Senate Republicans are winging it. It's a troubling reality at a moment when Congress is needed most.
So much for the world's greatest deliberative body.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cornered his fractured caucus Tuesday, calling a vote that rammed the House's disgraceful health care bill to the floor even though the draft stands no chance of adoption. From there, the Republican replacement will be rewritten on the fly. McConnell was clearly annoyed after weeks of intraparty bickering. And after seven years of GOP hyperbole about the failings of President Barack Obama's landmark domestic policy — the Affordable Care Act — McConnell wanted his members on record.
Consider the process here:
McConnell's last political option forced an ethereal, yet-to-be drafted health care policy — affecting 16 percent of the U.S. economy and millions of lives — to a floor fracas more akin to a county fair auction than legitimate governance.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, reached the same conclusion when they opposed McConnell's attempt at herding cats. Tuesday's procedural vote, which required Vice President Mike Pence's support for passage, assures even more dysfunction.
The GOP chaos proves just one thing. All the hype and rancor aimed at Obamacare, all the promises to "repeal and replace" were utterly hollow. They were nothing but meaningless talking points meant to turn out the base. Reality, however, has caught up with the rhetoric and smashed by the Congressional Budget Office.
It was easy to vote to repeal ACA when Obama held the veto pen, a fact McConnell acknowledged last week. Without Obama as a foil, ruling Republicans in Congress are in chaos. That's because, as McConnell also noted on the Senate floor, President Donald Trump will sign whatever Congress sends him. Trump doesn't appear to care what's in the bill. Nor does Trump have the commitment to bother understanding the issue. His only concerns are sound bites and retribution against the left. Trump knows only red meat.
And yet, with their complete dominance of Washington, congressional Republicans can't even frame out a plan.
On the health care front, this is good news. Nothing offered so far would improve the lives of Americans. Every objective analysis of the various GOP's draft health care plans, either public or private, has predicted skyrocketing premiums for the elderly, millions without health insurance and a general decline in the social welfare.
But at 30,000 feet, there's something exceedingly troubling about Congress' total inability to govern.
President Trump is a man without vision, tact or a respect for law. Solely capable of stump speeches, Trump is vacuous on policy. Politically, his disdain for anyone unwilling to blindly kiss the ring is a legitimate threat to the country.
It falls to Congress to enforce the limits on presidential powers that Trump so willingly flouts. It would be Congress' job to rein in a rogue president should he act on his impulse and fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller. But, so far, Republicans in Congress are more concerned with letting out Trump's leash because of fear of his online troll army.
Congressional investigations into Russian election meddling have, at times, been riddled with too many attempts to provide Trump cover through deflection. Congressional Republicans have shrugged as Trump's conflicts mounted and his inner circle repeatedly failed to disclose contacts with foreign agents. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan punted when asked about his concerns if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for disloyalty, the first step in crushing Mueller's investigation. It's not even clear if Congress would resurrect the independent prosecutor — free from Trump's Justice Department — if the president again attempted to squash the investigation that dogs him.
Regardless of party, the country needs an independent, fully functional Congress as Trump's daily attacks on democratic norms hurtle toward a constitutional crisis.
Yet, ruling Republicans can't even work among themselves, let alone rein in a president unhinged.