The White House issued a blunt warning to House Republicans Thursday night, telling them to vote on an Obamacare replacement on Friday or risk squandering their only chance to get rid of the law they have voted more than 50 times to repeal.
The White House dispatched chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief counselor Kellyanne Conway and budget director Mick Mulvaney to meet with Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP members of Congress Thursday evening.
Mulvaney delivered a blunt warning to the GOP conference: Vote on the American Health Care Act or Trump will leave them twisting, Obamacare will remain the law of the land, and they’ll be stuck with the blame.
CHECK IF YOUR PARKING BRAKE’S STILL ON: House leaders yanked President Trump’s top agenda item, an Obamacare repeal and replacement, off the floor schedule for Thursday after a White House meeting and concessions to conservatives failed to deliver support – with dozens of conservatives still opposed
ENFORCERS: White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus walked to a meeting of the House Republican caucus at the Capitol
ART OF THE TWEET: Trump urged his fellow Republicans to ‘#PassTheBill’ on Twitter after his senior staff delivered a sterner message in person
The warning from the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue jibed with a statement from White House press secretary Sean Spicer earlier this week that there would be no ‘Plan B.’
Spicer said hours later on the Fox News Channel that Trump is ‘going to get’ the vote he wants.
‘At the end of the day, this is the only train leaving the station that’s going to be repealing Obamacare and giving us an alternative to replace it,’ he told ‘O’Reilly Factor’ fill-in host Eric Bolling.
‘This is the train that’s leaving the station. This is the choice that we’ve been waiting for. This is the pledge that people made to the American people.’
Minutes after Spicer signed off, the president tweeted: ‘Disastrous #Obamacare has led to higher costs & fewer options. It will only continue to get worse! We must #RepealANDReplace. #PassTheBill.’
‘Burn the ships,’ a House Republican lawmaker told House majority whip Steve Scalise after Mulvaney delivered his message. ‘Only way to do it,’ Scalise replied, referencing the brutal contest of Mexico by conquistador Hernan Cortes.
Abandoning further repeal efforts would put Trump in the position of leaving in place a health system he has described as a ‘disaster’ in mid-collapse – after making dozens of campaign vows to tear it apart.
CONFIDENT: Asked on Fox News about Trump’s demand for a vote, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that ‘he’s going to get it’
THROWING DOWN THE GAUNTLET: ‘At the end of the day, this is the only train leaving the station that’s going to be repealing Obamacare and giving us an alternative to replace it,’ Spicer told host Eric Bolling
‘I think this is it,’ Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told DailyMail.com. ‘I mean there comes the time that you take the tide or you don’t, and this is it … I think our guys are ready,’ and we’re going to get it done,’ he said.
House Republicans also have been promising a repeal for years, voting repeatedly on futile measures that met President Barack Obama’s veto pen. The president has told friends he regretted taking Speaker Paul Ryan’s advice to make health care the first big legislative push, the New York Times reported.
To placate conservative Freedom Caucus members, the leadership accepted a demand that the bill that comes to the floor eliminate a list of ‘essential benefits’ that insurance companies must cover.
The change appeared to win over or at least entice some members. ‘I’m saying that the amendment has had a major impact on me,’ Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said, before changing his language to ‘profoundly significant.’
‘I’m working on it,’ Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said.
ALL HANDS ON DECK: White House counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, leaves a meeting of the House Republican caucus at the Capitol
Not everyone believed Trump could deliver on his threat. ‘My experience has been the big issues don’t go away, and this is an awfully big issue,’ said Sanford.
Asked if the bill failed it would leave no other opportunity, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) said, ‘I don’t think that at all.’ He has said he would oppose the bill, but that ‘everyone should vote their conscience.’
The challenge for GOP leaders is that changes made to bring in holdout conservatives had the potential to alienate more moderate members. ‘I a no. It’s a two letter word. N-o,’ said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).
Asked if he was for it, Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) responded, ‘We’ll have to see.’
A provision to soften the blow for moderates would provide $15 billion for a ‘stability fund’ to cover mental health, substance abuse, and child and maternal care.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was meeting with Appropriations Committee members late into the evening Thursday.
But a crucial vote was postponed on Thursday because conservative members of Congress – members of the House Freedom Caucus – refused to make a deal with Trump.
The embarrassing setback had the potential to deal a blow to President Trump’s overall legislative agenda.
Mulvaney issued the stern warning to Republicans as they met in the basement of the Capitol.
