Opinion writer

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney got banged around Sunday for insisting that while the White House is acting to void all of the Affordable Care Act, it will protect those with preexisting conditions.

It didn’t go well for him on CNN:

TAPPER: Now, more than 20 million Americans are poised to lose their health-care insurance if the courts side with you.

What is your plan for those Americans who will lose their health insurance?

MULVANEY: Well, a couple different things about that. What -- what you have just said at the beginning there is not accurate. I won’t go into all of the discussions we had in the White House. But there’s absolutely zero daylight between the president and the vice president on this issue. Both of them campaigned on Obamacare being unconstitutional. . . .

We're going to give people the choices that they want, the affordability that they need, and the quality that they deserve. We have said that from the very beginning. Every...

TAPPER: Right, but where's the plan?

MULVANEY: Well, we're -- we're doing the same thing on this that we did with taxes.

Remember, when we started with taxes, people criticized us for not giving enough details. What did we do? We sent principles to the Hill. I think it was one or two pages. And from that, following the proper legislative process, we got a tremendous tax bill that passed into law, also got rid of the individual mandate at that time just as an added benefit. . . .

TAPPER: No, but here’s the thing.

Here -- yes, the Republican bills talk about protecting people with preexisting conditions. The difference between that and Obamacare is Obamacare says, we're protecting people with preexisting conditions. Just like the Republican plan, you cannot deny somebody health insurance because they have a preexisting condition.

The difference with the Obamacare plan is they say, and you can't charge those people more in insurance premiums. The Republican plans do not do that.

MULVANEY: Well, let's talk about that for a second. Let's talk about what Obamacare does. And let's talk about why the Democrats felt so incumbent upon themselves to offer plans to improve Obamacare, because they know it's broken.

Look, I used to be on Obamacare when I was a member of Congress. Don't believe the stories about how we exempted ourselves. The deductibility was tens thousands -- was over $10,000 for my family.

TAPPER: But let's talk about the preexisting conditions. You were talking about the preexisting conditions.

MULVANEY: Yes, then let's talk about it.

TAPPER: Let's talk about that.

MULVANEY: Let's talk about preexisting conditions.

If you have got a preexisting condition and you have to pay $2,000 or $3,000 a month for your premium, $10,000 for a deductible, you're talking about $25,000, $30,000 a year out-of-pocket expenses. That's not affordable care, even for folks with preexisting conditions.

Obamacare does not work. Even the Democrats admit that right now. Face it, there were tens of millions of people who were paying a fine, paying a fee, rather than take Obamacare.

That's people telling you it doesn't work. We know it. They know it. It's just a question of who's got the better idea for how to fix it.

TAPPER: But you're not addressing the idea -- first of all, larger picture here, there is no Republican plan right now. You're talking about how you want one, but there is no Republican plan right now.

You personally, as well as Republicans in Congress, have been opposing Obamacare for a decade as of this year, and yet you're talking about -- you're taking legal action to remove Obamacare, to kill Obamacare, with no replacement for these tens of millions of Americans.

MULVANEY: Now, keep in mind, the lawsuit is actually filed by 20 states' attorneys general, and they were the ones who came forward and said...

TAPPER: Right, and the administration joined it.

MULVANEY: Yes, we did. We joined that today.

But the lawsuit -- we didn’t file a lawsuit to get rid of Obamacare. We simply looked at the Constitution, said, you know what? The state attorney generals are correct. . . .

TAPPER: But wouldn't it be responsible to have the replacement there before you take the insurance away from the individuals, the tens of millions of Americans who are relying on it?

MULVANEY: Would it be responsible for the Democrats to pass a decent bill in the first place? They didn't do that. They admit that.

TAPPER: But I’m not talking about 2009. I’m talking about 2019.

MULVANEY: I'm talking about today.

No, the Democrats just introduced a bill this week to supposedly fix Obamacare, because they know it's broken. I know that didn't get a lot of coverage, but that actually happened. By the way, their answer is, spend a lot more money, let the government do more things.

TAPPER: But you don't have a plan. But you don't have a plan.

You're talking about taking away insurance from tens of millions of Americans, and you don't have a plan ready for them.

MULVANEY: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

Talk about taking care -- we're -- we're talking about passing something...

TAPPER: Ending Obamacare.

MULVANEY: ... that is constitutional.

TAPPER: Right.

MULVANEY: Right. If the courts are right that -- and keep in mind, Obamacare lost at the -- at the trial court level. . . . Even if you like that piece of legislation, you don’t get to keep a law just because you like it if it’s unconstitutional. We’re trying to fix that.

