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Trump Vows To Make Healthcare An Issue After McConnell Nixes Repeal Effort

The president says Republicans can win on a Democrat issue, but there seems to be no plan.

President Trump surprised many people with his pivot to health care last week. Now it seems that Senate Republicans were just as surprised as the rest of the country. Now Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying definitively that the GOP is not ready to move ahead with another attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, McConnell said, “We had a good conversation yesterday afternoon and I pointed out to him [Trump] the Senate Republicans’ view on dealing with comprehensive health care reform with a Democratic House of Representatives.”

“I was fine with Sen. Alexander and Sen. Grassley working on prescription drug pricing and other issues that are not a comprehensive effort to revisit the issue that we had the opportunity to address in the last Congress and were unable to do so,” McConnell said. “I made clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate.”

Health care reemerged as a campaign issue last week when the Trump Administration advocated that judges in a lawsuit should strike down the entire law. On April 1, President Trump announced that Republicans were “developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare.”

After the conversation with McConnell, the president tweeted this morning that he never intended to hold a healthcare vote before the election. Mr. Trump reiterated his belief that healthcare, an issue on which the Democrats usually hold an advantage, would be a “great issue” for Republicans.

The Republican reversal leads to several questions. The most obvious is whether there was any communication between Republican leaders in the healthcare pivot or whether Mr. Trump merely tweeted an off-the-cuff remark that shifted the entire strategic planning of the Republican 2020 effort. It seems likely that the GOP reacted to an unplanned announcement by Mr. Trump.

A second question is how the GOP can co-opt the issue of health care from the Democrats. As I noted last week, the previous Republican effort at repeal succeeded in shifting public opinion from favoring repeal of the Affordable Care Act to an all-time high level of approval of the law. Unless Republicans can coordinate a strong message that calms voter fears about losing coverage, the health care issue is more likely to be beneficial to Democrats.

Third, there is apparently no change in the Trump Administration’s position that courts should strike down the ACA. Are Republicans planning for the possibility that this ruling could come in the runup to the election? Do they have a plan to take advantage of the opportunity to pass a market-based healthcare reform?

Regardless of the questions and current lack of organization and planning, President Trump apparently intends to continue hammering away on healthcare. At the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner last night, Trump said, “We blew it the last time, man I was fed a bill of goods,” but added “we can’t run away” from healthcare or “we’ll lose.”

The back-and-forth on healthcare is reminiscent of the Keystone Kops with positions being reversed at a head-spinning rate. With Democrats in control of the House, there was never any chance that Obamacare could be repealed before the election, but President Trump has handed Nancy Pelosi an issue with which to hammer Republican candidates next year.

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