- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2017

President Trump’s campaign enemies are looming large as he tries to win passage of a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and finds himself needing to woo many of the very same people he ran against — and defeated — for the Republican nomination last year.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has hitched his wagon to yet another nemesis from the campaign, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, who was brutal in assessing candidate Trump but now has forged a partnership as they try to win over reluctant conservatives.

“I am very pleased and very excited, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s something I hadn’t seen in along time,” Mr. Ryan told reporters Thursday. “This president is getting deeply involved. He is helping us bridge gaps in our conference.”

The Ryan-Trump tag team, though, has little margin for error. Without the help of Democrats, they stand to lose about 20 Republican votes in the House and two votes in the Senate on this first go-around.

That means buy-in from most of Mr. Trump’s rivals from the Republican presidential race — Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whom Mr. Trump branded as “lightweights”; Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, dubbed “little Marco”; and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, whom he named “Lyin’ Ted.”

While Mr. Rubio has said he is open to the bill that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump have crafted, Mr. Cruz, Mr. Graham and Mr. Paul have all been skeptical.

Speaking Wednesday at a FreedomWorks-sponsored rally against Obamacare outside the U.S. Capitol, Mr. Paul warned that Mr. Ryan and “weak-kneed” Republicans have offered up “Obamacare lite.”

But he spared Mr. Trump from criticism, saying Mr. Ryan deserves blame for the plan’s shortcomings.

“I am with the president on the repeal part,” Mr. Paul said. “We are still apart somewhat on replacement, but some of the reason we are apart is, I think, Paul Ryan is selling him a bill of goods that he didn’t explain to the president.”

A number of other Trump supporters also say Mr. Ryan is bamboozling the president.

Mr. Ryan said he and Mr. Trump talk nearly every day and that the president is deeply involved and is deploying his vaunted negotiating skills to try to forge a deal.

Indeed, Mr. Trump has made no effort to back away from the bill, and the White House says he is fully invested, holding a rally in Tennessee on Wednesday and deploying his top aides to sell the measure to conservatives.

The White House rejected conservatives’ claims that Mr. Trump is being misled. “He doesn’t get led down any paths; he leads,” spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Mr. Trump has even engaged in some personal diplomacy to sell the law, inviting Mr. Cruz and Mr. Paul, along with other conservatives, to the White House this week.

Mr. Cruz and his family had dinner at the White House last week.

The senator from Texas has moved away from the hard-nosed tactics he used in 2013, when he helped orchestrate a partial government shutdown over Republican demands to defund Obamacare.

At the FreedomWorks rally, Mr. Cruz said the House plan has some problems but he is optimistic because conservatives have a seat at the table and are fighting for “real repeal that lowers premiums” and “that gives you control over your health care.”

“In the last week, four days, I have been at the White House meeting with the president, with the vice president, with the administration, with House members, with senators, saying we have got to get it done,” Mr. Cruz said.

Adam Brandon, president of FreedomWorks, said he hopes Mr. Trump realizes he should be joining Mr. Cruz and Mr. Paul and fighting Mr. Ryan.

“I think as time goes on, and not a lot of time, Trump is going to see who his big allies are, those guys, and leadership has a different agenda,” said Mr. Brandon, adding that he believes there is no ill will left over from the presidential primary race.

“Look, he was a New York City developer. I am sure he has been suing someone in the morning and doing a business deal with them in the afternoon on a different project,” Mr. Brandon said.

Mr. Graham has said he is not ready to support the bill, though he applauded the way Mr. Trump has reached out.

He said his meetings with Mr. Trump went so well that he gave the president his new cellphone number — harkening back to the campaign when Mr. Trump read out Mr. Graham’s phone number at a rally.

“He is trying very, very, very hard to get repeal-and-replace done,” Mr. Graham said Wednesday on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.

The president’s supporters remain confident that Mr. Trump’s deal-making abilities will be strong enough to improve the bill and get his ex-rivals behind it.

“He is a negotiator, and he is a get-er-done sort of person,” said Dan Brooks, 63, of Virginia.

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