When President Trump called up The Post’s Robert Costa to casually inform him that the massive legislative effort his party had been pushing on Capitol Hill had just collapsed, he waved away any suggestion that he’d promised some other result.
That bill, the American Health Care Act, was meant to serve as Republicans’ long-promised Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort (though, thanks to the vagaries of the legislative vehicle the Republicans hoped to use, it was more of a gut-and-rebuild device). That it was dead in the water within the first three months of Trump’s presidency didn’t seem to faze him at all.
“I never said I was going to repeal and replace in the first 61 days,” he said to Costa with a laugh — undercounting his time in office by a bit. When he offered a public statement a bit later, he’d figured out the proper number:
Trump: "I never said 'repeal and replace it within 64 days.' "
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) March 24, 2017
Trump is correct: At no point in time did he pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare in 61 or 64 days. Instead, he pledged to demand a repeal on Day One — even if it took a special session of Congress to make it happen. He pledged on several occasions to repeal it “immediately.” The message he conveyed to his voters was very much not that “this is something we will get to eventually” but that this was something that would come first on the agenda.
Some examples of what Trump said during the campaign and the presidential transition:
Interview with ABC News, February 2016: “I’m going to work immediately to knock out Obamacare, and we are going to start taking care of our vets and the military.”
Twitter, February 2016:
We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare – and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2016
Campaign website, March 2016: “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.”
Campaign website, August 2016: “One of my first acts as President will be to repeal and replace disastrous Obamacare, saving another 2 million American jobs.”
Rally in Ohio, September 2016: “On my first day I’m going to ask Congress to immediately send me a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Rally in Florida, October 2016: “Together we’re going to deliver real change that once again puts Americans first. That begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare. My first day in office, I am going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk getting rid of this disastrous law and replacing it with reforms that expand choice, freedom, affordability.”
He also said: “It’s going to be so easy.”
Rally in Pennsylvania, November 2016: “When we win on November 8th and elect a Republican Congress, we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare. I will ask Congress to convene a special session.”
Adviser Kellyanne Conway made the same argument in an Fox News interview, November 2016: Trump “also has talked about convening a special session on January 20th after he is sworn in as President of the United States to do this very thing, to repeal and replace Obamacare
Interview with the New York Times, January 2017: Trump said an Obamacare repeal vote would happen before his inauguration and replacement wold come “very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter.”
There is one member of the administration who explicitly pledged a repeal of Obamacare on Day One. Mike Pence said it at a rally in Virginia in August 2016: On Day One, Trump “is going to repeal every single Obama executive order, he is going to repeal Obamacare.”
By insisting that he never promised quick action on Obamacare, Trump’s trying to turn a loss into something more like a tie: The status quo is what it is and he will address it eventually. He’s mastered the art of perception, including making it seem as though what he said in the past was perhaps a feint that’s less important than what he’s saying now.
He has not, however, mastered getting Congress to do what he wants.