Trump stumps in Louisville for health care reform ahead of crucial vote in U.S. House

03/20/2017 10:54 PM

LOUISVILLE — With a key vote on health care reform in the U.S. House of Representatives looming this week, President Donald Trump dismissed the federal health law known as Obamacare as a “complete and total catastrophe” during a rally at Freedom Hall Monday.

More than 15,000 filled the arena to cheer the president, who spent part of his 40-minute speech on Republican plans for health care. Trump’s rally came less than two weeks after Vice President Mike Pence held a listening session on the subject at Harshaw Trane in Jeffersontown.

Kentucky, where Trump won by nearly 30 points in last year’s election, has emerged as a health care battleground of sorts.

Democrats tapped former Gov. Steve Beshear, who expanded Medicaid and created the state-based insurance exchange kynect via executive order under the Affordable Care Act, to rebut Trump’s congressional address Feb. 27, in part holding the hundreds of thousands who gained coverage through the federal health law in the Bluegrass as an example of its success. They also point to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that 24 million could lose health coverage by 2026 as a sign that the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is flawed.

But Republicans, particularly in Kentucky, demonized former President Barack Obama and his signature health law, propelling the GOP to the Governor’s Office and a 64-member supermajority in the state’s House of Representatives in recent election cycles. They say the ACA has stifled the medical field with regulations, prompting insurers to abandon state and federal health exchanges as out-of-pocket costs surge. They’ve also dismissed the CBO’s analysis as inaccurate.

The American Health Care Act, the proposal offered by House Republican leaders and backed by the Trump administration, has faced fierce criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, notably U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, who predicted that the bill would not pass the House vote during a separate Louisville event earlier Monday.

Trump said he liked the junior Kentucky senator “a lot” and called him “a good guy.”

“I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in some form so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do until this happens,” Trump said.

While some on Capitol Hill believe the bill lacks the support to send it to Trump’s desk, Trump only expressed optimism Monday night.

Still, he indicated that the ACHA would undergo changes as it churns through the legislative process.

“We’re going to negotiate, and it’s going to go to the Senate and back and forth,” he said. “The end result is going to be wonderful, and it’s going to work great.”

Trump touched on a bevy of issues in the rest of his speech, shifting from promising new coal mining jobs to criticizing the North American Free Trade Agreement to reiterating his vision for a “great, great border wall” to jabbing at the media to even tossing barbs at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem last season to raise awareness of racial disparity.

“In our dealings with other nations, we will find a new era of security, cooperation and peace, and we won’t be played for the fool and we won’t be played for the suckers any longer,” Trump said. “This is the future that awaits us.”

He did not touch revelations from FBI Director James Comey earlier Monday that the agency is exploring possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential links between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

Trump was joined at the event by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gov. Matt Bevin, Congressmen Andy Barr and James Comer, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, state House Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Shell and state Sen. Ralph Alvarado.

McConnell said voters “answered our message and our prayers” in last year’s election cycle.

“We said, ‘Send us somebody who will sign the repeal of Obamacare into law,’ and they sent us President Donald Trump,” he said in brief remarks.

Trump bucked conventional political wisdom en route to the presidency by speaking directly to the American electorate, Bevin said.

“The victory has just begun, and we have in fact won the election,” the governor said in his 18-minute speech.

“We now have a president and a Congress that are united in party, and yet we still have disagreements among us. This is healthy and good. I would say to those in the media who was so desperately to find dissension in the ranks, who want to celebrate the division, I encourage you in the media, celebrate the unity in America.”

The president received a raucous welcome inside Freedom Hall, although a few protestors were thrown out of the event during his remarks. A larger group gathered outside the arena as attendees filed out, chanting and holding signs as police kept both sides apart.

Heads of the state’s political parties also weighed in, with Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Mac Brown saying in a statement that the party stands “firmly behind the President and House and Senate Republicans as they work on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare with something that brings affordability back to our nation’s health care system” while Kentucky Democratic Party Chairwoman Sannie Overly praised those protesting Trump’s actions.

“President Trump’s health care plan turns back Medicaid expansion that has provided coverage for about 440,000 Kentuckians, all while providing large tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy,” she said in a statement.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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