(CN) – President Donald Trump asked House Speaker Paul Ryan not to hold Friday’s do-or-die vote on the Republican’s long-promised repeal and replacement of the federal health care law, conceding the GOP just didn’t have the votes.
“We just pulled it,” Trump told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. The decision means the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will remain in place.
“I don’t blame Ryan,” Trump said of the speaker.
“We were very very close. It was a very tight margin. We had no Democratic support,” the President said. “I’ve been saying for the last year and a half that the best thing we could do, politically speaking, is let Obamacare explode. It’s exploding right now.”
He mentioned Arizona, Tennessee, and Kentucky specifically as states which are experiencing a rise in premiums.
“We couldn’t quite get there, we were a small number of votes short,” Trump said. “There are many people who don’t realize how good our bill was.” He said the people don’t realize how good the bill was because they didn’t realize there were two legislative phases to go.
Ryan himself said “moving from the opposition party to the governing party comes with growing pains. We’re experiencing those growing pains today.”
“This is a disappointing day for us,” he continued. “Doing big things is hard. We will need time to reflect on how we got to this moment and how we could have done better.”
The speaker maintained that he was proud of the bill the GOP had produced, and that “Obamacare is a bill that is collapsing.”
Nevertheless, he said, “Obamacare is the law of the land and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.”
Both Ryan and Trump described the Affordable Care Act as being in a “death spiral” Friday afternoon. Trump said he will attempt to do nothing on its repeal “until the Democrats come to me.”
Both the speaker and the president predicted once their dire predictions about the Affordable Care Act come to pass, Democrats will be more willing to discuss major reforms.
Ryan said President Trump “gave his all in this effort. He really has been fantastic. … but we have to do better and we will. This is a setback, no two ways about it, but we will come back from it. … There remains so much we can do to improve people’s lives.”
Hours earlier, Ryan met with Trump in the White House to personally deliver word that the GOP simply didn’t have the vote to pass the measure and to discuss the way forward.
A clear sign of the prevailing mood at the White House came from Trump spokesman Sean Spicer who told reporters “At the end of the day, this isn’t a dictatorship and we’ve got to expect members to vote the way they will vote.”
“There is no question that the president and his team have left everything on the field,” Spicer said, adding, “At some point you can only do so much.”
As Spicer guardedly answered questions from reporters at the White House, the vote was still on and believed to be only minutes away. But as the 3:30 p.m. start of the vote approached, Speaker Ryan called GOP House members into an emergency meeting to tell them the vote was not happening.
At the White House, meanwhile, Spicer said, “We’ve seen the whip count. We know where the vote count stands. We don’t need a live vote to tell us where the votes are.”
Trump reacted angrily late Thursday after the House delayed its scheduled vote, but over the ensuing 24 hours the bill lost support rather than gain it.
The president said if his GOP colleagues could not undo President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act would remain in place, and that the party should plan on moving on to other priorities, including overhauling the tax code.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday the administration plans to turn quickly to tax reform with the goal of getting a program approved by Congress by August.
“Health care is a very complicated issue,” Mnuchin said. “In a way, tax reform is a lot simpler.”
Mnuchin said he had been overseeing work on the administration’s bill over the past two months and it would be introduced soon. He said it would be one proposal that would cover both cutting individual and corporate taxes in the same legislation.
“We are not cutting this up and doing little pieces at a time,” Mnuchin said.
Ryan conceded that in light of the party’s ignominious defeat on the healthcare vote, tax reform will be more difficult, but not impossible.
“But we will move forward with our agenda,” he said.
Republicans have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act since it was put into place by the Obama administration seven years ago.
A defeat of the magnitude the GOP expected Friday weakens a Trump administration continuing to deal with inquiries into his presidential campaign’s Russia connections and his unfounded wiretapping allegations against Obama at the same time that its travel ban is held up in the courts.
Trump had personally lobbied 120 lawmakers in person and by phone, but the legislation continued to prove too decisive for the Republicans.
On Friday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodger Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, said he would oppose the bill which he described as “currently unacceptable.”
He also said last-minute changes made to the bill to appease conservatives “raise serious” concerns.
But Trump on Friday tried to put the blame for the failed repeal and replace effort on House Democrats.
“If [Democrats] got together with us, and got us a real health care bill, I’d be totally okay with that. The losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, because they own Obamacare. They 100% own it,” Trump said. “They have Obamacare for a little while longer until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future.
“When they all become civilized and get together, and try to work out a great health care bill for the people of this country, we’re open to it,” Trump said. “I want to thank the Republican Party. I want to thank Paul Ryan — he worked very, very hard. I can tell you that.”
After the House bill was pulled, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, said “the defeat of the disastrous Trump-Ryan health care bill is a major victory for the working families of this country and for the hundreds of thousands who attended rallies and town hall meetings in opposition to this bill.
“What the defeat of this bill shows is that the American people will not accept legislation that provides huge tax breaks to billionaires while 24 million people are kicked off their health insurance, massive cuts are made to Medicaid and Planned Parenthood and premiums for senior citizens are dramatically increased. Our job is to improve the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it. Our job is to guarantee health care to all people as a right, not a privilege,” Sanders said.
– Developing story.