WASHINGTON- President Donald Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign promise of the president and his allies.
House of Representatives leaders yanked the bill after a rebellion by Republican moderates and the party’s most conservative lawmakers left them short of votes, ensuring that Trump’s first major legislative initiative since taking office on Jan. 20 ended in failure. Democrats were unified against it.
House Republicans had planned a vote on the measure after Trump late on Thursday cut off negotiations with Republicans who had balked at the plan and issued an ultimatum to vote on Friday, win or lose. But desperate lobbying by the White House and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was unable to round up the 216 votes needed for passage.
“We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process,” Trump told reporters at the White House, although he sought to shift the blame to the Democrats even though his party controls the White House, the House and the Senate.
With Friday’s legislative collapse, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – remains in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it.
The healthcare failure called into question not only Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through Congress, but the Republican Party’s capacity to govern effectively.
Neither Trump nor Ryan indicated any plans to try to tackle healthcare legislation again anytime soon. Trump said he would turn his attention to getting “big tax cuts” through Congress, another tricky proposition.
Republican supporters said the legislation would achieve their goal of rolling back the government’s “nanny state” role in healthcare. The White House made undoing Obamacare its top priority when Trump took office two months ago.
But the White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan that satisfied the clashing interests of moderates and conservatives, despite Trump’s vaunted image as a deal maker.
Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, Ryan, who championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House. Ryan said he recommended that it be withdrawn from the House floor because he did not have the votes to pass it, and Trump agreed.
“We were just probably anywhere from 10 to 15 votes short,” Trump said. “With no Democrat support we couldn’t quite get there.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the bill failed “because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises.”
Democrats said the bill would take away medical insurance from millions of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system in disarray.