March 24, 2017
Publishing note: This edition will be the last of this newsletter. I’m leaving the magazine for a new assignment at the Washington Post. Starting soon, if you aren’t already, you’ll receive the TIME Politics newsletter, which I highly recommend. To make sure it lands in your inbox, please add email@example.com to your address book. And I hope you’ll keep up with me, too, as I switch gigs, which you can do for now by following me on Twitter. Writing this note has been a genuine privilege. Thank you for making it part of your day.
I’ll keep it brief, because I’m on a train and my connection is shoddy (but I repeat myself. Can we get to that infrastructure package?). The whip count around the Obamacare replacement package remains fluid. Republican leaders appear to lack the votes but are still aiming to take the measure to the floor this afternoon. That’s after the White House and their GOP allies on Capitol Hill suffered an unnerving setback Thursday. Short on support, they had to cancel a vote timed for the seventh anniversary of the law. Last night, Trump issued an ultimatum to House GOP holdouts: Get on board or accept the status quo. The president says if the bill fails, he’s moving on to the rest of his agenda, leaving the Affordable Care Act in place. At this instant, the only salient information — if the votes will materialize – is unknown.
Broadly, though, this is what we do know. Despite the president’s hostility toward observable reality — and his administration’s reliance on obscurantism — more often than not, with Trump, things are exactly as they seem. He hasn’t seemed particularly invested in healthcare reform, for example, and he isn’t. In last two weeks, he’s dropped plenty of hints that he views the entire project as a chore he has to complete before moving on to initiatives he’d rather tackle, namely cutting taxes and building stuff. (Consider it this way: Gutting Obamacare isn’t likely to earn the president a standing ovation from dinnertime crowd on the Mar-a-Lago patio; slashing tax rates will.)
We also know that Trump’s rhetoric is on a collision course with the scoreboard. The candidate who promised to exhaust Americans with non-stop wins now faces the real possibility of a humiliating defeat on his very first prerogative. A loss in itself wouldn’t spell doom for the rest of his agenda. But those invested in tax reform’s success may note what this early test has already revealed about Trump’s leadership style. Bare-knuckled bravado and take-it-or-leave-it decrees aren’t great for forging consensus. The next project — complex and politically perilous — requires it, just as this one does.