Trump has bad day as his candidate loses Senate race, party gives up Obamacare repeal again

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence appeared with Strange at rallies in the race’s closest days and a political group affiliated with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spent close to $9 million on his behalf.

world Updated: Sep 27, 2017 19:56 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Alabama,Roy Moore,Republican Party
President Donald Trump shakes the hand of Sen. Luther Strange after he speaks at campaign rally, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala.(AP)

It couldn’t have been a good Tuesday for President Donald Trump. He was forced to delete tweets posted in support of a candidate for the Republican ticket for the Senate, who lost despite the US president’s backing, and got word his party was giving up on the latest move to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Trump recovered enough by Wednesday to post a tweet congratulating the candidate who won, Roy Moore, a former judge backed by the party’s extreme conservatives, including former White House aide Steve Bannon. Moore is running for Alabama seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

This couldn’t have been easy for the president, who had endorsed Luther Strange, the sitting senator nominated to succeed Sessions, and had boasted that the candidate’s poll numbers had shot up because of and after Trump’s endorsement. The poll bump, if at all, wasn’t so.

The president deleted at least three posts on Twitter pertaining to this senate race, raising concerns among ethics watchdog bodies that contend the tweets be treated as presidential communications and thus be archived as part of official records as all other White House messages and documents.

Earlier on Tuesday, before the close of polls in Alabama, the Republican leadership in the senate announced they will not bring to a vote a legislation proposed by two of its members to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

President Trump had thrown his full weight behind the new attempt in the hope of delivering on a key election promise he had expected to get done easily, given his party’s single-minded pursuit of its withdrawal from the day it was signed into law by President Obama in 2010.

Trump has vented his frustration publicly, calling senate Republicans to change voting rules if necessary to pass it, having failed twice before. “We will have the votes for Healthcare but not for the reconciliation deadline of Friday, after which we need 60. Get rid of Filibuster Rule!” he tweeted on Wednesday.

The president conceded, forced by the Republican leadership, there was no way they could pass the proposed legislation — called the Graham-Cassidy bill after its chief sponsors — this week. And that’s one more attempt ending in failure, adding to the president’s growing list of legislative non-achievements.

The problem lies within Trump’s own party, which has a 52-48 majority in the senate. But with all Democrats holding out as a block with no defections whatsoever, Republicans could not afford even one defection to push the bill through with a simple majority of 51, which ought to have been easy.

But with three Republican senators— John McCain and Rand Paul at first and then Susan Collins — staying away, their tally fell to 49, two short of the magic number, forcing the leadership to not put it to vote at all, instead of watch it being defeated. And it gets tougher next week, requiring 60 votes to pass.

That’s the reason Trump called for getting “rid of the Filibuster rule”, which allows a debate to continue unless limited to 30 hours by a two-fifth vote of the members, or 60 votes, which the Republicans don’t have.

Democrats can simply filibuster the next repeal-and-replace attempt.

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Former Alabama Chief Justice and US Senate candidate Roy Moore during speaks during his election party, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP)

Moore, who won the Alabama Republican primary, is an outspoken evangelical Christian who has twice lost his position as the state’s top judge.

He won with a fierce anti-Washington message and a call to put religion at the centre of public life.

“We have to return the knowledge of God and the Constitution of the United States to the United States Congress,” he said.

Moore, 70, first lost his seat on the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse and a second time for defying the US Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage.

He is favoured in the December election against Democrat Doug Jones.

Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992.

The race exposed rifts between the Republican party’s conservative base and its moneyed establishment -- and within Trump’s inner circle.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had appeared with Strange at rallies in the race’s closest days and a political group affiliated with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell spent close to $9 million on his behalf.

Moore, meanwhile, drew support from Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson.

Former advisor to President Donald Trump and executive chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, speaks at a campaign event for Republican candidate for the US Senate in Alabama Roy Moore on September 25, 2017 in Fairhope, Alabama. (AFP)

Bannon said Moore’s victory could embolden other grassroots challengers to try to unseat well-funded Republican incumbents in next year’s congressional elections.

“You’re going to see in state after state people that follow the model of Judge Roy Moore, that do not need to raise money from the elites,” he said at Moore’s victory party.

Strange, 64, a former state attorney general, earned a reputation as a reliable Republican vote after he was appointed to the seat in February.

But his close ties to party leaders proved to be a liability with some voters, who questioned whether former Governor Robert Bentley appointed him to Sessions’s seat in an attempt to avoid prosecution for a sex scandal. Bentley pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds and stepped down in April.

“It was sort of a ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,’“ said RL Barber, 77, a Moore supporter from Birmingham.

Moore’s uncompromising style could bring a new level of turbulence to the Senate, where Republicans have struggled to reach consensus on tax and spending issues and have failed repeatedly to roll back Obamacare.

But Moore said he would back the president.

“Don’t let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent I do not support him and support his agenda,” Moore said. (With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Sep 27, 2017 09:20 IST