By Molly K. Hooper - 01/13/10 06:45 PM EST
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) proclaimed Wednesday morning after meeting with his conference that "this healthcare bill can be defeated."
The second-ranking House Republican uttered those words as key Democratic leaders met with President Barack Obama at the White House in order to salvage what remains of House and Senate negotiations on a final healthcare bill.
"We’re looking at 37 Democrats who are in districts that are particularly upset and vulnerable to the provisions of this healthcare bill," Cantor said, highlighting the key theme to be pursued: "Are they going to be with the people or are they going to be with Pelosi?"
According to aides that participated in Wednesday morning's GOP conference meeting, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his rank-and-file, "The bottom line is, I believe we can beat this bill. The American people are with us.”
After paying tribute to his longtime aide, Paula Nowakowski, who died suddenly on Saturday night of an apparent heart attack, a devastated Boehner honored his former "right-hand" by putting on a brave face and briefing lawmakers on the GOP agenda.
Nowakowski, whom Boehner affectionately described as "tough as nails" and an astute strategist, was focused on Republicans reclaiming majority status in the House with the 2010 midterm elections.
Building on the "better solutions that Republicans offered" last year to "define what we are for" will be part of that effort, Boehner told his colleagues. "Whether it ends up being called a contract or an agenda or something else — [it] would involve members of the conference and our candidates."
Boehner told members that he has asked Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to head this effort in conjunction with the National Republican Congressional Committee, a source in the room told The Hill.