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In the tradition of departing presidents, Barack Obama left a letter for incoming President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal MORE.
The thrust of the message, which Trump relayed to congressional leaders during their White House meeting Monday evening, was a plea to salvage ObamaCare — or swap it for something at least as generous.
"I haven't seen the letter," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who attended the meeting, told reporters Tuesday. "But President ObamaBarack Hussein Obama Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows Obama backs Trudeau in Canadian election MORE correctly … stated that, 'Look, we believe the Affordable Care Act is a very important piece of legislation which has given Americans better health, better access, more reliability. And if you have a bill … that improves upon all this, well, you know, maybe I could support it."
"I don't know what the verbiage of President Obama's was," he added. "But his point was: 'If you've got something that's really better and we see it and we think it's better, then we could support that.'"
Trump previously called Obama's letter "beautiful."
Monday's assembly, the first bipartisan meeting hosted by Trump since Friday's swearing in, was by all accounts an informal gathering, heavy on meatballs and light on specific policy details. But Hoyer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), the House Democratic leader, both said they pressed Trump on Republicans' early plan to repeal Obama's signature healthcare law and replace it with something they consider more market-driven.
Democrats are concerned that undoing ObamaCare would extinguish certain benefits while threatening to terminate coverage for millions of patients newly insured under the law. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repeal would cause 18 million people to lose coverage in the first year alone.
Trump, for his part, has dismissed such dismal predictions by vowing that the Republicans' replacement plan will provide "insurance for everybody." But no detailed plan has yet emerged, and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have avoided similar coverage promises.
Trump and the Republicans are huddling in Philadelphia beginning Wednesday for a three-day retreat where they're hoping to hammer out at least a preliminary strategy for making good on one of their chief campaign promises.
Hoyer said Trump's response to the Democrats' healthcare concerns was curious.
"He said, 'Well, the Affordable Care Act is going to self-destruct.' And he turned to [Speaker] Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE, and he said: 'Paul, what I told you is we could [repeal it] or we could leave it in place for two years and it would self-destruct and we'd all look good. But that wouldn't be a good thing to do and … we need to replace it now.'" Hoyer said, relating Trump's words.
That message, which echoes recent Trump tweets, reflects the concern of a growing number of Republicans that the GOP will bear the political fallout of any problems plaguing the healthcare sector if their repeal effort is successful.
"You touch it, you own it," Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) warned Tuesday.
Hoyer offered a theory for why Trump might have revealed some details of Obama's farewell letter during Monday's gathering.
"My own thoughts on why he put it forward is just to say, 'Look, even President Obama says you can do this,'" Hoyer said.
"But what President Obama said was what we say: The Affordable Care Act is very good, and if you can make it better, we'll work with you to make it better," he added. "But we will not participate and be complicit in destructively undermining protections that they now have."