With the passage of the American Health Care Act in grave doubt after the House of Representatives blew past their hoped-for Thursday night deadline, President Donald Trump has abruptly decided he is “done negotiating over repealing and replacing Obamacare” and is demanding a Friday vote on the bill even though it may not garner enough votes to pass.
According to Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Trump is “prepared to leave Obamacare in place.”
It’s a sudden and shocking move for a president who billed himself as a dealmaker par excellence. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was one of Trump’s “on day one” promises, and something he’s long sold as a vital first step on the way to other promises. This was so important to Trump that at one point he promised to call for a “special session” of Congress, just for the purpose of getting it done as rapidly as possible.
Now, the Trump White House has evidently decided to spin the possible failure of the AHCA as a success:
So, if the bill goes down in defeat, it’s a “100%” win. And if it passes, well, Trump will obviously take credit. Apparently the real “art of the deal” is finding a way to have it both ways.
But reports indicate that behind closed doors, Trump is frustrated everything hasn’t gone according to plan. The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman say Trump spent Wednesday “grappling with rare bouts of self-doubt” and blaming House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for the entire mess. Per Thrush and Haberman:
Mr. Trump has told four people close to him that he regrets going along with Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plan to push a health care overhaul before unveiling a tax cut proposal more politically palatable to Republicans.
He said ruefully this week that he should have done tax reform first when it became clear that the quick-hit health care victory he had hoped for was not going to materialize on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the act’s passage, when the legislation was scheduled for a vote.
This is very strange to hear. Trump, along with senior White House officials, have been acclaiming the virtues of Ryan’s bill for quite some time. His March 10 weekly address was dedicated to praising the bill. In it, he described Ryan’s plan as part of his “three-pronged process” to reform health care ― one in which the legislature would act in concert with Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to “expand choice, lower costs, and provide health care access for all.” For his part, Price has been making the rounds, flacking for the House’s billall over television. And as recently as two weeks ago, Trump was threatening to support the primary challengers of any Republican who refused to give the American Health Care Act their vote.
Additionally, Trump is now making out-of-left-field complaints about the legislative process:
There’s a reason these steps had to be taken in this precise order, and Republicans ― including Trump ― have long been articulating and defending the rationale. Repealing the Obamacare taxes is a critical step in getting to the tax reform deal that Trump wants, as well as the massive tax cut for the wealthy that he and Ryan would like to enact.
The White House hasn’t been kept in the dark on this. As Jonathan Chait points out, Trump has ― up until now, anyway ― been fully onboard with this strategy and has taken up the cause personally. As he told Tucker Carlson in a recent interview:
“One of the reasons I want to get the health care taken care of — and it has to come statutorily and for other reasons, various complex reasons, having to do with politics, and also Congress — it has to come first. It really has to come first. One of the reasons I want to get it finished, ideally soon, is because I want to start on the taxes.”
And at recent rallies, Trump has told his devotees, “I want to get to taxes, I want to cut the hell out of taxes ... but before I can do that ― I would have loved to have put it first, I’ll be honest ― there is one more very important thing that we have to do: We are going to repeal and replace the horrible, disastrous Obamacare.”
This health care bill, and this specific legislative strategy, is entirely co-owned and co-operated by Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. Trump’s specific job was to cajole legislators to back the plan. And while this was never going to be the easiest of tasks, as recently as Thursday afternoon, it looked like a deal of some kind could be wrought. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, was effusive in his optimism and fervent in his praise for the president, telling reporters that “progress is being made” and that Trump’s “engagement is unparalleled, I believe, in the history of our country.”
“This is a president that wants to get things done,” Meadows said on Wednesday afternoon. A few hours later, Trump would prove him wrong.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.