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Trump’s reputation at stake as Congress votes on Obamacare repeal

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote yes,” Trump is reported to have told a Republican lawmaker.

Donald Trump Presidency Updated: Mar 23, 2017 02:04 IST
Yashwant Raj
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
US President Donald Trump addresses the annual National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington, DC on Tuesday.(AFP)

In a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, President Donald Trump deployed all of his famed skills as a deal-maker to rally fellow Republicans behind a legislation to repeal and replace a health care law bearing his predecessor’s name.

He used a mix of charm, which impressed some of those in the room, and threats — he will come after them — and more threats — their voters will not spare them for not repealing the healthcare law when they finally had a chance to do it.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote yes,” Trump is reported to have told a Republican lawmaker heading a group within the party most stridently opposed to the replacement legislation.

“Honestly,” he added, “a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

The threat was a joke, White House press secretary Sean Spicer clarified later, saying the president was just having some fun with an “early, long-time supporter”. But he did add that those who don’t back the bill will “probably pay a price at home”.

At stake in the passage of the bill is, more than anything else, Trump’s own reputation as a leader, a deal-maker, and his ability to deliver on a a key issue — to repeal and replace Obamacare, as the healthcare law is called — that has agitated Republicans for years.

The president met a few of the holdouts at a separate meeting in the White House later, and is expected to continue to lobby them personally and through aides till the party has enough numbers to vote the bill, scheduled for Thursday, over to the senate.

The president has called Obamacare “horrible” and a “disaster” and that it has been “imploding” and committed his backing and support to a legislation unveiled recently by House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, called the American Health Care Act.

Republicans don’t have the numbers now. The legislation needs the support of 216, more than half the strength of the current House (which is down to 431, with four joining Trump’s cabinet). With no Democrats backing the bill, it will fail if only 21 Republicans vote against. Over two dozen Republicans are a straight no or, leaning no, according to reports.

Some Republicans don’t think the replacement bill is conservative enough — Senator Rand Paul, who will not be voting in the House but is a good representative of that group, has called it “Obamacare Lite”. Now that they have a chance to overhaul a law that they have criticised and opposed for years, they argue they should do a thorough job of it.

Other Republicans, specially those representing districts that are not predominantly Republican, and can and have voted Democratic, or those that Trump lost in his presidential election, fear a voter backlash.

Some of that backlash was experienced by them during a recent recess of congress when angry constituents staged noisy protests at their Town Hall interactions, the routine voter outreach.