Sen. Rob Portman on Trump, trade and Obamacare

CINCINNATI -- It was a raucous year in politics, and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio was caught up in the disagreeableness. The 2016 election season presented him with a serious challenge to his re-election, and the nomination of Donald Trump as his party’s candidate for president split Republicans across the country. Portman, for his part, kept his distance from Trump during the campaign and finally disowned him in October.

Then Trump was elected president.

Portman, who was elected to another six-year term, is scheduled to visit Trump Tower on Wednesday. WCPO opinion editor David Holthaus and anchor Craig McKee asked him about his relationship with the president-elect when the senator made a short visit to the newsroom Tuesday. We also asked him about Obamacare, Twitter, trade and the Electoral College. Here are some excerpts:

Q: How do you see yourself working with President-elect Trump given your "unendorsement" of him?

A: I want him to be successful because therefore our country will be successful. I’m hopeful, with a new administration and a new attitude, that we’ll be able to break through some of that gridlock to bring wages up and create economic growth.

Q: One of the first acts of the new Congress and new administration may be on the Affordable Care Act. What should happen with that?

A: The Affordable Care Act is not working. It’s sort of collapsing of its own weight. And so we do need to repeal it, but more importantly we need to replace it and put in place something that will actually give people who are currently getting coverage, either under the exchanges or on Medicaid, a sense of security so they know the rug is not going to be pulled out from under them. 

On the other hand, there are certain things about the Affordable Care Act, most notably the pre-existing condition (laws), that ought to be kept and can be kept.

Q: You co-sponsored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 to deal with the heroin crisis. How will that affect treatment on the ground here?

A: The addiction issue has gripped Ohio worse than other states. It’s horrible. Congress has finally gotten its act together and passed legislation I co-authored. We also are funding for the first time longer-term recovery, not just immediate treatment, because we’re finding that’s much more successful.

In addition to that, we have the ability under the CURES Act, which just passed last week, to get money immediately into Ohio. This is a block grant that is going to go to the states. Ohio is going to be one of the states that will get a disproportionate amount of that because our problem is worse than other states.

Q: Some of the members of the Electoral College are considering not casting their votes for Trump when they vote on Monday. What do you think?

A: I think they have a responsibility to vote according to their state. We’ve got to figure out how to move on now. That involves, by the way, both parties being better at pulling people together. But look, I think the primary system ought to be looked at. I think how we end up nominating our candidates is also a little confusing to people.

Q: Trump certainly doesn’t act like any other president, ranting on Twitter and tweeting about his Saturday Night Live impersonators. Is that presidential?

A: The way he communicates by Twitter and online is the way more and more people are communicating. That’s good in the sense that he’s finding people where they are, but we have to make sure the tone is respectful and it’s all about bringing people together.

Q: He’s not attending daily security briefings. Is that a good idea for American’s security?

A: Well, I think there’s different ways to get briefed up. The people he’s put in place and the career people at the White House will keep him informed. I assume he’ll do more briefings when he’s president, too. He’s not in a position right now to be making the decisions.

Q: The president-elect has been talking tough on trade. Do you support what he’s saying?

A: The problem with putting a tariff on is other countries will put a tariff on our stuff and you end up with a trade war, which will help nobody, except it will raise prices a lot for everything.

Q: Are you being vetted for any Cabinet position?

A: No, I’m not interested, and the feeling’s probably mutual.

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