Ryan becomes face of GOP health plan

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanOvernight Finance: Inside Trump's first budget | 66 programs on the chopping block | Hearing highlights border tax divide | Labor to implement investment adviser rule Hearing highlights GOP divide over border tax Progressive Caucus elects Wisconsin lawmaker as new leader MORE (R-Wis.) is becoming the public face of the GOP's plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Ryan has been on a full-court media blitz to make the public sales pitch since the House GOP legislation was unveiled early this week.

He’s appeared repeatedly on conservative media with top hosts including Fox News's Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, with more such interviews expected.

Perhaps most memorably, Ryan made a show of a PowerPoint presentation to Capitol Hill reporters that was carried live by all three major cable networks and inspired an Internet meme.

While Democrats are trying to brand the plan as "TrumpCare," President Trump's role has been behind the scenes, aside from a handful of supportive tweets.

In comparison to Ryan, Trump has significantly dialed back his public appearances in recent days. His main contribution to the healthcare push has been meeting with individual lawmakers about the legislation.

ADVERTISEMENT
Multiple open press events were canceled this week, which allowed Trump to avoid taking questions about the healthcare proposal. Keeping the media at arm’s length also served to shield Trump from having to explain his explosive unsubstantiated allegation that former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaEPA chief jabs California’s environment push Trump praised Philippines' Duterte for 'unbelievable job' on drugs: reports Overnight Finance: Inside Trump's first budget | 66 programs on the chopping block | Hearing highlights border tax divide | Labor to implement investment adviser rule MORE ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

The result is that Ryan so far has been the GOP's on-point salesman for the first legislative effort of Trump's presidency.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the GOP whip team that met with Trump this week, said Ryan is well positioned to serve as the party’s top messenger for the healthcare plan.

Ryan, sleeves rolled up, tried to project a TED Talk-like image with his chart-filled PowerPoint slideshow, playing into a longtime wonky reputation that served him well in the past as chairman of the House Budget and House Ways and Means committees.

“Ryan’s a master of policy and explanations,” Cole said. “I think Ryan is really good at taking a complex issue like this and putting it in a comprehensible way.”

Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said the Speaker's high-profile media presence is simply upholding a commitment he made upon taking his post.

"He is talking directly with the American people about how we are following through on our promise to provide relief from Obamacare and a better way forward on health care," Strong said. 

But it’s a strategy with some risks for the Speaker.

Conservative critics of the legislation, like influential advocacy groups FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, have taken to calling it “RyanCare.” And Breitbart News, which frequently had Ryan in its crosshairs over the years, called it “Speaker Ryan’s ObamaCare 2.0.”

But Ryan's public role has also allowed Trump to escape some of the wrath from conservative opponents of the legislation, who see GOP leadership as forcing a bill they don’t like while praising the White House for appearing to be open to changes.

Ryan has said the bill “is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing ObamaCare.” And on Friday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said at a Capitol press conference it would be “very difficult” to amend it in response to conservatives who want to freeze ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion in 2018 instead of 2020.

But Trump’s comments behind closed doors are giving conservatives the impression they can push for changes. And more broadly, keeping those remarks in private makes Trump’s views more ambiguous to the public than leadership’s firm stance. 

“We’re going to negotiate with the White House and with our leadership,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), a Freedom Caucus member opposed to the legislation. Trump, he added, “understands that no product is a final product.”

The president has yet to conduct an interview or hold a public event to promote the proposal to repeal and replace ObamaCare, one of his key campaign pledges. He’s left that instead to Vice President Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PencePence records robocall for GOP candidate ahead of Montana special election Pence to give speech Wednesday in Louisiana Report: US begins 'extreme vetting' in Australia refugee camps MORE and White House surrogates.

Trump does plan to hold a campaign-style rally in Nashville, Tenn., next Wednesday, the same day the House Budget Committee will consider the GOP’s healthcare package. 

The days since the legislation was released on Monday have stood in contrast to the previous weeks of Trump’s presidency, where he had near-daily photo ops to push his desired message.

Reporters were allowed into a meeting on Friday with Trump and House committee chairs, but the president ignored shouted questions about his wiretapping claim and former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s work for the Turkish government.

White House officials denied they’re trying to deny reporters access, pointing to daily briefings and events since Trump took office.

“We have gone above and beyond allowing the press into events,” press secretary Sean Spicer said this week.

Ryan, meanwhile, has taken up the task of venturing into territory typically friendlier to Trump.

He fielded tough questions from both Carlson and Hannity, who draw wide pro-Trump audiences, to bat down conservative criticisms of the legislation.

Ryan batted down Hannity’s questions on why critics are calling the plan’s tax credits that replace ObamaCare’s subsidies an “entitlement,” and Carlson’s questions about why the rollout didn’t have more conservative buy-in.

But to conservatives like Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashGOP lawmaker backs Dem push for Trump tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report The Memo: GOP talk of impeachment highlights Trump’s troubles MORE (R-Mich.), seeing Ryan leading the messaging push is only more evidence for their belief that leadership is exerting too much control over the legislation.

“At the end of the day, people at home are seeing that this is run in a top-down fashion. That you have a few people who tell everyone else, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ And that’s it,” Amash said.