The Trump administration’s surprise decision to press for a court-ordered demolition of the Affordable Care Act came after a heated meeting in the Oval Office on Monday, where the President’s acting chief of staff and others convinced him that he could do through the courts what he could not do through Congress: repeal his predecessor’s signature achievement, the New York Times reports.
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff and former South Carolina congressman, had spent years in the House saying that the health law should be repealed, and his handpicked head of the Domestic Policy Council, Joe Grogan, supported the idea of joining a Republican attorneys general lawsuit to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act.
That suit, and the Justice Department, initially pressed to nullify only the part of the law that forces insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions as well as a suite of health benefits deemed “essential,” such as pregnancy and maternal health, mental health and prescription drugs, the Times adds.
But a district judge in Texas ruled that the entire law was rendered unconstitutional when President Trump’s tax law brought the tax penalty for not having health insurance to zero, and the administration faced a choice: stick with its more limited intervention or back the judge’s decision.
Trump has declared that he has kept his promises, Mulvaney and Grogan argued, and as a candidate he campaigned on repealing the health law. His base of voters would love it. Besides, they argued, Democrats have been campaigning successfully on health care, and Republicans should try to claim the issue for themselves. This could force the matter.
Among those with concerns were Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, who shared that the new attorney general, William P. Barr, opposed such a move. Vice President Mike Pence was worried about the political ramifications of moving ahead without a strategy or a plan to handle the millions who could be left suddenly uninsured if the suit succeeded.
The health and human services secretary, Alex M. Azar II, was on speakerphone during the meeting and also voiced concern about the move, people familiar with the call said. And Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, suggested that it was risky for Trump’s administration to be at odds with so many Republican attorneys general on such a key issue, the Times adds.
But Trump had been sold, and on Monday night, the Justice Department issued a letter saying it supported the Texas judge’s decision.
The blowback has been severe. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader who is close with Trump, had privately warned the President not to interrupt the “victory lap” he should be taking after the delivery of the report by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. The Special Counsel, according to a letter by Barr, found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
The reaction was even more intense in the Senate. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, had planned to use the week to publicize his floor vote to force Democrats to take a stand on progressives’ Green New Deal — an important party-building exercise for Republicans after Trump’s decision to declare an emergency at the border sparked an insurrection in their ranks this month, the Times noted.
Members of McConnell’s leadership team were incensed at Mulvaney and allies like the acting White House budget director, Russell Vought, for rekindling a fight that served Democrats so well in 2018 and could harm vulnerable incumbents in 2020, according to two senior aides with direct knowledge of the situation. The maneuver may make it much less likely that Vought, the chief of staff’s handpicked successor to head the Office of Management and Budget, will be confirmed by the Senate, the aides said, the Times points out.