Not dead yet
Trump exhorts Senate to pass Obamacare repeal
Lecturing fellow Republicans, President Donald Trump summoned GOP senators to the White House Wednesday and told them face-to-face they must not leave town for their August recess without sending him an “Obamacare” repeal bill to sign.
“I’m ready to act,” Trump said, putting the responsibility on Republican senators, not himself. During last year’s presidential campaign he had declared repeatedly it would be “so easy” to get rid of the Obama law.
Trump’s comments Wednesday came just a day after the latest GOP health care plan collapsed in the Senate, leading Trump himself to say it was time to simply let President Barack Obama’s health care law 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, in keeping with his erratic engagement on the issue, 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 Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who is vulnerable in next year’s midterm elections, Trump remarked: “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” as Heller gave a strained grin.
Still, it seems improbable that the White House lunch will 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 party. Two different versions of repeal-and-replace legislation fell short of votes before coming to the floor, pushing McConnell to announce Monday night that he would retreat to a repeal-only bill that had passed Congress when Obama was in office.
Emerging from the White House lunch, McConnell told reporters that the Senate would vote next week to move ahead on the straight-up repeal, and “I have every expectation that we will be able to get on the bill.”
That remains to be seen. Almost as soon as that plan was unveiled it too was all but killed off as three GOP senators, one more than McConnell can afford to lose in the narrowly divided Senate, announced opposition.
Complicating matters further, in his comments at the White House lunch Trump was back to supporting repeal and replace legislation, not just repeal.
“We have no choice, we have to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Trump said. “We can repeal it but the best is repeal and replace.”
Notwithstanding the mixed messages, what was clear Wednesday was that after promising for seven years to repeal and replace “Obamacare” — and using the issue to obtain majorities in Congress and the White House — many Republican senators are reluctant to abandon the effort, even as some acknowledge it would take a dramatic intervention to change the outcome.
“Know anybody who can work miracles?” said GOP Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas ahead of the White House lunch.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday.