Paul Ryan gives GOP the hard sell
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) often spoke of the 2016 presidential election as a choice: Are you for Donald Trump, or are you for Hillary Clinton?
As he begins selling the GOP’s healthcare plan to skeptical conservatives, Ryan is talking of another consequential choice for the party: Will Republicans vote to repeal and replace ObamaCare, or renege on their central campaign promise of 2016?
“We know, without a shred of doubt, that this law is collapsing. That means this is the choice we face: Are we going to stay with ObamaCare and ride out the status quo? Are we going to just let this law collapse and whatever happens, happens?” Ryan asked at a news conference Wednesday. “Or are we going to do what we said we would do? Are we going to repeal and replace ObamaCare with something better?
“This is the covenant that we made with the American people when we ran on a repeal-and-replace plan in 2016.”
During a closed-door GOP conference meeting earlier that morning, party leaders delivered a more explicit message: Do you side with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or President Trump?
Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), the party’s chief vote-counter, put up a split-screen slide on the wall, according to a GOP source in the room at the Capitol Hill Club. On one side was an image of Pelosi, with a quote saying the GOP healthcare plan “couldn’t be worse.” The other side showed a picture of Trump with a quote saying he was “proud” to support the House GOP repeal-and-replace package.
When this plan moves through the committees and comes to the floor, Scalise told his colleagues, Republicans will have to decide whether to press the red button to vote “nay” or the green button to vote “yea.”
Pelosi will press the red button, Scalise said, according to the source. Trump has made it clear that he wants Congress to put this legislation on his desk, the majority whip added, and that means pushing the green button.
The GOP leadership’s aggressive sales pitch comes during a critical moment for the Republican healthcare plan. On Wednesday, a pair of House committees — Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means — began marking up the legislation in public, televised hearings, bringing it one step closer to a floor vote.
But since its unveiling Monday, the American Health Care Act has been pilloried by powerful conservative outside groups and the far-right House Freedom Caucus as “ObamaCare lite” and “ObamaCare 2.0.” Critics on the right have argued the legislation leaves too many elements of ObamaCare in place and doesn’t fully repeal the 7-year-old law.
The Freedom Caucus, a group of nearly 40 conservatives, did not vote this week to take a formal position opposing the GOP legislation. Such a move would have killed it outright, given that Ryan’s team can only withstand about 20 Republican defections.
But that didn’t stop some Freedom Caucus leaders from writing the legislation off as “dead on arrival.”
“I think the current bill as it stands is dead,” conservative Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Trump supporter, told The Hill. “It will require more than just tweaking around the edges. We all want success here for Trump, but we have to get our national health system focused on cost reduction and not coverage.”
Another Freedom Caucus member, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), was in the room when Scalise made his speech, and he said he didn’t care for it.
“I don’t take that argument. It’s not an either-or” situation, Gosar told The Hill. “You transplant a bad bill with a bad bill, it’s still a bad bill. And what happens when you make a promise to the American public and it doesn’t come true? So I don’t buy that.
“I don’t appreciate being lumped in one way or the other.”
Despite staunch opposition from conservatives, the AARP and doctors groups, GOP leaders appeared upbeat on Wednesday. Ever the happy warrior, Ryan said overhauling the nation’s healthcare system was something he had been working toward for two decades and described the GOP plan as “monumental, exciting conservative reform.”
“We are going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party,” he said, explaining some of the hiccups the plan has faced this week.
Scalise, whose team met with the president this week, will lean heavily on Trump to twist arms, whip votes and get the proposal across the finish line.
As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of Trump’s former presidential rivals, ripped into the GOP plan, Trump deployed his bully pulpit: He tweeted to his 26 million followers that Paul would eventually get on board with the plan as word leaked Wednesday that Trump would fly Air Force One to the senator’s home state to rally support.
The Trump charm offensive is also kicking into high gear. While Vice President Pence made the rounds on local television and radio stations to sell the plan, Trump hosted a group of conservative leaders at the White House.
Freedom Caucus members have been invited to join Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a co-founder of the group, for a “pizza and policy discussion” next week at the White House bowling alley, a GOP source said.
“We’re going to have a full-court press,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Wednesday.
“We are out in full-sell mode all round the country, talking about how we think this is the best way to solve the problem that the American people face.”
Ryan has already guaranteed the healthcare plan will secure the votes needed to pass the House, a sentiment echoed on Wednesday by Trump senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.
Some members of Scalise’s whip operation say they can see a path to securing a simple majority vote if the legislation is presented to members as a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. Two members of that vote-counting team predicted that leadership would only lose about 10 Republicans — roughly the same number who voted against Ryan during his first bid for Speaker in October 2015.
“Almost every member of this conference who’s been campaigning on this, when it comes down to it, and they know this will be the only opportunity, how do they vote against it?” asked one member of the whip team.
“It’s a binary choice.”
Jordan Fabian contributed.
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