This week: ObamaCare repeal vote looms over Senate

Senate Republicans are heading for a showdown on their years-long campaign pledge to repeal and replace ObamaCare without a clear path to passing the legislation.

GOP senators are set to return to Washington on Monday evening still confused about whether the endgame is to repeal ObamaCare with a delayed replacement or try to move them together in one bill.

Leadership is pressuring rank-and-file lawmakers to agree to take up the House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for any action, without knowing what the final outcome will be.


"Asking what the first amendment is going to be actually misses the point, because anybody that's got a better idea can offer that and there's no way to stop them,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division MORE (R-Texas), when pressed on whether Republicans want to just repeal or instead repeal and replace ObamaCare.

But GOP leadership has almost no room for error on the vote to start debate, which is expected to occur on Tuesday.

Republicans have a 52-seat majority and will need at least 50 senators to agree to take up the House bill. That margin is even narrower if Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain to produce 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Meghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' MORE (R-Ariz.) remains out of Washington after his office announced last week that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer.

With McCain gone and all other 99 senators voting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Trump takes two punches from GOP MORE (R-Ky.) can only afford to lose one GOP senator.

Though top administration officials are making an additional 11th-hour push to try to get several undecided senators to agree to at least start debate on—if not ultimately pass—the healthcare bill, leadership still appears short of the 50 votes for either proposal.

Four GOP senators came out in opposition to a recent version of the Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act. A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis released late last week found that an additional 22 million Americans would become uninsured by 2026 under the legislation.

Three senators have publicly opposed moving a repeal-only bill, though Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderAuthorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, hinted that roughly a dozen more senators could be privately opposed to repealing with a delayed replacement bill.

“I don’t think there are 40 votes to repeal [ObamaCare] and say to the American people ‘well trust us to come up with something in the next couple of years.’ I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” Alexander told reporters last week.

It’s unclear if GOP senators, particularly several moderates, will agree to take up the House bill without knowing which path leadership wants to take. Many key senators to watch said late last week that they weren’t sure how they would vote because they didn’t know what plan leadership wanted.

“I don’t know whether we're proceeding to the House bill, a new version of the Senate bill, the old version of the Senate bill, the 2015 repeal and hope that we come up with something in two years bill, I truly don’t,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Maine) told reporters.

Asked how he could get moderates to help them overcome the initial hurdle without knowing the final product, Cornyn added that they have the “ultimate protection” of being able to vote against the healthcare legislation on final passage.

“So rather than doing that on the front end my hope is they decide to proceed to debate the bill and amend it,” he said.

If senators get on the healthcare bill they will have 20 hours of debate in addition to a free-wheeling “vote-a-rama.” During the hours-long marathon session any senator can force a vote on any amendment.

The Senate bill hit another stumbling block from the parliamentarian, according to an outline released Friday from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (I-Vt.), who is the ranking member of the Budget Committee.

The parliamentarian has ruled that key provisions including a year-long defunding of federal funds for Planned Parenthood and restrictions on using tax credits to buy insurance plans that cover abortions don’t comply with Senate rules and could be removed from the bill, according to Sanders’s office.

Still under review by the parliamentarian is a key provision that helped bring on board conservatives that would allow states to waive ObamaCare’s rules on what benefits need to be covered by health insurance or requirements on covering pre-existing conditions.

Republicans quickly noted that the findings were tied to an earlier version of the bill, and weren't official rulings—meaning they still had time to try to change impacted parts of the legislation.

Leadership did get one potential boost to at least starting debate on a healthcare bill late last week.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Only two people cited by TSA for mask violations have agreed to pay fine Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE, who has long been viewed as one of the caucus’s most entrenched “no” votes, said he would be willing to vote “yes” on the motion to proceed if he can get a deal on amendments.

The Kentucky Republican floated that Senate leadership should guarantee votes on some of the caucus's most prominent healthcare proposals — including repeal-only, repeal-and-replace and a bill created by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Collins— as a way to get him on board.

