Analysis: Health-care repeal vote a GOP confidence-builder

By NANCY BENAC Markets Associated Press

Finally, a good day for Republicans.

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Nearly four months into the era of Trump, Republicans gave weary supporters reason to think there's still hope for the bold promises of Campaign 2016.

With a House vote Thursday to repeal Barack Obama's health care law, the party showed it could pick up the pieces after a humiliating failure six weeks ago and demonstrated the first flicker of signs that it may be able to find consensus within its divided ranks.

The momentum appeared to carry over beyond health care. The House vote came hours after Trump signed an order to promote religious expression. GOP legislators moved closer to rolling back Obama-era financial regulations. The Senate approved a spending bill averting a government shutdown that would have been disastrous for the party with a monopoly on power.

But the hunger for a win may have come at a cost. House Republicans pushed through the health care bill with only a vote to spare and no Democratic support — reminiscent of the passage of the so-called Obamacare law it unraveled. The bill's fate is uncertain in the Senate, which is sure to change it. Democrats quickly served notice they would hold Republicans accountable for what they predicted could be a disastrous impact on some of the sickest Americans.

But for one day, at least, Republicans decided to celebrate. Immediately after the health-care vote, House Republicans piled onto buses and headed to the White House for a sun-splashed Rose Garden celebration — a rare event for a bill that has cleared only one chamber of Congress.

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"This really helps," Trump said, saying that the vote had brought fractious Republicans together and laid the foundation for future victories on tax cuts and more.

Getting ahead of himself, Trump used the event as an opportunity to make the case, none too subtly, that this was a campaign promise kept.

"Make no mistake, this is a repeal and a replace of Obamacare," Trump said. "Make no mistake about it. Make no mistake."

The event was a sign of how badly they needed the boost. Trump's travel ban executive orders have been blocked in the courts, investigations into his campaign's contacts with Russians have been a big and ongoing distraction, and he's had to put off action on a wall at the Mexican border for now. Trump's first push for the long-promised health care repeal ended without a vote and with talk of moving on to a tax overhaul plan, a startling admission of defeat on a campaign promise that has animated his party for seven years.

"At the end of the day we needed to succeed and we needed to prove we could deliver on our promises to the American people, and this is proof that in the House, at least, we can," Rep Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Thursday.

Princeton historian Julian Zelizer said the day's development will help steel Republicans for battles ahead.

"There is nothing as satisfying in politics as a victory," Zelizer said. "It might embolden them to deal with the consequences and the fallout of the health care vote and energize them for other fights."

But there's a danger in reading too much into one good day.

Just as the 100-day mark was too early to pronounce the Trump administration a failure after early missteps and struggles, this newest mile marker also is too early to say the party has everything figured out.

The Senate is certain to make substantial changes to the bill, with some members concerned about its cuts to the Medicaid program for low-income people. And should a version of repeal get through the Senate and take effect, Trump is now responsible for the promises he flatly delivered in the Rose Garden:

"Premiums will be coming down," he said. "Deductibles will be coming down. It's a great plan."

In the Rose Garden, backed up a cheerleading squad of House Republicans, the new president seemed to be savoring the idea that he's finally come into his own.

"Coming from a different world, and only being a politician for a short period of time, how am I doing? ... Hey, I'm president, do you believe it, right?"

Oddly enough, it was the Democrats who did the chanting as the House vote for repeal was announced.

"Hey, hey, goodbye," they sang — indicating that they are eager to hang the repeal vote around the Republicans' necks.

"You will glow in the dark," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi warned Republican legislators. She said the nearly party-line health care vote would be "tattooed" on GOP lawmakers and become "a scar" they will forever carry.

Democrats should know.

Obama's health care law also passed narrowly and without bipartisan support. And soon enough, GOP legislators turned "Obamacare" into a cudgel to use against Democrats in future elections.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez predicted: "Trump and Republicans will own every preventable death, every untreated illness and every bankruptcy that American families will be forced to bear if this bill becomes law and millions lose access to affordable health care."

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EDITOR'S NOTE — Nancy Benac has covered government and politics for The Associated Press for more than 35 years.

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Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/nbenac