Trump’s Flip-Flops Threaten Bipartisan Obamacare Stabilization Deal

President Donald Trump speaks during an event to announce the nomination of Kirstjen Nielsen to be Secretary of Homeland Security, in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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Less than an hour after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) told a room full of reporters that President Trump had called him Wednesday morning to offer encouragement for Alexander’s bipartisan deal to stabilize Obamacare’s individual market, the mercurial president took to Twitter and seemingly reversed his position.

A few hours later, he flipped again, telling reporters: “Lamar Alexander’s working on it very hard. If something can happen, that’s fine.”

The conflicting tweets and remarks are leaving Washington utterly befuddled as to the President’s view on the deal, contradicting his previous statements—some less than 24 hours ago—supporting and taking credit for Alexander’s negotiations with Democrats on the bill.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon with the Greek Prime Minister, Trump said “we have been involved” in the deal-making process, and characterized the proposal as a “short-term deal” that will help pave the way to repealing Obamacare down the road.

Then, in a speech to the Heritage Foundation Tuesday night, Trump said he “commends” the bipartisan negotiations “to provide much-needed relief for the American people.” But Trump also seemed to hedge somewhat in the Heritage speech: “While I commend the bipartisan work done by Senators Alexander and Murray — and I do commend it — I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.”

On Wednesday morning, Alexander said President Trump called him to voice tentative support. It was the third positive call in the last two weeks that Alexander has gotten from the President on the issue.

“He called me to say that he wanted to be encouraging,” Alexander said. “He intends to review it carefully to see if he wants to add anything to it. And number three, he’s still for block grants, but sometime later.”

Alexander then spoke in praise of Trump, saying he made the deal possible and displayed keen political and policy knowledge.

“The parlor game around Washington is that the President doesn’t know what he’s doing. But on health care, he probably does,” he said. “He is for bipartisan agreements for the short term, a bridge so that people are not hurt.”

But in a repeat of the pattern from the White House earlier this summer, when Republicans were attempting to rally the votes on a series of bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the President’s contradictions, flip-flops and incoherent message are threatening the ability of Congress to pass a bill, and leave in doubt whether he would sign it if it actually reached his desk.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.
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