Politics

Trump Sees Power in Twitter — but Not to Sell Health Care Bill

Since House bill passage, under 10 percent of president’s tweets about health care

As Senate Republicans have struggled to put together their health care legislation, some in the GOP have hoped the president would provide some air coverage through his social media accounts. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump unleashed a Twitter barrage in recent days, reflective of a larger trend that is rankling some Republicans: He has fired off notably more tweets about Russia than ones intended to help sell a Senate Republican health care bill.

Trump is quick to defend his Twitter habit as his best tool to directly reach the American people. Yet, since Senate Republicans grabbed the health care baton in early May, the president has devoted less than 10 percent of his tweets to the measure that is unpopular with the public.

That is unnerving some Republicans. They want Trump to be a more active salesman, including with his 140-character tweets that often send ripples across social media.

Several senior Republican aides and former Hill staffers say they — and others in GOP circles — are increasingly bewildered and frustrated that the president has not done more to explain what they see as the merits of a Senate leadership-crafted bill that would repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

[How Bad Political Manners Fomented the Health Care Mess]

The statistics explain their frustration: Since May 5, the day after the House passed its version of a health care overhaul, Trump has tweeted 520 times as of 4 p.m. EDT on Monday. But only around 50 tweets were focused on health care — compared to nearly 70 about Russia or the FBI director he fired, James B. Comey.

(Roll Call examined tweets between May 5 and 4 p.m. EDT on Monday from the president’s personal Twitter account, not the official @POTUS account. Retweets were not counted.)

After hosting a Rose Garden celebration for House Republicans on May 4 shortly after the House passed its bill, Trump ended his day by tweeting that the vote marked a “GREAT day for the United States of America!” and hailing the House bill as “a great plan.”

The president got his hands dirty both times the House tried to pass its health care bill. Coupled with his Rose Garden celebration, all indications pointed to him being similarly active — both publicly and behind the scenes — as the Senate theoretically reworked the House legislation. But that has just not happened, and the president’s personal Twitter account tells the story well.

Skimming the surface

When Trump has fired off a post about health care policy since Senate Republicans took up the issue in earnest, he has skimmed the surface. He has stressed the importance of ensuring multiple insurance providers are offering plans, called for lower premiums and deductibles, and — breaking with his own party — urged lawmakers to add funding to the Senate bill to “make it the best anywhere.”

Mostly, he has slammed congressional Democrats for refusing to work with him and Republicans to nix the 2010 health care law and craft a new plan. He also has fired off plenty of posts blasting Obama’s law, often declaring it “dead,” as he did the day after the House bill passed.

Obama, like other presidents eager to garner public support for a domestic legislative priority to pressure lawmakers to vote yes, hit the road to deliver his sales pitch for the 2010 law. Trump has yet to hold a health care-specific rally. Nor has the 45th president delivered a prime-time address or held an evening news conference designed to convince Americans of the merits of the Senate Republicans’ approach, as Obama did on health care.

During the same span, Trump has tweeted nearly 20 more times about matters related to Russia and Comey as a scandal involving a federal probe of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Moscow hangs over his presidency.

[Kushner to Tell Senators ‘I Did Not Collude’ With Russians]

Even if the Comey tweets are removed from Roll Call’s count, Trump still has tweeted nearly a dozen more times about Russia alone than health care or the Senate Republican bill.

Unhappy lawmakers

Republicans on Capitol Hill have noticed. And some are not pleased.

“The president does not seem interested in selling this legislation to his supporters,” said one senior GOP House aide.

The president recently hit back at critics who have complained about his often-incendiary tweets, explaining that he sees taking his thoughts, criticisms and message directly to the people as “modern-day presidential.”

But his allies on the Hill have been irked by the nearly 400 non-health care tweets as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and his top lieutenants wrote their bill and now as they continue trying to find 50 “yes” votes.

Trump’s disinterest in using what he sees as perhaps his most effective communications tool “both confuses and frustrates many House Republicans,” the senior GOP aide said.

Even some senators who have met privately with Trump and have seemed, at times, to warm to him are frustrated by his lack of salesmanship.

[Amid Trump’s Shifting Health Care Stances, a Recurring Infatuation]

“This was an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ and your job was to construct a health care system,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said last week.

William Hoagland, who was a senior aide in the office of former Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, said that if the president “insists on tweeting, he could at least learn how to link tweets to substantive material such as draft legislation, bill summaries, or dare I say – [Congressional Budget Office/Joint Tax Committee] cost estimates.”

 

“In the process, maybe he would at least read the substantive material in the process of tweeting,” said Hoagland, now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center. More substantive health care tweets or a prime-time press conference “would require the president to study, examine, and be fully briefed on the subject matter — not my impression he has been willing to take the time on this complicated subject matter,” he added.

 

Not every Republican, however, is frustrated with the president. A spokesman for McConnell called the president “helpful and collaborative.” The spokesman also provided a list of recent statements from McConnell praising Trump for trying to help get more support for the legislation.

 

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

 

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