WASHINGTON — President Trump on Tuesday bluntly derided a House attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act as “mean,” and in doing so, injected himself in a brewing Senate battle that his fellow Republicans had prayed he would avoid.
At a White House lunch with more than a dozen Republican senators, Trump alerted his guests that a bill passed by the House this spring — one he lauded last month in the Rose Garden as a “great plan” that was “very, very incredibly well-crafted” — was “mean.”
He also informed the lawmakers, who represented politically diverse views from across the Republican spectrum, that he expected the Senate to come up with something more generous, according to four congressional aides who were briefed on the discussion and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“I really appreciate what you’re doing to come out with a bill that’s going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country: generous, kind, with heart,” Trump told his guests in the Cabinet Room. “That’s what I’m saying. And that may be adding additional money into it.”
It was unclear to lawmakers what Trump meant by “generous,” although it seemed a likely reference to tax credits that would make health insurance more affordable.
The White House declined to comment.
The divisions facing a health care overhaul in the Senate are many. Senators from states that expanded the Medicaid program are not eager to roll it back. At the same time, however, other senators are angling to use the process of repealing Barack Obama’s signature health care law as an inroad to greatly curtail the nation’s Medicaid program.
On Tuesday, it seemed that Trump was putting his finger on the scale with the more moderate members by criticizing a bill he celebrated with more conservative House Republicans. Senators, who are growing increasingly indifferent to Trump’s policy interests, did not seem moved by his entreaties, the congressional aides said. But it did give fodder to Democrats who are likely to revel in Trump’s derision of his party’s bill.
The House Democratic leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, wrote on Twitter that “Trumpcare,’’ as she called it, was “not only ‘mean,’ but a moral monstrosity.”
“The Senate bill is just as cruel,” she added.
Republican senators were already planning to make their bill more generous, at least relative to the House bill, known as the American Health Care Act. At the Capitol, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Republicans were hard at work on their legislation, although he did not divulge any specifics about it.
“Our goal here is to move forward quickly,” he said. “The status quo is unsustainable.”
The Congressional Budget Office found that the bill passed by the House would leave 14 million more people uninsured next year than under the Affordable Care Act, and 23 million more in 2026. It also said that the House bill would cut more than $800 billion from projected federal spending on Medicaid over the next 10 years and that less healthy people could face “extremely high premiums,” as would some older Americans.
Doctors and hospitals opposed the House bill, as did the American Cancer Society and AARP. Senate Republicans immediately dismissed the House overhaul and pledged to write their own replacement.