Trump reaches out to Democrats in bid for 'great' health law

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., look at a poster at the start of a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, October 4, 2017, urging Republicans to abandon cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Manuel Balce Ceneta

WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to revive health care talks, President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had spoken to the Senate's Democratic leader to gauge whether the minority party was interested in helping pass "great" health legislation.

The answer back: Democrats are willing to hear his ideas, but scrapping the Obama health law is a nonstarter.

Trump's latest overture to Democrats followed GOP failures so far to fulfill the party's yearslong promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. In spite of controlling the White House and Congress since January, Republicans have not passed the legislation.

The president tweeted that he called New York Sen. Chuck Schumer on Friday to discuss the 2010 law known as "Obamacare," which Trump said "is badly broken, big premiums. Who knows!" Trump said he wanted "to see if the Dems want to do a great HealthCare Bill."

In remarks Saturday evening on the South Lawn before a trip to North Carolina, Trump said he was willing to consider "a temporary deal." What that might involve was not clear, but Trump referred to a popular GOP proposal that would have the federal government turn over money for health care directly to states in the form of block grants.

"If we could do a one-year deal or a two-year deal as a temporary measure, you'll have block granting ultimately to the states, which is what the Republicans want. That really is a repeal and replace," he said. In an interview taped earlier this week and aired Saturday night on Trinity Broadcasting Network, the president assured host Mike Huckabee that "we'll have health care before the election."

Schumer said through a spokesman Saturday that Trump "wanted to make another run at repeal and replace and I told the president that's off the table." Schumer said if Trump "wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions."

Trump has suggested before that he would be open to negotiating with Democrats on health care, but there have been no clear signs of a compromise between Republicans who have sought to scrap President Barack Obama's law and Democrats who want to protect it.

Schumer said a starting point could be negotiations led by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., who have been discussing a limited bipartisan deal to stabilize state-level markets for individual health insurance policies. People covered under the health law represent about half of those who purchase individual policies.

Trump irritated GOP leaders in Congress when he reached a deal with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on a spending bill and the debt ceiling. The president has referred to those two Democrats as "Chuck and Nancy."

But the Trump administration announced Friday that it would allow more employers to opt out of no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections. The move was one more attempt to roll back Obama's health overhaul, prompting Democrats to question whether Trump is committed to avoiding sabotaging the law.

Trump floated the potential talks as he approved an emergency declaration for a large part of Louisiana and ordered federal assistance for the state as Hurricane Nate approached the central Gulf of Mexico.

The president headlined a fundraiser on Saturday night in Greensboro, North Carolina, to benefit his Trump Victory joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee. The event was expected to raise $2 million, with donors paying up to $35,000 per couple to serve as co-hosts.

Before leaving for North Carolina, Trump repeated his assertion that trying to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs is a waste of time.

In a two-part tweet, he said: "Presidents and their administrations have been talking to North Korea for 25 years, agreements made and massive amounts of money paid ... hasn't worked, agreements violated before the ink was dry, makings fools of U.S. negotiators. Sorry, but only one thing will work!"

Trump's tweets Saturday and earlier in the week were seen directed either at undermining Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's efforts to maintain channels of communication or at somehow bolstering the diplomat's hand in possible future talks.

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On Twitter, follow Ken Thomas at @KThomasDC.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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