User Menu

Trump blames everyone else for failure of healthcare Bill

The US president’s targets include conservatives, Democrats and possibly Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan: A US television show opened on Saturday with the words: ‘Paul Ryan needs to step down.’ Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump sought on Sunday to spread blame for the failure of his first attempt at passing major legislation, the replacement of Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law. As internecine squabbling continued in the Republican party, the president’s targets included conservatives in Congress, Democrats and, possibly, House speaker Paul Ryan.

On Twitter on Sunday morning, Trump wrote: “Democrats are smiling in DC that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare.”

He was referring to the advocacy group Club for Growth, the Heritage Group think tank, and likely its advocacy offshoot Heritage Action, all conservative groups with influence on the members of the Freedom Caucus, a congressional caucus consisting of conservative Republican members of the House of Representatives.

That hard-right House group’s withdrawal of support along with some Republican moderates caused Mr Ryan and Mr Trump to pull the healthcare reform Bill before a scheduled vote on Friday. Provocatively, Mr Trump lumped such groups together with congressional Democrats and mentioned Planned Parenthood, a federally-funded provider of women’s healthcare services which is a lightning rod for anti-abortion groups on the right.

Professions of unity

Debate also continued about whether Mr Trump or members of his administration had orchestrated an unusual attack on Mr Ryan on Saturday, despite professions of unity from both the White House and the House speaker’s camp. Mr Trump and Mr Ryan spoke by phone for an hour on Saturday.

On Saturday, the president used Twitter to tell the public to watch a show on Fox News at 9pm, Justice with Judge Jeanine. The former judge, prosecutor, district attorney and Republican political candidate from New York Jeanine Ferris Pirro then opened her show by saying: “Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the House – he failed to deliver the votes.”

Mr Trump’s senior adviser, Steve Bannon, is a former publisher of the hard-right website Breitbart, which has been harshly critical of Mr Ryan.

Mick Mulvaney, formerly a member of the Freedom Caucus and now Mr Trump’s director of the US office of management and budget, denied any split or move by the president against the speaker. “Never once have I seen him blame Paul Ryan,” Mr Mulvaney said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The people who are to blame are the people who would not vote yes.”

Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, New York Republican Lee Zeldin, who supported the GOP healthcare Bill, said he believed “that [Mr Trump] wouldn’t know that’s what was going to be said”, adding about Mr Ryan: “I think he should stay as speaker.”

Potential successor

The leader of the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows of North Carolina, denied on ABC’s This Week that Mr Ryan’s position was in doubt, or that he himself might be considered a potential successor. He also said healthcare reform was not dead, despite the failure of Mr Ryan’s American Health Care Act after intense lobbying of his group by the Trump administration.

“It’s like saying that Tom Brady lost at half-time,” Mr Meadows said, in reference to the New England Patriots’ astonishing Super Bowl comeback win against the Atlanta Falcons in February.

“I still believe that there is a good chance, if moderates and conservatives can come together, that we repeal and replace Obamacare, bring premiums down, cover more people.”

On NBC, Mr Mulvaney added: “We haven’t been able to change Washington in the first 65 days. I know the Freedom Caucus. I helped found it. I never thought it would come to this.” Mr Mulvaney said that as a member of the caucus he would have voted for the Bill “without reservation”.

Newt Gingrich, a former Republican House speaker who became close to Mr Trump during the 2016 election, was more critical of the president’s approach to legislative action. “Don’t set up an artificial deadline to fail,” he said on Fox News Sunday, referring to Mr Trump and Mr Ryan’s failed promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on its seventh anniversary.

“Paul Ryan is a brilliant policy guy,” Mr Gingrich said. But “the congressional leadership still wants to behave as if they are in a pre-Trump world – and Trump trusted them. They were saying to him: ‘We have the votes.’”

Ohio governor John Kasich, an opponent of Mr Trump in last year’s primary and a consistent critic since, also said healthcare reform was not dead but admitted that his party was badly split.

“I think there was a tug of war inside the administration,” he said on CNN, adding that Democrats should share the blame for not working with Republicans on a replacement to the ACA.

Politicians could not now “walk away, close their eyes and lock the door”, Mr Kasich said.

Universal healthcare

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who ran strongly for the Democratic presidential nomination on a platform of universal healthcare coverage, was predictably scathing of Republican efforts at reform.

It was “disastrous piece of legislation”, he said.

Also on Saturday, clashes between supporters of Mr Trump who were holding a rally on a popular southern California beach and counter-protesters led to four arrests. A number of fights broke out and at least one Trump supporter was pepper sprayed when pro-Trump demonstrators marching along Bolsa Chica State Beach encountered a small group opposed to the president who had gathered to denounce the rally. Four counter-protesters were arrested, three for illegal use of pepper spray and one for assault and battery, police said.

– (Guardian service/Additional reporting: Reuters)