"I think they're pretty equal in support. Let's do a random selection. Let's have three or four of them, put them in random order, the first day, equal billing. I think that's a compromise. I'm willing to get on the bill," he said.

But Paul said that as of late last week leadership hadn’t accepted his proposal.

Border wall funding

The House is slated to consider a national security-themed spending package as one of its last agenda items before leaving for the August recess at the end of this week.

The bill includes funding for the Departments of Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs, as well as legislative branch operations like the Capitol Police.

House GOP leaders are expected to add $1.6 billion for the U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE during the 2016 campaign.

Given the inclusion of funds for the border wall, the legislation stands next to no chance in the Senate given Democrats’ likelihood to filibuster. But its passage in the House will serve as an opening salvo in the spending fight that awaits lawmakers in September when they will have to find a way to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the month.

Members of both parties will likely submit hundreds of amendments to the spending package.

Not every amendment will get a vote. House GOP leaders will select which amendments can get debate and a vote on the floor.

They’re unlikely to greenlight amendments like blocking money for Trump’s wall, as proposed by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), or preventing any funds from benefiting Trump’s businesses as submitted by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

Another controversial addition could be if GOP leaders allow a vote on an amendment from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) to prevent the Pentagon from paying for service members’ gender reassignment surgeries.

GOP leaders previously granted Hartzler’s amendment a vote during consideration of the annual defense policy bill two weeks ago. But it failed by a vote of 209-214, thanks to 24 mostly centrist Republicans who joined with Democrats to defeat it.

The House Rules Committee, which is controlled by GOP leaders, will meet on Monday and Tuesday to make decisions on amendments.

Russia sanctions

The House will vote Tuesday on a deal unveiled over the weekend to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Its consideration will come amid the multiple investigations of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials as part of its attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.

Senators originally passed the bill by a vote of 98-2 last month, but it stalled in the House for weeks mostly due to procedural hangups.

House Democrats had objected to a provision requested by GOP leaders to allow only the majority party to force votes on resolutions to block the Trump administration from lifting sanctions.

Oil and gas companies had also expressed concern about provisions targeting Russian energy pipelines and warned they could inadvertently harm American projects abroad.

Under the deal, either the House majority or minority leader can introduce a resolution of disapproval to prevent the Trump administration from easing sanctions.

The White House had pushed GOP lawmakers to water down the congressional oversight provisions in the pursuit of flexibility with sanctions policy. But President Trump is poised to be presented with legislation that disregards his administration's request.

The sanctions package will be considered under an expedited process that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. That threshold also means it will be veto-proof.

Assuming the Senate clears the legislation by a similar margin as last time, Trump could be faced with the first veto override of his presidency if he refuses to sign it.

The legislation passed by the Senate originally only applied to Iran and Russia, but House negotiators added North Korea to the package. The House had passed a separate North Korea sanctions bill by a 419-1 vote this spring.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), while supportive of the North Korea sanctions, expressed concern that the addition could slow down Senate consideration.

"It is essential that the addition of North Korea to this package does not prevent Congress from immediately enacting Russia sanctions legislation and sending it to the President's desk before the August recess," Pelosi said in a statement. 

Kushner to interview on the Hill

President Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is slated to interview with the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday amid that panel's Russia probe. His appearance will come a day after he is reportedly expected to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have also reached a deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee to avoid appearing for a public hearing this week, lawmakers said. The two have agreed to interviews and provide documents to the panel, the committee said.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee said Friday that it was subpoenaing Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of a firm tied to a salacious dossier containing largely unverified opposition research on President Trump, to appear at the hearing Wednesday.

Lawmakers are eager to hear from Trump Jr. and Manafort following revelations that they met with a Russian lawyer claiming to have damaging information about Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE during last year’s campaign.

Sens. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators 'Blue wave' Democrats eye comebacks after losing reelection MORE (R-Iowa) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Biden signs bill to bolster crime victims fund Stripping opportunity from DC's children MORE (D-Calif.), the Judiciary Committee's top two lawmakers, left the door open Friday to subpoenaing either of the men in the future if they stopped cooperating with the panel.