Donald Trump has a funny way of doing math. And declaring victory.
Less than 24 hours removed from Republicans admitting defeat on their last, best chance to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the President spent much of Wednesday arguing that the votes are there to pass the legislation.
“We have the votes for health care,” Trump insisted to reporters before taking off for a speech to unveil his tax reform proposal. (At that speech, he restated his questionable math on the landscape of health care votes.)
“The problem is we can’t have them by Friday, because the reconciliation ends on Friday,” Trump added. “So we’ll have to do it in January or February. But I feel we have the votes. I’m almost certain we have the votes, but with one man in the hospital we cannot display that we have them – plus some people wanna go through a process just to make themselves feel better. That’s OK.”
Here’s the thing. Republicans don’t have the votes. If they did, they would schedule a vote as soon as possible.
So what is Trump talking about? It’s not totally clear.
Here’s what we know.
There are three hard “no’s” on the legislation offered by Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (La.): Rand Paul (Ky.) John McCain (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine). That means that even if every other Republican senator voted for the bill, it would still only have 49 votes.
In addition, there are several other senators – Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) – who never said they would vote “yes” on Graham-Cassidy.
Even if you assume that Cruz and Lee vote for it, Republicans still only have 48 votes. (Cruz and Lee would seem to be the people Trump was talking about when he said Wednesday that “we have two other votes that are coming, and we will have them.”)
That 48 is likely where Republicans would end up given that Murkowksi voted against the so-called “skinny repeal” in late July – and the Graham-Cassidy legislation has a number of the same features including a sunsetting of Medicaid expansion dollars and no guarantees on affordable coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
Forty-eight, as you likely have figured out, isn’t 50. Not today. And not in January or February either.
But what about this mysterious hospitalized senator? While Trump didn’t give a name during the afternoon press gaggle – despite the heroic efforts of one very persistent reporter – it’s clear that the President is referring to Sen. Thad Cochran, who is in Mississippi recovering from a medical procedure.
“He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital,” said Trump. “He can’t vote because he’s in the hospital.”
But Cochran is not actually hospitalized. How do I know? Because Cochran tweeted this on Wednesday afternoon:
“Thanks for the well-wishes. I’m not hospitalized, but am recuperating at home in Mississippi and look forward to returning to work soon.”
Cochran also made clear that, if needed, he could return to Washington to vote.
That, of course, won’t be necessary because the 48 votes we gave Trump above included the presumed “yes” from Cochran. Without Cochran, Republicans have 47 votes, at best. Again, it doesn’t really matter because last time I checked both of these math equations were still correct:
1. 48 ≠ 50
2. 47 ≠ 50
Which brings me back to this question: What is Trump actually talking about?
The honest answer is: I truly have no idea. The Cochran thing is odd (why did Trump think he was in the hospital?) but doesn’t change the underlying math. And even if Murkowski decided to vote for Graham-Cassidy, Republicans would still be a vote short of the 50 they need.