President Trump renewed his vow Friday to repeal the Affordable Care Act, seemingly putting him at odds with a top Republican senator who insisted that Congress will not scrap President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
Appearing at a National Rifle Association conference in Indianapolis, Trump touted Republicans’ success in eliminating the individual mandate, which he called “the absolute worst part of Obamacare.”
“Now we’re going for the rest,” Trump said before again blaming the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz) for his party’s failure to repeal the entire law last year.
It was unclear whether Trump was referring to his administration’s involvement in an ongoing lawsuit aiming to declare the ACA unconstitutional or whether he was pushing for congressional action before the 2020 elections.
During a meeting with constituents, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that he did not think the courts would declare the 2010 law unconstitutional, nor would lawmakers repeal it.
“The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, and it’s not going to be repealed by Congress,” Grassley told a woman who pressed him about the law’s coverage for those with preexisting medical conditions and shared the exchange via YouTube.
She pointed out that Grassley voted seven times to repeal the law, which he acknowledged.
“The last time we voted for repeal was when McCain voted the other way, and there’s no chance of repealing it now. So what are you worried about?” Grassley asked.
The seven-term senator is chairman of the Finance Committee, which would be responsible for drafting a replacement for the law if it were declared unconstitutional or repealed.
Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), strongly counseled against that path several weeks ago, arguing it would be politically perilous for the party to seek the repeal of a largely popular health-care law with no viable replacement.
Trump had caught fellow Republicans off guard by his rapid shift to an issue that helped elect Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. In late March, Trump directed the Justice Department to intervene in a federal court case seeking to eliminate the ACA in its entirety and promised a more affordable replacement plan.
While Trump agreed earlier this month not to push for a comprehensive heath-care bill before next year’s elections, he said that he still plans to run on the issue and that his campaign would present a plan to voters.
Trump has repeatedly focused his ire on McCain for voting against a Republican plan to repeal the ACA that the senator said had not been considered carefully enough.
“And we had it done except for one vote,” Trump told the crowd Friday. “You know what I’m talking about. One vote.”
The repeal of the individual mandate, which required people to buy insurance or pay a penalty, came in the Republican tax bill passed and signed into law in late 2017.
Trump’s remarks Friday came amid a wide-ranging address in which he promised to keep championing the Second Amendment and continued to air grievances about the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election — and castigate Democrats for continuing to investigate him and his administration.
Trump said the probe of possible coordination between Russia and his 2016 campaign was the result of “corruption at the highest level” in Washington.
“They tried for a coup,” he said. “It didn’t work out so well. And I didn’t need a gun for that one, did I?”
Trump said Democrats were angry because “their collusion delusion has been exposed to the world as a complete and total fraud.”
The recently released report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III concluded that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
The report did not find sufficient evidence to bring charges of criminal conspiracy with Russia against Trump or anyone associated with his campaign.
It did not offer a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Attorney General William P. Barr later concluded that there was not sufficient evidence for obstruction of justice, but House Democrats are continuing to aggressively pursue that issue.
During his remarks Friday, Trump criticized Democrats for conducting oversight of his administration rather than working with him on issues such as rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and “fixing” trade deals.
“Democrats are obsessed with hoaxes, delusions and witch hunts,” Trump said.
Several NRA members voiced their unequivocal support for the president, welcomed his support for gun rights and said that nothing in the Mueller report dampened their enthusiasm for Trump.
“He’s talking to his people here,” said Jon Lucas, 49, of Monmouth, N.J., who voted for Trump and called him “a very aggressive president. He’s going to push up to the line.”
Asked about the Mueller report’s finding that Trump tried to have the special counsel fired, Lucas said Trump listened to the advice of his counsel and didn’t do it. “Just because he asked doesn’t make him a bad guy,” he said.
Part of the reason Barbara Castro, 53, of Palos Park, Ill., attended her first NRA convention was to hear Trump. “This was my president,” she said. “It’s so important that he’s here.”
Dana Rawlings of Maryville, Tenn., said she appreciated Trump’s frequent references to the Second Amendment and to protecting gun rights, but also his and Vice President Pence’s mention of Christianity. “I am very Baptist and religious,” she said.
Rawlings said she recognizes Trump is “unconventional” and doesn’t agree with him about everything, but she said his views are quite similar to hers on gun rights and abortion, among other issues.
Another Trump supporter, Bobby Meek, a maintenance supervisor from Indiana, praised Trump because he’s “down to earth” and he’s a businessman trying to run the country like a business. “He’s fought against the establishment the entire time he’s been in office,” Meek said. “He knows how to play hardball, too.”
However, one NRA member, Lynn Nevin, 59, from Michigan, said she does not support Trump, criticizing his comments about women and arguing that he lacks transparency when it comes to his finances and taxes.
Nevin, who said she will be actively campaigning against Trump and voting for a Democrat for president, said she did not object to the NRA inviting Trump to speak. But she said she does not like politicians’ pandering to the NRA and the organization getting more and more in line with a specific party.
She gave Trump lukewarm praise for his speech. “He seems to be speaking in complete sentences and hasn’t gone too far off the rail,” Nevin said.
Barb Berggoetz is a freelance journalist in Indiana.