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Trump praises House GOP’s “wonderful” health care bill, administration declares support

HHS Secretary Tom Price wrote a letter “in support of” the Republican plan.

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

House Republican leaders have, at long last, released the American Health Care Act, their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. In the days preceding the bill’s release, Speaker Paul Ryan reportedly urged the White House to deliver President Donald Trump’s endorsement, which he believed would greatly help its chances of passing.

And the administration has now made clear that yes, they do support the House bill and want it passed through the chamber.

There was some suspense about this, particularly after a Monday night statement from Press Secretary Sean Spicer that praised “today” as an “important step” forward while saying nothing about the House bill itself.

But on Tuesday morning, the president himself sent a positive tweet in his own voice praising “our wonderful new Healthcare Bill”:

Then, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price sent a letter to his former colleagues in the House formally offering “support” of the GOP’s plans:

Since the language of statements like those is heavily vetted, many politics watchers interpreted the initial silence as is a sign of hesitation from the president. But now, it’s clear that the administration is on board.

Trump has previously been a bit wary of the House plan — and rightfully so

Last week, President Trump didn’t endorse the burgeoning House plan in his speech to Congress despite Ryan’s reported urgings, but rather laid out his own five principles. To explain why, Axios’s Caitlin Owens and Jonathan Swan reported last week that he simply isn’t ready to fully back an effort he thinks could well go down in flames.

In explaining why Trump didn’t endorse the House plan in his speech, Owens and Swan wrote: “The view internally is that the current plan — drafted by both House and Senate leadership — is going to struggle to get out of Congress. It would be foolish for Trump to walk all the way down the plank and utter the sentence: ‘I support the health care plan drafted by the House.’”

Trump’s hesitancy makes sense. He’s made big promises on health care — that his plan would have “insurance for everybody” even if they couldn’t afford it, that he wouldn’t cut Medicaid, that he’d tackle high prescription drug costs, and that he’d let insurers sell across state lines.

The first two promises would be outright broken by the House GOP bill, and the latter two simply aren’t included (though Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that they would come later):

Republicans will have enough problems passing the bill even if Trump does fully endorse it, given their divisions between conservatives who feel the bill is too close to Obamacare and moderates fearful of imperiling coverage for their constituents. And if the president were to remain vague, members of the House would surely start asking: If the president doesn’t want to stick his neck out on this, why should we?

So a presidential tweet calling the bill “wonderful” and a formal endorsement make a good start for Republicans. But if Trump really wants to move this thing forward, he’ll likely have to have to do much more — including campaigning for it publicly, pressuring wavering members, helping respond to substantive concerns, and cutting deals.

Updated with President Trump’s and Secretary Price’s comments.

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