Inside President Trump's health care deal flip-flop

Can Alexander/Murray health care deal pass?
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Can Alexander/Murray health care deal pass? 05:47

Story highlights

  • Trump initially backed a bipartisan effort to fund Obamacare subsidy payments
  • But after blowback from conservatives, the President has gone the other way
  • Trump has generally focused on the politics of health care, not the policy details

Washington (CNN)He was for it before he was against it.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly crushed hopes of a bipartisan health care with the stroke of a tweet that recategorized a deal he had praised less than 24 hours earlier as a "very good solution" into something he "can never support."
The sudden reversal came after the White House faced immediate blowback from conservatives and GOP leadership following the President's praise for the bipartisan deal brokered by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, that seeks to stabilize health care markets by funding the health care subsidy payments for two years in exchange for more state flexibility in Obamacare.
    But his advisers reminded him that conservatives are not in favor of this compromise and likely won't support it or even bring it up for a vote (House Speaker Paul Ryan would come out against the plan Wednesday). His attempt to dial it back Tuesday night wasn't strong enough, so the morning tweet was seen as necessary.
    "We can't have another health care failure," a White House official said, explaining how aides prevailed on him to reverse course.
    The President's mixed messaging following initial praise for the bipartisan effort once again underscored a central characteristic in his approach that has marred repeated efforts to pass health care reform: A lack of engagement with the details of the legislation on the table.
    Trump's personal efforts to sell the different iterations of Republican attempts to replace Obamacare ultimately rested on a political case, pleading to Congress that passage was necessary to keep the promises of 2016 and avoid electoral disasters in 2018 and 2020.
    He pressed wavering senators like Nevada's Dean Heller, a Republican up for re-election next year, about their chances at the ballot box.
    Not part of the President's arguments were details about how the legislation would affect millions of Americans and make fundamental changes to the US health care system -- a lack of familiarity that those close to the process said hobbled his effectiveness in whipping votes.
    Trump's discussions with Alexander were similarly fuzzy on the details, according to GOP aides supportive of the legislation. That left Alexander's team concerned that while Trump was saying all the right things, he didn't appear to fully grasp the bill Alexander was working on and could suddenly change his tune -- a worry that came to fruition on Wednesday morning.
    "I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care," Trump tweeted.
    Trump told reporters later Wednesday he would "see" on the bipartisan proposal but added that he won't "do anything to enrich the insurance companies."
    "Lamar Alexander is working on it very hard from our side and if something can happen, that's fine, Trump said. "But I won't do anything to enrich the insurance companies cause, right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They've been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody's ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies."
    Less than 24 hours earlier in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he had been involved in the bipartisan discussions and offered his support for the "short-term deal" to stabilize the health insurance market. Those comments -- and his willingness to let them dangle until Wednesday morning -- signal the President's eagerness to draw positive press coverage for helping to fuel bipartisanship in Washington, as several newspapers portrayed Trump's praise for the Alexander-Murray deal on Wednesday morning.
    Trump began dialing back his support in remarks at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday night, though he didn't fully back off.
    "I'm pleased the Democrats have finally responded to my call for them to take responsibility for their Obamacare disaster and work with Republicans to provide much-needed relief to the American people," he said. "While I commend the bipartisan work done by Sens. Alexander and Murray -- and I do commend it -- I continue to believe Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies."
    Trump's flip-flop in a matter of hours on the issue -- a whiplash reminiscent of his presidential campaign -- drew immediate criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
    "The President ought to know what he's talking about when he tweets about bills, because on this one, he had no understanding," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared.
    "This President just keeps zigging and sagging, so it's impossible to govern," Schumer, D-New York, added on the Senate floor. "He just keeps zigging and zagging. Our only hope is maybe tomorrow he'll be for this again."