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Trump Urges Senators To Revive Republican Health Care Bill


President Trump said today in a meeting with Republican senators they must pass a bill that repeals and replaces the Affordable Care Act. That's a reversal of what the president had suggested just yesterday. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith tries to explain where the Republican effort to repeal and possibly replace Obamacare stands.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump met with senators at the White House for nearly two hours today. His message...


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to repeal and replace Obamacare. We can repeal it, but the best is repeal and replace. And let's get going.

KEITH: But on Tuesday, Trump seemed to have settled on another option.


TRUMP: And I think we're probably in that position where we'll just let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We'll let Obamacare fail. And then the Democrats are going to come to us. And they're going to say, how do we fix it? How do we fix it?

KEITH: As recently as Monday, Trump was tweeting yet another tune, saying, quote, "Republicans should just repeal failing Obamacare now and work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in" - exclamation point. But then three Republican senators promptly came out and said they couldn't support that idea. So it was back to plan A. Or was that plan B? It's hard to keep track. This was Trump in January.


TRUMP: It'll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially simultaneously.

KEITH: And then this was him in March when the House initially failed to pass its version of the health care bill.


TRUMP: I've been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode.

KEITH: Over the course of the past seven months or so, President Trump has vacillated between all three of these positions, which could be unsettling for Republican lawmakers. Following the White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked if senators are experiencing whiplash. McConnell sidestepped the question.


MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, it's pretty obvious we've had difficulty in getting 50 votes to proceed.

KEITH: McConnell is promising a procedural vote early next week to try to begin debate on health care legislation. It's unclear if he has the votes. It's also not clear at this point what the Senate GOP health care even looks like. McConnell said Senate Republicans have two options.


MCCONNELL: There is a large majority in our conference that want to demonstrate to the American people that they intend to keep the commitment they made in four straight elections to repeal Obamacare. I think we all agree it's better to both repeal and replace. But we could have a vote on either.

TRUMP: Today Trump complained Republicans haven't done a very good job of selling their bill to the public. Republican strategist John Feehery with EFB Advocacy says the president should be out there selling it himself, activating his base to call their senators and demand that they pass the bill.

JOHN FEEHERY: Perhaps, you know, doing a primetime address where he looks in the camera and says, this is why I want all the Republican senators to vote for his legislation. I think the reason he doesn't do that is he doesn't necessarily want to be that closely attached to a bill that's approval rating is 17 percent.

KEITH: Trump is scheduled to hold a campaign rally next week in Ohio. A description of the rally makes no mention of health care. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

SIEGEL: And one more note on health care. This evening, the Congressional Budget Office released its score of one of the options on the table, the Senate bill that would repeal but not replace the Affordable Care Act. The headlines - by 2026, there would be 32 million fewer people with health insurance than under current law, and premiums in the individual market would double.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVIL NEEDLE'S "THE GROOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.