U.S. President Donald Trump casts shadows on the wall as he walks with Poland's President Andrzej Duda at the end of a joint press conference, in Warsaw,...
Czarek Sokolowski

After picking a losing fight, Trump retreats on health care

Just one day after Attorney General Bill Barr issued a memo on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, telling the White House what it wanted to hear, the Trump administration made an unexpected announcement: its new position is that federal courts should tear down the Affordable Care Act in its entirety.

Indeed, Donald Trump spent much of last week focusing on health care, to the bewilderment of many Republicans. The Daily Beast reported that many in the president’s party – which just struggled badly through a midterm election cycle in which health care was a dominant issue – had no idea why the White House would pick this fight.

“GOP officials couldn’t help but marvel at Trump’s inability to enjoy a rare grace period,” the article noted. “ ‘They are completely tone deaf,’ texted one of the party’s top strategists. ‘How bout a few more victory laps on Mueller while you can get away with it? WTF is wrong with them?’”

Politico added this morning, “In public and private, Republican leaders made clear that they didn’t want anything to do with the president’s most recent maneuver. They begged Trump to back down, and made their displeasure known to other administration officials, as well.”

For the most part, the GOP appears to be getting its wish. The administration is still asking the courts to do what Republican policymakers could not – a dangerous gambit, to be sure – but in a trio of tweets last night, Trump retreated from the legislative fight. Part of the series read:

“The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare. In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare.

“Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House. It will be truly great HealthCare….”

There was a fair amount of palaver before and after this, but these eight words were the important part: “Vote will be taken right after the Election.”

After picking a misguided fight, the president just punted the debate over health care – until 2021.

Of course, in Trump’s vision, he’ll not only be re-elected next year, Americans will also elect a Republican-led House and Senate, at which point GOP policymakers, who failed spectacularly to advance a health care plan the last time they controlled all of the levers of federal power, will be only too pleased to approve a health care law that is both “really great” and “truly great.”

Why GOP officials couldn’t do this in 2017 or 2018 is unclear, but evidently, Trump wants the public to take his word for it.

The presidential retreat will no doubt delight congressional Republicans who wanted nothing to do with this fight, but it is a bit jarring given what we heard from White House officials literally the day before Trump’s change of heart. On Sunday morning, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney made a series of dubious commitments, for example, about how the non-existent Republican plan would work.

Kellyanne Conway insisted, “There is a plan,” adding that the GOP’s blueprint is “manifold.”

For those of us eager to see this glorious and not-at-all-made-up proposal, we apparently will only have to wait another 19 months. Republicans have been trying – and failing – to come up with an ACA alternative for a decade; what’s another two years?