White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters that there probably won't be a new Obamacare repeal bill until the spring and declined to join President Trump in attacking Senate Republican leadership.
Kelly's remarks at the White House press briefing Thursday came a few hours after Trump signed an executive order aimed at loosening Obamacare's insurance rules. The order was signed a few weeks after Congress failed to overhaul the law and ignited attacks from Trump over Senate rules such as the legislative filibuster.
Kelly said the reason Trump didn't sign the executive order earlier is because the contents of the order would have been addressed in legislation to overhaul Obamacare. However, legislative efforts to repeal the law collapsed late last month.
"We probably won't have a healthcare bill until the spring," he said. "This was a way to take care of as many Americans as he could legally with an executive order."
Trump has suggested that repeal legislation would return in January or February. Republican lawmakers are now focused on passing a tax reform bill by the end of the year.
The executive order directs federal agencies to look into loosening regulations on joining association health plans and short-term plans, which are less expensive than Obamacare plans but don't offer as many benefits. The agencies would need to develop regulations and open them up for comment, a process that could take months.
Kelly also declined to criticize Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has feuded with Trump over the failure to repeal Obamacare.
"Congress is designed to be extremely complicated, slow-moving part of our government," he said. "I have nothing but respect for members of Congress and the staffs that work for them."