U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (L) meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (C) and Vice-President elect Mike Pence on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10, 2016.
Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

On health care, Republicans consider the meaning of ‘everybody’

Congressional Republicans recently conceded among themselves that they’ll “never” be able to craft a health-care reform plan that covers “as many people as Obamacare does.” No one, however, told Donald Trump.

The president-elect boasted to the Washington Post this week, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”  Trump added that Americans “can expect to have great health care…. Much less expensive and much better.”

The benchmarks, which Trump has no idea how to meet, were fairly specific: his administration is committing to universal coverage, “much lower deductibles,” and a simpler and less expensive system in which all Americans are “beautifully covered.”

Was Trump over-promising? Yes. Will he fail to meet his own goals? Definitely.

The funny part, however, is watching Republicans deal with the consequences of the incoming president’s rhetoric. BuzzFeed had this report late yesterday:
[S]ome Republicans in the Senate say they are working on repealing and replacing Obamacare under the belief that Trump misspoke.
Ah yes, the misstatement. The incoming president assured the American public that the Affordable Care Act will be repealed and replaced with a system in which “everybody” has insurance, to which GOP lawmakers are effectively responding, “Let’s assume he didn’t actually mean ‘everybody.’”

It’s a little late for spin. Trump has already established specific standards for his party’s health-care reform package, and one of them is universal coverage. That makes congressional Republicans’ job vastly more difficult – they’re having a tough enough time as it is crafting a coherent blueprint – but by all appearances, the president-elect doesn’t much care.

All of which brings us to the larger problem of what Trump’s aides and allies do when the president-elect says something problematic or demonstrably false. As Corey Lewandowski put it a while back, voters “understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”

A member of Trump’s transition team added in December that Americans should take the president-elect’s rhetoric “symbolically,” not literally. Kellyanne Conway said last week that Americans shouldn’t necessarily “go with what’s come out of his mouth,” but rather, we should “look at what’s in his heart.”

It sets up an interesting political problem on the horizon: if/when Trump and congressional Republicans start taking Americans’ health security away, and voters ask about Trump’s promise to cover everyone, how will the GOP argue that the president only meant that “symbolically,” and we shouldn’t listen to “what’s come out of his mouth”?