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KPBS Midday Edition

Trump's Agenda May Be Doomed Unless He Learns That 'Little' Stuff Matters

President Trump suffered a major defeat when the GOP health care legislation failed to be brought for a vote in the House on Friday. What transpired endangers all of Trump's agenda moving forward.
Evan Vucci AP
President Trump suffered a major defeat when the GOP health care legislation failed to be brought for a vote in the House on Friday. What transpired endangers all of Trump's agenda moving forward.

Demonstrators gather near Trump Tower after the defeat of the GOP health care plan. One man holds up a sign, urging the ouster of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who spearheaded the failed effort.
Scott Olson Getty Images
Demonstrators gather near Trump Tower after the defeat of the GOP health care plan. One man holds up a sign, urging the ouster of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who spearheaded the failed effort.
The Political Fallout Of The Failed GOP Health Care Bill
The Political Fallout Of The Failed GOP Health Care Bill GUEST:Carl Luna, professor of political science, San Diego Mesa College

Our top story on KPBS Midday Edition Republican say they are ready to move on after pulling the healthcare bill on Friday. The next issue the party wants to confront his tax reform. The political fallout from the field healthcare act may have widespread repercussions to the -- through 2018. Welcome to the program. Nice to be here. I think we have all heard of the factions that prevented the healthcare act from getting the boats it needed. Is in it hard for the party to just drop the effort? Negotiations on the reform bill go on. This whole thing has been handled relatively oddly. The official act took the better part of 14 months to put together. Republicans that had seven years to dissemble it but they never really put anything together to do it. One would have thought you would've waited beyond driving assault to the date of the anniversary to get a bill passed in there is that old adage when at first you don't succeed you. Projects and go home. Representatives like San Diego Congressman Darrell ISA were not clear about whether they will cast a vote in support of the Republican healthcare reform bill. Is that turning out to be good news for the representatives when the bill was pulled? It is not produce for any Republican the way this whole thing played out because you are a party that ran for seven years on repeal and promises that on day one we would get the repeal in place and we fumbled the football and that makes the whole team look that. For Congressman Trent eight he was in a close race this last time around and he could be even closer this time. It does not make them look particularly strong. In some ways you will have to go home and face to face and explain why they did not get the job done. A lot of people are taking credit or blame for the healthcare bill being pulled. Some say it was down to the conservative caucus whose members really do not want healthcare at all and others say it was the resistance protesters showing up at town halls and rallying to keep up on -- Obamacare. There was all of that going on. The freedom caucus really wanted to see it destroyed. But did not want any Obamacare remanence left there were 30 folks that really counted on this. You also have moderate Republicans who did not hear from the town halls but also in interstate was receiving support. Their districts were receiving support over Obamacare and if he got rid of the whole thing they would be angry people and let's not forget the Senate where even with a -- simple majority have at least four or five Republican centimeters -- Senators who knew that this would affect them. The Republican Party is split left right and center and the Democrats are split center and left. Democrats will work with him on healthcare reform he says. Is there anything about the way Democrats are reacting to the new President that will help that to happen. I do not see the Democrats working with him on an Obamacare replacement. Is should a serious offer be made to fix some of the things that always needed to be fixed Democrats may step up and it will probably be up to them right now but this is what we did -- we would do ran right now to give everybody what they seem to be wanting some 60% of people did not like the proposed replacement and then locked up all right back to the Republican court. The Republican Party is the governing party no matter who you want to blame come the next election they will probably get most of it because they dropped the ball. A curious thing happened that I wanted to ask you about. Resident Trump did not blame speaker Paul Ryan for the healthcare bill mess but this week in the president tweeted that people should watch the judge Schapiro show on Fox TV and on that show she called for Ryan to step down as speaker. What did you make of that? It's an interesting pattern developing. When Boris Yeltsin was president of Russia he is to get rid of his prime ministers whenever he had a problem and it seems to be that this administration not the president directly is at least opening the window and asking others to push Congressman Ryan out. Remember John Weiner got pushed out by the caucus. I never thought it would be a dead end but it is increasingly looking like that. The next on the agenda is tax reform but the next on the boat will be in the Senate on Supreme Court nominee Judge Gorsuch. GOP says that will change the rules to allow him to get through on a simple majority vote go how dangerous is this for both sides? It is terribly dangerous. That basic order and the courtroom of the Senate is breaking down the tradition that you give every side a voice has been breaking down. Each party doesn't when they are in power and the other party complaints and this back-and-forth undermines legitimacy over who takes the court at this point. The fact that it came to this point without President Obama's nominee even getting a hearing will always take this position for them -- Republicans and then they do it to Democrats. They may be smart to filibuster a couple of rounds and reach some sort of consensus and release her caucus to vote on the nomination and holder ammunition for another one down the pipe but then I guess they may figure no matter what the Republicans are going to go nuclear so make them fair that right now. Also the taxes have their own difficulties. The they go very far to the right back to the center and a lot of the savings that they were predicated tax form on were supposed to come from savings from a form of Obamacare which has not happened. There's lots of moving parts out there there are some things you can come together with on corporate tax rates which are generally seen as being too high but Democrats are in no mood to cooperate and the Republican caucus is fractured. I have been speaking with Carl Luna from Mesa college. Thank you.

