Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell abruptly decided to delay the GOP’s health care vote until after July 4 when six dissident GOP Senators — four from the right and two from the left — broke ranks and announced their opposition to the bill. Two more Republicans joined them after the delay was announced.
Because the Senate is divided 52 to 48 McConnell can only afford to lose two votes and pass the bill with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaker. Delaying for more time allows McConnell to make changes that will appease his holdouts and theoretically bring about a friendlier score from the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated on Monday that the bill as written would leave an additional 22 million uninsured over Obamacare by the end of the decade.
The CBO estimate seemed to galvanize opposition to the bill particularly with Senators in states that would be adversely impacted by caps on Medicaid spending, such as Nevada and Maine. Those on the record opposed to the bill included Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada from the left, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah on the right.
Senate leaders seemed to think more time to negotiate will save the bill. “There is still a lot of work to be done,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “I would rather do it right than fast.”
But Collins did not seem optimistic that further negotiation could win her support. “It’s hard to see how tinkering is going to satisfy my personal concerns,” she told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol.
Collins also expressed anger that Republican pressure groups had targeted Sen. Heller, who was one of the first to express misgivings about the bill.
“I was amazed and appalled to learn that any Republican group would be running negative ads against Dean,” she said.
She also said the White House’s inexperience with policy isn’t helping. “This president is the first president in our history who has had neither political nor military experience and thus it has been a challenge to him to learn how to interact with congress and how to push his agenda forward,” she said.
But opposition to the bill runs deeper in GOP ranks than those who are on the record as opposed. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the bills critics, praised the delay. “I think that was an important step. I certainly wasn’t ready” to vote, she said, according to the AP. Asked if the legislation could ever attract enough support, she said, “I don’t know.”
President Trump had invited the entire Senate to the White House to discuss the imperiled bill at 4 p.m., and despite the delay Republican senators boarded buses to take them from the Capitol to the White House for talks.
“For us, it’s never been about the timeline, but getting the best piece of legislation that helps the most Americans,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Update 4:20 p.m.
Two senators — Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia — joined the opposition after the delay was announced, saying the bill does not sufficiently address the opioid epidemic.