Healthcare

ObamaCare push dropped after McConnell confronts Lee over email

A high-stakes highway funding bill avoided more ObamaCare drama late Monday night after Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) abruptly dropped his highly tactical plan to sidestep Senate rules and force a repeal vote.

For several days leading up to the vote, the firebrand conservative had pledged to use arcane Senate procedure to attach an amendment repealing ObamaCare to the highway bill.

{mosads}But Lee changed course late Monday night, shortly after negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — potentially putting an end to their days-long feud. Lee’s spokesman, Conn Carroll, said Monday night that the two senators’ offices were working on a joint statement.

Lee announced his ObamaCare repeal plan on Friday, just as the Senate voted on a McConnell-backed amendment to repeal ObamaCare in the highway bill — one that had been doomed to fail because it did not meet the 60-vote threshold.

Conservative groups such as Heritage Action blasted that vote as a “show vote” by McConnell, intended to appease senators who opposed the leadership’s deal on the Export-Import Bank’s reauthorization.

ObamaCare had become a major sticking point in the power battle between Senate leadership and a small core of conservatives, led by Lee and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), which came to a head over the last week.

The turnaround came after an embarrassing encounter between Lee and McConnell just hours before. The majority leader learned Monday that an aide in Lee’s office may have been encouraging an outside conservative group to pressure other Senate Republicans to support Lee’s effort to repeal ObamaCare — bucking McConnell.

Conn Carroll, Lee’s communications director, sought to distance the Utah senator from the email, saying that “this email is not how Sen. Lee does business.”

“As soon as Sen. Lee found out about the email he contacted McConnell, met with him, and apologized,” he added.

Republicans, including Lee, remained largely tight-lipped leaving a closed-door meeting Monday evening, when the email was discussed

“I was encouraged by him saying that he was considering withdrawing his amendment. That would be a positive result,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters.

Lee knew that the Senate clerk would say that his ObamaCare repeal amendment was not germane to the highway funding bill. But he planned to object to that ruling to get a simple majority vote — which would give the amendment just enough votes to pass.

If it had been successful, Lee’s repeal amendment would need only 51 votes to pass, rather than the 60 votes required for regular amendments.

But when his amendment was challenged by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the floor, Lee stood by and did not challenge.

Tags Harry Reid John Cornyn Mike Lee Mitch McConnell Ted Cruz

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