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President Donald Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote in Washington.

Trump and Ryan scramble to pick up the pieces after Obamacare repeal fails

Former President Barack Obama’s health care law will remain in effect “for the foreseeable future,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis) said Friday after pulling a vote on the House Republican’s health care bill, acknowledging a stinging defeat for a party that has campaigned on repealing the law for the better part of a decade.

The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, “is the law of the land,” Ryan said at a brief press conference after announcing the vote was canceled. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

“This is a setback, no two ways about it,” Ryan said.

The failed American Health Care Act represented a major setback not just for Ryan and House Republicans but also for President Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump staked a lot of his political capital on repealing the Affordable Care Act, calling House Republicans in recent days and meeting with them in person at the White House and on Capitol Hill. Rolling back the law was one of Trump’s top campaign promises in the run-up to last year’s election.

In a highly unusual move, Mr. Trump called two reporters directly, Bob Costa of the Washington Post and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times, and pinned blame for the bill’s failure on House Democrats.

Costa spoke to Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour and described how the president called his cell phone and broke the news. “He got right to the point. He said ‘Bob, I’m killing the bill,’” Costa explained.

Trump also told Costa that he did not blame Ryan for the bill’s failure, and was open to cutting a deal with Democrats on a health care bill in the future.

Haberman reported that Trump said he was happy to have the health care debate in his rearview mirror. “‘It’s enough already,’ he said of the negotiations,” she reported on Twitter.

“I’m not going to speak badly about anybody in the party,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after Ryan’s statement. “I’m not betrayed. They’re friends of mine. I’m disappointed.”

“I want to have a great health care bill and plan. And we will,” he said later. “I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode.”

A majority of House Republicans backed the bill, which proposed eliminating many of the core provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But most members of the House Freedom Caucus — a group of roughly three-dozen conservatives — refused to go along with the bill, arguing that it did not go far enough in repealing Obama’s health care reform.

Without their support, Ryan did not have enough votes to pass the bill in the House. The House Democratic conference was united in opposing the bill.

“Some members of that caucus were voting with us, but not enough,” Ryan said, referring to the Freedom Caucus, though he did not name it directly. Ryan did not give a final whip count. But he said the holdout “no” votes from hard-right conservatives were “sufficient” to sink the bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) holds a news conference after Republicans pulled  the American Health Care Act bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act act known as Obamacare, prior to a vote at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX32LZ6

House Speaker Paul Ryan holds a news conference after Republicans pulled their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on March 24, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Ryan went to the White House to meet with Trump around noon and advised him to cancel a vote on the bill, according to a senior administration official, but the president said he wanted to go forward with a vote.

Around 3 p.m., Ryan called the president and urged him again to call off the vote, the official said. The president relented, against the advice of his advisers, the official said.

Ryan met with the House Republican conference briefly before addressing reporters in a press briefing room at the Capitol. He said the caucus was “let down” and “disappointed” by the final outcome of a drama that has gripped Washington for nearly three weeks.

“I wish we had the kind of consensus we needed,” Ryan said.

House Republicans introduced their health care overhaul Mar. 6. Soon after, the Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating that it would reduce spending by $337 billion over the next decade but would lead to 24 million Americans losing their health insurance.

The CBO score raised a red flag for moderate House and Senate Republicans, causing some to call on House GOP leaders to make changes or scrap the bill and start over. At the same time, Ryan and Trump faced competing pressure from conservative House Republicans who called the bill “Obamacare lite.”

House GOP leaders made changes to the bill to appease the Freedom Caucus, leading to a frenzied and ultimately unsuccessful round of last-minute negotiations this week to get the bill over the finish line.

With the bill officially dead, the finger pointing amongst Republicans began almost immediately. But Ryan refused to assign blame. He also praised Trump and his top advisers for jumping into the legislative fray.

“The president gave his all in this effort,” Ryan said. “He’s really been fantastic.”

In a statement Friday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “Obamacare is failing the American people and I deeply appreciate the efforts of the Speaker and the president to keep our promise to repeal and replace it. I share their disappointment that this effort came up short.”

The bill’s failure could impact the GOP and Trump White House’s ability to enact its agenda going forward, as Trump indicated he would now turn his focus to tax reform. But Ryan sought to downplay the potential implications, saying plans for a tax overhaul, infrastructure bill, and efforts to strengthen the military and border security would not be affected.

Still, he acknowledged that it raised new challenges, at least in the area of tax reform, another longtime Republican goal.

“Yes, this does make tax reform difficult but it does not make it impossible,” Ryan said. He added, “I don’t think this is prologue for other future things.”

NewsHour correspondent John Yang contributed reporting.

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