Last week was Infrastructure Week in the White House, but you wouldn’t have known that if you paid attention to, well, anything that happened in politics. Instead, Trump spent the week picking a fight with former FBI Director James Comey, who testified on Thursday that Trump tried to influence the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn. Trump also contradicted key members of his cabinet, most notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on a brewing crisis in the Middle East. Once again, the reports coming out of the White House point to an increasingly isolated and erratic president who can’t help but undermine his own legislative priorities.
And yet, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are still in “this is fine” mode. Ryan excused the Comey scandal as a byproduct of Trump’s lack of government experience. And on Thursday, the House GOP rolled back Dodd-Frank protections that were designed to prevent another financial crisis, passing the biggest bank deregulation bill in decades.
McConnell has been characteristically quiet, but that’s not to say that he hasn’t been busy as well. While many declared that the House’s health care bill—the AHCA or Trumpcare—was dead in the water in the Senate, McConnell has apparently settled on a repeal bill that looks very, very similar to the one passed by the House. The Senate’s bill, it seems, would gut coverage for poorer, sicker people while redistributing wealth to the richest. The Senate’s bill would also roll back Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which had been believed to be a nonstarter in the Senate.
McConnell has also adopted a strategy of keeping the bill secret for as long as possible while publicly downplaying its chances of passing. So far, this has succeeded in preempting the kind of public outcry that helped scuttle the first version of the House bill in March. The math is still very, very tricky for McConnell—he can only lose three Republicans—but there is a path to Trumpcare.
There’s some speculation that McConnell is playing 4D chess and that he plans to let the bill fail to help protect more moderate senators. But as Vox’s Sarah Kliff notes, “The fact that Republicans are coalescing around ending Medicaid expansion—once thought to be a major sticking point—suggests the path to repeal may be easier to find than initial expectations.” Given the unpopularity of the House bill and the state of Trump’s presidency, this is alarming. But it’s also in keeping with the approach McConnell and Ryan have taken to Trump’s presidency, which is to do as much as they can for rich people and corporations before Trump blows the whole thing up.