President Trump on Sunday took hard-line congressional Republicans to task over last week’s failed attempt to push through a healthcare overhaul measure, but the principal target of his Twitter broadside declined to engage in any sparring with the White House, instead emphasizing the need to move forward.
The episode, however, could prove a harbinger of more attempts by Trump to scapegoat others around him for the debacle that resulted when the president threw his weight for the first time behind a major legislative initiative and it failed.
The measure was aimed at fulfilling a pledge to repeal the Affordable Care Act by Trump, who boasted repeatedly on the campaign trail of his deal-making prowess.
The president had already cast blame for the measure’s failure on Democrats, who noted again Sunday that the White House had made no effort to reach out to them as the legislation was being crafted.
In his Sunday morning tweet, the president laid the primary culpability for the failure to push the measure forward on the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Trump said the bloc of lawmakers, aided by conservative advocacy organizations Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, had “saved” the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Planned Parenthood, whose funding would have been cut by the measure.
“Democrats are smiling,” the president declared. The criticism contrasted starkly with his Oval Office comments Friday, when he was careful not to blame his fellow Republicans for the defeat.
Although Trump and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan have said the measure would not be revived any time soon, Meadows predicted that a new GOP-backed healthcare plan would eventually be put forth, with Trump playing a leadership role.
“At the end of the day, the most valuable player will be President Trump,” Meadows said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Meadows also insisted there had been “no conversation” about any attempt to force out Ryan, the bill’s principal backer. The speaker has publicly acknowledged that his own efforts to muster sufficient votes had fallen short.
Trump has refrained from any direct public criticism of the speaker, but on Saturday – again on Twitter – he urged followers to watch a Fox News segment on Saturday night that featured commentator Jeanine Pirro excoriating Ryan and calling for his ouster over his role.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus insisted that Ryan maintained the president’s favor, although Trump had been “disappointed” by perceived disloyalty on the part of other House Republicans, including members of the Freedom Caucus and some GOP moderates.
“He doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” Priebus said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the relationship between the president and the speaker remained strong. The pair spoke Saturday about moving forward on new agenda items, and during another call Sunday, the president told Ryan that his tweet had nothing to do with the speaker, Strong said.
The planned floor vote on the bill was hastily scrapped Friday when it became apparent that Trump and Ryan did not have the votes to win even in the Republican-controlled House.
The GOP-authored measure was intended as a high-profile repudiation of one of former President Obama’s signature achievements.
But as written, the replacement bill drew fire from both moderate Republicans who said it would deal too heavy a blow to working-class Americans -- millions of whom would have faced loss of health insurance, according to the Congressional Budget Office -- and ultra-conservatives who said it included too many “nanny-state” elements of the ACA.
One early critic of the House measure, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), repeated his view that the bill had been crafted too hastily, but said there was no reason not to try again. Like other Trump supporters, Cotton insisted that the Affordable Care Act was doomed to failure.
“The president is simply stating a fact, that the entire healthcare system is groaning under the weight of Obamacare,” Cotton said. “We don’t have a choice to revisit it or not revisit it. We have to revisit it.”
Senior Democrats, meanwhile, denounced Trump’s stated intention to let the Affordable Care Act “explode” rather than joining in efforts to help improve it. They acknowledge that the law would benefit from changes in certain areas, but say it has succeeded in bringing down the nation’s uninsured rate to a record low.
“For the president to say that he’ll destroy it, or undermine it, that’s not presidential – that’s petulance,” the Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, said on ABC.
“It’s not going to work,” he said. “It’s going to backfire.”
Other strong opponents of the GOP bill reached out to the White House, saying a new approach might be in order.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had sought the Democratic presidential nomination, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that he planned to introduce a single-payer healthcare plan – a quixotic gesture, perhaps, but one for which Sanders said he would seek bipartisan support.
“President Trump, come on board,” Sanders said. “Let’s work together.”
Staff writer Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this story.