What Trump's address to House Republicans will mean

President Trump talks with Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., during a “Friends of Ireland” luncheon on Capitol Hill, Thu., March 16, 2017, in Washington, D.C.


Last Updated Mar 21, 2017 1:24 PM EDT

UPDATE: According to reports on the president’s remarks to House leaders, Mr. Trump made the political pressure case. “Many of you came in on the pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare. I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don’t get this done.” So far, no comments in support of the legislation have been reported, though afterward in front of cameras the president said, “We had a great meeting and I think we’re going to get a winner vote.” 

On Tuesday President Trump will address House Republicans in advance of their vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA). President Obama gave a similar speech almost seven years to the day to House Democrats, encouraging them to vote for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

President Obama’s speech was built on a central pitch: Democrats should vote for the bill because it was a part of their political identity.

“This is one of those times where you can honestly say to yourself, doggone it, this is exactly why I came here,” said the president. “This is why I got into politics. This is why I got into public service.”

President Obama’s argument was that as Democrats, they all got into politics to protect people who were poor, down on their luck and needed help to achieve the middle-class dream. He linked the bill to his origin story and theirs.

What does Mr. Trump’s version of that same speech look like? Is there a core Republican idea at the heart of support for this bill, and can Mr. Trump articulate it? The way he makes his case will offer a window into the shape of the GOP in the era of Mr. Trump and could also determine the durability of support for the AHCA in the future.

The obvious rallying point for Mr. Trump and House Republicans is a shared hatred for Obamacare. Republicans also simply have to keep their promise to voters. Is that enough? Or, do Republicans need a reason to vote for the bill beyond simply voting against the Affordable Care Act, which it would replace?

Paul Ryan has an ideological answer similar to the one President Obama gave in 2010. You saw it in the speaker’s Powerpoint presentation a couple of weeks ago. He believes the bill will incorporate free market principles he’s been following and promoting for his entire career. They are what attracted him to public service. They are his central driving force, and for Ryan -- as was the case for Democrats voting for the ACA in 2010 -- they are why he got into politics.

Mr. Trump’s central driving force of his campaign was different than Ryan’s. Candidate Trump promised to promote government programs that helped his blue-collar, older, white working class base. But the president acknowledged to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson in his interview last week that his supporters don’t fare so well under this health care legislation. Given that the legislation hasn’t been changed to solve the challenges for his voters -- or it won’t be changed that much in the manager’s amendment -- can the president still make the pitch for the bill in their name?

“The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” the president said in his inaugural address. If he can’t say that is the central goal of the bill tomorrow, isn’t that a flaw?

How the president answers these questions will give us a sense of his rhetorical evolution in office. Mr. Trump, who was barely considered to be a Republican when he first ran for the presidency, is now the glue that holds the Republican party together. Moments like this can cement ties and give lawmakers a script for their town halls or for their defense of a CBO analysis that shows tens of millions of Americans will be without coverage under Trumpcare.

Even in the best case, the road ahead is uncertain. Supporters say it will take a few years for the system to change and for good outcomes to materialize in a way that will make it easy to defend the law. Perhaps it will be enough for Republicans in the months ahead that they did away with the dreaded Obamacare. But as that law recedes into the past and a new one starts to change lives, it will be easier to defend the law as it is, rather than the law as it is not.