The Note: The divide over the health care bill


Day No. 48

THE BIG STORY: Get ready for Trump at war. That’s what it will take if President Trump hopes to salvage his health care bill – and it is his bill now – against the accumulated weight of the AARP, the House Freedom Caucus, GOP senators including Rand Paul, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz, Heritage, the Club for Growth, tea party groups and even, yes, Breitbart News. This is new ground for a president who had expected to enjoy the fruits of united government. This conservative rebellion threatens to stall his entire legislative agenda, and we haven’t even heard the cost or the coverage consequences yet. Remember that repealing and replacing Obamacare was supposed to be the unifying part of Trump’s lawmaking, given the nearly unanimous agreement the slogan drew among Republicans. But this is developing into a clear example where Republican leaders can’t match legislation to their words, and the more complicated rhetoric offered by the president. Call it Obamacare-lite, or Ryancare, or Trumpcare. But don’t call it law – not like this, not anytime soon, unless Trump puts his full weight into this push.

THE SLEEPER STORY: “I’m not here to speak for myself,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday. “I’m here to speak for the president of the United States and our government.” That would mean that the official government position is that President Obama ordered Trump to be wiretapped. It would also mean that the White House is standing by the veracity of that claim without offering evidence, and without an attempt to ascertain whether evidence even exists. (Isn’t it supposed to work the other way – investigation first, allegation later? And what does “separation of powers” have to do with it when everything alleged here happened inside the executive branch that the president now controls?) The relative silence from the White House means the story will likely fade, particularly given the crush of other news. But it shouldn’t. This is a major test of whether the Trump administration will feel the compulsion to set the record straight to make sure presidential declarations are true, seriously and literally.

THE SHINY STORY: “Notice how thick that is,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in the White House briefing room Tuesday, pointing to a printout of the original Obamacare bill. “Look at the size,” declared Sean Spicer. “This is the Democrats. This is us.” Of all the talking points one might employ to argue for a bill, how is the number of printed pages even remotely relevant to anything? We know President Trump likes to use piles of paper as props. For him, though, thicker has typically been better, as when he showed off the mounds of legal documents used to extricate him from his businesses, or when he bragged about the mass of his tax returns (not that they were offered up for inspection). The White House can’t seriously think conservative critics are going to be convinced this way. (How many pages would it take to establish Medicare for all? Or single-payer?) As for the public, health care red tape is infuriating. But it has never been the length of legislation that affects people’s lives.

TLDR: The president has backed the health care bill, but with conservatives calling it Obamacare-lite, he has his first real legislative battle on his hands.

PHOTO OF THE DAY: President Trump surprised a group of tourists visiting the White House Tuesday, on the first day that public tours are back on. The group, which included a group of school children, cheered the president who was standing right under the portrait of Hillary Clinton. See that image here: (Credit: Aude Guerrucci/CNP/AdMedia via Newscom)


--TOP 'TRUMPCARE' TAKEAWAYS, CHANGES: After weeks of wrangling within their ranks, House Republicans have released a proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act. Called the American Health Care Act, the proposed bill would keep certain popular provisions, like allowing children to remain on parents' insurance until age 26 and not denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But, it also proposes sweeping changes to health insurance programs that will affect Americans at many income levels and ages. ABC's GILLIAN MOHNEY explains how the new bill dubbed "Trumpcare" will likely affect consumers:

--TRUMP HAS NOT SPOKEN TO FBI DIRECTOR ABOUT WIRETAPPING CLAIMS, SPICER SAYS: White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that President Donald Trump has not spoken to FBI Director James Comey in the wake of Trump's unsubstantiated allegations that his phones were wiretapped at the direction of President Obama. Spicer reiterated the White House's earlier announced plans to have the House and Senate investigative committees look into the matter, writes ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY. "There is clearly a role that congress can play in their oversight," Spicer said at the press briefing.

--WIKILEAKS DOCS ALLEGE CIA CAN HACK SMARTPHONES, AND EXPOSES FRANKFURT LISTENING POST: WikiLeaks released Tuesday what the whistleblower group claimed were thousands of secret CIA files showing how U.S. spies hack smartphones, as well as exposing a major secret listening post in Germany. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment, and the CIA in a statement would not say whether the files are real, ABC’s BRIAN ROSS, JAMES GORDON MEEK, RANDY KREIDER and LIZ KREUTZ report. "We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents," said CIA spokesperson Jonathan Liu. However, several current and former intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told ABC News the documents appear to be authentic, and, in fact, likely have origins at the National Security Agency where most national security hacking of overseas targets occurs.

--ON GMA-- HHS SECRETARY WON'T GUARANTEE NEW HEALTH CARE PLAN WOULD COVER ALL AMERICANS: Dr. Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, told ABC News this morning that it is "certainly the goal" for health care to be less expensive and to provide coverage for all, but didn't guarantee that would be the case. Of the GOP's proposed Obamacare replacement, Price said he and his colleagues are trying to "fix a system that isn't working,” ABC’s MICHAEL EDISON HAYDEN notes.


