today, the House Republicans unveiling their proposal for the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act. Sean Spicer says they want to sign this into law by Easter.

AMY WALTER: Right. That is the goal.

And, listen, This is the most important thing to remember. And I have been saying this from the very beginning. Watch the actions, not just the words. The tweets are important, but the actions are much more important.

This is a big deal. This is what every single member of Congress ran on, was repealing Obamacare. The president talked about repealing Obamacare. Here is their chance to do it.

A couple things to remember. First of all, two-thirds of the folks in the House, over 50 percent of the folks the Senate who are Republicans have never had a Republican president during their tenure in Washington. They don't know about putting legislation together. They know about opposing. They don't know about promoting.

This is going to be a big challenge for them. Speaker Paul Ryan has had challenges within his own party. We have seen those rebel forces push up against him. Is he going to be able to corral them?

Mitch McConnell, he's very good at politics, but he has a very narrow margin, only 52 seats in the Senate, so he cannot lose very many of his own. This is going to be the test to see if, despite all that we're seeing with the tweets, despite all the chaos we see in the White House, if Republicans can get through, even if not Easter, let's say early summer, they can get through an Obamacare repeal, that is a big success.

Now, what the repercussions are going to be is a whole other story, but, politically, that would be a very big deal, because it shows that this sort of mishmash of a coalition that has been put together during this Trump era actually works.

If it doesn't, then we have some real big questions, especially what we're going to see about taxes, infrastructure and so forth.

TAMARA KEITH: And you already have some Republican senators expressing some concern, some skepticism about what House Republicans might be proposing, because they have Medicaid expanded in their states, and they are concerned that what is being proposed on the House side might negatively affect their states.

JOHN YANG: And, also, I think, is this going to be a test to see how President Trump is as…

AMY WALTER: Right, as a salesperson.

JOHN YANG: Exactly. Exactly.

AMY WALTER: And at using his bully pulpit. He can do two things, one, to sell it to the public, but also to get those recalcitrant Republicans on board.

He's still very popular among Republican base. If he tweets out about congressman so and so not getting on board — but let's see where the conservative, especially the fiscal conservatives, are on this in the House.

There are still tax — refundable tax credits, which means it's still going to cost money. And for many members of Congress, they see this as an entitlement, which they want to fight against.

JOHN YANG: Amy Walter, you have got the last word.

Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, thank you very much.

TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.

AMY WALTER: You're welcome.

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