WASHINGTON – The long-awaited House showdown a day away, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders cajoled recalcitrant GOP lawmakers Wednesday to back their health care overhaul. Conservatives insisted they had the votes to torpedo the measure, leaving the party’s top legislative priority dangling perilously.
Trump met at the White House with 18 lawmakers, a mix of supporters and opponents, while Vice President Mike Pence saw around two dozen. The sessions came as leaders rummaged for votes on a roll call they can ill afford to lose without wounding their clout for the rest of the GOP agenda.
Asked by reporters if he’d keep pushing a health overhaul if the House rejects the measure, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”
For now, the White House and House leaders showed no sign of delaying their legislation demolishing former President Barack Obama’s health care law, a GOP pledge since the statute’s 2010 enactment.
“There is no plan B. There is plan A and plan A, we’re going to get this done,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.
But, underscoring the tricky pathway to victory, participants in the Pence meeting said there were no visible signs of weakened opposition and described one tense moment.
Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told them: “We’ve got to do this. I know you don’t like it, but you have to vote for this.”
Weber said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, bristled.
“When somebody tells me I have to do something, odds are really good that I will do exactly the opposite,” Barton said, according to Weber.
Many conservatives remained dug in against the measure, insisting it must repeal the law’s requirements that insurers pay for specified services like maternity care and cover all comers, including the sickest. They say those provisions must die because they drive up premiums.
“There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, leader of the House Freedom Caucus, the hard-line group that has spearheaded opposition to the GOP bill. Most of the group’s roughly three dozen members seemed opposed to the legislation, more than enough to defeat it.
Another member of that caucus, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania., was among the lawmakers who met with Pence. He said White House officials at that 90-minute meeting suggested they were considering amending the bill when — and if — it reaches the Senate to erase those regulations, but he remained skeptical.
“We’re being asked to sign a blank check,” said Perry, who has opposed the bill. “In the past, that hasn’t worked out so well.”
The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the statute expanded. It would provide tax credits to help people pay medical bills, though generally skimpier than the aid Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposed on high-income people and health industry companies.
In a count by a news agency, at least 20 Republicans said they opposed the bill, a number subject to constant change amid private lobbying by the White House and GOP leaders. That included moderates daunted by projections of 24 million Americans losing coverage in a decade and higher out-of-pocket costs for many low-income and older people, as predicted by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Interviewed on CNN, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said Trump’s credibility problem over his wiretapping allegations and other issues “does hurt” GOP attempts to win votes. He also pointed to voters who remain dubious.
“The people back home are not sold on what we’re doing yet,” he said.
The Rules committee, usually tightly controlled by GOP leadership, was expected to let the chamber vote on revisions that top Republicans concocted to win votes. These include adding federal aid for older people and protecting upstate New York counties — but not Democratic-run New York City — from repaying the state billions of dollars for Medicaid costs.
There were at least two glimmers of hope for GOP leaders.
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pennsylvania, said he had switched from “no” to “yes” after Trump endorsed his bill to use Social Security numbers to hinder people from fraudulently collecting tax credits. Barletta, an outspoken foe of illegal immigration, said he had been promised a vote next month on the measure by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin.
Also, one or two House Democrats seemed likely to miss Thursday’s roll calls due to health and family problems. That would mean Republicans would need 215 votes to prevail, one fewer than if all Democrats appeared.
Democrats were uniformly against the GOP repeal drive. They laud Obama’s statute for expanding health care coverage to 20 million more people and imposing coverage requirements on insurers.
At a rally on the Capitol steps, Democratic leaders criticized Republicans for easing taxes on the wealthy while slicing Medicaid and trimming federal health care subsidies for many low-income people.
“It ain’t going anywhere,” predicted former Vice President Joe Biden. “This is not going to pass.”
Republicans face an even tougher fight in the Senate, which they control by just 52-48. Six GOP senators have already said they oppose the legislation, enough to sink it without changes.