GOP lawmakers root against Trump in court on ObamaCare

Senate Republicans are privately rooting against President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Dems demand Barr cancel 'inappropriate' press conference on Mueller report DOJ plans to release 'lightly redacted' version of Mueller report Thursday: WaPo Nadler accuses Barr of 'unprecedented steps' to 'spin' Mueller report 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 McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release McConnell touts Trump support, Supreme Court fights in reelection video Why Ken Cuccinelli should be Trump's choice for DHS 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 NealDems, Trump harden 2020 battle lines on Tax Day On The Money: Five things to watch on first Tax Day under Trump's law | Trump lawyer disputes Dem reasons for requesting tax returns | Trump struggles to reshape Fed Trump lawyer disputes Dem rationale for requesting tax returns 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 MurrayHillicon Valley: Washington preps for Mueller report | Barr to hold Thursday presser | Lawmakers dive into AI ethics | FCC chair moves to block China Mobile | Dem bill targets 'digital divide' | Microsoft denies request for facial recognition tech Dems introduce bill to tackle 'digital divide' Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates 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 Alexander Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 GOP senators divided on Trump trade pushback Five things to know about the measles outbreak 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 GrassleyTen post-Mueller questions that could turn the tables on Russia collusion investigators On The Money: Conservatives rally behind Moore for Fed | White House interviewing other candidates | Trump, Dems spar on Tax Day | Budget watchdogs bemoan 'debt denialism' GOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents 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 JohnsonGOP senators double down on demand for Clinton email probe documents Congress opens door to fraught immigration talks McConnell: 'Past time' for immigration-border security deal 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 BarrassoOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Bipartisan senators offer bill to expand electric vehicle tax credit Menendez, Rubio lead Senate effort to regulate Venezuelan sanctions 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 RomneyCain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump, Dems prep for Mueller report's release Democrats need a 'celebrity' candidate — and it's not Biden or Sanders 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.