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Republican Strategist Antonia Ferrier Discusses Trump's Push For New Health Care Law


It's deja vu all over again, is most often attributed to baseball great Yogi Berra, but it could just as easily be attributed to anyone following the GOP and health care this week. Earlier, the Trump administration revived its efforts to wipe out the Affordable Care Act, this time by supporting a ruling by a federal judge that the ACA is unconstitutional because of changes to tax law. Now, the move this week caught just about everyone by surprise, but especially congressional Republicans. As he did last time, the president is promising that Republicans will replace the ACA with something better.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We are going to be, the Republicans, the party of great health care.

CORNISH: Antonia Ferrier is a veteran of congressional Republican leadership. She worked with Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell the last time Republicans tried to repeal and replace the ACA. She joins us now in the studio. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ANTONIA FERRIER: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So your former boss, Majority Leader McConnell, told reporters that he hopes the president can work something out with Speaker Pelosi. Does that mean he's sitting this one out?

FERRIER: Well, the reality is that Congress is split in two; the House is controlled by Democrats, the Senate is controlled by Republicans. And if this is something the president wants - it's his - absolutely his prerogative; he is the president of the United States - then he's going to have to come to a deal with the speaker. They are the most - two most important people here. And as you did point out, Senate Republicans did try to repeal and replace, and that's not a deja vu all over again that they would like to experience.

CORNISH: Oh, really? OK.


CORNISH: So the problem has not been coming up with a plan; the problem is coming up with a plan that anyone can agree on, even within the Republican conference.

FERRIER: Correct.

CORNISH: But has that calculus even changed? I mean, nowadays you have Democrats talking about "Medicare for All." So it's a different environment, isn't it?

FERRIER: It absolutely is. Look, I think the president is right. There needs to be a focus in the Republican Party to figure out what we are for. I think that's useful.

CORNISH: Why don't they know? It's been almost a decade.

FERRIER: (Laughter) Well, that's a very good question. You know, politics is something - I'm sure your viewers are going to be - listeners, I should say, are going to be shocked to hear that sometimes the easiest political play is to attack policy. And I think, from the Affordable Care Act, when it was passed, it was the largest expansion of government in a generation, and Republicans simply did not support that. The question of what happens once you have a huge new entitlement put into place, pulling it back and replacing it with something else - that's a whole different ballgame.

So I think it's very hard at this point to fully repeal and replace this law because states and people have become very used to it. Now, if the president wants to go to a place where he's coming up with a different sort of idea in terms of coverage, I think that's worthwhile.

CORNISH: We should point out that this is now heading towards an election year, right?

FERRIER: That's right.

CORNISH: I mean, what kind of risk does this present for congressional Republicans, that this could be an issue?

FERRIER: Well, I think it's going to be an issue for both sides because Republicans will attack, as you pointed out...

CORNISH: But Democrats ran and won on it in 2018.

FERRIER: That is absolutely true. But since 2018, the Democrats - and many of them have come out in support of Medicare for All and endorsed the idea of getting rid of private insurance. So I think the waters are pretty muddy. But the reality is, do we really think this is going to happen with Nancy Pelosi being in the House? It seems pretty slim. I think there's probably more likelihood that I'm going to wake up tomorrow and look like Gisele Bundchen than we're going to get Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump to agree on a health care plan.

CORNISH: This has been a failed promise from the Republican Party.

FERRIER: That's right.

CORNISH: Is this an embarrassment? Is this is a problem, to keep going back to it?

FERRIER: It's a problem to keep going back for it if they fail, but it's not a problem if it's just to present a vision. And if you're a president running for re-election, as Donald Trump is, maybe this is really about presenting a vision, given the fact that the House is controlled by Democrats.

CORNISH: Antonia Ferrier is a veteran Republican strategist. She's now a partner at Definers Public Affairs. Thank you for speaking with us.

FERRIER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.