Donald Trump prizes his skills as a negotiator. It’s the No. 1 selling point for the author of “The Art of the Deal.”
But Trump today could see his first legislative push as president fall apart today — a death blow at the hands of his own fractious party.
Hours before the 3:30 p.m. vote was planned, House Speaker Paul Ryan went to the White House to reportedly show Trump the latest count. It wasn’t looking good.
Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, for example, said he’s voting no. He announced his decision on Thursday and said Trump’s ultimatum and threats to run primaries against Republicans who voted no won’t phase him.
“He won my district,” Amodei said. “I don’t view them as threats at all. Listen: I’m taking my refuge in the impacts on my district that it would have.”
Among other notable defections Friday were Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and moderate Rep. David Joyce of Ohio.
“In addition to the loss of Medicaid coverage for so many people in my Medicaid-dependent state, the denial of essential health benefits in the individual market raise serious coverage and cost issues,” Frelinghuysen said in a statement.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer, meanwhile, repeatedly told reporters Friday afternoon that the vote would happen, and would pass.
Trump summoned rebellious lawmakers to the White House this week for cajoling and traipsed up to the Capitol himself to get them to sign onto his legislation to replace the 2010 health care law. But on Thursday he made it clear he’d had enough, dispatching his A team of advisers as House Republicans failed to come up with enough lawmakers to deliver victory after seven years of promises to do just that.
The message: Vote today or take the blame for Obamacare staying in place, a giant risk for Trump and an even bigger one for House Republicans and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership.
Next stop, if it passes, an even more skeptical Senate.
Trump and recalcitrant Republican lawmakers are “done negotiating,” said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a top Trump ally on Capitol Hill.
“This is our moment in time,” Collins said of the House vote promised for today — after lawmakers failed to vote on Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.
If the legislation doesn’t pass, the Affordable Care Act will remain in place and Republicans will move on to tax reform, Collins said.
The ultimatum is a risky game of chicken for the new president and House leadership, which has been antagonized by a band of nearly 40 conservative lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus who have sought to pull the party further and further to the right. Many of its members say they will vote against the bill, believing it doesn’t go far enough to uproot the 2010 law.
Ryan suggested otherwise: “For seven and a half years, we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law because it’s collapsing and it’s failing families,” he said Thursday. “ We’re proceeding.”
In a bid to secure votes, Republican leaders tweaked the measure further late Thursday, allowing states and not the federal government to define which “essential health benefits” they’d require insurance plans to cover. They’d also add $15 billion to cover those services and delay repeal of a Medicare tax increase for six years.
Republicans have continually pledged to repeal Obamacare, but Trump in recent weeks has suggested that it would be politically smarter to allow the law to collapse.
“Let it be a disaster because we can blame that on the Democrats and President Obama,” Trump told Democratic and Republican governors at the White House last month. “Don’t do anything and they will come begging for us to do something.”
Trump’s official @POTUS account on Twitter was unusually circumspect, but did urge a vote.
Trump may be banking on the belief that the fallout from failing to act would likely land harder on Congress, which has promised to repeal since 2010, rather than on the neophyte president, who has shown little restraint in criticizing his own party. That, however, could further sour relations between Trump and the Congress, which he will need if he expects to enact meaningful legislation.
Trump earlier this week warned legislators that they risked losing their seats if they failed to pass the legislation and lawmakers seemed eager to portray Trump as an enthusiastic negotiator, even as they declined to support the rollback.
“I can humbly and sincerely say that I’ve been moved by his personal engagement on trying to do what he promised the American people and what he believes will lower premiums,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chair of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who has led the charge against the bill, drawing a veiled threat from from Trump.
But Trump is already hampered by declining popularity ratings and bedeviled by reports that his presidential campaign had contact with Russian operatives who wanted to prevent his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, from becoming president.
I can humbly and sincerely say that I’ve been moved by his personal engagement on trying to do what he promised the American people and what he believes will lower premiums.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus
Losing his first legislative battle could make it harder for Trump to get anything passed in Congress. Historically, presidents have had a short window to accomplish their goals and the clock is ticking.
Republicans, though, insisted failure to pass the repeal would be but a bump in the road.
“There’s many things the president wants to do for this country that he’ll continue to do,” said Rep. Daniel Donovan, R-N.Y., who opposed the bill, but predicted Trump could move onto tax reform and immigration.
“If this doesn’t pass,” Donovan said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board and make it better.”
Another one of the lawmakers throwing sand at the plan, dismissed concerns that voters will be disappointed that Congress has failed to deliver.
“I think if two years from now, this hasn’t happened, there might be a price to pay, but that’s why this artificial deadline is so irrelevant,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. “I think we have plenty of time to make this happen.”
Labrador said the current plan fails to make health insurance more affordable, as lawmakers have promised.
“We’re actually trying to help President Trump keep the promises that he made to the American people,” Labrador said with a broad smile. “Hopefully he will appreciate that in a few weeks.”
Extending the fight over how to repeal the health care plan could expend valuable momentum for a Congress that needs to turn its attention soon to passing a budget.
But, noted Labrador, “we have a vacation coming up, maybe we should be here instead of going on break.”
Lawmakers who backed the measure warned that further delay would make it harder to pass the legislation, emboldening opponents who spent Thursday night taking shots at the bill and at Trump’s inability to seal the deal.
“TrumpCare is a disaster and the president has no one to blame but himself,” said Jessica Mackler, president of the Democratic opposition group American Bridge. “He told us he was one of the world’s best negotiators, but he can’t even successfully negotiate with his own party.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who as then House Speaker helped to pass Obama’s health care law, taunted Trump for failing to deliver the vote on a day rich with symbolism. As House leaders sought to twist arms behind closed doors, C-SPAN aired footage of the signing of the 2010 law that has extended health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans.
“You may be a great negotiator,” Pelosi said. “Rookie’s error for bringing this up on a day when clearly you’re not ready.”
And there was little Thursday to suggest the landscape would improve with the passage of time.
The conservative wing of the Republican party wants further restrictions on coverage, but a congressional report found Thursday that the more changes that are made to appease conservatives, the worse the legislation looks.
The Congressional Budget Office delivered its second knock to the plan, finding that tweaks made to mollify conservatives would not reduce the federal deficit as much as the original and would still leave 14 million people without health insurance next year and 24 million uninsured in 2026.
And a national poll set off alarms, finding voters deeply skeptical of the Republican effort. Voters rejected the Republican plan 56 to 17 percent in a Quinnipiac University national poll. Support even among Republican was a “lackluster” 41 to 24 percent, the survey found.
The poll spelled out trouble for members of Congress: 46 percent of voters said they’d be less likely to vote for lawmakers who supported the Republican plan.
“Replacing Obamacare will come with a price,” said Tim Malloy, the polls’s assistant director. He noted that many Americans “clearly feel their health is in peril” under the Republican alternative.
Trump’s words last month to the governors may have been more prescient than he imagined.
“It’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said then of health care, prompting howls from Democrats who spent a year passing legislation. “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
Anna Douglas, Lindsay Wise and Alex Roarty contributed to this report.