Politics

Trump: If Senate Fails, Repeal Obamacare Now, Replace Later

Conservative leaders applaud Trump’s change of course

President Donald Trump speaks as from left, Sens. Dean Heller, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, and Deb Fischer listen during a meeting with Senate Republicans at the White House on Tuesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump laid down a new marker in the health care overhaul debate on Friday morning, tweeting that if Republicans are unable to pass a bill they should move to immediately repeal Barack Obama’s 2010 law.

Republican senators left Washington on Thursday for an Independence Day recess that will stretch until July 10 without taking up a leadership-crafted overhaul bill due to lack of support. The measure needs 50 votes — plus Vice President Mike Pence casting the decisive 51st — to pass, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was shy of that mark.

McConnell and his leadership team continue meeting and negotiating with conservative and moderate members of their caucus in an attempt to alter their health care proposal in ways that assuage concerns from both camps.

On Tuesday, in a strange comment, Trump told GOP senators and reporters that it would be “OK” if they failed to pass a bill. In the past, he has openly talked about political advantages for Republicans if they let the 2010 health care law continue to limp along, forcing Democrats to cut a deal on a new plan.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that if GOP senators cannot pass a bill they should “immediately REPEAL, and then REPLACE’ the 2010 law “at a later date!”

Trump’s tweet would not preclude some Democratic support at that later date, especially if the existing health care system continues to struggle.

However, just a few hours later, the White House said Trump “hasn’t changed his thinking at all” and remains “fully committed to pushing through with the Senate” on a health overhaul bill, Principal Deputy Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Hours after the president tweeted that should the Senate effort fail, GOP members should vote to repeal the 2010 law now and replace it down the road.

Huckabee Sanders said White House officials are “looking at every option” while trying to help strike a deal with GOP senators.

His tweet seemed to mirror a way ahead laid out by Sen. Ben Sasse in a letter sent to the president Friday morning, and in an appearance on “Fox and Friends” minutes earlier.

In his letter, the Nebraska Republican wrote Trump, “If we don’t get to agreement on a combined, comprehensive ObamaCare repeal and replace plan by that day [July 10], I humbly suggest that you publicly call on the Congress to do two things.”

The first would be “to immediately repeal as much of ObamaCare as is possible under Congressional budget reconciliation rules,” the senator told Trump, “and then (2) to cancel the scheduled August state work period and instead to spend that month working through regular order, six days per week, writing a health reform package with a vote to be scheduled on Labor Day.”

Sasse took notice of the president’s tweet.

Conservative leaders welcomed the president’s support for the “repeal now, replace later” strategy.

Jason Pye, director of public policy for the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, noted that the 2015 reconciliation bill received support from GOP senators such as Dean Heller of Nevada and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who are voicing concerns about the current bill. 

“If their votes [in 2015] were based on a lie, then they should come out and say that,” Pye said on a Friday morning conference call with reporters.

“Let’s put the bill on the floor,” he said.

David Bozell, president of the conservative grass-roots group ForAmerica, said Trump and Sasse “have their finger on the pulse of the base a lot more than Senate leadership and staff do.”

Bozell said the repeal now, replace later concept was “something that a lot of conservatives were suggesting since day one of the inauguration.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul also said he agreed with Trump’s suggestion, though both the Kentucky Republican and Trump have previously supported simultaneously repealing and replacing the 2010 health care law.

Bozell speculated that the gridlock over crafting and advancing such a bill has caused them to change their minds. 

“I think both men have run into a brick wall of moderates that, instead of replacing Obamcare, they want to keep it,” Bozell said.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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