Trump, GOP pull health bill
Obama law to continue, Ryan states
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and GOP leaders pulled their bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act off the House floor Friday when it became clear that the bill would fail.
Democrats said Americans can now “breathe a sigh of relief.”
Trump said the current law is imploding “and soon will explode.”
Thwarted by two factions of fellow Republicans, from the center and far right, House Speaker Paul Ryan said former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the GOP’s No. 1 target in the new Trump administration, will remain in place “for the foreseeable future.”
It was a defeat for the new president, who had demanded that House Republicans delay no longer and vote on the legislation Friday, pass or fail.
His gamble failed. Republican lawmakers rejected the ultimatum, making it clear that they answer to their constituents, not to the president.
Trump said Friday at the White House that he “never said repeal and replace it in 64 days,” although he repeatedly claimed during his presidential campaign that Obama’s health care law would go down on Day One of his term. Congressional Republicans have spent the past seven years campaigning to undo the law.
The bill was withdrawn Friday just minutes before
the House vote was to occur, and lawmakers said there were no plans to revisit the issue. Republicans now plan to move ahead on other agenda items, including overhauling the tax code.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Trump deflected responsibility for the setback and blamed Democrats.
“We couldn’t get one Democratic vote, and we were a little bit shy, very little, but it was still a little bit shy, so we pulled it,” he said.
“The beauty,” Trump continued, “is that they own Obamacare. So when it explodes they come to us, and we make one beautiful deal for the people.”
Democrats, sidelined as Republicans quarreled among themselves, quickly disputed Trump’s accusations.
“The blame falls with President Trump and with the Republicans,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
“So much for the art of the deal,” he added.
Trump separately told reporters in the Oval Office, “we learned about loyalty; we learned a lot about the vote-getting process.”
The Affordable Care Act was approved in 2010 with no Republican votes.
Trump had personally lobbied 120 lawmakers, either in person or on the phone, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Friday.
The president had “left everything on the field,” Spicer said.
The White House does not think that the health care bill’s defeat will slow other parts of Trump’s agenda, including overhauls of taxes and immigration policy, Spicer added.
Despite reports of backbiting from administration officials toward Ryan, Trump said: “I like Speaker Ryan. … I think Paul really worked hard.”
For his part, Ryan told reporters at the Capitol: “We came really close today, but we came up short. … This is a disappointing day for us.” He said the president has “really been fantastic.”
But when asked how Republicans could face voters after their failure to make good on years of promises, Ryan quietly said: “It’s a really good question. I wish I had a better answer for you.”
Last fall, Republicans used the issue to gain and keep control of the White House, Senate and House. During the previous years, they had cast dozens of votes to repeal Obama’s law in full or in part, but when they finally got the chance to vote on a repeal version that had a chance to become law, they came up short.
“Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. We’re feeling those growing pains today,” Ryan said.
“This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” he said. “All of us, all of us — myself included — will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment.”
Ryan was not able to sway the House Freedom Caucus, the group of conservatives that ousted the previous speaker. Those Republicans wanted the bill to go much further, while some GOP moderates felt that the bill went too far.
Instead of picking up support for the bill as Friday wore on, the tide turned the opposition direction, with several key lawmakers voicing their opposition to it.
Democrats could hardly contain their satisfaction.
“Today is a great day for our country, what happened on the floor is a victory for the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who as speaker had helped Obama pass the Affordable Care Act. “Let’s just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief for the American people.”
Republicans had not built a constituency for the legislation, and the nearly uniform opposition from hospitals, doctors, nurses, the AARP, consumer groups and others weighed heavily with lawmakers. And conservative groups — including the Koch brothers, Charles and David — argued that the legislation did not go far enough in uprooting the Affordable Care Act.
LATE APPEALS FAIL
The pressure to pass the bill had been relentless. Vice President Mike Pence and Health Secretary Tom Price rushed to Capitol Hill to make last-minute appeals to House conservatives, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
In private, Trump demanded for much of Thursday that Ryan push a vote to publicly expose the members who were opposing the administration.
Trump and his top strategist, Stephen Bannon, wanted to see a confidential list compiled to exact revenge on the bill’s Republican opponents, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The critical moment — when the parties decided to withdraw the doomed measure — came during a 3 p.m. phone call with Ryan and the president, who was in the Oval Office. Ryan told Trump that the scorched-earth strategy was misguided and self-destructive.
Ryan, according to staff members, agreed that members of the Freedom Caucus were not negotiating in good faith, but he said punishing them would also harm lawmakers who were simply trying
to protect themselves from potential conservative primary challenges next year.
The speaker sealed the deal by telling Trump that a public vote would turn a bad defeat into a spectacular loss that could alienate conservatives whom he would need for upcoming votes to raise the debt ceiling, pass a budget and enact a rewrite of the tax code.
Trump, aides said, was annoyed, but agreed.
“You can’t pretend and say this is a win for us,” said Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who conceded that it was a “good moment” for Democrats.
“Probably that champagne that wasn’t popped back in November may be utilized this evening,” he said.
Friday at 3:30 p.m., Ryan called Republicans into a private meeting to deliver the news that the bill would be pulled, with no plans to try again. The meeting lasted five minutes. He was greeted by a standing ovation in recognition of the support he still has from many lawmakers.
When the gathering broke up, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee that helped write the bill, told reporters: “We gave it our best shot. That’s it. It’s done. D-ON-E done. This bill is dead.”
“We’re done with health care this year,” said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas.
Asked what would happen to the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said, “It’s the law of the land.”
“We came really close today, but we came up short,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said after pulling the Republican health care overhaul bill off the House floor.
President Donald Trump, flanked by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (left) and Vice President Mike Pence, speaks Friday in the Oval Office about the health care bill.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, with Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., behind her, said Friday that “Today is a great day for our country, what happened on the floor is a victory for the American people.”