NEW YORK >> President Donald Trump went old school on Friday, calling reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times to announce that he had ordered a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare pulled from consideration in the House when it became clear there weren’t enough votes for passage.
One of those reporters — Robert Costa of the Post — tweeted news from the surprise phone call a minute after getting it while the president was still talking.
Trump’s phone calls came amid a day of drama that played out on television screens leading up to an anticipated afternoon vote on one of the Republicans’ enduring campaign promises, to get rid of the insurance law enacted by former President Barack Obama. Congress was debating the measure when it was taken back before a vote.
The calls to Costa and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times were surprising given the newspapers’ aggressive coverage of the president. He has consistently derided their “fake news” and mocked the “failing” Times, which has been seeing an increase in subscriptions.
Costa wrote in a first-person piece posted on the Post’s web site that when his cell phone rang at 3:31 p.m. EDT, he thought it was a reader complaint because it was a blocked number.
“Hello, Bob,” came the president’s voice. “So, we just pulled it.”
Costa multi-tasked, interviewing Trump while posting several updates on Twitter.
“President Trump just called me, still on phone,” he posted at 3:32. “‘We just pulled it,’ he tells me.”
Costa, a national political reporter for the Post, tweeted a stream of updates: “I don’t blame Paul, Trump tells me” and “What a convo. I’ll type it up quick.”
CNN ran a screen grab of Costa’s Twitter feed, even though he’s nominally a competitor: Costa also works as an NBC News analyst.
Before 5 p.m., he had posted a first-person account of the conversation under the headline: “Hello, Bob: President Trump called my cellphone to say that the health care bill was dead.”
Haberman’s first tweet came at 3:52 p.m.: “TRUMP tells me in interview this is now the Democrats’ fault, and that he anticipates that when Obama ‘explodes,’ they will be ready to deal.” She quickly corrected her typo, meaning Obamacare instead of Obama.
She wrote on Twitter that Trump had shown uncharacteristic discipline in saying it was the Democrats who had let him down. Besides Twitter, a quote from her interview appeared in the Times’ online coverage of the events. Trump spoke before cameras in the Oval Office about an hour after the phone conversations.
It wasn’t Haberman’s first phone interview with the president. She wrote a piece shortly after his inauguration about life in the White House.
Later, Haberman offered a Twitter observation about the president: “Trump is not going away this weekend. He was deeply disciplined in phone interviews. The big question is what happens now when he sits in the White House residence and watches television coverage of the bill’s failure.”
Based on the media coverage, it won’t be an easy aftermath.
“Is there a sense of how ignominious this defeat is?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked correspondent Dana Bash, calling it an embarrassment for House Republicans and the White House.
“The president just suffered a terrible defeat,” said MSNBC’s Brian Williams.
Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier said “the president took a hit today,” and batted away colleague Eric Bolling’s attempt to pin blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan and Congress, noting Trump had pushed hard for the bill.
“When you can’t tell the elevator story about what’s good about the bill for middle America,” Baier said, “you’ve lost.”