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The GOP's Obamacare dilemma, in one uncomfortably honest Trump statement

“The Republicans are, frankly, putting themselves in a very bad position … by repealing Obamacare,” the president said.

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.

When President Donald Trump discusses health reform, there are a few questionably accurate talking points he repeatedly returns to. Obamacare, he says, is “imploding.” Republicans’ replacement for it, he promises, will let people “pick the plan they want” and “the doctor they want." Costs, he claims, will “go down, down, down.”

But one point he likes to make has the ring of truth to it — though in a way that might not help his cause.

That is: Rather than claiming that Obamacare repeal is a political winner for his party, Trump likes to say that it’s a political loser for the GOP.

The president has made this point before, and he did so again during a White House listening session on Obamacare Monday morning. He said:

“The Republicans are, frankly, putting themselves in a very bad position. I tell this to Tom Price all the time. By repealing Obamacare. Because people aren’t gonna see the truly devastating effects of Obamacare. They’re not gonna see the devastation in ’17, ’18, or ’19, it’ll be gone by then.”

Leaving aside the question of whether Obamacare is headed for “devastation,” Trump’s initial point here seems quite correct to me. This is exactly the big kind of bill that could cause a major public backlash against Republicans in the midterms — particularly because they’re proposing to mess with benefits that millions of people are already receiving. So members of Congress in swing districts or states could well be putting their careers on the line here.

Yet what’s odd about this framing is that most presidents’ standard sales pitch to undecided members of Congress facing a tough vote is that the strategy the president favors will, in some way, prove to be a political winner in the long term. That’s what Democratic leaders argued in 2009 and 2010, when Nancy Pelosi famously said, “We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”

Another angle Trump could conceivably take is to argue that if Republicans don’t fix Obamacare, they — and not Democrats — will be blamed for its failings in the future, because the party in power tends to get the blame for whatever happens under in its watch.

But, perhaps out of a desire to portray himself as selflessly acting for the good of the country, Trump’s essentially saying here that the Republican Party would be better off politically if it simply left Obamacare in place.

The risk here, though, is that if the president keeps saying that Republicans in Congress are putting themselves in a bad political position by supporting this bill, well … maybe they’ll listen?

Watch: The Republican health care bill makes no sense

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