GOP lawmakers root against Trump in court on ObamaCare

Senate Republicans are privately rooting against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMitt Romney invokes late father during the Civil Rights Movement amid protests White House wanted to deploy 10,000 troops to control protests: reports Zuckerberg, Chan-funded scientists pen 'letter of concern' over Trump, misinformation 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 McConnellRepublicans fear Trump may cost them Senate Overnight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election 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 NealExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments House Democrats' bill would create a second round of direct coronavirus relief payments 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 MurrayThe coronavirus crisis has cut the child care sector COVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen 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 AlexanderMurkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump China stalled reporting genetic information about COVID-19, angering WHO: report Senate GOP chairman criticizes Trump withdrawal from WHO 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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - DC preps for massive Saturday protest; Murkowski breaks with Trump Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump CBO releases analysis on extending increased unemployment benefits 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 JohnsonGraham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over GOP votes to give chairman authority to subpoena Obama officials Democratic senator to skip vote on Obama-era subpoenas 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 BarrassoHouse Democrats roll out 0B green transportation infrastructure bill IRS proposes guidance for expanded carbon capture tax credit No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure MORE (R-Wyo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Bill CassidyWilliam (Bill) Morgan CassidyGOP senators dodge on treatment of White House protesters The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Stakes high for Collins in coronavirus relief standoff 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 RomneyMitt Romney invokes late father during the Civil Rights Movement amid protests Ex-Joint Chiefs chairman: Trump threat to use military on protesters 'very dangerous' Ex-Defense secretary criticizes Trump for using military for 'partisan political purposes' 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.