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Trump’s bizarre fantasy about why Obamacare isn’t being repealed

In an interview airing Thursday morning on “Fox and Friends,” President Trump yet again wrongly claimed that a hospitalized senator was preventing Republicans from passing their health-care bill, even though they have the votes.

This is hardly the first time Trump has made a blatantly false claim — he has made more than 1,000 wrong or misleading ones as president — but this one is notable for its brazenness, how self-serving it is, the number of falsehoods contained within and its repetition. Trump said it no fewer than six times Wednesday (when the “Fox and Friends” interview was recorded), making clear this is a talking point he has decided upon.

All of this makes it basically impossible to believe this is an innocent mistake. And if it's not, it's massively cynical.

Here are the six claims, with the first two coming on “Fox and Friends” and the four others in a Q&A with reporters at the White House:

  1. “The health-care bill didn't go down. We have the votes, but reconciliation is a disaster. But as you know, it ends on Friday. So we don't have enough time, because we have one senator who's a 'yes' vote — a great person, but he's in the hospital. And he's a 'yes' vote. So we can't do it by Friday. So we have the votes.”
  2. “We have the votes to get it done. You can't do it when somebody is in the hospital.”
  3. “I just wanted to say, though, on health care, we have the votes for health care. We have one senator that's in the hospital. He can't vote because he's in the hospital. He can't vote because he's in the hospital. We have two other votes that are coming and we will have them, but the problem is we can't have them by Friday because of reconciliation ends on Friday, so we'll have to do it in January or February. But I feel we have the votes; I'm almost certain we have the votes. But with one man in the hospital, we cannot display that we have them. Plus, some people want to go through a process just to make themselves feel better. That's okay.”
  4. “But on health care, we have the votes, we can't do it now because we have somebody in a hospital and we have great respect for that gentleman, by the way, he's a fantastic man. He was a yes, that's right.”
  5. “He can't come here and vote. In other words, he can't come here and vote because he's in the hospital. So here's the story. Wait, wait, yes, in the hospital. So we're going to do it in January or February because, as you know, we have the votes but can't go longer than Friday.”
  6. “You know, we're only one off, maybe two, but we can't vote now, John — you probably didn't hear me — because as you know, one of our yes votes is in hospital. I can't take him out of the hospital.”
The Post's Paige W. Cunningham explains the key reasons why the party struggles to move a health-care plan forward. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

First off, the senator at issue is Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) — Trump confirmed that in the Q&A. Cochran has said clearly that he was not hospitalized but instead received treatment for a urological issue.

This is perhaps quibbling — Cochran is recuperating in Mississippi and may not be available to vote — but even if he were, Trump's claim is laughable. As the media has made clear for days, the GOP doesn't have the votes. Three GOP senators have come out against the health-care bill, and no Democrats will vote for it, meaning it has 49 votes at most, when it needs 50. GOP leaders have acknowledged publicly that they don't have the votes and have not blamed Cochran's absence. Even in the final quote above, Trump seems to admit that the votes aren't actually there — “we're only one off, maybe two” — after saying they were.

It's crystal clear why Trump is doing this: It's an excuse for not getting the bill passed, given that the deadline for passing it via reconciliation (i.e. 50 votes instead of 60) is Friday. Trump is embarrassed, and it seems likely that he'll continue to make the claim when asked why he couldn't seal the deal.

If nobody in the White House can prevail upon him to stop repeating this false talking point, that's a big problem. Of course, it wouldn't be surprising.