Healthcare push leaves Republicans in disarray

Healthcare push leaves Republicans in disarray
© Greg Nash


A months-long push from Senate Republican leaders to repeal ObamaCare crashed and burned on Tuesday, leaving the GOP with no clear path forward on its top legislative priority.

The collapse of the effort came at stunning speed, with Republicans shooting down Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE’s (R-Ky.) effort to revive ObamaCare repeal in just a little over 12 hours.

On Tuesday, GOP leadership insisted that there would still be a vote on healthcare in the chamber, but it’s no longer a matter of repealing the law — it’s about bringing finality to a legislative push that appears to have reached the end of the road.

“We’re going to continue to work, but at some point, we’re going to have to vote, and, yes, people are going to have to be put on the record,” Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (R-Texas) said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

“Most of us have held political office for a fair time now. We know how to explain our votes to our voters back home, to whom we are accountable. But if you don’t vote, nobody is accountable, and everybody can blame each other for the outcome.”

McConnell said Tuesday that Republicans would vote early next week on a bill passed by Congress in 2015 that repealed large swaths of ObamaCare. That bill was vetoed by then-President Obama.

But it’s clear that a clean repeal bill can’t pass the upper chamber now.

Centrists mobilized quickly against the repeal-and-delay plan on Tuesday morning, even as President Trump and some of his conservative allies ratcheted up the pressure to pass it.

Before the GOP conference lunch, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine), Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP may increase IRS’s budget People with addiction issues should be able to control their own health data Trump signs bipartisan bill to combat synthetic opioids MORE (R-W.Va.) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (R-Alaska) effectively killed the effort by announcing they wouldn’t support a procedural motion to vote on a clean ObamaCare repeal amendment.

“I said back in January that if we’re going to do a repeal, there has to be a replacement. There’s enough chaos and uncertainty already,” Murkowski told reporters.

Capito said she “did not come to Washington to hurt people.”

“My position on this issue is driven by its impact on West Virginians. With that in mind, I cannot vote to repeal ObamaCare without a replacement plan that addresses my concerns and the needs of West Virginians,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, conservatives pointed fingers, accusing their colleagues of reneging on their promises to voters.

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations MORE (R-Wis.) expressed frustration with McConnell after the leader reportedly indicated to some members that large Medicaid cuts in the revised bill may not happen, calling it a “pretty significant breach of trust.”

As other Republicans have done, Johnson criticized the secretive process used to draft the healthcare bill, suggesting it doomed the effort from the start.

“It’s an insane process. If you don’t have information, how do you have legitimate conversations and debate?” Johnson said to reporters.

“That’s been part of the problem, and I think that’s why this ended where we are today.”

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year Despite amnesty, DACA bill favors American wage-earners MORE (R-Ky.) warned Republicans that if they vote against a clean repeal bill, they would have to answer to their voters back home.

“I think that those Republicans who promised to repeal ObamaCare ought to vote the same way they voted in 2015,” Paul said.

“If you’re not willing to vote the same way you voted in 2015, then you need to go back home, you need to explain to Republicans why you’re no longer for repealing ObamaCare.”

Influential conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt compared the situation to “Game of Thrones” as he listed the senators he sees at fault for the bill’s failure.

“We know the list to blame. It’s like #AryaStark list. And it just keeps getting longer: Heller, Johnson, then Collins and Paul, then Lee,” he tweeted, additionally referring to Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Nevada Dems unveil 2018 campaign mascot: 'Mitch McTurtle' Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (R-Nev.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle With religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again This week: Time running out for Congress to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Utah).

Hewitt also put the spotlight on Heller, likely the most vulnerable senator up for reelection in 2018. Heller stood next to his state’s governor a month ago to oppose the original version of the Senate GOP bill, citing his concern over the bill’s deep cuts to Medicaid.

“I think Dean Heller is doomed unless this thing moves on,” Hewitt said in a radio interview with Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWeek ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Overnight Tech: GOP senator presses Apple over phone slowdowns | YouTube cancels projects with Logan Paul after suicide video | CEOs push for DACA fix | Bill would punish credit agencies for breaches GOP senator presses Apple on phone slowdowns MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican. “I’ll be campaigning against him every single day. Is there a reality check? Do people understand — I’ve been taking calls all morning — how outraged the base is?”

Conservative groups advocating for a clean repeal quickly targeted moderates.

“Moderate Republicans — most of whom supported the 2015 legislation — will now be forced to reveal their true colors,” Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement as the group singled out Murkowski on its Twitter account.

“It was easy for moderate Republicans to grandstand and regurgitate fiery political rhetoric when they knew repeal efforts would go nowhere, but now they will have to do something politicians don’t often do. And that is keep their promises.”

Trump told reporters he was “certainly disappointed” the legislation had run aground.

“For seven years I’ve been hearing repeal and replace from Congress. I’ve been hearing it loud and strong, and when we finally get a chance to repeal and replace, they don’t take advantage of it,” Trump said. “So that’s disappointing.”

Senate Republicans all say changes to the healthcare system are needed, but the agreement ends there.

Three camps have emerged: conservatives who want to pass a clean repeal, moderate senators who want a bipartisan solution and others who favor Republicans hammering out their own bill.

Conservatives such as Lee and Paul want their colleagues to support the clean repeal bill from 2015.

Collins and Murkowski — both of whom had a litany of concerns over the GOP healthcare bill — are pushing for committee hearings to hash out a bipartisan proposal.

“It’s where we should have started. Work on a bipartisan basis,” Murkowski said.

“And, yes, this is hard, let’s just all acknowledge that, but I think what has to happen is the Republicans have to admit that some of the things in the [Affordable Care Act] we actually liked. And the Democrats have to admit that some of the things that they voted for in the ACA are broken.”

During the closed-door GOP lunch, Sen. Dan Sullivan (Alaska) urged his colleagues to overcome their differences on the Better Care Reconciliation Act, saying they still had time with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.) out this week recovering from an emergency surgery. 

 “I mean, even this weekend we were making progress, to be honest,” Sullivan said, adding those discussions were focused on an amendment to help out Medicaid expansion states.

While Capito said she couldn’t see a way to vote for the revised version of the bill, she didn’t shut the door on a Republican-led process.

“I’m not opposed to bipartisan talks at all, I think they’re probably very useful,” Capito said. “But I still think there’s a pathway forward for us as Republicans to repeal and replace, repair, ObamaCare.”