“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare” – President Trump before meeting with Senate Republicans on Wednesday
A renewed push for passing the healthcare replacement is ignited with Trump stepping in boldly. Unlike the past seven years, as soon as the senate passes the bill, the president will sign it immediately. It’s time to reach an agreement and repeal Obamacare!
From the WSJ:
WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump stepped into the health-care debate with a new assertiveness Wednesday, imploring GOP senators to revive their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare after it had been left for dead earlier this week.
The president’s rallying cry—part exhortation and part warning—sparked a fresh round of conversations with senators about what it will take to get their support, and Vice President Mike Pence planned to deliver another pitch Wednesday night.
“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare,” Mr. Trump said before a lunch with the senators Wednesday. He gestured at one wavering GOP lawmaker, Dean Heller of Nevada, saying, “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” and warned lawmakers not to leave town in August without a deal.
Senate Republican leaders conceded defeat earlier this week on their effort to roll back and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, but at Mr. Trump’s urging, they dug in Wednesday for what is expected to be the final push. Senate Republicans said they were hoping to rustle up 50 votes for a third version of the bill.
Mr. Trump, telling the senators they were “very close” to a deal, signaled the White House would take a more aggressive role in wrangling the 50 votes need to pass the bill. The GOP president suggested that Republicans had it easy in voting for the 2010 law’s repeal when his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, was in office because they knew he would veto it and there would be no consequences.
“I’m ready to act, I have pen in hand, believe me, I’m sitting in that office. You’ve never had that before,” Mr. Trump said. “For seven years, you’ve had an easy rap: ‘We’ll repeal, we’ll replace, and he’s never going to sign it.’ ”
GOP leaders’ immediate challenge is mustering 50 Republican lawmakers to approve a procedural motion that would allow debate to begin on their health-care bill.
Adding to the uncertainty, Sen. John McCain’s office disclosed late Wednesday that the Arizona Republican has been diagnosed with a type of brain tumor known as a glioblastoma, and that the timing of his return to the Senate would depend on consultations with his medical team.
GOP senators said Wednesday night that the indefinite absence of Mr. McCain made their quest to get 50 votes on the health-care bill harder. “That does complicate things,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.).
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said after the White House lunch that a vote on that motion would happen next week, regardless of whether it was expected to pass, and that he had “every expectation” of trying to eke out a bill with majority support after that.
“I want to disabuse any of you of the notion that we will not have that vote next week,” Mr. McConnell said.
GOP leaders hope that once debate begins and senators offer a variety of amendments, a majority will emerge for some version. Earlier this week, three Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia—said they would oppose the motion to proceed on a repeal-only bill. Unless one of them changes her mind, debate can’t begin because Democrats are uniformly opposed.
Among the amendments may be one to largely repeal the 2010 law without an immediate replacement. An estimate released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office found that such a move would leave 32 million more people uninsured and would double premiums by 2026, compared with current law. The measure would reduce federal deficits by $473 billion over the coming decade, the CBO estimated.
About 20 GOP senators huddled for more than two hours Wednesday night, but it wasn’t clear if they had gotten any closer to securing the needed 50 votes. “Hard to say,” Mr. Toomey said upon leaving the meeting.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus came to the meeting but was asked to stay in a room separate from the one where senators held their discussion because some lawmakers wanted to speak privately, an aide said.
“We’re at our best when we’re among ourselves,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska), an opponent of the repeal-only plan, was noncommittal on her stance after the meeting. Ms. Capito, also an opponent of that approach, declined to comment on the meeting.
The GOP currently holds 52 seats in the Senate, leaving it vulnerable to defections from conservatives, centrists or any senator with a home-state concern. Democrats have remained unified in their desire to preserve Mr. Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.
GOP leaders are faced in the days aheadwith finding ways to lure back at least some of the GOP senators who have said in recent days they couldn’t support the latest version of a bill aimed at overhauling the nation’s health-care system.
Ms. Capito, for example, is among those who have protested the bill’s cuts to Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor. The administration is pushing the notion of waivers for states to redesign their Medicaid programs, including more support for low-income people. Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) said Wednesday senators had discussed the idea at lunch.
Ms. Murkowski has similar concerns as well as a broader worry about her state’s fragile insurance market. Mr. Trump cited the current struggles of Alaska’s insurance markets as a reason for her to take action.
Another holdout, Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), spoke with the president Tuesday, and Mr. Trump appeared open to the changes the senator wants, a spokesman for Mr. Lee said. A White House aide said the administration is open to any provision that increases GOP support for the bill.
Mr. Lee has been especially concerned about alterations that were made to a provision of the GOP bill written by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), which was designed to lower premiums by allowing insurers to sell cheaper, less-comprehensive plans than allowed under current law.
Similarly, GOP leaders have said they could address some of the concerns of Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) that the bill could negatively affect his state.
Before this week, the president had been less active in the negotiations in the Senate than he was in helping pass health-care legislation in the House.
The question is whether his late intervention can turn the tide. Some Republicans have been quietly skeptical of the president’s arm’s-length approach to Senate negotiations, though others have said he has been smart to hold back.
“Do the tectonic plates break and begin to move?” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R., La.), after the meeting. “I can tell you they weren’t before that meeting. The fact that the president comes in and very much emphasizes the need for momentum can break those plates.”
“We are getting close — the issues are narrowing,” added Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), a conservative senator who has said his support for a GOP bill isn’t guaranteed.
“There is still a hope on behalf of the administration and a lot of senators too that we can get there,” said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), a member of the chamber’s leadership. “We’re going to take one more shot at it.”
For months, lobbyists, GOP strategists and White House officials have described the GOP health bill in vivid metaphors, ranging from the biblical resurrection of Lazarus to the bathtub scene in “Fatal Attraction,” where an apparently vanquished villain roars back to life.
Heading into this week, a senior White House official predicted, “This bill will have been declared dead once, and resurrected at least once.” Officials also regularly cite the House’s success in passing a health bill after legislation was initially pulled from the floor in March.
Democrats, for their part, are seeking to use Mr. Trump’s revival of the GOP push to draw fresh fuel for their campaigns.
“Like the armored and mummified White Walkers from Game of Thrones, Trumpcare is hard to kill,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.) wrote Wednesday in a fundraising email. “Republicans continue reanimating their terrible bill to kick millions of Americans off of their health care… Chip in now and support my efforts to kill this bill once and for all!”
Democrats also hammered senators such as Mr. Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, who are facing re-election campaigns in 2018, over the prospect of Medicaid cuts.
Among those warning of dire consequences if Republican senators don’t repeal Obamacare is Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. She wrote in an email to GOP donors and supporters Wednesday that “we could lose the midterm elections” because “some in the Senate are refusing to even put a simple repeal bill on [Mr. Trump’s] desk.”
Conservative groups also joined in, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political-action committee, whose head Ken Cuccinelli said Wednesday the group would hold Senate Republicans accountable if they failed to pass health-care legislation.
In the Washington swamp decried by Mr. Trump, Mr. Cuccinelli said, “Mitch McConnell is the head alligator.”
Such threats may have limited effect on some of the Republican dissenters. Ms. Collins and Ms. Capito don’t face re-election until 2020, and Ms. Murkowski isn’t up until 2022. Still, conservative activists said they hope to send a broader message to Republicans about the importance of sticking to their promises.
“It’s not just about these senators; it’s about the state of the Republican party,” said Rachael Slobodien, spokeswoman for the conservative Club for Growth. “This is a much bigger fight.”
– Byron Tau, Siobhan Hughes and Janet Hook contributed to this article.