GOP lawmakers root against Trump in court on ObamaCare

Senate Republicans are privately rooting against President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE in his court battle to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

GOP lawmakers worry that if Trump wins, Congress won’t be able to pass anything to replace ObamaCare — and they’ll pay for it at the ballot box.

Republicans generally agree that President Obama’s signature health care law has serious flaws, but they realize getting rid of it while Democrats control the House would leave a vacuum in place of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, insurance subsidies and expanded Medicaid.

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“If you’re looking strictly at political outcomes, it could be argued that a lot of members don’t want to see this struck down because they don’t want to deal with the fallout,” said a senior Republican senator.

GOP senators say there had not been any substantial conversations between the administration and key lawmakers before the Department of Justice changed its legal strategy and filed a statement to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals last week arguing that all of the ObamaCare should be invalidated.

Some suspect Trump didn’t fully think through his strategy before announcing on Tuesday “the Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care.”

“If they were really working to build something that had legs, you would have thought there were some conversations prior to Tuesday and there were none,” said a second Republican senator, who called Trump’s political strategy “not a good one for us.”

“Every one of us was caught flatfooted,” the lawmaker said, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Graham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.), who “had no idea” of what was coming.

A third Republican senator described a reckless course since there’s no chance of House Democrats agreeing to a plan that could win a majority of Senate Republicans.

“The time frame they’ve chosen to pursue is a toxic one because of the election cycle that we’re already in,” the lawmaker said. “Can we find something where the Democrats who are in the majority in the House could agree with the 60 senators in the Senate? I can’t imagine that’s the case.”

The third GOP senator predicted Trump’s attempt to strike down ObamaCare without a backup plan would cause a public backlash.

“Sometimes it’s easy to write off the Affordable Care Act issues as political and certainly there’s politics to it, but what I’ve discovered it’s a very personal issue to thousands and thousands of people, and they’re worried to death about what the changes might do to their family members,” the lawmaker said.

Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and McConnell’s former chief of staff, on Wednesday tweeted it would be smarter politically for Republicans to attack Democrats’ boldly ambitious plans to provide Medicare for all, which could cost as much as $32 trillion over a decade.

“Dear GOP: When Democrats are setting themselves ablaze by advocating for the destruction of American health care, try to resist the temptation of asking them to pass the kerosene,” he tweeted.

Democrats confirm there’s almost no chance of Congress passing legislation to replace ObamaCare before the 2020 election.  

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge sides with NY officials in Trump tax return lawsuit On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (D-Mass.), who has jurisdiction over health care reform, said the chances of putting together something to replace ObamaCare in this Congress are “slim to nil.”

Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments Senate Democrats call on White House to abandon plan to collect DNA from migrants MORE (D-Wash.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Health Committee, said there’s no trust between the parties on the issue after she says Republicans “sabotaged” a bill she negotiated with Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderPelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump MORE (R-Tenn.) in the last Congress to fund cost-sharing reduction subsidies.

“I think the trust is gone on both sides,” she said. “I’m willing to talk to them, but we’re not going to take away the protections that people in this country expected and that everyone campaigned on.”

Publicly, GOP senators are dodging the question of whether they want the lawsuit to succeed, a contrast to what they said when the original legal challenge to ObamaCare was considered before the Supreme Court in 2012.

“It doesn't matter what I think about the court [case],” Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySpeaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Barr: Inspector general's report on alleged FISA abuses 'imminent' Pelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism MORE (R-Iowa) said when asked if he wanted the lawsuit to succeed. “It's in the court. Ask me something about the legislative branch of government.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Why Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight MORE (R-Wis.) struck a similar note.

“I'll let the courts make their ruling,” Johnson said. “What I'm trying to concentrate on is working with both Democrats and Republicans on identifying problems that we can fix.”

Grassley and Alexander, the chairmen of the two Senate committees that oversee health care, have both rejected Trump’s urgings for them to come up with a new ObamaCare replacement plan. They say they are going to work in a bipartisan way on other health care priorities.

Several GOP senators dismissively said it is up to Trump to come up with an ObamaCare replacement plan if he really wants one.

“I'm looking forward to seeing what his plan is,” Alexander said. He added he is “focused on reducing health care costs and working in a bipartisan way.”

Jim McLaughlin, a Republican strategist, said there’s “no question about it” that Republicans would suffer political harm if the courts strike down the law and “people are losing their health insurance [and] people are losing their coverage.”

But he said, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“Politically, the president is doing the right thing on this. I think he’s going to come up with some ideas and plans to make health care more affordable and more accessible,” he said. “I think they’ll come up with something good that folks will agree on.”

McLaughlin said it would be mistake for “Republicans to just leave it out there and surrender on health care.”

Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday that a group of GOP senators, including Sens. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid GOP senators discuss impeachment with Trump after House vote MORE (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyUN Security Council to meet after Turkey launches Syria offensive Trump faces growing GOP revolt on Syria To win the federal paid family leave debate, allow states to lead the way MORE (R-La.), are going to come up with a “spectacular” ObamaCare replacement.

But a Senate GOP aide was doubtful, saying “I think he just sort of listed names” of senators who frequently work on health care issues. The aide said Barrasso, Scott and Cassidy are not in a working group together coming up with a replacement plan.

Some GOP senators have had early discussions about a plan, including Scott and Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyJon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah Trump Jr's 'Triggered' debuts at No. 1 on NY Times bestseller list Club for Growth extends advertising against House Dems over impeachment MORE (R-Utah), who a spokesperson said has been involved in “preliminary discussions.”

If the ObamaCare lawsuit, which is currently making its way through the 5th Circuit, does ultimately succeed, it would jeopardize coverage for about 20 million people who have gained health insurance under the law and abolish protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

While anything is possible, legal experts in both parties generally think the case will lose in court, which would spare Republicans the task of picking up the pieces.

GOP strategists say there’s a chance that Trump could still shift gears. One Senate Republican strategist noted that the president quickly reversed his administration’s call to defund the Special Olympics after a spate of negative media stories.

“I can’t imagine it remains the top issue of discussion for the president because he’s somebody who’s interested in good press and winning and the thing that stopped his momentum dead in its tracks last week was this idea somebody put in his head,” the Senate strategist said, referring to the health care repeal-and-replace effort.

But Trump appears to have dug in so far on the ObamaCare fight.