Opening punches were thrown in what one top Democrat today called "the first big fight" of the new congressional year — the promise by President-elect Donald Trump and GOP lawmakers to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
President Obama met with Democrats on Capitol Hill while Vice President-elect Mike Pence sat down with Republicans, as each side prepared for the skirmishing in the days and months ahead.
Asked what advice he gave Democrats in the closed-door meeting about the legacy program that bears his name, Obama responded, "Look out for the American people."
It was likely Obama's last visit to the Capitol before the inauguration of his successor. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama told the lawmakers he wished he were in their place.
"The word he used was 'envy,' " Earnest said, "for the opportunity they have" to fight GOP repeal efforts.
Pence told reporters that Trump will sign executive orders on his first day in office to begin implementing the repeal of Obamacare, saying it was "the first order of business."
The incoming administration, Pence said, is working right now on "a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place even as the Congress appropriately debates alternatives to and replacement of Obamacare."
He did not offer any specifics on what those orders would entail. He said Republicans will be taking a "two-track approach" with a combination of executive and legislative actions.
The new leader of Senate Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York, said GOP lawmakers seek "to rip health care away from millions" of Americans, "which will create chaos."
In his short, prepared statement, he repeated the word "chaos" four times. Schumer said Democrats in both the House and the Senate are united in their opposition to Republican attempts to "make America sick again."
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans asserted, however, that there would be "an orderly transition, so that the rug is not pulled out from under the families," which he said are currently "struggling" under Obamacare.
But replace it with what? Ryan offered no specifics, except to insist Republicans do "have a plan to replace it. We have plenty of ideas to replace it."
But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, addressing reporters after hearing from Obama, said Republicans don't have the votes for a replacement plan.
Pelosi blasted an approach that some Republicans have discussed, that would repeal the ACA but delay its effect to give lawmakers time to come up with a replacement. She called the strategy "an act of cowardice."
Trump himself weighed in today via his preferred method of communicating, tweeting that "Republicans must be careful in that the Dems own the failed Obamacare disaster" and "Don't let the Schumer clowns out of this web."
He warned that "massive increases of ObamaCare will take place this year and Dems are to blame for the mess. It will fall of its own weight — be careful!"