Washington (CNN)For Republicans eager to dismantle Obamacare, President Donald Trump’s prime-time address to Congress Tuesday night is shaping up as a high-stakes proposition.
More than five weeks after Inauguration Day, Trump is set to deliver a speech that lays out his vision for the country and highlights his most urgent policy priorities. Trump has said that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is at the top of his agenda — but so far, his public remarks about overhauling the health care system have proved to be a mixed bag for fellow Republicans.
On Monday, on the eve of his joint address to Congress, Trump was characteristically blunt. “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” Trump said about health care reform during a meeting with governors. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”
The comments acknowledged the myriad of problems GOP leaders have confronted in their efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“It’s complicated. In fact, it’s almost impossible, but we’ll figure it out,” said GOP Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell want to see Trump offer more specifics on health care — and publicly back the House GOP plan, sources tell CNN.
During a meeting at the White House on Monday, Ryan was given the impression that the administration is embracing much of the House GOP plan on Obamacare and that the President will make that clear in his speech.
This should help reassure House Republican leaders and their aides, some of whom had been growing increasingly concerned by the President’s unwillingness to embrace — or, many believe, fully understand — the congressional approach to health care.
If Trump doesn’t better articulate his support for their plan, “it is in trouble,” a GOP Hill aide said earlier in the week.
“This is a critical moment for him to get behind this,” another senior Republican congressional aide said.
Top Republicans have been slowed down by numerous intra-party disagreements, including over how much of the health care law to repeal and how fast.
Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman, told CNN Monday that he would not support a draft of the House GOP leadership’s repeal bill that was leaked last week. Rep. Mark Walker, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, announced his opposition hours later. A widespread defection within the conservative wing of the party could tank the party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare altogether.
Republicans are hoping that Trump will seize Tuesday night’s closely watched speech to send a unifying message on Obamacare.
“I would expect that this will be a speech that doesn’t have a lot of specifics, but continues to emphasize the President’s agenda,” said Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.
Trump told governors Monday that his speech is going to focus heavily on security and less on the specifics of health care.
“The President said today that his speech is going to be focused on defense, so I obviously take him at his word,” Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said. “What he did tell us today is Secretary Price is going to be coming up with some type of plan in the next few weeks.”