President Donald Trump’s interview with the New York Times on Wednesday garnered headlines for comments in which he lashed out at his own attorney general for recusing himself from the federal Russia probe and warned special counsel Bob Mueller not to look too closely into his personal finances and business ties.
But the President’s comments on health care—relevant as he involves himself in the Senate’s struggle to repeal the Affordable Care Act—are just as shocking, revealing a deep ignorance of the basic parameters of the American health care system.
Asked by the Times’ Maggie Haberman about the political difficulty of taking away a benefit that the American people have gotten used to—namely, Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and generous tax credits—Trump gave a rambling answer describing a fantastical system where insurance costs just $12 per year and that money accrues in some sort of account over one’s lifetime:
“As they get something, it gets tougher. Because politically, you can’t give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.”
Possibly confusing health insurance with life insurance, Trump seemed unaware that health care premiums can cost hundreds of dollars per month, even for a young, healthy individual.
This week alone, the President has cycled through at least three different positions on what Congress should do with regard to health care, alternately calling for repeal-and-delay, for the revival of a failed Obamacare replacement bill, and for doing nothing while letting Obamacare “fail” on its own. In Wednesday’s interview, he seemed indifferent to whichever path the Senate decides to take:
“I mean, one of my ideas was repeal. But I certainly rather would get repeal and replace, because the next last thing I want to do is start working tomorrow morning on replace. And it is time. It is tough. It’s a very narrow path, winding this way. You think you have it, and then you lose four on the other side because you gave. It is a brutal process.”
“I want to either get it done or not get it done. If we don’t get it done, we are going to watch Obamacare go down the tubes, and we’ll blame the Democrats. And at some point, they are going to come and say, ‘You’ve got to help us.'”
Later, asked who the key swing votes are that he needs to convince, Trump seemed unaware of when the vote would be held or by how many votes Republicans were short:
TRUMP: Well, I say, let’s not vote on repeal. Let’s just vote on this. So first, they vote on the vote. And that happens sometime Friday?
HABERMAN: Next week.
TRUMP: Or Monday? Monday. And then they’ll vote on this, and we’ll see. We have some meetings scheduled today. I think we have six people who are really sort of O.K. They are all good people. We don’t have bad people. I know the bad people. Believe me, do I know bad people.
He later mused on the shifting number of holdouts:
“I bet the number’s — I bet the real number’s four. But let’s say six or eight. And everyone’s [garbled], so statistically, that’s a little dangerous, right?”
Ever sensitive to negative press coverage, Trump also hit back on previous reports suggesting he doesn’t understand health care policy, asserting without prompting in the Times interview that he wowed Republican senators with his depth of knowledge.
“These guys couldn’t believe it, how much I know about it. I know a lot about health care,” he told the reporters.