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Congressional Republicans want to fight on, but the White House says Obamacare repeal is dead

House Republicans Postpone Vote On American Health Care Act Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

On Sunday morning’s Meet the Press, President Donald Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney declared that the White House is no longer trying to repeal Obamacare. “We've moved on to other things,” Mulvaney said. “The president has other things he wants to accomplish.”

It was a stunning admission of defeat. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to replace Obamacare “immediately.” He said he would begin scrapping the bill “on day one,” and that crafting a better replacement “would be so easy.”

But after just 17 days of trying and failing to pass Speaker Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act, Trump’s team has given up. During the health care push, Trump admitted to being surprised health care policy “could be so complicated.”

In his last-ditch bid to win over the far-right Freedom Caucus members for the health care bill last week, Trump gave them a do-or-die ultimatum, saying he would move on to tax reform and other policy goals if Ryan couldn’t find the votes.

Mulvaney’s comment makes it clear that Trump will no longer push to replace Obamacare “very quickly or simultaneously,” as he promised, at least for the foreseeable future.

Republicans in Congress: health reform push will continue

But even as the administration seeks to move on, members of the president’s political party are trying to get the health care overhaul back on the rails. Republicans in Congress are vowing to continue working on health care reform, despite their early failures, and despite Paul Ryan’s announcement on Friday that Obamacare is “the law of the land.”

On Sunday just after Mulvaney’s comments, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) went on Meet the Press and advocated for continuing to hammer away on the bill.

“Devoting 17 legislative days from a bill, then walking away from it … makes no sense,” Lee said. “They were not far away from a deal. They could have gotten a deal."

Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows (R-NC) made similar remarks on ABC’s This Week on Sunday morning. He said that House Republicans are still searching for “a final bill,” implying that talks were ongoing for how to unify the party around a new replacement measure.

“We’re not at the end of the game,” Meadows said. “We’re there, literally, perhaps, again, in overtime, but we’re there to get this across the finish line.”

It’s hard to tell if Lee and Meadows genuinely believe that Republicans in Congress will continue trying to forge a consensus on health care reform, and how much is posturing to save face. But it is certainly possible for Congress to proceed with the bill on its own terms before sending it to Trump’s desk, as Freedom Caucus spokesperson Alyssa Farah pointed out on Twitter:

Given the signals coming from the White House, it’s hard to imagine Republicans will get much support from the president if they go at this again. At one point in his interview with Mulvaney, NBC’s Chuck Todd showed a slide of the number of days it took previous administrations to accomplish major legislative initiatives. Todd said he didn’t understand “the hurry” to move on.

Mulvaney’s response was that Trump would be giving up on a key legislative priority after fewer than three weeks because he was not like other politicians.

“Here’s the hurry: There is a lot that needs to be done,” Mulvaney said. “We needed to fix the system so we can help folks back home and then move on to tax reform, so that we could help people get back to work. The president wants to do a lot of things and is not willing to do what other politicians would do.”

When Mulvaney said Trump is “not willing to do what other politicians would do,” he presumably meant it as a positive reference to the idea that Trump was a master dealmaking businessman, rather than the stereotype of the slow-moving Washington bureaucrat.

But Mulvaney’s remarks raise a question: If “fixing the system” is a major legislative priority, why is Trump leaving it unfinished? Mulvaney’s answer — that Trump “is not willing to do what other politicians would do” — in that context actually sounds like a damning critique of the president who, it’s worth noting, went on his 13th golf outing since taking office on Sunday.

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