With healthcare bill derailed, GOP wonders: What now?

The stunning collapse of ObamaCare repeal on Tuesday forced Republicans to confront a sobering reality: Their party and agenda are in a deep hole, and it’s not going to be easy to get out.

Republicans have campaigned on repealing and replacing ObamaCare for the past seven years but find themselves unable to deliver on that promise despite having unified control of Congress and the White House.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.), who labored for weeks to reach a compromise between conservatives and moderates, acknowledged the battle has taken a toll.

“This has been a very, very challenging experience for all of us,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty obvious that we don’t have 50 members who can agree on a replacement.”

With the August recess looming, Republicans find themselves having burned through much of the political capital created by President Trump’s election.

Some say the GOP’s decision to make healthcare reform its first legislative initiative was a major miscalculation, and second-guessing over that strategy is likely to intensify in the coming days.

But Republicans won’t have much time to figure out what went wrong, with deadlines to fund the government and prevent a federal default looming this fall.

They are coming under heavy pressure to start delivering ahead of a 2018 election season that sees Democrats as increasingly hopeful of winning back the House.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.) had frequently said that Republicans were like “the dog that caught the bus” when it came to healthcare repeal.

“It’s time to move on. It’s time to start over,” Schumer said Tuesday. “Rather than repeating the same failed, partisan process yet again, Republicans should work with Democrats on a bill that lowers premiums, provides long-term stability to the markets and improves our healthcare system.”

Asked about what he would tell GOP voters asking what they’ve achieved, McConnell on Tuesday pointed not to healthcare but to the Supreme Court and repealing regulations.

“Well, we have a new Supreme Court justice,” McConnell told reporters. “We have 14 repeals of regulations.” 

And in an acknowledgement that more needed to be done, he said there is still time before the next election cycle. 

“Last time I looked, the Congress goes on for two years,” McConnell said. 

Democrats, meanwhile, have the opportunity to try to tie vulnerable Republican House members to the bill they voted for despite deep misgivings.

The process exposed deep Republican divisions, showing that the GOP is far from reaching a consensus about how to approach healthcare.

While conservatives pounded the drum for repeal, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest Democrats can lose Trump impeachment battle and still win electoral war MORE (R-Alaska) argued that it’s time for Republicans to admit they like some parts of ObamaCare.

“Yes, this is hard, let’s just all acknowledge that, but I think what has to happen is the Republicans have to admit that some of the things in the [Affordable Care Act] we actually liked, and the Democrats have to admit that some of the things that they voted for in the ACA are broken and need to be fixed,” Murkowski said. 

Murkowski is among several Republican senators who have called for starting over on healthcare with an open process and committee hearings that would bring Democrats into the fold.

Republicans could vote as soon as this week on proceeding to a repeal-only bill, but it is expected to fail, given that several moderate Republicans have already said they will oppose it.

Conservatives, meanwhile, are deeply frustrated with the more moderate members of their party, who they say did not actually want to repeal ObamaCare when the time came despite campaigning on the pledge and voting for a repeal-only bill in 2015.

“I think those Republicans who promised to repeal ObamaCare ought to vote the same way they voted in 2015,” said Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCNN catches heat for asking candidates about Ellen, Bush friendship at debate Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump's sanctions Rand Paul rips Lindsey Graham: 'Wrong about almost every foreign policy decision' MORE (R-Ky.). “If you’re not willing to vote the same way you voted in 2015, then you need to go back home and you need to explain to Republicans why you’re no longer for repealing ObamaCare.”

Some Republicans said McConnell made a fatal error in trying push the measure through with only Republican support and without going through the regular committee process and hearings, known as regular order. 

“Let’s bring information, analysis, root cause analysis — that’s the first step to solving a problem, that’s the step we bypassed,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats MORE (R-Wis.), who has been critical of GOP leaders’ approach. “Bypassing that crucial step in solving a problem is what I think landed us in this sorry state of affairs right now.”

Asked about the decision not to use regular order, though, Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneImpeachment threatens to drown out everything Republicans show signs of discomfort in defense of Trump   Embracing President Mike Pence might be GOP's best play MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said the problem was something else. 

“I don’t know that that would have made any difference,” Thune told reporters. “I think we just had a lot of people who didn’t want to get to yes or were in this case letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.”

Much of the attention in the healthcare debate is likely to shift to the Trump administration’s management of ObamaCare.

President Trump has threatened to cancel key ObamaCare payments to insurers, known as cost-sharing reductions, in order to bring about chaos in the market and try to force Democrats to a deal. 

He appeared to renew that threat again on Tuesday. 

“I think we’re probably in that position where we’ll let ObamaCare fail,” Trump told reporters. “We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it.”

Some Republicans, though, have left the door open to a bipartisan bill to stabilize ObamaCare markets and possibly guarantee that the cost-sharing reductions are paid. 

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGOP braces for impeachment brawl McConnell tightlipped as impeachment furor grows GOP senator: 'Inappropriate' to discuss opponents, but impeachment a 'mistake' MORE (R-Tenn.) announced Tuesday that his panel would hold hearings on stabilizing the ObamaCare markets. 

“My suspicion is there’ll be hearings about the crisis that we have, and we’ll have to see what the way forward is,” McConnell said.