After the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace, and then simply repeal, the Affordable Care Act appeared to have crashed and burned on Tuesday, President Trump tried a last-ditch effort to rally GOP senators at a lunch meeting Wednesday, and it seemed to make a difference: Several attendees emerged with a renewed hope of getting something passed on healthcare next week — even if they aren’t sure what they’ll be voting on.
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told reporters at the Capitol that Trump had “showed some real leadership.” Johnson said he believed “we are getting close.”
Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who’s been undecided on the latest healthcare proposal, told reporters: “This conversation is far from over.” He added that the senators were still discussing what they’d be voting on next week: a 2015 proposal to repeal Obamacare outright with a two-year delay or the most recent Trumpcare proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Trouble is, Republicans currently don’t have the votes for either proposal.
Shortly after the lunch meeting, the Republicans who opposed the healthcare reform plans announced they’ll be meeting that night in Sen. John Barrasso’s office to sort out their differences and try to get on the same page before next week’s vote, Axios reports.
Trump’s optimistic and insistent tone helped spur the action. He kicked off the meeting by telling the assembled senators and reporters that his goal was still to repeal and replace Obamacare, which he called “a big lie.”
“We can repeal, but we should repeal and replace, and we shouldn’t leave town until this is complete, and this bill is on my desk and we can sign it and celebrate for the American people,” he said during the lunch, referring to the August recess coming up. (Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already canceled the first two weeks of the recess to tackle not only healthcare reform but also tax reform and raising the debt ceiling.)
But even with a late show of optimism from Trump, dissent within the Republican ranks leaves them unable to pass any healthcare reform legislation, for now. The president has been criticized for his lack of engagement with the repeal-and-replace push, and as recently as the last 48 hours, vacillated on the approach he favored for Republicans.
Late Monday night he tweeted that Republicans should just repeal Obamacare:
Hours later, early Wednesday morning, he claimed to have “always said” that Obamacare should be allowed to fail before its replacement is drawn up.
Still, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas left the meeting saying there is a “renewed commitment” to repealing Obamacare, a sentiment echoed by other Republicans. “The gap has been closed in terms of member objections, but we aren’t there yet,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in a statement.
McConnell is continuing to push ahead with a vote scheduled next week — even though he doesn’t have the votes to do it. When three Republican senators, all women — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia — stated publicly yesterday that they wouldn’t support the repeal bill, the Republicans, with only a two-seat majority in the Senate, no longer had the votes needed to pass it. And four senators have said they won’t vote for the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Plus, Sen. John McCain is still absent following surgery to remove a blood clot and Republicans will almost certainly need his vote to pass anything.
At the lunch meeting, Trump also touted exaggerated stats about the Republican healthcare plan. “Premiums will drop 60 and 70 percent,” he said. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the Republican plan premiums will drop 20 percent by 2026.
Trump also singled out Heller as he attempted to rally the senators. “The other night I was very surprised when I hear a couple of my friends — my friends,” Trump said, motioning toward Heller, continuing: “They were and are [my friends]. They may not be very much longer, but that’s alright,” he added with a chuckle.
“He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said, again referring to Heller. “And I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re gonna appreciate what you hopefully will do.”
If that sounds like a threat, it might actually be one. A Trump-affiliated super PAC announced, and then withdrew, a major campaign ad buy against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. White House staff are reportedly speaking with potential candidates to run against the senator from Arizona.