Tag Archives: Mark Meadows

Transparency About Presidential Health

The White House is consistent. It has been frequently less than truthful in the past, so it is no surprise that information from President Donald Trump’s doctors and spokespeople has been a muddled stew of confusing and contradictory updates about his health. Trump’s doctors painted a rosy picture of the president’s health Saturday, only to have White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows give a more downbeat analysis later. Then, Sunday, Trump’s lead doctor admitted he was less than forthcoming the day before. The contradictions continued Monday as Trump returned to the White House and said people should not be afraid of the coronavirus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans. At the same time, Trump’s doctor said the president is “not out of the woods yet.”

Contributing to the confusion has been Trump’s drug regimen, which appears to include, almost simultaneously, drugs given to treat patients in the early stages of COVID-19 and steroids offered later to combat the ravages the disease presents to a patient’s immune system. On top of that, Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, admitted Sunday that he had declined to share the information that Trump required oxygen Friday for fear of causing alarm. “I was trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, over his course of illness, has had,” Conley said. “I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction. And in doing so, you know, it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn’t necessarily true.” Conley’s mea culpa was somewhat mystifying, but Conley, like most who have to report on Trump, has to please an audience of one. In addition, it is possible that Trump — who is convinced he knows everything — is directing his own medical care, such as why and when he receives oxygen and what drugs he takes. 

The Trump White House is notoriously allergic to truth-telling, but the issue of presidential health has often been the subject of dissimulation in the past. The difference today, of course, is that with the advent of 24-hour cable and social media, the absence of information — or the presence of obvious misinformation — leads to the wildest speculation that then instantly becomes the “truth” for many.

The assassination of President James Garfield

Medical bulletins painted a rosy picture of James Garfield’s condition, even as the president was in agony from an assassin’s bullet. “The president has passed a comfortable day and this evening appears better than for some days past,” Garfield’s doctors wrote on September 2, 1881, two months after Garfield had been shot twice by Charles Guiteau. Garfield died on September 19, probably from sepsis, a massive infection caused by doctors probing Garfield’s wounds with unwashed hands. Guiteau may have been right when he said, “The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him.”

Twelve years later, rumors spread that President Grover Cleveland was suffering from oral cancer, yet on July 6, 1893, the president’s personal physician said Cleveland was “suffering from rheumatism” and “from the teeth.” In truth, the president had a lesion on the roof of his mouth, but Cleveland did not want the public to know, especially during a crash of the stock market. The tumor was removed successfully aboard a yacht moored off Cape Cod, and the story became public only twenty-five years later.

President Woodrow Wilson and Edith Wilson on tour just before the president suffered a series of strokes in 1919

Woodrow Wilson suffered several bouts of ill-health while attending the Versailles Peace Conference after the end of World War I, including a case of influenza (though probably not, according to a Wilson biographer, the notorious “Spanish” flu, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide from 1918-1920; other historians disagree). In September and October 1919 Wilson suffered a series of strokes while campaigning for Senate ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and its League of Nations, an international organization that Wilson hoped would preserve world peace. The public never knew that the left side of the president’s body was paralyzed. Doctors said the incapacitated Wilson suffered only from “nervous exhaustion.” Wilson spent the rest of his term hidden in the White House and conducting virtually no business while his wife effectively ran the government as de-facto president.

The public also never knew how sick Franklin Delano Roosevelt was at the end of World War II. Already in declining health by the time he ran for a fourth term in November 1944, Roosevelt was weakened by congestive heart failure and extraordinarily high blood pressure when he traveled to Yalta in the Soviet Union in February 1945 to meet Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The outcome of the Yalta conference set the stage for the postwar world. Averell Harriman, an envoy for Roosevelt during the war years, later said, “At Yalta, I believe, [Roosevelt] didn’t have the strength to be quite as stubborn as he liked to be.”

Roosevelt’s deterioration in 1944-1945 was not his first health problem. He had been stricken with polio as an adult in 1921, but the public knew little of his condition. The press was discouraged from photographing Roosevelt being helped out of cars or in his wheelchair. Roosevelt disliked drawing attention to his paralysis, probably from a mixture of vanity and fear that images of him in a wheelchair might demonstrate a weakness suggesting he was not up to the task of combatting the Great Depression. But, vanity is one thing; concealing medical conditions that might impair a president’s job performance is quite another.

