Home / World / McCain's Obamacare vote isn't the only sign of GOP resistance to Trump – Los Angeles Times

McCain's Obamacare vote isn't the only sign of GOP resistance to Trump – Los Angeles Times

In the year since Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, party leaders have been reluctant to challenge a man who has formed a tight bond with conservative voters, even when he upset party orthodoxies and norms of presidential behavior.

But that reticence is breaking down. A convergence of contentious issues, as well as embarrassing infighting and shake-ups at the White House, have a number of Republicans suddenly in open resistance to President Trump on a number of fronts.

The most dramatic moment came in the early-morning hours Friday, when Sen. John McCain, an ailing war hero and onetime Republican presidential standard-bearer, joined two other GOP dissidents, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, to cast the deciding vote to kill a scaled-back plan to dismantle tenets of the Affordable Care Act — and with it, perhaps, Trump’s promise to repeal Obamacare.

But the signs of resistance went further.

But the healthcare bill proved more complicated to navigate. Polls showed that Republican efforts at repeal were widely unpopular, including among some conservatives, and prominent Republican governors were strongly opposed. Yet the party had promised “repeal and replace” since 2010.

John Weaver, a former longtime political consultant to McCain, said of the senator’s break with Trump on the healthcare bill, after two earlier votes in support, “I don’t think he took any joy in it.”

“But,” Weaver said, “I think he wanted to send a clear signal that what’s happening in the White House is not normal and what’s happening in the Congress is not normal.”

Republican critics accuse Trump and his administration officials of combining arrogance with ineptitude, especially in how they carried out threats to wavering senators such as Murkowski and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. Murkowski suggested to reporters that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke threatened federal funding to her state, which is heavily dependent on it.

The Murkowski threat was particularly striking, because she is chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which oversees Zinke’s department. Murkowski held fast.

“Who ever heard of a Cabinet secretary threatening the chairman of the oversight committee of his department?” Weaver said. “It’s like ‘Dumb and Dumber’ merged with ‘The Godfather’ here.”

Still, Trump has hardly lost his ability to work with his party. Many in Congress continue to fear his ability to stir their most passionate partisans — who continue to back him strongly — and to encourage primary challenges for their seats.

Also, Trump’s allies in outside groups already have shown a willingness to spend money on political advertising against wayward Republicans. A pro-Trump group ran ads against Heller in June, during an earlier stage of the healthcare effort, though it pulled them after objections from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions, said that weapon would be back on the table for the 2018 congressional election campaigns.

At the least, Trump’s hold on the GOP’s base could protect him against threats posed by the Russia investigations by Mueller and the congressional committees. But Trump is seeing that it would not be easy to thwart Mueller’s investigation by firing Sessions and getting his replacement to eliminate Mueller.

Republican senators have their guard up generally against presidential recess appointments, which allow presidents to fill jobs temporarily without Senate confirmation. If both parties agree, a senator will stay in town on a rotating basis to technically avoid having the Senate in recess.

Republicans did that to prevent President Obama from avoiding Senate confirmations and filling vacancies with recess appointments. But now they have signaled they are not willing to let Trump undercut their authority either.

Times staff writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

noah.bierman@latimes.com brian.bennett@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett, @noahbierman

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