This morning, I speculated that Donald Trump might blow up the congressional GOP strategy of “repeal and delay” by insisting that Republicans stick to his insistence, made in a post-election interview, that repeal and replace be done “simultaneously.” Trump seemed reluctant to sign a repeal measure that leaves the Affordable Care Act’s replacement open to doubt — since, after all, he repeatedly promised to replace it with “something terrific,” and suggested this would be easy to do.
Well, now Trump has indeed weighed in again along those lines. He said in a new interview with the New York Times that, yes, he wants repeal and replace to be “simultaneous,” or close to it. But here’s the rub: Trump is also claiming he wants repeal to happen right away, which means, inevitably, that he wants repeal and replace to happen right away:
Mr. Trump, who seemed unclear about the timing of already scheduled votes in Congress this week, demanded a repeal vote “probably some time next week,” and said “the replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
That demand is very likely impossible. Republicans in Congress are nowhere close to agreement on a major health bill that would replace President Obama’s signature domestic achievement….
But Mr. Trump said there was no cause for delay. And he said he would not accept a delay of more than a few weeks before a replacement plan was voted on.
“Long to me would be weeks,” he said. “It won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.” That directly contradicts House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s plans.
Trump apparently doesn’t have a firm grasp of the specifics here, on multiple levels. He doesn’t seem aware of the voting schedule that congressional Republicans are operating from (the first step in the process comes this week with a vote on a budget resolution; he thinks the repeal vote itself is happening right away, when in fact the repeal vote isn’t set to emerge from congressional committees until the end of the month).
Nor does Trump seem aware of the specifics of the argument among Republicans right now over how to go about repeal. The question is whether to delay the repeal vote in order to create more time to create a replacement first, as some Republicans want to do. Trump wants them to fast-track both of them, which kind of misses the whole point. Indeed, Trump doesn’t seem to grasp just how far away Republicans are from elaborating a replacement, let alone reaching consensus on it — or if he does, he doesn’t care about such niggling details.
But in a way, you can read this as a kind of poetic justice — as a kind of calling of the GOP bluff. Republicans have long agreed that Obamacare is a huge disaster, so of course it goes without saying that it should be scrapped immediately. Republicans have also long agreed that the only thing preventing them from getting rid of the ACA and replacing it with far better GOP reform ideas is, of course, Obama’s presence in the White House. So of course it goes without saying that, now that a Republican president is taking over, congressional Republicans should just send him something replacing it immediately.
Indeed, this disconnect from reality is nicely captured by this tidbit from the Times piece:
Mr. Ryan, who met privately on Monday with top transition officials, agreed with Mr. Trump on the state of the Affordable Care Act, saying Tuesday that its marketplaces were in a “death spiral.” But he has argued that lawmakers need time to write a bipartisan health bill that would replace it.
Of course Ryan and Trump agree that Obamacare is in a “death spiral.” Pretty much every Republican says so. Except, you know, it isn’t. Today the administration announced that more than 11 million people have signed up for coverage on the exchanges — slightly up from last year. The point, though, is that regardless of what the facts say, congressional Republicans are locked into the argument that the law is nothing but a catastrophe, so naturally it must be repealed instantly. But they don’t have any idea whether they can reach consensus behind any replacement — hence Ryan’s need for time to write a replacement. The “repeal and delay” strategy is designed to paper over this problem by getting repeal done right away, providing the base with its moment of great liberation and catharsis, and then hoping that Republicans can somehow pressure Democrats down the line into supporting some kind of replacement that, if it ever materialized at all, would fall far short of Obamacare, meaning Dems would take part ownership of the political fallout that resulted.
But this strategy is colliding with a set of political imperatives that come from still another alternate reality: Trump’s. He is a whiz at getting things done and he’s ideologically different from congressional Republicans — he would never cast millions off their insurance. “I know how to do this stuff,” Trump said, by way of explaining why repealing and replacing Obamacare will be a snap. “We’re going to take care of people who are dying on the street,” Trump pointedly told fellow Republicans. Many Trump voters believe him. And indeed, Kellyanne Conway now says Trump doesn’t want anyone left without coverage at the end of the day.
Meanwhile, GOP leaders are under increasing pressure to tackle repeal and replace simultaneously — not just because of Trump, but also because more and more congressional Republicans are getting antsy about the “repeal and delay” strategy. Repealing the law with no guaranteed replacement will result in all kinds of disruptions, and at any rate, they know that a replacement might never happen at all. Today Paul Ryan tried to allay such concerns by saying Republicans will pursue repeal and parts of replace “concurrently,” though it’s hard to know what that means in practice.
But now Trump doesn’t merely want both done simultaneously — he wants both done simultaneously and immediately. And he has a point. What’s the hold up? You Republicans have been telling us Obamacare is a full blown catastrophe and salivating for the opportunity to replace it for years. So what are we waiting for?