President Donald Trump on Wednesday claimed six times that a Republican senator being in the hospital — who actually wasn't in the hospital — is the reason the Senate couldn't pass a bill to repeal and replace much of Obamacare this week.
Trump also claimed that "we have the votes" to pass that bill — but then said, "we'll have to do it in January or February."
"I'm almost certain we have the votes," Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House — a day after Republican leaders in the Senate said they would not vote on the bill because there were at least three GOP senators who planned to oppose it, dooming it to defeat.
At the same time, Trump said, "I'm also going to meet with Democrats and see if I can get a health-care plan that's even better."
"I will negotiate with Democrats," said Trump.
Democrats in Congress are universally opposed to repealing Obamacare.
But they have expressed interest in making legislative changes that could fix problems with the law, some of which have been exacerbated by recent Trump administration actions.
Trump said: "I'll probably be signing a very major executive order where people can go out across state lines and buy their own health care. It'll probably be signed next week, it's being finished now."
It was not clear what Trump was referring to, although he did say the order would relate to "associations."
Sen. Rand Paul , R-Ky., has called for loosening rules about so-called association health plans that would allow professional groups to offer insurance coverage to individuals, as well as to small businesses.
Trump's expansive, contradictory comments on health care came at the White House, a day after he and Republican congressional leaders were embarrassed by their inability to get enough GOP senators to support an Obamacare replacement bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday decided not to hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill this week after three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Arizona's John McCain and Paul — said they would vote "no" on that legislation.
Republican leaders can afford to have only two senators from their party vote against an Obamacare repeal. Any more, and the bill would fail in the Senate because every Democrat and independent would likely vote against it.
Trump has for the past several days criticized the GOP holdouts as being the reason that the bill could not pass.
But on Wednesday, he floated the idea that it would have passed but for the hospitalization of an unnamed Republican senator.
"He can't vote because he's in the hospital," Trump said. "I can't take him out of the hospital."
"We're only one [vote] off. Maybe two," Trump said.
"On health care, we have the votes, and we have great respect for that gentleman," said Trump, who six times during his comments to reporters referred to the senator supposedly being hospitalized.
"He has to come [to Washington] to vote," Trump continued. "In other words, he can't come here and vote. Let me just say, he's in the hospital."
Trump didn't identify the supposedly hospitalized senator, but was widely believed to be referring to Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
However, Cochran was not in a hospital.
His office posted a statement on his website on Tuesday saying Cochran "was recently treated for a urological issue and is currently recuperating in Mississippi. The Senator expects to resume his regular work schedule soon."
And no one on Capitol Hill has said that Cochran's absence early this week played any role in Tuesday's decision to pull the plug on a vote on Graham-Cassidy by Saturday's deadline for passing that bill.
Late Wednesday, in a speech in Indianapolis, Trump again brought up the idea that the illness of a single senator who supported the Graham-Cassidy bill necessitated postponing a vote on that bill.
"We have the votes on Graham-Cassidy," Trump said, adding that he expects the bill to pass "very easily" early next year.
"We have a wonderful senator ... he's a 'yes' vote, but he's home recovering from a pretty touchy situation," Trump said.
The president also suggested in his speech that a deadline of this weekend to pass the bill made a postponement of the vote necessary. The bill was being pushed through the Senate using a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to be passed with just 50 votes — and a tie-breaker vote from Vice President Mike Pence — instead of the 60 votes necessary to overcome a potential filibuster.
The Senate parliamentarian earlier this month said that the budget reconciliation authorization for an Obamacare repeal bill would expire this Saturday.
"The budget reconciliation window is about to close," Trump said. "We have to wait a few months until it reopens."
He said the bill would get passed "long before the November  elections."