As the Senate’s last-ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act tanked on Tuesday, the White House sent a series of conflicting signals as to what happens next, with the president, vice president and a top spokesperson all appearing to lay out different paths forward.
President Donald Trump seemed to present two options: lawmakers could vote on a straight-forward bill repealing Obamacare and craft a replacement later, or they could wait until the law “fails” and hope Democrats are forced to the negotiating table.
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He also appeared to endorse both options.
“Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” he wrote on Twitter Monday night, supporting the path Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had pledged to take.
But even before that plan fell apart on Tuesday — three Republicans said they would not support repeal without a replacement plan — Trump seemed to call for the “wait and see” approach too.
“As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning.
The uncertainty could have consequences in and out of Washington. Businesses tend to prefer predictability from their leaders. And the mixed messages from the White House are hardly helpful to Capitol Hill Republicans still trying to determine where to focus next.
Even as Trump was indicating Tuesday he was ready to move on — telling reporters he was going to “win” on taxes, infrastructure and other issues — Vice President Mike Pence indicated that simply letting the 2010 health care law remain on the books and hoping for its collapse was not, in fact, a viable course.
“Inaction is not an option,” he said in a Tuesday morning speech at the Retail Advocates Summit in Washington. “Congress needs to step up. Congress needs to do their job, and Congress needs to do their job now.”
Principal deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, meanwhile, told reporters the White House could manage both health care and taxes at once.
“I know this will surprise a lot of people, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said. “We’re not done with the healthcare battle. We’re going to continue pushing forward on that and hopefully get that completed, and then transition fully to tax reform after that’s over.”
If the GOP punts and leaves Obamacare in place for now, Trump still could damage the law on his own by withholding subsidies that help prop up the insurance markets. Democrats have said such a move is akin to sabotaging the system for political gain. The White House has yet to indicate if it will withhold the payments.
Whatever happens next, Trump said Tuesday he believes he won’t be blamed for any harm to consumers or insurers.
“We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it,” he told reporters. “We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”