WASHINGTON (KXAN/AP) — Elated congressional Republicans pledged swift action Wednesday on President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda as they heralded an extraordinary new era of unified GOP control in Washington.
“He just earned a mandate,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin declared of Trump. “We are going to hit the ground running.”
Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: “We would like to see the country go in a different direction and intend to work with him to change the course for America.”
Republicans saw their majorities in the House and Senate reduced, but not by much, as Democrats’ hopes of retaking Senate control vanished. And though Ryan and McConnell both had well-publicized reservations about Trump, both were quick to declare that the newly elected president deserved the credit.
“Donald Trump pulled off an amazing political feat. He deserves tremendous credit for that,” said Ryan, who initially refused to endorse Trump and only last month declared he’d no longer defend him. “It helped us keep our majorities, but it also showed the country that people don’t like the direction we were going.”
First up would be repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law, something Republicans have already shown they can get through Congress with just a narrow Senate majority. What they haven’t done is unite around a plan for ensuring that the 20 million who achieved health care coverage under the landmark law don’t lose it.
Non-profits continued signing up people for insurance coverage through Obamacare Wednesday in central Texas.
“I’m actually having surgery a week from today,” said Jill Ventimiglia, owner of Just Jill Beauty & Wellness, a small business. “And I wonder if I waited until next year, if that would even be a possibility.”
Ventimiglia says before the health care law she could not get her own insurance coverage because of a preexisting condition. KXAN also covers the experience of Ventimiglia’s parents a few years ago. After Obamacare passed, their insurance company canceled the plan they liked and they said their offers in the marketplace were more than double the cost.
Still, any changes will likely not be immediate.
“There are subsidies that are already committed for 2017,” said Elizabeth Colvin, program director with the non-profit Foundation Communities. “I think that we will see those issues already committed. I think we will see those issues in 2018, but people have an opportunity to sign up now through Jan. 31.”
Republicans also celebrated the opportunity to fill the existing Supreme Court vacancy, and potentially more to come, with “constitutional conservatives.” McConnell was being widely praised for his strategy, once seen as risky, of refusing to act on Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February.
And Republicans pledged to try to unwind any number of executive moves by Obama, including tougher clean air rules on power plants, looser restrictions on travel to Cuba, and tougher rules on sleep for long-haul truckers, among others — “Every single one that’s sucking the very life out of our economy,” GOP Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said in an interview.
That threatened to wipe away key areas of progress highlighted by Democrats under the Obama administration.
Some of Trump’s goals could be harder to achieve. A wall on the southern border is estimated to cost $10 billion to $20 billion, money that Congress may be unlikely to provide given that cooperation from Democrats would be necessary.
Indeed the Senate Democratic minority stood as the only legislative barrier to Trump’s goals, since 60 votes are required for most consequential moves in the Senate.
Associated Press writers Brian Slodysko in Indianapolis and Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.