The Senate is about to hold a vote on repealing Obamacare. The 48 Senate Democrats, and Republican Susan Collins of Maine, are going to vote no today, and if 2 other Republicans vote no, that means that a majority of senators want the idea of repealing Obamacare to be abandoned as quietly as possible. Many Republican senators seem to feel similarly on this issue as they do about Trump. It’s fairly clear that a number of Republican senators do want the repeal effort to be abandoned, just as there are many Republican Senators who dislike Trump and wish he wasn’t president. But just as many Republicans in Congress are afraid to disagree sharply with Trump, there will probably be some Republican senators who will vote to take up this bill although they don’t like it. Even if a majority votes no today, Republicans in and out of Washington will continue to press Congress to return later to the idea of repealing Obamacare.
Today’s vote will be about whether to start official debate on a bill to repeal Obamacare, but unusually, senators have not been told much about what the bill will look like yet. The bill will likely include serious rollbacks of Medicaid at some point, as well as encouraging the sale of low-quality health insurance that doesn’t cover much, and will lead to many losing health insurance. On the tax front, the bill represents a Republican dream, since it will lower taxes while reducing the government deficit. In theory, if today’s vote passes, the next step would be for senators to debate and propose official amendments to the bill before the Senate decides whether to give its official approval to the bill. However, it’s clear by now that there isn’t any obvious set of amendments that will make 50 senators truly in favor of the bill. At this point it is almost entirely about arm-twisting and whether senators in the middle can be cajoled into supporting a bill that they don’t really think is a good idea.
Not coincidentally, Trump has started publicly attacking Attorney General Sessions and other people in the federal Justice Department which is investigating him. It seems to me that Trump is setting things up so that, if the Obamacare repeal bill fails today, he will immediately take serious steps to undermine the investigation, such as by firing Sessions. A move by Trump to undermine investigations directed at Trump and his family would make many Republican senators very uneasy, and would normally provoke a serious backlash from the Senate. That’s especially true if Trump fires Sessions, who was a Republican senator himself until a few months ago and is well-liked by his fellow Republican senators.
I think that Trump, naturally, has figured out that if the Senate Republicans make themselves unpopular with the Trump-supporting base by rejecting the Obamacare repeal effort today, that would be about the best opportunity ever for Trump to undermine his Justice Department adversaries and put in more compliant people at the Justice Department. Although I don’t think this angle has been reported in the media, Republican Senators can naturally figure this out and it may be part of what’s pressuring them to vote yes on today’s Obamacare repeal vote — voting yes gives them more leeway to challenge the president if he tries to sabotage those investigating him, or if he starts acting more like a dictator and undermining the constitution.
In an interesting article, a former Republican Senator points out the reasons why it’s a bad idea to vote to open debate on a bill like Obamacare repeal without knowing much about what it’s like.