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Trump faces dangerous week
President Trump is at risk of having the worst week of his presidency – but it could still turn around.
Trump trekked to Capitol Hill on Tuesday hoping to cajole skeptical Republicans into voting for the healthcare legislation advanced by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
The stakes could hardly be higher.
After FBI Director James Comey buffeted the administration early this week, a defeat on healthcare would be disastrous for Trump. The vote is set for Thursday.
If, on the other hand, the legislation passes, it would buttress one of the White House's central arguments: that, like Trump or not, he is a president who gets things done.
Comey's testimony was "a problem, a big problem," said one Trump ally who asked to remain anonymous to speak candidly. If the healthcare legislation passes, the source added, it would at least "send a clear message that we are doing the work of the American people."
Comey, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, delivered a powerful one-two punch to the administration.
He confirmed that the bureau was investigating whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and he said he had "no information" to support the president's accusation, first made on Twitter, that former President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
Comey "damaged Trump very significantly in two very meaningful ways," Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson said.
"He has now put every Trump spokesperson and defender in the position of having to lie, by saying that Jim Comey is lying and Donald Trump is telling the truth. … And he also said the words that Trump's people most dreaded, which is that there is an FBI investigation into Donald Trump's ties with Russia. Those were the worst words."
Other Republicans acknowledged that Comey is almost impossible to discredit or to paint as partisan. Democrats still seethe about his announcement in the closing days of the 2016 presidential race that the bureau had found new emails potentially relevant to its investigation of Hillary Clinton.
Peter Wehner, who served three Republican presidents, argued that Trump's unsubstantiated allegations against Obama were "in a different category than anything before; it was so outlandish and so clueless. Everybody in the world knows that the claim he made is a lie, and yet, he has the White House out there defending it."
The White House would, of course, see things very differently. The administration has been adamant that Trump has nothing to apologize for, even as aides such as press secretary Sean Spicer and counselor Kellyanne Conway have argued that Trump meant some broader form of surveillance than a literal wiretap.
The White House is also bringing real intensity to the push to make sure the GOP healthcare bill clears its first hurdle on Thursday.
During his regular press briefing Tuesday, Spicer acknowledged that it was "a pretty big week for the White House."
He said Republican support would build "the more they understand how important this is to the overall agenda we're seeking to pass."
Spicer also emphasized that Trump's Capitol Hill meeting – at which the president warned his GOP colleagues that their jobs could be imperiled if they failed to support the measure – had gone well.
"The meeting this morning really was a huge sign of support. There was a lot of enthusiasm and optimism," Spicer insisted.
But others are not sure. The fate of the legislation is very uncertain. Assuming all House members vote and all Democrats vote no – as they are expected to do – the GOP leadership can only lose 21 votes.
A whip list maintained by The Hill indicates there are already 21 no votes among Republican members and a further six GOP lawmakers who are leaning no.
The Trump ally who spoke with The Hill said he believed the legislation would pass in the end. Were it to fail, he predicted, the impact would be "catastrophic."
But amid those worries, there is a bright spot for the Trump administration.
Neil Gorsuch, the president's nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, received almost universally positive reviews for his performance at a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
There were no obvious missteps from Gorsuch and plenty of moments that seemed perfectly pitched to win bipartisan support.
Gorsuch asserted that there was no such thing as a Democratic or Republican judge, said that he would have no problem ruling against Trump if that was what the law demanded and told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) he would have "walked out of the door" if the president had sought a guarantee he would work to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Spicer, speaking while Gorsuch's hearing was ongoing, enthused that the judge was "doing a phenomenal job."
A final vote on Gorsuch is not expected until next month. But his smooth hearing in itself could help steady the Trump ship – so long as it is coupled with a House victory on the healthcare plan.
"The agenda is moving along at a very brisk pace," Spicer said.
Some Republicans cautioned that even if the healthcare bill were to pass, Trump would not be out of the woods.
Mac Stipanovich, a Florida-based GOP strategist, asserted that ultimate passage of the legislation would hurt some of the poorer voters who had supported Trump most fervently. If, on the other hand, it didn't pass, Trump would be politically embarrassed.
"If you're a Never Trump guy, like me, or a Democrat, it's a win-win," he said.
Wilson argued that the legislation stood a poor chance in the Senate even if it passed the House.
"It's dead in the Senate," he predicted, adding, "It's very difficult to see how passing the House would turn this debacle into a great victory for Donald Trump."
[Source: By Niall Stanage, The Hill, Washington, 22Mar17]
|This document has been published on 23Mar17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|