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Week In Politics: Trump Announces End To Obamacare Subsidy Payments


To talk more about the politics of health care, I am joined here in the studio by Ana Kasparian. She's co-host and producer for the online news network The Young Turks. Welcome.

ANA KASPARIAN: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: And John Phillips, political commentator for CNN and a columnist for the Orange County Register, welcome to you.

JOHN PHILLIPS: Thank you so much.

MCEVERS: So as we just heard, President Trump says one by one, his administration is dismantling the Affordable Care Act. But there is lots of polling to suggest that people do not want these insurance markets to fall apart. Some senators led by Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee had been working on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the markets, and now this. John, I'll start with you. I mean, how is this move going to affect the president's relationship with members of his own party?

PHILLIPS: Well, I think if you're talking about voters who you first mentioned, people first vote with their feet before they vote at the ballot box. And one of the things the critics have been saying is if you allow people to leave the health exchange, if you allow people to leave Obamacare, anyone who can leave will leave. Well, what does that tell you about the product? I mean, that's like the same argument that the teachers unions make about school vouchers and charter schools.

So I think that him making this move - and look; I'm a process guy, and I'd rather have Congress do it. But John McCain's feelings are hurt, and he doesn't have the votes right now. So he's got to wait until Joe Manchin switches teams or Bob Menendez goes to prison. This was the best of a lot of bad options that he had, and kicking it to Congress is the long-term solution that I think is best for the Republicans and for Donald Trump.

MCEVERS: But is it going to work? I mean, Ana, these are - you know, as we just heard in Tam's piece, President Trump needs votes on other things - the Iran deal, immigration, a tax bill among other things. Is, you know - are they going to be able to handle this stuff?

KASPARIAN: Well, whether or not Congress is going to be able to handle it is an interesting question. But what I do disagree with is the notion that Trump will allow Congress to do what it needs to do. I mean, he has already shown, and he is continuing to threaten Congress with unilateral action if they don't give him exactly what he wants, which I think is fascinating given the fact that someone like Obama was criticized pretty aggressively by Republicans for signing executive orders and doing things unilaterally. So I do agree in our system of government and the need for checks and balances, especially when you have an individual which in my belief is as unhinged as Trump and doesn't really understand the ramifications of these issues.

And just to quickly, you know, respond to your answer about voters, you know, when you do look at polling and you refer to the Affordable Care Act as the Affordable Care Act rather than Obamacare, even Republican voters like it, and it's because it has provided certain protections for them that they don't want to lose.

And I will not sit here and say that the Affordable Care Act is perfect. It was deeply flawed, and it did not have the proper cost controls in place to prevent higher premiums. But what Trump just did will increase premiums so much that, you know, Americans are really going to suffer. And I'm concerned about that.

MCEVERS: I mean, Republicans ran on promises to repeal Obamacare, and they didn't have the votes to do it, as we know, in Congress. And now the president is acting on his own to hollow it out. Will this hurt Republican members of Congress in re-election races in 2018, John?

PHILLIPS: In the long term, getting a bill done is more important for Republicans in Congress than it is for Donald Trump. Donald Trump's signature issue in the campaign was immigration. It was building the wall. If he doesn't build the wall, his re-election chances have, you know, gone down to zero.

Republicans have won - what? - three different national elections based on repealing and replacing Obamacare. If Trump doesn't get it done, it's like going to Red Lobster and saying the chicken stinks. No one goes to Red Lobster for the chicken. They go there for the lobster. He's selling immigration. They're selling health care. If they don't get it done, that's a big blow to the Republicans in Congress.

MCEVERS: It sounds like he knows that, right?


MCEVERS: (Laughter) I want to talk about the Democrats, too. I mean, this morning the president tweeted that now the Democrats have to call him to fix health care. I mean, is that true? Do they need to come to him at this point, Ana?

KASPARIAN: I don't think they need to come to him. I think that that is a mistake because one thing that Donald Trump claims is that he's a good negotiator. He has no interest in negotiations. He has all the interest in coercing or being coercive and threatening and bullying people into giving him what he wants. That is not a good negotiator.

What I would argue is that Democrats need to focus on their messaging because they are devastatingly weak in explaining and expressing how disastrous this will be for the American people. I mean, Republicans will latch onto something, and they will not let it go - Hillary Clinton with Benghazi. I mean, we're still hearing about Benghazi. But Democrats - they - they're soft, and they need to toughen up. And they need to really work on their messaging.

PHILLIPS: And for Democrats, it's weird because Hillary Clinton won the nomination. She won the election over Bernie Sanders. But if you look Democratic voters are on issues like health care, Democratic voters are closer to Bernie Sanders...

KASPARIAN: Absolutely.

PHILLIPS: ...Than they are to Hillary Clinton. So with all the problems that you see right now in Congress with Republicans, Democrats are facing the same issue. You saw Bernie Sanders standing up on stage with any number of Democrats who could be candidates for president next time around who signed on for single payer. Well, what is Nancy Pelosi going to do? What is Chuck Schumer going to do? What's going to happen in Democratic primaries in the midterm elections, and what does that mean for compromise? It means compromise is probably not an option between the parties.

MCEVERS: Right. That leads to my next question. I mean, do you - either of you see any chance of some bipartisan solution to health care right now?

KASPARIAN: Quite honestly, I don't because what I'm seeing is, you know, two or three senators - Republican senators that seem reasonable, and they're looking out for the best interest of their constituents - Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain. But at the same time, you have some like Rand Paul that think, no, no, I want to get rid of everything. I don't want to help Americans out at all.

And so there's a disagreement within the Republican Party. There's a lot of disagreement among Democrats. I feel like, you know, we need to figure out what's going on in these two teams and kind of come to some sort of agreement before this negotiation could even happen.

MCEVERS: Likely?

PHILLIPS: I don't think there's any negotiation that can be done with the leadership with the Democratic Party. I think you could potentially pick off one or two votes. He could get a Joe Manchin to sign on. He could get a Heidi Heitkamp to sign on. And that way, you can lose a John McCain. You can lose a Susan Collins. But if you largely keep that Republican caucus together, one or two Democrats could put you over the top.

MCEVERS: Some people say that this fight could go to the states. Attorneys general in, you know, majority Democratic states here in California and New York have said they will sue the Trump administration to continue making these subsidy payments. Does that seem like a viable option going forward in the short term for the ACA?

KASPARIAN: I think it's a viable option. I would like them to be more aggressive. Lawmakers in California squashed any and all efforts to provide universal health care to Californians, something that polls as very popular. And it kind of shows you where their heart is. And I just don't agree with it.

MCEVERS: Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks and John Phillips, commentator for CNN and columnist for the Orange County Register, thanks to both of you.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

KASPARIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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