The president arrived back at the White House at 2:40 p.m., and three minutes later, reporters were told not to expect any more news. Trump was done for the day, though he did manage to summon the energy for a few more tweets.
Here’s what didn’t happen on Sunday: The signing of a “full and complete” health-care plan, which Trump had promised in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace that had aired July 19.
Wallace, as good an interviewer as there is, had tweaked Trump over the fact that he had yet to deliver on one of his signature campaign promises, which was to replace the Affordable Care Act with “something terrific.”
"You’re going to have such great health care, at a tiny fraction of the cost — and it’s going to be so easy,” he boasted the month before the 2016 election. Back when their party still had control of all the levers of government, Republicans in Congress made a stab at replacing Obamacare and failed. Turns out, overhauling an industry that accounts for one-sixth of the U.S. economy isn’t so simple after all.
In his mid-July interview with Wallace, Trump was unabashed: “We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan.”
Then, Trump’s fevered imagination went into overdrive, explaining that he had the power to do it on his own, without a congressional vote, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to leave in place President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. I won’t go into the twisted logic, but you can read my colleague Ruth Marcus’s explanation here.
The truth is, when Trump is stumped, he likes to throw out promises of big policy initiatives — his infrastructure push, for instance — that always seem to be just two weeks away. They are mirages. His assumption is that people will just forget about them as they choke on the dust cloud of distraction that he kicks up every day.
For all of this to work, there have to be a few sycophants willing to play along. Enter Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who claims that he has actually discussed this mythical health-care proposal with Trump. “He’s pretty excited about it,” Graham told The Post.
Congressional Republicans did succeed in getting rid of the Affordable Care Act’s most unpopular element, which was its requirement that people who are not covered by their employers or Medicaid buy insurance or pay a fine. Since then, the administration has chipped away at the law where it can, and has joined an effort by Republican state attorneys general to get the courts to overturn the whole thing.
But the trick is doing that while preserving the parts of the law that people like, including its guarantee of affordable coverage for people who have preexisting conditions. As former vice president Joe Biden has pointed out, the ranks of those who suffer such long-term ailments are likely to be joined by thousands who have been infected by the novel coronavirus.
Another big question is how to provide for those who have lost their jobs — and with them, their health coverage — during the pandemic that most Americans believe Trump has badly mishandled.
Trump knows that this is a tricky moment to remind voters of his failure to come up with an alternative to Obamacare, and even worse, the determination of many in his party to simply obliterate it and leave nothing in its place.
Not quite 3½ years ago, the president promised a brand-new health-care system that “will end in a beautiful picture.” Trump remains, he assures us, undeterred. Just give him a couple more weeks and he will have it all figured out.