Trump is trying to appease both supporters and critics by signalling flexibility over legislation that faces criticism on multiple fronts
Steve Holland, James Oliphant & Emily Stephenson –
President Donald Trump has launched a charm offensive of the type not seen before in his brief and chaotic tenure, forcefully rallying behind legislation to repeal the Obamacare healthcare law while trying to placate the bill’s opponents.
In doing so, the often blustery Trump faces a test of credibility for the voters that catapulted him into office: How does a celebrity outsider, the CEO president, cut deals in Washington. Does the New York businessman live up to the image of dealmaker in chief.
Interviews with more than a dozen White House and congressional aides, members of Congress and conservative activists offer a glimpse into his attempts at conducting the most formidable, high-stakes negotiation of his presidency.
They show a more circumspect Trump than many see publicly.
While they acknowledge he can make his points with a blunt and combustible style, he appears to be doing more listening than talking, they said, trying to appease both
supporters and critics by signalling flexibility over legislation that faces criticism on multiple
Democrats and some influential Republicans say it would rip health insurance away from millions of Americans and increase costs for many others, including voters who helped elect Trump — a problem that could haunt
his fellow Republicans in 2018 congressional elections.
Conservatives say it does not go far enough in gutting the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform passed by Democrats in 2010.
Republicans have long sought to dismantle the law, which they see as government overreach.
Trump has called Obamacare a “disaster” and made its repeal and replacement a key campaign pledge.
The political stakes are immense for an eight-week-old presidency marked by instability, infighting, battles with the media, questions over temperament and a stubborn investigation into ties between his campaign and Russian intelligence.
“A lot of times you have politicians who gather in a room to pontificate. That’s not why he has gathered people in the room,” a senior White House official said of Trump’s negotiation style this week.
“He’s gathered people in to hear their opinions. I think that’s lost a little bit because he does speak so forcefully. He definitely does let them say their piece, and he listens.”
The president has reached out to influential conservatives such as US Senator Ted Cruz and groups such as the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, which have expressed scepticism about the bill.
“He was gregarious, reasonable. He listened. It was a not a lecture,” said Tim Phillips, president of AFP, a group backed by billionaires Charles and David Koch and part of a small group of conservative leaders who met with Trump in the Oval Office on Wednesday night.
“He said: ‘This is a negotiation. Let’s figure out ways to make this proposal better,’” Phillips said of Trump. Trump has indicated he will only
go so far to make conservatives happy, insisting the core elements of the bill must remain intact if it has any chance to pass the House of Representatives and then the Senate, both controlled by Republicans.
One sticking point involves the use of tax credits to help consumers purchase health insurance, which Trump favours.
Last week, Trump welcomed about 30 Republican House members, many of whom said they had never been in the White House before — a contrast in style from Obama, who was often criticised for not attempting to engage more fully with Congress.
In the East Room, Trump told them to come back every week. Grover Norquist, a longtime conservative tax advocate, praised Trump’s strategy, saying: “He is making people feel loved and appreciated and part of the team.” — Reuters