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Week In Politics: Price Resigns, Puerto Rico, Tax Overhaul


Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, has fallen on his prescription pen - let me put it that way - resigned just before he was probably going to be fired after reports his department chartered private jets for the secretary. At the same time, the Trump administration is assailed for failing to come to the aid of Puerto Rico. Congress failed again to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and now the party's trying to overhaul the tax code. A lot to talk about with Mary Kate Cary who was a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She's now a senior fellow for presidential studies at the University of Virginia. Mary Kate, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

MARY KATE CARY: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And I'm afraid we have to begin with not just Puerto Rico but President Trump's tweet storm. The mayor of Puerto Rico, of course, has said this bluntly, people are dying. The president said just this morning, quote, he tweeted, the mayor of San Juan has displayed, quote, "such poor leadership ability."

Is this the time for that kind of observation?

CARY: Well, I've said for a long time that I think the president needs an assistant to the president for Twitter control. And once again, we have an example of why you would want that. In this case though, I have to say, when I first read the tweet, you know, you're just shocked. I was shocked at the the mayor's speech last night begging for help and saying that people were dying. That was heartbreaking to hear. But this feels to me like it fits in a theme that he has had for a while starting with his inaugural, which is to side on the side of the forgotten people. In this case, he names the military, the first responders and the aid workers.

SIMON: Yeah. But nobody feels more forgotten than the people of Puerto Rico.

CARY: And - yeah. I was gonna say, and the people of Puerto Rico - versus what he sees as the elite, which would be the mayor and questioning the mayor's poor leadership ability - can't get workers to help, was told to be nasty to Donald Trump is in the tweet also. And this fits with his M.O. of going against the elites. And this fits with the rest of the news this week as well. I'm not surprised.

SIMON: Is the Trump administration failing Puerto Rico now?

CARY: Every president in his or - his - well, I should say his or her. Every president in their first year has an unexpected crisis, whether it's national security, a natural disaster, domestic unrest. This is certainly shaping up to be Donald Trump's unexpected crisis. And I think he realizes that. And the stakes are getting higher, and I think that's why he's lashing out more because I think he realizes what's going on.

SIMON: It's moved to the capital. As we said Secretary Price has resigned, but at least three more Cabinet members face similar accusations about charter jets. Whatever happened to them, can the Trump administration say they'll drain the swamp when they seem to be flying over it in private jets?

CARY: You, know, this reminds me of that line from "The Godfather" about Mr. Corleone likes his bad news early. Donald Trump is not like bad news. And this was starting to spread to other cabinet members, obviously. And I think the we'll-see when he was asked whether Trump - I mean, whether Price should resign was his way of signaling, yes. And sure enough, Tom Price offered his resignation. And unlike the Session's case, the president accepted it because I think he sees this for the irony that it is of his own cabinet doing what he campaigned exactly against.

SIMON: Is the Republican Party offering much of a profile of leadership at the moment? - can't get Repeal and Replace passed, the tax code seems - proposal seems fuzzy, federal response seems to certainly be slow if not negligent in Puerto Rico. We could go on.

CARY: It's a very big challenge right now because they're trying to harness the energy of the base and turn it into a legislative agenda. And that is proving almost impossible. There is no Populist wing of the Republican Party in the House or Senate. There is across the country but not in the House and Senate. And that to me is where the big disconnect is happening. And it is extremely frustrating for Republicans, like the rest of us out here, to watch the lack of inability to harness that energy into a legislative agenda.

SIMON: Do you think the tax reform proposal is going to go nowhere?

CARY: No. I think, if anything, the chances of it passing are even higher now because they all realize it's almost October, and they've got nothing to show for this year. So I think you'll see faster action now as a result on Puerto Rico and tax reform.

SIMON: Yeah. But will it help middle-class taxpayers?

CARY: I think a growing economy will solve a lot of problems in this country. And tax reform would certainly start the economic engine moving very quickly. You saw it this week with the stock market. I think tremendous good can come from that. It'd solve a lot of problems.

SIMON: When the president says he's getting praise in Puerto Rico for what his administration's doing and we see and we speak with people without food, water, power or medicine, does he look either incompetent or just profoundly out of touch?

CARY: When he was saying he got praise - I noticed at the beginning, there was praise from the mayor and the governor saying that they were all working together and things were good. But then the optics, as you're saying, did not match that. So at first, there was some praise. But that seems to have stopped as of, you know, last night and this morning. So that's - it makes him look a little more in tune now because it's - he knows the tide's turning.

SIMON: Mary Kate Cary, thanks so much for being with us.

CARY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.