Trump to Republicans: Sorry, but You’re Gonna Have to Campaign on Obamacare Repeal

A top ally to President Trump said on Tuesday that Capitol Hill should expect a fresh health-care plan from the White House soon, just a day after the president himself conceded that no real movement on the issue will happen until after the 2020 election.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) told The Daily Beast he believes the Trump administration “will have the framework for a comprehensive health-care initiative within months.”

“I can tell you he is working, and his administration are working, as if we will bring it up legislatively this year, but pragmatically understand that a future Congress actually deals with it,” said Meadows.

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The prediction from Meadows foreshadowed the president’s latest position, which he reportedly made clear on Tuesday night. Appearing at a fundraiser for House Republicans, Trump said he would come up with a health-care plan to run on in 2020 and then put to a vote at the dawn of his second term, should the GOP win control of both houses of Congress.

That pledge, and Meadows’ apparent support of it, adds another layer of confusion to a chaotic stretch in which Trump has embraced, backed away from, and embraced again the idea of once more trying to repeal and replace Obamacare.

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Last week, the Trump administration endorsed a court ruling that would, if upheld, strike down the entirety of Obamacare, throwing the future of the law into greater legal uncertainty. At a Senate Republican lunch, Trump urged lawmakers to take another stab at ambitious health-care legislation and publicly tasked three GOP senators the assignment of crafting a “beautiful” new bill.

Days later, Trump had relented in response to behind-the-scenes pressure from Republicans who noted that they do not control the House currently, could not repeal and replace the law when they did, and got clobbered during the 2018 midterms for trying. By Monday evening, the president’s sunny declaration that repeal was moving forward in Congress was replaced with tweets saying that his party was developing a “really great HealthCare Plan”—and that a vote on it would be taken after the election.

In seemingly punting on a health-care battle till after the 2020 elections, Trump relieved most Republicans on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed that he told the president that the Senate would not be taking up repeal-and-replace legislation this session.

Asked if there was any daylight between him and Trump on health care, a grinning McConnell simply told reporters, “not anymore.”

As McConnell framed the president’s health-care fit as water under the bridge, members of his conference criticized the party for passing on a chance to go after a law they loathe and have campaigned against for nearly a decade.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told a Fox News reporter that some of his colleagues need to see if Amazon is “selling spines at a special discount this week.”

“The only reason I’ve heard not to tackle health care is politics,” Kennedy told The Daily Beast, “and that’s not a good enough reason.”

Other close allies of the president were content to leave responsibility for crafting a health-care plan with Trump, all while not offending him by seeming eager to move on to other topics.

“The president is going to develop something he feels comfortable with, and hopefully most of us can rally around it,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Graham, who speaks regularly with Trump, is up for reelection in 2020. He suggested that a Trump health-care proposal could be useful for Republicans on the campaign trail by giving the party a proposal to compete with Democrats’ increasingly ambitious plans to expand Medicare and Medicaid.

“There’s not the votes to get a bill passed,” Graham said, “but I think we need to show the public why Medicare for All is a bad idea and why Obamacare is failing.” He did not offer specifics on what such a plan would look like, but did say it might look like the repeal bill he co-authored with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) that nearly passed the Senate in 2017.

Those tasked with re-electing the president, meanwhile, couldn’t help but exhale as he appeared to take his foot off the gas.

“My sense is healthcare is a complicated issue as we have found out in the past. There is no bill that Republicans or Democrats have that can be pushed through right away,” said Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican strategist who heads the pro-Trump Great America PAC. “The votes aren’t there. The Democrats control the process [in the House and]…they’re obviously not going to do anything except like Medicare for All.”

Rollins added it “would be very foolish” for Trump and Republican lawmakers to dive back into a healthcare debate that has in recent years proved so politically and electorally toxic to the GOP.

“Don’t waste the effort at this point in time,” he said.

Republican strategists beyond Rollins have increasingly warned that health care reform has become a political quagmire for the party. But for Trump, it remains a lingering, bothersome box unchecked. The first year of the Trump presidency was largely defined by the shambolic, wide-ranging failures of the administration and the GOP to follow through on their long-held promise to finally kill the Affordable Care Act. And it’s one that still causes fits of stress for those who were in the White House as it unfolded.

“The first attempt at healthcare was a debacle,” Cliff Sims, a former White House official and ex-friend of Trump’s, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.

“The President had heard all of these congressmen go on and on about ‘repeal and replace’ for so long that he assumed they’d be able to just get it done. As is so often the case with Congress, they couldn’t. That led to a different approach on tax reform,” he continued. “We were all joined at the hip with our Hill counterparts. And even with total Republican control, that was still a herculean task. With a divided Congress [today], it’s hard to imagine anything nearly as significant as healthcare reform getting done, especially since neither party has any motivation to work with the other going into what promises to be another polarizing election cycle.”

From The Daily Beast