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President Trump was downright low energy.

The look on his face, as he meandered through unscripted remarks Friday after the defeat of the Republican health care plan he supported, told the story. The unusually subdued Trump called the loss a "learning experience." Then he seemed to shrug it all off and said he was moving on.

But it's hardly going to be that simple or easy. The same fissures in the GOP that derailed the health care bill will be there when it comes to any big issue moving forward, whether it's tax reform, infrastructure or funding the government. And Republicans warn that, unless the president is willing to learn and own the details, the result will likely be the same — failure.

"Trump's defeat this week was entirely predictable," said Alex Conant, who worked on Marco Rubio's presidential campaign and was a spokesman for the Republican National Committee and the Bush White House. "He has never showed any detailed knowledge of health care policy and has few relationships in Congress. Getting health care passed was always going to be a heavy lift, but Republicans should be concerned that Trump couldn't even get it off the ground."

During the campaign, Trump connected with a significant chunk of the country with big, bold promises. But on arguably his (and the GOP's) highest-profile promise — repealing and replacing Obamacare — he flamed out in one of the most embarrassing ways possible just 64 days into his presidency. It's unlikely that Republican voters will be satisfied with leaving Obamacare in place.

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"It failed brilliantly," said another Republican strategist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about a president the strategist may be working with on upcoming priorities. "Going forward, I would expect there would be a greater ownership on the White House's part on the legislation that is being advanced, and he's going to have to be in a position to know the details."

No one looks good

No one comes off looking good in the debacle — not House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was the brains behind the bill and led the legislative strategy; not White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who is close to Ryan; not White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who reportedly tried to play hardball with the roughly 40 hard-line conservatives of the House Freedom Caucus, who were largely responsible for the bill's defeat.

"I don't give a s* what you guys think," Bannon reportedly told them, per CNN, in a meeting Thursday before the bill went down.

"Guys, look, this is not a discussion," Bannon said, per Axios. "This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill."

Trump himself showed a level of impetuousness with the Freedom Caucus and a lack of policy understanding that eventually did him in.

"Forget about that little s*," Trump told the group Thursday, per Politico. "Let's focus on the big picture here."

That might be how campaigning works, but it's not how governing does. Sweating the little stuff is important when it comes to legislating. That's especially true for the big things Trump wants to tackle.

But, though Trump said he had "learned a lot" and wants to move on, he was looking backward over the weekend, tweeting blame at the Freedom Caucus — a group he underestimated:

It's a group that won't be intimidated by ultimatums or tweets. Current House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes of California once referred to the conservatives who became the Freedom Caucus as "lemmings with suicide vests."

Trump is going to have to figure out how to deal with them.

He also faced opposition from more moderate Republicans, like Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who were averse to the ramifications of the policy laid out in the GOP bill. Dent did not deny an exchange reported by Robert Draper in the New York Times Magazine, in which Trump said he was "destroying the Republican Party" and was going to be blamed for foiling tax reform by blocking the health care plan.

