Moderates holding back support for new Senate bill

It's unclear whether Senate Republicans have the votes to win on a key procedural motion that would allow them to debate the new healthcare bill they released on Thursday.

Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Congress can stop the war on science Media fails spectacularly at smearing Rand Paul for surgery in Canada MORE (R-Ky.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (R-Maine) both said they would oppose the motion, meaning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez rips Trump in first House floor speech: 'It is not normal to shut down the government when we don’t get what we want' Overnight Health Care: Dem chair plans hearing on Medicare for all | Senate GOP talks drug prices with Trump health chief | PhRMA CEO hopeful Trump reverses course on controversial pricing proposal Supporters leave notes on plaque outside Ocasio-Cortez's office MORE (R-Ky.) cannot afford another defection on the vote.

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenators look for possible way to end shutdown GOP reasserts NATO support after report on Trump’s wavering Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ohio) said his position had not changed, but he did not give a clear answer on whether he'd back his party on the procedural vote.

Asked whether he would vote for the motion to proceed, Portman said, “No.”

But he added: “I'm the same position I've been in. I'm looking at the language.”

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans Dems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Republican senators skeptical of using national emergency for wall funding MORE (R-W.Va.), who has been an ally of Portman's during the healthcare talks, said she doesn’t know whether she’ll vote to proceed to the bill after hearing a presentation from Senate Republican leaders at the Capitol.

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“We have another meeting this afternoon on the Medicaid cuts,” she told reporters. “I need to really look at it, look at the score, I still have concerns.”

Asked if she would vote for the motion to proceed next week, she said, “Wait and see.”

Capito also said she did not know whether her concerns could be addressed through the amendment process.

“I’m going to hold comment on that.” 

GOP moderates are planning to meet later Thursday afternoon to discuss their concerns with the bill, which would phase out federal funding for expended Medicaid enrollment and impose a stricter formula for indexing the program to inflation.

Portman, Capito and two other moderates, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenators look for possible way to end shutdown Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight McConnell: Senate will not recess if government still shutdown MORE (R-Alaska) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.), were spotted walking into McConnell’s office shortly after lunchtime.

Heller said he’s on the fence over how to vote on beginning the debate next week. 

“No decisions have been made yet so we’ll continue the conversation,” Heller told reporters. 

Murkowski on Wednesday argued that Medicaid reforms should be kept separate from legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

She views the adoption of a less generous formula for Medicaid inflation as something outside the scope of the Senate healthcare bill.

“It goes into a level of Medicaid reform, traditional Medicaid reform, that had nothing to do with [the Affordable Care Act,]” she said, using ObamaCare’s formal name. 

“Let’s leave Medicaid off the table for right now. Let’s bifurcate this,” she said. “This is not something that, in my view, is best done in a reconciliation process.”

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCongress can stop the war on science O'Rourke blogs from road trip: 'Have been stuck lately. In and out of a funk' Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall MORE (R-Texas) said he could support the new bill, a key win for McConnell.

"If this is the bill, I will support this bill," Cruz told reporters after a meeting of GOP senators. "Now, if it’s amended and we lose the protections that lower premiums my view could well change."

Language backed by Cruz was included in the new version, but it's unclear whether it will be retained.

Even with the addition of Cruz, however, McConnell faces more uncertainty.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who teamed up with Collins earlier this year to push alternative legislation, told reporters before a Thursday lunch meeting that he was not sure whether he would vote to let the bill advance.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainScience group seeks to draft Mark Kelly for 2020 Arizona Senate race Trump is right: Walls work on the southern border How news media omissions distort Russia probe narrative ... and shield Democrats MORE (R-Ariz.) also voiced dismay with the legislative plan presented to the GOP conference Thursday.

He said he will vote for the motion to begin debate, but complained that the three amendments Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) wanted in the legislation were left out.

Portman and other moderates — with the exception of Collins — did not rule out the possibility of changing their minds before the Senate is expected to vote next week.

Paul has long opposed the bill, arguing it leaves much of ObamaCare in place.

This report was updated at 2:37 p.m.