When congressional Republicans zig, President Trump zags. When they follow suit and zag, he zigs. Nowhere is this clearer than when it comes to overhauling the Affordable Care Act.
Trump jerked the GOP-led Congress around on a puppet string last week when he abruptly tweeted that the Senate should suspend its uphill climb to pass a health-care bill and instead just vote to repeal the ACA without a replacement already lined up:
But that two-step strategy of first repeal, then replace is precisely what the president had convinced Republican leaders not to do earlier this year.
“I feel that repeal and replace have to be together, for very simply, I think that the Democrats should want to fix Obamacare,” Trump said in a Jan. 10 interview with the New York Times. “They cannot live with it, and they have to go together.”
At a news conference the next day, Trump promised an Obamacare replacement "simultaneously." “We will be filing a plan,” the president said. “It will essentially be simultaneously.”
Back in January, House Republicans were working behind the scenes on a more incremental approach to ditching President Obama's health-care law than the single bill the Senate is considering right now. Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wanted to bring a measure to the floor in February or March that would erase big parts of the law -- but delay it for another two or three years, giving Republicans time to come up with a separate replacement. The idea was to vote as quickly as possible to repeal the ACA, thus fulfilling their long-standing campaign promise, and soon after figure out what to replace it with.
Paul was one of three Senate Republicans on Sunday's talk shows who urged a quick vote on a straight Obamacare repeal bill. Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Mike Lee of Utah joined the refrain.
On Friday, Sasse had sent a letter to Trump advocating that Congress vote on a bill ditching as much of the law as possible, if senators aren't able to agree on a replacement by July 10. Then Congress should cancel August recess and work six days a week until the situation is resolved, Sasse wrote.
“You campaigned and won on the repeal of Obamacare,” Sasse wrote to the president. “So did every Republican senator. We should keep our word.”
Yesterday on CNN's "State of the Union" Sasse again called for an immediate vote on repealing the ACA but with a delay, so no one is "thrown off coverage."
Even some allies of Trump are questioning whether he has effectively used the bully pulpit afforded by his office and are increasingly frustrated by distractions of his own making, The Post's John Wagner writes. Trump has spoken out repeatedly about the shortcomings of Obamacare -- which he brands a “disaster" -- but he has made relatively little effort to detail for the public why the unpopular Republican replacement plans would improve on President Obama's signature initiative.
"Trump’s seeming ambivalence about selling the GOP plan may reflect that he has always been more animated about getting rid of Obamacare than he has been about what should replace it," John continues. "To the degree he has discussed what the American health-care system should look like, Trump has talked about 'insurance for everybody' and coverage that would be 'much less expensive and much better' — standards that the bills produced by the House and Senate don’t come close to achieving, according to analyses."
“It’s a mystery,” said Barry Bennett, a Republican operative who advised Trump’s campaign last year told John. “I don’t know what they’re doing.”