Nearly three weeks after Republican infighting sank an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump dug back into the battle on Wednesday, threatening to withhold payments to insurers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said he was still considering what to do about the payments approved by his Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, which some Republicans contend are unconstitutional. Their abrupt disappearance could trigger an insurance meltdown that causes the collapse of the 2010 health law, forcing lawmakers to return to a bruising debate over its future.
After the Republican health care plan collapsed last month, beset by intra-party divisions and widespread public revulsion, Donald Trump immediately blamed Democrats. That didn't make any sense: no one reached out to congressional Dems; they played no role in the process; and it was GOP lawmakers who killed the bill.But the confused president was nevertheless convinced that Democrats should've helped him destroy the most significant Democratic accomplishment since Medicare -- because Trump said so. Indeed, despite the White House's previous claims that Republicans would shift their attention towards tax reform, Trump told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he not only remains focused on health care, he's also considering a new hostage strategy to force Democrats to give him what he wants.
"Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn't get that money," Trump said, referring to cost-sharing reductions. "I haven't made my viewpoint clear yet. I don't want people to get hurt.... What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating."In other words, when the president says he doesn't "want people to get hurt," he means he will start hurting people by sabotaging the American health care system unless Democrats take steps to satisfy his demands.It's a bit like a criminal who declares, "I don't want to shoot the hostages, but I haven't yet received my ransom."What Trump may not realize is how truly ridiculous his new posture is. For a guy who paid someone to write "Art of the Deal" for him, the president doesn't seem to have any idea how to negotiate effectively.According to Trump's latest comments, he'll take deliberate steps to undermine Americans' health security unless Democrats agree to help him undermine Americans' health security. What incentive would Democratic lawmakers have to participate in such an exercise? None.Indeed, the president seems baffled by the very nature of how threats are supposed to work. What Trump is describing is a form of political suicide: he's publicly describing a scenario in which he alone starts hurting Americans, on purpose, so that everyone will know exactly who to blame. It's like the aforementioned hostage-taker filming his crimes, while texting his address to the police, to make the prosecution easier.Trump's original strategy involved allowing the Affordable Care Act to wither through neglect and then avoid responsibility, insisting he had nothing to do with the law's creation. That, too, was badly flawed, but it was at least borderline coherent. This latest gambit is simply bonkers: the president is prepared to take it upon himself to create a crisis that doesn't currently exist, guaranteeing that Americans blame him directly for the ensuing disaster.As negotiating ploys go, announcing plans to hurt people on purpose doesn't exactly scream "presidential leadership."If Trump sincerely wants to work out a deal with congressional Democrats on health care, that would be wise, and Democratic leaders have expressed a willingness to reach an agreement. But if the president is counting on a hostage strategy to work out well for him, Trump is going to be disappointed with the results.