So, no, don't -- don't tell me that we're taking action to try and kick people off of health care. That's not correct. What we're trying to do is pass a piece of legislation that meets the requirements of the United States Constitution.

TAPPER: Yes, but you haven’t introduced legislation.


Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in the Oval Office. (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/REX)

Mulvaney did not have an answer to satisfy those concerned they’ll be left in the lurch, because there is no answer. The president is recklessly endangering 20 million people who rely on Obamacare. He has no alternative; each alternative previously dreamed up proved to be extremely unpopular. Seeing this, the American people punished House Republicans at the polls and returned Democrats to power.

It’s hard to dispute the Democrats’ claim that the GOP cares more about Sean Hannity and whipping its base into a fury than protecting vulnerable Americans worried about health care. Democrats should remind voters of this repeatedly — as they did in the run-up to their 2018 election romp.

Trump’s party is now about Trump’s vindication, Trump’s vendetta against the media and Trump’s determination to prove himself “exonerated” despite Robert S. Mueller III’s statement excerpted by the attorney general that he was not exonerating Trump.

Here again, Mulvaney reveals just how morally depraved is this administration. Mulvaney repeated the lie that Trump was entirely exonerated of both collusion and obstruction. Tapper corrected him, and it went downhill from there after he played a clip of House Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) talking about Trump and his campaign’s association with Russians (“I think it’s immoral. I think it’s unethical. I think it’s unpatriotic. And, yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion. . . . I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay.”):

TAPPER: Now, from what we know, the special counsel concluded there is not sufficient evidence for any criminal charges having to do with conspiracy or collusion.

But what do you think about his larger point that the actions were unethical?

MULVANEY: Keep in mind that everything Adam that just talked about -- and I know Adam. I used to serve with him in Congress.

Everything that he just listed right there was available to Mr. Mueller, in fact, probably in greater detail than Adam goes into right there, and yet Mr. Mueller found no collusion and no obstruction.

TAPPER: Right, not a crime, but what about the ethics or morality of those things, those incidents?

MULVANEY: Again, the -- the -- the issue is not whether it’s ethical. . . .

TAPPER: All I'm saying here is that you're setting the bar on criminal charges or evidence of conspiracy. And I agree with what you're saying, that there is none there.

But he’s talking about ethics and morality. And you’re saying, that’s not his job. Okay, fair enough.

MULVANEY: Right.

TAPPER: But forgetting Adam Schiff for a second, what about the larger point about ethics and morality?

MULVANEY: Well, I think -- I think the voters are going to decide about the ethics and morality of the people they vote for on either side. ...

A lot of folks, including this station, said, give Mueller the time, give him -- let him do his job. But the decision is in. The president did not collude and did not obstruct. It’s time to move on.

Mulvaney then launched into a whataboutism argument concerning Bill Clinton.

Well, we couldn’t have said it any better: The Trump administration is utterly unconcerned with ethics. Betraying the country? Encouraging hacking? Lying to voters? Pish-posh. If it’s not indictable, the president feels he’s got a clean bill of health.

To be clear, Mueller apparently confirmed that Russia did try to interfere with our election both through social media and hacking emails that were then released by WikiLeaks. The Trump campaign had been warned about Russian attempts to interfere with our election. And yet the campaign had more than 100 contacts with Russians and never reported any of this to the FBI. Trump publicly called for Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s emails. Maybe Trump wasn’t colluding, but he and his team were signaling their willingness to accept Russian help, lying about contacts with Russia, lying about his financial interest in doing a deal in Russia and inviting a hostile power to help him win the election.

Perhaps there is no law against that, or perhaps there is one under which he can be indicted after he leaves office. However, if Mueller’s report contains merely Trump’s public conduct and matters in legal filings — in other words, Trump misled the public and welcomed a hostile power’s help — it’s hard to argue with a straight face that Trump was vindicated. And yet, that is precisely what Republicans do these days.

In league with an international foe? Carry Russian propaganda to help you with a hotel deal? Try to interfere with an investigation? Only a party as soulless and lacking in adherence to democratic principles could shrug and declare exoneration. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to — or that such a character deserves a day more in office past his existing term.

Read more:

Harry Litman: A ‘road map’ for the coming fight over the Mueller report

Sally Yates: William Barr should release the full Mueller report as soon as possible

Max Boot: The speech Trump should have given after the Mueller report dropped

David Von Drehle: Robert Mueller, a real-life Atticus Finch

Harry Litman: The Mueller report will be released, one way or the other