US President Donald Trump signalled that he will not press for a vote on a bill to replace Obamacare until after next year's elections, apparently heeding warnings from fellow Republicans about the perils of such a fight during campaign season.
But delaying health reform will make it a 2020 election issue as both sides debate its future.
In a series of tweets, Trump continued to bash former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law but said a vote on a replacement would not occur until after the elections - suggesting that he believes he would still be in the White House and that Republicans would control both chambers of Congress at that point.
"Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House," Trump wrote. "It will be truly great HealthCare that will work for America."
Congressional Republicans were caught off guard by Trump's rapid shift to focus on healthcare last week, which was set off by his abrupt decision to direct the Justice Department to intervene in a federal court case seeking to eliminate the Affordable Care Act in its entirety on constitutional grounds.
Trump later showed up a Senate Republican luncheon where he declared that they should be the "party of healthcare" and asked for assistance in writing a new bill.
It soon became clear, however, that other Republicans had little appetite to take on an issue that benefited Democrats during last year's Midterm elections.
Trump's effort to repeal the healthcare law narrowly failed in the Senate in 2017. Healthcare, especially protections for people with pre-existing conditions, resonates with voters and helped Democrats last November.
According to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 Midterm voters nationwide, nearly 4 in 10 Democratic voters identified healthcare as the most important among a list of key issues. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 55 per cent of Americans supporting the improvement and not the replacement of the nation's healthcare system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R, signalled that he would not play a major role in authoring new healthcare legislation, saying he would instead wait to see what the White House produced in consultation with leaders of the Democratic-controlled House.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R, whose panel would be central to any such debate, also said last week that there was no plan to move forward.
In his tweets, Trump claimed that a bill is in the works.
"The Republicans are developing a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than ObamaCare," he said. "In other words it will be far less expensive & much more usable than ObamaCare."
Despite the delay in legislative action, the Trump Administration is continuing to push for the dismantling of the ACA through the courts
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer held an event outside the Supreme Court urging the Justice Department to reverse its position in the case. Democrats in both chambers are introducing resolutions to that end. The House plans to vote tomorrow.
"We're here to condemn what the President did," Pelosi said. "Americans need to know where their representatives stand."
Schumer mocked Trump for pushing off the healthcare debate past the elections.
"Translation: They have no healthcare plan," he said. "What a ruse. What a shame. What a disgrace. . . . The American people will not stand for the President playing cynical games with health care."
Senator John Thune, R, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said it makes sense to wait until after the election to attempt the large-scale health insurance overhaul the President was suggesting.
Trump probably "looked at the possibility that anything could move, I mean the idea that he could get a Democrat House to agree with the Republican Senate on something he wants to try to get enacted," Thune said. "My guess is it's just probably a realistic assessment of what the field looks like for the next couple of years."
Senator John Cornyn, R, said he did not think that Trump's tweet removed any pressure from Republicans to come up with a healthcare solution - an issue he said he would continue to focus on in his own re-election campaign.
"That's one man's timetable," Cornyn said of Trump's declaration that a vote would take place after the elections. "But I intend to continue to try to find ways to provide more affordable choices for people when it comes to their healthcare."
Republican senators Rick Scott and Josh Hawley held a news conference to discuss legislation to reduce the cost of prescription drug prices and increase transparency for consumers. Both senators said they were focused on drug prices - something they said they viewed as achievable - not the broader ACA replacement plan.
Trump previously named Scott as one of the Republican senators working on replacement legislation.
- additional reporting AP