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After Health Care Defeat, What's Next For Republicans?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


PAUL RYAN: I will not sugar coat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard. All of us - all of us, myself included, we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment, what we could have done to do it better.

SIMON: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to reporters yesterday just after he decided not to bring the Republican health care reform proposal to a vote. Republicans have a majority in Congress, but the speaker and President Trump couldn't get together enough votes to pass it. NPR's Sue Davis was on Capitol Hill - in our studios now. Sue, thanks so much for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The speaker said disappointing. I've heard a couple of other D words - disaster, debacle - a couple of F words too...

DAVIS: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...Including failure. How do you think Republicans really see it?

DAVIS: Oh, I think they know it's a failure. I think that they - that the speaker has tried to put somewhat of a positive spin on it. But I think they know it was a failure, and it was a failure at every level. It was a failure of policy. They couldn't come up with the ideas that they could all agree on. It was a failure of leadership. They couldn't simply find the votes. And it was a failure of politics. This was the signature campaign pledge for Republicans in the last four election cycles, and they couldn't deliver.

SIMON: Exactly. I mean, you know, the public dissatisfaction with higher premiums, lack of options, which got him elected - what do they do now?

DAVIS: You know, I think that they have to prove that they can deliver. In the short term, the Republican will be - Republican Party will be tested in a few weeks. We have to keep the government open, and they'll have to find a way to fund the government. That's a short-term test to prove you can govern. And in the long term, the president yesterday and the speaker said they're going to move on, and the thing they're going to move on to is tax reform. And they want to try and overhaul the tax code, which might be one of the most ambitious things a political party can attempt to do. And so that is maybe the next metric that they're going to try and be judged on.

SIMON: There were real divisions among Republicans that got exposed in this debate. Speaker Ryan called them growing pains, but I wonder, to press a medical analogy, could they be persisting pains on issue after issue over the next couple of years?

DAVIS: Right. Is it a bug or is it a chronic disease? You know, I don't know if we know the answer to that yet. Remember, this failure occurred on only the 64th day of Donald Trump's presidency. We're still very early into this Congress, but it is certainly not a good sign. And you only get so much political capital, and they burned a lot on this. And so I think that they need a turnaround effort. And if this is to continue, it's not a good sign of where an already unpopular Congress and a president with low approval ratings - you know, they need to go up. And if they go down, it could - yes, there could be political consequences for the party.

SIMON: What about the Democrats? I don't believe I've ever seen Nancy Pelosi with a bigger smile on her face than at the press conference yesterday. But the DNC deputy chairman, Keith Ellison, tweeted, don't gloat, get ready for round two. What's that?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, I think in some ways in this health care fight Democrats just got out of the way because I think they could see that Republicans weren't finding a consensus. And if your opponents digging themselves into a hole, you don't get out of the - you know, you don't take their shovel away. You let them do it. You know, I think they just see themselves much in the way that Republicans saw themselves under Barack Obama. They see themselves as an opposition party. They're not there to help Republicans govern. They're there to oppose them at every turn. And I think they continue - they plan to do just that and on multiple fronts, particularly on tax reform and in things like the Senate like the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. And I think they're saying to Republicans, you're on your own.

SIMON: President Trump complimented Speaker Ryan last night, but do you think there might be a movement to replace him as speaker?

DAVIS: You know, I think there is some percolating conversation of that that kind of persists in sort of far-right media circles, far-right conversations. At the moment, no because of - the bottom answer is, you know, you need somebody to beat somebody, and there's no other Republican right now that I think either wants the job or has the votes to take the gavel away from him.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much for being with us.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.