WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump sought Saturday to put a good face on his most stinging political setback yet, declaring that Obamacare would collapse and vowing to develop a “great” replacement.
“ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” the Republican said on Twitter.
But it was far from clear how soon Trump and fellow Republicans would be willing to wade again into the perilous political minefield of health care reform after failing to repeal Barack Obama’s signature program.
Trump was holding unspecified meetings Saturday at a golf club in Virginia.
Friday’s defeat was more than a small stumble: Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, the first big legislative test of his nascent administration.
The bill’s failure marked a second major policy setback for Trump after courts froze his efforts to block travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries.
The real estate mogul-turned-politician — who built his candidacy on his skills as a negotiator and deal closer — had very publicly twisted the arms of recalcitrant Republicans to rally votes, extending both carrots and sticks.
But far-right lawmakers of the so-called Freedom Caucus mostly stood their ground, and every Democrat shunned the Republicans’ legislation, forcing the last-minute cancellation of a vote.
Not like campaigning
That raised questions about how Republican leaders will deal with the stubborn conservative bloc on major issues like tax reform and infrastructure spending, and how well Trump will be able to work with a divided party and a deeply polarised Congress.
It was a sobering lesson for the president on the differences between the top-down operation of a big company and the murky legislative process often compared to sausage-making.
“For Mr Trump,” said a New York Times editorial, “it is a rather brutal reminder that campaigning is the easy part.”
Trump declared himself “disappointed” and a “little surprised” by the defeat of the bill, placing the blame on Democrats and the “arcane” ways of Washington.
He said that “bad things are going to happen to Obamacare.”
“It’s imploding and soon will explode and it’s not going to be pretty.”
His vice president, Mike Pence, said Friday’s events were “a victory for the status quo in Washington,” though “that victory won’t last very long.”
Eventually, he said, both parties will come together and “we will end the Obamacare nightmare.”
As a candidate, Trump had promised a “terrific deal” that would improve health care coverage while lowering costs. Instead, House Speaker Paul Ryan conceded that Obamacare would remain for the “foreseeable future.”
Republicans had for years insisted Obamacare repeal was a paramount priority. While political analysts said the matter seemed dead for now, some conservatives urged Republicans not to throw in the towel.
The National Review website exhorted Republicans to keep fighting.
“They have spent seven years saying they were going to replace Obamacare. They didn’t say they were going to spend a few weeks on a half-baked plan and then give up. Back to work, ladies and gentlemen.”
Others were more scathing.
Philip Klein, managing editor of the conservative Washington Examiner, called the setback “the biggest broken promise in political history,” concluding that “failing and then walking away on seven years of promises is a pathetic abdication of duty. The Republican Party is a party without a purpose.”
Friday’s setback sparked a flurry of finger-pointing among Republicans — both publicly and behind the scenes — as they weighed the damage to their credibility and sought a path forward.
A who-is-blaming-whom graphic on The New York Times website looked a bit like an octopus, with Trump publicly blaming Democrats, and other factors, while privately fingering Ryan.
Trump’s comments about letting Obamacare collapse raised concerns among some Democrats, who feared the administration might find ways other than legislation to undercut Obamacare.
“The danger is that a wounded president and his GOP allies will act on their sore feelings by irresponsibly attacking the existing health care system in other ways,” a Washington Post editorial said.
“Mr Trump should not imagine that angry Americans will blame Democrats, who are totally locked out of power, if he presides over an unravelling of the system.”