Elephants in the Room

The Dangerous National Security Implications of Trump’s Obamacare Fiasco

Trump is the biggest loser in the Republican failure to bring Obamacare repeal to a vote.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21:  House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to the media after after a House Republican closed party conference attended by U.S. President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, on March 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump urged House Republicans to support his American Health Care Act.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks to the media after after a House Republican closed party conference attended by U.S. President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, on March 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump urged House Republicans to support his American Health Care Act. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Whatever his staff might say, however much the White House finger may be pointed at Speaker Paul Ryan, it is President Donald Trump who is the biggest loser in the Republican failure to bring Obamacare repeal to a vote in the House of Representatives. Trump promised America’s voters that he would rid them of Obamacare. He asserted that only he, as an outsider, had the ability to negotiate a replacement for the health care program. He has failed, at least for now, and his credibility has taken a major jolt.

Beyond the Obamacare defeat, for that is what it is, the president has yet to make good on his new immigration proposals. A single judge in Washington state stopped his first executive order, and two judges, in Hawaii and Maryland stopped his second. The decision not to have a vote on a replacement for Obamacare renders problematic Trump’s ability to bring about tax reform or modernize America’s aging infrastructure, two more of his critical priorities.

The collapse of the Republican effort to reform Obamacare has international ramifications, as well. Though he kept his promise to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trump has yet to offer a substitute of any kind. He has thereby opened the door for China to create an alternative trading bloc that excludes the United States. He has yet to declare China a currency manipulator. He has yet to renegotiate NAFTA, or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. He is unlikely to be moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And he has yet to explain how he will fund a wall with Mexico, for which that country certainly will not contribute as much as a peso.

Clearly, Trump has a credibility problem that goes far beyond his tweets, which foreign leaders have begun to recognize that they can simply ignore. Whereas until now it appeared that America’s NATO partners were being frightened into spending 2 percent of GDP on defense needs, they may no longer have to do so. The Chinese may feel more confident about maintaining, or even building upon, their aggressive posture in the South China Sea. The Israelis may now look for clever ways to circumvent the president’s admonition not to build more settlements, knowing that their support in Congress — where Trump’s influence clearly has taken a blow — will remain as solid as ever. The Russians may surmise that they have little incentive to reach an understanding over Ukraine, Syria, or anywhere else. The Iranians may act on their threat to abandon the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if, as expected Congress passes new sanctions against the Tehran regime. And, most dangerously, the mad Kim Jong Un may conclude that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s threats of military action are baseless, and that he has nothing to fear from an administration that cannot even mobilize its own party in Congress to pass the president’s high-priority legislation.

The House non-vote also has serious ramifications for the administration’s national security budget proposals. The administration’s budget reflected the president’s priorities: it called for a $25 billion increase in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget and a $54 billion increase in the Fiscal Year 2018 national security budget, of which $52 billion was allocated to the Department of Defense, while reducing the budgets of dozens of domestic programs. Congressional opposition to the president’s proposals, emanating from some Republicans as well as Democrats, was mounting even before the Obamacare debacle. In its aftermath, there will be more resistance to the domestic program cuts, which in turn will mean either that the defense budget be reduced, or that the sequester be lifted. The latter prospect has just become more difficult, meaning that the president’s promises to bolster America’s forces also may ring hollow. Should that be the case, it will fuel international cynicism about the president’s ability to deliver on his promises.

Congressional inaction on Obamacare was clearly a defeat for the president, but having only been in office less than 100 days, he certainly has time to recover. There question is whether he, or his advisors, will recognize that blaming the speaker of the House is not the solution, and that the true “art of the deal,” is to tone down the rhetoric and begin to find real ways to find common ground with the Congress, including moderate Democrats, at least insofar as international security is concerned. This will not be an easy transformation for President Trump. Nevertheless, unless he stops reveling in his outsider image, his fate will be that of that other outsider president — Jimmy Carter, whose record in the White House was nothing short of dismal. It is a prospect that the president and his aides surely will wish to avoid at all costs.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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