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Moderates holding back support for new Senate bill

It's unclear whether Senate Republicans have the votes to win on a key procedural motion that would allow them to debate the new healthcare bill they released on Thursday.

Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPentagon: War in Afghanistan will cost billion in 2018 Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Rand Paul calls for punishment if Congress can't reach a long-term budget deal MORE (R-Ky.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation Longtime Clinton confidant blames Comey for 2016 loss MORE (R-Maine) both said they would oppose the motion, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) cannot afford another defection on the vote.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanGOP leader: Congress may settle for pared-down immigration deal Senate Republicans call on Trump to preserve NAFTA Key senator floats new compromise for immigration talks MORE (R-Ohio) said his position had not changed, but he did not give a clear answer on whether he'd back his party on the procedural vote.

Asked whether he would vote for the motion to proceed, Portman said, “No.”

But he added: “I'm the same position I've been in. I'm looking at the language.”

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoConway freezing out experts, relying on political staff in drug policy office: report Republican agenda clouded by division Fractured GOP struggles with immigration strategy MORE (R-W.Va.), who has been an ally of Portman's during the healthcare talks, said she doesn’t know whether she’ll vote to proceed to the bill after hearing a presentation from Senate Republican leaders at the Capitol.

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“We have another meeting this afternoon on the Medicaid cuts,” she told reporters. “I need to really look at it, look at the score, I still have concerns.”

Asked if she would vote for the motion to proceed next week, she said, “Wait and see.”

Capito also said she did not know whether her concerns could be addressed through the amendment process.

“I’m going to hold comment on that.” 

GOP moderates are planning to meet later Thursday afternoon to discuss their concerns with the bill, which would phase out federal funding for expended Medicaid enrollment and impose a stricter formula for indexing the program to inflation.

Portman, Capito and two other moderates, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiLawmakers scold Trump official over Pacific island trust fund Republican agenda clouded by division Greens sue over Interior plans to build road through Alaska refuge MORE (R-Alaska) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerHeller campaign slams GOP rival over six-figure nonprofit salary Juan Williams: Help Trump climb down from the wall GOP Senate candidate fundraising lags behind Dems in key races MORE (R-Nev.), were spotted walking into McConnell’s office shortly after lunchtime.

Heller said he’s on the fence over how to vote on beginning the debate next week. 

“No decisions have been made yet so we’ll continue the conversation,” Heller told reporters. 

Murkowski on Wednesday argued that Medicaid reforms should be kept separate from legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

She views the adoption of a less generous formula for Medicaid inflation as something outside the scope of the Senate healthcare bill.

“It goes into a level of Medicaid reform, traditional Medicaid reform, that had nothing to do with [the Affordable Care Act,]” she said, using ObamaCare’s formal name. 

“Let’s leave Medicaid off the table for right now. Let’s bifurcate this,” she said. “This is not something that, in my view, is best done in a reconciliation process.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSasse statement: Trump nominee who spread conspiracy theories has a ‘tinfoil hat’ Coalition of 44 groups calls for passage of drug pricing bill For the sake of our democracy, politicians must stop bickering MORE (R-Texas) said he could support the new bill, a key win for McConnell.

"If this is the bill, I will support this bill," Cruz told reporters after a meeting of GOP senators. "Now, if it’s amended and we lose the protections that lower premiums my view could well change."

Language backed by Cruz was included in the new version, but it's unclear whether it will be retained.

Even with the addition of Cruz, however, McConnell faces more uncertainty.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who teamed up with Collins earlier this year to push alternative legislation, told reporters before a Thursday lunch meeting that he was not sure whether he would vote to let the bill advance.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Meghan McCain: Melania is 'my favorite Trump, by far' Kelly says Trump not likely to extend DACA deadline MORE (R-Ariz.) also voiced dismay with the legislative plan presented to the GOP conference Thursday.

He said he will vote for the motion to begin debate, but complained that the three amendments Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) wanted in the legislation were left out.

Portman and other moderates — with the exception of Collins — did not rule out the possibility of changing their minds before the Senate is expected to vote next week.

Paul has long opposed the bill, arguing it leaves much of ObamaCare in place.

This report was updated at 2:37 p.m.