House GOP postpones ObamaCare repeal vote

Greg Nash

House GOP leaders postponed Thursday’s planned vote on their ObamaCare replacement bill, sources told The Hill, in a devastating setback that signals Republicans are far short of the votes needed to pass the legislation. 

House Republicans will hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday to discuss the next steps. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other negotiators are still hoping they can hold a vote on the underlying bill on Friday.

“We’ll continue to work going forward. We’re always looking to gain more votes and find common ground so clearly we have more work to do,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said after the vote was delayed.

“This is so critical for us to deliver on our [campaign] promise. For me, this is very clear: Stand with Trump and repeal this awful law, or stand with ObamaCare.”

Republicans had aimed for a House vote on the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law. But the day was filled with confusion and chaos for lawmakers, aides and observers of the high-stakes negotiations. 

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) canceled a 9 a.m. conference meeting with rank-and-file Republicans and twice postponed his weekly news conference.  

Ryan and President Trump struggled all week to find what Ryan has called “the sweet spot” — a bill that would attract enough conservatives, centrists and other Republicans in the middle to hit the magic number of 215 votes, a simple majority. 

GOP vote-counters can only afford 22 GOP defections if, as expected, one Democrat misses the vote and all others vote against the bill. But The Hill’s whip list shows that at least 30 Republican member plan to vote no on the bill, and many more are leaning no.

Centrist Republicans from the Tuesday Group balked at proposed changes to ObamaCare’s required minimum insurance benefits that were negotiated between Trump and the conservative Freedom Caucus. Meanwhile, Freedom Caucus lawmakers left a White House meeting with Trump on Thursday afternoon without nailing down a final deal to back the American Health Care Act.

Freedom Caucus leaders are demanding the bill repeal ObamaCare’s minimum benefits and also its Title 1 regulations, which they argue would bring down health insurance premiums. But the White House doesn’t appear to budging on Title 1, knowing that it would drive away more moderate votes.

Still, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) expressed optimism as he left a caucus meeting at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.

There is no deal yet but the group will “stay as long as it takes to get this done,” said Meadows, who added that he’s also in talks with the Tuesday Group. “The president will get a victory.”

While he’s currently against the bill, Meadows said he is “desperately trying to get to yes.”

Another Freedom Caucus member, former Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas), confirmed that Trump’s team offered the repeal of minimum health benefits during the White House meeting.

He called that “very substantive.”

However, other Freedom Caucus members say that is not enough and more regulations need to be repealed to bring down premiums. After their meeting with Trump, the roughly 40-member Freedom Caucus formally voted to reject Trump’s offer to repeal minimum health benefits in the bill, said Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.).

But Harris said he’s confident the negotiations will continue — “It was not a take-it-or-leave-it offer” — and that Trump will keep his focus on the conservatives’ demands in lieu of those of the moderates.

“These are substantive issues,” he said, “and substantive issues take awhile to get right. The Democrats took 14 months to get this policy right.”

While top White House officials and GOP congressional leaders have been in close communication throughout the talks, they appeared to be on different pages on the vote schedule.

Shortly before news broke that the vote would be delayed, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he still expected the bill to come up for a vote Thursday.

“That would obviously be up to Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy, but nothing leads me to believe that’s the case,” Spicer said when asked if the vote would be pushed back.

Spicer also said the count of votes in favor of the bill was improving.

“We continue to see the number go up, not down, and that’s a very positive sign.”

While some holdouts are still trying to negotiate a better deal, there are other supporters of the bill who are pushing leaders to call an immediate vote.

“I think the days of talking are over and it’s time to vote!” Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a member of the GOP whip team, said as he left a meeting in the Speaker’s office. “The longer we wait, the worse our chances get.”

Mike Lillis, Jessie Hellmann and Cristina Marcos contributed. 

Updated at 5:01 p.m.

Tags Kevin Brady Paul Ryan

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