WASHINGTON – New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez harshly criticized Donald Trump for his rhetoric on immigration during last year’s bruising presidential campaign, but after meeting with President Trump on Monday, she said she’s hopeful his administration will be good for national security and the state.
Martinez participated in a meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and other Republican governors on Monday that focused on health care, the federal budget and other issues. She also spent a few minutes afterward with Trump and Pence.
During the meeting, Trump said that the nation’s health care system is in danger of imploding and that Congress must make fundamental changes to the sweeping health care law enacted under his predecessor. But he stressed how complicated it is, saying that overhauling the American tax system was a “tiny little ant” compared with what he would need to do to replace the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” Trump told the governors.
In remarks provided to the Journal and KOAT-TV on Monday afternoon, Martinez said she came away from the meetings especially impressed with Trump’s commitment to national security.
“What I feel most confident is this: His No. 1 priority is to keep America safe,” Martinez said. “And the way he’s going to do that is improve our military in every way possible so that we are the strongest military in the world.”
The White House’s coming federal budget proposal will call for increasing defense spending by 10 percent while slashing funding at the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other government programs.
“This defense spending increase will be offset and paid for by finding greater savings and efficiencies across the federal government,” Trump said Monday at the governors’ meeting in Washington. “We’re going to do more with less.”
The Defense Department budget increase floated by the White House on Monday would mark the largest year-over-year increase since President Ronald Reagan was in office at the height of the Cold War.
Martinez said that during her time with Trump and Pence on Monday, she suggested that they be careful not to treat all states the same. New Mexico, with its nuclear weapons laboratories and vast federal lands, is among the states receiving the largest amount of federal dollars compared with the amount of tax dollars its residents send to Washington.
“We spoke about working together in the future and coming up with solutions for each individual state,” Martinez said. “And that’s important to New Mexico, because we want to continue protecting our labs and bases.
“I commend the president and his willingness to engage the governors to listen to our individual needs, because every state is so different,” Martinez added. “It’s something I have never seen before where the president and vice president actually ask the governors to come to the table on important issues.”
The president’s first major meeting with governors comes as Congress prepares to move forward on a repeal and replacement of the health care law, one of Trump’s main campaign promises. Governors have raised concerns that the changes could undermine their efforts to expand Medicaid in their states and leave them stuck with a bigger share of the health care tab.
The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has subsidized private health insurance available in all 50 states, and an optional Medicaid expansion has been accepted by 31 states, including New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. The two components cover more than 20 million people.
Martinez was among the governors who opted to expand Medicaid under Obamacare in New Mexico, leading to a large increase in the number of insured in the state. But overall, the law is a failure, she said.
“One of the things that the public has to really understand is how catastrophic Obamacare has been,” Martinez said. “Millions of people have been denied access and care. They haven’t been able to keep their same doctor.
“It needs to be repealed and replaced with something that lowers premiums for our families and doesn’t hurt small businesses. I commend the president on his willingness to engage on this very important issue.”
Martinez was one of 46 governors who joined Trump and first lady Melania Trump at the White House on Sunday night for a black-tie dinner honoring the nation’s governors. The state leaders were in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association, and the White House ball honoring them marked the Trump administration’s first major social event.
The New Mexico governor returned to the state Monday night.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.