President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could hardly be more at odds—but behind the scenes, they’re still grasping at a bipartisan deal to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Pelosi’s office and the White House confirmed that the speaker’s top health aide, Wendell Primus, spoke on the phone last week with Joe Grogan, director of the Trump’s Domestic Policy Council. The conversation follows a meeting earlier this month between top administration health officials and Primus, who has been acting as the main go-between as the White House seeks broad action on drug prices.
“The lines of communication have been open on this topic with the speaker’s office,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.
Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly stressed the conversations aren’t “negotiations” but instead center on the speaker’s own drug pricing legislation, which would allow the federal government to directly negotiate lower prices with private companies in Medicare’s prescription drug program.
But for Pelosi to get that bill passed into law—or at least elements of it—she would need approval from Trump, who has in the past supported the idea of allowing direct negotiations even though it’s anathema to congressional Republicans.
Were the pair to arrive at any agreement on drug prices, it would be in the face of enormous odds. In their public interactions, Pelosi and Trump have reached new levels of animosity in recent weeks, as the California Democrat pursues an impeachment inquiry while he tweets angry insults at her.
Democrats’ case for impeachment was strengthened Tuesday, with testimony from the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, the Post’s Dan Balz wrote. William Taylor’s recounting of events “directly contradicts the president asserts that military assistance was withheld for months as Trump was demanding an explicit statement from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky confirming that he would launch investigations the president wanted,” Dan writes.
Meanwhile, this is how Trump has been tweeting about Pelosi over the past few weeks:
“Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her “upstairs,” or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!,” the president tweeted.
Yet Pelosi has dismissed the idea that Trump’s comments would cause her to stop working with him on the issue of high drug costs. She told reporters last week the president’s comments are “not important, in that regard.”
“We will do what we need to do for the good of the American people, and that has nothing to do with him,” Pelosi said. “There may be some collateral benefit to him, when we successfully achieve something for the American people, but there is no reason not to do it because there is a collateral benefit to him.”
If the two were to strike a deal, it would probably be within the next few weeks, before Congress leaves town for the Thanksgiving holiday. Meanwhile, Pelosi is moving quickly to get her own legislation through the House—although she’s running up against some resistance from liberals in her caucus.
In a private caucus meeting yesterday, multiple top Democrats complained the Pelosi legislation – now named the “Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act,” after the longtime congressman who died last week—doesn’t go far enough in allowing direct negotiations for Medicare, Politico reports.
The bill requires that the government negotiate lower prices for at least 35 drugs per year but no more than 250 drugs. While the pharmaceutical industry has complained that would eventually allow negotiations for virtually every drug covered by Medicare, House progressives have raised the opposite concern—that most drug prices would never be covered by the legislation.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, is among the loudest skeptics of the Pelosi measure as it currently stands, expressing frustration it doesn’t go far enough. The progressive group Public Citizen has also been demanding changes, including one that would completely remove a provision in the law explicitly banning the health and human services secretary from direct negotiations over drugs provided in Medicare.
Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., argued during the caucus meeting that Democrats shouldn’t limit the number of drugs that could be negotiated, members present told Politico’s Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle. DeLauro acknowledged to them that “there are questions about the numbers of drugs covered.”
Tuesday the House Ways and Means Committee became the third committee to pass the Pelosi bill, after a markup that began in the morning and stretched into the evening. As in prior hearings, Republicans voiced deep disapproval of the bill, saying it amounts to government price-fixing and charging it would quash drug innovation.
“This is the end of Medicare as we know it,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican.