With options limited, Obama to rally Dems on health care

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama, anxious to preserve elements of his signature health law, travels to Capitol Hill Wednesday in a bid to fend off Republican efforts to repeal the measure outright.

During his morning huddle with congressional Democrats, Obama plans to argue that a robust defense of the Affordable Care Act by lawmakers could help deter the promised GOP effort to scrap it as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

In the final days of his presidency, Obama is pushing on several fronts to solidify eight years of progressive achievement. He’s taken new executive action on environmental issues and plans to issue more pardons and commutations for non-violent drug offenders in the coming weeks.

Obamacare is his biggest legislative accomplishment, one that’s intrinsically tied to Obama personally. During last year’s campaign, he touted its benefits relentlessly. But unlike other legacy areas he’s hoping to cement before he leaves office, there appears to be little action he can take unilaterally that would bar Republicans from repealing the law.

Instead, Obama plans a public relations push, one meant to convince on-the-fence Republicans that full-scale repeal could hurt them politically.

Obama plans to urge Democrats Wednesday to highlight constituents who have benefited from the law, and spell out the consequences of leaving millions of Americans without health insurance or unprotected from discrimination by insurance companies — an outcome some Republicans say they, too, are working to avoid.

“It’s not surprising to me that there are some Republicans who are now a little queasy about the prospect of the impact that repealing Obamacare would have on their own supporters, on people in their congressional districts, because we know there are people all across the country who benefit from this law, who are protected from this law, whose lives have been saved by this law,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, on Tuesday. “The prospect of taking it away is a question of life or death for some people.”

Republicans will look to Vice President-elect Mike Pence for their own marching orders on Obamacare during a separate Capitol Hill gathering, setting up dueling sessions that illustrate the bitter state of health care politics.

Some lawmakers on Tuesday questioned the wisdom of planning clashing meetings, each designed to advance a partisan agenda.

“Any type of a meeting that we have that’s not bipartisan is not in the proper scheme of things of starting out the new year,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate Democrat from West Virginia.

“It’s just not a good situation for us to be in. So if Mr. Pence is coming up here only to speak to Republicans and President Obama’s coming here only to speak to Democrats, I would be concerned about that. Because I don’t know how you change anything — how do you change anything unless we all come together?”

Republicans have long vowed to get rid of Obamacare, voting on dozens of measures that would repeal the law. Those attempts were largely theatre; there was never a scenario in which Obama himself would approve the repeal of his own landmark legislative accomplishment.

But President-elect Donald Trump made getting rid of the law a key element of his campaign strategy. He said on Twitter Tuesday that Obamacare provided “lousy healthcare.” With Trump headed for the Oval Office, and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the prospects for a successful repeal now appear more realistic.

GOP lawmakers have signaled that discarding the law remains an urgent priority, welcoming Pence Wednesday to rally House Republicans behind a repeal plan. On Tuesday, Senate Republicans took their first steps toward repealing Obamacare, filing a budget resolution reversing key elements of the law.

There remain divisions, however, on which precise elements of the law to scrap, and how to replace Obamacare with a law that doesn’t strip Americans of their health insurance.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, wrote in an op-ed Tuesday that lawmakers shouldn’t vote on repealing Obamacare until a replacement plan was developed.

“If Congress fails to vote on a replacement at the same time as repeal, the repealers risk assuming the blame for the continued unraveling of Obamacare. For mark my words, Obamacare will continue to unravel and wreak havoc for years to come,” he wrote.

And Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who’s been tapped to serve as his senior counselor at the White House, said Tuesday that passing repeal and replacement measures simultaneously would be “the ideal situation.”

“We don’t want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance,” Conway said on MSNBC, adding there “are some pieces of merit in the current plan.”