The Signal this week is that pigs just might be able to fly.
In a little-noticed move, the US Chamber of Commerce, one of the Republican Party’s most reliable allies, has announced that it is preparing to sue the Trump administration over its anti-immigration executive orders and regulatory changes. This marks an extraordinary moment. The lobbying group has long regarded the GOP as the party of low taxes, deregulation, and anti-unionism, but also of free trade, internationalism, and a relatively open immigration system. The Chamber’s nearly unstinting support has been a huge boon to Republicans in recent decades.
Now US business interests are beside themselves with anger at the Trump administration’s recent efforts to shred the H-1B visa program, ongoing attempts to end Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA), and the ham-handed (albeit short-lived) decision to deny visas to international students whose colleges had moved to all-online classes during the pandemic. Chamber CEO Thomas Donohue even penned a furious op-ed for The New York Times, arguing that these actions “clearly exceed the authority of the executive branch, as they take a sledgehammer to the immigration laws that Congress crafted over many generations.”
Donahue writes that it is economically counterproductive to lock out skilled workers and kick out international students. In reference to the administration’s continued threats to end DACA despite the recent Supreme Court ruling that it had not provided a good reason to do so, Donohue states, “If you want children to grow up to reach their potential and live their American dream, you give them the tools and certainty to succeed; you don’t kick them out of the only country they’ve ever known.”
The Chamber’s eruption of rage at Trump’s nativism got shouted down by all the crass Noise this past week, including Trump’s threat to send tens of thousands of federal officers into cities around the country and the epithets that Ted Yoho lobbed at fellow representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (AOC held her own, publicly shaming Yoho with a powerful speech delivered from the floor of the chamber.)
But make no mistake: Even if it didn’t command the headlines last week, the Trump–Chamber of Commerce rift is a big, big deal. If the group breaks with Trump and sours on the Republican project more generally—and if the businesses it represents start to distance themselves from a Trumpified GOP—that could signal a major realignment, barely three months before the election.
Also in the pigs-can-fly category: Trump has spent much of his time in the White House trying to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act and cozying up to Big Pharma and the worst for-profit elements of the health care system. Last week, however, the Trump administration announced four executive orders seeking to rein in drug costs. One of these orders would allow patients to import lower-cost drugs from Canada. Another would seek to drive down drug prices in the United States by limiting Big Pharma’s ability to charge Medicare and other bulk purchasers more than it would charge in other countries.
But there’s always a catch with Trump: He said Friday that he’ll sign that last order only if drug companies don’t come up with their own ideas to lower prices by August 24. There are lots of exemptions and time delays built into the other orders as well, and the immediate impact on drug prices appears limited—certainly in comparison to genuine drug-pricing bills such as HR3, otherwise known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. That act was authored by Democrats and passed last year by the House of Representatives, and it actually came with genuine regulatory teeth attached. That is likely why the White House bitterly opposed it, arguing that the bill would force companies to accept lower prices for new drugs and would result in less innovation and deleterious health consequences for consumers.
It’s still significant, though, that the administration saw the need to at least pay lip service to reining in Big Pharma. Trump wants the upcoming election to be all about immigration, law and order, and race politics—but his team clearly understands that for many Americans, it will be about health care.
Don’t fall for Trump’s newfound concern about the health care options available to Americans. Whatever good Trump could possibly do with these orders would be more than undone by his efforts to have the Supreme Court overturn the ACA; by his administration’s religious exemption for companies that don’t want their employees’ insurance to cover contraceptives; and by the passage of a “public charge” rule that could exclude millions of Americans from Medicaid and other health-related parts of the safety net.
Trump has neither the inclination nor the stamina to fundamentally improve the health care system in this country. He has no stomach for a legislative fight, and no understanding of the complexities of America’s multitrillion-dollar health care industries. Instead, he signs a few half-hearted executive orders and, in essence, says, “Job done.”