President Donald Trump told Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo in a new interview that the Republican crusade against the Affordable Care Act continues unabated:
I think we’re doing very well on health care. It’s been very much misreported that we failed with health care. We haven’t failed, we’re negotiating and we continue to negotiate and we will save perhaps $900 billion.
Trump said he’d eventually move on to tax reform and infrastructure, but added, “I have to do health care first. I want to do it first to really do it right.”
The GOP’s inability to find consensus on the American Health Care Act last month—after seven years with repealing the Obamacare as their party’s top priority—was a stunning defeat for Trump and Republican lawmakers. To make matters worse, Trump responded to divisions within the Republican caucus by attacking the hardline Freedom Caucus, which he blamed for the unpopular bill’s defeat.
Republicans have more than intra-party squabbles to worry about if they’re going to get anywhere on healthcare. After the AHCA failed, a Kaiser Health tracking poll found two-thirds of the public thought this was a “good thing.” Earlier this month, Gallup found the Affordable Care Act is supported by the majority of Americans for the first time since 2012. Trump himself continues to be unpopular, and Democrats have been buoyed by several unexpectedly competitive special elections in conservative districts, like the one Tuesday in Kansas.
Trump was warned that tackling healthcare first could be a nightmare. He could have begun with a big push for infrastructure, historically a bipartisan issue and one Trump clearly cares about. That would have put pressure on Democrats to compromise, and a victory would have given him real political capital to push orthodox Republican priorities. But Trump made the mistake of trusting House Speaker Paul Ryan, who insisted healthcare had to come first—a decision Trump reportedly regretted.
Now Trump is stuck. He’s got congressional leadership still fixated on healthcare, and he’s pledging not to let the issue go. But another attempt isn’t likely to fare any better, and a second major political failure will bruise Trump even more than the first.