WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on Tuesday embraced U.S. President Donald Trump’s call to revive a fight over healthcare coverage, ensuring a prominent role for the issue in the 2020 election as Trump seeks a second term in office.
Trump last week stepped up his assault on Democratic predecessor President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 healthcare law by directing the Justice Department to oppose it in court and promising an unspecified Republican alternative.
In a series of late-night posts on Twitter on Monday, however, Trump appeared to shift course, saying there would be no vote on any healthcare legislation until after next year’s election.
Republicans are developing “a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than Obamacare,” Trump said, referring to the Affordable Care Act signed into law by Obama. “Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House.”
While that timeline would give Republicans more time to knit together an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, it all but guarantees a 2020 battle over an issue that helped Democrats wrest control of the U.S. House of Representatives last year.
Democrats happily joined the healthcare battle.
“When the president has instructed his Department of Justice to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, them’s fighting words,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with Politico on Tuesday.
“Last night the president tweeted that they will come up with their plan in 2021. Translation: they have no healthcare plan,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday. “They are for repeal, they have no replace.”
Trump and his fellow Republicans had vowed in the 2016 presidential election to “repeal and replace” Obamacare but failed to do so during their first two years in power, despite control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley defended Trump’s tweet, saying it was impossible to vote now on any Republican plan in the Democratically-controlled House.
“He didn’t punt,” Gidley told MSNBC.
At an outdoor rally in front of the Supreme Court, Pelosi and Schumer announced they were introducing resolutions condemning the Justice Department’s legal assault on the law.
These resolutions will not become law; the Senate version is unlikely to even come up for a vote in the Republican-dominated chamber. But part of the Democrats’ point in bringing the resolution to a vote in the Democratic-run House is to put Republicans from swing districts on the spot over the issue.
Americans “deserve to know exactly where their representatives stand on the Trump administration’s vicious campaign to take away their healthcare,” Pelosi said at the rally. The House vote is expected on Wednesday.
Pelosi said a court decision to toss out the Affordable Care Act would not just harm the 20 million people who have gained healthcare coverage, but also impact over 150 million families who have better benefits because of the law, such as a guarantee that no lifetime limits can be placed on coverage.
Democrats made healthcare a signature issue in the 2018 midterm congressional election, and are gearing up for a repeat defense next year.
“Healthcare will be front and center,” Democratic U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan told MSNBC on Tuesday.
Lujan, who is seeking a Senate seat in 2020, cited popular aspects of the law, such as protections for pre-existing conditions that could be threatened by Republicans, and said Democrats’ protection of the law could help them also win control of the upper chamber next year.
Candidates for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including a number of current U.S. senators, have also hinged their candidacies on the issue.
Reporting by Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas