President Trump Pivots On Bipartisan Health Care Bill
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
For more on President Trump's role in all of this, NPR's Geoff Bennett joins us now from the White House. Hi, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: So as we've just heard, this morning the president distanced himself from the bipartisan Alexander-Murray health care deal, saying he can never support bailing out insurance companies. But Geoff, yesterday he seemed to embrace the bill. Walk us through this.
BENNETT: Well, he did. Early yesterday, the president was holding a news conference in the White House Rose Garden with the prime minister of Greece just as news broke on the Hill about this tentative agreement. And when asked about it, the president praised the two senators involved and said he was aware of what they were working on. And he appeared to take partial credit for it.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yes, we have been involved. And this is a short-term deal because we think ultimately block grants going to the states is going to be the answer. That's a very good solution.
BENNETT: So you hear him call it a very good solution. But then hours after that yesterday in a speech before the conservative Heritage Foundation, President Trump changed his tone, saying the bill provides, as he put it, bailouts to insurance companies. And then this afternoon, Ari, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Alexander-Murray bill, while it's a worthy pursuit, doesn't go quite far enough.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We think that this is a good step in the right direction. This president certainly supports Republicans and Democrats coming to work together. But it's not a full approach, and we need something to go a little bit further to get on board.
SHAPIRO: Geoff, that's a quick pivot from hot to cold. What's going on here?
BENNETT: I think what accounts for this is a Republican Party that doesn't want to be in what they view as an untenable political position of having to vote to prop up the Affordable Care Act after pledging for seven years to scrap it. So you have groups like FreedomWorks, Heritage Action, the Club for Growth all casting this bill as a betrayal of the Republican promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But I'll tell you. Democrats are really infuriated by what they view as the president's shifting stance. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today while speaking with reporters called the president the obstructionist-in-chief for not being able to stick to a position, as Schumer put it. Here he is on the floor of the Senate earlier today.
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CHUCK SCHUMER: He's totally inconsistent - for it one day, against it the next day. You can't govern. Mr. President, you cannot govern a country. You cannot keep America great if you don't know what's in the bills and don't have a consistent policy about them.
SHAPIRO: Does this mean it's the end of the road for this bipartisan health care proposal?
BENNETT: Well, Lamar Alexander told my colleague Sue Davis, who covers the Hill, that he sees the White House pushback as part of the overall legislative process. But I think it's impossible for Republican lawmakers to support this deal without President Trump's stated endorsement. There's just not enough political cover for Republicans to vote for it. And then over in the House, you have House Speaker Paul Ryan saying he wouldn't even bring such a stabilization bill to the House floor for a vote. So right now, it seems that there aren't enough votes for it. And without the president's support, it looks like this bill doesn't really go very far.
SHAPIRO: So if this bill doesn't go very far and congressional efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have failed, where do things stand?
BENNETT: Well, there are other options facing lawmakers. But again, there's just - the incentive structure, particularly on the Republican side, just does not exist for the - for Republicans to stand up and to give yes votes for this bill on the floor either in the House or the Senate. So right now we're really at an impasse.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Geoff Bennett telling us about the latest developments on the health care debate. Thanks, Geoff.
BENNETT: You're welcome.
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