How Senate relationships could decide ObamaCare repeal

In the clubby world of the Senate, relationships could determine the fate of ObamaCare repeal.

The bill’s main sponsors — Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — are laboring to sell their Republican colleagues on the legislation, which would turn much of ObamaCare’s funding into block grants to the states.

With Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) pledging to vote against the bill, Graham and Cassidy need to win over at least two of the three Republicans who voted in July against the last repeal bill: Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine). 

Luckily for Graham, he’s a close friend of McCain’s — practically his “illegitimate son,” as McCain once put it.

{mosads}They both serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and have desks next to each other in the Senate chamber. Both were brought to tears during a joint interview earlier this year where they talked about their bond. 

But it remains to be seen whether their friendship will be enough.

McCain cast the decisive vote against the GOP’s repeal bill in July and appears conflicted about whether to support the repeal bill sponsored by his friend. 

“It’s a bipartisan approach to the issues is what I mostly care about,” McCain said Monday, noting the bill has no Democratic support and has not gone through committee hearings.

Asked if it would be difficult to have to say no to his friend, McCain replied: “Yes, it’s difficult.”

There’s another relationship at play for McCain: the one he has with his state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey.

Ducey opposed the “skinny” repeal bill that McCain derailed in July. McCain later said the legislation would have “screwed” his state.

But Ducey endorsed the Graham-Cassidy legislation Monday, calling it the “best path forward to repeal and replace ObamaCare.” 

McCain had told MSNBC he would be “comfortable with the bill as long as the governor of Arizona has signed off on it.”

But speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, McCain said he was still undecided. 

“I am not supportive of the bill yet. We’ll talk more about it. I’ll talk with my governor and all that. I want regular order.”

“The governor’s opinion is very important. I made my feelings very clear about the need for a regular order. … I have some amendments I’d like considered. Am I going to be able to have this, or is this simply an up or down vote?”

Meanwhile, Cassidy, a doctor and health policy wonk, has taken on the duty of trying to win over Collins and Murkowski, two Republican moderates.

Cassidy and Collins have a history of working together on health care. The pair unveiled one of the first ObamaCare repeal-and-replace plans earlier this year and also serve together on the Senate Health Committee.

But it’s not clear if Cassidy can win Collins over, especially because his bill defunds Planned Parenthood, an organization she supports.

“Senator Collins has a number of concerns with the Graham-Cassidy Proposal, including the cuts to the Medicaid program and the impact to the requirement that insurers provide coverage to people with preexisting conditions,” Collins’s spokeswoman, Annie Clark, said in a statement to The Hill. “She will be examining the forthcoming [Congressional Budget Office] analysis.”

Meanwhile, Murkowski told reporters Monday she is still determining how the repeal legislation would affect Alaska.

“What I’m trying to figure out is the impact to my state, and so we’ve been working back and forth with Sen. Cassidy’s office to try to understand,” Murkowski told reporters Monday.

“I can’t say [how I’m leaning] because I don’t have the hard numbers that will — I will use the governor’s words: He said, ‘I understand that a block grant gives me increased flexibility, but if I don’t have the dollars to help improve flexibility, that doesn’t help as much,’ ” she said.

Collins also has a close relationship with Murkowski, another moderate Republican woman who voted against the GOP’s July repeal bill and also opposes defunding Planned Parenthood.

They sit together in the Senate chamber and were side by side when they voted against the last repeal bill. And when Vice President Pence and other Republicans tried convincing the two to vote for the repeal bill on the floor, they rarely left each other’s sides.

“I will say that I was very happy that Lisa was literally sitting next to me as we were voting from our seats,” Collins said in an interview with CNN after the vote.

Murkowski added: “To have that weight, that responsibility, knowing that your vote really is that pivotal, it does help to know that there is another kindred soul close by.”

Jordain Carney contributed.

Tags Bill Cassidy John McCain Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Rand Paul Susan Collins

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