Trump: No heads-up from Sessions on Obamacare position

November 5, 2018

President Trump says Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t give him a heads-up before opting not to defend Obamacare against a lawsuit that threatens its protections for people with pre-existing conditions, thrusting the thorny issue back into the spotlight on the eve of the midterms.

“No, he didn’t, actually,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” posted Monday.

His comments don’t square with Mr. Sessions’ claim, in a formal letter to House leadership, that he took his position with the presidents approval.

The White House tried to referee the dispute by saying the litigation was handled by its office of counsel as a “technical constitutional issue” and that it doesn’t reflect the administration’s “general position on pre-existing conditions.”

Mr. Trump argued it won’t matter if the courts strike the Affordable Care Act’s protections for sicker Americans, pointing to the GOP’s desire to backfill the rules if they address health reform again.

“I support terminating Obamacare, but if we terminate it, we will reinstitute pre-existing conditions in whatever we do,” he told Axios.

His comments were part of an ongoing effort by Republicans to prove they’re serious about protecting sicker Americans, despite numerous attacks on Obamacare, which ushered in a suite of new protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Yet the lawsuit Mr. Trump referred to has been a headache for Republican candidates, given their party’s repeated failure to repeal and replace the law with something better.

Official budget analyses said plans the GOP put forward last year were inadequate or would result in higher costs for sicker persons.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat fighting to save her seat, said her opponent, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, joined the legal challenge without “a backup plan” for what would happen if the courts strike the law.

Mr. Hawley and 19 other state Republicans say Obamacare’s goodies and “individual mandate” to hold insurance must work in tandem, under their reading of the 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld Obamacare.

Yet Congress gutted the mandate in the GOP tax bill, so the plaintiffs argue the rest of the law must fall, including the parts that say insurers must cover people with pre-existing conditions and change them the same as healthy people.

They asked U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in September to freeze Obamacare in its tracks through a preliminary injunction against the law.

The Justice Department, under Mr. Sessions, has sided with the GOP plaintiffs’ arguments but asked the judge to avoid chaos by holding off on big decisions until the new year, when Obamacare’s open-enrollment season is over.

Two months later, the judge an appointee of President George W. Bush appointee hasn’t ruled on the injunction request, meaning the fallout from the lawsuit likely won’t hit until after the smoke around the midterm campaign clears.