Trump challenges senators to resurrect Obamacare repeal effort: ‘We’re close’ – Washington Post
By David Nakamura,
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. “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 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.”
Yet Trump’s remarks were sharply at odds with the comments from Senate GOP leaders over the past day who have said the reality is that there is not enough support for a replacement plan.
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 the plans to vote early next week on a straight repeal of the law with a two-year delay. But that strategy appeared doomed as at least three GOP members said they would oppose that course of action, enough to block it. A repeal of the ACA without a replacement plan would leave even more people uninsured, according to the CBO.
McConnell told reporters after the lunch that he still intends to hold the vote next week on a repeal plan, but other key senators suggested they would need an acceptable replacement before agreeing to move forward.
“I’m glad @POTUS agrees that we cannot move to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses the needs of West Virginians,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told reporters upon returning to the Capitol, “I don’t think there are 40 votes” for a repeal-only bill.”
Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, told reporters after the lunch that there was “general enthusiasm” among senators “that this is not something that we can walk away from . . .We are confident that we will get this bill passed.”
Short added there would be a briefing for wavering Republican senators on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening.
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.”
Ed O’Keefe and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.
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