Then there is the ineptitude of the policy process in Congress. Despite Speaker Ryan’s boast that this could be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetime, the record of Congress in its first nine months is abysmal. Not one of the big goals set by the president or majority congressional leaders—health repeal and replace, infrastructure, a wall on the border with Mexico, major tax reform—has been achieved. While the number of bills enacted is about average for new presidents, the number of significant bills is extremely low, especially compared to George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Except for a series of narrow measures to roll back Obama regulations and a bill to increase sanctions on Russia, most of the enactments are minor.
Moreover, Republican leaders, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have blown up most of the remaining norms about how laws are developed, debated, and enacted. The process used to attempt the single most significant congressional promise, repealing and replacing Obamacare, was an embarrassing jumble of ineptitude, casuistry, irregularity, and abnormality. After eight years of promises to offer an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Congress only slapped together careless and unworkable plans after they took the White House and both houses of Congress. In the Senate, the plan was crafted behind closed doors by a small group of older, white male senators without the involvement of experts from the two relevant committees, Health and Finance, and with no input from the most savvy health experts, conservative or otherwise, or any of the stakeholders in the health-policy world. The plan, and its even more embarrassing alternative crafted by Senators Cassidy and Graham after the first one flamed out, were opposed by every major health organization and provider group, and were ripped by Senator John McCain for violating every principle of deliberation and debate. The sponsors lied repeatedly to their colleagues and to journalists and others about what the bills did and did not do, and made ham-handed efforts to throw money or exemptions at individual senators in Maine and Alaska to induce their votes.
The failure to pass any health measure, or to send Trump any significant bills he can use to have lavish Rose Garden victory ceremonies to show how much he is winning, has led to another round of presidential insults aimed at his own party leaders McConnell and Ryan, and at apostates like John McCain and Jeff Flake. The latest is a round of ridiculous and counterproductive attacks by Trump on Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Corker, who responded with his own broadsides at an unstable president lacking adult supervision. Many observers are now writing and talking about a Republican civil war, with the latest battle being the Senate primary in Alabama that led to the nomination of radical Roy Moore.
“Can’t anybody here play this game?” was Casey Stengel’s famous lament about his inept 1962 New York Mets. The same lament could apply to the Trump administration and its majority team in Congress—but the problem is deeper and worse when ineptitude joins with venality and recklessness, and when the stakes are far more than baseball pennants.
* This article originally stated that President Trump decertified the Iran deal. We regret the error.