@realDonaldTrump, February 2016
YOU KNOW it’s been a bad day at House Trump when the proprietor in chief won’t even tweet about the biggest accomplishment of the day. The one that was intended to be held high as a shining example of presumptive president Donald Trump’s ability to lead a newly-unified Republican government. But there was silence about that biggest accomplishment from TeamTrumpTweet ... which makes a kind of sense: When the biggest accomplishment didn’t come off as planned, well, who wants to own up to that?
On the day after the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s bedrock-legacy domestic achievement, Trump caved on even bringing the ACA’s long-awaited replacement to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote.
On Friday, in an act of political euthanasia — one that everyday people can understand better than the politicians — the American Health Care Act was withdrawn shortly before an almost-certain losing vote in the House, despite the late-night pleading of Trump administration officials with Republican conservatives who refused to sign on. The bill shorthanded AHCA was quickly and mercifully taken off the respirator by its loved ones, rather than be allowed to die over time, vote by vote, on live television.
“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said on Friday afternoon. “They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do … I think what will happen is Obamacare, unfortunately, will explode. It’s going to have a bad year.”
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YOU COULD see this coming from a distance. The AHCA never had the populist loft needed to take off. It was rushed, hurried. Obamacare took about a year to gain ground in Congress and gain favor with the public. Trump’s legislation — principally the work of House Speaker Paul Ryan — took less than two months. It didn’t pass the smell test with anyone.
Influential conservative entities from the Heritage Foundation to the Club for Growth hammered Trump’s AHCA mercilessly in the week before the vote. “In many ways, the House Republican proposal released last night not only accepts the flawed progressive premises of Obamacare but expands on them,” Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham said to The Daily Beast on March 14. Others piled on with no fear of retribution.
It was going south for House Trump. We knew it Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said “we are very, very pleased with the direction this is going.” With a straight face. We knew it when Ryan postponed a planned Thursday vote, pushing it back later in the day and finally cancelling it.
We knew it late Wednesday, when the president-apparent, a big fan of brinkmanship, said he wanted Congress to get behind the AHCA or he would abandon the repeal-and-replace effort altogether.
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The arm-twisting and gnashing of teeth continued into the night but by Friday morning, not enough had changed. Trump, sensing an all-in, guts-ball moment in the making, dramatically called for a floor vote on Friday. No dice. It wasn’t cooler heads that prevailed, it was mathematics.
The Democrats were a solid bloc against the AHCA. Any more than 22 House Republicans voting against the Trump measure was a kiss of death, and there were a lot more No votes than that. The White House knew it; Trump, consulting with Ryan, the author of this nightmare, opted to, uh, pull the plug.
“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with that decision,” Ryan said at a press conference. “This is a setback—no two ways about it. "We're going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
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HOUSE MINORITY Leader Nancy Pelosi pulled no punches when the deal went down, with a timeless quote: “Rookie error, Donald Trump, for bringing this up on a day that it is clearly not ready,” the California Democrat said. “You do not bring up your bill just to be spiteful on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. You build consensus ... not the shortest, quickest monstrosity you can bring to the House floor.”
There’s a semantic reason for Democrats to cheer: By characterizing the GOP replacement measure as “Obamacare Lite,” as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul did on March 14 (when TrumpCare was still gathering what looked like steam), Republicans attached to their own legislation a weaker contrasting rhetorical valance that defined it, fatally.
By definition, if you say something is “[Anyword] Lite,” you’ve invested the [Anyword] with a weight that its ostensible alternative doesn’t have. The intended Republican disparagement is an actual Republican compliment. The messaging itself sent the signal that the Republicans knew AHCA was facing an uphill battle.
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TOM PRICE’S bid for the diplomacy of gradualism had its own unexpected revelation. On March 14, the Health and Human Services secretary told reporters the AHCA is a “is a work in progress, and we'll work with the House and the Senate. As you know, it's a legislative process that occurs. ... People engage and they get involved in the process. Sometimes, to a greater degree, nothing focuses the mind like a bill currently sitting on the table. We’ll work through it.”
From the start, seven years ago this month, President Obama characterized it as a first step, not an event but a work in progress. Price’s comments on March 14th on behalf of the GOP’s alternative plan showed how challenging that process can be. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on.
Friday’s events were an optical and a tactical setback for Trump. By failing to even get the AHCA bill to the House floor for a vote, Trump’s vaunted reputation as king of “the art of the deal” got the drubbing it deserved. It’s especially galling since last Oct. 24, at a campaign rally, Trump all but guaranteed that a full-on repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be done and dusted within his first 100 days. He only needed 64 to find out how wrong he was.
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But it shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise. Trump’s bill — which according to the Congressional Budget Office would leave 24 million more Americans without insurance in 2024 — faced big challenges from the jump. Starting with the public. A March 14th Survey Monkey poll found that “the Republican replacement bill starts out under water, with far more opposition (55 percent) than support (42 percent), and with twice as many Americans saying they are strongly opposed (38 percent) than strongly supportive (18 percent).”
March 15th PPP poll found that almost twice as many Americans prefer Obamacare over the American Health Care Act. “Only 24% of voters support it, to 49% who are opposed. Even among Republican voters only 37% are in favor of the proposal to 22% who are against it, and 41% who aren't sure one way or another,” PPP reported. Small business owners feel much the same way.
Trump overplayed his hand, badly, with the Congress he needs to function. Maybe he was angry or just fed up with people resisting his every commandment — which tends to happen from time to time in popularly decided democratic governments. Whatever it was, it showed when Trump, late Wednesday, said he wanted Congress to fall in line or else he’d leave Obamacare in place.