On the campaign trail it seemed like everyone agreed on it: Republicans wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But as members hammer out the nitty, gritty, tedious details of health care policy and face their new reality, there are schisms in the party over whether Obamacare should be repealed now or later, whether a replacement should take two years or a matter of weeks and whether Republicans should repeal Obamacare taxes or leave them in place to finance their own health care alternatives. That’s just the short list.
As it turns out, overhauling health care comes with a myriad of choices, differences of opinion and internal disagreements and many Republicans want someone else to make the final call. Enter their President-elect, Donald Trump.
“I think it would be very helpful for him to weigh in and say exactly what he wants done because he is going to carry a fair amount of weight,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who said he was looking forward to Trump speaking at an upcoming press conference Wednesday.
After Trump’s stunning and unorthodox win, many Republicans on the Hill are anxious to hear from their new party leader on what he thinks they should be doing on health care and what exactly the timeline should be.
For many Republicans, Trump could be the tie breaker in a tug of war between rank and filers who want to have a replacement ready before Obamacare is fully repealed and Republican leaders who have been promoting a repeal and delay approach.
“I’ve actually appreciated the fact that he does understand that just repealing without having a replacement there, really puts us in a position of now we own it,” Johnson said of Trump’s past statements.
But Trump’s preferences may come with their own baggage as the President-elect doesn’t always seem that in the loop.
Tuesday in an interview with the New York Times, Trump boldly or perhaps without recognition that he was defying GOP leaders, said he wanted Republicans to replace Obamacare “quickly” and asked Republicans to repeal it next week even though Republicans are already planning to move the legislation that would begin that process this week.
“The replace will be very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter,” Trump told the New York Times, adding later that he didn’t want Republicans to spend a long time without a clear replacement.
“Long to me would be weeks,” Trump said. “It won’t be repeal and then two years later go in with another plan.”
Trump’s comments fly in the face of what someone like House Speaker Paul Ryan has been advocating, but for Republican members, it could be interpreted as a sign that Trump is on their side.
“I think they’ve been issuing caution also,” Corker said. “This is one of those things that I would weigh in strongly if I were him. We saw the effect he had on the House on the ethics piece. Yeah, I would hope that he would weigh in very strongly.”
Unlike presidents of the past who let congressional leadership know where they were headed through back channels, Trump isn’t judicious or coy. He tweets or comes out with headline-grabbing statements. A week ago, when Republicans were working to overhaul the independent Office of Congressional Ethics and take away its power to investigate Congress, Trump tweeted that was bad timing and he wished that Republicans would focus on something else. Hours later– maybe because congressional Republicans didn’t have the votes or maybe because Trump was effective–leaders pulled the rules change from the House floor.
But Trump’s impromptu and gut-level approach also may also create challenges for Republican leaders who have been carefully crafting their own messaging and strategy behind the scenes.
“From a messaging standpoint, yes, I worry about that,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of leadership. “I think from a practical standpoint in terms of moving legislation that there will be close consultations between the administration, the House and Senate, as the leader mentioned. And as this moves forward, that will move forward in a way that everybody is bought in to a path.”
Thune warned that Republican leaders and the administration were still trying to figure out the dynamics.
“Hopefully, it will be a collaborative effort, but the President has an agenda and he’s going to want to implement it and there are a lot of things he can do by executive action to the degree where there are issues where he needs our involvement, we want to work with him,” Thune said.
Some members like Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said that even Trump may have to sometimes let Republicans on the Hill make decisions on how to forge ahead on legislation. Just because Trump demands it, doesn’t mean it will happen, Lankford said.
“There is a difference between saying ‘I want it quicker’ and the Senate saying ‘I know what we’ve got on calendar. We have a lot of people, personnel issues, we’ve got Congressional Review Act, we’ve got a lot of other legislation we’re working on as well, but this is also very important,” Lankdord said.
When asked if there there was a learning curve for Trump, Lankford said, “I think for any president coming in. Any president has on-the-job training. No one has ever done it before so that is for everybody.”