Shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday, all the intended performers were escorted into the Oval Office, wearing their royal blue or aqua nurses’ scrubs. They were carefully and colorfully arranged in a wide telegenic semicircle behind President Donald Trump’s historic Resolute Desk.
Seated at his ornate workstation, Trump was performing probably his best skill — staging yet another Reality TV message moment. This one was officially about honoring our heroes on National Nurses Day. But for Trump, it was mainly about fostering a premature sense of mission accomplishment — and pushing every state to quickly reopen their economies. Never mind that they hadn’t yet met Trump’s own COVID-19 progress guidelines.
Surrounded by his guests of honor, and honored to be promoting Number One, Trump was mainly determined to keep all imagery upbeat — and not mess up his real Reality TV messaging by unintentionally making major news. But he did.
It happened when a reporter specifically asked if Trump would be altering his administration’s planned fall argument that the Supreme Court should invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare — even during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Today is the deadline for the White House if it wants to modify its argument before the Supreme Court ...” the reporter noted.
“We’re staying — we’re not doing another thing,” Trump immediately answered.
Stunningly, in the middle of a deadly pandemic, Trump had just committed himself to press the Supreme Court to scrap America’s health care insurance program. Of course, that could create yet another mid-pandemic crisis for tens of millions of Americans.
Later in that Oval Office event, Trump made another type of unintended news. He challenged a New Orleans community center nurse practitioner who truthfully told a reporter that there were still “sporadic” but manageable equipment shortages in some places. Nurses adapt, she said: “I’ve been reusing my N95 mask for a few weeks now.”
That’s when Trump interjected: “Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people ... Because I’ve heard the opposite ... I’ve heard that they are loaded up with — with gowns now. And, you know, initially we had nothing ... Because it wasn’t put there by the last administration.” Sitting at his desk, Trump resolutely crossed his arms and stared straight ahead. You know the look. Awkward.
Of course, that tabloidy Trump v. Nurse video clip was all over our news screens. And the real news — Trump’s mid-pandemic push to get the Supreme Court to scrap America’s health care insurance system — was buried or ignored, online or in print.
Meanwhile, it has become increasingly unclear just what the president did know, when he knew it — and when he knew that he knew it. For example, did he know whose advice he had just rejected?
On May 4, the most prominent defender of Trump’s presidency, Attorney General William Barr, reportedly met at the White House with a roomful of Trump’s top command, including Vice President Mike Pence, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and various domestic policy and communications advisers. This was first revealed Tuesday by four CNN correspondents, citing four sources. Barr reportedly urged Team Trump to reconsider their position of siding with Republican state governors in urging the Court to entirely end ACA. Barr cautioned it could cause a spike in uninsured Americans during the pandemic — and a spike in voter fears on Election Day, even before the Court decides.
But on Wednesday, Trump seemed to have no idea that he and Barr were now on opposite sides of the issue.
Q: “So Attorney General Barr’s suggestion to pull back on invalidating the act and leave some of it in place, you’re not going to go in that direction?”
THE PRESIDENT: “No, I don’t know about that suggestion. I think I’ve spoken a lot about this to Bill Barr. And we’re totally in lockstep with all of the many states that want to see much better health care. See, I don’t view it as a termination. I view this as getting great health care.”
Has Trump ever even seen a Trumpcare plan for replacing Obamacare?
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive.