This week: Senate Republicans search for deal on ObamaCare repeal
© Keren Carrion

Senate Republicans are looking for a path forward on repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

The House narrowly passed legislation, known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA), fulfilling a long-held campaign pledge after months of public back-and-forth, and kicking the issue to the upper chamber.

But Senate Republicans are expected to make significant changes to the House legislation as they try to cobble together a proposal that could pass the upper chamber.

“The Senate will write its own bill. That’s clear. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback MORE’s made that clear and others in leadership have made that clear,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told CNN on Friday.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, added separately during a conference call that “we are going to be writing a Senate bill ourselves.”

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Senate leadership has a narrow path to clearing legislation through the upper chamber, with no Democrats expected to support the repeal effort. Republicans have 52 seats and can afford only two defections, allowing Vice President Pence to break a 50-50 tie.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (R-Texas) signaled the caucus would move slowly as they try to figure out what could pass the Senate.

“There is no timeline. When we get 51 senators, we’ll vote,” Cornyn added, when asked if the Senate could take up legislation by the end of the month.

Grassley added that he had been asked if lawmakers would be able to meet a June 19 deadline for insurance companies but told them he couldn’t commit to the timeline.

“I said there’s no assurance I can give you from a substance standpoint or a process standpoint for when that’s going to happen because there’s been such little discussion,” he said.

Senate Republicans are concerned that the House bill would negatively impact Medicaid recipients in states that expanded the program under ObamaCare, and increase premiums on older, poorer Americans.

The Senate proposal will also need to meet budgetary rules that allow it to block a Democratic filibuster. That could mean a provision included in the House bill that allows states to apply for waivers for community rating, one of ObamaCare's protections for people with pre-existing conditions that won support from conservatives, could be dropped.

With little room for error, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need to get both the moderate and conservative factions of his caucus on board if he wants to get legislation through the upper chamber. He’s convened a working group of roughly a dozen senators from across the Senate GOP conference.

Asked during a weekly leadership conference if Republicans would be able to pass healthcare legislation, he acknowledged that “it'll be a real big challenge on the Senate side as well.”

GOP Sens. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (Nev.), who is up for reelection in a state won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonConservatives pound BuzzFeed, media over Cohen report BuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president Trump knocks BuzzFeed over Cohen report, points to Russia dossier MORE, and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (Ohio) put out statements after the House vote reiterating that they didn’t support the bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber GOP rep: 'Rand Paul is giving the president bad advice' on Afghanistan and Syria MORE (R-Ky.)—who previously advocated for a full repeal mirroring a 2015 law—also raised concerns that the Senate parliamentarian will strip out what he supports in the House bill.

"The Freedom Caucus were given some good things but will any of them stay?" he asked reporters late last week. "If all the good stuff is lost and we're left with just a subsidy bill...I'm not real excited about that. So, I guess we'll have to see what happens." 

Nominations

The Senate will continue processing Trump’s nominees with three votes expected this week.

The Senate will first take up Heather Wilson’s nomination to lead the Air Force on Monday night.

She easily cleared through the Senate Armed Services Committee in a 22-5 vote last month after senators questioned her on ethics issues related to her time as a defense industry consultant with a Lockheed Martin subsidiary.

The Senate will also take an initial vote on Scott Gottlieb to lead the Food and Drug Administration on Monday night, teeing up a final vote for as late as Wednesday morning if lawmakers drag out the Senate’s procedural clock.

Gottlieb is a former FDA director of medical policy development and deputy commissioner, and was cleared by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) committee in a 14-9 vote.

McConnell also said late last week that they would take up Robert Lighthizer’s nomination to be the next U.S. trade representative. The Senate Finance Committee approved Lighthizer’s nomination as part of a bipartisan agreement to consider coal miners' benefits legislation.

Methane Rule

The Senate could take up legislation repealing an Obama administration oil and natural gas drilling rule.

Cornyn told reporters last week that he expected the Senate to take a vote on nixing the Obama-era rule ahead of Thursday’s cutoff for using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to void regulations with only a simple majority.

“I think we’re going to do that next week,” he said adding that he was “optimistic” Republicans would have the votes.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing MORE (R-Wyo.), a member of Senate leadership, told Bloomberg late last week that “it’s duplicative, unnecessary, expensive, and we’ll pass [a Congressional Review Act resolution] next week.”

A handful of GOP senators had said they might hold up the drilling legislation to secure a vote on an ethanol policy change.

The group wanted legislation to overturn federal policy that effectively prevents sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — known as E15 — during the summer months due to volatility concerns. They tried to get the policy included in a government funding bill approved last week but were unsuccessful. 

Even if GOP senators back down from a fight over the ethanol proposal, GOP leadership could face a narrow path getting the methane legislation through the upper chamber.

Two Republican senators — Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — have indicated they will vote to keep the Obama rule in place.

Meanwhile four senators, including GOP Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Colo.) and Heller, were undecided as of last week.