Hiding the health of an American president is more difficult today than in the past. The public demands full disclosure, and doctors routinely offer statements after presidents undergo routine medical procedures and annual physicals. Those statements are not always fully transparent, because, after all, a doctor’s loyalty is to his or her patient — in this case a president — and not the public. 

Perhaps the president who was most transparent in discussing his medical condition was Jimmy Carter, who in late 1978 insisted his aides forthrightly announce that the president was canceling appointments for a day because of a “an aggravated hemorrhoid problem.” Carter deserves compliments for being forthcoming, but hemorrhoids are just an embarrassment, not a serious medical problem. President Trump suffering from COVID-19 is a national security issue, and the public has a right to and a need for — especially with the election just a month away — full disclosure of his medical condition. That, so far, has been wanting.

Posted October 6, 2020

Trump’s Criminal Response

There comes a point when incompetence slips into dangerousness and then, finally, at a critical moment, into criminality. Americans concerned about President Donald Trump’s disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, and his boorish behavior — full of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia — could take refuge in the widely held and frequently proven notion that, well, at least he and his administration are incompetent. 

Take comfort no longer. Trump’s willful disregard of the dangers of the coronavirus to public health jeopardizes the well-being of thousands, if not millions, of Americans. The lives of citizens are at risk. Trump’s decision to treat the potential pandemic as a political and public relations matter — which is the way he handles everything else — is no longer merely incompetent. His boasting about his supposed vast medical knowledge is posturing beyond acceptable behavior. His wearing of a hat bearing a campaign slogan at an official presidential visit to the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta demonstrates a callous indifference to the threat the disease poses to ALL Americans. 

Attempting to happy talk the crisis away is no solution. Trump knows a tanking stock market — his one go-to “success” — will tank his reelection chances, so he is trying to pretend that there is nothing to see here in hopes of mollifying investors. Others in his administration attempt to further the illusion that the government is in control. Late last week, Larry Kudlow, the president’s chef economic advisor, assured most Americans that they are “not at risk…. Let’s try to be calm and not overreact.” Kellyanne Conway, a presidential adviser, says, “It is being contained.”

Trump not only happy talks, he wants to manipulate the data to make him look good. At the CDC last week, he suggested that infected passengers on a cruise ship should be left on board rather than brought to port so they would not be counted in the nation’s tally of those ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by this coronavirus. “Do I want to bring all those people off?” he asked. “I would rather have them stay on personally…. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

With Trump, it is always someone else’s fault. The infected on the Diamond Princess is not “our fault,” so they do not count in the American total. Of course, that suggests that all the other Americans infected are his fault. But, logic is not Trump’s strong suit. Blaming others, however, comes easily to Trump, and the veracity of the accusation is beside the point. For Trump, blaming his predecessor, President Barack Obama, is the default position, so it naturally follows that the lack of available test kits to determine whether someone has COVID-19 is Obama’s fault, an accusation that earned “Four Pinocchios, the level for the most egregious falsehood, from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker. 

Insults also easily roll off Trump’s tongue. After Vice President Mike Pence and Washington state Governor Jay Inslee amicably discussed the federal and state response to the coronavirus outbreak in the Seattle area, Trump said Pence disobeyed orders. “So I told Mike not to be complimentary of the governor because the governor is a snake” and Pence should not be “nice to him,” Trump said while touring the CDC. Trump was angry because Inslee previously had tweeted, “I told [the vice president] our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.

The Economist concluded last month that people die at a higher rate in epidemics in authoritarian countries than in democratic ones. That sounds counter-intuitive since autocratic societies can easily impose controls, such as restricting travel. Democratic Italy, for example, apparently is having difficulty locking down 16 million people in large parts of its north while China successfully restricted travel in the Wuhan area after the coronavirus was first detected in that region.  

While authoritarian regimes can respond quickly to crises in certain ways — limiting travel and building the necessary infrastructure, for example — democracies are better at fact-based policymaking and telling their citizens the truth. Unfortunately, telling the truth does not come easily to the Trump administration, and its poor, criminal response to the crisis is one more indication that Trump and those around him have the instincts of autocrats. Even worse than that, the Trump administration combines, in this crisis, the inability of authoritarian regimes to level with their people with the inefficiency and slowness of democratic societies.

