Days after a report of old audio revealing his distrust of Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the president for his rare Reaganesque ability to connect with the American people and his hands-on, crucial role in negotiating sharp differences among Republican lawmakers over the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.
At his weekly news conference Thursday morning, Ryan, noting he speaks with the president nearly every day, said Trump is “deeply involved” in the process of trying to pass a health care bill.
“I’ve gotta tell you. I am very pleased and very excited … it’s something I haven’t seen in a long time,” Ryan said.
“This president is getting deeply involved. He is helping bridge gaps in our conference. He is a constructive force to help us get to a resolution so that we get consensus on how to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Ryan said the main elements of the GOP leadership’s American Health Care Act will remain in place, but “we’re getting feedback and comments from our members, and the president of the United States is the one who has been mediating this.”
“The president of the United States is the one who is bringing people together, sitting around a table, hashing out our differences, so that we can get to a consensus document,” he said.
“The goal here is to get to a bill that can pass … and that actually is great policy. And the president has been playing a very constructive role in this, and literally hand in glove.”
Ryan said his House leadership team and the president’s team are talking daily, “fused and working together, and I’m very excited about that.”
Responding to a reporter’s reference to an earlier comment about Trump being “unorthodox,” Ryan said the fact that the president is unorthodox “is making it easier for us to pass health care.”
“The president, his involvement and his engagement, his listening and his negotiating skills, are bringing people together so that we have a bill that we can pass,” he said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., along with members of the House Freedom caucus led by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., contend the House leadership’s bill does not fully repeal Obamacare and creates a new entitlement through tax credits. They have reintroduced the 2015 bill vetoed by President Obama, calling it a “clean repeal.”
This week, Paul called for “pause” in the effort in order to determine how many votes the American Health Care act has in Congress.
“I don’t think there will be meaningful negotiations unless it becomes apparent that the House bill cannot pass,” Paul said. “That is what I am hoping will happens because I do not think the House bill lowers premiums for anybody.”
Paul was among a group of opponents of the GOP leadership bill who gathered Wednesday in front of the Capitol to oppose what he called “Obamacare Lite.”
“We don’t want anything to do with Obamacare subsidies, taxes [or] mandates,” said Paul, who was joined by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.; David Brat, R-Va.; and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
Reversing course, Ryan told reporters later Wednesday he realizes changes must be made for the bill to pass the House and the Senate.
“Now that we have our score … we can make some necessary improvements and refinements to the bill,” Ryan said, referring to the Congressional Budget Office’s report Monday on the costs and effects of the bill.
Republicans contend Senate rules limit the measures they can include in the current reconciliation bill. Step two would be regulatory changes and step three legislation such as opening the insurance market across state lines that would require 60 votes in the Senate.
Cotton told radio host Hugh Hewitt Tuesday that the second step could be subject to court challenges and step three would be “some mythical legislation in the future that is going to garner Democratic support and help us get over 60 votes in the Senate.”
“If we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn’t need three steps,” he said. “We would just be doing that right now on this legislation all together.”
‘A power not seen since Reagan’
At the Thursday morning presser, Ryan responded to another question about Trump’s “unorthodox” presidency.
“Did you see the president in Tennessee?” he asked, referring to the campaign-style rally Wednesday night in Nashville.
“The president has a connection with individuals in this country,” the House speaker said.
“No offense,” he told reporters, “but he goes around the media and connects with people specifically and individually.
“This is a power that we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan,” said Ryan.
“And so what this president is showing is that he knows how to connect directly with people,” he continued.
“That helps us bridge gaps in Congress and get Republicans unified so we can deliver on our promises,” Ryan said.
At the Nashville rally, Trump vowed to “repeal and replace horrible and disastrous Obamacare,” promising the House proposal would help Tennesseans with tax cuts and Medicaid flexibility.
He said his administration would overcome divisions in Congress to “get something done” in “a different way, a complex way.”
“We want Americans to be able to purchase the health care plans they want not the plans forced on them by our government,” he said.
Earlier this week, Breitbart reported audio of a private Oct. 10, 2016, conference call with House Republican members immediately after the Access Hollywood tape of Trump was leaked.
“I am not going to defend Donald Trump — not now, not in the future,” Ryan said at the time.
Ryan responded to the release of the audio this week insisting it was old news and that he and the president have been working together since then. At his news conference Thursday he dismissed talk of “palace intrigue” among the “chattering class.”