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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation

The Memo: Trump seeks to put his stamp on nation
By Niall Stanage - 06-27-17 06:00 AM EDT

This week has already proven vital to President Trump's hopes of putting his imprint on the nation - and the stakes are about to get higher.

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed parts of the administration's controversial travel ban to go into effect, delivering a surprise victory for the president.

Meanwhile, the Senate could vote on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, as early as Thursday.

Outright victory on both those measures would have a significance beyond anything Trump has done so far.

But it will be far from plain sailing - in part because liberal opposition is fierce on both fronts, but also because some Republicans are balking on healthcare.

The bar was raised for Trump on Monday, when a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis found 22 million fewer people would have health insurance by 2026 if the bill became law. By Monday night, four GOP senators were indicating they would not even vote to begin debate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cannot afford to lose any more than two GOP senators if he is to pass his bill. At present, five Republicans are not on board with the underlying legislation. Additionally, the backing of at least two moderate members - Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) - is in doubt.

Trump is engaged in the effort to win over Republican senators.

"I cannot imagine that these very fine Republican Senators would allow the American people to suffer a broken ObamaCare any longer!" he tweeted over the weekend.

An outside group that acts to advance Trump's interests, America First Policies, has already begun a campaign against one Republican who opposes the bill, Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), and is reported to be planning action against four others.

According to the Associated Press, Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) could soon be in its sights.

There is no mistaking how much is at stake.

"Look, when you're president every week is critical but this one matters more than most," said Republican strategist Alex Conant, who worked for the presidential campaign of one of Trump's 2016 rivals, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

"If he can start the week with this travel ruling and finish it by [moving toward] repealing ObamaCare, that would be by far the most successful week of his presidency."

The Supreme Court decision schedules the hearing of the case on Trump's travel ban for October. Meanwhile, the administration will have to defend the executive order in the court of public opinion.

There has been little recent polling on the ban, which seeks to bar most travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations. Back in March, when the order emerged, 43 percent of adults nationwide supported the administration's position but 52 percent opposed it, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll.

For the moment, the administration will be able to bar travelers from the nations in question who cannot show a "bona fide" connection to a person or entity in the United States. Exactly how that connection will be defined is sure to be subject to contentious debate.

Still, Trump took to Twitter to laud the justices. "Very grateful for the 9-O decision from the U. S. Supreme Court. We must keep America SAFE!," he wrote early Monday afternoon.

Trump can also take heart from an opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas and supported by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, the latter of whom was nominated by Trump.

Thomas's opinion, dissenting from parts of the broader "per curiam" judgment, held that the Court had already drawn an "implicit conclusion" that "the Government has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits."

Democrats, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the ban, expressed doubt that the court ruling should be seen as a major victory for the Trump administration.

They noted that the debate over the order could be irrelevant by October. The original aim expressed by the administration was for a 90-day pause in order to strengthen security safeguards. There is no consensus as to when that 90-day clock begins.

"I'm sure they can declare it a win on their part," said Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, referring to the administration. "But I'm not sure it's much of one."

Trippi and others also questioned the political dynamics of the healthcare law.

Republican proposals, first in the House and now in the Senate, have met with strong public disapproval in polls. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted earlier this month found only 16 percent of the public believing the GOP plan "a good idea," while 48 percent said the opposite.

Asked if healthcare could ultimately be a millstone for Republicans, Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz, said, "It could be that the Republicans look fondly at the idea of a millstone. This could be a four-ton anchor."

Still, there is no doubting Trump's desire to notch a win on a signature campaign promise.

The political winds had appeared to shift in his favor after the special election last week in Georgia, in which Republican Karen Handel prevailed over Democrat Jon Ossoff. Democrats had high hopes of an upset and infighting has broken out since their candidate's defeat.

It was the latest of several special elections in which Democrats had hoped to seize a GOP seat but came up short.

"They are a lot less unified today than they were before polls closed in Georgia," Conant said. "Winning all those special elections helped change the narrative in a way that gives President Trump more political capital than he has had in months."

Now the question is whether this week adds even more capital or whether controversy - or a failure on healthcare - will deplete it once again.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump's presidency.

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