President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that the GOP will become the party of health care, without providing any specifics for what that means and coming a day after the Trump administration told a federal court that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down – a dramatic reversal of its previous position.
“The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch,” Trump said ahead of a lunch meeting with Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The comment follows a Monday filing with a federal appeals court, in which the Justice Department said it agreed with the ruling of a federal judge in Texas who invalidated the Obama-era health care law.
In a letter Monday night, the administration said “it is not urging that any portion of the district court’s judgment be reversed.”
It’s a major shift for the Justice Department from when Jeff Sessions was attorney general. At the time, the administration argued that the community rating rule and the guaranteed issue requirement – protections for people with preexisting conditions – could not be defended but the rest of the law could stand.
Republican senators told reporters that during their lunch, Trump spoke about the importance of the cost of health insurance and said that the GOP should now embrace health care as a leading issue. And referring to the lawsuit, Trump said Congress needs to do better and come up with a better law. Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said Trump mentioned the litigation “in passing” but didn’t get into the Justice Department’s decision. Kennedy said Trump said Republicans should “take another run” at addressing heath care.
The administration’s decision has been criticized by many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At an event on Tuesday unveiling legislation aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions, which coincided with the ninth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, Pelosi said the Justice Department “decided not only to try to destroy protections for preexisting conditions, but to tear down every last benefit and protection the ACA affords.”
“The GOP will never stop trying to destroy the affordable health care for America’s families,” she added.
In 2017, Republicans failed to pass a Trump-backed measure to repeal Obamacare, with seven Republicans voting no. An identical version of the repeal passed two years earlier, with then-President Barack Obama being forced to veto the bill.
It’s unclear whether the White House has a comprehensive plan to repeal or replace Obamacare.
Asked Tuesday morning for more details about a potential plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway pointed to Trump’s budget, claiming that it protected preexisting conditions and proposals on community health plans.
“The President – the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch and the President has faith in his Department of Justice to do the right thing. And we’re watching litigation. We don’t predict the outcomes of litigation like that. We’ll see what happens,” she said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Clare Foran, Jeremy Herb, Naome Seifu, Betsy Klein, Ariane de Vogue, Tami Luhby, Ashley Killough, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.