Donald Trump's US healthcare bill withdrawnFri, 24 Mar, 2017
| Posted By: The Times Of Earth (TOE)
Activists demonstrate against the Trump healthcare plan during a rally in Washington DC, on March 23, 2017 (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)
Donald Trump suffered a bitter defeat Friday in his first major legislative challenge, as the president's effort to repeal Obamacare was shot down by rebel Republican lawmakers.
Barely two months into his term, Trump was forced to withdraw an embattled Republican health care bill, moments before a vote, leaving his campaign pledge to dismantle his predecessor's health care reforms unfulfilled.
"We were very, very close," Trump said in the Oval Office regarding support for the bill.
But with no Democratic support, "we couldn't quite get there."
Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, spending days arm-twisting recalcitrant Republicans, and he declared himself "disappointed" and a "little surprised" by the defeat.
The battle was an eye-opening experience for Trump, a billionaire real estate tycoon who entered the White House with no experience of politics or government, including the delicate navigations of Congress.
And the bill's defeat marked a second major policy setback for the new president who has seen his attempt to curb travel from Muslim-majority countries twice frozen by the courts.
The president met with House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier in the day, then spoke with him by telephone when it was clear the party did not have the votes to get its plan across the finish line.
"I told him that the best thing I think to do is to pull this bill and he agreed with that decision," Ryan said.
But while Trump was quick to blame Democrats for not giving "a single vote" for his plan, Ryan owned up to the failures.
"I will not sugar coat this. This is a disappointing day for us," said the top Republican in Congress.
While Trump expressed disappointment, he said he was optimistic that his lieutenants will be able to craft an "even better" piece of health care legislation.
The Trump-backed plan, intended to bring free-market competition to the insurance industry and lower the cost of premiums for most Americans, would also have slashed public assistance to people who have no health coverage through their employer. Some 14 million people stood to lose their coverage starting next year, according to forecasts.
Basic benefits covered under Obamacare -- such as maternity care and emergency room visits -- would no longer have been considered essential.
The bill now appears dead, with Republican lawmakers urging a return to the drawing board.
"Clearly the votes weren't there," said congressman Charlie Dent, one of several moderate House Republicans who expressed concerns over the bill's impact on poor and elderly Americans.
"So I think it's important now that we start over, and we do a durable, sustainable health care reform and it be done in a bipartisan way," he added.
By pulling the bill, Ryan flew in the face of a White House which had declared negotiations over and demanded a vote on Friday.
Trump had put his reputation as a dealmaker on the line with the high-risk vote.
Congressman Mo Brooks, a member of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus that largely opposed the measure on grounds it was too similar to Obamacare, said he was "pleased as could be that the legislation has failed," arguing it would have been bad for Americans.
But he refused to place blame on the president, who failed to rally enough Republicans to his cause despite days of intense negotiations.
"I don't think this reflects on the president in any way, shape or form," Brooks said.
"Quite frankly President Trump did the best he could trying to sell a very bad product."
Passage would have handed Trump a monumental victory, and put him on a path toward fulfilling his promise to "repeal and replace" Obamacare.
Instead, as Ryan said, "Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land until it's replaced."
It was not clear when Congress would turn once again toward health care, as Trump said he would shift quickly toward tax reform, another longstanding goal of Republicans.
Ryan, the reform's chief champion in the House, had initially planned a Thursday vote but was forced to pull the bill off the floor when it became clear it lacked sufficient backing.
But Trump issued an ultimatum to his party: Vote Friday, and if it fails, Obamacare will remain in force and he will move on to other items on his policy agenda.