President Trump speaks from the White House Rose Garden with GOP leaders behind him, May 4, 2017. (WH.gov)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Declaring it "an unbelievable victory," President Donald Trump delayed his first trip home to New York as president to celebrate House passage of legislation undoing much of former President Barack Obama's health law, a top campaign promise and a long-sought GOP goal.
Trump celebrated with jubilant Republicans at the White House Thursday for a hastily called press conference to exult in the passage of their replacement health care bill, which squeaked by the House 217-213.
Trump saluted the bill as "a great plan and I think it will get even better," saying more than once — "Make no mistake: this is a repeal and replace of Obamacare."
Republicans bused in from Capitol Hill for the victory lap, an unusually early celebration for the passage of a bill through just one house of Congress. The legislation, which faces sharp Democratic opposition, now heads to the Senate where it faces an uncertain fate.
But 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," said Trump, whose West Wing staff was eager for the appearances of a victory after an uneven first 100 days in office. A joyous Trump at one point even 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. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose leadership was questioned when the first bill failed, cautioned that the passage was "just one step but an important step" and suggested that the "stakes are just too high" for the bill to fail in the Senate.
The bill, known as the American Healthcare Act, has yet to receive a price tag from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and has been 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.
The developments in Washington pushed back Trump's first-time meeting with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull by several hours. The leaders also were to speak at a New York dinner commemorating the 75th anniversary of an important World War II battle.
Trump, a native New Yorker, only received 18 percent of the vote in his hometown last November and his longtime high-rise home has been the site of dozens of demonstrations. Multiple protests were planned across Manhattan on Thursday during the president's visit.
Trump and Turnbull were expected to discuss North Korea's missile testing and security and economic issues, as well as Turnbull's deal with Obama for the United States 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.
The agreement was a source of friction when Trump and Turnbull spoke by telephone shortly after Trump took office Jan. 20. The 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."
Trump campaigned against immigration, including by Muslims, and was enraged by the agreement.
The ties between the U.S. and Australia were reinforced during the Battle of the Coral Sea, when both countries' warships and fighter planes battled the Japanese from May 4-8, 1942, forcing the Japanese navy to retreat for the first time in the war.
Trump and Turnbull were set to mark the 75th anniversary of that battle with speeches at a dinner aboard the USS Intrepid, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that fought in World War II.
Manhattan is where Trump made a name by transforming himself from real-estate developer into a celebrity businessman and now president During the campaign, Trump would fly thousands of miles back to New York City to sleep in his own bed, leaving the impression that he would make frequent trips home after he became president.
But he hasn't set foot in the city since leaving on Jan. 19 for Washington to be inaugurated into office the following day. Trump said in an interview last week that he so far has avoided returning to the city of his birth because the trips are expensive for the government and would inconvenience New Yorkers.
His revised schedule was to take him straight from a waterside heliport to the Intrepid, docked on the Hudson River and relatively isolated from the rest of the city. The elimination of the stop in Midtown for the original Turnbull meeting seemed likely to prevent many protesters from ever getting a look at the president or his motorcade.
Trump has received some criticism for spending about half of his weekends as president at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. Trump's wife, Melania, and son, Barron, live at Trump Tower most of the time while the 11-year-old finishes the school year.
The president was not expected to spend the night there, though he could drop in before going to his golf club an hour away in Bedminister, New Jersey. Trump last visited the New Jersey club during the presidential transition.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.