WASHINGTON—U.S. president Donald Trump on Monday made a late-hour appeal to senators — targeting members of his own party — to move forward with debate over faltering Republican legislation to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is,” Trump said in an afternoon address from the White House on the eve of an anticipated Senate vote that could spell defeat of the long-sought legislation.
As of Monday, GOP leaders in the Senate were still scrambling to round up enough Republican votes to move forward with debate of the bill.
The outcome remained in doubt, largely because senators have not even been told which of the various GOP plans will be considered.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has kept the process highly secretive as he tries to find a path forward amid stark opposition within his Republican majority, and no backing from Democrats. He has only two Republican votes to spare.
Many GOP senators are reluctant to begin formal debate on the Affordable Care Act without knowing where the process will end.
Trump implored fellow Republicans to make good on a promise to repeal the ACA, widely known as Obamacare, that has been a staple of their rhetoric for seven years.
“For Senate Republicans, this is their chance to keep their promise,” Trump said. “Over and over again, they said repeal and replace, repeal and replace. But they can now keep their promise to the American people.”
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The address, from the Blue Room of the White House, amounted to Trump’s most robust pitch for the legislation to date. Even some in his own party have expressed frustration with what they view as a lacklustre sales job.
Besides decrying the shortcomings of Obamacare, Trump touted what he described as the improvements that would come under the GOP legislation.
Trump said that the legislation eliminates the “painful individual mandate” that required Americans to have health insurance or pay a penalty fee, along with removing mandates for employers. He claimed premiums would be “significantly” lowered and health insurance markets would be stabilized — notions that multiple analyses have disputed — and that access to health savings accounts would be expanded.
And Trump said legislation will continue to cover preexisting conditions and will devote “substantial resources” to combating opioid addictions, despite Democrats and health-care advocates arguing that it will not.
Still, about two-thirds of Trump’s statement was devoted to what he called the “bit fat ugly lie” of Obamacare.
While Trump’s message was aimed squarely at Republicans, he also chided Senate Democrats for their refusal to support the legislation, which has proved highly unpopular in opinion polls.
“The problem is we have zero help from the Democrats. They’re obstructionists — that’s all they are,” Trump said. “The Democrats aren’t giving us one vote, so we need virtually every single vote from the Republicans. Not easy to do.”
Continuing to deride Democrats, Trump said: “They run out. They say, ‘Death, death, death.’ Well, Obamacare is death. That’s the one that’s death.”
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Before Monday, the president had spoken out repeatedly about the shortcomings of the ACA, which he brands a “disaster.” But he had made relatively little effort to detail for the public why Republican replacement plans would improve on the previous president’s signature initiative.
Trump’s public efforts to dismantle the health-care law have contrasted sharply with President Barack Obama’s efforts to build support in advance of its 2010 passage.
Obama gave a joint address to Congress on health care. He fielded questions at town hall meetings throughout the country — including a two-hour session that took place in Ohio eight years ago Wednesday. Obama even bantered on live television with hostile lawmakers at a Republican retreat.
Before making his public remarks Monday, Trump met privately with what aides described as “victims of Obamacare.” Several of them stood behind him as he delivered his remarks.
“The question for every senator — Democrat or Republican — is whether they will side with Obamacare’s architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or with its forgotten victims,” Trump said.
Trump has held several other such meetings in the country in an attempt to showcase the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act. Most often, media coverage of those meetings has been largely overshadowed by other events Trump has held on the same trip.
With files from Tribune News Service