Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare

Graham: Rand Paul is 'irretrievably gone' on healthcare
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Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Cybersecurity: Senators eye path forward on election security bill | Facebook isn't winning over privacy advocates | New hacks target health care Paul backs Pompeo, clearing path for confirmation MORE (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that the GOP has already suffered a key defection on its healthcare reform bill and it may make sense to move past the issue sooner instead of later.

“We’re stuck. We can’t get there from here,” Graham told reporters. “I’m very leery of a healthcare bill passing the Senate that can get through the House. We’ve already lost Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPompeo set to be confirmed on Thursday GOP anxiety grows over Trump’s Iran decision Overnight Defense: VA nominee on the ropes | White House signals it will fight for pick | Trump talks Syria with Macron | McConnell tees up Pompeo vote MORE, so we’re down to 51.”

Graham said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is “irretrievably gone,” meaning GOP leaders can only afford one more defection and still pass legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

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“He’s not going to vote for any bill that has refundable tax credits to help low-income people buy healthcare,” Graham said of the Kentucky senator, who is one of the most conservative members of the GOP conference.

“While we do have a press assistant opening in the Communications Department, Senator Graham has not applied and should not make public statements on behalf of Senator Rand Paul,” Paul spokesman Sergio Gor said in a statement, however. “Senator Paul remains optimistic the bill can be improved in the days ahead and is keeping an open mind.”

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate, and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceConservatives eye new tax cut for capital gains The Hill's 12:30 Report Juan Williams: GOP support for Trump begins to crack MORE can break a 50-50 tie, but three GOP no votes would spell the end of the legislation.

Graham is the latest Republican senator to publicly express doubt over the Senate’s ability to pass a healthcare reform bill that has any chance of later passing the House and becoming law.

There’s growing concern within the GOP conference that they will end up spending too much time on a healthcare debate that goes nowhere and will then have less chance of overhauling the tax code, another top priority.

Graham said if the Congressional Budget Office score for the Senate healthcare bill is as negative as its analysis for the House-passed measure, “we’re in trouble.”

“We need to bring this to an end and move to taxes,” he said. “A lot of the blame is on the Congress here.”

Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze Burr Warner requests copy of report on Trump CIA pick's role in destroyed tapes CIA will allow senators to review classified material on Haspel Senators, ask Dr. Ronny Jackson about civil legal aid for homeless vets MORE (R-N.C.), one of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP moves to cut debate time for Trump nominees McConnell hits back at 'ridiculous' Chinaperson remark GOP senator: 'We were there' on immigration before talks got derailed MORE’s (R-Ky.) closest allies in the Senate GOP conference, last week said he did not think the Senate would be able to pass a comprehensive healthcare reform bill this year.

“I think it’s unlikely we will get a healthcare bill,” Burr told a local television station, calling the House bill “dead on arrival” and “not a good plan.”

McConnell told Reuters last month that he does not yet know how he will find 50 votes to pass a healthcare overhaul, a comment that was interpreted among Senate Republicans as lowering expectations for a legislative victory.

Graham said on Tuesday Republicans should “let ObamaCare collapse” and then work with Democrats to “find a better solution.”

He added that the GOP should move quickly to taxes.

“On taxes, that needs to be the next agenda item. We need to do it in calendar year 2017,” he said.

--Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:22 p.m.