Donald Trump appears to be having second thoughts about dragooning his party into another showdown over Obamacare, after Republican lawmakers threw a mild fit over his attempts to force the issue last week. Late Monday night, the president tweeted that the GOP was still “developing a really great HealthCare Plan,” but that they wouldn’t vote on it until after the 2020 elections. Meaning the fifth of never.
Thus, a brief and bizarre comedy of errors seems to have come to an end, at least for now. Let’s review what just happened, shall we?
Last Monday, the Justice Department shocked much of Washington when it urged a federal appeals court to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, after it had previously argued in the suit that only parts of the law should be tossed. (The case, originally brought by a group of GOP-led states, argues that Obamacare was rendered unconstitutional by the 2017 tax bill). Trump reportedly ordered the move after being egged on by his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who believed that it would force Republicans to take another stab at replacing Obamacare—an idea that, to most GOPers on Capitol Hill, sounds about as appealing as a long stroll over a bed of hot coals. After all, Republicans were demolished on health care during the 2018 midterms and still do not have a plan they could pass. Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar all reportedly objected to the idea. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was apparently gobsmacked.
The next day, Trump went into branding mode. “The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch,” he told reporters prior to a lunch with Senate Republicans. During the meal, he reportedly told them that they should “take another run” at the issue. On Thursday, he told reporters he’d asked a working group of senators to create a plan to replace Obamacare if the court struck it down. Along with Wyoming’s John Barrasso and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, the team supposedly included Florida’s Rick Scott, who before becoming his state’s governor ran a health care company that got in trouble for Medicare fraud.
Pretty soon Republicans, who’d been grumbling all week about being taken off guard by Trump’s scheme, were in open revolt, and making it clear that they wouldn’t be writing any legislation. Senate Finance Chair Chuck Grassley said his committee, which would have to be involved in any health care push, was not planning to draft a bill. Florida’s Scott told CBS he wouldn’t be crafting anything either: “I look forward to, you know, to seeing what the president’s going to put out.” A Senate aide told the Hill that there was no working group; Trump had probably “just sort of listed names” of senators who sometimes work on health care issues. (The Hill did report that Sen. Mitt Romney, of all people, was involved in early discussions about a replacement plan). Anonymous Republican senators called Trump’s strategy “toxic” and said that it had caught everyone, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “flatfooted.”
Meanwhile, Maine’s Susan Collins, who is up for reelection in 2020, sent a letter to the Justice Department all but begging it to rethink its legal position. “Rather than seeking to have the courts invalidate the ACA, the proper route for the administration to pursue would be to propose changes to the ACA or to once again seek its repeal. The administration should not attempt to use the courts to bypass Congress,” she wrote.
With his tweets Monday night, Trump seems to have backed down from this issue. Now Republicans just have to keep praying that John Roberts makes this lawsuit disappear.