President Donald Trump’s top legislative priority was dealt a potentially fatal blow Monday night as two more Republican senators announced their opposition to the party’s healthcare overhaul, Politico reads.
Trump quickly called on Republicans to simply repeal ObamaCare and begin work on a new healthcare plan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would try to do so.
“Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of ObamaCare will not be successful,” McConnell said.
The Kentucky Republican said he planned to hold a vote in the coming days to take up the House-passed bill to replace the 2010 health law and then call up an amendment to eliminate major parts of ObamaCare, such as the Medicaid expansion, insurance subsidies and fines for the employer and individual mandates. Republicans passed a similar bill to effectively repeal ObamaCare in 2015 under reconciliation — the fast-track budget procedure the GOP is using to thwart a Democratic filibuster — but it was vetoed by President Barack Obama.
McConnell added that the repeal-only bill is “what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015,” but GOP lawmakers have voiced severe doubts that such a plan can win the 50 votes necessary this year given the uncertainty it would throw onto insurance markets. The 2015 vote was viewed as mostly symbolic at the time given Obama’s certain veto.
But after his own caucus tanked McConnell’s attempts to repeal and replace ObamaCare simultaneously and at the prodding of the president, the GOP leader is going to force his caucus to go on the record on healthcare. If the Senate does vote to open debate on the House bill, which is not guaranteed, the repeal-only bill would be the first amendment. But senators would still be able to offer unlimited amendments to the bill, leading the GOP down an uncertain road once the process began.
“Republicans should just ‘REPEAL’ failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Healthcare Plan that will start from a clean slate. Dems will join in!” Trump tweeted shortly before McConnell’s statement came out.
McConnell’s announcement followed the news that GOP Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas said they could not support the current bill. They joined Maine Senator Susan Collins and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul in opposition, denying GOP leaders the support to even bring the bill to the floor and upending Republicans’ seven-year goal of repealing ObamaCare.
Senator John McCain, who is recovering from surgery, also issued a statement advising the party to start over with a bipartisan approach.
Failure to pass an ObamaCare repeal could upend the entire Republican agenda. The party has spent nearly seven months on a healthcare overhaul, with hopes it would ease the path to tax reform. Now Trump and the GOP-led Congress are staring at an impending August recess with no major legislative achievements in hand. At a dinner with GOP senators on Monday evening, Trump said the party would look like “dopes” if they couldn’t pass the bill after passing a repeal bill in 2015.
“If the Republicans have the House, Senate and the presidency and they can’t pass this healthcare bill they are going to look weak,” Trump said, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
“How can we not do this after promising it for years?”
Trump had no idea defections were coming tonight, according to another White House official with knowledge of the meeting.
“Why would we have a dinner like that if we knew people were going to drop out?” the official said.
Even before Lee and Moran’s announcement, there were increasingly urgent signs that the GOP’s 52-seat majority was too fragile to pass the bill, which would scale back Medicaid spending and ObamaCare’s insurance subsidies. The vote was already delayed because of McCain’s surgery, and Senator Ron Johnson had fumed that McConnell had committed a “breach of trust” in selling the bill to moderates.