President Donald Trump reportedly told House Republicans that while he was committed to backing their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, he hoped they were cognizant of what the political stakes were for failure. A member who was in the Tuesday meeting said that Trump warned them about an impending electoral “bloodbath” headed their way if they couldn’t get the American Health Care Act to his desk.
“He said he hopes members understand that,” the source told CNN.
Publicly, Trump tweeted what could be read as tepid support for the current incarnation of the bill. “Our wonderful new Healthcare Bill is now out for review and negotiation,” he wrote Tuesday. Vice President Mike Pence is also on the record emphasizing the negotiable nature of the bill, which means the White House is clearly listening to conservative Republicans who think the Obamacare replacement bears too much resemblance to Obamacare.
Members of the House Freedom Caucus, the Heritage Foundation, and several senators, including Rand Paul and Mike Lee, have taken a critical stance on the bill. Paul has begun calling it “Obamacare Lite,” and many conservatives are calling on Republicans to block the bill.
But the Trump administration and the House leadership are whipping votes by warning their fellow Republicans that there may not be a second chance to repeal Obamacare. If the bill is defeated internally, it will expose those deep rifts that the party was hoping to move past in the wake of the Trump election victory. Democrats will eat it up. And, like Trump said, there will be a bloodbath at the polls in 2018.
So now we wait to see what happens. How different will the final version of the bill be from the one Paul Ryan unveiled on Monday? Will voters punish the Republicans more for a big government healthcare bill, or for flummoxing the whole thing and leaving Obamacare in place? Is it politically feasible to pass a more conservative replacement bill? Or is this one already too austere for some members of the Senate?
Meanwhile, the bottom could fall out of the Obamacare marketplace at any time, leaving Republicans holding a political mess of epic proportions. Because while Democrats own the ACA completely, the media will make sure the GOP gets the blame. And when they want to create a narrative, don’t underestimate their ability to do so. If that kind of thing takes root, “bloodbath” doesn’t even begin to describe what awaits Republicans at the polls.