Trump storms Capitol with healthcare plan on the line

Trump storms Capitol with healthcare plan on the line
© Greg Nash

GOP leaders believe they are within striking distance of the votes needed to pass their ObamaCare repeal-and-replace plan.

They just need President Trump to close the deal.

In recent days, the president has been hosting recalcitrant conservatives at the White House and his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, while wheeling and dealing to bring more of them on board.

Trump hit the road Monday night, holding a campaign-style rally with supporters in Kentucky to drum up support for the American Health Care Act.

On Tuesday morning, the president will head to Capitol Hill in an attempt to seal up House Republican support for the health insurance legislation, just two days before the most important congressional vote of his young presidency.

“He’s been working. He’s the closer,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Monday on MSNBC. “He knows how to put this together. He’s got great negotiating skills, and we’re coming together with it.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump 'failing' in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.), who huddled with Trump at the White House Monday, echoed those remarks during a TV interview, calling the billionaire business mogul “a great closer.”

“He’s the one who has helped negotiate changes to this bill with members from all over our caucus,” Ryan said on “Fox New Sunday.” “We have a president who is rolling up his sleeves. ... He’s a very quick learner on healthcare.”

“He’s a business guy who came to the presidency,” Ryan continued, “and now he’s helping us make sure that we bridge differences with members who are bringing constructive ideas and solutions for how to make this bill better.”

Trump’s increased involvement in the healthcare effort comes as Ryan and other GOP leaders furiously work behind the scenes to tweak the plan to boost its support.

On Monday night, Ryan’s team unveiled a package of changes to the bill, known as a manager’s amendment, that included two changes to Medicaid that Trump had negotiated last week with the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC).

The amendment also included a narrowly tailored provision — negotiated by White House senior staffers, GOP leaders and New York Republicans — that seeks to stop the Empire State from forcing counties to pay for part of Medicaid. The provision, authored by Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), is expected to win support from several vulnerable centrist New York Republicans, including Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.).

“The Trump administration knows how important this is to many members of the New York GOP delegation,” said a GOP aide familiar with the New York provision.

The Hill’s Whip List shows that 17 House Republicans currently plan to vote no on the healthcare legislation, suggesting the final vote tally will be a nail-biter. Ryan and his team can only afford 21 GOP defections if all Democrats vote no, as they are expected to do.

GOP leadership aides declined to share their internal whip count but said they are picking up votes daily and “feel very good about where we are and how our conversations are going.”

In an email to his vote-counting team over the weekend, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) attempted to frame Thursday’s healthcare vote as perhaps the most consequential of their congressional careers. The legislation, he argued, might be viewed as more important than welfare-reform legislation that was passed by Congress more than 20 years ago.

“This is our moment to make history,” Scalise wrote to his team.

Ryan, striking an optimistic tone, said House Republicans are “on track” and “right where we want to be.”

If the legislation manages to clear the House, it will have a much tougher road in the Senate, where moderate and conservative Republicans are clashing over what should happen to the Medicaid expansion component of ObamaCare.

With a slim majority, Republicans can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate to pass the bill, and four have already said they can’t support it in its current form, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

Trump’s decision to take a more hands-on role in the process is bearing fruit. He met with members of the RSC in the Oval Office late last week and offered small changes to the plan in exchange for their votes on the floor.

Those changes include giving states the option to impose a Medicaid work requirement and flexibility in how they get funding from the federal government.

Eight Republicans that attended the meeting and had opposed the bill, or said they were leaning against it, pledged their votes on the spot.

Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), who voted against the bill in the Budget Committee last week, and Rep. Robert AderholtRobert AderholtTrump launches all-out assault on Mueller probe Republicans rally around Sessions after Trump criticism GOP leaders are unified: Firing Mueller a bad idea MORE (R-Ala.) jumped on board, as did Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chairman of the 172-member RSC who just weeks earlier had issued a statement critical of the bill.

“The president asked us specifically would we support him on this American Health Care Act” if the changes were made, Walker told reporters after his White House meeting.

“We all agreed, to a man.”

Most members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and their Senate allies still remain opposed to the bill. But some took it as a positive sign that conservative leaders continued to negotiate with the White House over the weekend.

Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzThe media couldn't be more blatant in distorting Trump's words on Charlottesville Curtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Kimmel: Let’s make Trump a king so he has no power MORE (Texas) and Mike LeeMike LeeTrouble draining the swamp? Try returning power to the states Congress must act to protect data privacy before courts make surveillance even easier Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare MORE (Utah) and Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) flew down to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., over the weekend to meet with top Trump aides on the healthcare bill, according to House and Senate GOP sources.

Trump was not present, but the meeting lasted for three hours.

The conservatives made their case for a repeal of ObamaCare’s regulations and insurance mandates, sources said, but those changes would likely chase away moderates and make it difficult to pass the bill through the Senate.

Meadows and other conservative members emerged from a Freedom Caucus meeting late Monday night and insisted the bill would not pass without more significant changes.

“They don’t have the votes to pass it,” declared Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe five kinds of Republicans who could primary Trump Overnight Defense: Military won't lift transgender ban until Trump sends directions | House passes national security spending | Russian sanctions bill heads to Trump Overnight Finance: House passes spending bill with border wall funds | Ryan drops border tax idea | Russia sanctions bill goes to Trump's desk | Dems grill bank regulator picks MORE (R-Mich.).

Peter Sullivan contributed to this report, which was updated on March 21 at 8:15 a.m.