President Donald Trump and most House Republicans, just minutes after they passed a measure to replace the 2010 health law, took a victory lap in the White House Rose Garden.
At the same time, few ignored the elephant in the garden: the United States Senate, where lawmakers have signaled they intend to make significant changes.
Members of the GOP House caucus piled into buses outside the Capitol and made the short trek to the executive mansion, where they crowded onto the stairs that connect the Rose Garden to the colonnade outside the Oval Office. What followed was an hour of celebration and ample praise for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — and they had nothing but glowing reviews for the GOP House members.
But Trump and just about all the members who spoke made clear they know the bill has a long way to go before hitting the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
Trump, Pence and House GOP leaders had a hard enough time bridging wide policy divides among the various factions of their caucus. Things will only get tougher in the Senate, something the president and House lawmakers acknowledged even as they spiked the football after a hard-fought win.
The bill was pulled in March after a floor vote was scheduled in the House because too many GOP members were opposed to an initial version. The second version just skirted by, with 217 House Republicans voting in favor on Thursday.
But the Senate, where Republicans represent entire states and not hardline ideological House districts, will be another ballgame. The feelings of many GOP senators were summed up pithily by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a Thursday tweet posted a few hours before the House vote.
Graham noted the House measure has not been scored by the
Congressional Budget Office and amendments were not allowed on the floor. He said any such bill “should be viewed with caution.”
A bill — finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate — should be viewed with caution.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 4, 2017
And, in a telling sign of the likely long process ahead in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced the chamber will not take up the House bill until the CBO comes back with conclusions about its likely costs and probable impacts on things like insurance premiums and deductibles.
(White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders earlier Thursday dismissed the argument that House leadership should have delayed the health vote until the revised bill could be scored by the CBO, saying it would be impossible to accurately score because of so many unknowns like how governors will respond to certain provisions.)
The president made his position on that clear under grey skies and a light breeze.
“As far as I’m concerned your premiums are going to start to come down,” Trump said, alluding the same would be true about plan deductibles if the American Health Care Act eventually becomes law. He hailed the bill as a “great plan.”
But the battle ahead in the Senate clearly was on the president’s mind.
“We’re going to get this passed through the Senate,” he declared during his opening remarks. “I feel so confident.”
Trump, who has the ability, perhaps unlike any other modern president, to skewer his critics and political foes, had nary a negative thing to say about the 52 Republican senators who will decide the fate of what, for him, was a major campaign promise.
The president appears cognizant of the razor-thin margin for error the health overhaul bill has in the Senate, where the party can lose only two senators. (Pence as president of the chamber, could cast the 51st and deciding vote, if needed.)
“It’s going to be an unbelievable victory when we get this through the Senate,” Trump said, predicting “it will get even better” after that chamber works its will.
The still-new president was not alone in thinking about the next step – and seeming to choose his words about the Senate’s coming health care effort carefully.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin took to the podium with the presidential seal and called the House’s action just one step in a long process. He was careful to sound an optimistic tone that Republican senators will finish the job.
“I know our friends over in the Senate are eager to get to work,” Ryan said to mild laughter. He smiled and added: “They are.”
House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black of Tennessee, a registered nurse, said the House passage “is just the beginning.” She cast the legislation as a “celebration” that is “not about politics,” but one that will “rescue people” from the troubles the 2010 health law has spawned.
And she, too, addressed the elephant, saying she is “hopeful that the Senate is even going to make this bill better.”
After a listening to nearly a dozen GOP lawmakers or his hand-picked agency heads speak — some delivering lengthy remarks — the president was still thinking about the fight ahead in the Senate.
“The journey continues,” Trump said as he closed the event. “We will get it done. We will have great health care for everyone in our nation.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.