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Week In Politics: GOP Health Care Bill, Travel Ban


And we're going to stick with the subject of health care as we talk about the Week in Politics with, this week, columnist Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post and Yuval Levin, founding editor of National Affairs. Welcome to you both.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Thanks, Robert. Good to be here.

YUVAL LEVIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: As we've just heard from Sue Davis, Republicans are divided not just over the substance of a health care bill but also over the political calculation of failing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Yuval, which would be worse for the Republicans, to give up trying to find a Republican majority in each house or to pass a bill that most Americans tell pollsters they disapprove of?

LEVIN: Well, look; I think at the end of that segment, we just heard somebody basically say we have to pass the bill to find out what's in it, which is more or less the caricature of what the Democrats did and something Nancy Pelosi said in the few days before passing the Affordable Care Act. It seems to me that what Republicans have been missing in this process is a substantive argument for the bill that they're advancing.

And so there's this very abstract debate going on about whether we should pass a bill or not pass a bill. And there's no one telling the public, these are the problems; this is how this bill might solve those problems, and here's what we should expect it to achieve. And as long as that's going on, it seems to me Republicans are stuck in this political situation where the bill they have is about half as popular as going to the dentist.


LEVIN: And passing that bill sure doesn't seem like a good idea politically. And yet they haven't made a case to the public about why they should have a different attitude about it.

SIEGEL: Eugene Robinson, you wrote this week about the Republican Senate health care bill. This - the politics of this atrocious legislation are every bit as hazardous for the Republican Party as the underlying policies would be for the health of the nation. First, for the Republicans, what's so toxic in it for them?

ROBINSON: Well, they made this promise - repeal and replace, repeal and replace. They said for seven years, we're going to repeal and replace. So it's kind of understandable that Republican leadership feels, we have to do this, or we're going to get creamed. The problem is this is kind of an empty political exercise, as you've said. Who knows what this bill is supposed to do? Who knows what the reason is for passing it? Who knows why this would supposedly make things better?

And there's a lot of information out there about why this would make things worse, like throwing 22 or 23 million people off of health insurance within a decade and cutting Medicaid by a huge amount. So you know, in the end, it is doing something even if it's something that the base doesn't like - really what the Republicans want to do.

SIEGEL: Well, what about the idea - I'd like to hear from both of you and Yuval first - about just repealing and then spending a year figuring out what you're replacing it with. That would at least give some time for the back-to-basics discussion that you said we haven't had.

LEVIN: Well, you know, there was enormous frustration today among congressional Republicans at that tweet from the president because in a sense, that's where they started in January. They began with that idea. They themselves came to the conclusion that the politics of that would be even worse and that as a substantive matter, it wasn't ideal. But part of the reason they got there is because the president said to them that he would not accept a bill that only repealed and did not also replace.

SIEGEL: They had to do them both at the same time.

LEVIN: They had to do them both at the same time. And so now they're having trouble getting that done. And here's the president coming back to them and saying, well, why don't you just do this other thing? That's where you were months ago. This obviously keeps happening to them with this president. And so I think as a political matter, they've more or less decided to ignore what he's saying and proceed on the path they are.

I would just say, the strange situation they are in is that this is a bill without champions. There is no one making the argument for it. There is an argument for it, but it is an argument that doesn't begin with the premise that this repeals all of Obamacare and replaces it. And none of them are in a position to be able to say, we've decided for substantive and political reasons that we're going to fix these various discrete things rather than repeal and replace fully.

SIEGEL: Eugene?

ROBINSON: Well, (laughter) you know, the president's new idea, which is the old idea, must indeed have been frustrating to the - to Republicans on the Hill. You know, the - my point about that is if you repealed and then said, OK, we're going to replace in a year, we would be back in the same situation one year from now, scrambling to meet a deadline with no sort of coherent vision among Republicans, to say nothing of among Congress writ large, about what the health system should be.

SIEGEL: OK, we're going to move on now from this very serious long-term national issue we face to the strangest issue of the day. Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were targets of some abusive tweets from President Trump, and they claim that senior White House aides threatened them, that the National Enquirer, which is close to Trump, would run a negative tabloid story about them if they didn't ask the president to have the story killed. And on their MSNBC program, "Morning Joe," Joe Scarborough said this today about what Trump aides told him.


JOE SCARBOROUGH: They said if you call the president up and you apologize for your coverage, then he will pick up the phone and basically spike the story. I had...


SCARBOROUGH: ...I will just say three people at the very top of the administration calling me.

SIEGEL: And Scarborough said they just declined to do that. The Daily Beast, by the way, today reported that one person who did talk with Scarborough about the Enquirer story was Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But The Beast's sources disputed the content of their conversation. What do you make - Eugene, you were actually on the program this morning.

ROBINSON: (Laugher) Yes, I appear on "Morning Joe" a couple times a week. I was on this morning. I have no inside knowledge of these events. I enter this story with the president's insulting tweets about Joe Scarborough and especially Mika Brzezinski and their - the huge controversy over that. You know, I thought the tweets were offensive, and indeed that's the consensus. And so Joe and Mika, who were scheduled to go on vacation, came back onto their show. They were introduced onto their own, so it's kind of a weird moment. And this is what they said. It is - that's - so that elevates this whole incident I think. If indeed there was a sort of extortion threat coming out of the White House over a potential negative story, that's serious thing.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Yuval - an elevated story by that measure?

LEVIN: Yeah, look; I think we have a pattern here where the president's inability to control himself when he's engaged in these kinds of confrontations gets him into more and more trouble. You saw the same thing with FBI Director Comey where the president for some reason felt like he had to say there were tapes of a conversation, which it turns out there weren't. And that turns out to have driven Comey in turn to take steps that led to the appointment of a special counsel. Here we have the president with these really abhorrently inappropriate tweets driving Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski to release information that's damaging to him.

SIEGEL: Yuval Levin of National Affairs, Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, thanks to both of you.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

LEVIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "HOURS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.