Aides help temper Trump's Obamacare rhetoric

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president trump fox news oreilly interview obamacare_00005408

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Story highlights

  • Trump in January: Hoping for a repeal vote the week of his inauguration
  • Trump now: Full replacement could take til 2018

(CNN)President Donald Trump's rhetoric on the timeline for repealing and replacing Obamacare has changed, and it's no accident.

Staffers on Trump's legislative affairs team, along with other GOP allies, have been working to manage the President's expectations about the time the complicated process will take, which appears to have contributed to Trump's change in language, according to a senior administration official.
In January, Trump told The New York Times that he was hoping for a vote to repeal Obamacare as soon as the week of his inauguration and called for replacement legislation "very quickly or simultaneously, very shortly thereafter."
    But in his recent interview with Fox News, when asked when the Trump administration would roll out a new health care plan, the President suggested a much slower timeline stretching into 2018.
    "Maybe it'll take until sometime into next year but we're certainly going to be in the process," Trump said. "I would like to say by the end of the year at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year."
    Trump's legislative aides have been running him through potential scenarios that could crop up during the repeal-and-replace effort and trying to give him a better sense of how the process will work.
    Still, an administration official made clear that Trump's 2018 timeline is a reference to the later stages of the health care overhaul. For instance, it could be 2018 before the replacement plan is fully implemented, particularly because certain aspects of replacement legislation will require support from Democrats as well as Republicans.
    The official said the administration is sticking to its pledge to ensure Americans don't face a sudden loss of health care coverage before new health care options have been put in a place.
    Or, as Trump put it during his presidential campaign: "I will not let people die on the streets if I'm president."
    The Trump administration has been working with House Speaker Paul Ryan's office on this issue and is expected to continue to do so, with more coordination with Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price once he is confirmed. Multiple sources said there's little indication the White House is working on its own Obamacare replacement plan.
    The key message to Trump's team, from the offices of both Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been the need to impart upon Trump that this is a process. Despite the noise from outside conservative groups, or even members of their own conferences, a careful, step-by-step process is not only the plan, but also the smartest way to go about the process.
    It's a message, GOP aides say, that Vice President Mike Pence has agreed to carry back from Capitol Hill after his repeated meetings with lawmakers.
    In the House, Ryan's team has made clear they plan to move a bill to repeal large swaths of the law by the end of the first quarter of the year. The Senate will move in a similar timeline. In the meantime, the arduous, time-consuming replacement process is starting to kick into gear.
    Tom Price in 60 seconds
    Tom Price in 60 seconds

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    "It's not sexy, we get that. But it's the reality," one GOP aide told CNN.
    On one level, it's a "Schoolhouse Rock" explanation of the road ahead. That means committee hearings in both chambers on draft pieces of legislation -- some of which have already started in the House. Then it means the committees will consider each piece of legislation. Then those bills will move to the floor in each chamber.
    "There was never going to be some 1,000-page replacement bill," the aide said. "That's what we ran against."
    Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told CNN he was urging his restive GOP colleagues, particularly those in the House, to slow the process down.
    "I've seen speed. I've seen partisan results. It's called Obamacare," he said. "I don't want to go down that road. My goal is to get it right and there's no timetable associated with that."
    Throughout, aides say, the strategy will be for Price's HHS to ease the burdens on the system and help build the bridge to replacement through administrative actions.