President Donald Trump and House Republicans marked the hard-fought passage of their health care bill with a White House victory party Thursday, stopping to savor the first step toward the administration’s first major legislative win.
The victory gave the White House and Capitol Hill Republicans a vital exercise in working together just weeks after they failed at a first attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence intensified their negotiations the second time around, crafting a bill that passed by just enough votes to move on to debate in the Senate.
The White House now faces the tough prospect of getting the health care bill past the Senate’s much tighter vote margins. But with elated House Republicans gathered around him in the White House Rose Garden, Trump promised a win.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable victory when we get it through the Senate,” he said.
Trump marked the 100-day milestone of his presidency last week with numerous executive orders signed but no major policies passed through the Republican-controlled Congress.
“I’ve never, ever seen any kind of engagement like this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the level of involvement Trump and Pence brought to the health care negotiations.
In a final morning meeting before the health care vote, Republican leadership played inspirational music from the movie Rocky, read quotes from U.S. World War II General George S. Patton and talked about the president’s leadership.
“There was a lot of talk about them engaging more than they’d ever seen a president and vice president engage,” said Representative Daniel Webster, a Republican from Florida, who said he had received multiple calls from Trump over the past few days. He changed his vote to a yes after receiving reassurances from the White House about his state’s Medicaid program.
“It was very positive in that they kept pushing and pushing and I think that’s what got it done. It wasn’t just pushing people to vote for something that already existed,” Webster said of the White House. “Most people got something that they needed to fix what their problem was with it.”
Many Republicans said Trump’s deal-making skills would help get the bill passed in the Senate.
“The new variable is President Trump,” said Representative Dave Brat, a Republican from Virginia who is also a part of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “He revived this thing. He came back and the vice president came back so now there’s good energy moving forward.”
Turning point for Republicans?
The stakes for the Trump White House intensified an already-emotional vote that fulfilled seven years of Republican promises to replace Obamacare.
As House members anxiously watched the vote totals inch toward the 216 votes required for passage, victory beers arrived in Republican offices and buses bound for the White House idled outside the U.S. Capitol.
Furious House Democrats waved and sang “hey, hey goodbye” — from the 1969 song Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye — on the House floor to remind their Republican colleagues the so-called Trumpcare vote would ruin their re-election chances in the 2018 mid-terms.
“They’re making a very bad move,” House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters earlier Tuesday.
Pelosi said Republicans were “tattooing themselves with a bill that will forever be held against them,” even though it has little chance of passage in the Senate.
“Pathetic. That is the word to describe this process and this bill,” Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said on the House floor. “If the American people could sue Congress for malpractice, my Republican friends would be in deep trouble. How could you do this? How could you do this to the American people?”
Senate Democrats voiced concerns about the last-minute changes needed to pass the bill.
“Republicans are trying to sneak through their second, even worse version of Trumpcare without debate or any analysis of what it would mean for our country,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “Trumpcare is a breathtakingly irresponsible piece of legislation.”
Hours later as Trump met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the U.S. leader praised Australia’s health care system, saying “… you have better health care than we do.” Australia’s universal health care is government funded.
Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, in an interview on MSNBC-TV, laughed when he was shown videotape of the Trump-Turnbull exchange. He said, “Thank you, Mr. President. We’ll quote you on the floor of the Senate.”
“Canada has a single-payer health care system and many European countries also have some form of universal health care,” Sanders said. “Let us move to a Medicare-for-all system that does what every other major country does.”
In a move that could foretell a much tougher Senate fight, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted his concerns about the bill just before it passed the House on Tuesday.
“I’m concerned with the process,” Graham tweeted. “A bill — finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate — should be viewed with caution.”
He added: “The collapse and replace of Obamacare may prove to be the most effective path forward.”