Yesterday morning, Donald Trump was so eager to explain away the demise of his party’s health care gambit, he unveiled a new excuse: one of the Senate Republicans prepared to vote for the repeal measure was in the hospital.
A few hours later on the White House South Lawn, the president elaborated on this point:
A few hours after that, the president was at it once again, delivering a speech in Indiana on taxes in which he declared, in reference to the latest GOP repeal legislation, “We have the votes on Graham-Cassidy.” [Update: On Fox News this morning, Trump once again repeated the bizarre claim.]
TRUMP: I just wanted to say though on health care, we have the votes for health care. We have one senator that’s in the hospital. He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital.
REPORTER: Are you talking about [Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi]?
TRUMP: [Nods] He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital.
Even for Trump, this was a little weird. First, Thad Cochran is not in the hospital. The Mississippi Republican had a health issue earlier this week that kept him away from the Capitol, but as Cochran said yesterday, “Thanks for the well-wishes. I’m not hospitalized.”
Second, no matter how many times the president says, “We have the votes,” reality is stubborn.
To be sure, if Cochran were unavailable for a floor fight on health care, Senate Republicans would have had an even more difficult time passing an ACA repeal bill, but Trump is choosing to overlook arithmetic: there are 52 Republican senators, meaning the party could only afford two “no” from within their own ranks. There were, however, three – and by some counts, four.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but four “no” votes plus one “yes” is still … four “no” votes.
So, why is the president making stuff up? I obviously can’t read his mind, but I suspect this is how Trump is choosing to rationalize failure. He said he’d help shepherd a Republican health care bill through the Senate; the bill failed to get the support it needed; he couldn’t strike a deal; and so it’s easier to blame Thad Cochran’s urological ailment than accept the latest in a series of defeats.
In fact, it’s likely these manufactured circumstances will soon become an accepted reality in the White House – Republicans had the votes (even though they didn’t), and Cochran was in the hospital (even though he wasn’t) – and reporters will be expected to present this in a “he said, she said” way, as if Trump’s made-up story has merit.
But it doesn’t.