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At rally, Trump urges Congress to deal with health care so he can take up taxes, trade

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he walks to the White House after arriving on Marine One, Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
By John Wagner Washington Post

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With a key vote expected this week on the Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump sought Monday to bring a heightened urgency to the task: Getting health care off the table, he told a raucous crowd here, will allow him to get on with renegotiating trade deals and cutting taxes.

Appearing at what was billed as a campaign rally, Trump cited home-state Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., one of the Republicans in Congress who have been vocally resisting the health-care plan put forward by the House GOP and embraced by the new president.

“I happen to like, a lot, Senator Rand Paul. I do,” Trump told the crowd. “I look forward to working with him so we can get this bill passed in some form, so that we can pass massive tax reform, which we can’t do until this happens.”

Earlier in his speech, Trump made a similar pitch on trade deals, arguing that health care needs to be cleared from the agenda before he can start renegotiating deals he said have put the United States at a disadvantage.

“As soon we get the health care finished, I’m looking forward to these trade deals,” Trump said, later adding: “We’re going to do something with NAFTA you’re going to be very impressed with.”

Trump’s appearance here — in a packed arena known as Freedom Hall that has a stated capacity of more than 18,000 – came on a day in Washington, D.C., dominated by testimony from FBI Director James Comey that undercut Trump’s contention that his predecessor had wiretapped Trump Tower during the election.

After traveling some 600 miles outside the Beltway, Trump made no mention of the controversy during his 42-minute speech.

“We’re in the heartland of America, and there is no place I would rather be than here with you tonight,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks, after taking the stage to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

House Republican leaders say they are aiming for a vote on Thursday on their health-care plan, which has drawn criticism from lawmakers on both the left and right.

If the measure makes it through the House, it’s expected to face a tough road in the Senate, where Paul and several other Republicans have already spoken out against various provisions.

Trump acknowledged as much on Monday but told the crowd that negotiations would lead to legislation that will reach his desk.

“The end result is going to be wonderful,” Trump said, without providing any particulars.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared earlier on the program, praising Trump as someone “who’s going to give us a chance to fix the health-care mess.”

After taking the stage, Trump told the crowd that McConnell is “on our side” and made light of the current difficulties the Republicans are having coalescing behind a health-care bill.

“Hey Mitch, are we going to be OK?” Trump said. “Everything looking good?”