Democrats welcome fight as Trump tees up 2020 healthcare battle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on Tuesday embraced U.S. President Donald Trump’s call to revive a fight over healthcare coverage, ensuring the issue will dominate the 2020 presidential election and Trump’s bid for a second term in office.

Trump last week stepped up his assault on Democratic predecessor President Barack Obama’s signature 2010 healthcare law by directing the Justice Department to oppose it in court and promising an unspecified Republican alternative.

In a series of late-night posts on Twitter on Monday, however, Trump shifted course, saying there would be no vote on any healthcare legislation until after next year’s election.

Republicans are developing “a really great HealthCare Plan with far lower premiums (cost) & deductibles than Obamacare,” Trump said, referring to the Affordable Care Act signed into law by Obama.

“Vote will be taken right after the Election when Republicans hold the Senate & win back the House,” he said.

While that timeline would give Republicans more time to knit together an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, it all but guarantees a 2020 battle over an issue that helped Democrats wrest control of the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

“When the president has instructed his Department of Justice to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, them’s fighting words,” U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with Politico on Tuesday.

Trump and his fellow Republicans had vowed in the 2016 presidential election to “repeal and replace” Obamacare but failed to do so during their first two years in power, despite control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Democrats made healthcare a signature issue in the 2018 midterm congressional election, and are gearing up for a repeat defense next year.

“Healthcare will be front and center,” Democratic U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan told MSNBC on Tuesday.

Lujan, who is seeking a Senate seat in 2020, cited popular aspects of the law, such as protections for pre-existing conditions that could be threatened by Republicans, and said Democrats’ protection of the law could help them also win control of the upper chamber.

Candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, including a number of current U.S. senators, have also hinged their candidacy on the issue.

Later on Tuesday, the Democratic-led House plans to take up a resolution condemning the Justice Department’s legal assault on the law. Democrats from both chambers also rallied against it in front of the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum)