A triumphant House Speaker Paul Ryan and dozens of House Republicans gathered in the Rose Garden with President Trump yesterday afternoon to celebrate the passage of the American Health Care Act, an effort that looked dead in the water several weeks ago. There were congratulatory tributes all around, including an unequivocal 'attaboy' from the President to the Speaker, whose relationship (and especially the relationships between their bases of support within the GOP) has been strained at times:
And here's Trump acknowledging the work accomplished on the House side (for which Vice President Pence also deserves considerable credit), and somewhat marveling that he's President of the United States, to laughter:
"I'm President! Can you believe it?!" - President Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/fdAF9TqB16— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) May 4, 2017
After years of promises, several false starts, and lots of liberal ridicule, I can appreciate the desire to celebrate this milestone. Republicans are genuinely trying to help people, especially many of the people being harmed by Obamacare -- the ongoing failures of which are evident and getting worse. I also understand the need to create positive optics to fuel a sense of momentum, in order to apply newfound pressure on the Senate to get to work on the bill. Nevertheless, I'd caution Republicans against too much backslapping and glass-clinking, for three reasons:
(1) There's a long, tough legislative road ahead for the AHCA. It barely squeaked through the House, despite the GOP holding a substantial majority, and substantial renovations are expected in the Senate (where final passage is absolutely not assured). Even if the upper chamber completes its work, getting that changed product back through the House (perhaps after a conference committee) is hardly a layup. The last few months have made that reality quite clear. So prematurely spiking the football, or at least the appearance of doing so, could smack of hubris and arrogance. This was a crucial step, but it is not yet a victory.
(2) Many Americans, including millions who aren't happy with Obamacare, are anxious. They're being fed hysterical misinformation about the GOP plan. They're reading about genuine shortcomings and flaws in the bill. They're uncomfortable with the status quo, and worried about what might come next. Republican lawmakers must be acutely aware of, and responsive to, those sentiments and emotions. Healthcare is a deeply personal and deadly serious issue to voters, as it should be. Republican rhetoric and messaging must reflect that. To that end, members would be wise to take heed of Rep. Tom MacArthur's example. He's the New Jersey moderate who helped craft a breakthrough amendment that revived the Obamacare 'repeal and replace' journey. He made the rounds on television after Thursday's vote was gaveled closed and demonstrated how to communicate the ideas behind the bill. He speaks movingly of how this issue is so personal to his family, conveys humility on the challenge of undertaking such a difficult task that impacts so many people in real ways, and relentlessly returns to the overriding point that the Obamacare status quo is crumbling:
That's a critical reality check that must be raised over and over again. Doing nothing on Obamacare wouldn't merely be a discarded political promise. It would be an abandonment of millions of people who have been hurt by the law -- and who were lied to by the Democrats, who created this mess. And it would be irresponsible in light of the clear signs of worse troubles ahead for the failing law. That's what governance is about.