‘The president has said he wants a vote tomorrow, up or down,’ said Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). ‘If for any reason it is down, we are just going to move forward with additional parts of his agenda.’
‘It’s not just this bill that’s the issue. The issue is whether Trump can be a successful president,’ California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told DailyMail.com.
The House Rules Committee is set to meet early Friday, setting up a morning vote on a procedure and an afternoon vote on the Obamacare repeal and replacement.
HIGH-STAKES: Budget chief Mick Mulvaney (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) walked to a meeting with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Mulvaney told the House to vote Friday or President Trump is prepared to leave Obamacare in place
The voting had been due to start at 4:00 p.m. Thursday but was pushed back to an unknown time as the Freedom Caucus of conservative Republicans failed to be won over by last-minute changes offered by the White House.
But it wasn’t immediately clear that they even had a deal to pitch to the Republican conference at a Thursday night meeting.
New Mexico GOP Rep. Steve Pearce, who sat in on the meeting, said the message from the White House was ‘We’ll stand back – you all go back and work it out. In other words they’re not in legislation, they just say work it out.’
Asked about Bannon’s role, he told DailyMail.com: ‘It didn’t’ play. It wasn’t’ an issue up or down. He was a listener.’
After a separate two-hour meeting one lawmaker described as ‘rigorous’ Thursday afternoon, the conservative Freedom Caucus members emerged with no clear agreement on a bill that could somehow unify conservative and more moderate Republicans.
‘With no policy changes I’m a no,’ said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who heads the conservative faction, speaking in the afternoon, as the final deal was coming together.
‘At this point we are trying to get another 30 to 40 votes that are currently in the no category to yes,’ he said.
SCROLL DOWN FOR VIDEO
FEEL THE POWER: President Donald Trump sits in the drivers’ seat of a Mack Truck as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House for a listening session on health care
I CALL SHOTGUN: President Trump met with truckers just as the health care deal was falling apart
TAKE A HARD RIGHT FOLLOWED BY A U-TURN: President Donald Trump climbs out of a Mack Truck as he welcomes truckers and CEOs to the White House for a listening session on health care
‘We believe that some of the text and some of the things we’re being asked to consider at this point are not in enough of a form to make a good informed decision,’ he added.
He said of the latest version of the legislation: ‘Does it actually lower premiums for the people that we serve?’
The conservative faction is basically telling Trump that his current plan is too close to Obamacare and that they will vote it down unless or until he changes it to make it less liberal.
The House GOP conference met Thursday night to hash out the issue, with a possible vote on Friday – and some lawmakers even predicting President Trump’s top priority gets kicked over to next week.
Rohrabacher, the California lawmaker who supports the bill, said beforehand: ‘People that are against it know this. If Trump pulls it off, he’s going to be seen as someone who they really have to respect his agenda requests. If he doesn’t pull it off, they also know this: that he will be severely hurt in his efforts to do these other things that we want him to do.’
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his colleagues that a vote might not even be held in the House before Monday.
The confusion left the White House looking badly exposed.
At precisely the time the vote was being canceled, Trump was boasting he could get the vote passed on Thursday.
Speaking as he met truckers – having posed in the cab of a big rig outside the White House – Trump claimed a vote was going ahead.
Leading the rebellion: Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, had voiced confidence in a deal which would lead to a Thursday vote but then reversed himself
Closed door talks: Members of the House Freedom Caucus met in private session to hammer out the fate of the healthcare bill with the immediate effect of postponing the vote
Not in the bag: Paul Ryan had no choice but to call off the vote on Thursday afternoon as his conservative wing declined to get behind the bill
‘Today the House is voting to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare. We’ll see what happens,’ he said.
He added: ‘We’re going to have a long talk, and I’m not gonna make it too long because I have to get votes.
‘I don’t want to spend too much time with you, and then lose, and then lose by one vote. Then I’m going to blame the truckers,’ he said to laughs. ‘But we’re going to talk for a little while and then I’m going to go back to business.’
DID HE KNOW THE VOTE WAS OFF?
The President claimed he was working for votes on Thursday as he met truckers – even though the GOP had already canceled the vote.
‘Today the House is voting to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare. We’ll see what happens,’ he said.
‘We’re going to have a long talk, and I’m not gonna make it too long because I have to get votes.’
Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after the meeting that the House calls votes, not the White House.
‘As soon as we knew, he knew,’ she said.
His spokesman Sean Spicer had also claimed there was no reason to think the vote would be canceled.
