This post was originally published on THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICSAdd to Favorites
President Trump has gone after many norms and institutions in American politics, often seeming to want to undermine them in the name of strengthening himself with his base.
Now he’s setting up Congress to fail. And if it does, you can bet he’ll gladly saddle it with the blame for everything bad that happens.
Two major decisions came to light overnight: First, Trump’s decision to end federal cost-sharing subsidies for Obamacare and, second, his decision to effectively kick the Iran deal to Congress. With those moves, Trump has added immeasurably to the legislative branch’s burden in the days and months ahead. And as with his decision on the DACA executive order exempting the children of illegal immigrants from deportation, he’s basically putting the ball in Congress’s court and letting it figure things out.
Or, perhaps more likely, not.
That is at once a justifiable strategy and a hugely fraught one. Congress, after all, is the body that is supposed to make laws — not the president. But it is also a body that for a very long time has been riven by gridlock and infighting, and Trump is now giving it more to do in the next few months (with deadlines) than it has accomplished in years.
The Iran deal decision won’t void the nuclear agreement, but it will reportedly give Congress a couple months to figure out how to proceed. Trump will withdraw his certification of the deal and force Congress to add caveats to it that will either strengthen it or lead to its demise.
The Obamacare decision will end about $7 billion in annual subsidies for health insurers to cover lower-income patients, in what amounts to an unprecedented and potentially game-changing shock to the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. This adds to the growing list of ways in which Trump is helping usher in Obamacare’s demise, and it puts huge pressure on Republican and Democratic senators currently negotiating a bipartisan deal to solidify Obamacare.
As The Post’s Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin note, Trump previously resisted the urge to take this step, because “administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans.”
That’s entirely possible, and it certainly is the big risk Trump is taking in making this decision. But we also have plenty of evidence that the only voters Trump cares about — the Republican base — are quite willing to blame Congress rather than Trump for bad outcomes. A Marist College poll conducted in July, when Republicans were still trying in vain to replace Obamacare, showed 50 percent of Republicans would blame Democrats if it didn’t pass, despite Republicans having majorities in both the House and Senate. Only 20 percent said they would blame Republicans, while only 6 percent blaming Trump.
We’ve seen before how Trump has been more than happy to blame Congress — up to and including congressional Republican leaders — when things go wrong. He targeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) when the Senate failed to do what the House did and pass its own version of an Obamacare replacement. He also blamed both McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) for the debt ceiling “mess” that eventually led Trump to cut a deal with Democrats. And he has attacked McConnell for not lowering the threshold for passing bills in the Senate from 60 votes to a bare majority.
All along the way, Congress’s numbers have plummeted back near historic lows, thanks to Republicans souring on it. And so have the poll numbers of Republicans who ran afoul of Trump, including McConnell. Trump’s numbers, meanwhile, remain largely static. It’s clear what side is winning this battle for the GOP base right now, and it’s decidedly Trump.
If Trump has shown anything, it’s that he loves to lay blame and is prepared to lay it upon just about anybody else. Lurking behind all of that is his apparent desire to consolidate his own power and make himself the only thing that his supporters can rely upon. He has no loyalty to the Republican Party, and I wouldn’t be the first to suggest that he’s threatening to rip it apart.
This very much could play into that. In laying these things at Congress’s feet, Trump could either force Congress into an unprecedented amount of action in the months ahead — in which case he’ll likely take credit for whatever results they produce — or usher in its failure — in which case he’ll simply blame them and make life even more hellacious for the party whose nomination he commandeered in 2016.