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6 ways President Trump tried to spin his total defeat on health care

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

President Donald Trump, who loves to win, just suffered the biggest defeat of his still-nascent presidency. The American Health Care Act, the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, was so unpopular that House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a vote on the bill at the last minute Friday.

You might be wondering how Trump would react to a loss that is nearly impossible to spin as a victory. The answer is that, of course, he tried anyway.

Trump was involved with the last stages of the bill’s failure. He wanted congressional Republicans to quit negotiating, which they did late Thursday night. Then, even with serious doubt about whether the bill had enough votes, Trump kept insisting they hold the vote anyway — until Ryan canceled it at the last second.

In the aftermath, Trump, in a short statement from the Oval Office, shared his take on the process. In sum: All of this is Democrats’ fault, and when Obamacare simultaneously implodes and explodes, they will come begging to him to make a deal. He also gave the American people an idea of what the president learned about lawmaking during the three-week process that he decided was “enough”:

1) How legislating works

“We all learned a lot,” Trump said. “We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process. We learned about some very arcane rules in obviously both the Senate and in the House. So, it's been certainly for me, it's been an interesting experience.”

2) If your bill fails because not enough people in your party will vote for it, it’s the other party’s fault

“We had no votes from the Democrats,” Trump said. “They weren't going to give us a single vote so it's a very difficult thing to do.” The real losers, he said, were House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Now they own Obamacare,” Trump said. “They own it. One hundred percent own it.”

Judging by the statement Pelosi and Schumer gave, surrounded by several fellow Democrats, they’re very happy losers indeed:

3) Obamacare is failing, and when it does, Democrats will be begging for a bipartisan deal

“I've been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode,” said Trump, who never said such a thing until January 2017, according to an archive of his public statements. “It is exploding right now.”

“It's imploding and soon will explode and it's not going to be pretty,” he said later.

The Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act denied that Obamacare was exploding (or imploding, or going into a death spiral). But Trump said he was convinced that when that happens, it will be an opportunity for an even better, bipartisan health care bill.

“I know some Democrats and they're good people,” Trump said. “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.”

4) The Republican Party is complicated

But everyone likes him, Trump said, which is the really important thing. “He's got a lot of factions,” he said of House Speaker Paul Ryan, “and there's been a long history of liking and disliking even within the Republican Party. Long before I got here. But I've had a great relationship with the Republican Party. It seems that both sides like Trump, and that's good.”

5) He really wanted to do tax reform anyway

“So now we're going to go for tax reform, which I've always liked,” said Trump, who insisted for weeks that Obamacare repeal was required to happen first, before tax reform. (This isn’t true, but it was the preferred strategy of Republicans in Congress.)

6) Anyway, this crushing defeat is actually for the best

“Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today, because we'll end up with a truly great health care bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes,” Trump said. “So, I want to thank everybody for being here. It will go very smoothly.”

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