‘Nothing leads me to believe that’s the case,’ Spicer declared at his daily briefing – only to be proven wrong less than two hours later.
‘I think the president has been magnificent in the way that he has brought all the different groups, all the different factions,’ said Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. ‘I think he’s actually negotiating in good faith,’ he added.
He wasn’t so kind to House GOP leaders.
‘Two or three weeks ago our leadership said we need to work with the moderates because we know that the conservatives are just going to fall in line. Well I guess they learned too late that that’s not the way to negotiate. So maybe they will learn something from what happened today,’ he griped.
With the vote fast approaching, the president has been working the phones and putting his vaunted deal-making skills to the test in face-to-face meetings with skeptical House members.
Spicer had told reporters on Thursday afternoon that Trump was changing mind after mind – ‘There are members that had not been with us that are expressing their willingness to want to be part of this.’
‘We walked out with more members in support of the American Health Care Act today than we started the day with, and I continue to see that number climb hour by hour. And I anticipate that we will get there,’ he stated.
Later he made a bold prediction about the bill that would come back to haunt him.
‘It’s going to pass. So that’s it,’ he stated in a rebuttal to a reporter asking him about ‘plan B’.
The president’s spokesman had projected confidence, even while Trump’s flurried schedule indicated Republicans did not have the votes they needed to pass the Obamacare replacement bill.
Trump made a final play this morning to win over conservative lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus.
He unexpectedly sat down with another group of conservatives known at the ‘Tuesday group’ early in the evening.
Trump went over changes to the legislation with the Freedom Caucus, Spicer said.
‘I think there are some members who in the meeting stood up and said, “I’m with you now”,’ the spokesman claimed. ‘And I think member by member, that’s how they’re going to vote. I think we’ve continued to see that number rise.’
He would not say who had changed their vote and why.
His statement appeared to be disproven shortly after.
The president’s spokesman projected – apparently misguided – confidence while Trump’s flurried schedule indicated Republicans do not have the votes they need to pass the Obamacare replacement bill
Adding to the chaos was the Congressional Budget Office. The non-partisan agency released a score for the latest version of the health bill, showing substantially less deficit reduction and still millions who would become uninsured.
The bill would reduce the deficit by $150 billion over 10 years, the Hill reported, significantly below the $337 billion in the original bill.
Like an earlier version, it would result in 24 million more people being uninsured in 2026.
Premiums would rise by between 15 and 20 percent, eventually dropping by 10 percent, according to the CBO.
In spite of the White House’s claims, GOP lawmakers were off telling reporters they didn’t think the vote would come today.
‘It will fail…I don’t think there can be a vote tonight because they don’t have the votes,’ GOP Rep. Justin Amash said on Capitol Hill.
According to The Hill, Congressman Phil Roe told reporters after a meeting with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, ‘It didn’t look like today was going to be when we’re going to vote.’
GOP leaders were short as many as 40 votes at dinnertime Thursday as they prepared to meet with the entire 237-member caucus.
Republicans can only afford to lose 21 of them and have the bill pass. They need 216 votes instead of the regular 218 because of several vacant seats in the House.
CNN reported Thursday that the White House offered to remove ‘essential health benefits’ that insurers are required to offer from the bill to earn conservative support.
‘We are very hopeful we can get this done,’ Congressman Mark Meadows, chair of the Freedom Caucus, had said of a deal on Wednesday night.
‘I think we have a vote tomorrow and it’ll be voted up or down,’ he said. ‘Some of the provisions in here do not lower health care costs enough, certainly for my constituents,’ he added.
‘I’m desperately trying to get to yes. I think the president knows that. I told him that personally,’ said Meadows.
The move on essential benefits may appease conservatives, but it could cost the GOP votes from moderates, and legislators in the Senate down the line.
Maternity leave is defined as an essential benefit, as is newborn care and pediatric care. Hospitalization and emergency care, mental health and substance abuse services are also counted as essential services.
Part of the reason that Obamacare has ‘spiked out of control’ Spicer said is because insurers are required to provide so many services to every patient, including some they may not need.
‘For a lot of these guys it really comes down to premium increases. They’re very concerned about what they’re seeing their constituents face,’ Spicer said at his Thursday briefing.
The White House official said the president, his chief of staff, the vice president, the health and human services secretary, the Office of Management and Budget director and the White House legislative affairs team are working continuing with legislators on measures to drive down costs.
