Gov. Bryant continues support for Trump

Published 10:54 am Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mississippi’s governor, after serving as a campaign surrogate for Donald Trump, continues to provide high profile support for the new president.

Republican Phil Bryant is voicing support for plans to overhaul federal health care funding and to restrict immigration, and has touted his connections to the new leadership.

Last week, for example, Bryant recounted his most recent visit to the White House to radio host Paul Gallo, saying he met with Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

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“It was a rare opportunity for the governor of Mississippi to be able to talk one-on-one with the president of the United States,” Bryant said, saying it was the first time he’d been in the Oval Office since George W. Bush was president.

Though some Republican governors have voiced concerns over possible changes to Medicaid and other funding, Bryant said he felt vindicated in his strong opposition to expanding Medicaid to cover more Mississippians.

“Those of us that are in the non-expansion states, the 19 states that realized that this day was going to come,” Bryant said. “If you expanded Medicaid, you were going to have to assume that at some point the federal funding portion.”

Bryant initially voiced concerns — in line with some of Congress’ most conservative members — that the bill didn’t go far enough to repeal benefits. But after saying Republican voters didn’t want “Obamacare Lite,” he swung behind the measure, saying he looked forward to a system of Medicaid block grants and state flexibility that could allow Mississippi to constrain health care spending.

For example, Bryant said he wants to impose work requirements or copays on Medicaid recipients.

“We want you to have some little individual responsibility for your health care,” he said. “We think that’s the only program that’s ever been successful.”

It’s not just on health care that Bryant has been a strong defender of Trump. He also appeared on Fox News on March 6 to back Trump’s plan to restrict immigration and actions by state lawmakers to make it easier to root out people in the country illegally.

Bryant focused on what he saw as the harms of illegal immigration earlier in his career, and said during the March 6 interview that he wants to comb state and local jails for people without legal status.

“If they have committed those crimes, we want them to pay their responsibility, their duty to serve their sentence in the state of Mississippi and have them deported,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s Facebook page has also been peppered with pictures of him meeting Cabinet secretaries including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He’s been active in signing letters with Republicans from other states asking new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to scrap plans to collect methane-emission data from the oil and gas industry and to do more to share environmental regulatory authority with the states.

It remains unclear, though, what Bryant will do if the Trump administration pushes proposals that would hurt Mississippi, and whether he will have the influence to stop them. For example, Trump’s budget proposes scrapping plans to build another ship for the U.S. Coast Guard at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula. At a christening for a Coast Guard cutter earlier this month, Bryant said it was too early to speculate about what would happen, and tried to put the responsibility for the proposal on Mulvaney and not Trump.

Jeff Amy has covered politics and government for The Associated Press in Mississippi since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jeffamy.