As President Donald Trump moved Wednesday to try to revive the flailing Senate healthcare bill, reports suggested the White House’s involvement so far has been rife with convolution, from a lack of a grasp on key policy issues to political missteps.
The push from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to help pass the healthcare bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), was littered with pitfalls. In sum, it paints the picture of a legislative push that did little to assist, and may have even hurt, the Senate GOP attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Multiple reports have suggested that Trump mostly spent the run-up to the healthcare bill’s failure on the sidelines.
Trump traveled last week to Paris, France, for a diplomatic visit with French President Emmanuel Macron. Then, last weekend, he spent multiple days attending a tournament at a Trump golf course in New Jersey as the legislation floundered. And when the president did engage, however, it did little to help the effort.
Trump apparently showed little grasp of policy details of the legislation. At a dinner Monday night, Politico reported, Trump asked GOP senators about selling insurance across state lines and drug prices, neither of which were features of the bill.
Separately, in a dinner with the entire Republican conference after the first version of the BCRA stalled, Trump questioned why the BCRA could be seen as a tax cut for wealthy Americans – despite the fact that a significant majority of the bill’s tax benefits would go to the top 1% of incomes.
All along, Republican senators were not swayed by any of Trump’s overtures.
“I wouldn’t put it on him. The bottom line is there are members here who understood the president’s preference and were willing to vote against it anyways,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said.
- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
For Pence, perhaps the most damaging was his attempt to win over governors’ support during a conference on Saturday.
According to the Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Kelsey Snell, and Sean Sullivan, Pence attempted to attack Gov. John Kasich of Ohio for his opposition to the BCRA. Kasich, a moderate Republican whose state expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, was reportedly “furious” about being called out by Pence. Pence was also unable to sway other key Republican governors during the meeting.
According to the report, though Pence attended numerous Senate GOP planning meetings and luncheons, his hardline conservative reputation did little to win over the moderate holdouts on the bill.
While the back-door deals seemed to do little to help the BCRA, the public-facing image wasn’t much better.
First, as the Senate leadership worked on its own legislation, Trump called the House’s version of the healthcare bill “mean” during a meeting with Republican senators. The move disgruntled House Republican members who had fought for the bill and celebrated its passage at the White House. And it made senators wary of the same fate.
Trump also attacked holdouts on the Senate bill. For instance, The New York Times reported that Trump fumed about conservative Sen. Rand Paul going on TV to talk about his opposition to the bill.
And earlier in the process, a pro-Trump group ran ads lambasting BCRA opponent Dean Heller of Nevada.
Heller is seen as perhaps most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection in 2018 – in a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 with a popular Republican governor who has been a defender of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which the BCRA would have slashed.
Despite the group distance from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was reportedly irate about the ads and complained to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. After Heller complained about the ads at the first all-Republican dinner with Trump, they stopped shortly after.
Nevertheless, on Wednesday morning, Trump promised to deliver a better version of the BCRA at another luncheon with all the Republican senators, and he crowed about what he called a collapse of Obamacare.
“The Republicans never discuss how good their healthcare bill is, & it will get even better at lunchtime,” the president tweeted. “The Dems scream death as OCare dies!”