By JOHN T. BENNETT And NIELS LESNIEWSKIUpdated at 4:47 p.m. | Amid pleas from Republicans and Democrats for the parties to begin work on a bipartisan health care bill, President Donald Trump and White House officials on Friday doubled down on his call to put off any action until Barack Obama’s 2010 law fails.
Ailing Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain shocked senators from both parties early Friday morning when he voted against a GOP leadership-crafted measure that amounted only to a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Back in Washington after a brain tumor diagnosis, McCain made clear his vote was a shove for the entire Senate to get back to “regular order” — meaning hearings and floor debate — on health care and every other issue.
Following McCain’s dramatic vote on the Senate floor, several senators reported that Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is planning for just that. And Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he saw Alexander and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, already talking in the wee hours of Friday morning.
“Now Republicans have a choice to make,” Murray said. “They can continue to try to bring Trumpcare back just to score political points and give special interests a massive tax break, or they can engage in the open, transparent, bipartisan process that many Democrats and Republicans agree is the right way to actually make our health care system work better for the people we serve.”
The list of committees that could begin health care-related work also includes the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs panel. Its chairman, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, at times has been very critical of the Senate GOP leaders’ process — which included no committee work and various bills crafted behind closed doors — despite his vote in favor of the so-called “skinny” repeal amendment.
“In the coming weeks, my committee will hold hearings to lay out the realities of our health care system, and I am committed to working with anyone who is serious about addressing these issues,” Johnson said in a statement that appeared to extend and olive branch to Democrats. “Americans deserve far better than their elected officials have delivered to this point.”
GOP Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin reacted to the party’s failed Senate vote by putting the health care onus on the shoulders of his Senate colleagues, urging them to “continue working toward a real solution that keeps our promise.” The House, he said Friday, having passed a health overhaul measure, will move on to issues like taxes.
But there is no guarantee Senate Republicans and Democrats, long ideologically divided on the details of health care, can find enough common ground to craft a bill — or that Ryan would bring it to a vote.
“I can’t speculate about a bill that doesn’t exist,” a Ryan aide said Friday when asked if the speaker put a Senate-passed bipartisan health bill on the floor.
And the White House, the person whose opinion matters most, Trump, appears just fine with both chambers moving on to crafting a sweeping tax overhaul push.
White House officials initially were uncharacteristically quiet following the Senate failure. There was no paper statement issued signaling the president’s preferred next move on an issue that was central to his 2016 campaign message. But Trump weighed in during the wee hours of Friday morning — and endorsed only one path for addressing health care.
“As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal,” Trump tweeted at 2:25 a.m. Friday. He then ended the tweet with what seemed like a guarantee: “Watch!”
Likely to the chagrin of Republican and Democratic lawmakers, a White House official early Friday afternoon said the president’s tweet represents the administration’s preferred path ahead on health care.
“I’d stick with the tweet,” the White House official told Roll Call, adding a more nuanced description could be coming at some point. (One had not been provided by the time this article was published, however.)
About an hour later, Trump doubled down on his call during remarks in New York state.
“I said from the beginning, ‘Let Obamacare implode and then do it.’ I turned out to be right,” Trump said.
Trump may find some allies on Capitol Hill on the path to a possible implosion.
“I believe it may take Obamacare’s collapse before the parties are willing to work together in a bipartisan manner. The collapse and replace of Obamacare may prove to be the most effective path forward,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in May. On Thursday evening, Graham reiterated that stance, saying he would rather “get out of the way” and let the 2010 law fail rather than pass a flawed GOP replacement.
Over an hour after Trump said he was “right” about his implode-and-repair idea, the White House official sent an emailed statement saying the administration “will continue to fight to repeal and replace the Obamacare disaster and to ensure all Americans have access to affordable healthcare, making good on an unwavering promise to the American people.”
“President Trump and his administration will not rest until he can sign a bill that fulfills the shared promise to repeal and replace Obamacare,” the official added after Trump spoke.
That statement, notably, applies to the implode-and-repair scenario of which the president is so fond.
Pitching a scenario under which GOP lawmakers and the White House would stand by and let the 2010 law to continue sputtering — forcing Democrats to beg him to cut a deal to fix it — has been a steady drumbeat for Trump. And, just like early Friday morning, the president always brings it up without being prompted — suggesting that has been his Plan A even as Senate Republican leaders struggled to find one of their own.
For months, and especially since the Senate took up the health overhaul baton in early May, Trump has bounced from one preferred approach to another. And after McCain sent ripple waves across the political world, the president again pitched allowing Obama’s law to, as he often puts it, “fail.”
The president has more than one way to nudge Obama’s law toward failure: Trump could opt to stop paying subsidies to insurance companies; he can order agencies to cease enforcing its requirement for most Americans to obtain health insurance; and he could undermine its markets by stopping all federally financed advertising urging folks to enroll under the law.
But lawmakers, at least before the smoke cleared and the sun rose Friday morning, seemed willing to try a new approach. The first real action may come in connection with the looming reauthorization of the children’s health insurance program.
While many Republicans were not in a mood to discuss next steps on health care policy as they left the Capitol in the middle of the night, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was an exception.
Cassidy spoke to reporters outside the Capitol at about 2:30 a.m. Friday, and with Democratic senators and other supporters of the 2010 health law cheering across the lawn, he was already talking about the CHIP legislation as a vehicle for interim changes.
“Insurers will continue to leave markets. People will continue to get quotes they cannot afford, and as folks celebrate in the background, they will be bitter because they will feel like they’ve lost an opportunity for something better,” Cassidy said. “Procedurally, CHIP reauthorization will come up, so perhaps there’s some things that can be done”