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Paul Ryan Looks To Unite GOP After Health Care Failure

Mar 27, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

After Republicans' health care bill fell apart on Friday afternoon, House Speaker Paul Ryan sent his lawmakers home for the weekend. He asked them to reflect on the party's failure. Now he and President Trump say they are moving on. Trump has already set his sights on a new challenge.

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DONALD TRUMP: Now we're going to go for tax reform, which I've always liked.

MCEVERS: Tax reform - we'll have more on that in a moment. First, though, Congressional Republicans need to find a governing coalition. And with us to talk about where they go from here is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hi, there.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So when you talk to Republicans about what happened on Friday, how significant of a setback do they say this is?

DAVIS: Oh, they think it's significant. And it's significant because it exposed just how divided the Republican Party remains, even after they won control of both Congress and the White House. I wanted to talk to someone who has a lot of experience with Republican infighting and party turmoil, so I called former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. And it was interesting 'cause he says he thinks the White House and Congress are going to continue to clash on a lot of major issues like health care, like taxes because they campaigned on different ideas. Here's what he had to say.

ERIC CANTOR: Donald Trump's candidacy was not about fiscal conservatism. He was not about moving in the direction of consumer-based health care. He was much more like, I don't want to disrupt your entitlements, but, oh, by the way, I'm going to make America great again 'cause I'm going to put you back to work. And if there's any kind of disconnect, I think it really is focused on the fact that the Trump agenda is one that is not as similar to the agenda that the party's been about in the last eight years.

DAVIS: So I would say right now there's what I would call probably soul searching going on here in the Capitol and over at the White House about - how do they reconcile those competing campaign promises? And once they do, how do they get the votes to pass them?

MCEVERS: If Republicans could not find the votes to repeal President Obama's health care law - I mean, this was the animating issue for their party over the last many years - how much confidence do they have that Speaker Ryan can find the votes to pass any major legislation?

DAVIS: Well, he really only has two options. He needs to either unify Republicans, or he's going to need to form coalitions that include Democrats.

MCEVERS: Right.

DAVIS: And there was a hope at the start of this Congress that those same hard line conservatives who had bucked leadership in the past would be team players now that they had a Republican the White House. I think last week proved that theory wrong. You know, this is going to be particularly hard for the speaker as he does try to pivot the Republican Party to tax reform in the coming months. It's one of his biggest priorities. But Republicans are really far apart right now on what they want that bill to accomplish.

President Trump - his spokesman Sean Spicer today said the White House is potentially ready to sidestep conservatives and work with Democrats. But the reality is doing that means a lot more concessions and moving legislation that is a lot less conservative, particularly on things like tax reform.

MCEVERS: And are Democrats giving any signs that they'd be willing to work with Republicans?

DAVIS: Not if it means passing Republican ideas. Democrats aren't going to vote for Speaker Ryan's vision of tax reform. There is bipartisan consensus among other issues. Some people mentioned infrastructure spending a lot, and there's precedent for it. Former House Speaker John Boehner did rely on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on several occasions to get bills passed in the House. You know, but if they need Democrats, President Trump's going to have to settle for a lot less. We're going to have a test in the short term very soon to see which way they're leaning. The government's going to run out of money at the end of April. And if they need Democrats to pass that, they're not going to get what they want in that bill.

MCEVERS: Speaking of former House Speaker John Boehner, he was, you know, forced out, in part from the conservatives in his party. Is Speaker Ryan facing any kind of similar pressure?

DAVIS: There has been some criticism. It's largely been centered in conservative media circles. There isn't much talk on the member level, which is what really matters. You know, don't forget he was a reluctant speaker, and he only has been in the job for about 16 months. As of today, no one else seems to want his job.

MCEVERS: Right.

DAVIS: And there's no one who at the moment has the votes to beat him even if they did.

MCEVERS: NPR's Sue Davis on the Hill, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.