President Donald Trump was in full deal-maker mode on Wednesday as he met with Tea Party groups to garner support for the GOP's contentious American Healthcare Act (AHCA), from pledging even more concessions to win over conservatives to threatening the bill's opponents with "stadiums" filled with Trump supporters, and even laying out his back-up plan to blame the Democrats in the case of failure.
During the White House meeting, which included representatives from the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation, the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Patriots, the president revealed openness to move even further right with the legislation, which has already been panned for jeopardizing healthcare for the nation's most vulnerable while providing tax breaks for the most wealthy.
In addition to facing opposition from Democrats and many voters who are fearful over the future of their health coverage, the AHCA has seen growing opposition from the right as well. But sources from inside Wednesday's meeting revealed some key areas where the president said he could cave.
Summarizing the negotiations, New York Magazine's Margaret Hartmann observed that "the White House isn't completely opposed to making the AHCA even worse for poor people."
Hartmann reports: "When the conservative groups brought up rolling back Obamacare's Medicaid expansion next year rather than holding off until 2020, Trump aides said they were 'open to discussing it,' according to CNN. The [Washington] Post reported that the White House also seemed open to allowing insurance companies to offer less robust health plans in 2018, rather than waiting to 2020."
As the Post explains, 31 states plus the District of Columbia have accepted Medicaid expansion under the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act (ACA) and, in its current iteration, the AHCA would restrict Medicaid payments starting in 2020.
Further, Trump's team—which included senior advisers Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway and Marc Short, as well as White House Budget director Mick Mulvaney—signaled they'd be open to raising the cap on how much money people can put into tax-exempt Health Savings Accounts, which have previously been dubbed "another gimme for the rich."
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At one point in the meeting, the sources alleged, Trump lambasted the activist groups for "helping the other side" in opposing the bill, ensuring them: "This is going to be great. You're going to make it even greater."
The president, according to Politico, also "laid out his strategy for winning passage in the Senate, telling the meeting he will campaign heavily in red states featuring vulnerable Democrats up for re-election. 'Trump said he will have football stadium events in states where he won by 10-12 points and he is going to dare people to vote against him,' a source at the meeting said."
In the event that his bullying tactics won't win the number of votes needed to pass the AHCA, Trump also let on that he'd be willing to "let Obamacare fail and let Dems take the blame," as CNN's White House correspondent Jim Acosta reported.
Trump told Tea Party groups at WH if GOP health care plan dies, he will let Obamacare fail and let Dems take the blame, I'm told.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 9, 2017
The meeting was held the same day that the rushed bill was being marked up in Congressional subcommittees. At least one of the meeting's activist attendees expressed hope that many of the conservative changes were being pushed through in deliberations out of the public eye, though reports on the committee meetings indicated that Republicans were largely leaving the legislation untouched.
"I'm most optimistic that they're actually pushing back in the House and ultimately in the Senate to improve the bill," David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, told the Post. "They're not saying that in public, but they're negotiating."