Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney

President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE’s decision to call for ObamaCare’s complete dismantling in court is shining the spotlight on Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' MORE, the acting White House chief of staff who reportedly pushed for the action.

Mulvaney, a former member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, argued in favor of backing a lawsuit to nullify the Affordable Care Act during a White House meeting with other officials, according to two published reports.

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The intervention in a case brought by attorneys general from more than a dozen GOP states has frustrated congressional Republicans by handing a new campaign argument to Democrats — just as that party was staggering from the end of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s probe.

A few of those frustrated Republicans see a pattern: The House Freedom Caucus pushing the GOP into a compromising political fix.

“As a tactic this strikes me as one that is unlikely to be successful, much like the government shutdown in 2013,” said Michael Steel, a onetime aide to former Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger Freedom Caucus presses McCarthy to force vote to oust Pelosi MORE (R-Ohio), who frequently clashed with Mulvaney and the Freedom Caucus.

The Freedom Caucus helped set up the 2013 government shutdown and also backed Trump’s partial shutdown of the government earlier this year over his demands for border wall funding. Its take-no-prisoners approach to governing has frequently rubbed other Republicans the wrong way.

Rep. Tom ReedTom ReedThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Lawmakers brace for battles with colleagues as redistricting kicks off Hundreds of businesses sign on to support LGBTQ rights legislation MORE (R-N.Y.), a more moderate lawmaker, said he disagreed with Trump and Mulvaney’s brinkmanship.

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“I think there’s a mindset there ... let’s then draw the line in the sand, force the debate to occur so that folks can come to some type of legislative solution,” Reed said. “Now, I just don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think that puts a lot of Americans in harm’s way.”

Politico reported Tuesday that Mulvaney was a driving force behind the call for ObamaCare to be struck down, and that the decision was made over the objections of Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar and Attorney General William BarrBill BarrThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE.

An HHS spokesperson said Azar “fully supports the administration’s litigation position.”

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Mulvaney, during an Oval Office meeting on Monday, made the case to Trump that attempting to overturn the law through the courts is the right approach.

GOP leaders have avoided criticizing Trump’s decision while describing the Affordable Care Act as a flawed law. For the most part, however, Republicans have also not offered praise for the administration’s move.

Asked about the decision to call for ObamaCare’s dismantling, Rep. Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsMeadows says Trump World looking to 'move forward in a real way' Trump takes two punches from GOP Watchdog urges Justice to probe Trump, Meadows for attempting to 'weaponize' DOJ MORE (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus’s chairman who is close to Trump, gave a long answer to reporters about trying to find common ground on areas that could be bipartisan, such as lowering prices on prescription drugs.

“I think it’s very difficult to find anything that brings everybody together,” he said.

But Rep. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOcasio-Cortez on Taylor Greene: 'These are the kinds of people that I threw out of bars all the time' Ocasio-Cortez: 'No consequences' in GOP for violence, racism 7 surprise moments from a tumultuous year in politics MORE (R-Fla.), another Freedom Caucus member, cheered the move.

“If you don’t wipe the slate clean you can’t build on it,” he said, saying he supports the administration’s move “100 percent, 1,000 percent.”

Trump’s decision on the ObamaCare case shows how Mulvaney is wielding his influence over policy since taking over from former chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.

Joe Grogan, Mulvaney’s handpicked choice to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council, was reportedly among those arguing the administration should support the judge’s ruling. Grogan is among the more than half-dozen staffers Mulvaney has brought on board at the White House since becoming chief of staff just three months ago.

Mulvaney’s former deputy at the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, was also reportedly supportive. Vought is leading the office in an acting capacity.

Mulvaney was also seen as playing an instrumental role in the president’s decision to trigger the 35-day government shutdown over his demand for border wall funding.

The former South Carolina lawmaker has long preached that the federal government is too bloated and, as budget director, he once told reporters that a “good shutdown” could be something “that fixes this town.”

The White House press office did not comment on Mulvaney’s role in the decisionmaking, but some officials downplayed his influence.

One senior administration official, who requested anonymity to describe the deliberations, said the president has been itching to revive health care as a political issue, regardless of what his advisers were telling him.

“The person who has been leading the discussion is the president,” the official said. “He’s been consistent on ObamaCare being unconstitutional since the campaign. He has called for repeal and replace since day one.”

The official also downplayed the notion that the administration is drastically changing strategy, saying Trump’s initial reaction to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’s ruling that struck down ObamaCare was consistent with the Justice Department’s shift in position.

“Wow, but not surprisingly, ObamaCare was just ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL by a highly respected judge in Texas. Great news for America!” Trump tweeted last December, shortly after the judge ruled in a lawsuit brought by a group of Republican state attorneys general, including Texas’s Ken Paxton.

There is a sense within the administration that Capitol Hill Republicans have been too reluctant to tackle the issue of health care and that the approach favored by Trump and Mulvaney will force them to act.

“Republicans won’t win on health care by avoiding the issue,” the administration official said. “The president is continuing to lead on the issues that matter most to American families, from the economy to border security to health care.”