From the beginning, Trump has minimized the severity of the crisis (advising people who are sick to go to work) and has floated conspiracy theories that the disease and Democratic criticism of his handling of the outbreak are a hoax. Many on the right bought into Trumpian propaganda and either downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak or argued that it was another plot by “the deep state” to take down Trump. Florida Representative Matt Gaetz jokingly wore a gas mask to the vote on appropriations to combat the virus, only to learn two days later that one of his constituents died from COVID-19. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is on voluntary quarantine after attending a conference and coming in contact with an infected participant. Trump spoke at the same event and shook hands with the organizer who also interacted with the same attendee. Both Gaetz and Representative Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, had contacts with Trump after possibly being exposed to the virus. And, late Monday came word that incoming White House chief of staff, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, also had contact with the coronavirus carrier at the conservative conference attended by other Republicans. 

Incidents like this will make it difficult for Trump’s followers to buy his propaganda on the coronavirus and notions that press coverage of its spread is a plot against the president. Weakening public confidence in Trump’s ability to confront a possible pandemic will further complicate the president’s narrow path to reelection. He lost the popular vote in 2016 and won in the Electoral College only by a few thousand votes in several key states. Trump cannot afford any erosion of his base. Beyond that, his failed response to the coronavirus means he forfeits any chance to make inroads with independent voters. 

But, truly, the politics does not matter, and it should not matter to Trump. What is of concern is that Trump is sacrificing public health for political ends. That is criminal.

Posted March 10, 2020



The Don and His Consigliere

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That playground taunt, delivered by Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and accompanied by a poster, was the epitome of the Republican defense of President Donald Trump during the day-long testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. Admittedly, Trump — who acts like a mob boss — is a tough guy to defend, so it should surprise no one that the Republican strategy was to impugn the bearer of the bad news rather than to counter the substance of Cohen’s remarks.

Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump defender, noticed the weakness of the GOP ploy. The president, Christie said, must have been “fuming that no one’s defending him.” Christie labeled the lame performance “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.” 

In truth, there was not much Republicans could do. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to defend Trump against Cohen’s accusation of racism by positioning an African American woman — Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump aide and current official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — over his shoulder as a prop to demonstrate diversity. That piece of theater led to a scuffle later in the hearing when Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, labeled the use of Patton a “racist act.” Meadows bristled at the thought Tlaib was calling him a racist, but she insisted she was talking about the act, not Meadows.

For the most part, GOP members simply used their time not to poke holes in Cohen’s testimony — which would have been difficult because he provided documentary evidence for many of his charges — but to question his motives or to attack Democrats for holding the hearing in the first place. It seems Republicans on the Oversight Committee have no idea what oversight means, since they refused, when they were in the majority, to hold any substantive hearings to investigate credible charges of Trumpian misdoings.

Gosar of the playground taunts was disowned last November by six siblings, all of whom endorsed his opponent in the 2018 midterm election. “We gotta stand up for our good name,” said David Gosar in a political advertisement on behalf of his brother’s opponent. “This is not who we are.” But, it is who the member of Congress is. Gosar got so excited by his attack on Cohen that he stumbled over his words. Others also demonstrated a fair degree of apoplexy. Meadows looked as if he were about to have a coronary when he tried to nail Cohen for allegedly lying on a committee form about whether the former Trump aide had been paid for services by a foreign government. The dispute demonstrated only that Meadows had not accurately read the question on the form. 

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan expressed outrage that Lanny Davis — a friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton — represented Cohen. Jordan and others repeatedly attacked Cohen as a convicted perjurer. Cohen is going to jail for that crime, and other misdeeds. But, even liars sometimes tell the truth, especially when they have documents to back up their assertions. 

Much time was spent on Cohen as a would-be influence peddler and prospective recipient of lucrative book and movie deals. Numerous Republican members tried to get Cohen to vow he would not profit from his notoriety, which Cohen refused to do. Republicans also tried to portray Cohen as a grasping office seeker disappointed he did not get a job in the White House. All in all, the strategy of attacking Cohen as a dishonest criminal who should not be believed begs an important question: Why did Trump employ such a disreputable person for a decade?

