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Trump, GOP clash over who's supposed to lead on health care

Trump wants congressional Republicans to come up with a health care plan. Congressional Republicans want Trump to come up with a health care plan.
Image: U.S. President Trump celebrates with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) celebrates with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House after the House of Representatives approved...

As of this week, Donald Trump has a new health care strategy: the president wants federal courts to tear down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act and take health care coverage from tens of millions of Americans. This raises a series of fairly obvious questions, but near the top of the list is, "What exactly does he plan to do if this strategy succeeds?"

Yesterday, the president suggested the public has nothing to worry about. "I understand health care now, especially, very well," Trump said, despite not knowing anything about health care. "A lot of people don't understand it."

The president added soon after, "We're coming up with plans.... And if the Supreme Court rules that Obamacare is out, we will have a plan that's far better than Obamacare."

Oh, good. It may appear that Trump is playing a life-or-death game with the health security of millions of families out of partisan spite, but we're not supposed to worry because Republicans "will have a plan."

Which Republicans? Well, that's where the story gets a little tricky.

On Tuesday, the president traveled to Capitol Hill and asked GOP lawmakers to come up with the party's health care plan. Yesterday, congressional Republicans said they'd be delighted if the White House presented them with the party's health care plan.

Time is a flat circle when it comes to the GOP's years long quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act.Republicans said this week that they're open to taking another shot at replacing the health care law, as President Donald Trump suggested, but they'd like the White House to take the lead in coming up with a viable alternative.

This is obviously a recipe for success, right?

Marc Short, Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, said on MSNBC yesterday that he expects the administration to come up with a health care plan in "the coming months." Who knows, maybe that's true.

But we've heard this promise before. In January 2017, two weeks before Trump's presidential inauguration, he assured the public that his team was poised to unveil its health care plan. That was 26 months ago -- and that plan still doesn't exist.

In May 2018, the Republican president boasted to a crowd of supporters, "[W]ait till you see the plans we have coming out, literally, over the next four weeks, we have great health care plans coming out."

They didn't come out.

On the other end of Capitol Hill, the picture is even more embarrassing. GOP lawmakers have been trying and failing to craft a superior alternative to the Affordable Care Act for nearly a decade.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe the stars will align and this will be the year Republican policymakers magically discover how to craft an effective health care plan. After all, Donald Trump told us yesterday, "I understand health care now, especially, very well" -- and it's not like he's given us any reason to be skeptical of claims like these in the recent past.

But if you're someone who needs the American health care system, or might need it in the future, all of this should be unsettling.

Postscript: There's been some good reporting this week on how Trump and his team decided to renew this fight. It appears Vice President Pence, Attorney General Bill Barr, HHS Secretary Alex Azar, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) all urged caution.

Trump, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and his lieutenants ignored them.