NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump had already planned a celebration as he returned to his hometown for the first time since his inauguration. House Republicans gave him another reason to enjoy the moment.
Trump flew to New York to join Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull aboard the USS Intrepid to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Before he left the White House on Thursday, however, he hosted a Rose Garden event to applaud passage of the GOP-sponsored House health care law.
The White House was eager for the appearance of a victory after an uneven first 100 days in office. Jubilant Republicans were bused in from Capitol Hill to the White House for an unusually early celebration for the passage of a bill through just one house of Congress. The legislation, which was met with sharp Democratic opposition, squeaked through the House by a vote of 217-213 and faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.
Trump said he was “so confident” that the measure would pass the Senate and vowed that premiums and deductibles would come down.
“People are suffering so badly with the ravages of Obamacare,” he said.
At one point the president turned to the representatives lined up behind him and, suggesting the victory was especially impressive for a novice politician, exclaimed: “Hey, I’m president! I’m president! Can you believe it?!”
House leaders came through with the votes to give Trump a major political win more than a month after Republicans’ first attempt to pass a health care bill went down in a humiliating defeat.
Known as the American Healthcare Act, the bill has yet to receive a price tag from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and is opposed by a number of physician and health care groups, including the American Medical Association, amid concerns it could strip millions of Americans of their coverage, including those with pre-existing medical conditions.
In New York, Trump and Turnbull spoke aboard the Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, to commemorate the World War II battle that reinforced the ties between the U.S. and Australia. Both countries’ warships and fighter planes engaged the Japanese from May 4-8, 1942, forcing the Japanese navy to retreat for the first time in the war.
“In those Pacific waters we forged iron bonds between our two countries,” Trump said. “Few peoples in the world share ties in history, affection and culture like the Americans and the Australians. Those ties are sealed with the blood of our grandfathers and fathers and those same ties are now the priceless heritage we celebrate so beautifully tonight.”
Trump paid tribute to the heroism of the battle’s veterans and also pointed to the Intrepid, which survived being hit by four separate Japanese kamikaze attacks during the war, as a need for the U.S. to keep its military strong and pledged that he would continue to boost defense spending.
Ahead of his meeting with Turnbull, Trump downplayed the contentious call he had with Turnbull in January, dismissing the reports of tension as “fake news.” The issue was Turnbull’s deal with President Barack Obama for the U.S. to resettle up to 1,250 mostly Muslim refugees from Africa, the Mideast and Asia who are housed in immigration camps on the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
Their conversation made headlines, and Trump later tweeted about the “dumb deal.” But Vice President Mike Pence assured Turnbull during a visit to Australia last month that the Trump administration will honor the deal, but “that doesn’t mean we admire the agreement.”
For his part, Turnbull had to achieve a delicate balance with the meeting — mend fences with Trump to get the alliance back on track, while also not appearing too deferential to the president, who is deeply unpopular with Australians.
Brendan Thomas-Noone, a research fellow at the United States Studies Center in Sydney, said whether Australians believed Turnbull had been successful in balancing those needs would likely be shaped by the prime minister’s future decisions on Australia’s commitment to America’s various military operations.
Trump hadn’t set foot in New York since leaving on Jan. 19 for the inauguration. In an interview last week he said he had avoided returning to the city because the trips are expensive for the government and would inconvenience New Yorkers.
Some protesters lined up along the West Side Highway, confined to pens near the Intrepid while holding up signs saying “Dump Trump” and chanted “Not my president.” Some passing cars honked in support.
“We want him to know the resistance remains, even in his hometown,” said Ruthie Adler, 30, a Manhattan waitress.
Instead of sleeping at the Manhattan skyscraper that bears his name, Trump ended the night at his golf club in Bedminister, New Jersey, an hour away.
Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Deepti Hajela and Deniz Cam in New York contributed to this report.
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