WHITE HOUSE CALLS REPORTED TRUMP MEETING WITH RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR 'ABSURD.' The White House is downplaying reports that then-candidate Donald Trump met the Russian ambassador to the United States at a 2016 campaign event, just before Trump delivered a speech that called for “an easing of tensions” with Russia. Kislyak was seated in the front row as Trump delivered a 45-minute foreign policy address at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, ABC News reported Sunday. A White House official Tuesday said that the Russian ambassador did not attend the speech at Trump’s invitation and that the Trump team was not responsible for inviting or vetting guests. "We have no recollection of who he may have shaken hands with at the reception and we were not responsible for inviting or vetting guests," the official said. "To state they met or that a meeting took place is disingenuous and absurd." ABC’s MATTHEW MOSK, ALEXANDER MALLIN and ADAM KELSEY have more:

SOME CONSERVATIVE GROUPS PAN GOP'S OBAMACARE REPEAL AND REPLACEMENT PLAN. A number of conservative groups and lawmakers on Capitol Hill lined up Tuesday against the newly-unveiled GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying the Trump administration-backed proposal falls short of their vision for a Republican Obamacare replacement, writes ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL. House GOP leaders released their much-anticipated proposal Monday evening, ahead of committee markups on Wednesday. They hope to pass the measure through the House by the end of the month.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT TRUMP'S UNSUBSTANTIATED WIRETAPPING ALLEGATIONS AGAINST OBAMA. President Trump has sparked a firestorm by accusing then-President Obama of wiretapping communications in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, without providing any evidence for his claim. But former Obama administration officials are hitting back, saying Obama did not order any wiretap. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he was not aware of any foreign-intelligence court order authorizing a wiretap, reports ABC's RYAN STRUYK. The White House hasn't given any more details about what Trump was referring to.

FACT-CHECKING TRUMP'S TWEET ABOUT GUANTANAMO BAY DETAINEES. President Trump tweeted Tuesday morning about 122 former Guantanamo Bay detainees who U.S. officials said returned to terrorist activity, but he missed a key fact. Trump said the former prisoners returned to terrorist activity after being released by the Obama administration. “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield,” he wrote. “Just another terrible decision!” But as ABC's RYAN STRUYK explains, the vast majority of those 122 detainees — about 93 percent — were released before Obama took office.

TRACING WHERE PRESIDENT TRUMP GETS SOME OF HIS NEWS. The sources of information for many of President Trump's tweets and some of his public statements have become clearer over time. Trump has in recent months tweeted information after apparently seeing it on a television news program or reading it in on a news website. The president seems to favor certain news programs and Fox News' “Fox & Friends” talk show, in particular, which he directly “tagged” in two tweets Tuesday morning, ABC's MEGHAN KENEALLY and TOM LLAMAS note.

CHAFFETZ SUGGESTS AMERICANS MAY NEED TO CHOOSE BETWEEN IPHONE AND HEALTHCARE. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, speaking to CNN on Tuesday, suggested that low-income Americans made need to make a choice between buying a new cellphone and purchasing health care. “Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.” “And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.” He continued, “They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.” ABC's MERIDITH MCGRAW has more:

WHITE HOUSE TOURS RESTART, PRESIDENT TRUMP SURPRISES GROUP. President Trump surprised a group of tourists visiting the White House this morning on one of the first public tours of the presidential mansion since Trump took office. Cheers broke out from many of the visitors when the president emerged from behind a screen on the first floor of the White House residence, standing nearby a portrait of former First Lady Hillary Clinton that hangs in the hallway, writes ABC's JORDYN PHELPS.

HILLARY CLINTON OPENS UP ABOUT SETBACKS AND OPTIMISM FOR THE FUTURE. Hillary Clinton, speaking at an event Tuesday afternoon where she received an award in recognition for her work on behalf of girls, spoke about her optimism and reflected on her November loss to Donald Trump. "Now, the truth is, life hands all of us setbacks,” Clinton said. "Now, we know that. And if you have lived long enough, you have experienced them, haven’t you?" She added that she has been "buoyed by the love and support that I have received by the young women I have mentored over my lifetime. They inspire me everyday.” ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and MATTHEW CLAIBORNE have more:

CRITICS SAY CARSON’S SLAVERY AND IMMIGRATION REMARKS SIMILAR TO OBAMA’S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson's comment Monday classifying slaves brought to America as "immigrants" sparked backlash and a clarification, but conservative critics were quick to note that the description was similar to one made by former President Barack Obama in 2015. ABC’s ADAM KELSEY has more:


@rickklein: "We do agree on repeal, we just don't quite agree on replace," @RandPaul tells @marykbruce @GMA

@christinawilkie: Trump and @FLOTUS to host @tedcruz and his wife for dinner at the White House Wednesday. Elephant in the room? Castro's plot to kill JFK

@AFPhq: There are human consequences to Obamacare. With millions still struggling under the law, it's time for a full repeal! #YouPromised

@tackettdc: About those wiretap claims President "Trump has no regrets. His staff has no defense" @glennthrush @maggienyt

@nielslesniewski: It's gotten to the point where senators are asking Mike Pence where the nominees are