President Donald Trump has suffered a bitter defeat as one of his cornerstone campaign pledges, to repeal and replace Obamacare, failed to pass in Congress.
It was a huge setback for the president and instilled doubts about his ability to enact his wider agenda, not only on healthcare but other major promises like tax reform and infrastructure investment.
Speaking in the Oval Office Mr Trump squarely blamed Democrats for unanimously opposing the bill, and said Obamacare would soon explode.
He said: Now the Democrats own Obamacare 100 per cent. They own it. It’s exploding now and it’s going to be a very bad year. There are going to be explosive premium increases.
Mr Trump said when the Obamacare system did collapse he fully expected Democrats to come to him seeking a bilateral deal, to which he would be totally open.
US President Donald Trump reacts after Republicans abruptly pulled their health care bill from the House floor, in the Oval Office of the White House on March 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. In a big setback to the agenda of President Donald…
He added: We were very close. We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about arcane rules in the house. For me it’s been a very interesting experience. Paul Ryan worked very, very hard but a had a lot of factions.
Mr Trump said politically the failure of the bill was good for Republicans because Demcorats would be blamed for what he called the impedning collapse of Oabamcare. He said: I’ve said for a long time, politically, the best thing we could do is let Obamacare explode, and it’s exploding right now. Mr Trump added: Now, we’ll go very strongly for tax reform and big tax cuts, that will be up next.
In a high stakes gamble Mr Trump, confident in his ability to make deals, had issued a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to rebel Republicans, indicating that if the measure failed he would leave Obamacare in place and move on to other priorities.
But the strategy backfired as the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican congressmen, held out despite last minute concessions by Mr Trump.
Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told the president there was no deal.
Mr Trump told a Washington Post reporter efforts on the healthcare bill would be over for now but he would come back to healthcare some time this year.
Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s spokesman said: You can’t force people to vote. At the end of the day this isn’t a dictatorship. The president left it all on the field. He has given it his all. It shocked a lot of people how personal it was for him. He worked 6am to 11pm.
Did he pull out all the stops? Did he call every member of Congress? Yes. At some point you can only do so much.
Mr Trump was said to have been agitated by the reluctance of Freedom Caucus members to vote for the American Health Care Act, known as Trumpcare.
They did not believe it went far enough in dismantling Obamacare and were concerned it would actually raise the cost of insurance premiums for their constituents.
Democrats were universally against the bill calling it pure greed that will see real people suffer and die.
Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives but they “could afford to lose less than two dozen votes from their own side”.
Shortly before the vote Paul Ryan, the Republican House Speaker who championed the bill in Congress, went to the White House to tell Mr Trump it did not have enough support.