Freedom Caucus, Trump reach 'agreement in principle' on healthcare

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said Wednesday night he and President Trump have come to an “agreement in principle” on a plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, just one day before a highly anticipated House vote on the bill.

“The president and I came to an agreement in principle,” Meadows said during an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity, adding that he was still ironing out a few final details with the White House.

“I think what we're trying to do now is make sure that our agreement is actually something that can be executed in a way that passes the Senate,” he added. “There's still work to be done, but I can tell you that the president is all engaged."


The round-the-clock negotiations between the White House, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report Ocasio-Cortez top aide emerges as lightning rod amid Democratic feud Juan Williams: GOP in a panic over Mueller MORE (R-Wis.) and the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus have centered on adding to the bill a repeal of ObamaCare's “essential health benefits,” as well as other insurance regulations in Title I of the existing health law.

But those changes have now alienated some centrist Republicans, who met with Ryan and his leadership team for more than two hours Wednesday night to discuss the impact of moving the bill to the right.

After the meeting, one of the leaders of the centrist Tuesday Group, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), announced he was opposed to the legislation, warning that the bill would cause too many Americans to lose insurance coverage.

“I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans,” Dent said in a statement, “particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals.”

Meadows said Trump has been the crucial factor in working toward a deal and even personally called him during a Freedom Caucus meeting Wednesday night.

A GOP source said the White House has offered to include repeal of the essential health benefits in the bill.

“Our request has been consistent about Title I and essential health benefits and so that's really what we're discussing,” Meadows said earlier in the day as he left a meeting with Freedom Caucus colleagues.

“We're encouraged just based on the real willingness of not only the White House but our leadership to make this bill better,” he added, noting he hopes to work around the clock to hopefully have a final deal by around noon Thursday.  

Meadows has changed his comments markedly since earlier in the day Wednesday, when he pledged that leaders lacked the votes to pass the bill and called on them to “start over.”

Conservatives say repeal of the essential health benefits, which mandate what an insurance plan must cover, is necessary to bring down premiums. Republican leaders had been wary, though, given that it is in doubt whether repeal of those regulations would be allowed under Senate rules that are preventing a Democratic filibuster.

Sources said the House GOP has gotten new information that including repeal of the essential health benefits would not be fatal to the entire bill in the Senate, though the provision could still be challenged under Senate rules.   

But Democrats are warning that repeal of the essential health benefits will not be permitted.
"What the proponents aren’t telling conservative House Republicans is that the plan to repeal essential health benefits will almost certainly not be permissible under Senate reconciliation rules," said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US MORE (D-N.Y.). "It will require 60 votes to repeal these protections, and the votes just aren’t there in the Senate.”

Some Freedom Caucus members are more skeptical a deal can happen.

Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksOvernight Defense: Woman accusing general of sexual assault willing to testify | Joint Chiefs pick warns against early Afghan withdrawal | Tensions rise after Iran tries to block British tanker Conservatives ask Barr to lay out Trump's rationale for census question House sends Trump border aid bill after Pelosi caves to pressure from moderates MORE (R-Ala.) indicated that the White House is only offering repeal of the essential health benefits and not other insurance regulations that conservatives say must be repealed.

"We’ve said many times that essential health benefits by themselves would not be enough,” added Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm Top Missouri newspaper condemns GOP's 'shameful silence' on Trump's 'racism' Amash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' MORE (R-Mich.).

"There’s no deal in the offing,” Amash added. “We don’t have any language on anything. We’re not sure what kind of language we’ll see."

Earlier in the day Trump won over conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) by pledging a Senate vote on an amendment to add repeal of essential health benefits.

But Meadows said that a promised Senate vote is not good enough and that changes must be made in the House.

“There is no denying why he has made so many deals,” Meadows said of Trump. “I thought I was a good dealmaker; I'm nothing compared to the president.”

Cristina Marcos and Max Greenwood contributed.