Say goodbye to the bipartisan moment.
A month ago, President Trump startled people in both parties by striking a spending deal with Democratic leaders and a tentative agreement to resolve the fate of the young immigrants in the country illegally known as Dreamers. Some saw in those moves a shift by the president to a less ideological ground; on the right, some of his supporters warned of betrayal.
If ever that was the plan, Trump abruptly abandoned it this week. On immigration and healthcare, he moved sharply to the right, adopting the policies of the hardest-liners of his coalition. On Iran, he overruled his national security advisors — and rejected pleas by European allies — by declaring he would not certify that the 2015 deal to control that country’s nuclear program was in the national interest.
On both healthcare and immigration, rather than seek a bipartisan agreement with Democrats, Trump has, instead, opted for a policy of taking hostages. The fate of millions with health coverage from the Obamacare markets and the roughly 700,000 young people covered by the Obama administration’s DACA program will be at risk as he demands that his opponents negotiate for their safety.
Trump made the play clear in an interview with Sean Hannity this week: “If we’re going to do something, we need to get something in return,” he said.
Good afternoon, I’m David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.
ON HEALTHCARE, SWINGING THE WRECKING BALL
Visual images tell a lot about a presidency.
When the bipartisan moment started, the image seen everywhere was a photo shot through the door of the Oval Office showing Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, gesturing to Trump as the two talked.
Thursday, the bookend image was Trump being introduced in the Roosevelt Room of the White House by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who had refused to back the latest Obamacare repeal effort in the Senate because it didn’t go far enough.
The event was the signing ceremony for an executive order Trump issued that aims to deregulate health insurance nationally, using one of Paul’s preferred ideas — changes in federal rules to allow healthy people to get insurance that would bypass the requirements of the Obamacare marketplaces.
As Noam Levey explained, the plan uses the president’s “power of the pen” to overhaul parts of the healthcare system, something that Republicans bitterly objected to when President Obama did the same.
How effective Trump’s order will be won’t be known for months, but patient advocates and independent experts say that to the extent it allows healthy people to get insurance at a lower price, it will raise costs for those with existing health problems.
There’s little doubt about the effect of the move that came next. Late Thursday night, the administration announced it would halt payments to health insurers that offset costs of covering low-income Americans, as Levey reported.
That decision will seriously destabilize the insurance markets, send premiums sharply upward and cause insurers in some states to flee. It’s almost certain to spark a fight in court and perhaps one in Congress, as well. This morning, several GOP senators said they opposed the move.
Congress could reinstate the payments — known as cost-sharing reductions — but getting a bill through the House to do so already has been difficult. Trump could threaten to veto any such move unless he wins concessions.
A HARD-LINE TRIUMPH ON IMMIGRATION
A similar dynamic holds true on immigration. Trump’s tentative deal with Schumer and House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco quickly met resistance from congressional backers of immigration restriction. That left Congress split on protecting DACA recipients, Lisa Mascaro and Brian Bennett reported.
Congressional Republicans kept saying they needed to hear from the administration what Trump wanted in a bill. Sunday, they got the answer— a set of hard-line proposals that seemed designed to derail a deal.
Trump essentially adopted the wish list of his influential domestic policy advisor Stephen Miller and Miller’s former boss, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.
Democrats, as well as Republicans who don’t want to see tens of thousands of Dreamers lose their jobs and face deportation starting in March, still have considerable leverage. In December, Trump will need their votes to pass legislation to keep government agencies open.
Some Republicans are eager to see the issue resolved, especially politically vulnerable members of Congress fron California, as Christine Mai-Duc wrote.
But their success may depend on separating Trump from hard-liners on his staff, Bennett and Mascaro wrote.
MOOD SWINGS OR STRATEGY?
When Trump shifts ground, there’s always a question of whether he’s acting out of carefully considered strategy or a fit of pique.
There’s little question that the president has been deeply frustrated in recent weeks, bridling at efforts to control him. Noah Bierman, Brian Bennett and Cathy Decker took this excellent look at the tensions enveloping the Trump White House, including shouting matches with Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Reports of discord reached sufficient volume this week that Kelly went to the press briefing room to publicly say he’s neither quitting nor getting fired.
Some of Trump’s frustration was on display as he threatened TV networks and said it’s “disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want.”
Trump is acutely aware of his bond with the voters he refers to as “my people.” He also was clearly distressed by the fact that so many of those voters in Alabama ignored his endorsement last month of Sen. Luther Strange and, instead, produced a thumping victory for the insurgent, Roy Moore, who had the backing of his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
Fear that he was losing his connection with his core supporters may have prompted this week’s sharp right turn.
IRAN AND THE WEEK’S OTHER NOTABLE STORIES
After weeks of internal debate, Trump has announced his new Iran strategy. The plan to alter the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to anger Tehran and trouble U.S. allies, Tracy Wilkinson reported.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and other leading national security officials had urged Trump to keep the Iran deal intact. He refused. The result was a compromise within the administration that allows Trump to denounce the deal but keep it in place while kicking the next steps over to Congress.
Congress also is wrestling with GOP efforts to pass a tax cut. As Mascaro and Jim Puzzanghera reported, lawmakers are already thinking about scaling back the tax cut as they wrestle with the complexities.
Meantime, as Evan Halper reported, 29 states have legal pot. Sessions wants to stamp it out, and he’s closer than you think.
And Trump met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau amid growing doubts about whether NAFTA talks can succeed.
Trump named a top aide to Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, a cybersecurity expert, to run the department of Homeland Security
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Congress the Census needs an additional $3.3 billion to carry out a successful count in 2020.
Trump’s tweets that seemed to suggest he might pull federal help out of Puerto Rico let to an outcry on the island.
And Mark Barabak took a look at Michigan: Are voters there who helped make Donald Trump president ready to elect the nation’s first Muslim governor?
FEINSTEIN GOES FOR ONE MORE
“There’s still so much work left to do,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in announcing that she would run for reelection once again, as Sarah D. Wire reported.
Cathy Decker looked at the underlying dynamics of the race: Her party has gotten more liberal, and she insists she’s no “rabble rouser,” but Feinstein still has to be considered the favorite in the race.
That hasn’t deterred some in “the resistance,” who think Feinstein is too bipartisan, Seema Mehta reported. As Seema and Melanie Mason wrote, California Senate leader Kevin de León is leaning toward challenging Feinstein.
Also on the California politics front, John Myers looked at how the state went from worst to first in drawing fair political maps — a topic that the Supreme Court is now wrestling with.
GET YOUR TICKETS HERE — POLITICAL SUMMIT
The Times next week will host a political summit. We’ll be interviewing Pelosi and other leading politicians and policy experts to discuss the state’s role in shaping the national debate on issues ranging from immigration to climate change and what it means for our future.
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S TWEETS
Twitter has long been Trump’s favored means of pushing his message. We’re compiling all of Trump’s tweets. It’s a great resource. Take a look.
That wraps up this week. My colleague Christina Bellantoni will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.
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