Paul Ryan Dances on Obamacare, Immigration at CNN Town Hall

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WASHINGTON (CN) – Giving a run-down on what the GOP has in store for the next four years, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan wound down a busy week on Capitol Hill with an hour-long town hall Thursday.

Hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper, the Wisconsin Republican touched on all of his party’s most popular platforms as he spoke to an audience at George Washington University. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held a town hall there just three days earlier.

While Sanders used his hour mostly to call for Democrats to act, Ryan worked on Thursday to defend his party’s position on fiercely contested subjects like repealing the federal health care law, defunding of Planned Parenthood and getting tough of immigration.

Russian interference in the election came into play as well with Ryan calling the world power a “global menace.”

Ryan also expressed sympathy for the president-elect regarding the revelations this week from a secret dossier that Russia has sordid blackmail on Donald Trump.

“I understand why he’s frustrated that eight or nine days before he is inaugurated, this junk gets thrown out there,” Ryan said.

Ryan said that the House Republican’s “Better Way” agenda and their strategy for the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency would include a rapid-fire replacement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which Congress has already begun to dismantle.

Without giving specific details on what will replace Obamacare, which Ryan described as “stuck in a death spiral,” the congressman lauded his home state’s high-risk pool as a solution for the “8 percent of people under 65 who have a pre-existing condition.”

A Kaiser Family Foundation study contradicts this figure, saying 27 percent, or roughly 52 million of adult Americans, “have health conditions that would likely leave them uninsurable if they applied for individual market coverage under pre-ACA underwriting practices that existed in nearly all states.” 

“We don’t want people to go poor or bankrupt,” Ryan said. “We want to have a system where they can have affordable coverage, but we can do that without destroying the health care system for everybody else. By financing high-risk pools to guarantee affordable coverage for pre-existing conditions, you’re lowering the price of insurance for everyone else.”

High-risk pools like these have a mixed track record. Two years ago, the Republican-led House scrapped a similar push for pools by then-House Majority leader Eric Cantor. Cantor proposed a bill that would spend $3.6 billion on high-risk pools and would be funded by cuts to Obamacare.

Nonetheless, Ryan supports pools and said that taxpayer financing will offer a choice to Americans with pre-existing conditions.

“They don’t have to be covered or paid for by a small business owner or insurer whose buying rates for rest of people in insurance pool,” he said.

That way, according to Ryan, “you dramatically lower the price for other Americans.”

This assertion has also been questioned before. A study from The Commonwealth Fund, an organization that reviews health care costs across the board, determined that in 35 states ran their own high-risk pools prior to the Affordable Care Act, premiums jumped to as much as 250 percent over state average premiums.

Transitioning from health care to immigration, Ryan fielded a direct question from an undocumented immigrant who wanted to know if she would be deported after having lived n the U.S. for two decades.

Telling her that he hopes her place is in America, Ryan danced around a direct answer but alluded to immigration reform. “We have to figure out how to fix this but to do that, people need to have confidence that our laws are being followed,” the speaker said.

As to Trump’s promise of a wall running along the U.S.-Mexico border, Ryan suggested that the president-elect is more concerned with keeping people out then kicking people out.

“That’s the problem he wants to focus on,” Ryan said. “This is not the focus. And so what we have to do is find a way to ensure that you can get right with the law. We have to figure out how to fix this, but to do that, people need to have confidence that our laws are being followed and people know who’s coming or going.”

Ryan added that he’s seeking a “humane solution” and promised to respect the rule of law.