The truth is, of course, that Cohen is much like Trump, who was something of a mentor to the younger man. Apparently, Cohen had easy access to Trump and his family. According to Cohen, he briefed Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka at least 10 times during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump family’s attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That gives the lie to Trump’s claim of no business dealings with Russia and implicates Ivanka for the first time in that sordid episode. One other family note: Don Jr. might want to inquire as to the veracity of Cohen’s statement that father thought son “had the worst judgement of anyone in the world.”

Cohen produced checks indicating Trump reimbursed his fixer for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels while Trump was in the White House. Cohen also testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on speakerphone from Roger Stone who said, “He had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” 

Cohen also offered tantalizing hints of more investigations. When one member of Congress asked about Cohen’s last conversation with his former boss, Cohen declined to give details, saying it is “being investigated right now” by federal prosecutors in New York. As for other instances of possible wrongdoing or crimes by Trump, Cohen repeated, “Again, those are part of the investigation.” Stay tuned!

The former consigliere reaffirmed that Trump operated like a mob boss. Trump never gave explicit instructions to Cohen to do wrong, but Cohen understood the “code.” Like a good Mafia underling, Cohen was not hesitant to threaten those who might stand in Trump’s way. When asked, Cohen said he issued about 500 threats on behalf of Trump (that includes threats of litigation) in his decade of employment. So, Cohen should not have been shocked that Trump used mob language in calling his former aide a “rat.” Nor should anyone have been surprised that on the eve of Cohen’s testimony, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has a history of incendiary comments, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” (The tweet has been deleted, but the gist was repeated on the House floor.)

Cohen’s testimony — and the antics of a fool like Gaetz — demonstrate once again that, as Cohen pointed out, Trump corrupts everyone who comes in contact with him. That may be the greatest tragedy of this sordid presidency.

Posted March 1, 2019

Going Down With Trump

Note to Republicans: You get no credit if you abandon President Donald Trump after the cell door slams shut.

Court filings Friday implicated the president in felonies. If all of Trump’s amoral and immoral actions — not to mention his lies, crassness, meanness, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and autocratic tendencies — did not force Republicans to reconsider their commitment to him, a serious and credible accusation of felonious behavior should.

In a court filing last Friday in New York City, federal prosecutors said the president directed illegal payments to prevent a potential sex scandal from jeopardizing his chances to win the presidency in 2016. The filing means the Justice Department believes the accusations previously made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer. In a separate filing in Washington, prosecutors from the special counsel’s office said an unnamed Russian offered Cohen “governmental level” cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign at a time when Trump was interested in building a hotel in Moscow. 

If Trump were a private citizen, he likely would be facing an indictment in the near future. Only the Justice Department’s squeamishness over indicting a sitting president keeps Trump out of legal jeopardy — for the time being. (Prosecutors in New York believe Trump could be indicted on campaign finance violations if he is not re-elected.) But, he can be investigated and/or impeached by Congress, and the incoming Democratic majority in the House is poised to use its powers to look into Trump’s wrongdoing.

Almost all Republicans acquiesced silently as Trump coddled dictators, lied shamelessly, pulled out of trade pacts GOP leaders had previously supported, levied tariffs that hurt their constituents, separated immigrant families at the border, trashed the federal judiciary, and made light of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi (this is a very partial list). There have been, from time to time, murmurs of discontent, but no real challenges to the president as putative leader of the Republican Party. Most of the GOP has fallen into line, accepting presidential misdeeds while supporting an agenda often at odds with traditional conservative policy.

Now that the president’s legal jeopardy is clearer than ever, Republicans have to decide whether to go down with the sinking ship — for it is going down — or save whatever remains of their tattered reputations. Doing the latter risks short-term retribution from the ever-loyal Trump base. Doing the former risks the condemnation of history.

When Republican leaders informed Richard Nixon he lacked the votes in a Senate trial following his likely impeachment, the president resigned. For two years, most Republicans stood by Nixon as the Watergate scandal crept closer to him and the inner White House circle. But, after the evidence became incontrovertible in the form of the White House tapes, Senator Barry Goldwater, the Arizona conservative, led a delegation of Republican congressional leaders to the White House to tell Nixon he was finished. 

There are signs that some Republicans are rethinking their loyalty to a president who never returns it in kind. Indications of economic distress — tariffs and trade wars hurting constituents and a tumbling stock market — coupled with the administration’s defense of Saudi Arabia for its complicity in the Khashoggi assassination make it easier for Republicans to separate themselves from Trump. Chaos within the White House following the ineptly handled announcement of John Kelly’s departure as chief of staff and the refusal of the heir-apparent, Nick Ayres, to take the job also worries some savvier Republicans. The latest legal maneuverings suggesting Trump’s complicity in criminal behavior only heighten GOP anxiety.

Robert Costa and Philip Rucker reported in The Washington Post over the weekend that many Republicans fear the White House has no plan to deal with the intensifying Russia investigation, which creeps closer and closer to Trump. Eventually, the probe will consume the party if it continues to tie its future to a president facing legal jeopardy. Trump’s unwillingness to listen to legal and political advice and his penchant for incriminating tweets contribute to Republican fears. Trump, after all, believes he is the smartest person in the room — in this case, the room is the world — and is convinced he can outsmart adversaries and weather any storms. Most of Washington, regardless of party, knows better.

For now, congressional Republicans appear inclined to stand by Trump. But, one pro-Trump senator says Trump has “lost me” if the special counsel documents a conspiracy with Russians. Others might bolt if the president were to pardon Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign manager who has been convicted of tax and bank fraud and faces other charges, including lying to the special counsel. Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, a vocal Trump critic and frequent butt of Trumpian bullying, says, “The president’s situation is fraught with mounting peril and that’s apparent to everyone who’s paying any attention, which is all of my Republican colleagues.” 

Trump reportedly believes ultra-right supporters on Capitol Hill — such as Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and the comically foolish Devin Nunes of California — will stick by him. That may not be enough as more indictments come from the various investigations that are getting closer and closer to Trump. It is time for the rest of the Republican Party to decide on its course of action.

Trump sullies the good names of everyone with whom he comes into contact. This is most obviously true of those who have worked for him in the White House, but it is also the case for the Republican Party. Prominent Republicans — congressional leaders, governors, and other party leaders — will have to answer to history for their silence in the face of a president who undermines the rule of law both nationally and internationally.

Once the cell door shuts — and Trump, metaphorically, is dressed in orange — it will be too late.

Posted December 11, 2018

Of Error and Blame

One person President Donald Trump will not blame for the Republican healthcare debacle is himself. He started off blaming, preposterously, Democrats for the decision to pull the bill because it lacked votes in the House of Representatives. Then, he seemed to point a finger at Speaker Paul Ryan, before pinning responsibility in a tweet on the right-wing, self-styled Freedom Caucus in the House and its conservative allies. Do not be surprised if ultimately he fixes on Mother Teresa. She would not be the first person Trump has tried to raise from the dead.

The blame game should start with congressional Republicans, who spent President Obama’s two terms in office railing against the Affordable Care Act, promising to repeal it as soon as possible. All the Republicans did was complain without ever suggesting an alternative. Actually, Republicans did come up with a healthcare proposal of their own: It is called Obamacare. The brilliance of Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress was that they adopted Republican solutions — the individual mandate, proposed in the 1990s by the Heritage Foundation and the core of the Massachusetts plan under Republican Governor Mitt Romney, and state insurance exchanges — to fix the broken American healthcare system. Obama and Democrats coopting Republican ideas left the GOP without a plan of its own, since it was a given among Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and his House counterparts that opposing everything Obama-related was “smart” politics.

Well, the smart politics of 2010 looks pretty dumb today. The only room for maneuvering on healthcare now is to the left of Obamacare, as we shall see. But, the Republicans, who promised for seven years to end Obamacare, had to come up with a “plan” once they controlled all the branches of the Federal Government. So, under the leadership of the vastly overrated Paul Ryan, congressional Republicans hastily drafted a dreadful bill — one of the worst pieces of legislation in the history of the American Congress — and rushed it to the floor without holding hearings to learn what stakeholders — insurance companies, doctors, hospitals, and consumers — thought of the bill and without anyone (yes, that includes fellow Republican representatives) fully understanding what was in the proposal.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) did two things pleasing to conservative Republicans: It posed as a replacement for Obamacare, and it gave a windfall tax break to the wealthy. In every other way, the AHCA was a shoddy and sloppy bill. More than that, the proposal was cruel. Twenty-four million peopled would have been deprived of their health insurance and the cost of insurance likely would have risen for most of those who managed to keep their plans. Lower-income, rural, and older Americans — the core of Donald Trump’s support — would have been hit the hardest. The damage from the AHCA would have been greater than if Obamacare were simply repealed.

