Freedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes

Freedom Caucus leader: Despite changes, healthcare bill doesn't have the votes
© Greg Nash

The leader of an influential group of conservatives on Friday said the House healthcare reform bill still doesn't have the votes to pass the lower chamber despite changes.

In an interview filmed for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said there are at least 40 House Republicans who are opposed to the legislation and another 20 to 30 who are undecided. If every member votes and all Democrats vote no, GOP leaders can't afford more than 21 defections.

The chairman of the House Freedom Caucus made his comments before House GOP leaders announced Friday they are making modifications to the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill that had been sought by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC).

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A Freedom Caucus source Friday afternoon said, "The Freedom Caucus remains opposed to the [legislation] in its current form. Today's announcement of the RSC's support for the bill doesn't change that. If the bill were brought to the floor today, it would fail to get enough votes."

During the interview — which will appear on C-SPAN Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. — Meadows suggested he knew changes were coming, but indicated they wouldn't be enough to get his support. For example, he expressed major reservations with the voluntary Medicaid work requirements in the revised bill, which he described as "a step backward."

The RSC has 172 members, while the Freedom Caucus has about three dozen. However, it remains to be seen how many RSC members will back the altered legislation. Earlier this month, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump: Dems ‘will make a deal’ on healthcare Pelosi, more Dems call for Nunes to step aside Nunes will not step down from Russia probe MORE (R-Wis.) guaranteed that the House would pass an ObamaCare repeal and replace bill. 

The legislation is scheduled to hit the House floor Thursday in what will likely be one of the most dramatic votes since Republicans won the House in 2010.

Meadows said he has had more meaningful discussion with the White House than with House GOP leaders on repealing ObamaCare. He also pointed out he is working with GOP senators and trying to find "the sweet spot" — a bill that can pass both the House and Senate. 

Meadows has been huddling with Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulSenate takes up NATO membership for Montenegro Overnight Defense: Civilian casualties raise questions about rules of engagement | Air Force nominee set for hearing | Senate takes up NATO membership for Montenegro Feehery: Freedom Caucus follies MORE (R-Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzConservatism's worst enemy? The Freedom Caucus. Republicans giving Univision the cold shoulder: report How 'Big Pharma' stifles pharmaceutical innovation MORE (R-Texas), but declined to name "moderate" senators he is conferring with. At least a dozen GOP senators have problems with the House GOP legislation, Meadows said.

Other topics Meadows addressed in the interview:

Primary threats. Meadows disputed speculation and a media account that the White House is considering punishing Republicans who vote against the healthcare bill by endorsing lawmakers' primary election challengers, saying it "goes against who the president is and not something he's done or happened in a reported meeting."

Entitlement reform. Meadows said President Trump is adamant about not reforming Medicare and Social Security, which he promised not to touch on the 2016 campaign trail. The North Carolina lawmaker believes entitlement reform is essential to saving Medicare and Social Security, but said until conservatives "make a more compelling case, he's not going there."

Stephen Bannon. While Meadows maintains he has a good relationship with Trump's senior adviser, Bannon is "not our secret path into the White House because his loyalty is undeniably with the president." He also said Bannon "is not the most interactive, talkative guy" because he only gets involved at "critical stages."

Ryan. Meadows, who played a leading role in pressuring then-Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerBottom Line Trump, GOP fumble chance to govern ObamaCare gets new lease on life MORE (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015, said he gives Ryan "a good grade" as Speaker. He said Ryan is "engaging" and "asks for input," but added, "I will say there was real concern with the way this [bill] was rolled out." He described leadership's initial push for the measure as "this way or the highway." He added, "This is a telling time ... with the most important bill we will vote on in this Congress."

The April recess. If the timetable for passing healthcare reform slips, Meadows said, "I'm hopeful that the president calls on us to stay in session for the next 100 days other than religious holidays. You just stay here. Get it done and don't go home until this is done."

In a recent interview with Ryan, Tucker Carlson of Fox News pressed the Speaker on why the House will be in session for eight days in the month of April. The House is scheduled to be in recess for two consecutive weeks in the middle of next month in recognition of Easter and Passover.