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Trump finds he needs friends on the Hill

Two days into a frantic battle to repeal and replace Obamacare, Donald Trump’s White House is struggling to win over fellow Republicans in Congress.

The strength of resistance to the new healthcare bill within the party points to a broader problem for Mr Trump — almost two months in to his presidency he is struggling to control the legislative agenda.

“The White House doesn’t have a plan and they’re not providing any leadership,” says Peter Wehner, former speech writer for George W Bush.

“The House and the Senate are at odds. They need a president to weigh in on an option and guide it and they’re not getting it.”

While careful not to criticise Mr Trump in public, many Republican lawmakers privately criticise the new president as a Washington neophyte with little idea of how relations between the White House and Congress work — or how much guidance the executive branch should be giving.

The White House has so far taken a back seat role on healthcare and tax reform — its two biggest priorities — and left Congress to do the heavy lifting. But how Mr Trump manages Congress on these first big legislative issues will serve as an important guide to the prospects for the rest of his agenda.

The health bill in particular is exposing deep rifts in Republican Washington, with conservative lawmakers taking opposing sides in the debate and the White House reluctant to weigh in. While two House committees approved the legislation — leaving one more committee to vote before a full House vote later this month — many expect the legislation to struggle.

“The fight now for repeal and replace is not a Democratic fight. It’s a fight in the Republican party,” says Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

“[Mr Trump] doesn’t have the Republican party wrapped around his little finger the way that FDR [Franklin D Roosevelt] had [with the Democratic party] in 1933 or Reagan did [with the Republican Congress] in 1981. There is still dissension in the GOP ranks,” he says.

The White House doesn’t have a plan and they’re not providing any leadership

The healthcare bill, crafted by House Republican leaders with assistance from the White House, is opposed by many Republicans in Congress, raising concerns that the party leadership will struggle to pass it into law.

Four moderate Republican senators have publicly criticised the bill for reducing Medicaid coverage — a step they believe will cost them support in their home states. Meanwhile, lawmakers from the conservative Freedom Caucus say the legislation does not go far enough in overhauling Obamacare.

Neither senator Rand Paul nor any of any of his fellow conservative Republicans shown any signs of moderating their opposition, despite Mr Trump’s assurances this week that they will fall in to line.

“There’s one thing that has united Republicans . . . and that is complete repeal, clean repeal,” Mr Paul said.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, wrote on Twitter that the House healthcare bill “can’t pass Senate without major changes.”

“To my friends in [the] House: pause, start over. Get it right, don’t get it fast,” he wrote.

Brian Darling, a former top aide to Mr Paul, said he doubted the senator or his conservative colleagues would come around to the bill.

“As legislation, they’ve set it up for failure. Liberal democrats hate this bill, moderate Republicans hate this bill, conservative Republicans hate this bill,” Mr Darling said. “If the White House does the same thing and let’s Congress write tax reform that’s also going to be a disaster.”

The debate over healthcare mirrors lawmakers’ broader concerns at the president’s style of governing and his reluctance to leave behind the combative approach of his election campaign.

“A lot of Republicans in private are disgusted with Trump,” said Mr Brinkley. “Not just his policy agenda but his tweets and reckless commentary. It’s creating a cloudy atmosphere when it should have been rather smooth sailing.”

Many questioned Mr Trump’s decision to air claims that he had been put under surveillance by former President Barack Obama’s administration last year by way of a Saturday morning tweet storm, in which he called his predecessor a “Bad (or sick) guy!”

In recent days, Mr Trump has made more effort to win over lawmakers who can help him get the healthcare bill passed. On Wednesday, he met conservative groups such as Heritage, Americans for Prosperity and the Club for Growth to discuss the legislation. He also dined with former primary rival senator Ted Cruz and his wife on Wednesday evening as part of a push to get Mr Cruz to endorse the plan.

Meanwhile, members of the House Freedom Caucus have been invited to the White House for bowling.

Yet some are not so easily convinced.

“We’re seven weeks in [to the Trump presidency] — and it’s been a long seven weeks,” says Democratic senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate foreign relations committee. “We still haven’t got any real confidence that we have a president engaged with Congress and the American people on articulating the development [of] policies.”

Mr Brinkley said many Republican lawmakers were reluctant to speak out until after Mr Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was confirmed — a priority not just for the president but for all Republicans in Congress.

However, he added that once Mr Gorsuch’s confirmation had passed, they might be less hesitant.

Via FT