The AHCA deserved to die, along with the reputations of the Republicans who foisted this awful bill on the American public. Trump learned a powerful lesson: The art of the deal is much different in Washington than in Manhattan (or, perhaps, the healthcare mess reveals that Trump was never much of a dealmaker). Trump’s grasp of policy is tenuous, at best. He reportedly asked his advisers repeatedly, “Is this really a good bill?” That query followed his inane statement of a few weeks ago: “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”  All of this from the man who repeatedly promised that no one would lose coverage and premiums would go down. Trump and his chief consigliere, Stephen Bannon, learned that bullying Congress does not work. Trump threatened Representative Mark Meadows, the North Carolinian who heads the Freedom Caucus, “I’m gonna come after you.” And, Bannon confronted the Freedom Caucus with words that failed to impress: “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” The members respectfully disagreed.

As for Paul Ryan, his inability to usher healthcare legislation through Congress finally should end the notion that he is a policy wonk. He put together a bill that would have helped no one except the very wealthy and then demonstrated a remarkable inability to sell his creation (for good reason, as it was a terrible bill). He never grasped how health insurance works, at one point complaining, “The whole idea of Obamacare is… the people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick.” Yes, Mr. Speaker, it is called sharing risk.

What now? The Republican healthcare debacle imperils the Trumpian and Republican agendas (they are not always the same thing). Both want to work on tax reform (a Republican euphemism for shifting more wealth to the rich at the expense of everyone else). Overhauling the tax system will not be easy. Many Republicans will want a revenue-neutral tax bill, and the administration and Ryan were counting on the savings from repealing Obamacare to pay for lowering income and corporate taxes without blowing a huge hole in the budget. Republicans do not agree on priorities in a tax overhaul, with some favoring a border-adjustment tax to raise revenue lost by cutting other taxes while others believe such a tax would make the cost of consumer goods prohibitively expensive. The political fallout from the Republican healthcare disaster likely will embolden many Republicans — who have a history of fighting among themselves — to oppose the administration and their congressional leadership.

As I have argued before, Trump might be wise to reach out to Democrats. He will need Democratic votes if he is serious about investing one-trillion dollars in the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Spending money to fix roads, bridges, airports, and the like is not something that appeals to Republicans, but it is a Democratic priority. So is saving Obamacare and improving it.

Obamacare remains the law of the land, but its vitality is not guaranteed. Trump and his right-wing cohorts in the government (Tom Price at the head of Health and Human Services, in particular) can do much to undermine the law. Already, the government is not enforcing the penalties on those who refuse to purchase insurance. HHS could discourage people from signing up for insurance during enrollment periods. HHS could also define insurance coverage in ways that make current plans less attractive.

The travails of the Trump administration have emboldened Democrats. Many on the left see an opportunity to improve Obamacare. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders promises to introduce in Congress “a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program” within the next few weeks. Democrats also could push improvements to Obamacare, such as a public option, a government-run insurance plan in direct competition with plans offered by private insurers. A public option would be a viable alternative in exchanges where private insurers are reluctant to operate. Other fixes might involve improved incentives to encourage healthy and young people to purchase insurance and allowing states to negotiate directly with insurance companies to set premiums and benefits.

But, Democrats control neither Congress nor the executive branch. Democratic leaders have said they are willing to work with the president to devise improvements to Obamacare. There are two impediments to such cooperation. First, Democratic fixes would be progressive improvements in the current law and likely would attract little or no Republican support in Congress, which would be needed even if Trump agreed to cooperate.

Second, any deal between the Democrats and Trump would require Trump to retract his words during the campaign that Obamacare is a disaster and to admit, at least tacitly, that he erred in first trying to push a healthcare bill through Congress with only Republican support. Unfortunately, the president of the United States can never admit error.

Posted March 28, 2017