WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan suddenly pulled the President Trump-backed bill to repeal and replace Obamacare in a last-minute admission he was not able to marshal the required 216 votes Friday afternoon.
“We were very close,” Trump said from the Oval Office late Friday afternoon. “We learned a lot about loyalty,” he later mused, adding that he would pivot to tax reform.
Trump had thrown his full endorsement to the health care bill in recent weeks and has long staked his reputation on being a master negotiator. The dropped vote also raises serious questions about how effective Ryan can be as speaker, and even arguably how long his speakership is going to last.
“I spoke to the president just a little while ago and I told him the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill, and he agreed with the decision,” Ryan said at a brief press conference shortly after canceling the vote.
“I will not sugarcoat this: This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” he added. “All of us, myself included, we will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment, what we could have done to do it better.”
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said Ryan’s message to the caucus was to take a breather from health care. Griffith said they’ll come back to the issue within the year. When asked if he believed Congress would ever repeal Obamacare, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., a moderate Republican who opposed the AHCA, said he didn’t know.
On Friday morning, House leadership made last-minute changes to appeal to House Republicans’ conservative and moderate wings who were opposed to the package, the American Health Care Act, but it wasn’t enough to win their support.
With the crucial vote delayed, the blame game is likely to begin. At his press conference, Ryan attributed the failure to the “growing pains” that come from “moving from an opposition party to a governing party.” The speaker further insisted the bill came “really close” despite the defeat.
On Thursday night, Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, ratcheted up the pressure on Republicans, telling them to vote on the bill Friday or the White House would move on from the issue, leaving them “stuck with” the Affordable Care Act.
Mulvaney’s message, as well as a tweet calling out the conservative Freedom Caucus on Friday morning, raised the possibility that the president would blame House Republicans, not Democrats, for the legislation falling short.
The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2017
Trump has previously said he thinks the smartest political move would be to let Obamacare exchanges “fail” and then blame Democrats. He repeated that point while speaking in the Oval Office on Friday. “I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode. It is exploding right now,” the president said. He repeatedly bashed Democrats for their unanimous opposition to the GOP bill.
Ryan, in particular, may take heat, though members defended his leadership Friday. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said he would continue to back Ryan. “The speaker is a human being,” Barton said, who had to cope with the “diversity” of the GOP Congress.
“Paul’s done everything he can,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told Yahoo News before the vote was pulled. “That’s a very tough job. He’s worked harder than anybody I’ve seen,” echoed Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas.
Others are likely to question Trump’s hardball negotiation strategy of forcing a vote before the caucus was united. White House press secretary Sean Spicer brushed off that suggestion earlier in the day. He pointed out that the U.S. is “not a dictatorship.”
As for Obamacare, Ryan said it’s here to stay — for now.
“Obamacare is the law of the land, it’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced,” he said in response to a question. “We did not have quite the votes to replace this law. And so, yeah, we’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
He added, “I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to replace this law.”
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