In the midst of brazenly sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, President Trump made a phone call to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday night to discuss health-care strategy.
President Trump confirmed the somewhat surprising conversation, first reported by Axios, via tweet, though he didn’t get into specifics:
Schumer said that Trump had discussed another attempt at repealing Obamacare (why Trump would run this strategy by Schumer is a mystery), but didn’t touch on the “big deal” Trump referred to:
Trump’s overture to Schumer marks his latest tentative flirtation with bipartisanship. Last month, Trump met with Schumer — whom he has previously called “Cryin’ Chuck” — and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and cut an impromptu deal with them on the debt limit, to the dismay of many Republicans. A few days later, he dined with “Chuck and Nancy,” as he termed the duo, and appeared to carve out another agreement, this one protecting DACA immigrants. (Reports emerged this week that immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller is doing everything he can to torpedo it.)
These moves led to speculation, much of it overheated, that Trump was willing to circumvent Republican frenemies like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, to cut deals with his partner in New York bluntness, and govern anew as an independent-minded pragmatist.
But Trump has not shown any willingness to compromise on health care, even after Republicans have repeatedly failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Instead, his administration, even with Obamacare foe and private-jet aficionado Tom Price out as secretary of Health and Human Services, seems content to undermine the law at every turn. It has decimated funding for ACA enrollment outreach, made Healthcare.gov inaccessible at key times, refused to commit to funding important cost-sharing subsidies, and more. In the latest bit of blatant ACA vandalism, the Washington Post reported on Thursday that President Trump personally vetoed Iowa’s conservative-minded effort to stabilize its health-insurance markets.
All the uncertainty created by Trump has spooked insurers, many of whom have either fled the Obamacare markets or boosted rates steeply as a result.
Before the latest Obamacare repeal effort failed, Republican senator Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray had been working on a modest agreement to stabilize the markets, but Republicans walked away when repeal once again seemed like a possibility. Now, the senators are back at it again, and as Schumer said, their work is probably the best starting point for any kind of agreement between the parties. Even such a small-bore measure may have a tough time getting 60 votes in the Senate, however, so the idea that Trump could strike a grand health-care bargain is very likely unrealistic.
Still, it’s possible that Trump is beginning to realize that his health-care strategy is politically shortsighted. It’s unlikely that rising premiums and a climate of uncertainty around health care will not redound to his or his party’s benefit in 2018. Perhaps, just perhaps, he understands that Republicans’ quixotic attempts to repeal Obamacare will not get any easier over time, and that getting the issue off his desk now is the savvy, never mind morally upright, move.
Or maybe he just wants to piss off Mitch McConnell.