Nancy Pelosi doesn't agree with President Donald Trump much, but she’ll gladly support his claim that House Democrats killed his attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act last week.
“We're happy to take credit!” she said in an interview with NBC News Monday.
Feeling emboldened by an outcome that strengthened her otherwise weak hand, the Minority Leader said she’s open to working with Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan on health care — but that it will have to be on Democrats’ terms.
"We're willing to listen,” Pelosi said. “We always want to work with the president, but my message to the president is, 'First do no harm.'”
Trump is convinced Obamacare will “explode” under its own weight and force Democrats to the negotiating table, even though they presented a united front against repealing the law. Still, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Trump is “absolutely” about working across the aisle.
The top Democrat in the House said the health law is fine and that the only threat to it is Trump, who could use his regulatory authority to undermine its structure and create a “self-fulling prophecy” of collapse.
But Pelosi agreed Obamacare could use some “updates" and told her caucus last week that there are “some things we do want to correct in the Affordable Care Act, but it’s all about timing,” according to a source in the room.
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Pelosi pointed to potential improvements to the insurance exchanges, which have suffered from fleeing insurance companies in some states. And she said Democrats would be eager to work with Trump on giving the government more power to negotiate prescription drug prices.
“That's one place we can work together and that would signal his good faith and willingness to work together,” Pelosi said.
Trump has voiced support for the idea, and even invited two Democratic lawmakers to the White House to discuss it. But House Republicans have rejected the plan in the past.
Otherwise, however, Pelosi was pleased with the unanimity Democrats have shown in obstructing Trump’s agenda. She said they would wait and see about cooperating with the Republicans on tax reform or infrastructure spending.
“Success breeds success,” she said. “I'm proud of our caucus. I'm proud of the coordination we had with the outside. I'm proud we could convey to the grassroots, we don't consider ourselves the drumbeat they echo, we consider ourselves the echo of their drum beat.”
The united front against the GOP health care bill showed that Pelosi still has a firm grip on her own caucus, despite sustaining a serious threat to the leadership post she’s held since 2003 when nearly a third of her caucus voted against her reelection last fall.
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To keep her caucus together, Pelosi discouraged her members from introducing alternative health care plans or discussing the unusual procedure Republicans planned to use to pass their bill. Going down either path would have muddied the waters of their message. Instead, she kept them focused on the impact the GOP would would have on people.
“They (Republicans) are in a lose-lose situation, but people have to know what it means to them,” she told Democrats.
Preparations to defend Obamacare started days after Trump’s election, with a major emphasis on mobilizing outside grassroots activism, since Democrats would lose any pitched battle inside Congress.
“Inside maneuvering is essential, but it doesn't get the job done unless you have outside mobilization,” she said.
Pelosi’s office helped organize hundreds of public events that featured Democratic lawmakers and people helped by Obamacare, and she brought 120 activists to the Capitol Building for a strategy meeting the week the new Congress was sworn in in January.
It was a very different role from the one she played seven years ago, when Pelosi was the one trying to push a bill through opposition.
Her model this time was instead the 2005 fight on Social Security, when a Democratic minority, vocal outside opposition, and Republican defections killed President George W. Bush’s push to privatize the program.
And it seemed to work. The Republican repeal push, ironically, made the signature accomplishment of Pelosi’s career more popular than she ever could on her own.
“Now that they were saying this is something we want to take away from you, the leverage completely changed,” Pelosi said.