Try again, Trump tells GOP

If no re­peal, no re­cess, sen­a­tors told

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Er­ica Wer­ner, Alan Fram, Ken Thomas, Cather­ine Lucey, Stephen Oh­lemacher, Richard Lard­ner, An­drew Tay­lor, Matthew Daly and Mary Clare Jalonick of The As­so­ci­ated Press; by Eileen Sul­li­van and Julie Hirschfeld

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sum­moned GOP sen­a­tors to the White House Wednes­day and told them that they must not leave town for their Au­gust re­cess with­out send­ing him an Af­ford­able Care Act re­peal bill to sign. Sen­a­tors re­sponded by vow­ing to re­vive leg­isla­tive ef­forts that were scut­tled twice al­ready this week.

Suc­cess was far from as­sured, but Trump de­clared, “I’m ready to act. I have my pen in hand. I’m sit­ting in that of­fice. I have pen in hand. You’ve never had that be­fore.”

Dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign he had de­clared re­peat­edly it would be “so easy” to get rid of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s 2010 law.

The de­vel­op­ments Wednes­day came just a day af­ter the lat­est GOP health care plan col­lapsed in the Se­nate, lead­ing Trump to say it was time to sim­ply let the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act fail. Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell had in­di­cated he was pre­pared to stick a fork in the Re­pub­li­can bill and move on to other is­sues, in­clud­ing over­haul­ing the tax code.

But in an ap­par­ent change of heart, Trump pres­sured McCon­nell to de­lay the key vote un­til next week, and he in­vited Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors to the White House for lunch.

There, with the cam­eras rolling in the State Din­ing Room, Trump spoke at length as he ca­joled, scolded and is­sued veiled threats to his fel­low Repub­li­cans, all aimed at wring­ing a health care bill out of a di­vided cau­cus that’s been un­able to pro­duce one so far.

“For seven years you promised the Amer­i­can peo­ple that you would re­peal Oba­macare. Peo­ple are hurt­ing. In­ac­tion is not an op­tion, and, frankly, I don’t think we should leave town un­less we have a health in­sur­ance plan,” he said.

Seated next to Sen. Dean Heller of Ne­vada, who is vul­ner­a­ble in next year’s midterm elec­tions, Trump re­marked: “He wants to re­main a se­na­tor, doesn’t he? OK, and I think the peo­ple of your state, which I

know very well, I think they’re go­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate what you hope­fully will do.” Trump also al­luded to the con­ser­va­tives who came out against the re­peal-and-re­place mea­sure Mon­day night, say­ing he had been “sur­prised” be­cause the sen­a­tors were “my friends.”

“My friends — they re­ally were and are,” he said. “They might not be very much longer, but that’s OK.”

It was not clear that the White House lunch would change the cal­cu­lus in the Se­nate, where McCon­nell has failed re­peat­edly to come up with a bill that can sat­isfy both con­ser­va­tives and mod­er­ates in his Re­pub­li­can con­fer­ence. Two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of re­peal-and-re­place leg­is­la­tion fell short of votes be­fore com­ing to the floor, push­ing him to an­nounce Mon­day night that he would re­treat to a re­peal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in of­fice.

But that bill, too, died a pre­ma­ture death as three GOP sen­a­tors an­nounced their op­po­si­tion Tues­day, one more than McCon­nell can lose in the closely di­vided Se­nate. Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing that ap­proach, the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice re­leased an anal­y­sis Wednes­day reaf­firm­ing its ear­lier find­ings that the

re­peal-only bill would mean 32 mil­lion ad­di­tional unin­sured peo­ple over a decade and av­er­age pre­mi­ums dou­bling.

At the White House lunch, the dis­cus­sion was not sim­ply about re­peal­ing the health law but also how to re­place it, as Repub­li­cans said that af­ter seven years of prom­ises, they could not let their ef­forts die with­out one last fight.

“This is more than just a health care de­bate,” Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas said as he left the meet­ing. “It re­ally means, can we come to­gether as a con­fer­ence, can we come to­gether as a Re­pub­li­can Party, can we come to­gether on a sig­na­ture piece of leg­is­la­tion we’ve talked about for seven years?

“If we don’t, I think it’s pretty clear the po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences are star­ing us right in the face,” he added.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion sched­uled a late-night meet­ing at the Capi­tol with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and others for un­de­cided sen­a­tors to air their con­cerns. McCon­nell an­nounced that the Se­nate would vote next week to open de­bate, and “I have ev­ery ex­pec­ta­tion that we will be able to get on the bill” — al­though no one seemed quite sure what bill it will be. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who on Tues­day an­nounced she would vote no on the mo­tion to pro­ceed on the re­peal-only bill, de­murred when asked af­ter Wednes­day’s lunch whether she re­mains “no.”

“We don’t know what the mo­tion to pro­ceed is for all cer­tainty. … I think that there’s go­ing to be a lot more dis­cus­sion be­fore there’s a mo­tion to pro­ceed,” she told re­porters.

Trump’s sud­den re-re­solve to get a health bill passed came af­ter he’s been on all sides of the is­sue in a se­ries of re­marks over re­cent days and weeks, sup­port­ing re­peal and re­place, straight re­peal, and fi­nally do­ing noth­ing so “we’ll just let Oba­macare fail,” as he de­clared Tues­day.

Yet for all the de­ter­mined rhetoric Wednes­day, the ba­sic di­vi­sions haven’t changed in the Se­nate, where con­ser­va­tives such as Rand Paul of Ken­tucky want leg­is­la­tion that fully re­peals the Obama-era law while mod­er­ates such as Su­san Collins of Maine want a more gen­er­ous bill that pro­vides for Amer­i­cans in­clud­ing those who gained Med­i­caid cov­er­age un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. “We don’t have any delu­sions about the fact that this is go­ing to be very hard,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Se­nate Re­pub­li­can. “And we still have mem­bers who are not there yet.”


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump scolds Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tors Wednes­day dur­ing a White House lun­cheon, telling them that “in­ac­tion is not an op­tion” on re­peal­ing the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act.

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