WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s aides opened the door to working with moderate Democrats on health care and other issues while Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer quickly offered to find common ground with Trump for repairing former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Schumer said Sunday that Trump must be willing to drop attempts to repeal his predecessor’s signature achievement, warning that Trump was destined to “lose again” on other parts of his agenda if he remained beholden to conservative Republicans.
Trump initially focused the blame for the failure on Democrats and predicted a dire future for the current law. But on Sunday he turned his criticism toward conservative lawmakers for the failure of the Republican bill, complaining on Twitter: “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”
The Freedom Caucus is a hard-right group of more than 30 GOP House members who were largely responsible for blocking the bill to undo the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” The bill was pulled from the House floor Friday in a humiliating political defeat for the president, having lacked support from conservative Republicans, some moderate Republicans and Democrats.
In additional fallout from the jarring setback, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, said he was leaving the caucus. Poe tweeted Friday that some lawmakers “would’ve voted against the 10 Commandments.”
“We must come together to find solutions to move this country forward,” Poe said Sunday in a written statement. “Saying ‘no’ is easy, leading is hard but that is what we were elected to do.”
On Sunday, Trump aides made clear that the president could seek support from moderate Democrats on upcoming legislative battles ranging from the budget and tax cuts to health care, leaving open the possibility he could revisit health care legislation. Whether he would work to repair Obama’s law was a big question.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus scolded conservative Republicans, explaining that Trump had felt “disappointed” with a “number of people he thought were loyal to him that weren’t.”
“It’s time for the party to start governing,” Priebus said. “I think it’s time for our folks to come together, and I also think it’s time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well.”
As he ponders his next steps, Trump faces decisions on whether to back administrative changes to fix Obama’s health care law or undermine it as prices for insurance plans rise in many markets. Over the weekend, the president tweeted a promise of achieving a “great healthcare plan” because Obamacare will “explode.”
Priebus did not answer directly regarding Trump’s choice, saying that fixes to the health law will have to come legislatively and he wants to ensure “people don’t get left behind.”
“I don’t think the president is closing the door on anything,” he said.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, suggested that “if he changes, he could have a different presidency.”
“But he’s going to have to tell the Freedom Caucus and the hard-right special wealthy interests who are dominating his presidency … he can’t work with them, and we’ll certainly look at his proposals,” Schumer said.
Their comments came after another day of finger-pointing among Republicans, both subtle and otherwise. On Saturday, Trump urged Americans in a tweet to watch Judge Jeanine Pirro’s program on Fox News that night. She led her show by calling for House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign, blaming him for the defeat of the bill in the Republican-controlled chamber.
Priebus described the two events as “coincidental,” insisting that Trump was helping out a friend by plugging her show and no “preplanning” occurred.
“He doesn’t blame Paul Ryan,” Priebus said. “In fact, he thought Paul Ryan worked really hard. He enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House.”
Priebus said Trump was looking ahead for now at debate over the budget and a tax plan, which he said would include a border adjustment tax and middle-class tax cuts.
“It’s more or less a warning shot that we are willing to talk to anyone. We always have been,” he said. “I think more so now than ever, it’s time for both parties to come together and get to real reforms in this country.”
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, acknowledged he was doing a lot of “self-critiquing” after the health care defeat. He insisted the GOP overhaul effort was not over and that he regretted not spending more time with moderate Republicans and Democrats “to find some consensus.”
Priebus spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” and Schumer and Meadows appeared on ABC’s “This Week.”
Associated Press writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.