Despite hours of debate, last-minute amendments, and even an ultimatum from President Trump, Republican lawmakers likely don’t have the votes to pass the party’s health care plan. But the White House says they’re going to hold the vote anyway.
“At some point, you can only do so much,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his Friday press briefing. “And I think everything we can possibly do to listen to members, to get their concerns in this piece of legislation, to make it as strong as possible for the American people, has been done.”
And yet hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan visited the White House, apparently to break the news to President Trump, Spicer said the vote would proceed anyway, at around 3:30 p.m.
Ryan’s visit was the latest bad omen in a day of developments that seemingly signaled defeat for the Obamacare-replacement bill, just hours before it was due up for a vote.
The wrangling has already exposed the deep divisions between conservative and moderate Republicans. Ryan’s visit came as reports indicated Rep. Barbara Comstock, a moderate Republican from Virginia, had decided to vote against the bill, only introduced a month ago and rushed through committees. Comstock is one of the Democrats’ top targets in midterms next fall, and her opposition was seen as a sign that Republicans wouldn’t be able to hold enough wary moderates in line to approve the bill.
During Spicer’s press briefing, Vice President Mike Pence met with a group of conservatives called the House Freedom Caucus at a Republican gathering spot just across the street from the Capitol. But there was little indication they were open to a compromise.
For weeks, the roughly three dozen members of the Freedom Caucus had been largely unified in their opposition to the bill because, they said, it didn’t go far enough in fully repealing Obamacare. After meeting with Trump at the White House Thursday, they had secured some concessions by Thursday night, such as stripping coverage for what the Affordable Care Act dubbed “essential health benefits,” like maternity care and mental health services. But they still held out for more.
By ceding ground to conservatives, however, the White House turned off moderates. On Friday morning, New Jersey Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen declared he couldn’t vote for the bill, citing concerns about the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid and the elimination of the essential health benefits.
The Thursday report from the Congressional Budget Office on the bill also likely didn’t reassure lawmakers. The CBO concluded that amendments made Wednesday would still leave 24 million Americans uninsured by 2024.
The bill’s defeat would be a major rebuke to Trump himself, who threw his full support behind the bill (“1,000 percent”), using all of the tools available to the president to try to get lawmakers onboard: Cushy Mar-a-Lago visits, bowling, and meetings at the White House. When none of that worked, Trump turned to threats.
“I honestly think many of you will lose your seats in 2018 if you don’t get this done,” Trump told a roomful of conservatives Wednesday.
Three of Trump’s top aides — Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon, along with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney — were also all dispatched Thursday to Capitol Hill to press for votes. On Friday morning, two members of Trump’s legislative team huddled just off the House floor with members of Republican Leadership, while members of the whip team worked lawmakers in one-on-one chats on the House floor.
On Friday morning, Trump turned to a familiar medium — Twitter — to troll the Freedom Caucus, pointing out the “irony” of their support for a bill that would defund Planned Parenthood.
Republicans, apparently, were unbowed.