US President Donald Trump made a last-ditch bid to salvage a central campaign pledge Wednesday, deploying a mix of threats and charm as he told Republican senators to pass health care reform before their summer break.
With his credibility on the line, Trump told nearly all of the Senate’s 52 Republicans assembled at the White House that they must try again to repeal and replace Obamacare and not leave Washington until they do so.
“My message today is very simple,” Trump told the group of stony-faced lawmakers, many of whom face significant pressure from voters back home to oppose Trump’s unpopular plan to overhaul his predecessor’s signature health care legislation.
“We have to stay here, we shouldn’t leave town, we have to hammer this out and not leave town.”
For seven years, Republicans have promised to gut the policy — which has extended health care coverage to millions of Americans — saying it is unaffordable and unsustainable.
Failure to do so — despite Republicans controlling the White House and both chambers on Congress — would drive a stake through Trump’s claim to be the only one savvy enough to get things done in Washington.
But as it stood Wednesday, with Democrats united in opposition, Trump was short of the 50 Republicans he needs to get the bill over the line.
As senators filed into the State Dining Room and found paper folders marked with their names, there were a few smiles, but most were grim-faced.
They laughed as Trump joked about being ready and waiting to sign the bill. “Believe me, I’m sitting in that office, I have pen in hand,” said the real estate mogul-turned-president.
But the mood became more solemn when Trump insinuated that those opposing the measure might face a White House-backed primary opponent and potentially lose their jobs.
Addressing Dean Heller, a vocal opponent of the bill who was sitting next to the president, Trump remarked, “he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
Trump struck an angry tone when he described Obamacare’s failings, breaking with normal decorum and point-blank accusing president Barack Obama of lying.
“Obamacare was a big lie — You can keep your doctor, lie. You can keep your plan, lie. It was a lie, directly from the president,” Trump said.
Trump made some pledges of his own that may prove difficult to fulfil.
There were some worried looks from Trump allies in the room when he promised insurance premiums will drop 60-70 percent.
The latest Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obama’s signature health reforms would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 compared to current law, according to a forecast from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
That bill collapsed this week when four Republican senators — some conservative, some moderate — came out against it.
With the White House seeking to strong-arm wavering senators and ram health care reform through Congress before the summer break, Senate leader Mitch McConnell ordered a vote for next week.
But that vote will be on a resurrected bill to repeal Obamacare without a replacement at the ready.
McConnell’s new proposal suffered a harsh, if expected, setback Wednesday when the CBO estimated that 32 million more people would be uninsured under the repeal-only bill.
With Trump stressing he wanted to see Obamacare scrapped and replaced at the same time, McConnell noted that the bill “will be fully amendable on the Senate floor” next week.
“No harm is done from getting on the bill,” he added.