Many lawmakers were tongue-tied when trying to explain their positions. ‘Where am I on the bill? Right now I’m in the [House] Rayburn building on the second floor. I really can’t comment,’ quipped Texas Rep. Joe Barton.
‘They offered one very substantive change in my mind. The inclusion of the essential health benefit,’ he told DailyMail.com.
But he refused to get pinned down by reporters. ‘I can’t comment on that. I can’t right at this moment. I just spent two hours in this meeting. We’re all blood brothers, you know.’
Trump has been struggling to bring on board GOP lawmakers who can secure the party’s promise to ‘repeal and replace’ Obamacare in the Thursday vote.
Paul Ryan is involved in trying to sway Republican lawmakers towards voting for the bill, but many oppose, saying it doesn’t sufficiently destroy enough of Obamacare
The president called individual members of the Freedom Caucus, which has panned the plan as ‘Obamacare Lite,’ to scout votes. He was on the phone with lawmakers late into Wednesday evening, his spokesman said, churning out calls past 11 pm.
Some naysayers received phone calls from administration officials lasting 30-45-minutes. Ryan has been texting others.
He held a meeting with moderate Republicans on Wednesday hoping to sway them to his side.
It ended with most participants – himself included – leaving through side exits. None of those who left through the front door spoke to media,CNN reported.
Whips Steve Scalise and Patrick McHenry were targeting individual members of the Freedom Caucus, hoping to break them off from the larger mass.
Trump – who had been largely uninterested in, or ignorant of, the details of his Obamacare replacement, one lawmaker told CNN – is now energized by the prospect of making new deals.
In some cases, his intervention appears to have worked.
Rep. Lou Barletta, a Republican, said Wednesday he would vote for the bill after Trump agreed to support his legislation to deny health credits to illegal immigrants.
Congressman Richard Hudson, a Republican in favor of Trump’s bill, said that GOP Rep. Steve King agreed to vote once Trump said he would personally push the Senate to change the essential health benefits at some point in the future.
‘They shook hands,’ Hudson said. ‘We are voting tomorrow, no matter what, but I feel like we’ll have the votes.’
The president Wednesday morning that he was ‘working hard’ to get the votes his party needs. He has been speaking directly to lawmakers, and is energized by the deal-making, an aide said
Press Secretary Sean Spicer warned in his daily briefing Wednesday that the GOP would not have another chance to repeal and replace the existing health law.
‘There is no Plan B. There is Plan A and Plan A,’ he proclaimed, later saying: ‘This is the only train leaving the station.’
The train was still parked at the station on Thursday as go time approached.
Congressman McHenry told a group of reporters who happened upon him while they were waiting for the president on Wednesday that he and other Republican legislators were on the premises to work through a ‘myriad’ of concerns about the bill with the White House.
McHenry said he was ‘bringing them to the closer,’the nickname Republicans on the Hill have given Trump.
The White House and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill are promising conservatives their wish list in the third ‘prong’ of their three-part plan to repeal and replace the existing health law.
But Rand Paul said Wednesday in an MSNBC interview, also during Morning Joe, that those legislative actions are ‘never gonna happen.’
The Kentucky senator and licensed medical professional has been one of the most vocal critics of the House health bill, working with conservatives in the lower chamber to help thwart it so a new plan that gets to the heart of what Republicans really want can be developed.
On MSNBC, Paul said he considered the talks the White House and legislators are currently having the ‘pre-negotiation phase.’
Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, said that the party had ‘no Plan B’ if the Republican Party failed to push through the new bill
He predicted that House Speaker Paul Ryan will have to pull the current bill before the Thursday vote because it cannot pass.
‘Then the real negotiation begins. That’s what we’re ready for,’ he said.
Paul said later in the program, ‘I read the Art of the Deal, and the deal’s not done until the deal is done.’
Asked Wednesday if he would keep trying to get a health care reform bill passed if the one fails that’s on the table, Trump quietly told reporters, ‘We’ll see what happens.’
His press secretary refused to consider a scenario in which additional maneuvering would be necessary.
‘We’re going to get it done. That’s it – plain and simple,’ he told reporters during his afternoon briefing.
Pressed to outline potential next steps, Spicer was resolute in his position.
‘We’re going to repeal and replace it tomorrow, move it through the Senate, and the President will sign the bill,’ he said.
‘We continue to see the enthusiasm and momentum coming to our direction. So I’m not looking, as I mentioned, we’re not looking at a Plan B. We have Plan A, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to go from there.’