It's almost like House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) thinks that by saying something enough times, it will make it true.
As Ryan struggles to keep his fragile Obamacare reform bill from breaking apart and shattering (and potentially ruining Republicans' chance to get rid of Obamacare), there's one man he really wants to thank for doing his part. At a news conference on Capitol Hill on Thursday, here's how Ryan described President Trump's involvement in the Obamacare reform efforts:
“Literally hand in glove.”
“His involvement and his engagement, his listening and his negotiating skills are bringing people together so that we can have a bill we can pass, get a consensus on, and make good on our promises.”
“This is a power we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan.”
Since Ronald Reagan? Okay. All of that comes as news to us. Maybe there's a lot going on behind the scenes — we know Trump has met with some of the dozen-plus conservative lawmakers who have serious concerns about the bill. But publicly, Trump could best be described as distant from this whole Obamacare reform process, especially when compared to Ryan.
In fact, he told Fox News's Tucker Carlson on Wednesday night that “if we're not going to take care of the people, I'm not signing anything.”
Ryan has been on a media and PR blitz the past week to sell the bill to conservative voters and their lawmakers. He's appeared on at least eight national TV and radio shows in eight days to champion it.
He's powered through a politically troubling report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that estimates that more people could be uninsured by this bill than became insured under Obamacare. In an interview with Fox News's Bret Baier on Monday, Ryan called the CBO report “encouraging,” prompting this incredulous question from the host:
— Amber Phillips (@byamberphillips) March 13, 2017
Trump has not put on that same sort of full-court press.
While in Michigan on Wednesday to promote his administration's reconsideration of fuel efficiency standards, Trump didn't mention health care once. (Wednesday was the same day we counted almost 60 GOP lawmakers who have serious concerns about the legislation, more than enough to sink it.)
In yet another interview where Ryan praised Trump's help with the bill, CNN's Jake Tapper astutely pointed out that dissonance: “You really think that you and the White House are on the exact same page?” (Ryan brushed off the concerns.)
Trump did take a stab at selling the plan at a rally in Tennessee later Wednesday night: “The House legislation does so much for you. It gives the states Medicaid flexibility and some of the states will take over their health care. Governor Rick Scott in Florida said, 'Just send me the money.' They run a great plan. We have states that are doing great. It gives great flexibility.”
But he didn't seem laser-focused on it. Health care was just one of half a dozen legislative priorities the president mentioned in his address.
There could be some face-saving going on here. If this bill fails, who owns it? Ryan or Trump?
In that context, it's worth noting that in an interview on Fox Business Network on Wednesday morning, Ryan said this: “Obviously, the major components are staying intact because this is something we wrote with President Trump.”
Meanwhile, conservative groups aren't helping Ryan's case. Breitbart, a conservative site formerly run by Trump's chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, derogatorily calls the bill “RyanCare.” So does Club for Growth, an influential conservative group, which sent out a news release Thursday thanking the three House conservatives who voted against “RyanCare” in the House Budget Committee. (It passed, but barely.)
Whoever owns the bill, the stakes couldn't be higher for it. Ryan's acknowledged that passing this could be Republicans' first, last chance to do health-care reform.
The thing is, health-care policy analysts say it's Trump — not Ryan — who could save this bill. If you're a member of the conservative wing of the party, it's probably politically beneficial to oppose Ryan, a.k.a. the epitome of the establishment, by opposing this bill. It's another thing entirely to cross Trump, who ran on a platform of change and largely did well in conservatives' districts.
It's quite possible that a heavy hand on Trump's part could save this bill. Ryan appears to know that, and — unless we're missing some serious behind-the-scenes negotiating on the president's part — is publicly wishing it so by offering a reality to Trump that the president could slide into. But so far, we see no evidence that Trump is interested in taking the hand Ryan's extending.