The Affordable Care Act they vowed to undo stands untouched. The sweeping tax overhaul they pledged has not materialized. A worsening relationship between President Trump and congressional Republicans threatens to create new roadblocks in September, when a looming funding crisis could shut down the government.
By their own accounts, Republicans have failed to enact the ambitious agenda they embarked upon when Trump and the GOP majorities swept into power in January. The president has fallen well short of the legislative pace his two predecessors set in their first six months on the job.
The lack of a signature accomplishment Republican lawmakers can highlight at home this month has given rise to a new level of finger-pointing and soul-searching in a party that stood triumphant eight months ago after winning back full control of the federal government.
“I think there’s a level of frustration,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said in an interview. “It’s more like a football team that knows that it can be good but is fumbling and committing too many boneheaded errors.”
On Thursday, Trump took another parting shot at lawmakers for failing to pass a health-care bill. “Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” he tweeted, a day after he grudgingly signed an international sanctions bill that the Senate passed 98 to 2.
The Senate conducted a flurry of business on what was effectively its final workday of the summer, confirming dozens of executive-branch nominees to the State Department, the Treasury Department and other agencies. In addition, two bipartisan pairs of senators unveiled legislation to prevent Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller IIIwithout cause, and a group of Republican senators released a border security plan.
But as they wrapped up their work this week, Republican senators were eager to turn the page on the sharp political and policy disagreements and constant White House chaos that stalled their endeavors.
“I think we can spend time thinking about what didn’t happen,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “[But] I don’t have enough hours in my day to do that. I’m just focused on what we’re going to be doing going forward.”
Many GOP lawmakers are still numb from last week’s failure to repeal and replace the ACA. While the House had earlier worked through painful disagreements and false starts to pass a health-care bill — and cheered with the president in a Rose Garden ceremony afterward — the Senate failed in a dramatic early-morning vote last Friday.
The breakdown of the effort to fulfill a seven-year promise left a particularly bitter taste in the mouths of Republicans departing from both sides of the Capitol. Some blamed Trump, saying he did not sell the plan aggressively enough, or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for failing to deliver. Others were critical of Murkowski and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who were adamant in their opposition to the health-care proposals that McConnell put together in secret. The two joined with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to kill a last-ditch bill to keep talks alive.
“We had three chairmen who went rogue on the Republican caucus and cost us this vote,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a Trump ally. Of the failed-health-care effort, he said: “That’s a problem. We spent a lot of energy on that. And we’re not done yet.”
Now, there is a tension about the way forward. Trump and some conservatives have said they are determined to keep prioritizing the repeal-and-replace effort. But Senate Republican leaders have moved on to a tax overhaul, the next big GOP target, with some planning more-modest fixes to the ACA on the side.
The tax effort, which lawmakers hope to dive deep into next month, could prove to be another tricky venture. Republicans must resolve intraparty disagreements and juggle other pressing deadlines as they pursue a broad overhaul.
McConnell is especially proud of confirming Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, a feat widely hailed in the Republican Party. Congress also passed a slate of regulatory changes under the Congressional Review Act, rolling back Obama-era rules.
But when it comes to the core policy issues they campaigned on, Republicans foundered.
“I think we’ve had one of the busier legislative years,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “We just have not had a successful year as it relates to the large items.”