LOUISVILLE, Ky. — President Donald Trump is deploying an outside and inside strategy to fulfill his campaign promise to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” seeking support beyond Washington before making an in-person pitch on Capitol Hill.
Trump rallied supporters Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky, alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after meetings and phone calls in Washington aimed at steadying the troubled legislation designed to erase President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. He planned to court House Republicans on Tuesday.
“We want a very big tax cut, but cannot do that until we keep our promise to repeal and replace the disaster known as ‘Obamacare,'” Trump told the crowd of thousands in Louisville. “This is our long-awaited chance to finally get rid of ‘Obamacare.’ It’s a long-awaited chance. We’re going to do it,” he said.
At the White House on Monday, the president met with House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an architect of Obama’s health care law and the brother of Obama’s White House chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Trump was resuming his campaign-style events at the start of a consequential week for his young presidency. Confirmation hearings for his nominee for the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, opened Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House was expected to vote Thursday on the GOP-backed health care bill.
Trump’s Louisville rally, his third since his inauguration, followed a daylong congressional hearing in which FBI Director James Comey acknowledged for the first time that the agency was investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials seeking to influence the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s aides and congressional Republicans spent the weekend trying to woo conservatives and moderate House members who have questioned the health care plan. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the House’s No. 3 Republican and the leader responsible for rounding up votes, wrote Sunday night to his whip team that the “next few days could define us for years to come.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘perfect.’ Each of us has our own ideal plan, but if we want to advance our principles and fulfill our promises, this bold approach achieves our objectives,” Scalise wrote.
Many hard-line conservatives have pushed for a more complete repeal of Obama’s law, including its requirement that policies cover a long list of services, which they say drives up premiums. They also complain that the GOP bill’s tax credits create an overly generous benefit the federal government cannot afford.
Moderate Republicans, meanwhile, have said the tax credits are too limited and would hurt low earners and older patients. They also worry the plan would leave too many people uninsured, pointing to a nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analysis that estimated 24 million people would lose coverage over 10 years.
Republican leaders were working on several revisions to the bill that would be considered ahead of the floor vote.
At the rally, Trump suggested he wasn’t wedded to the current version of bill. “We’re going to negotiate. And it’s going to go to the Senate and back and forth,” he said, assuring that the “end result is going to be wonderful and it’s going to work great.”
The White House and House Republicans have agreed that the bill will be amended to let states impose work requirements on some healthy Medicaid recipients. States will also be allowed to alter the entire federal-state program for poorer people so states would receive a lump sum federal payment to cover some costs — not an amount that’s pegged to the number of beneficiaries in the state, as the current bill provides.
On Sunday, Ryan said the bill will also be changed to provide more assistance to older people. A CBO report said many older people would receive less aid under the bill than under current law — a major concern to many wavering lawmakers.
The White House was trying to win over conservatives who are part of the House Freedom Caucus, including the group’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C. Meadows joined two Senate conservatives, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, for a weekend meeting at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, with top White House aide Steve Bannon and other White House officials.
But several Republicans continue to criticize the bill. Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., wrote on Twitter on Monday that he couldn’t recall a more “universally detested piece of legislation” than the GOP’s health care bill. He wrote that fellow Freedom Caucus members had suggested several changes but had been rebuffed.
The rally Monday night was the Trump administration’s second high-profile event in Kentucky in 10 days and took the president to the home state of one of the most outspoken critics of the plan, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Vice President Mike Pence was in Louisville earlier this month to build support for the Trump-backed bill.
Paul said Monday to a group of Louisville business leaders that he hoped the Republican bill would fail so that “true negotiations” could begin. The senator, who was re-elected last year, has dismissed it as “Obamacare lite” and asserted that the bill had no chance of becoming law.
Paul was not attending the rally, saying he planned to fly back to Washington to continue building a coalition to defeat the plan.
But Trump called him out nonetheless, saying he hoped Paul would come onboard.
“I happen to like a lot Sen. Rand Paul. I do,” Trump said. “He’s a good guy. And I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed, in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do until this happens. So we gotta get this done.”