WASHINGTON — A former White House staffer and several congressional aides and activists say they've been told the Trump administration has moved away from seeking an Obamacare replacement and is instead focused on damage control should a judge rule next month to topple the entire law.
Trump made waves earlier this year by promising to come up with yet another Obamacare replacement plan, but a high-stakes case before the Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is threatening him and other Republicans seeking reelection with a political wild card, as it could result in millions of Americans losing coverage as the election season heats up.
“There seems to be a decreasing appetite for the ‘big plan’ reveal and instead just focusing on responding to the 5th Circuit with prudence and a minimum of hysteria,” a former senior administration official said in an email on Wednesday.
The White House denied it has halted work on a proposal but wouldn't provide details about who is working on such a plan, what it might contain or when it might be ready.
"This is false," said spokesman Judd Deere, saying a plan is being worked on "as the president and other administration officials have indicated many times."
But conservative groups say they've not been told about an Obamacare replacement plan, even though their buy-in would almost certainly be sought by the White House.
"Although we've had discussions with the White House on health care, we've heard nothing from the White House on a health-care plan," said Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks.
Most Republicans looking ahead to the 2020 election are more worried about defending themselves from Democratic attacks over the lawsuit to overturn the ACA rather than attacking Obamacare all over again.
The 5th Circuit is expected to issue a ruling in the next few weeks on a lawsuit from more than a dozen GOP-led states charging Obamacare is unconstitutional. In an unusual move, Trump's Justice Department has taken their side rather than defend the law. Whichever way the court lands, the ruling is certain to be appealed and could end up at the Supreme Court next year.
A ruling against Obamacare would put the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services in a tight spot politically, forcing officials to answer questions about what would happen to the millions of people who rely on provisions in the ACA for their coverage and consumer protections.
It's a scenario Democrats hammered last year as they won the House majority, and Republicans are well aware they'll face the same attacks next year.
"Rehashing 'repeal the ACA and replace with something better' isn't a winning message, and I'm guessing they know that," said Shawn Gremminger, senior director of federal relations at Families USA.
Yet Trump didn't seem to know that earlier this year, when he repeatedly caught congressional Republicans off guard by tweeting that specific offices were working on yet another Obamacare replacement plan.
Congress already failed to repeal and replace the ACA back in 2017. As we've written numerous times, another repeal attempt is the last thing most Republicans want. Much to their chagrin, Trump kept bringing it up.
Let's take a brief stroll down memory lane.
Trump tweeted this in March, prompting mass confusion about whether Republicans in Congress would try again to repeal the ACA: “The Republican Party will become the Party of Great HealthCare! ObamaCare is a disaster, far too expensive and deductibility ridiculously high — virtually unusable! Moving forward in Courts and Legislatively!”