President Trump’s Negotiation Skills (or Lack Thereof) – Part 4

Political eons ago – 20 days ago, to be precise – President Trump had a successful negotiation of sorts.

If you can remember that far back, that’s when the House of Representatives approved a health care bill that Mr. Trump advocated.

In prior posts, I discussed Mr. Trump’s failure to win adoption of his original health care bill, his approach to negotiating with Mexico about NAFTA and his planned border wall, his efforts to get North Korea to discontinue its nuclear weapons program, and the negotiation of a budget bill.  So far, all of these efforts have been unsuccessful for Mr. Trump.

In the days before the vote on a revised health care bill, it appeared as if the House of Representatives would fail to pass the bill.  But with some last-minute changes in the bill to get some potential “no” votes to switch to “yes,” on May 4, the House approved the bill with a 217-213 vote.  All of the Democrats and 20 Republicans voted against the bill.

Washington Post reporters Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa analyzed how the Republicans were able to pass the bill.  The revised bill resulted from behind-the-scenes negotiations between “Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a leader of the moderate House Republican bloc that calls itself the Tuesday Group, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative and hard-line House Freedom Caucus. … While staying at the beach with his family over the House’s two-week Easter recess last month, ‘I took pen to paper,’ MacArthur recalled.  ‘I presented it to the speaker and talked about it with Mark Meadows, and it got life.  It moved.’”

In contrast to the “top-down” negotiation of the prior effort, Speaker Ryan and White House officials were not directly involved in the negotiation between Reps. MacArthur and Meadows, though they were kept informed.

It appeared as if this bill still would not get enough votes to pass until Representatives Fred Upton and Billy Long proposed adding $8 billion “to try to help provide coverage for people with serious, preexisting health conditions.”

Ms. Tumulty and Mr. Costa wrote, “[The] earlier drive crashed when the Ryan plan, crafted with little input from his rank-and-file members, failed to garner enough support from either the conservative or moderate factions of the party.  It was an epic embarrassment that raised questions of how prepared they were to govern as a majority and deliver on their promises.

“The speaker was not the only one who miscalculated in that initial foray.  Trump had assumed that the force of his personality was his best asset in pushing the bill through.  He summoned House members to the White House for negotiating sessions that were more theatrical than substantive; threatened Meadows that if he didn’t support it, “I’m coming after you”; and laid down an empty ultimatum that he would walk away from the issue.

“If his first big legislative victory has taught Trump anything, it may be that the art of the deal in Washington requires subtlety, patience and — most uncharacteristic for him — a willingness to step back and play a supporting role.”

“‘One of the great things about this process was we in the White House and the members of the House really got to know each other,’ [White House Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus said in an interview.”

Leading up to the vote on the revised bill, Republican leaders focused on political imperatives of demonstrating that they would fulfill campaign promises and effectively govern.  “‘Are we going to be men and women of our word?’  Ryan implored from the well of the House, moments before the vote.  In a private meeting with her fellow Republicans earlier in the day, Arizona Rep. Martha McSally, previously counted among the undecided, expressed the urgency of the moment in salty terms that evoked her days as an Air Force fighter pilot:  ‘Let’s get this f—ing thing done!’”

In contrast to the negotiations described in earlier parts of this series, Mr. Trump got a successful outcome by largely staying out of the negotiation process and letting the legislators focus on their interests rather than Trump’s interests.

This success has an asterisk because it is only the first step in the legislative process.  To become law, the Senate must pass a bill, a conference committee must reconcile the House and Senate bills, both bodies must pass the conference committee bill, and Mr. Trump must sign it.  Tumulty and Costa noted that there were steep hurdles to overcome in the Senate, where there are sharp divisions within the Republican caucus and rules that make it easier for the minority to impede the process.

In addition, although Mr. Trump can claim a “win” in advancing the bill past the initial step in the process, it would not achieve the policy goals that he espoused, as described by Washington Post correspondent Philip Bump.  Mr. Trump promised that there would be “insurance for everybody” with reduced premiums and deductibles.  Analyses of the legislation suggest that there probably would be an additional 24 million people uninsured by 2026 and that premiums and deductibles would increase.  Prior to the vote on the revised bill, the Congressional Budget Office had not evaluated it. Today, the CBO released its evaluation of the revised bill and projected that there would be an additional 23 million people uninsured.

And that was before all the controversies of the past several weeks, which presumably undermine the GOP’s ability to advance its legislative agenda.

Legislative and international politics can be seen as an iterative negotiation “game” (albeit one with life-and-death consequences in negotiations over health care and international relations).  Stay tuned as President Trump has more opportunities to negotiate during the remainder of his presidency.


UPDATE:  Although the bill passed the House, it failed in the Senate, so Mr. Trump didn’t succeed in his quest to legislatively repeal Obamacare.  His administration is taking various actions to undermine the law, but this is the product of unilateral action, not negotiation.

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