The Republican Healthcare Bill was scheduled to be voted on Thursday, March 23, the seventh anniversary of ObamaCare passage. Speaker Paul Ryan had nursed the bill through seventeen days of argument, horse trading and cajoling the Freedom Caucus and other conservatives who were “No or Leaning No” votes. 218 was the magic number needed for passage in The House. Even the Heritage Foundation and Koch brothers were against the bill. Many representatives had survived town meetings where thousands of angry constituents waved signs, booed and shouted “ACA…ACA…ACA” Affordable Care Act also known as ObamaCare. The people did not like what they heard about ‘RyanCare’ or ‘TrumpCare’. They told poignant stories of family members whose lives were being saved by ObamaCare.
As March 23 neared, polls revealed that 56 percent of the American people now favored keeping ObamaCare ; only 17 percent wanted to change. The rest were undecided. President Trump had launched a charm offensive the last days , inviting members to the White House and using his deal-making strategies to win their support. Finally, he sent Steve Bannon and other aides to Congress to present his case that “Campaign promises must be kept”. On Thursday evening, when Speaker Ryan postponed the vote to Friday, Trump issued an ultimatum to the House members: “Vote Yes tomorrow or you’ll be stuck with ObamaCare!”
24 million Americans, who knew they could lose their health care from Medicaid in 2018, heard those words as a reprieve —not a threat. For other millions it brought a sigh of relief. Friday morning, Trump was ready to move on, meeting with supporters of the Keystone Pipe line, including Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry to reverse Obama’s original order. He seemed calm when asked by reporters whether the votes were there to pass Health Care later that day. He just said, “We’ll see what happens.” C-Span listed the final vote for 4 p.m. ET.
That final vote never happened. About noon, Paul Ryan had gone to the White House to tell Trump the votes were not there and they should pull the bill. Trump was furious, and wanted the vote to proceed to punish the Freedom Caucus publicly. Ryan warned that would kill any cooperation for future legislation. By mid-afternoon, Trump called Ryan and told him to pull the bill.
The contrast between Obama’s l87 day roll out of the Affordable Care Act and the Republican substitute over just 17 days was clear. Obama had led an open process, going out to the people to sell his plan and bringing in Congress members to discuss and debate. Trump had joined in at the end while Ryan hid the plan in a basement from members. The failure of Republican Repeal and Replace Obamacare became “Breaking News” on Cable TV. It was described by all political and media commentators as an enormous defeat for Trump that would “cast a shadow” over his entire agenda.
Russian Collusion with Trump campaign: On Monday, March 20, F.B.I. Director Comey came to the House Intelligence Committee to testify on the growing story of possible Russian collusion with the Trump Campaign. It had become known that the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, had met twice with Senator Jeff Sessions, leading to his recusal as Attorney General from any investigation into Russian activity. Kislyak had also spoken by telephone with the National Security Adviser Michael Flynn five times on the day President Obama set economic sanctions against Russia and expelled 30 plus Russian diplomats from their D.C. consulate. Paul Manaforte, Tump’s second campaign manager, had extensive history and financial ties to Ukraine oligarchs, earning ten million dollars a year for service. J.D.Gordon, on Trump’s security team, met with Kislyak at the Republican convention in July and worked to keep tough language out of the party platform about Ukraine. Jason Greenblatt, Trump White House special rep, met in summer 2016 with Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia and an ally of President Putin.
Director Comey confirmed to the intelligence committee that the F.B.I. has been conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian ties during the United States election since July, 2016. He said, “Officers would pursue it no matter how long it takes.” Comey was accompanied to the meeting by Admiral Michael Rogers , Director of the National Security Agency, who also testified. Their appearance was the first public acknowledgement of the F.B.I. inquiry. Comey said, The F.B.I. was “ investigating any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”
In a full day of testimony, Comey also dismissed the wiretapping claim that Trump had made against former President Obama weeks before. He and Admiral Rogers both made clear that Trump’s accusation was false. Their appearance was front page news in the media and on Cable News. It served to refute Trump’s insistence that “Russia is fake news.” The White House dismissed most of Comey’s testimony. They said there had been no coordination between the campaign and Russia. Thus, no need for an investigation. Before the hearing began, Trump had issued a series of tweets, calling the possibility of collusion with Russia “fake news” and urging Congress and the F.B.I. to focus instead on leaks to the press.
On Wednesday, March 22, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee became the headline news when he decided to meet with President Trump to share information from Director Comey’s meeting with the committee. He did not tell Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic member, nor members of the committee he was going to do this. He did tell Paul Ryan. Then he held his first press conference on Capitol Hill with reporters. After he met with Trump, he held a second press conference in the West Wing Driveway. Since Nunes had served on the Trump transition team, his behavior was a bombshell, with heavy press coverage at both locations. His explanations were vague. “I didn’t want to get too much into the details, but these were intelligence reports, and it brings up a lot of concern about whether things were properly minimized or not. The things I read bothered me and I think it should bother the president himself and his team because I think some of it seems to be inappropriate.”
In response to Nunes, Adam Schiff held a hastily arranged press confenence where he expressed dismay that Nunes had gone to the White House to share information from their Monday meeting with Comey & Rogers. He answered questions and said Nunes had to decide whether he was going to oversee the Intelligence Committee or be a White House surrogate. “He can’t do both. This is deeply troubling.” Schiff called again for the appointment of a Select Commission similar to 9/11 to investigate the possibility of Russian/Trump team collusion during the campaign. Committee members were also interviewed on Cable Networks along with political commentators. All expressed serious concerns that Nunes should no longer head the committee. When Trump was interviewed, he was pleased that Nunes had said the president or his closest associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in surveillance by foreign spy agencies.
Epilogue: With April rapidly approaching, Senator John Mc Cain, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee is calling for a Select Commission to investigate possible Russian/Trump colluding during the presidential campaign. A F.B.I. criminal investigation revealed by Director James Comey is ongoing. The cloud will hover over the White House as Trump and his team decide what to do next to distract the American people. They may need a lot more than management by Tweets to weather the coming storm.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson