WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has suffered the biggest blow yet to his young term as rebel Republican lawmakers shot down his effort to repeal Obamacare, a key campaign pledge.
Barely two months into his term, Mr Trump was forced to withdraw an embattled Republican healthcare Bill on Friday - for the second time in 24 hours.
"We were very, very close" to securing enough support for the Bill, Mr Trump said in the Oval Office. He said Republicans were 10 to 15 votes short of what they needed. But with no Democratic backing, "we couldn't quite get there," he admitted.
Earlier in the day, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus - a Republican faction that wanted more aggressive steps to lower insurance costs and to dismantle federal regulation of insurance products - indicated that as many as 20 hardliners would oppose the Bill.
House Republicans could only afford 22 "no" votes from their own ranks for the Bill to pass, but more than a dozen other members had announced their opposition by Friday afternoon.
The stinging defeat showed the limits of Mr Trump's power to deliver on an ambitious legislative agenda despite Republican control of both Houses of Congress.
Already rocked by a string of damaging reversals and controversies, Mr Trump must now consider how to move forward in the face of a fractured Congress.
"Trump will have a very hard time dealing with these divides because he does not understand them," said politics professor John Pitney at Claremont-McKenna College.
Mr Trump had thrown his full political weight behind the measure, spending days arm-twisting recalcitrant Republicans, and he declared himself "disappointed" and a "little surprised" by the defeat.
The battle was an eye-opening experience for Mr Trump, a real estate tycoon who entered the White House with no working knowledge of politics or government. The Bill's defeat marked a second major policy setback for the new president, who has seen his attempt to curb travel from several Muslim-majority countries twice frozen by the courts.
He has also faced a string of controversies. Allegations of questionable ties to the Russian government forced out his national security adviser Michael Flynn. Tensions with key US allies such as Germany, Britain and Australia are high, and Mr Trump's approval ratings are at historic lows.
But Mr Trump went on the offensive on Friday, branding Democrats as the real "losers" of the failed bid to repeal Obamacare. The President met House Speaker Paul Ryan earlier in the day, then spoke with him on the phone when it was clear the party did not have the votes to get its plan across the finish line.
While Mr Trump was quick to blame Democrats for not giving "a single vote" for his plan, Mr Ryan owned up to the failures.
"I will not sugar-coat this. This is a disappointing day for us," said the top Republican in Congress. "Obamacare is the law of the land. It's going to remain the law of the land until it's replaced."
The Trump-backed plan would have slashed public assistance to people who have no health coverage through their employer. Some 14 million people stood to lose their coverage starting next year, according to congressional forecasts.
The Bill now appears dead, with Republican lawmakers urging a return to the drawing board.
But it was not clear when Congress would return to healthcare, as Mr Trump has said he would shift quickly towards tax reform.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST