Let’s get some caveats out of the way:
- The fact that 49 Republican senators supported the “skinny repeal” health care bill—which was written in private, released just hours before it was voted on, denounced as “toxic” by the American Medical Association, and described as “horrible” and “a disaster” by one of the people who voted for it—is an abominable act of tribal loyalty to Donald Trump’s petulant insistence that Obamacare be dismantled simply because it involves the name “Obama.”
- Donald Trump’s approval rating is still holding steady at about 39 percent. That’s not good, but it means a big majority of Republican voters still support him.
Democrats and other critics who complain that Republicans are treating Trump with too much deference are not exactly wrong. Nevertheless, as the New York Times’ David Leonhardt and the Washington Post’s 202 newsletter have observed this week, Trump’s standing within his own party is actually pretty weak by the standards of a typical president in his sixth month in office. To wit:
- He hasn’t passed any major legislation yet despite his party holding majorities in both chambers of Congress. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, and Arizona Sen. John McCain refused to vote for the Trump-backed “skinny repeal” plan despite public and private pressure from the administration—and despite the bill being referred to as “skinny” precisely because it was a (relatively) limited measure designed for the most part just to provide a “win” for the president.
- A number of Republican senators have complained about Trump’s treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and—more meaningfully—Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has said that he would not hold hearings on a hypothetical replacement for Sessions until next year.
- The House and Senate have both passed sanctions against Russia that, to paraphrase Slate’s Joshua Keating, limit Trump’s foreign-policy authority in part by making executive orders issued by Barack Obama into law. The sanctions bill passed both chambers by nearly unanimous margins.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Grassley, respectively, are both conducting what appear to be serious investigations into Russia-related issues.
Obama and George W. Bush didn’t have perfect records of success through six months in office. But they also hadn’t seen their major legislative initiatives killed by their own party, and they weren’t the subject of committee investigations led by their ostensible allies. With the defeat of “skinny repeal” bringing Trump’s relative weakness into focus, let’s raise this meter!