Dems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill

Democrats are walking a fine line as they try to keep their caucus unified ahead of a showdown on repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

The Senate is expected to start up an hours-long marathon session, known as a vote-a-rama, as soon as Thursday, giving both parties a chance to try to force the other side of the aisle to take politically tough votes.

The free-wheeling floor drama could give Republicans a shot at putting the spotlight on Democrats. As GOP senators have been beset by months of outside ads and waves of angry constituents, Democrats have been largely unified despite having 10 senators up for reelection in states won by President Trump.

Leadership and liberal senators have voiced concerns about supporting GOP amendments that would move the bill toward the middle and potentially help Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Harris keeps up 'little dude' attack on Trump after debate MORE (R-Ky.) pick up key moderates he will ultimately need if he wants to get a healthcare bill through the Senate.

Pressed about the potential tightrope, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure Conservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks Cruz warns GOP support for expanded background checks could help elect Warren president MORE (D-Conn.) predicted that Democrats would “take it one amendment at a time,” but wouldn’t want to inadvertently help a bill that nixes large swaths of the Affordable Care Act clear the upper chamber.

“I’m not interested in doing anything to help this bill pass. We always have the opportunity to offer side-by-sides. We’ll have a lot of amendments. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of amendments,” he said.

Senate Minority Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump defends push to ban flavored e-cigarettes: Let's 'keep young children from Vaping!' Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Overnight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare MORE (D-Ill.) added that Democratic leadership could offer competing amendments to try to keep the focus on their concerns about how the GOP legislation was crafted — behind closed doors and with no public committee hearings.

“We’re giving our members, when such amendments are offered, we’re going to give them a clear choice, side-by-side amendments that address the same issue but commit the bill to hearings,” he said.

Pressed if that meant Democrats would vote against a potential GOP amendment that would bolster Medicaid, a policy they would normally support, Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, pivoted back to their push to have the bill go through the committee process.

“Ultimately we believe it should be a committee process and all of these elements should be included — let’s wait and see,” he said.

Democrats could face the possibility of having to vote against additional Medicaid funding. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Meghan McCain swipes at Sanders: 'Don't you dare lecture Biden about cancer' MORE (R-Ariz.), who returned to the Senate on Tuesday after being diagnosed with brain cancer, has filed three amendments to the House-passed healthcare bill, which is being used as a vehicle for any Senate action.

One of those proposals would extend the increased federal match for states’ Medicaid expansion through 2029. Another would increase the growth rate for Medicaid over the current Senate proposal, which is expected to cut and dramatically reshape the program.

Democrats have been quick to quote McCain this week after he lambasted his party’s closed-door process for crafting its healthcare legislation and urged his colleagues to work together and “trust each other.”

“Why don’t we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act? If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then let’s return to regular order,” McCain said from the floor during a fiery speech.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall Pelosi: 'People are dying' because McConnell won't bring up gun legislation MORE (D-N.Y.), when asked about McCain’s call for regular order, joked, “I could have written the same speech. I just would have voted differently.”

Asked if Democrats had decided to vote against GOP amendments, a spokesman for Schumer declined to discuss the caucus’s strategy.

Democrats plan to try to keep the spotlight on the need to abandon the GOP bill and Republicans’ public indecision about what kind of healthcare bill they want to pass.

In an example highlighting the strategy, Sen. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyLobbying world Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand GOP frets over nightmare scenario for Senate primaries MORE (D-Ind.) sought Wednesday to force the healthcare bill to be sent back to committee to have cuts to Medicaid removed. No Republican voted for the amendment.

Schumer predicted that the free-wheeling session would be harder for Republicans, despite the votes being used as potential 2018 fodder against Democrats.

“These votes frankly are a lot tougher for them than they are for us. They are squeezed in both directions. That’s why we have some degree of hope that they aren’t going to get this done,” he told reporters.

Democrats are signaling they expect to file hundreds of amendments. Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Health Care: Juul's lobbying efforts fall short as Trump moves to ban flavored e-cigarettes | Facebook removes fact check from anti-abortion video after criticism | Poll: Most Democrats want presidential candidate who would build on ObamaCare Overnight Energy: Democrats call for Ross to resign over report he threatened NOAA officials | Commerce denies report | Documents detail plan to decentralize BLM | Lawmakers demand answers on bee-killing pesticide Oregon Democrats push EPA to justify use of pesticide 'highly toxic' to bees MORE (D-Ore.) announced he had filed more than 100 amendments, while Murphy estimated that he had roughly 150 proposals — though he declined to detail what they included.

Democrats could use the amendment process to try to force Republicans to go on the record about higher insurance costs for low-income individuals or those with pre-existing conditions.

Schumer signaled on Wednesday evening that Democrats could play hardball until Republicans reveal their healthcare strategy. 

“Democrats are not going to participate in this one-sided and broken process. Once the majority leader shows his hand, reveals what his bill will actually be, Democrats will use the opportunity to try and amend the bill,” he announced from the Senate floor. 

Democrats aren’t closing the door completely to supporting GOP proposals, though several conveyed skepticism that one amendment could significantly improve the Senate healthcare bill.

Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinConservatives offer stark warning to Trump, GOP on background checks The Hill's 12:30 Report: House panel approves impeachment powers Cruz warns GOP support for expanded background checks could help elect Warren president MORE (D-W.Va.) said he was willing to support any amendment that helped West Virginia, but appeared frustrated by how Republicans were moving their healthcare bill.  

“Democratic, Republican — if it makes things better, I’ll support it,” he said. “[But] to do what [they] just did and have no clue where we’re going doesn’t make any sense to me.”

He added that he is continuing to talk with GOP Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsHouse passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance Senators say Trump open to expanding background checks Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall MORE (Maine) and others about trying to find a path on a bipartisan healthcare proposal outside of the current framework, predicting that ultimately roughly a dozen senators would need to come up with a deal.

“There’s going to be some reasonable people that find a reasonable pathway forward,” Manchin said. “I think we’ve got a shell of a bill right now.”