A simmering rebellion of conservative populists loyal to President Trump is further endangering the Republican health-care push, with a chorus of influential voices suspicious of the proposal warning the president to abandon it.
From headlines at Breitbart to chatter on Fox News Channel and right-wing talk radio, as well as among friends who have Trump’s ear, the message has been blunt: The plan is being advanced by congressional Republican leaders is deeply flawed –and, at worst, a political trap.
Trump’s allies worry that he is jeopardizing his presidency by promoting the bill spearheaded by House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, arguing that it would fracture Trump’s coalition of working- and middle-class voters, many of them older and subsisting on federal aid.
Vice President Mike Pence and administration officials scrambled Tuesday to salvage the plan amid widespread dissatisfaction in both the Senate and House over the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that 24 million fewer people would be insured in a decade under the Ryan proposal, titled the American Health Care Act.
Trump – who has not yet fully used the bully pulpit of the presidency to rally support for the plan – spoke privately with Ryan on Tuesday afternoon. They discussed the various factions, the opinions of several key members and developing a closing strategy, according to two people with knowledge of the call.
Trump loyalists warned that the president was at risk of violating some of his biggest campaign promises – such as providing broad health coverage for all Americans and preserving Medicaid and other entitlement programs – in service to an ideological project championed for years by Ryan and other establishment Republicans.
“Trump figures things out pretty quickly and I think he’s figuring out this situation, how the House Republicans did him a disservice,” said Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. “President Trump is a big-picture, pragmatic Republican, and unfortunately the Ryan Republican plan doesn’t capture his worldview.”
Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media, published a column Tuesday urging Trump to “ditch” the current bill.
Inside the White House, senior officials said they are taking note of the mounting opposition. “You can’t be so blind that you’re not seeing the outside noise,” said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the adviser was not authorized to speak publicly.
A second adviser, who also requested anonymity to speak candidly, said, “We take their views seriously and we’re listening, but we do appreciate when those concerns are shared privately and with a smaller megaphone.”
Keeping Republicans on edge are several Trump advisers with tenuous ties to Ryan and the party establishment who might be more responsive than others to outside pressure, including chief strategist Stephen Bannon and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.
The White House strategy has been to spotlight what it sees as the urgent need to overhaul the health-care system rather than the legislative fix itself. At his Tuesday briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer highlighted “real life examples” of “actual Americans” who shared with Trump stories of suffering in a Hard-line Republicans in Congress already stand opposed to the health-care bill.