After health care fail, can Republicans enact their agenda?

Politics

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are a number of questions facing Republicans in Washington right now, from the failure to pass a health care bill, to the investigation into Russia and the Trump administration.

We look now at what's next for the majority party with our Politics Monday duo, Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Hello to both of you.

So, let's start with what — Tam, with what the speaker said last Friday in trying to explain why this whole thing fell apart. He said, we haven't learned to be the majority party. We haven't learned how to lead. We're still stuck in the opposition.

Does that sound like the right description of what went wrong? And can — is that something they can learn?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR: It certainly is a description.

It turns out that winning doesn't paper over all of the divisions that were there a year ago or two years ago or three years ago within the Republican Party. And those divisions came out into bright focus with this bill.

The reality is that they actually have a smaller majority than they did last year, and they were not able to send that many bills to President Obama's desk to veto. Now they have a president of their own party. As one congressman said, it's like going from playing fantasy football to playing real football.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is after months and months, Tam, of talking about the fact that they were going to undo this. This was their principal goal during this campaign.

TAMARA KEITH: Absolutely.

That was the thing that they talked about. It's the thing they have been talking about for seven years. They only worked on it for 18 days. And then they were like, well, moving on.

So, now it seems like maybe they are holding open the possibility of maybe coming back to it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, what's your take? Is this something Republicans can learn how to be, in the majority, in charge?

AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: Well, I think Tam summed it up pretty well. The fact they only spent 18 days on something is issue number one.

The second is, of course, that two-thirds of the members in the House right now who are Republicans have never been with a Republican president, so this is a brand-new situation for them.

And these divisions, I would argue, within the Republican Party have been around longer than the last couple of years. They have been around for 10 or 12 years. So, this is a lot to overcome.

I think the other thing we learned, though, was that Donald Trump's style, which worked on the campaign trail, the let's just rally and take one for the team, I can bring the team together in a campaign, didn't work in a legislative sense. It's not enough to just say, hey, members of my own party, vote for something that's really unpopular. I can't really talk to you about the details of this policy. I'm not ideologically attached to this piece of legislation. I can't even tell you that I want to spend a whole lot of time selling this legislation, but vote for it because you like me.

And what his party said was, that's not enough. It's a really important factor as we go forward to whatever the next piece of legislation that this Congress wants to get through. The power of persuasion of this president isn't enough, even though he remains popular among his own base.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For sure.

And, Tam, I mean, this brings to mind, while the Republicans are trying to figure out what they can get done, meanwhile, the president was saying to Democrats, hey, I'm looking for your ideas. Come up — let me know what you think. I want to — I'm ready to deal with you.

Are Democrats going to follow up on that?

TAMARA KEITH: Well, that's a good question.

This president has a pretty remarkable ability, going back to when he was in business, to reframe defeats as wins. So he had four business bankruptcies and he found a way to say that those are actually wins for him.

And so now he has taken this. And it is a huge political defeat. And he said, maybe that's better because now I can work two Democrats.

It's not clear at this point the Democrats are really interested in handing him a win. However, there will come things like whether there is a government showdown, and there could come a time when Democrats will possibly throw a life preserver to avoid being blamed for shutting the government down, but we aren't there yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy.

AMY WALTER: Yes, Tam is right.

I mean, the question really is, what incentive do Democrats have to work with this president? Right now, he has done nothing. Well, actually, he hasn't done anything throughout his time as a candidate or as a president to reach out to anybody, besides the people who already support him.

And now, after a defeat, he's going to come to them and ask for their help? They don't have much incentive to do that. He's a president right now sitting at somewhere around 41 percent approval rating, if you put all the averages of the polls together.

Even for red state Democrats, they don't see a whole lot to fear either from crossing him. And more important, for Democrats, the Democratic base is energized. They are angry. And they are telling pollsters the number one thing they're concerned about is their own party's members compromising with this president.

So, the president has really boxed himself into a corner. He needs his people to support him. And just being rah-rah, team player, sing to my base isn't enough to get them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Boxed himself into a corner, Tam, and at a moment when he needs a win. He would like to have — get something up on the board.

How much is he politically set back by what happened last week?

TAMARA KEITH: This is a very big setback legislatively. He's going to do things that are sort of small ball, little chippy wins that he's going to do in the coming days.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Chippy?

TAMARA KEITH: Yes, he's going to sign some executive orders. This is not a long drive down the fairway. These are little chips. He is going to sign some executive orders. He's going to do what he's been doing.

But in terms of legislation, that's much harder. And now they're saying that they want to move to tax reform. Tax reform is not the easy thing you go to after health care. Tax reform, they haven't done that in 30 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy, not the easiest thing.

AMY WALTER: No, it's not the easiest thing.

And before that — Tam alluded to this, but we have something at the end of April where the government funding runs out. And we may be back in the situation where we're talking about a potential government showdown. Again, we're talking about some fissures within the Republican Party over issues like Planned Parenthood.

And on the Democratic side, there is going to be a big pushback on the inclusion of money for building that infamous wall on the border. So, we could be talking about not about tax reform in the next couple of weeks, but about government showdown. That is going to be the next real big hurdle for this president.

Now, he could get, with the Supreme Court nomination, a pretty significant win under his belt before then, but that's also going to be really messy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, before I let you two go, I have to ask you about the other story that is the talk of Washington today, has to do, Tam, with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, who is the center of a lot of attention because of his claim or story last week that he had information — he doesn't say where it came from.

He was at the White House when he got this information that he says indicates that the president and people around him were surveilled, under surveillance during the transition. And he said it has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

What are we to make of all this?

TAMARA KEITH: And he's really saying that they were caught up in other routine and completely legal surveillance.

This is a very curious story. And Devin Nunes keeps talking and talking and talking. And every time he talks, it almost becomes less clear than it was before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Amy?

AMY WALTER: Yes, that's exactly right.

I do think, though, this is putting a lot of pressure on Republicans to make a statement about this, whether or not he can be considered a credible chair of this committee, whether or not he has to recuse himself from this.

Senator Schumer has already come out today saying he should actually step down as chair of the Intelligence Committee. But this is this big, swirling black cloud. For those of you who enjoyed the show "Lost," you might remember there was this big amorphous cloud that would show up out of nowhere and spread destruction.

But that's what this issue of Russia and surveillance has become. And it just pops up, and it continues to just distract the administration, and really push them off course. And it has put Nunes into a terrible position.

I think a lot of pressure coming on Republicans in these coming days about whether their chairman can stay in his current role.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're all madly searching for analogies, black cloud, black mass.

AMY WALTER: Black smoke.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Black smoke covers it all.

Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Politics Monday, thank you both.

TAMARA KEITH: You're welcome.

AMY WALTER: You're welcome.

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