Hoping to avoid a humiliating political defeat, President Trump on Wednesday demanded that Republican senators resume their efforts to approve a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, insisting that lawmakers are “very close.”
A day after the GOP strategy to roll back the ACA appeared dead, Trump invited Republican senators to lunch at the White House and challenged them to work out an agreement even if it means remaining in Washington through their summer recess next month. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had previously announced that the recess would be delayed by two weeks.
“People should not leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we give our people great health care,” Trump said at the beginning of the lunch. “We’re close, very close. . . . We have to hammer this out and get it done.”
The president’s effort to resurrect negotiations came a day after he declared that it was time to give up on the contentious process to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement and “let Obamacare fail.”
With Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a key vote who has wavered on the GOP’s repeal proposal, sitting to his right, Trump touted what he said were benefits of the plan — including the repeal of the individual mandate, expanded coverage options and getting rid of “burdensome taxes.”
The president appeared to issue a veiled threat that he would campaign against Republicans who stood in his way.
“He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said with a laugh of Heller, who also chuckled. “I think the people of your state appreciate what you’re going to do.”
Trump added: “Any senator voting against starting debate is telling the American people you’re fine with Obamacare.” But the current health-care law, approved in 2010, has “failed,” Trump declared. “It’s gone.”
The effort by Senate Republicans to undo Obamacare has been fraught with internal divisions and apparent discord between the White House and GOP leaders. With little room for error, McConnell abruptly switched course Monday after several Republicans announced they would block efforts to vote on a replacement bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would leave up to 22 million more Americans without health insurance.
Instead, McConnell announced plans to vote early next week on a straight repeal of the law with a two-year delay that would give Congress more time to work out a replacement plan. But that strategy was short-lived as at least three GOP members said they would oppose that course of action, enough to block it.
Trump, who had invited Republican leaders to a health-care strategy dinner Monday night, was apparently blindsided by the opposition from some conservative members, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Trump, as he has done numerous times in recent weeks, reminded the lawmakers that Republicans had campaigned against the ACA for years and their supporters are counting on them to make good on their promises.
“I’m ready to act,” Trump said. “I have my pen in hand. I’m sitting in that office. I have pen in hand. You’ve never had that before. For seven years, you’ve had the easy route — we repeal, we replace, but he (Obama) never signs it. I’m signing it. So it’s a little different.”