WASHINGTON — Although the Trump administration publicly says it’s backing the House bill to replace Obamacare, in private meetings, senior aides have criticized the way Speaker Paul Ryan has dealt with the proposal, calling it a "botched rollout" and expressing frustration about the lack of coalition building beforehand, three sources involved in the conversations told BuzzFeed News.
As Trump courts conservative lawmakers and outside groups, the president and his top aides have tried to put some distance between the White House and House GOP leadership, playing "good cop," as one source described it, in trying get more support for the proposal. With passage of the bill in Congress looking increasingly difficult, aides are focused on showing that they are open to negotiation — even though Ryan has resisted making major changes — and are already pointing fingers.
A White House spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied that aides had criticized House leadership in meetings. “The President and his administration are working with Congress to repeal the disastrous Obamacare law and replace it with smart reforms in a variety of ways,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “This includes many different meetings, such as the several that have taken place at the White House, a robust schedule of interviews with regional media, working alongside House and Senate leadership, and continued and aggressive outreach to various coalitions.”
The speaker’s office declined to comment.
House leadership released its plan, the Affordable Health Care Act, less than 10 days ago. Despite widespread concerns from conservatives about the inclusion of tax credits in a previously released initial draft and from moderates regarding the transition from Medicaid expansion, the proposal that was unveiled after much anticipation wasn't that much different. Republicans throughout Congress have continued to criticize aspects of the bill — even as the administration has since been reaching out to conservative lawmakers and groups to get them on board.
Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus — an influential group of conservatives, has said he is negotiating amendments to the bill directly with the White House.
Ryan insisted Wednesday morning that the White House had been very involved in the proposal and that other than some "refinements," "major components" of the bill would remain. Vice President Mike Pence spent hours on the Hill this week, rallying lawmakers in support of the plan.
"This is something we wrote with President Trump," he said on Fox Business. "This is something we wrote with the Senate committees.”
"We're going through the process here, we feel very good where we are," Ryan said. "This is the plan we ran on all of last year."
Later he said on CNN that the president “is all in on this” and offered “Medicaid flexibility” as a possibility for changes without giving details. Ryan has also given multiple interviews to conservative media outlets and is expected to do several more interviews this week to sell the bill.
Ryan's resistance to make major changes to the bill has made him the target of the bill’s opponents, who are still supportive of Trump.
Conservative group, Freedomworks, which is opposed to the bill in its current form, held a rally outside the Capitol Wednesday afternoon with activists and lawmakers who are pushing for changes to the bill. The criticism during the event was focused on House GOP leadership — not the Trump administration.
"Tell the weak-kneed Republicans we were not out there campaigning for Obamacare-lite," said Sen. Rand Paul, encouraging activists to "bring down the Paul Ryan plan."
But when Trump was mentioned, there were still loud cheers from the crowd.
Paul McLeod contributed reporting.