Get ready for Trumpcare 2.0: White House reverses course, looks to renew health care battle

House GOP leaders and the White House are already negotiating with conservatives, despite Trump’s vows to move on

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published March 28, 2017 9:50PM (EDT)

 (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Andrew Harnik)
(AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Andrew Harnik)

Despite his loud proclamations to the contrary, President Donald Trump appears ready to tackle health care reform again.

"I would say that we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform. That will be next," Trump told reporters in the White House after the GOP failed to rally enough support to pass the American Health Care Act last Friday.

Yet only days after the embarrassing defeat of the House Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which Trump backed and lobbied Republicans on the Hill to support, Trump is still looking to dismantle the signature legislative accomplishment of his predecessor -- one way or another. According to the New York Times, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is already meeting with members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and the more moderate Tuesday Group, in an effort to hash out a compromise between the bitterly divided factions of the Republican caucus.  

White House staff "has met with individuals and listened to them,” press secretary Sean Spicer explained to reporters on Tuesday. “Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes.”

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, confirmed to the Washington Post that Ryan meet with Trump at the White House on Monday and also met separately with Vice President Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Spicer said lawmakers from both parties have reached out to the White House since the repeal-and-replace measure’s collapse on Friday. “So there has been a discussion and I believe there will be several more,” he said. “I'm not saying we've picked a strategy and we're going to go with this group or that group.”

It was, of course, the Freedom Caucus that Trump publicly blamed for sinking his health care plan:

On Twitter Monday night, Trump hinted that he may be more inclined to negotiate Trumpcare 2.0 with Democrats, many of whom are up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump, than with the most recalcitrant conservative members of the Republican Party.

“I’ve been saying for years that the best thing is to let Obamacare explode and then go make a deal with the Democrats and have one unified deal,” the president told the Washington Post immediately after demanding House Speaker Paul Ryan pull the American Health Care Act from a scheduled floor vote Friday. “And they will come to us; we won’t have to come to them.”

But while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi recently took formal steps to work on improvements to the law that Republicans have derisively called Obamacare for seven years, it is virtually inconceivable that a Democratic Party that is beginning to move toward coalescing around single-payer health care would suddenly go along with any possible bill put forward by Ryan and Trump. After all, the Congressional Budget Office has said that while the market for individual coverage is currently stable in most of the country under Obamacare, the first version of Trumpcare would eventually have left 24 million more Americans uninsured.

Perhaps that's why Trump was so quick to shift the discussion of his major policy and political failure on Friday to focus on other agenda items. Republicans, on the other hand, appear eager to jump back into negotiations over an issue they have campaigned on for the last three election cycles.

“We saw good overtures from those members from different parts of our conference to get there because we all share these goals, and we’re just going to have to figure out how to get it done,” Ryan said after a meeting of the entire House Republican conference on Tuesday -- the first since Trump traveled to Capitol Hill last week to threaten members of the Freedom Caucus to support Trumpcare. “I don’t want us to become a factionalized majority. I want us to become a unified majority, and that means we’re going to sit down and talk things out until we get there, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Republican whip aligned with conservatives in the conference, made the curious claim, “We are closer to repealing Obamacare than we ever have been before.” He continued, “We’re going to keep working” because “this issue isn’t going away." 

According to the Washington Post, the Ryan told Republican donors during a Monday conference call that a plan is being developed in time to brief them in-person at a GOP retreat in Florida scheduled for Thursday and Friday.

“In a strange way, this really merged our teams — our team in the House with the president’s team — even more closely,” Ryan reportedly told the GOP donors.

By 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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