WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suffered a stinging defeat Friday after House leaders abruptly canceled a vote that he had demanded on a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act because too many Republicans continued to oppose it.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he pulled the bill Friday afternoon just minutes before the vote was to begin after consulting with Trump, and expressed disappointment at the failure to round up the Republican votes needed to pass it.
“We were very close, and it was a very, very tight margin,” Trump said. “We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very difficult thing to do.”
The bill’s rejection by Republicans also took the luster off Trump’s vaunted negotiating skills as he stumbled in his first venture into legislative politics after making extensive efforts to woo and pressure recalcitrant and skittish Republicans to win their votes.
Trump acknowledged he faced a steep learning curve.
“We all learned a lot. We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned a lot about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House,” Trump said.
Ryan and Trump said an effort to repeal Obamacare was, for now, dead.
However, Trump also said he’d “been saying for years that the best thing is to let Obamacare explode,” which would force Democrats to join Republicans at the negotiating table.
Ryan said Republicans will move on to a tax overhaul, a major infrastructure program and other items on the president’s ambitious agenda — but he admitted all have become more difficult because of the failed repeal bill.
“Obamacare is the law of the land and it’s going to remain the law of the land until it’s replaced,” Ryan said in a news conference afterward. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
Democrats reveled in the Republican failure.
“It’s a victory for the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“So much for the art of the deal,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in a reference to the title of one of Trump’s most popular books. “I have never seen an administration as incompetent as the one occupying the White House.”
Despite the all-out effort, Trump, top administration officials and House Republican leaders could not, in the end, persuade many ideological conservatives who wanted a more complete repeal and several moderates worried about 24 million Americans losing insurance.
Ryan signaled that the bill was in trouble when he made a midday trip to the White House Friday to meet with Trump, a day after the speaker postponed a vote on the bill because he didn’t have the votes to pass it. Trump late Thursday demanded a Friday vote.
At 3:30 p.m., as debate was beginning to wrap up, the presiding officer abruptly announced the vote was postponed and the House was in recess, prompting Democrats to express disappointment and briefly chant, “vote, vote, vote.”
It was a humiliating setback for Trump, who made an Obamacare repeal a top promise as he ran for president.
And it was an embarrassment for House Republicans, who balked at passing a bill that their own party president would have signed into law after they voted more than 50 times for repeal bills that they knew would go nowhere under President Barack Obama.
Trump blamed Democrats for the bill’s failure and said Schumer and Pelosi now “own” the results of what he predicted would be the collapse of Obamacare.
But Trump also held out the hope for a bipartisan health care bill in the future.
“I honestly believe the Democrats will come to us and say, ‘Look, let’s get together and get a great health care bill or plan that’s really great for the people of our country,’” he said. “And I think that’s going to happen.”
Next up, Trump said, is tax reform. “We are going, right now, for tax reform. Which we could’ve done earlier but this really would’ve worked out better if we could’ve had Democrat support,” Trump said.
But Ryan said that the nearly $1 trillion in taxes that fund Obamacare would stay in place. “We are going to proceed to tax reform,” Ryan said after he pulled the repeal bill. “But this makes it more difficult.”