House Republicans are publicly brushing off comments from President Trump about the House’s healthcare bill being “mean.”
Several lawmakers said they do not regret voting for the legislation and questioned whether Trump even made such a remark.
That comment, first reported by the Associated Press and confirmed by The Hill, came Tuesday during a private meeting between Trump and Republican senators. Trump also said during the meeting that he wanted the Senate’s version of the bill to be more generous.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the private meeting.
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a key proponent of the ObamaCare repeal bill from the moderate wing of the House Republican conference, questioned the accuracy of the news reports.
“I still haven’t seen the source, so I’m not going to comment on somebody, two unnamed sources who’ve said two different things,” MacArthur said. “I was with the president on Sunday [at a fundraiser] and he thanked me for my work on the healthcare bill, so I don’t know what these other people are saying he said or what the context was, I just don’t know.”
Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y), who hails from a swing district Democrats are targeting in the 2018 election, sounded a similar note.
“Those are unconfirmed reports so until someone puts their name behind that statement, I don’t give it a lot of credibility,” he said.
Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) said he does not think the healthcare bill is mean, noting that it would make major changes to Medicaid to rein in federal spending.
“I don’t think it’s a mean bill; I think it’s a very responsible bill,” he said.
“When you consider that every dollar we spend here is the work of somebody else’s hands and the fruits of somebody else’s labor, the most humanitarian thing that you can do is spend that in an accountable way.”
To others, the remark could just be Trump — who has long touted his deal-making prowess — pressuring the Senate to make good on its longstanding promise to repeal President Obama’s signature health law.
“I think he’s just doing the business deal,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) said. “So, where’s the deal right now? It’s in the Senate. So he’s trying to warm them up to get something done so he says, ‘make it better.’ ”
Brat said he hopes that’s the context, “but if it’s not, I said we’re scratching our heads over here because he put tremendous pressure on us, rightly so, to get something out of the House, and he was in favor of that bill.”
Indeed, Trump lavished praise on the House healthcare bill and pressured lawmakers to vote for it during phone calls and meetings at the White House. The day it passed, he celebrated with House Republicans at the White House.
Trump’s apparent shift to now criticizing the bill in private could give lawmakers who took a tough vote on the measure pause.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, downplayed Trump’s comments, but acknowledged the president is likely concerned about the way the bill is perceived.
“I mean, there are many times when I say things that I wish I hadn’t said, they’re taken out of context in a different way. Does he care about the American people, want to make sure what we do is not viewed in a manner that is less than desirable? Certainly,” Meadows said.
“To characterize a healthcare bill based on one comment with a few senators I think would be at odds with the number of conversations I’ve had with the president on that very topic,” he added.
“I think he believes that we need to improve it,” Meadows said, adding that he’s spoken with senators involved in the negotiations in recent days.
“I’m optimistic that the next couple of weeks will provide very fruitful results,” he said.
Trump’s comments come as Senate Republicans are seeking to put together an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill that can pass with a simple majority. With only a 52-48 majority, there’s little margin for error.
The negotiations seems to be aimed at producing a more moderate version of the House bill, which netted the support of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus after an amendment from MacArthur was added.
Since then, the amendment — which lets states opt out of core ObamaCare provisions — has been a source of controversy. In an analysis, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that states choosing to let insurers charge patients more based on their health status could ultimately price people with pre-existing conditions out of the market.
The Senate seems to be leaning toward getting rid of that waiver, but keeping one that would allow states to opt out of requiring insurers to cover certain services, such as maternity and mental healthcare.
Still, the Senate’s bill is likely to largely be similar to the House’s.
The CBO projected that the House bill would result in 23 million more uninsured people over a decade while reducing the federal deficit by $119 billion.
Cristina Marcos contributed.