Fearing imminent defeat, US Republican leaders pulled their White-House backed bill to repeal and replace Obamacare shortly before it was scheduled to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives on Friday, in a move that is bound to cast a shadow on President Donald Trump’s deal-making prowess and ability to lead the party.
It also put a question mark on the president and the party’s ability to deliver on other campaign promises as the repeal of Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is called, has been rallying cry for Republicans in every election since Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010.
Trump has blamed Democrats for the bill fiasco, but critics asked if he had somehow misjudged the whole issue, over-estimated his deal-making abilities, whether he had indeed invested himself fully in the process and if he had failed to fathom the full extent of the divisions in his own Republican party and the pulls and pressures at work in Washington.
Trump announced the decision to withdraw the bill in phone calls to two leading new media outlets, telling one of them, “We just pulled it.” He then went on to blame Democrats for it: “We couldn’t get one Democratic vote.”
Keeping his guns trained on Democrats, he told the other outlet, the Democrats will themselves seek a deal when “Obamacare explodes” in a year.
He reprised that line in a tweet on Saturday, stating he was not giving up: “Obamacare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”
But, for now, Obamacare had survived yet another attempt to kill it. As House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan — the author and prime mover of the replacement bill — stated matter-of-factly at a news conference shortly after the pull out, “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
House Republicans had tried to kill the Affordable Care Act several times during Obama’s tenure, knowing well he would have sent it back without his signature every time. Now, when they have a man in the White House ready and willing to sign it, they failed.
The replacement bill, called the American Health Care Act, ran into opposition within the Republican party from the day it was announced, with Senator Rand Paul calling it “Obamacare Lite”, echoing the party’s hard-right members in both chambers.
Democrats were not going to vote for the bill, which ran into a rebellion within the Republican party, mounted by the House Freedom Caucus, a group of three dozen hard-right lawmakers. Their chief demand in the end was drastic cuts in the essential medical benefits in the bill that drove up the cost of premiums.
Trump met the holdouts on Capitol Hill and at the White House and tried a mix of charm and outright to bring them around. And then on Thursday, probably taking a leaf out of his bestselling book Art of the Deal, he sent word to them he was done talking.
“I think he has done every single thing possible (by this stage),” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters the next day, “And you end up, at some point, finding yourself going around and around and saying, okay, let’s just... let’s call the vote.”
I’ve never seen a President break as many promises to working people as this President has done in just over two months.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 24, 2017
It was clear by now that the bill was in trouble, and Spicer kept trying to bat away questions about its fate telling reporters, jokingly, they were being too negative and asked them to wait for the vote scheduled for later in the afternoon.
Elsewhere in the White House at about the same time, Speaker Ryan was giving President Trump the bad news personally in an unscheduled visit.
And shortly came the announcement, the bill had been pulled.