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Analysis: Trump’s Bold Talk Replaced by ‘See What Happens’ Stoicism

From health care to North Korea to Russia, president now strikes a wait-and-see tone

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House April 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a news conference in the East Room of the White House April 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is taking a wait-and-see approach more and more often, following a 2016 campaign that espoused bold promises and exuded confidence.

Take his comments Thursday afternoon about an effort among White House officials and congressional Republicans to try again at repealing and replacing former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

“We’re doing very well on healthcare,” Trump said, adding a verbal shrug: “We’ll see what happens.”

That is a different rhetorical approach for a president who rode a long wake of brash confidence and a one-man fixer sales pitch of himself.

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Trump ran hard on completely gutting the 2010 health care law and replacing it with his own plan — though he did soften that stance once elected to keep aspects like its pre-existing conditions provision and allowing young people to remain on parents’ plans until they turn 26.

“We are going to get rid of Obamacare,” he roared during an Aug. 5 campaign rally in Wisconsin. Minutes later, he labeled the 2010 law as built on a “tremendous lie” by Obama’s party: “‘You can keep your plan, you can keep your doctor’ Really? How many people have been able to keep the doctor or their plan?”

“Not working that way, folks. It is a disaster,” Trump said, before delivering the big promise he repeated so often as a candidate then the GOP’s nominee: “By the way, it is going to be repealed and replaced 100 percent.”

Asked whether he would rather lawmakers next week to send him a measure to keep the government running or a health care overhaul bill, Trump said he wants both. Vintage Trump.

But then the bombastic former reality television star hedged on health care.

“A lot of people are liking it a lot. We have a good chance of getting it soon,” Trump said Thursday. “I’d like to say next week, but … I believe we will get it … whether it’s next week or shortly thereafter.”

Before returning in recent days to his “America first” domestic agenda with a series of trade-related executive actions and a speech at a tool factory in Wisconsin, Trump and his team spent the two weeks after his April 6 air strike in Syria rattling the sabre at that country’s leader, Bashar Assad, and North Korea.

Trump is pressing his Chinese counterpart to lean on the Hermit Kingdom’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to give up its missile and nuclear arms programs. But he has warned in recent weeks that if the Chinese president cannot resolve what he three times called a “menace” on Thursday, he would act alone. (Trump later said that means also working with allies.)

He also shied away from making any hawkish pledges standing alongside Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

“As far as North Korea is concerned, we are in very good shape,” he said. “A lot of things have happened over the last short period of time. … We’re doing a lot of work. We’re in very good position. We’re going to see what happens.”

One senior House Republican on Thursday said the president’s style and approach are still evolving.

For new commanders in chief, both are “always works in progress,” Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said during a telephone interview. Just shy of Trump’s 100th day in office, it is too soon to say “whether or not his approach will work,” Cole said.

Trump’s less-bombastic message also was on display last week amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

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“It would be wonderful, as we were discussing just a little while ago, if NATO and our country could get along with Russia,” Trump said during a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. “Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia.

“This has built for a long period of time. But we’re going to see what happens. Putin is the leader of Russia,” he said. “Russia is a strong country. We’re a very, very strong country. We’re going to see how that all works out.”

The bold, big-promises candidate Trump does show up even when he strikes this more wait-and-see message. That was the case last week alongside Stoltenberg.

“So we’ll see what happens. It may be effective, it may not be effective,” he said of his lean-on-China approach to North Korea. “If it’s not effective, we will be effective, I can promise you that. Thank you.”

Minutes later, Trump exited stage left.

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