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President Trump Looks To Move On From Health Care Failure


Republicans' failure to hold a vote on their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was a big defeat for President Trump. And this isn't the first time Trump has faced defeat, nor is it the first time a president has faced defeat on this very issue. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In 1991, the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City was deeply in debt and so was Donald Trump. It was the first of his four business bankruptcies and could provide a template for how he will respond to the defeat of the health care bill.

GWENDA BLAIR: Well, I don't think he would call it defeat.

KEITH: Gwenda Blair is author of "The Trumps: Three Generations Of Builders And A President." Blair says Trump saw or at least reframed that 1991 bankruptcy as a win.

BLAIR: At the end of the day, he made a lot of money. Other people lost a lot of money - bondholders, et cetera. But he made a lot of money. And he sailed on into three more corporate bankruptcies, which he handled the same way.

KEITH: Trump talked about the bankruptcies during a primary debate on Fox News.


DONALD TRUMP: Hundreds and hundreds of deals, four times I've taken advantage of the laws. And frankly, so has everybody else in my position.

KEITH: On Friday afternoon, Trump began reframing the health care bill's defeat this way.


TRUMP: Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today because we'll end up with a truly great health care bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes.

KEITH: Health policy experts say the Affordable Care Act likely won't explode unless the Trump administration actively works to push it there. Twenty-three years ago, another president ran into the rocks on major health care legislation.


BILL CLINTON: And yes, I think we were right to try to find a way to stop health care costs from going up at three times the rate of inflation.

KEITH: The Clinton administration tried for 18 months to get health care reform through Congress. And Clinton was dealt yet another blow less than two months later when Democrats lost control of both the House and the Senate in the midterm elections. Initially, his administration moved on by looking for bipartisan wins like the trade agreement Clinton signed late that year.


CLINTON: It is not a Republican agreement or a Democratic one. It is an American agreement, designed to benefit all the American people in every region of our country, from every walk of life.

KEITH: Leon Panetta was Clinton's chief of staff at the time.

LEON PANETTA: It's better if you can win one. My experience is that if you can win something, that success breeds success.

KEITH: Eventually in his second term, Clinton figured out how to work with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, creating the Children's Health Insurance Program, eliminating the deficit and passing welfare reform. Just 66 days into Trump's presidency, White House officials say they plan to move on from health care to tax reform, something many people including Panetta say may just be too ambitious.

PANETTA: The last thing you want is another loss that makes it that much tougher to be able to govern.

KEITH: Rather than jump right into tax reform, which hasn't been done in 30 years, Panetta suggests starting small and bipartisan like Clinton did.

PANETTA: Pick some low-hanging fruit that can be accomplished. Get it done. Show that you can govern and then start working on some of the bigger issues.

KEITH: But Trump has never been one to think small. After two of his bankruptcies, Trump launched into an ambitious project to convert the old Gulf and Western building on Central Park into the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

With a new facade of gleaming golden glass, the building became a monument to Trump's resilience. Now, after such a major political defeat, President Trump may be looking for the legislative equivalent of that shining tower. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOSLEY SONG, "JUST LIKE YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.