“Mr. Trump said he planned to tackle tax reform later,” the report continued — suggesting that the president was unaware that a key component of the Senate plan is the elimination of taxes that, under Obamacare, helped cover the costs of insuring poorer Americans. The elimination of those taxes is one of the reasons that the bill has such a significant impact on Medicaid — which itself is a central part of the Senate bill.
That anecdote quickly wormed its way under Trump’s skin. He tweeted about it twice (albeit indirectly) on Wednesday morning.
It’s certainly the case that the Times report relies on the impression one senator was left with after the meeting. But, that said, there’s no indication that Trump “know[s] the subject well.”
The bill that’s on the table in the Senate, like the House Republican effort before it, bears no resemblance to the promises that Trump made on the campaign trail. Trump pledged to protect social safety net programs and to cover everybody while bringing costs down, promises that were obviously mutually unattainable at the outset.
But the Senate bill doesn’t do any of those things: According to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis, it cuts planned Medicaid funding and would see a net reduction in the number of insured, in part because costs for older Americans would spike.
His campaign website had a policy paper presenting his plan for health care, but it was itself at odds with the rhetoric Trump used when he was discussing the issue at campaign events. It’s quite possibly the result of a dynamic with which we’ve grown familiar: Trump freewheeling and casual when speaking from the cuff, detailed and constrained when reading words that were prepared for him.
Trump did regularly argue in interviews and during rallies that one problem was that insurance couldn’t be sold across state lines, which his site’s plan includes as its second point. That wasn’t even included in the House bill, forcing Trump to assure people that it would be added later.
Other presidents would by now have sat down with members of the media to discuss the sweeping policy they were advocating, allowing the press to probe and question the proposal and, from the president’s standpoint, allow him to make the case for what was being presented.
Trump has not offered the media a chance to do so. He has held one full news conference as president — and only three in the past year. He has not had an interview with any outlet except Fox News in nearly two months. The last such interview in which he participated was not what might be described as hard-hitting.
If Trump is intimately familiar with the details in the Senate bill — policies that are significantly at odds with his campaign rhetoric — there’s no real way for us to know it.
There’s probably a reason that Trump hasn’t given many recent interviews. If he’s not familiar with a policy, interviews are a good way to suss that out. When he discussed the House bill with CBS’s John Dickerson in May, Trump promised, after being asked about it, that the bill would be tweaked to mandate coverage for preexisting conditions. That ended up not being the case.
This question of Trump’s engagement extends beyond health care. The Times reported in February that Trump was incensed when he found out that White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon set aside a seat for himself on the National Security Council. Trump was “[angry] that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed,” one week into his administration. He’s given over control of the conflict in Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He criticized the Justice Department for crafting a revised travel ban aimed at passing court scrutiny — a revision that, at the end of the day, was signed into effect by Trump.
Trump emerged on the political scene making a case rooted in emotion, not in policy savvy. On the campaign trail, he was famously uninterested in the details of his proposals, telling reporters at one point that only the press cared about such things. The natural assumption that one would make about Trump would be that he has little interest in or awareness of the details of legislation, and the evidence at hand reinforces that. The stretch, in this case, is to believe his new assertion that he “know[s] the subject well.”
When the House bill passed in May, Trump held a celebratory ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. It wasn’t the bill that was important, clearly, it was simply that Trump was able to say that his side had carried the day.
His tweets on Wednesday morning culminated in a similar rallying cry. He wants “victory for the U.S.” with this health-care legislation.
Or at least, victory for “us” — his administration and his party.