Watching "The Art of the Deal" crumble: Trump finally admits Republicans may fail to pass Trumpcare

Trump shrugs off the saga surrounding his first major legislative battle and potential loss: "We'll have to see"

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published March 24, 2017 9:35PM (UTC)
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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Barely into the third month of his presidency, Donald Trump is already shrugging off what appears to be his first failure to negotiate major legislation with members of his own party over the repeal of a health care law he called a "total disaster."

Even as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., prepares to head to the White House before the much-anticipated floor vote on the American Health Care Act at some point Friday — already postponed from the seven-year anniversary of passage of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday — Trump is openly admitting that the replacement plan he endorsed may not even be good enough to pass muster with House Republicans.

"We'll see what happens," Trump said in response to a reporter's question about what happens House Republicans fail to pass his bill at the White House announcement of the approval of the Keystone XL PipelineAnother reporter asked, “Do you think it’s going to pass?”

Another reporter asked of Trumpcare, “Do you think it’s going to pass?”

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

Trump also said "No," when asked if he had rushed the bill.

Thursday night, House Republican leadership was forced to postpone the vote on the Trumpcare after it became apparent that, despite the president's threats and courting, there weren’t enough votes in the GOP caucus. Looking to avoid a massive embarrassment on his first legislative goal, the president who is synonymous with his 1987 book, "The Art of the Deal," announced that he was done negotiating and demanded a vote take place on Friday.

"The president doesn't care," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney reportedly told Paul Ryan when the beleaguered Speaker informed him he didn't have the votes to pass the bill late Thursday night. "The president wants a vote."

Early Friday morning, Trump targeted the House Freedom Caucus, whose hard-right members have been the core of opposition to the GOP legislation and have come under intense pressure from the White House and party leaders to fall into line.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote yes,” the president threatened a divided House Republican conference at a meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

However, Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters Thursday night that he still plans to vote against Trumpcare.

Late Thursday, the White House signaled that Trump would move on to other priorities if the vote fails, leaving Obamacare in place. It has been clear from the start that Ryan was more interested in the policy of repealing Obamacare, whereas Trump really wanted the political victory of rolling back a major accomplishment of his predecessor's.

When asked if a defeat of Trumpcare in the Republican-controlled House was best for the Trump administration, a senior White House aide told CNBC, "100 percent."

Another unnamed senior administration official was quick to pass the blame from the White House to the House and GOP leadership. "This was all Ryan and Price," the Trump official told CNN on Friday. "They agreed upon this plan the day (Trump) hired Price."

The senior White House official continued: "If this bill goes down, I don't think the President is going to have any appetite to work with them."

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer admitted that "the president understand this is it. We have the opportunity to change the trajectory of health care."

Spicer said that "the president and the team up here have left everything on the field .. it is now up to the members of the House."

Trump's defeatist public stance on Friday is far cry from his braggadocious tone on the campaign trail.

"I alone can fix it," he said at last summer's GOP convention, promising "something terrific."

In "The Art of the Deal," Trump bragged that as a businessman, “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. … I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first."

According to a count by The Washington Post, 33 Republicans in the House are on the record as opposing Trumpcare. The president and House Republican leadership can only afford only 22 defections from their caucus.

When asked on Friday if Ryan should retain his post even if the bill fails, Trump demurred before finally saying, "Yes."

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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