KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
And now we're back with NPR's congressional correspondent, Sue Davis. Hi there again.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.
MCEVERS: And we have White House correspondent Scott Horsley also. Hi, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi.
MCEVERS: So, Scott, we'll start with you. I mean, usually when congressional leaders are in a tough spot like this, they keep negotiating. I mean, we just heard this from Congressman Kelly. You know, if you're close, keep working on it. But President Trump did not want to do that. He wanted to, say, push a vote and move on. Why?
HORSLEY: That's right. He was really responsible for this standoff this afternoon. And Trump fancies himself a good negotiator. Part of the art of deal making, he would say, is knowing when to walk away. So yes, during the last two and a half weeks, he had a lot of meetings. He made a lot of phone calls trying to sell this bill.
But by now, he said it was, you know, sort of time to cut bait. In conceding defeat at the White House this afternoon, Trump said he had long imagined a different strategy. Here's what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I worked as a team player and would have loved to have seen it pass. But again, I think you know I was very clear because I think there wasn't a speech I made or very few where I didn't mention that perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today.
HORSLEY: Republicans have long argued and campaigned on the idea that Obamacare is collapsing on its own.
HORSLEY: And that's sort of where Trump is today. But polls suggest voters aren't buying that. You know, we have the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which says Obamacare is not in a death spiral. We have seen some rising premiums, but they're really only back to about where the forecasters expected them to be.
There are places where there's not much choice. But most Americans still have three or more insurance companies to choose from. And premiums, for those of us who get insurance from our employers, have been rising at a much more slow rate than they were before the Affordable Care Act passed.
MCEVERS: We just heard the president say, you know, perhaps this was the best thing all along. I've been saying that, you know, that this is the best thing that could have happened. And politically speaking, Sue, I mean, he's been saying this. Does this mean he's wanting to undercut Speaker Paul Ryan and this bill of his?
DAVIS: Well, that - what he said publicly is directly what contradicts what the president told Republicans when he was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. In a closed-door meeting, he told Republicans that he thought if they failed at this, that they would put their congressional majorities at risk next year in the midterm elections.
House Speaker Paul Ryan had said prior to the failure today that he believed doing nothing was more politically dangerous than trying to advance a repeal or replacement bill. So yes, there are absolutely political consequences to this. We just don't know what they're going to be yet. But we do know that Republicans, every Republican who ran for the House and Senate and White House last year, ran on a promise to do this.
Now, there is a debate over whether it was the right thing to do and the merits of the policy. But this is what they promised voters. And this is what they won an election on. And they failed to meet that promise. And there may be consequences for that.
MCEVERS: And, Sue, the president says he wants to move on to other things like tax reform. That's obviously something that has to go through Congress. Is that the plan? And how likely is it that there will be cohesion in the Republican Party on that?
DAVIS: You know, that is the plan. But remember that the health care equation was supposed to be the easy part of this.
DAVIS: If I told you I couldn't finish a 5K today but I'm going to run a marathon this weekend, you might have reason to be skeptical.
MCEVERS: No, I'd believe you.
DAVIS: So yes, the president - and the president has said that tax reform is a bigger priority for him, that he's ready to dig in, that he wants to do this. But, you know, political capital gets spent in this town. And they put a lot of political capital into this promise. And they failed.
So they are going into the tax reform fight hobbled. And I would say that there is less consensus on what tax reform would look like. There's more opposition to it from lobbying forces. And they face the same problem they faced on health care. Can they find a governing coalition to pass anything in the House of Representatives?
MCEVERS: Scott, you covered the fight eight years ago to pass the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. How tough was that for Democrats compared to what we're seeing here for Republicans?
HORSLEY: Well, I think former President Obama and Nancy Pelosi must have had a little rueful smile when they heard President Trump complaining about how there was no Democratic support for this repeal and replace bill. Of course, there was no Republican support...
MCEVERS: Republican support, right. Right.
HORSLEY: ...Seven years ago for the Affordable Care Act even though goodness knows president - former President Obama tried, I mean, and tried for months. Remember, that debate lasted over a year as he searched for that elusive one or two Republican votes. And in fact, he had basically adopted a Republican plan, Mitt Romney's health care plan. So it's a little rich to hear President Trump complaining now about the lack of Democratic support.
MCEVERS: You know, when something like this happens, you start to see finger pointing in Washington, Scott. Are we starting to hear people saying who's to blame for this?
HORSLEY: You know, publicly it was all smiles and congratulations today...
MCEVERS: Yeah. Happy to work with my colleagues, yes.
HORSLEY: ...President Trump saying - exactly. But I'm sure that the knives will be out and the finger pointing will start when the microphones are turned off.
MCEVERS: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thank you.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
MCEVERS: And NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis, thanks a lot.
DAVIS: You bet.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE FUNK ARK SONG, "FROM THE ROOFTOPS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.