Part of Trump's "learning experience" was seeing how members of Congress may care more about what their constituents think than their president does. Trump may be the leader of the Republican Party, but he isn't its CEO.

Winning isn't everything, and the "little s*" matters

Trump likes to win. He told the country during the presidential campaign that we would all get so tired of winning under him that we would all be so bored. The Art of the Deal author hyped himself as the best dealmaker anyone's ever seen.

Instead, his first major effort at legislating handed him a stunning loss. It was a textbook chapter in how not to legislate.

Part of the problem is that Trump wanted a win on health care so badly that he may have been blinded by his willingness to take any win.

He outsourced the details to Ryan and others, and when it got difficult, Trump didn't have enough policy knowledge to close the deal.

"How he was dismissive of policy concerns, and instead focused on the big picture and big political issue, that is never going to get you a win when you're negotiating with Congress," Conant warned.

Health care affects one-sixth of the U.S. economy and includes lots of "little" things that are important to real people's lives.

Every year Medicaid expansion is limited or rolled back means potentially millions of people who don't have access to health care.

Every "essential health benefit" that's put on the chopping block, for, oh say, whether your insurance is required to cover emergency room visits, means potentially thousands of dollars in or out of constituents' and hospitals' pockets.

The "little" stuff is the important stuff.

Conservative writer Matt Lewis observed during the brief debate over the GOP health care bill how far it strayed from Trump's campaign platform. "He ran as a guy, 'I will solve your problems. I want to take care of everybody. Nobody's going to lose anything. Everybody's going to have the best health care.' This health care plan is off-brand for Donald Trump," Lewis told NPR's Mara Liasson.

An enduring problem for the president may be that his brand of populism doesn't necessarily match the small-government conservatism that defines the House GOP Conference.

Sure, Trump made the phone calls and lobbied wavering Republicans, but he grew impatient and frustrated. After less than three weeks, he issued an ultimatum to those hardline conservatives — he was done negotiating: vote for this bill, or Obamacare stays in place.

It was a big gamble, and he lost.

"Winning" isn't everything; it really is how you play the game in Washington that enables winning. And when it came to playing the legislative game, Trump's lack of attention to policy detail, impatience and cavalier impetuousness cost him.

"He should know, from being engaged in a lot of negotiations, if you're constantly looking over your shoulder and needing someone to fill in the details in the conversation sometimes that doesn't wear real well," the strategist said.

Learning from Obama

There's a reason it took former President Obama more than a year to pass the Affordable Care Act.

He knew the details, and was often the best — and only — salesperson for it. He took the show on the road and got into the nitty gritty.

Pete Souza, the former White House photographer, subtly made that point in a post on Instagram on Saturday:

"Give credit where it's due, Obama was really good at that," the strategist said. "Obama was really good at working with individual members knowing the legislation as well or better than they did. They [the Trump White House] need to get to that level, or close to it, or there are going to be gross inefficiencies built in and opportunities that are lost."

That is going to have to include more coalition-building inside and outside the GOP conference, with outside conservative groups, as well as industry groups.

"He didn't spend much time or political capital to get this bill through," Conant said.

Conant also pointed out that part of the problem is a level of distrust within the White House for everyone in "the establishment" and anyone who hasn't been on Team Trump all along.

"There continue to be a lot of vacancies," Conant said, "and they have rejected a lot of people who have government experience because of loyalty tests from the campaign."

That eliminates a lot of professionals with experience on Capitol Hill.

If Trump doesn't start to focus on the details and become more invested in how government works — something he has always been loath to do — he should expect similar results.

"There's an eagerness on all sides to move on, to put this episode behind and move on to a new issue," Conant said. "But regardless of what issue we turn to next, Trump will likely run into the same internal GOP divisions and partisan opposition. To be a successful president, Trump will have to display skills that we have not yet seen from him.

"It will require humility, patience, outreach to opponents and the forging of consensus."

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