Trump’s statement on the House GOP’s Obamacare bill is a non-endorsement

Saying nothing about the bill, it praises “today” as an “important step.”

President Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 3, 2017.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, March 3, 2017.

House Republican leaders have, at long last, released the American Health Care Act, their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. In the days preceding the bill's release, Speaker Paul Ryanreportedly urged the White House to deliver President Donald Trump's endorsement, which he believed would greatly help its chances of passing.

But with a Monday night statement from Press Secretary Sean Spicer, it's clear that the president isn't ready to go there — not yet at least.

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Spicer's

is a mere three sentences long. Here it is, in full:

"Obamacare has proven to be a disaster with fewer options, inferior care, and skyrocketing costs that are crushing small businesses and families across America. Today marks an important step toward restoring healthcare choices and affordability back to the American people. President Trump looks forward to working with both Chambers of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare."

That is a remarkably tepid statement on what's now the main vehicle for the top item on Republicans' legislative agenda.

After opening with the usual criticisms of Obamacare, Spicer goes on to say... nothing at all about the House bill itself. The statement merely praises "today" as an "important step." Then it says Trump wants to work with both chambers.

The language of statements like these is heavily vetted, and this one may be polite, but it is unmistakably a non-endorsement. If the White House was ready to back Ryan's bill, it would clearly say so. But it didn't — just as President Trump didn't endorse the House plan in his speech to Congress, but rather laid out his own five principles.

Trump seems to be wary of the House plan — and rightfully so

Why doesn't Trump fully endorse Ryan's plan? Well, Axios's Caitlin Owens and Jonathan Swan reported last week that he simply isn't ready to fully back an effort he thinks could well go down in flames.

In explaining why Trump didn't endorse the House plan in his speech, Owens and Swan wrote: "The view internally is that the current plan — drafted by both House and Senate leadership — is going to struggle to get out of Congress. It would be foolish for Trump to walk all the way down the plank and utter the sentence: 'I support the health care plan drafted by the House.'"

Trump's hesitancy makes sense. He's made big promises on health care — that his plan would have "insurance for everybody" even if they couldn't afford it, that he wouldn't cut Medicaid, that he'd tackle high prescription drug costs, and that he'd let insurers sell across state lines. The first two promises would be outright broken by the House GOP bill, and the latter two simply aren't included.

But it's dreadful news for House GOP leaders hoping to get the bill through. Republicans will have enough problems passing the bill even if Trump does fully endorse it, given their divisions between conservatives who feel the bill is too close to Obamacare and moderates fearful of imperiling coverage for their constituents.

So if Trump continues to stay vague, members of the House will surely start asking: if the president doesn't want to stick his neck out on this, why should we?