WASHINGTON — Unshackled from the shadow once cast by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, President Trump on Tuesday returned to a familiar theme: killing off the Affordable Care Act once and for all.
Democrats, too, took up their familiar role: Defending former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care achievement from relentless Republican attacks.
This time, the battlefield is in Texas, where in December a federal District Court judge struck down the entire act as unconstitutional, but agreed to put that ruling on hold while it’s appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Justice Department filed Monday to support the court’s ruling.
Democrats pounced, accusing the administration of moving to get rid of protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Trump and Attorney General William Barr had moved from supporting a partial repeal of Obamacare to declaring “the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The conversation has now shifted already in a day to health care.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who reportedly had urged fellow Democrats to “be calm,” declared that “the Trump Administration decided not only to try to destroy protections for Americans living with pre-existing conditions, but to declare all-out war on the health care of the American people.”
Meanwhile, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford joined his colleagues from 20 other states and the District of Columbia in filing appeals court papers to argue the law is constitutional and repeal would have far-reaching consequences for millions of people.
“Defending the Affordable Care Act means defending 133 million Americans, including 17 million kids with preexisting health conditions,” Ford said in a statement. “My office joins 20 other states taking a legal stand to ensure our residents, including hundreds of thousands of Nevadans, have accessible and affordable health care.”
House Democrats, including Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., introduced the Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions & Making Health Care More Affordable Act, a move planned earlier to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the signing of the act.
Trump seemed happy to change the subject from the special counsel to the Affordable Care Act, as well. As the president headed to the Capitol to attend the Senate Republican policy lunch, he tweeted, “The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’”
Asked about the move after he arrived at the Capitol, Trump repeated that refrain to a reporter.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Trump has long-supported coverage for pre-existing conditions, but acted to repeal the health care act because, “Here we are nine years later and we have close to 28 to 30 million Americans with no health care coverage. So it wasn’t the magic elixir for many Americans,” she said.
In his first year in office, Trump prodded House and Senate Republicans to make good on their years-long campaign promises to “repeal and replace Obamacare,” but none of the handful of measures presented garnered the votes needed to become law.
It’s an issue that grates on Trump, who frequently berated the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for voting against a “skinny” repeal bill after campaigning on ending Obamacare for years. McCain’s thumbs-down gesture on the Senate floor doomed repeal efforts.
Health care blogger Nicholas Bagley found the administration’s decision rather baffling. “And for what? Every reputable commentator — on both the left and the right — thinks that Judge [Reed] O’Connor’s decision invalidating the entire ACA is a joke,” he wrote.
Marie Fishpaw, director of Domestic Policy Studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the Review-Journal the move is “not real significant” as the legal matter faces “several rounds of appeal and review.”
Trump has been pushing for Congress to act, Fishpaw added, and “these are problems that Congress has got to deal with and no court can fix.”
Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders @reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.