Trump did not retreat on health care

Photo by JAFAR AHMED on Unsplash

The headlines today gleefully announce that Trump has retreated from his latest attack on Obamacare.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Here’s the relevant history. After desperately trying to get the Republican-controlled Congress to vote down Obamacare in the first year of Trump’s term, he seemed to give up on that effort — especially since the Democrats took back the House.

Trump and his top lieutenants have not given up on their near-pathological dislike of Obamacare. Since they failed to get Congress to eliminate the law, they have tried to kill it with a thousand cuts. In effect, the law required affirmative steps to be taken by the government to ensure that everyone who is eligible knows what benefits they may receive. Trump and his administration have done everything they can to undermine the law by ending those outreach efforts.

The Republicans’ inability to let this go has puzzled Democrats and commentators alike. The 2018 midterm was largely won by Democrats by emphasizing the Republican antagonism toward the law, which has become widely popular over the last two-to-three years. While the White House’s efforts to undermine the law have had some impact, amazingly, the law has largely survived despite them. So the law is popular, and efforts to undermine it have been ineffective, so why don’t the Republicans move on as they have largely done with Social Security and Medicare — two other programs decried as socialist when they were first proposed.

Republicans in Congress likely want Trump to stop talking about Obamacare. They are well aware of the political price they pay when he opposes the law. As a result, it was an unwelcome surprise when Trump announced that his administration would ask the courts to throw out the entire law.

It happened the day after Attorney General William Barr wrote a letter to Congress asserting that no more criminal charges would be forthcoming as a result of the Mueller report. Trump was ecstatic about Barr’s report, misleadingly tweeting that it represented “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.” He crowed about the report at a rally in Michigan. One would have thought he would have enjoyed what was likely the high point of an otherwise dismal administration.

What did he do? Rather than celebrating the moment, he took the opportunity to announce his intention to challenge the constitutionality of the law in its entirety. Prior to this announcement, the administration had only been arguing that they opposed the requirement for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions. This new position, allegedly pushed by Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, stands to take insurance away from the law’s twenty million beneficiaries.

Reaction was immediate and negative. In response, Trump argued that nobody would lose health coverage as a result of this decision. He and his supporters claimed that they had a different health care plan that would be better than Obamacare. Of course, no such plan exists, even in concept form. To claim otherwise was a flat out lie.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was apoplectic. He wanted to remain focused on his main priority: packing the judiciary with conservatives. He told Trump to back off. There would be no consideration of health care this term.

As usual, there was no strategy behind Trump claiming an imaginary health care plan existed. He simply reacted in the moment, not thinking about the ramifications of what he said, without concern of it later coming out that he was not telling the truth. Other politicians may have such concerns, but not Trump.

So the headlines blared that Trump was retreating on health care. But in fact, no such thing happened. The lawsuit is still on-going, and the government is still arguing that the entire law should be invalidated, taking health insurance away from as many as 20 million Americans. All that happened was that Trump had to backtrack on a statement he made in reaction to negative publicity over his decision, forced to do so by the people who actually get things done in Washington (for better or for worse) like Mitch McConnell.

This is where the media really needs to up its game. Trump is not like other politicians. When most politicians make a policy statement, it is considered, and made with the aim that it will not later prove to be a falsehood. Trump, though, has no such qualms. He makes statements off the cuff, without consideration, confident that he can just change his position later and his supporters will back him in that effort — as they always have.

So when the media covers his tweets, or his so-called policy pronouncements, or what he says at his rallies, they are following his red herrings. He doesn’t intend to do most of the things he claims. Indeed, he likely doesn’t even understand many of them. When the media covers such statements as if they are policy, they are creating a false narrative supporting his baseless claims that he has been an effective administrator.

Contrast his lack of shame with the beating Amy Klobuchar took over yelling at a staffer, or Elizabeth Warren over releasing an ambiguous DNA test, or Joe Biden over being overly touchy. These politicians try to correct their behaviors so they act in the way they present themselves. Trump, though, has no such compunction. Beating him up over his falsehoods produces no such response. As a result, the media needs to treat him differently from the other politicians, something they actually have not done despite his claims to the contrary.

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Mike is an Assistant Professor of Management for Legal and Ethical Studies at Oakland U. Mike combines his scholarship with practical experience in politics.

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