Donald Trump ran for president as a businessman who could make a deal. But on Friday, he failed to close the biggest deal of his young presidency.
And then, like a businessman, he moved on.
“That’s what you have to do in business if you fail,” said Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican and, perhaps more relevantly in this instance, a car dealer. “You move on. You don’t worry about it. He’s going to move on.”
For Trump, House leaders’ decision not to vote on a Republican replacement for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act when they realized they did not have the votes to pass it was his first legislative setback – on one of the biggest promises he’d made on the campaign trail.
But after working to win passage, calling or meeting with 120 House members over days and inviting insurance and pharmaceutical companies, business owners, patients, union leaders, truckers and workers to the White House to lobby them, Trump appeared to be ready to move on to the next fight.
Even as House leaders were still trying to gather votes Friday morning, Trump had picked a new battle, announcing that his administration had approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline. After the repeal bill was pulled, Trump said his next battle will be tax reform.
“We couldn’t quite get there. We were just a very small number of votes short in terms of getting our bill passed,” Trump said after the bill was pulled.
We have a president that is a master negotiator. We have a president that is a business guy, that's a hands on guy
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Ok.
That means, Trump said, that Obamacare, as the ACA is known popularly, will remain the law of the land. At least until it fails and Democrats are willing to work with Republicans on an alternative. “Bipartisan,” he said, “is always better.”
Still, the stunning defeat of what has been a legislative priority for Republicans for seven years could make it more difficult to get through Trump’s other legislative priorities, even though Republicans control both chamber of Congress: changes to the tax code, curbing illegal immigration, pumping more money into the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, and keeping the federal government running.
“It makes it very difficult to do the tax reform that a lot of us think that we need to do,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who voted for the bill. Failure, he said, is “a big blow to the agenda and that means everything.”
Republican strategist Kevin Madden said the first 200 days of a new presidency are usually a very reliable time to get some big things done.
“So we’ve essentially burned about 60 days off,” he said. “We burned a good deal of time on this up until now. That has to be taken into account.”
Madden, who previously worked for House Republicans, said the question is whether “the parties seize a certain level of accountability and do they learn from it.”
For a guy who bills himself as the ultimate deal-maker and the ultimate closer, he has clearly struck out bigly on this
Rep. Brendan Boyle, R-Pa.
Successful negotiators are optimists, said Ed Brodow, a negotiation expert who described Trump’s reaction to Friday’s defeat as consistent to what the president outlined in his book, “The Art of the Deal.” He aimed high and pushed and pushed trying to get what he wanted, Browdow said, but the best negotiators also know when to move on. And they don’t dwell on losses.
“I don’t think he’s going to sit around worrying about it,” said Brodow, author of “Negotiation Boot Camp.” “He’s a pragmatist. He’s going to work on something else.”
Trump likes to schmooze with lawmakers — both socializing with them and lobbying them to pass bills — in a way Barack Obama never did. He dispatched his Vice President Mike Pence, his budget director Mick Mulvaney and Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, to Capitol Hill while his aides contacted Republican leaders in all 50 states, seeking help to fight the negative attacks on the proposal.
But in the end, the meetings did not help a fractured Republican caucus coalesce around the bill. Moderates felt the bill would harm seniors and the poor, while a group of nearly 40 conservative lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus said it was too much like Obamacare.
“The president gave his all in this effort,” said a disappointed House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who came to the White House Friday to inform Trump that he did not have the votes for the bill.
Democrats reacted gleefully to news of the bill’s withdrawal, saying if Trump couldn’t succeed on his top legislative priority, he’d struggle to get anything else done.
“This will haunt the GOP like their ’05 failure to privatize social security,” Democratic consultant Doug Thornell said. “They never recovered from that debacle.”
Earlier this week, Trump told House Republicans in a closed-door meeting that their very jobs could be on the line if the repeal legislation didn’t pass.
But the threat didn’t faze those it didn’t persuade.
Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said in the end he had to vote according to how he thought the bill would hurt residents of his district. “He won my district,” Amodei said of Trump, but adding “I’m taking my refuge in the impacts on my district that it would have.”
Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., who serves as Trump’s liaison to Capitol Hill, said Americans should not blame Trump for the loss.
“The private sector and the political realities are very different. They are just so different. This is maybe the cold light of day coming, you know, to say that politics is not the private sector,” Collins said. “The president is still president for four years. . . . As he has said we will simply move forward.”
Lesley Clark, Alex Daugherty, David Lightman, Alex Roarty and Curtis Tate in Washington contributed.